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Senate to Vote on Bill Barring Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

The heated battle over Middle East refugees returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday as the Senate votes on a House bill that would prevent Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their war torn countries from entering the U.S. unless the Obama administration certifies they don’t present a security threat.

MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 07: Dima, 5, from Syria enjoys a meal at a refugee accomodation facility in an exhibition hall on September 7, 2015 in Munich, Germany. German authorities are expecting 10,000 migrants to arrive on trains today, mostly from Hungary via Austria, on top of the approximately 20,000 that have arrived in the last 48 hours. Germany is distributing the migrants across the country and is struggling to register and house them. Many of the migrants are coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and are reaching western Europe via the Balkans. (Photo by Philipp Guelland/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 07: Dima, 5, from Syria enjoys a meal at a refugee accomodation facility in an exhibition hall on September 7, 2015 in Munich, Germany. German authorities are expecting 10,000 migrants to arrive on trains today, mostly from Hungary via Austria, on top of the approximately 20,000 that have arrived in the last 48 hours. Germany is distributing the migrants across the country and is struggling to register and house them. Many of the migrants are coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and are reaching western Europe via the Balkans. (Photo by Philipp Guelland/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 07: Dima, 5, from Syria enjoys a meal at a refugee accomodation facility in an exhibition hall on September 7, 2015 in Munich, Germany. German authorities are expecting 10,000 migrants to arrive on trains today, mostly from Hungary via Austria, on top of the approximately 20,000 that have arrived in the last 48 hours. Germany is distributing the migrants across the country and is struggling to register and house them. Many of the migrants are coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and are reaching western Europe via the Balkans. (Photo by Philipp Guelland/Getty Images)

The heated battle over Middle East refugees returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday as the Senate votes on a House bill that would prevent Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their war torn countries from entering the U.S. unless the Obama administration certifies they don’t present a security threat.

The issue has become a cause celebre among GOP 2016 presidential candidates, with businessman Donald Trump going so far as to call for banning all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump, who leads the Republican field with 38 percent support from GOP and GOP-leaning voters in a new NBC/SurveyMonkey tracking poll, has maintained strong popularity despite the international uproar over his proposed ban opposed by President Barack Obama and a range of GOP candidates running for the White House, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich. In December, a Rasmussen survey found that 66 percent of likely Republican voters favor temporarily preventing Muslims from entering the U.S.

The heated battle over Middle East refugees returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday as the Senate votes on a House bill that would prevent Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their war torn countries from entering the U.S. unless the Obama administration certifies they don’t present a security threat.

The issue has become a cause celebre among GOP 2016 presidential candidates, with businessman Donald Trump going so far as to call for banning all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump, who leads the Republican field with 38 percent support from GOP and GOP-leaning voters in a new NBC/SurveyMonkey tracking poll, has maintained strong popularity despite the international uproar over his proposed ban opposed by President Barack Obama and a range of GOP candidates running for the White House, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich. In December, a Rasmussen survey found that 66 percent of likely Republican voters favor temporarily preventing Muslims from entering the U.S.

But despite broad GOP support for the House bill, which passed by a vote of 289 to 137, the measure is not expected to pass in the Senate because of Democratic opposition. In November, President Barack Obama vowed to veto the legislation. Last year, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters “it won’t get passed.”

The legislation mandates FBI background checks for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and orders the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence to certify that none of the refugees poses a security risk. The legislation effectively suspends the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would need at least six Democrats and all 54 Republicans to support a procedural vote to even give the bill a chance for final passage. If he managed that, he would need 67 votes to override a presidential veto.

In a letter to Congress last month, a bipartisan group of former national security leaders said the bill would exacerbate the refugee crisis by putting too much burden on already strained countries in the region. The note, signed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, retired Gen. David Petraeus, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and others said that rejecting refugees “would be contrary to our nation’s traditions of openness and inclusivity, and would undermine our core objective of combating terrorism.”

Trump has said the incoming refugees can not be trusted. “We have no idea who these people are,” he said last year. “When the Syrian refugees are going to start pouring into this country, we don’t know if they’re ISIS, we don’t know if it’s a Trojan horse. And I definitely want a database and other checks and balances. We want to go with watch lists. We want to go with databases.”

At a party retreat in Baltimore last week, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said “we need to do everything we can to demonstrate we take seriously the responsibility to protect the country,” according to the Associated Press.

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