Wall Street Journal
By Siobhan Hughes
January 20, 2016
Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked legislation to pause and overhaul a program to resettle Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S., stalling the momentum of a measure that President Barack Obama says is untenable and contrary to American values.
The vote fell mostly along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) rounded up support from 55 senators, too few to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to get around procedural hurdles. The House passed the measure in November and the White House shortly afterward issued a veto threat.
Despite its dim prospects, the bill was important to some lawmakers eager to show that they were responding to fears stemming from the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks. At least one of the attackers entered France as part of the wave of Syrian refugees flowing to the continent.
The legislation would halt the U.S. resettlement program until the Federal Bureau of Investigation could certify that each refugee wasn’t a threat to the U.S. Background checks are currently largely run by the Department of Homeland Security, though it works with other agencies, including the FBI.
Wednesday’s Senate vote made good on a promise by Mr. McConnell to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to put the bill on the Senate floor for a vote. But Mr. McConnell wasn't able to avoid some election-year maneuvering in the process.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) had earlier said that Democrats would be willing to debate the legislation if Mr. McConnell allowed amendment votes, including one that would denounce Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country.
Mr. Reid’s maneuver was designed to force vulnerable GOP senators currently facing re-election to either separate themselves from the popular Mr. Trump or embrace the Republican front-runner’s proposal and risk alienating more moderate voters.
When the Republican leader refused to guarantee a vote on such an amendment, Democrats voted against advancing the refugee-program bill. The vote was 55-43.
Vulnerable incumbent Republicans, such as Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have been touting their support for the legislation, as have Republican presidential contenders Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Mr. Cruz canceled events in New Hampshire, which holds a primary in three weeks, to show up for the vote. He, Mr. Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) all voted to move forward with the bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) didn't vote.
In the House, the measure drew the support of 47 Democrats, who said that an extra layer of certification was a reasonable response to public anxiety, compared with the proposal from Mr. Trump. Their votes were a rebuff to the Obama administration, which argued that refugees are already subject to extensive screenings that last 18 to 24 months and that the bill was unworkable because it would require government officials, including the FBI director, to personally guarantee that each refugee wasn’t a threat.
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