Senate Republicans failed Wednesday to temporarily block Iraqi and Syrian refugees from entering the United States, despite growing security concerns and unease directed at immigrants among GOP voters.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid successfully linked the controversial legislation to GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s highly-criticized proposal to ban all Muslims from the United States. The House overwhelmingly passed the refugee bill last year, but the Senate version stopped short of garnering the 60 votes necessary to advance for final approval.
“Over and over again, Republicans remain committed to pledging loyalty to the divisive platform they have built for Donald Trump,” Reid said. “We’ll not allow Republicans to hijack the Senate floor to play politics with our national security.”
Republicans in turn accused Democrats of endangering national security, and warned that measures needed to be taken to prevent the Islamic State from posing as Syrian refugees and entering the United States.
“Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concerns,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Is it any wonder that the citizens we represent are concerned?”
The legislation would have required FBI background checks for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. It also sought to order the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence to certify that none of the refugees pose a security risk. In effect, the bill would have suspended allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States.
Efforts to stem the flow of foreigners, a key pillar of Trump’s campaign, have divided the GOP 2016 field. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all have condemned Trump’s plan. Others, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have been more supportive.
Regardless, the anti-Muslim proposal hasn’t hurt Trump’s popularity in the GOP primary.
Trump leads the Republican field with 38 percent support from GOP and GOP-leaning voters, according to a new NBC/SurveyMonkey tracking poll. In December, a Rasmussen survey found that 66 percent of likely Republican voters favor temporarily preventing Muslims from entering the U.S.
Humanitarian organizations praised the defeat of the legislation, which failed by a vote of 55-43.
“We are pleased that debate on the [bill] demonizing refugees fleeing conflict and terrorism has ended,” said Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser in a statement. “The U.S. has had a long history of resettling hundreds of thousands of refugees sorely in need of safe haven.”