One of the 47 House Democrats who voted with Republicans for abill Thursday imposing new rules on the intake of Syrian and Iraqirefugees said he decided to support the measure only after heconcludedÂ it wouldn’t stopÂ PresidentBarack Obama’s resettlement plan.
Obama’s chief of staff and Department of Homeland Securitychief Jeh Johnson tried to convince Democrats in a pre-vote meetingThursday the bill would crippleÂ Obama’s plan toresettle a minimum of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. over thenext two years.
But Rep. Gerry Connolly and othersweren’tÂ convinced, and apparently saw the vote asa chance to respond to the terror attacks in Paris without puttingthe resettlement plan in real jeopardy. “I walked in theregenerally a no — probably a no — and I left a decidedyes,” Connolly told The Hill. “And I’m notalone.” (RELATED: The House Passed Refugee Bill IgnoresThese Key Concerns)
The bill would require the heads of the FBI, DHS and nationalintelligence agency to certify each refugee admitted from Iraq orSyria is not a national security threat before admitting them intothe U.S. for resettlement. So long as they’re willing toprovide that guarantee, the bill does nothing to limit the numberof refugees admitted. And no changes to the vetting process arerequired aside from the guarantee.
The White House says the rule would not improve the vettingprocess it says is plenty robust, and would only serve to wastetime and resources. Officials told Democrats in the meeting thealready one and a half to two year process of admission could bedoubled if the bill becomes law. (RELATED: Five Of The Paris Attackers Could HaveFlown To U.S. Without Restriction)
“No one wants that as an outcome,” Connolly told TheHill. ButÂ he was reassured when officials acknowledgedin the meeting more resources and a process of delegating thecertification could actually expedite the process, and concluded itwouldn’t substantially hinder the resettlement plan.
“Can’t we work [the delay] out administratively byadding resources, delegating certification, maybe even collapsingall of this into a more expedited, accelerated process across theboard?” people asked officials in the meeting, according toConnolly. Rather than respond by saying that would be illegal,officials answered they don’t have the staff necessary topull that off.
“That’s just a matter of mechanics,” Connollytold The Hill. “It’s not a matter of principle orstatute. And that’s not a good enough reason for me to voteno. And I think a lot of other Democrats felt the sameway.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan is billing the measure as a“pause”Â to the Syrian refugee program,although the law technically would not stipulate or require anysuch pause. He blocked all amendments to the bill, including apopular measure to suspend all resettlement services for sixmonths.