- Rhodes says U.S. has `careful vetting process' for refugees
- Representative King says U.S. `main target' of Islamic State
President Barack Obama isn’t having second thoughts about bringing Syrian refugees to the U.S., one of his top aides said Sunday in the wake of deadly terror attacks in Paris linked to Islamic State, and suggestions that the nation should shut its doors.
Debate over how to contend with millions of people displaced by Syria’s civil war has intensified since the Paris mass killings, which have shaken Europe’s belief in open borders. Obama in September announced a plan to take in a trickle of those millions -- 10,000 people -- in the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
“No,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” when asked if Obama has “any pause” about the refugee plan.
European authorities are trying to determine if any of the Paris assailants entered Europe as asylum seekers from the Middle East. If true, it could undermine the open-door refugee policy of leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and sharpen opposition to Obama’s plan.
Rhodes said the U.S. has a “very careful vetting process” for all Syrian refugees, involving the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others -- a comment shot down by some Republican lawmakers.
“There’s virtually no vetting” of refugees’ backgrounds, Representative Peter King of New York said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” in which he called the U.S. the “main target” for Islamic State. “We don’t know who those people are.”
King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. “should absolutely suspend” the plan to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees unless the government can show “100 percent” that the individuals aren’t involved with Islamic State. The U.S. should also boost surveillance of Muslim communities, King said.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, also speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” said that as chief executive, he would not allow refugees from Syria into the U.S. “Bringing people into this country from that area of the world, I think is a huge mistake,” he said, suggesting that the U.S. should instead “help get them resettled over there.”
“To bring them here under these circumstances is a suspension of intellect,” said Carson.
Other 2016 Republican hopefuls, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, said the U.S. should allow Christian refugees from Syria.
As part of Obama’s plan on accepting Syrians, refugees must undergo a 12-to-18-month security screening, meaning new applicants may not be able to enter the country before 2017.
Rhodes said the U.S. is “dealing with people who’ve suffered the horrors of war, women and children, orphans. We can’t just shut our doors to those people. We need to sort out how to focus on the terrorists that we need to keep out of the country. But I think we do need to do our part to take those refugees who are in need.”
Rhodes also appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” days after Obama taped a segment for the show in which the president said Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has been contained. “You don’t see a systematic march by ISIL across the terrain. What we have not been able to do is completely decapitate their command and control structures,” Obama said in an interview conducted before the Paris attacks.
World leaders are now confronting Islamic State’s reach far from Iraq and Syria. The U.S. agrees with France that the attacks in Paris, which killed at least 132 people and injured hundreds more, were “an act of war,” Rhodes said on ABC. “That’s why, frankly, we’ve been waging war against ISIL now for over a year.”
Rhodes said the U.S. is “going to be very vigilant, because we know ISIL has the aspirations to attack the United States as well as our European and other allies and partners.” Intelligence suggests “there’s not a specific, credible threat” to the U.S. at this time, he added.
‘Shoulder to Shoulder’
The U.S. will work with France to ramp up airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, Rhodes said. “What we’ve made clear to the French is we will be shoulder to shoulder with them in this response.”
Representative Adam Schiff said what happened in Paris was more than just an intelligence failure.
“It’s a failure also of a coalition campaign, because we have allowed ISIS to have sanctuary in Syria and Iraq with too much time to plan and plot, too much resources to be directed against us,” Schiff, the top Democrat of the House intelligence committee, said on ABC. “Unless that changes strategically, we can expect more attacks like this.”