US House passes bill to restrict Syrian refugee entry

US House of Representatives passes Republican-backed legislation on tougher Syrian refugee screening defying President Obama's veto threat

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan arrives at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on November 19, 2015

The United States House of Representatives, defying the US President Barack Obama’s veto threat, voted and passed a Republican-backed legislation on Thursday to suspend Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in next year and tighten refugee screening process.

As the first congressional reaction to last week’s attacks in Paris on Friday that killed 129 people, the Republican-backed legislation passed with an overwhelming majority, 289 to 137. Of the 188 Democrats in the House, 47 supported the bill, disobeying their fellow president.

The vote came despite all efforts for a last-ditch appeal for Democratic votes from Jeh Johnson, Obama's secretary of Homeland Security, and Denis McDonough, his chief of staff.

The bill, which passed with two-thirds of the majority, now goes to the Senate, which will determine its fate. The White House have already said Obama would veto the bill if it were to pass through US Congress.

If the bill passes in the Senate, each chamber would have to muster a two-thirds majority to override a veto.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is supporting the idea of putting restrictions on Syrian refugee intake and said a moratorium should be placed on Obama’s refugee resettlement program.

Republicans described the measure as a necessary, common-sense act after the attacks in Paris.

"Today is not the day to share our territory," a somber Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling told House members.

"Being generous does not mean we have to have a weak process for screening refugees," number two House Republican Kevin McCarthy told the chamber shortly before the bill's passage.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that there was “no way” the House bill could pass the 100-seat Senate, where it would need 60 votes to even be sent to Obama.

An audience member holds up an anti-refugee sign during a campaign rally with US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Worcester, Massachusetts on November 18, 2015 (Reuters)

According to the White House, Obama would veto the House bill because it would need “unnecessary and impractical requirements” that might hinder to help refugees without providing additional security for Americans.

Under the Republican-backed bill, no refugee could enter the US until top US security officials, the Homeland Security secretary, the FBI director and the director of National Intelligence, assure Congress that they do not imperil national security.

Republican Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul said the bill would be "the most robust national security screening process in American history for any refugee population."

Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer rejected saying it was "a message bill" to let lawmakers go home "and say how tough they are."

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that the bill would pause the plan the White House announced in September to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. He added it was important to move quickly "when our national security is at stake."

Most Republicans believe that some refugees could possibly be militants who would attack the US, reminding reports that at least one Paris attacker may have entered Europe among refugees registered in Greece.

TRTWorld and agencies