Republicans press for refugee limits in U.S. spending talks

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 03, 2015 3:40 PM

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives pushed ahead on Thursday with an effort to attach a crackdown on Middle Eastern refugees to a $1 trillion spending bill that must pass within days to avert a government shutdown.

With negotiations over the spending package gearing up, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a Reuters interview, rejected the Republican proposal to make it harder for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to enter the United States.

Pelosi said a proposal to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, which conservatives had been pursuing as recently as late October using a similar legislative tactic, was not a part of the latest spending bill offer from Republicans.

After a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado on Friday that killed three people, politicians have had less to say about the women's health group, with rhetoric refocusing on concerns about refugees from Syria and Iraq.

After a closed-door meeting on Thursday, House Republicans said support was strong for a proposal to bar refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States unless top government officials certify they pose no security threat.

Representative Matt Salmon, a conservative Republican from Arizona, said the provision's passage in November with a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in the House strengthened Republicans' negotiating position.

"Pelosi can bluff and bluster all she wants, but I think we're on solid ground there," Salmon said.

Federal agencies will begin to close after Dec. 11 if new funding is not approved or current spending levels are not extended.

Republicans also have rolled out legislation aimed at strengthening a program that allows visa-free entry into the United States from 38 countries. The measure would deny visa waivers to people who traveled to Iraq and Syria in the last five years and require issuance of difficult-to-forge passports with data chips.

House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy said the mastermind of the Paris attacks last month "bragged about the freedom of travel throughout the world." The California Republican added that some 5,000 Western passport holders had traveled to Iraq and Syria in recent years.

The legislation is scheduled for a House floor vote next week, but McCarthy, asked if it might be included in the spending legislation, said he would support any method of putting it into law as quickly as possible.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)