A Testy Obama Warns Republicans: Your Rhetoric Is Helping ISIS

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Nov 18 2015

After months of criticism by Republican presidential hopefuls over his administration’s efforts to combat ISIS and recent critiques of his demeanor in the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Paris and the debate about Syrian refugees, President Obama on Wednesday signaled he’s had enough.

During a news conference in the Philippines, an icy Obama condemned what he called “political posturing” that has dominated discourse on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail when it comes to Syrian refugees, saying it “needs to stop.”

Related: Congress Wants to Slam the Door on the Syrian Refugee Program

“Apparently they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America," Obama said. "At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me."

The remarks were a direct shot at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who on Tuesday joined a majority of the country’s governors when he said he wouldn’t allow migrants to resettle in his state, not even “orphans under the age of five.”

Obama went on to say he couldn’t “think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that's been coming out of here during the course of this debate,” especially an idea by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), another presidential contender, to prioritize Christian refugees over Muslims.

He previously singled out Cruz’s proposal on Monday during a combative press conference in Turkey, labeling a religious test for refugees as “shameful” and “not American.”

Related: Funding for Syrian Refugees Could Spark a Big Fight in Congress

“These are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they're so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there,” Obama noted.

Cruz fired back at the commander-in-chief. "It is utterly unbefitting of the president to be engaging in those kind of personal insults and attacks," he told reporters, according to NBC News.

"He talked about how he was belittling the Republican field as scared. Well let me suggest something: Mr. President, if you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries. But I would encourage you Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face," Cruz said.

The president rarely employs such confrontational rhetoric, aside from statements he’s made following mass shootings in the U.S. Like those deadly incidents, the white-hot debate over U.S. policy on Syrian refugees after last week’s attack in Paris by ISIS that killed around 130 people seems to have struck a nerve with Obama.

In a Wednesday speech on the chamber floor, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said lawmakers would vote Thursday on a measure that would “pause” the administration’s plan to bring in 10,000 migrants by the end of 2016 until more security measures are in place.

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

That no doubt will go over poorly with the administration, which has dug in its heels on the issue.

“We are going to do the right thing in the right way -- protecting the American people even as we provide refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” Amy Pope, deputy homeland security adviser for the National Security Council, wrote in a Tuesday blog post.

Related: Ted Cruz’s Flawed Logic for Blocking Muslim Refugees

Obama didn’t spare congressional Republicans from scorn, noting that he’s waited a year and a half for Capitol Hill to approve an anti-ISIS war power resolution.

“And now, suddenly, they're able to rush in, in a day or two, to solve the threat of widows and orphans and others who are fleeing a war-torn land, and that's their most constructive contribution to the effort against IISL? That doesn't sound right to me,” he chided.

Obama said he understands “why the American people have been particularly affected” by the Paris attacks, out of fear a similar massacre could occur in the U.S.

But “we are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic," he said. "We don't make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks."

Perhaps realizing how fired up he had become on the issue, Obama concluded his remarks by turning to Philippines President Benigno Aquino and apologizing.

“Sorry, Mr. President, I had a lot to say on that one,” he said.

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