Freshman Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., who faces a tough re-election fight next year, called the Paris attacks “a game changer” and supported the bill, saying, “I cannot sit back and ignore the concerns of my constituents and the American public.”
The measure, which in effect would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, would require the FBI to conduct background checks on people coming to the U.S. from those countries. It would oblige the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”
On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said the U.S. should welcome refugees from the region and bolster America's defenses and intelligence operations.
On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who hasn't yet scheduled debate on the issue, said Thursday it is time “to press pause” so policy makers could decide whether adequate vetting procedures are in place, calling it “the most responsible thing for the administration to do right now.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he's been disgusted in recent days by the comments from Republicans and called it “fear-mongering and bigotry.”
In a statement assuring a veto, the White House said the GOP bill would not improve Americans' security. It said the legislation “would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism, and would undermine our partners in the Middle East and Europe in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the measure “un-American” and said it would bring U.S. resettlement of refugees to a grinding halt, rather than a “pause” as the bill's supporters claim.
“In fact, it will bring resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to a grinding halt by adding layers of bureaucracy to an already rigorous process,” said Karin Johanson, the director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said it "looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis," drawing a comparison between Syrian refugees unable to enter the United States and "Jews who were unable to flee Nazism."
"While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees. The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today's refugees as a group," said the museum in a statement. "It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity."
Currently, the refugee screening process typically takes 18 to 24 months and includes interviews, fingerprinting and database crosschecks by several federal agencies. Syrians undergo additional screening involving data from the U.N. Refugee Agency and interviews by Homeland Security Department officials trained to question Syrians.
The Obama administration wants to increase the 70,000 refugees to be admitted from around the world this year by 10,000, with much of the increase for Syrians.
The White House said that of 2,174 Syrians admitted to the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, none has been arrested or deported because of allegations they harbored extremist ambitions.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press