The Cable

House Ignores Obama’s Veto Threat in Demanding Tougher Screening for Refugees

The House ignored presidential veto threats in passing a bill requiring tougher screening for Syrian refugees.

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The House of Representatives approved plans Thursday to restrict the number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are allowed into the United States before they undergo strict security checks.

President Barack Obama, who has vowed to bring at least 10,000 refugees of Syria’s civil war into America next year, has already promised to veto the GOP-led House bill. But with nearly 50 of Obama’s fellow Democrats voting for the proposal, the White House’s resettlement plans has shaky support in the wake of last week’s terror attacks in Paris that killed 129 people.

The proposed American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, would require the Homeland Security Department, the FBI, and the director of national intelligence to certify that any Syrian or Iraqi refugee is “not a threat to the security of the United States” before being given asylum.

It remains unclear whether any of the Paris attackers were Syrian nationals; most are believed to have been French or Belgian citizens. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, allegedly masterminded by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian resident of Moroccan descent who was killed in a massive raid Wednesday in a northern suburb of the French capital.

“Our duty is to protect the American people,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The proposal, which passed the House by 289 to 137, “increases the standards to keep those who want to do us harm out,” McCarthy said.

The Senate is set to take up the bill in December, after Thanksgiving. It’s not clear how much support the proposal will have there, although the Senate also is controlled by Republicans.

The House action is clearly a setback for the Obama administration, which has sought to assure lawmakers and the public that the vetting process for Iraqis and Syrians is thorough and effective. Speaking Thursday, the president pledged refugees would be subject to “the most rigorous vetting process that we have for anybody who is admitted.”  

“That somehow they pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn’t jive with reality,” Obama said in Asia, where he is traveling.

More than half of U.S. governors have threatened to allow Syrians refugees to enter their borders. Many House Democrats, meanwhile, rallied to Obama’s support.

“Rather than shutting our doors to these desperate men, women, and children who are risking their lives to escape death and torture in their homelands, we should work to utilize our immense resources and good intentions of our citizens to welcome them,” said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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