Lawmakers turn focus to security in wake of Paris attacks

Story highlights

  • Lawmakers are filling their schedules with hearings, briefings and attempts at legislation to grapple with what the attacks overseas mean at home
  • Paul Ryan called the Paris attacks "pure evil"

Washington (CNN)The Paris attacks may have taken place nearly 4,000 miles away, but their impact is reverberating on Capitol Hill.

With the world rocked by the terrorist bombings and shootings that killed more than 120 people and injured hundreds more, lawmakers are filling their schedules with hearings, briefings and attempts at legislation to grapple with what the attacks overseas mean at home.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan called the Paris attacks "pure evil" and said House Republican leadership was working on legislation to "pause" part of the Syrian refugee program to vet refugees seeking shelter in the U.S.
    "Our nation has always been welcoming, but we can't let terrorists take advantage of our compassion. This is a moment where it's better to be safe than to be sorry," Ryan told reporters gathered in the Capitol. "We think the prudent and responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population."
    The attention on Paris could suck up precious legislative time, as only about 10 legislative work days remain on the calendar before government funding runs out on Dec. 11.
    Throughout the day Tuesday, lawmakers will have ample opportunities to hear from and question top security officials, as the broader Washington community is dealing with increased security after ISIS threatened the nation's capital in a new video.
    The most significant briefing will come Tuesday evening, when all House lawmakers will receive a classified briefing from the FBI director and Homeland Security secretary on the Paris attacks.
    Tuesday morning, Secret Service chief Joseph Clancy testified before a rare joint hearing by subcommittees of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.
    At the same time, Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified before the House Judiciary Committee at another oversight hearing about the Department of Justice, whose National Security Division leads the charge in prosecuting would-be terrorists domestically and breaking up plots.
    She called the Paris tragedy an "attack on all of humanity" and its "universal values" and pledged the Justice Department was working to combat threats.
    "Our nation faces a host of serious, varied and evolving challenges. Our highest priority must always be the security of our homeland, and we are acting aggressively to diffuse threats," Lynch said. "We continue to investigate and apprehend those who seek to harm us, including upwards of 70 individuals charged since 2013 for conduct related to foreign fighter activity, and home-grown violent extremism."
    Later Tuesday, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on terrorism financing, including kidnapping, featuring the mother of kidnapped journalist James Foley, who was executed by ISIS.
    And that's just Tuesday. On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a joint hearing on radicalism, and the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on outside perspectives on Iraq and Syria. The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Thursday hearing on Syrian refugees and the refugee program's security, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has a hearing on lessons from the Paris attacks and refugees.
    Legislation is also in the works with a variety of approaches to dealing with the situation in Syria. Presidential candidates have been quick to put forward proposals that would block entry for Syrian refugees, including Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who introduced legislation Monday to stem visas to countries with high risk of terrorism. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said he would also be putting forward a bill to ban Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.
    Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was spotted on the Hill on Monday for an intelligence briefing.
    Ryan was also under pressure from his party on Monday to act, with Ben Carson writing him and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a letter demanding Congress defund Syrian refugee resettlement programs. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also called on Ryan to "lead" on the issue or "step down."
    The House could vote on the legislation in development by leaders this week, as lawmakers feel a drumbeat to act on the issue with the Paris attack still in the headlines.