On Thursday, despite veto threats from the Obama White House, the House passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act with an overwhelming bipartisan majority. How overwhelming? It was veto-proof, with 47 Democrats joining Republicans to increase the screening and approval process of Syrian refugees entering the country. Over 2,000 have been admitted so far.
The Obama administration announced they would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, despite security concerns. Those glaring national security issues came front and center after the horrific ISIS-led terrorist attack in Paris last Friday. One of the suicide bombers had a Syrian passport, which was recovered by French authorities. The bomber had entered Europe through Greece posing as a refugee.
So, what’s so horrific about the SAFE Act (via GovTrack.us):
H.R. 4038 [SAFE ACT] would expand the screening process for those refugees attempting to enter the United States by requiring the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct its own background checks in addition to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS). Any refugee would be prohibited from entry until the FBI certifies that they pose no security threat. Refugees would only be admitted with the unanimous agreement of the FBI, DHS, and Director of National Intelligence.
If you couldn’t find anything controversial about this, you’re normal. And many Democrats viewed this as a reasonable piece of legislation. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met with House Democrats before the vote, where their presentation on why they shouldn’t support the SAFE Act was pilloried as “too complicated,” or inarticulate at best.
One Democrat, who wished to remain anonymous, went into a caucus briefing opposed to the bill, but left supporting it–adding that the White House “royally f**ked” up their whole strategy in fighting this bill (via Huffington Post):
In several meetings, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) presented fellow Democrats with polling data showing that lawmakers who didn't support tighter restrictions would be in the sharp minority. As former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Israel is often called on to give advice on electoral matters. And while he didn't explicitly encourage members to vote for the SAFE Act, the implication was clear: you will be vulnerable if you don't support the only piece of refugee-related legislation that has gotten a vote after the Paris attacks.
Far more consequential, aides say, was the failure of the Obama administration to make the case that the SAFE Act was either excessive or unnecessary.
Israel said as much himself after leaving a Democratic caucus briefing on Thursday with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.
"I've seen better presentations in my time here," Israel told reporters. "They may have strong arguments on their side, but they're not expressing those strong arguments sufficiently."
An aide in the meeting with Johnson and McDonough said the administration’s presentation was “too complicated” and was “not going over well.” Another aide said they didn't answer basic questions presented by lawmakers, such as why it was not practical or doable to add another level of certification on top of the current vetting process.
One House Democrat, who requested anonymity, said he went into the meeting with administration officials opposed to the bill but left in support of it.
"If the White House hadn't royally f**ked this up they'd have lost maybe 20 Democrats," said the lawmaker. (He ultimately voted against the bill.)
As Guy wrote, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has already promised this bill will die in the upper chamber, but that doesn’t mean this issue is going away. Congress needs to pass another spending bill by December 11 to keep the government running. We could be seeing another act of Shutdown Theater, but this time there are no adversaries (via Vox):
Even if Senate Democrats hold the line against a veto override, that won't permanently solve the problem. It's looking extremely likely that congressional Republicans will demand changes to Syrian refugee policy as a condition for keeping the government open past December 11. And unlike past shutdown threats, this is one congressional Democrats might actually go along with.
For congressional Republicans, this bill is a brilliant strategic move. It's anodyne enough that it's attracted broad support from congressional Democrats as well as Republicans. And it's forced the Obama administration — which has never had good relationships with Democrats on Capitol Hill — to fight an uphill battle.
As reported before numerous times, the FBI has admitted that there is no way they can screen every Syrian refugee. This isn’t an issue to be taken lightly; we should have a serious debate about how to screen these refugees and prevent those who wish to execute a terrorist attack on American soil from entering. Rep. Israel is right regarding the political fallout from this issue. Now is not the time for Democrats to look weak on national security issues, since they’ve been a little light in this area since 1972. The American people are against Obama's refugee policy, barely 30 percent support it.
The president has mocked Republicans for their position on this crisis that is embraced by voters, along with a substantial amount of members from his own party. Either the president thinks he’s right and we’re all wrong, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility due to his arrogance, or he just doesn’t care. He’s a lame duck. He is, as Allahpundit prolifically says often, a “semi-retired president.”
Then again, we’ll see how this goes. For now, Reid seems confident that there are enough Senate Democrats to prevent cloture. But if Speaker Ryan decides to tie the December 11 spending bill to refugee funding, which he said is on the table, it should be interesting to see how long Reid’s stranglehold grip on his caucus lasts, especially when these issues played a role in defeating Democrats in some of the 2014 races–namely Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina. It has the potential of making Virginia more of a battleground state, given that Arlington County has signaled they’re willing to open the floodgates.
We shouldn’t be shocked if this “I don’t care, I do what I want” attitude persists on this issue within the Obama administration, who didn’t really mind that Democrats were being utterly decimated at the state level since 2009. As for Reid, well, he’s on his way out as well, so his “bull in a china closet” antics are expected as well. Moreover, is there any other attitude to be taken when you do royally mess up on an issue like this?
Just wait for the reaction of this bill ever reaches the president's desk for his signature.
Last Note: Read Justin's post about five Syrians arrested in Honduras with stolen passports destined for the U.S.