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Paul Ryan Says House May Move Separate Syrian Refugee Legislation This Week

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 17/11/2015 Elise Foley
ATHENA IMAGE © (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told his Republican colleagues at a meeting on Tuesday that the chamber would look to move legislation this week to block Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S., attendees said.

Republicans have been discussing the idea of including provisions in an upcoming spending bill that would prevent the Obama administration from accepting Syrian refugees. Now, it appears Ryan wants to address the issue on his own as well.

It remains to be seen whether that means  attaching a measure to the omnibus spending bill, which needs to pass by Dec. 11, or passing separate legislation. Lawmakers coming out of Tuesday's weekly House GOP conference meeting seemed to think Congress couldn’t block Syrian refugees “too many times,” in the words of Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).

Another Florida Republican, Ron DeSantis, said he didn’t think passing a separate bill this week would “preclude us from doing something, you know, later on going forward.”

Many Republicans have called for a moratorium on accepting Syrian refugees -- and, in some cases, refugees in general -- after last week's terror attacks in Paris.

House GOP leadership has also created a task force to look at other responses, which will include chairs of the Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Intelligence, Appropriations and Judiciary Committees.

At Tuesday's meeting, Ryan called the Paris attacks “pure evil” and “an act of war,” and said he was signing the annual defense authorization bill later that day so that it could be sent to the president. Ryan noted that the bill contains provisions that would require President Barack Obama to come up with a plan to defeat the Islamic State.

Members leaving the meeting said said the exact plan for votes this week and in the future has yet to be determined. But they agreed the House needs to do something.

"You would hope that kind of foreign policy decision is made by the White House," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told HuffPost. "But when you have a president who is so clueless, so over his head, so unable to recognize reality, unfortunately it looks like we're going to have to step in."

The president sets refugee admission figures each year, and in September announced plans to admit a total of 85,000 people by the end of fiscal year 2016, 10,000 of whom will be from Syria.

All refugees go through a vetting process that typically takes between 18 and 24 months. The United Nations Refugee Agency frequently screens applicants first as well. (Some Republicans, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, have claimed that the U.N. is the only body vetting refugees. In fact, however, all refugees go through interviews, health tests and other security checks with the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, with help from other government agencies.)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and FBI Director James Comey plan to visit the Capitol later Tuesday to brief House members on the Paris situation, and the discussion will likely include the security screening process for refugees.

Republicans argue that Syrians simply cannot be adequately vetted, and that admitting them will inevitably mean allowing in terrorists from the Islamic State. A Syrian passport was found near the remains of one of the Paris suicide bombers, who may have used the document to pose as a refugee.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the House had to do "whatever we have to do to stop the president from doing this ... Because he's just not telling the American people the truth."

"There's no vetting of the Syrian refugees," King added.

Members have introduced a slew of refugee-related bills in recent months. One piece of legislation that is reportedly under consideration, introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.),  would halt Syrian refugee resettlement until the administration affirmed to Congress that those being admitted were not a security threat. Hudson's bill would also mandate an audit of the screening process and require the FBI director to certify that background checks had been completed.

Other Republicans, including presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have called for the U.S. to accept only Christians from Syria, although some skeptics have raised questions about even going that far.

"How do you know?” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told HuffPost on Monday. “That's the first thing that comes to mind. Anyone who comes from a Middle Eastern country that has a significant population that supports actively or otherwise, al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or any other fundamental Muslim organization, there's no way to vet those people."

Brooks went on to emphasize that it was "impossible" to properly screen Syrian refugees.

"Anyone who says otherwise is flat-out lying to the American people,” he said.

Democrats have firmly rejected the idea of halting the admission of Syrians. Obama said Monday that he has no plans to do so, although he stressed that people will be vetted.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said at a press conference Tuesday that while he would support more rigorous screening measures, shutting the door entirely would be "an overreaction based on fear, and perhaps hate, and I wouldn't want to see that."

"To then say that some child or a mother should be denied refugee status after going through a rigorous process to qualify, who has proven that she fears death, torture, persecution would be such a sin on our American values," Becerra said at a press conference.

Michael McAuliff contributed reporting.

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