8 California Dems in House Vote to Cripple Obama’s Syrian Refugee Plan

Monday, November 23, 2015

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) turned her caucus loose to vote their conscience on a bill that could cripple President Obama’s Syrian refugee plan, and eight from the Golden State joined the Republican majority in a veto-proof stand.

The legislation passed 289-137, including 47 Democrats. All 14 members of the California Republican delegation voted for the bill. Two-thirds of the members, or 284, can override a veto. It remains to be seen if the Democrats would hold fast in an actual veto scenario because the Senate hasn’t taken up the issue. That might not happen until after Thanksgiving.

Obama wants to admit 10,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) described them as 97% women and children, and 3% military-aged men. Currently, admission requires they undergo an 18-month to two-year vetting process. It includes fingerprinting, database checks, involvement of several agencies and personal interviews.

That is not enough for those lawmakers who say they fear a terrorist might slip through and want more scrutiny. The legislation would suspend admissions of refugees until the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) checks them out. Then, the heads of the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the director of national security all must certify to Congress that each refugee admitted is not a threat to the country.

Some observers, like Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, think it’s debateable that the bill changes things much at all. But others, encompassing most of the media, say it, realistically, kills almost all admissions. The White House is acting as if that is the case.

While those who only sought more scrutiny of refugees might feel bad about such an outcome, a fair number of politicians, almost all Republicans, would not.

The attack in Paris last week has given pause to many―frightened by the dangerous world we live in―and exacerbated the anti-immigrant sentiments already inflaming the Republican body politic. Leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a database to track all Muslims in the country, and other candidates have expressed wariness about having Muslims in their midst.

Ben Carson and ex-Senator Rick Santorum don’t think a devout Muslim should be president. Senator Marco Rubio thinks “there's no way to background check someone that's coming from Syria.” Chris Christie is among a couple dozen GOP governors who said they don’t want any Syrian refugees in their states.      

A new ABC News–Washington Post poll shows American fear of terrorism is at a new high since 9/11 hysteria swept us to an ill-conceived war. Sixty percent want U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, compared to 30% around 18 months ago. Eighty-one percent expect a major terrorist attack here soon, a level reached only once since 9/11.  

Only 43% of those polled want to admit refugees from Syria or other Mideast countries. More than half said they were reluctant because they didn’t trust the government to properly screen applicants.

Folks in the House are up for re-election every two years, so political survival is never very far from their mind. San Diego and Sacramento have the largest concentrations of Syrian refugees already in California. Around 2,170 Syrians have been admitted to the country since 9/11.

California “Yes” votes were cast by: Representatives Scott Peters (San Diego), Pete Aguilar, (Redlands), Ami Bera (Elk Grove), Julia Brownley (Westlake Village), Jim Costa (Fresno), John Garamendi (Walnut Grove), Janice Hahn (Los Angeles) and Raul Ruiz (Palm Desert).

KQED said that of the eight, only Hahn is in a safe Democratic seat. And she’s not running for re-election.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

White House Loses Votes to GOP on Syrian Refugee Bill (by Emma Dumain and Lindsey McPherson, Roll Call)

House OKs GOP Bill to Curb Syrian Refugees with Veto-Proof Majority (by Alan Fram, Associated Press)

Vulnerable California Democrats Play Defense on Syrian Refugee Issue (by Scott Shafer, KQED)

Inside the Syrian Refugee Vote: California Representatives Explain What Shaped Their Votes (by Sarah D. Wire, Los Angeles Times)

How Big a Deal Is the SAFE Act? (by Kevin Drum, Mother Jones)

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