By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House deployed Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday to explain to fearful Americans the administration's policy on Syrian refugees in the weekly address to the nation.
Refugees have become a top political concern after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris in attacks last week. The United States is leading an international coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
"In the wake of these terrible events, I understand the anxiety that many Americans feel. I really do. I don't dismiss the fear of a terrorist bomb going off," Biden said in the address, which usually is delivered by President Barack Obama.
Biden took a softer, more reassuring tone in his remarks than Obama did earlier in the week.
Obama, traveling overseas, angrily railed against U.S. political "hysteria" over U.S. acceptance of refugees, calling some Republicans "shameful" and "irresponsible" for their suggestions to keep refugees out.
Obama has been criticized for his tone, and the White House has since explained how it vets refugees on television interviews and in a flood of posts on Twitter and Facebook.
In his address, Biden described the many layers of screening for refugees seeking asylum in America. "And to address the specific terrorism concerns we are talking about now, we've instituted another layer of checks just for Syrian refugees," he said.
He called Islamic State a "gang of thugs peddling a warped ideology" and said shutting out refugees would "play right into the terrorists' hands" by increasing tensions between Muslims and the West.
"We win by prioritizing our security as we've been doing. Refusing to compromise our fundamental American values: freedom, openness, tolerance," Biden said.
The U.S. House of Representatives - including dozens of Obama's fellow Democrats - passed a bill on Thursday to suspend Obama's program that would admit 10,000 Syrian refugees and intensify screening measures.
If the measure is passed by the Senate, the White House has said Obama would veto it.
Governors of more than half the states said this week they did not want to accept Syrian refugees.
Republicans in the race to be on the ballot in the November 2016 presidential election also debated the issue, with Donald Trump saying he would implement a database to keep track of Muslims in the United States, and Ben Carson comparing refugees to "rabid dogs."
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Ken Wills)