Republican presidential contenders pushed for an end to U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees
The rhetoric on the right has clearly angered Obama, who said Monday that the U.S. must remain committed to its values of tolerance and accepting immigrants
Republicans are putting President Barack Obama and his party on the defensive over accepting Syrian refugees, following reports that one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks entered Europe as part of the wave of Syrians fleeing civil war.
GOP governors and lawmakers were quick to announce they wouldn’t allow Syrian refugees into their states and are appealing for stronger control of U.S. borders. The issue opens up a firm political line of attack for Republican presidential candidates who had been struggling to find their footing on the national security challenges posed by the Paris slaughter.
The rhetoric on the right clearly angered Obama, who argued at a press conference Monday that the United States must remain committed to its values of tolerance and accepting immigrants.
“The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism,” Obama said in Antalya, Turkey, at a meeting of the G20. “It is very important … that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”
Republicans, however, are stressing the security concerns posed by the potential influx of people from the war-torn country. They have called on congressional leaders to block the Obama administration from proceeding with plans to resettle thousands of refugees, with some asking House Speaker Paul Ryan to lead the effort.
In a letter to Ryan, Ben Carson – the retired neurosurgeon and a Republican front-runner – called for Congress to block funding for any programs “that seek to resettle refugees and/or migrants from Syria into the United States, effective immediately.”
“Until we can sort out the bad guys we must not be foolish,” Carson said in a news conference in Nevada.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee similarly heaped pressure on Ryan, saying in a statement: “Speaker Ryan needs to make it clear that if the President won’t stand to protect America from wholesale open borders, then Republicans will.”
“If Ryan will not lead and reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East without assurances that we can separate refugees from terrorists, then Speaker Ryan needs to step down today and let someone else lead,” Huckabee said.
In addition, Govs. John Kasich and Bobby Jindal of Ohio and Louisiana, respectively, said they would work to keep refugees out of their states.
And Sen. Rand Paul, another 2016 contender, introduced legislation that would block the United States from issuing visas to refugees from countries with a high risk of terrorism in an effort to “stop terrorists from walking in our front door.”
Paul Ryan’s strategy on Syrian refugees
Ryan said Monday he has asked the Obama administration to provide a classified briefing for all House members on the situation in Paris. On Tuesday FBI Director James Comey and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson will deliver a classified briefing to lawmakers, at 5:30 p.m. in the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium. Senators will be briefed on Wednesday.
An aide to the GOP leader said it’s not clear when that will take place but it doesn’t appear it will be Monday.
In a radio interview with Bill Bennett, Ryan also said he has tasked all committees of jurisdiction to come up with recommendations about how to ensure the thousands of Syrian refugees the President wants to settle in the United States won’t be involved in terrorism. Ryan said he was particularly concerned since at least one of the attackers in Paris is believed to have been part of the waves of refugees into Europe from Syria.
“Look, we’ve always been a generous nation taking in refugees. But this is a unique situation. This is a situation where you have single men coming over, which is not women and children,” Ryan said.
Ryan said House leaders are considering adding language opposing the refugees to the large government funding bill that must pass by December 11.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re protecting ourselves,” Ryan said. “So that’s what we’re looking at: What is the best option? Not just so we have an issue to talk about, but so we have a result, which is to make sure we are not complicit or even facilitating of having someone come in who would seek to do us harm from Syria.”
Senate GOP leaders are also looking at the question, but no decisions have been made, according to one leadership aide. Classified briefings are also in the works for senators but have not been finalized.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made a similar case in South Carolina, saying that “anyone with an ounce of common sense would say ‘no, we shouldn’t be bringing in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.’”
“Instead,” Cruz said, “we should be resettling them humanely in Middle Eastern countries that are majority Muslim. We can help them deal with their refugee status, but the first obligation of the President needs to be as commander in chief to protect the safety of the United States of America.”
As he introduced his legislation, Paul said he wants enhanced screening measures for refugees.
“The Boston Marathon bombers were refugees, and numerous refugees from Iraq, including some living in my hometown, have attempted to commit terrorist attacks. The terrorist attacks in Paris underscore this concern that I have been working to address for the past several years,” he said.
Obama responds from Turkey
Obama pushed back against the Republican presidential field Monday and seemed to take particular exception to the sentiments of Cruz – though not by name.
“When I hear folks say that maybe we should just admit the Christians and not the Muslims (refugees), when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted – when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution – that’s shameful. That’s not American,” Obama said, whose plans currently call for 10,000 Syrians to be admitted over the coming year.
Both Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s parents fled Cuba, though only Cruz has mentioned a religious test. Rubio told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” this weekend that the U.S. shouldn’t accept any refugees from Syria. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the United States should focus on assisting Christians in Syria.