U.S. Republicans seek pause in Syrian refugee settlement

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2015 2:31 PM

By Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, worried about threats to the United States after the Paris attacks, are drawing up plans to suspend President Barack Obama's efforts to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country.

    The drive came as the deadly attacks in France shifted the spotlight in Washington to national security issues with a November 2016 presidential election campaign heating up and Obama in the final year of his presidency.

Speaker Paul Ryan, less than three weeks in office as leader of the House Republicans, said he had set up a task force to consider legislation "as quickly as possible" that would pause Obama's Syrian refugee plan.

    Eager to be seen as national security hawks, Republican governors, lawmakers and candidates have called for tightening U.S. borders against possible threats since last week's attacks that killed 129 people. Many Republicans had opposed Obama’s plan to admit more Syrians since he announced it in September.

    "The prudent, the 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," Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill.  

    The Wisconsin lawmaker, facing his first critical foreign policy test as speaker, said that Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris killings, "showed they are committing an act of war against the West."

    Several Republicans said they wanted a vote as soon as this week on legislation to halt Obama's plan.

    Reacting to fears that Islamist militants could enter America among the Syrian refugees, Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry said that out of 785,000 refugees accepted into the country since 2001, only 12 "were found to perhaps be problematic with respect to potential terror."

    He told NBC that refugee screening is effective, but will have to be increased and "will probably go slower and cost more money."

Ryan did not offer details about the proposed legislation. Several Republicans in both the House and the Senate are pushing to include a provision to block the U.S. resettlement of Syrians in a trillion-dollar budget bill that must be passed, and signed into law by Obama, by Dec. 11.

STRICT CONDITIONS

    Others have proposed separate measures setting strict conditions on admitting Syrian refugees, such as requiring the FBI director to certify that refugees' background checks have been completed, and an audit of the vetting process.

    The Senate, where Republicans hold a smaller majority than in the House, would also have to approve any legislation on the refugees before it could take effect. Rhetoric there has been less heated than in the House.

Republican Senator John McCain backed scrupulous vetting of any Syrian refugees, but strongly opposed suggestions from some of his fellow lawmakers that all Syrians should be barred, or that Christian Syrians should be favored over Muslims.

    “All of us are God’s children ... so I disagree with that assumption that only Christian children should be able to come to the United States,” he told reporters.

    The heads of several U.S. refugee advocacy and resettlement agencies on Tuesday called on the nation's governors to back down from efforts to close their states to new refugees from Syria.

    Twenty-six mostly Republican governors say they are worried about people resettling in their states after fleeing Syria's four-year-old civil war, citing concerns that some refugees could be associated with Islamic State.

    France and Russia bombed Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday, punishing the group for the attacks in Paris and against a Russian airliner that together killed 353 people, and made the first tentative steps toward a possible military alliance.

(Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Howard Goller)