One of the 47 House Democrats who voted with Republicans for a bill Thursday imposing new rules on the intake of Syrian and Iraqi refugees said he decided to support the measure only after he concluded it wouldn’t stop President Barack Obama’s resettlement plan.
Obama’s chief of staff and Department of Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson tried to convince Democrats in a pre-vote meeting Thursday the bill would cripple Obama’s plan to resettle a minimum of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. over the next two years.
But Rep. Gerry Connolly and others weren’t convinced, and apparently saw the vote as a chance to respond to the terror attacks in Paris without putting the resettlement plan in real jeopardy. “I walked in there generally a no — probably a no — and I left a decided yes,” Connolly told The Hill. “And I’m not alone.” (RELATED: The House Passed Refugee Bill Ignores These Key Concerns)
The bill would require the heads of the FBI, DHS and national intelligence agency to certify each refugee admitted from Iraq or Syria is not a national security threat before admitting them into the U.S. for resettlement. So long as they’re willing to provide that guarantee, the bill does nothing to limit the number of refugees admitted. And no changes to the vetting process are required aside from the guarantee.
The White House says the rule would not improve the vetting process it says is plenty robust, and would only serve to waste time and resources. Officials told Democrats in the meeting the already one and a half to two year process of admission could be doubled if the bill becomes law. (RELATED: Five Of The Paris Attackers Could Have Flown To U.S. Without Restriction)
“No one wants that as an outcome,” Connolly told The Hill. But he was reassured when officials acknowledged in the meeting more resources and a process of delegating the certification could actually expedite the process, and concluded it wouldn’t substantially hinder the resettlement plan.
“Can’t we work [the delay] out administratively by adding resources, delegating certification, maybe even collapsing all of this into a more expedited, accelerated process across the board?” people asked officials in the meeting, according to Connolly. Rather than respond by saying that would be illegal, officials answered they don’t have the staff necessary to pull that off.
“That’s just a matter of mechanics,” Connolly told The Hill. “It’s not a matter of principle or statute. And that’s not a good enough reason for me to vote no. And I think a lot of other Democrats felt the same way.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan is billing the measure as a “pause” to the Syrian refugee program, although the law technically would not stipulate or require any such pause. He blocked all amendments to the bill, including a popular measure to suspend all resettlement services for six months.
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