WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The U.S. House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to erect high hurdles for Syrian & Iraqi refugees coming to American shores, dividing the president's own Democratic party as lawmakers reflected the anxiety of voters back home.
The vote was 289-137, enough to override a threatened White House veto of the legislation, which was hurriedly drafted under new House Speaker Paul Ryan in response to the carnage in the streets of Paris last week.Forty-seven Democrats voted for the bill, despite President Barack Obama's biting criticism of its proposed limits.
The bill would require new FBI background checks & individual sign-offs from three high-ranking U.S. officials before any refugee could come to the U.S. from Iraq or Syria, where the Islamic State group that has claimed credit for the attacks has flourished.
p>Republicans said it was simply prudent to place new controls on the refugee system, without ending it entirely or requiring religious tests as some in the party, including presidential candidates, have demanded.
"This is an urgent matter & that is why we're dealing with this urgently," declared Ryan. "It just is usual sense that we pause, re-evaluate & make sure that we have the proper standards in place to make sure something like what happened in Paris doesn't happen here."
The strong vote in the House could improve prospects for the bill in the Senate. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said he would like to see the chamber take up the House legislation as-is, yet that is uncertain.
Senate Democrats are trying to shift the focus to other issues regarding travelers from overseas, & Minority Leader Harry Reid predicted Thursday's bill would not be approved.
"Don't worry, it won't obtain passed. OK? So, next question," he said.
Traveling in Asia this week, President Barack Obama mocked Congress & Republicans for yielding to "hysteria" & taking aim at "widows & orphans." The White House threatened a presidential veto, contending the legislation would bring to an end an already highly regulated refugee program while doing nothing to enhance national security. And some Democrats complained that the measure would mar America's image as a welcoming haven for immigrants.
"We might as well take down the Statue of Liberty," Rep. Jerry Nadler asserted in debate on the House floor.
Yet some Democrats chafed at the White House position. Dozens joined Republicans in supporting the legislation, some fretting openly of being put in the politically untenable position of opposing a reasonable anti-terror bill in the wake of a horrendous tragedy.
Freshman Rep. Brad Ashford, a Democrat, who faces a tough re-election fight next year, called the Paris attacks "a game changer" & supported the bill, saying, "I cannot sit back & ignore the concerns of my constituents & the American public."
The administration, which has announced plans to accept approximately 10,000 Syrian refugees in addition to the 2,500 who have settled here since 2011, says it already takes around 18-24 months on average for them to make it into this country. They must pass a battery of screening requirements including interviews overseas, fingerprinting & biometric investigations. Many are women & children & only approximately 2 percent are single men of combat age.
The House bill would increase the FBI's role by charging it with conducting a "thorough background investigation" on each refugee. The Homeland Security secretary would subsequently have to certify, with the concurrence of the FBI director & the director of national intelligence, that the refugee posed no security concerns. Under the current system the Homeland Security secretary has the final say, though multiple other agencies are involved.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor & Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
Source: “Associated Press”