Obama, Congress heading for budget showdown over Syrian refugees

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2015 4:44 PM

By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some U.S. Republicans sought to use a must-pass spending bill on Monday to stop President Barack Obama's plan to accept thousands of Syrian refugees, saying the Paris attacks had proven they pose too much of a threat to the United States.

Republican Representative Bruce Babin circulated a letter asking that lawmakers include a provision in the spending bill to defund the plan to admit 10,000 Syrians this year.

"The terrorist attack in Paris by militant Islamists is a loud clanging alarm bell to Congress and the American people warning us why we must block Obama’s reckless and foolish plan to allow tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into the U.S.," Babin said in a statement.

By Monday, 14 members of the House of Representatives, all Republicans, had signed the letter. Babin planned to collect signatures until Friday.

Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was one of several Republican committee chairman who also called for the program's suspension on Monday.

But many Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, had objected to Obama's plan long before the Paris attacks.

Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee weeks ago asking that funding for resettling Syrians be restricted until the Obama administration offered a plan for screening them.

Several Democrats backed Obama. "When the world is experiencing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the end of World War Two, are we to abandon allies and partners awash with refugees and refuse to do our part?" asked Democratic Representative Adam Schiff.

House and Senate aides are currently negotiating the $1 trillion-plus spending bill, which they must complete by Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown.

A spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee declined to comment on what might end up in the legislation. A spokesman for the Senate panel noted that the Paris attacks had heightened interest in the issue and said the committee planned to address it in the coming weeks.

It was not clear that a provision barring Syrians would be legal. The U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 banished national origin quotas, such as measures that barred most immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe earlier in the 20th century.

"Barring refugees based on nationality raises serious questions regarding national origin discrimination and sets a dangerous precedent," said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the liberal-leaning Center for American progress.

(Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)