Funding for Syrian Refugees Could Spark a Big Fight in Congress
Policy + Politics

Funding for Syrian Refugees Could Spark a Big Fight in Congress

Concerned that a Paris-style terrorist attack could happen in the U.S., congressional Republicans are threatening to use an omnibus spending bill to cut off funding for the administration’s efforts to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees in the country, setting up another potential fight over federal spending.

French security officials believe that one of the suicide bomber suspects in last week’s massacre was a migrant who entered the country via Greece, setting off alarms bells around the globe that ISIS and other extremist groups might be exploiting the crisis to sneak their operatives into Western countries unnoticed.

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In the U.S., at least a dozen Republican governors have announced they won’t allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states in the wake of last week’s attack that killed around 130 people.

The backlash comes just hours after President Obama made impassioned remarks at the G-20 meeting in Turkey about why the U.S. should continue to accept refugees, having already let in roughly 2,000.

"Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values," he said. The White House wants to take in 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016.

On Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are crafting an omnibus measure that keeps the government operating past December 11, the mood is quickly souring and could hamper work to finish the bill.

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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who chairs the Judiciary Committee subpanel for immigration and national interest, sent a letter to his colleagues asking them to hold a separate vote to approve funding for the administration’s plan.

“Our track record on screening is very poor. My subcommittee has identified at least 26 foreign-born individuals inside the United States charged with or convicted of terrorism over approximately the last year alone,” he said Monday in a letter to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The barbaric attacks in Paris — an assault on civilization itself — add immense new urgency … Additionally, every cent of spending on refugee resettlement will have to be borrowed and added to the debt,” he wrote.

Related: Bush: U.S. Should Only Accept ‘Christian’ Refugees from Syria

The missive by Sessions, a hardliner on immigration issues, could be a precursor to a larger fight that conservatives, who lost their most recent bid to defund Planned Parenthood, plan to wage ahead of the looming December deadline.

“We cannot allow Syrian refugees in the United States in the current dangerous environment,” said Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that controls the State Department’s budget.

In a Monday radio interview, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) disclosed that he has requested the administration provide a classified briefing on the Paris attacks to all House members and that leaders are weighing all options when it comes to refugees, including cutting off funding.

"We've always been a generous nation, taking in refugees, but this is a unique situation," he said.

"We got to make sure we protect ourselves ... making sure we're not complicit or even facilitating of having someone come in who would come to do us harm from Syria," said Ryan. "We're trying to figure out what is the best legislative option we have to make sure we can prevent something like this from happening.”

Republican presidential contenders are also pressuring Ryan to take action. Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called on him to freeze the influx of migrants and terminate the resettlement effort’s funding.

"If Ryan will not lead and reject the importation of those fleeing the Middle East without assurances that we can separate refugees from terrorists, then Speaker Ryan needs to step down today and let someone else lead," Huckabee wrote in a tweet.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), another White House hopeful and Granger’s counterpart in the Senate, on Tuesday called for a “timeout” on bringing refugees from Syria into the United States.

“The one thing I’ve learned from Paris is that we need to have a timeout on bringing refugees into this country until we have a system that we think will work,” he said during an interview with Fox News Radio. “So I’m calling for a timeout on Syrian refugees.”

That’s a departure from his stance earlier this year, when he and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a bill that would provide an extra $1 billion for refugee resettlement.

"We should take our fair share,” Graham said in September during an event the National Press Club in Washington.

If the U.S. didn’t step up its efforts to bring more refugees into the country, “we should take down the Statue of Liberty and tear it down.”

"This is our response as a nation, just tear it down. We don't mean it anymore,” Graham said at the time.