A growing political war of words over whether to take in Syrian refugees in the wake of last week's terror attack in Paris may be morphing into the next government shutdown showdown.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions sent a letter to colleagues Monday urging them to support adding language to the next government spending bill that would effectively block President Barack Obama's plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year. Obama on Monday said he intends to go forward with his plan, despite numerous calls from Republican presidential candidates and governors that he scrap it.
Sessions is proposing that Congress explicitly prohibit any funding for Syrian refugee resettlement unless Congress approves it and finds money to offset the cost.
“The barbaric attacks in Paris—an assault on civilization itself—add immense new urgency,” wrote Sessions, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on immigration and has been urging major reductions in immigration to the United States.
Attempting to add such a measure to a funding bill that must pass by Dec. 11 to keep the government funded raises the possibility that a debate over whether to accept new Syrian refugees could lead to a shutdown.
Adding to the pressure on Congress: Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called on Speaker Paul Ryan to use his power to “reject the importation of” refugees from the Middle East, even suggesting that the new House speaker should resign if he is not willing to do so.
The move will be the first major test for Ryan, who replaced John Boehner just two weeks ago after the conservative wing of the House Republican conference pushed the former speaker out. On Bill Bennett's radio show on Monday, Ryan kept his options open.
The call to resist the admission of refugees from Syria will also put Republican presidential candidates on the spot.
Over the weekend, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz spoke out against accepting refugees from the war-torn country. Rubio argued that “there's no way” to check the backgrounds of the refugees to make sure they don't have terrorist links. Cruz said bringing in Syrian refugees “makes no sense whatsoever.”
Another presidential candidate, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, in an interview on Fox radio Monday, called for a “timeout” on accepting Syrian refugees until the U.S. can get a more rigorous screening process in place.
Also on Monday, in an interview with MSNBC, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said the U.S. “cannot let refugees in this country unless we know who they are,” and that the administration isn't able to determine that.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, another Republican presidential candidate, is also making it an issue.
The House Judiciary Committee announced that it will hold a hearing Tuesday “on the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on national security.”
In an indication of a potential showdown, Obama on Monday rejected calls to reverse his plans for bringing in the refugees, telling reporters during a trip to Turkey that “we're going to see it through,” and noting that those fleeing Syria “are the most harmed by terrorism.” He also chided Republicans for their calls to keep the refugees out.
“We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism,” the president said.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, joined a number of his Republican Senate colleagues Monday in a letter that urges the president not to allow in Syrian refugees unless his administration can guarantee “with 100 percent certainty” that they are not members of the Islamic State, the terror group that has fueled the sweeping migration by taking advantage of the Syrian civil war to seize swathes of territory. The senators, however, stopped short of calling for a moratorium on accepting refugees.
(Contributing: Billy House and Margaret Talev)