WASHINGTON (TIP): The bill, which would effectively bar Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entry, received enough support to override a veto.
In a stinging rebuke to President Obama by Republicans as well as members of his own party, the House ignored a veto threat Thursday and overwhelmingly approved Republican legislation erecting fresh hurdles for Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the United States.
The vote was 289-137, with 47 Democrats joining 242 Republicans in favor of the bill, creating a majority that could override President Barack Obama’s promised veto. That margin exceeded the two-thirds majority required to override a veto, and it came despite a rushed, early morning visit to the Capitol by top administration officials in a futile attempt to limit Democratic defections for the measure. It also faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Minority Leader Harry Reid said he will try to block the bill.
The high number of Democrats voting against the White House is a clear sign Obama is increasingly isolated in his position on refugees in light of the ISIS terrorist attacks on Paris.
During his trip abroad this week, Obama has offered a forceful defense of the program and derided Republican opponents as being scared of “widows and orphans.”
“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic,” Obama said in the Philippines on Wednesday. “We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”
Republicans were determined to move quickly. House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters “this is urgent. We cannot and should not wait to act, not when our national security is at stake.”
The administration’s veto threat “baffles me,” Ryan said, “especially given the fact that his own law enforcement top officials came to Congress and testified that there are gaps in this refugee program.”
Republicans also used the debate to criticize the president’s approach to fighting terrorism.
“The real problem is ISIL and the lack of a strategy,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, adding it was “astounding” the president has yet to lay out a comprehensive approach to the threat in the Middle East.
Thursday’s vote came six days after a burst of bombings and shootings in Paris killed 129 people, wounded many more and revived post-9/11 jitters in the U.S. and Europe. The attacks have turned the question of admitting people fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq into a high-stakes political issue in both the United States and Europe, and many congressional Democrats were willing to vote against their party’s lame duck president for fear of angering voters nervous about security at home.
The few Democrats opposing the GOP bill said the U.S. has no business abandoning its age-old values, including being a safe haven for people fleeing countries racked by violence. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and controls vast swathes of Syria and Iraq, despite a growing military campaign against them by the U.S. and other nations.
“Defeating terrorism should not mean slamming the door in the faces of those fleeing the terrorists. We might as well take down the Statue of Liberty,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
Republicans said that in dangerous times, the government must first protect its own.
“It is against the values of our nation and the values of a free society to give terrorists the opening they are looking for” by not tightening entry restrictions, said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.