White House issues veto threat over refugee bill. White House says legislation, which sets high hurdles for refugee admissions, is ‘untenable’

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Some governors say they won't accept Syrian refugees
Some governors say they won’t accept Syrian refugees 02:34

Story highlights

  • “The certification requirement … is untenable and would provide no meaningful additional security for the American people,” the White House said
  • The refugee issue has emerged as a key political issue in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris

Washington (CNN)President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to veto a GOP-drafted bill that would suspend the program allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until key national security agencies certify they don’t pose a security risk.

“The certification requirement at the core of H.R. 4038 is untenable and would provide no meaningful additional security for the American people, instead serving only to create significant delays and obstacles in the fulfillment of a vital program that satisfies both humanitarian and national security objectives,” the White House said in a statement.

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Could the government shut down over refugees?

Story highlights

  • President Barack Obama and House Democrats said they would oppose a GOP-drafted bill to suspend the program allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until key national security agencies certify they don’t pose a security risk
  • The deadline to reach a spending deal is December 11, and the refugee issue could make it more difficult to reach an accord

Washington (CNN)The “je suis Paris” mood didn’t last long in Washington.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called for a bipartisan response to the ISIS terrorist attacks in France, but President Barack Obama and House Democrats said they would oppose a GOP-drafted bill to suspend the program allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until key national security agencies certify they don’t pose a security risk.

The White House Wednesday afternoon said Obama would veto the bill, saying the certification requirement is “untenable and would provide no meaningful additional security for the American people, instead serving only to create significant delays and obstacles in the fulfillment of a vital program that satisfies both humanitarian and national security objectives.”

White House issues veto threat over refugee bill

The battle over what to do about the program, and whether it should continue receiving federal money, could trigger what Ryan was hoping to avoid — another government shutdown.

Ryan made a rare floor speech on Wednesday arguing that the legislation the House would take up on Thursday was a reasonable response to concerns about new attacks. He distanced himself from some Republican presidential candidates who have urged that the U.S. refuse asylum for Muslim refugees.

“We will not have a religious test, only a security test,” Ryan said.

The House Republican proposal would halt the program permitting refugees fleeing war in Iraq and Syria to enter the United States until the Secretary of Homeland Security signs off that those applying to come in do not have ties to terrorism. The proposal also requires that the FBI certify that those applying to enter the U.S. have had background checks, and that federal agencies regularly report to Congress about those who were vetted.

Obama’s vocal criticism of Republicans pushing for restrictions in the refugee program seemed to deepen the divide on Capitol Hill, and even take some Democrats aback.

While traveling through Turkey and the Philippines, the President called some GOP suggestions about the program “offensive” and ripped those warning that allowing those refugees fleeing the war posed a threat.

“Apparently, they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America,” Obama said, responding to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said he would refuse entry of a 5-year-old Syrian orphan into the United States. “At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me.”

Obama slams Republicans over refugee stance

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said the President’s partisan rhetoric “went over the line.”

“I haven’t called for a halt or a moratorium. So I’m sympathetic to the administration’s position here,” Flake said. “But instead of blaming people or assuming people are bigots, come out and explain what the vetting process is and I think people will feel more comfortable.”

House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul of Texas pointed out it was concerns raised by officials from the FBI and Homeland Security that prompted the legislation he drafted with Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina.

“It’s not me making this up,” McCaul said.

In its veto threat, the White House added, “No refugee is approved for travel to the United States under the current system until the full array of required security vetting measures have been completed. Thus, the substantive result sought through this draft legislation is already embedded into the program.”

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Obama threatens to veto House Republican bill on Syrian refugees

November 19, 2015, 2:29 am 3

Syrian refugee children look from their tent during a visit by UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien to the Zaatari Refugee Camp, near Mafraq, Jordan, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Syrian refugee children look from their tent during a visit by UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien to the Zaatari Refugee Camp, near Mafraq, Jordan, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Wednesday threatened a presidential veto of House Republican legislation aimed at increasing screenings for Syrian and Iraqi refugees before they enter the United States, calling new requirements in the bill “untenable.”

The legislation, which sets high hurdles for refugee admissions, including FBI background checks and individual sign-offs by top federal officials, “would provide no meaningful additional security for the American people, instead serving only to create significant delays and obstacles in the fulfillment of a vital program that satisfies both humanitarian and national security objectives,” the White House said.

President Barack Obama would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk, the statement concluded.

Republican leaders, eager to respond quickly to Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, had described the bill as a middle-ground approach. It institutes tough new screening requirements, but steers clear of demands from some Republicans, including presidential candidates, for religious questioning or a complete end to the US refugee program.

“This is common sense. And it’s our obligation,” Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said on the House floor ahead of the veto threat. “If the intelligence and law-enforcement community cannot certify that a person presents no threat, then they should not be allowed in.”

In the Senate, lawmakers emerging from a closed-door briefing with administration officials Wednesday night said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake planned to introduce a bill that would restrict visas for any individual who had been in Iraq or Syria in the past five years.

 

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