National Security & Defense

House Republicans Call for Halt to Syrian-Refugee Program

Representative Bradley Byrne (R., Ala.)

As the aftershocks of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris continue to reverberate, members of the House Armed Services Committee are paving a legislative path forward, grappling with provisions in the soon-to-be-signed National Defense Authorization Act, and with funding for the Department of Homeland Security in the upcoming budget. On Monday, in a letter to President Obama, Armed Services member Bradley Byrne (R., Ala.) underscored a chief aim of that developing agenda: halting the Syrian-refugee-resettlement program.

“It is now widely reported that at least one of the attackers responsible for the recent Paris terror attacks entered the country through the refugee process,” Byrne wrote in the letter, obtained by National Review.

“We have no greater responsibility as a federal government than to ensure the safety and security of the American people,” Byrne concludes. “It is clearly in the best interest of the American people to halt the Syrian refugee resettlement program.”

The letter comes as GOP lawmakers scramble to craft an agenda following the attacks, and sentiment grows among members that the refugee-resettlement program needs to end. Over the weekend, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy hosted “multiple conference calls” with GOP leadership on how to respond to the attacks, an aide tells National Review. These conversations centered on “providing support to our French and regional allies, as well as identifying steps the Congress can take to keep Americans safe from the threat posed by ISIS,” the aide says.

As of now, House Republicans’ most visible response has been to increase calls for a “moratorium” on the Syrian-refugee-resettlement program, says Armed Services senior member Walter Jones. “We need to stop and review where we’re going. I know many of these refugees are good people, but we have an obligation to our own country.” For Jones, the current system, which subjects Syrian refugees to security screening as they enter the country, needs to be scrutinized and restructured to ensure that refugees on American soil “have no ties to jihadist groups.”

The chatter takes on a sharpened edge with the December 11 deadline for funding the government looming. As it stands, the omnibus budget bill has provisions carved out for funding the refugee-resettlement program, provisions that many GOP members will fight to eradicate. The president has given no indication that he intends to budge on the program’s funding — on Monday, he told reporters that “slamming the door” in the faces of Syrian refugees would be “a betrayal of our values” — leaving a handful of GOP members concerned about the threat of a government shutdown, as more and more are calling for an end to the program.

Armed Services member Mo Brooks doesn’t mince his words. The president’s willingness to increase the number of refugees is “masochistic,” he says. Asked whether he sees the credible threat of a shutdown, Brooks demurs. “I’m nervous about thousands of Americans suffering the same fate that was suffered in Paris and on 9/11. And I’m nervous about the debilitating insolvency caused in part by foolhardy giveaway programs.”

One committee chairman says that the newly charged debate over the program means that government funding is on shaky ground.

“We don’t have the money to pay for them,” Brooks says. “We can’t even care for our own people right now.”

The chorus is rising among members outside of Armed Services as well. On Monday, McCarthy scheduled a closed-door meeting with committee chairmen to discuss the attacks, with the Syrian-refugee program the top item on the agenda.

Following the meeting, Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the Oversight Committee, echoes Jones, telling National Review that the “core” of the issue is the screening process for refugees. “I don’t buy what the Obama administration says is proper and thorough vetting,” he says. “These people are not thoroughly vetted. . . . We’re going to be having a hearty debate about it.”

One committee chairman says that the newly charged debate over the program means that government funding is on shaky ground. Asked whether the threat of a shutdown is legitimate, the chairman says, “At this point, I don’t know.”

The flurry of attention on the program stems from the fact that one of the suspects in the Paris terrorist attacks was allegedly a Syrian refugee who traveled through Greece in October. Responding to the attacks on Monday morning, Speaker Paul Ryan told talk-radio host Bill Bennett: “We’ve always been a generous nation taking in refugees, but this is a unique situation. I’ve asked all of the committees of jurisdiction in the House to come up with recommendations for how we immediately address this situation.” But some GOP presidential candidates are pressuring Ryan to commit to action and make his stance clearer. Mike Huckabee called on Ryan to step down from his post as speaker if he’s unwilling to end the resettlement program. And Ben Carson wrote a letter to Ryan asking Ryan to move legislation through the House that “terminates all public funding” for the program. 

#share#Obama launched the refugee-resettlement program in September with the intent of taking in up to 10,000 Syrian refugees, and it will undoubtedly captivate the House agenda in the days ahead. Ryan has organized a briefing with all members for this week, and Armed Services will conduct two hearings this week as well.

Byrne says that he hopes that his letter will solidify in writing the burgeoning consensus among his colleagues that the program should be halted.

“We’ve got to deal with this crisis now,” he says. “The president is showing an arrogant hostility right now, so it’s time for us to sit down ourselves with uniformed military commanders and say: What do we need to do?”

Read Byrne’s full letter below:

— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.

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