Florence, S.C. — Jeb Bush today refused to support an outright ban on Muslim refugees from Syria entering the United States, arguing that screening protocols must be examined before any decisions are made. He reiterated, however, that Christians should be welcomed without wait.
“At a minimum we ought to be bringing in people like orphans and people that clearly aren’t going to be terrorists. Or Christians — there are no Christian terrorists in the Middle East,” Bush said. “They’re persecuted religious minorities.”
Asked how the government could determine the authenticity of someone’s faith, Bush replied, “Well, [if] you’re a Christian, you can prove you’re a Christian.”
A reporter interrupted, “How?”
Bush paused, gave a slight shrug, and said, “I think you can prove it. If you can’t prove it, then you err on the side of caution.”
His remarks, made to a gaggle of reporters on the back patio of a barbeque joint here, capped a chaotic day in which Bush struggled to thread a political needle in addressing the sudden firestorm surrounding Syrian refugees following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
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Bush began the day by telling Bloomberg Politics that he disagrees with those of his Republican presidential rivals who have called for banning Syrian refugees. Within an hour, his communications adviser Tim Miller huddled with reporters at a luncheon in Columbia, South Carolina, to clarify that while Bush supports the right of Republican governors to call for such a ban, he personally disagrees with their position.
#share#A short while later, after his meet-and-greet here, Bush told reporters that GOP governors are “doing the right thing” in refusing to welcome Syrian refugees “because they haven’t gotten any information about what the screening process is.” He said that before anyone agrees to allow Muslim refugees into the U.S., the vetting process should itself be vetted.
“Look, refugees come to this country for all sorts of reasons. They don’t normally come with embedded terrorists in their midst. And that’s the challenge — this is a new form of influx,” Bush said. “We have a duty as we’ve always had, and it’s a noble one, to be able to provide support across the world. But there ought to be a pause for traditional screening to make sure that every governor and the American people know how it’s going to be done.”
On this score Bush blamed President Obama and his “so-called most transparent administration in recorded history” for not providing enough information to elected officials and the public.
He also previewed a theme he’s likely to hammer tomorrow in a speech at The Citadel in Charleston, saying that the government’s mission at this point should be finding military solutions to make Syria habitable for those trying to leave. His prescriptions: Creating “safe zones” protected by no-fly zones; embedding with Iraqi forces and enlisting European allies to join; engaging with tribal leaders; and stepping up diplomatic outreach to Arab governments.
#related#“We need a strategy to destroy ISIS,” Bush said.
With no such strategy on the horizon, however — and with Republican voters, governors and presidential candidates balking at Obama’s plan to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees next year — Bush acknowledged the lose-lose nature of the situation.
“I have sympathy for people who have lost their homes, who have lost their loved ones,” he said. “250,000 people dead. Who doesn’t? Who doesn’t have sympathy?”
But, Bush added, “it’s not our obligation to take in all of the challenges of the world.”
— Tim Alberta is chief political correspondent for National Review.