Loebsack, King cross party lines on bill halting refugees from Syria, Iraq

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Today the U.S. House approved a bill that “would prevent any refugees from Syria or Iraq from entering the United States until the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence certify that none of them are dangerous,” Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill. Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among 47 Democrats who joined 242 Republicans to pass the bill (roll call). Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) also voted yes, but Representative Steve King (IA-04) was one of only two House Republicans to vote no. His office has not yet responded to my request for comment or issued a statement explaining that vote.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which according to White House would “‘provide no meaningful additional security for the American people’ and impose new certification requirements that effectively end the refugee program” to assist those fleeing Syria or Iraq. Marcos reported, “GOP aides noted that because of absences, the vote would have met the two-thirds requirement to override a presidential veto if that vote had been held Thursday. Still, there’s no guarantee that Democrats would vote to override the president if the bill comes back to the floor.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sounds confident the bill will not clear the upper chamber.

I will update this post as needed with comments from Iowa’s Congressional delegation or other reaction to today’s vote. The epic fail of the day goes to the Republican Party of Iowa for sending out the press release enclosed below. In that statement, Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann “applauds King, Blum, Young on Refugee Vote.” Check the roll call first, guys.

Note: most of the perpetrators of last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris were French citizens.

UPDATE: King’s office provided the following statement: “I voted against the American SAFE Act because it fails to restore Congress’ Article 1 authority over admissions of migrants to the United States. How can we trust this Obama Administration who will not utter the words ‘radical Islamic jihad’ to accurately screen Syrian and Iraqi refugees as required in this bill? For that reason, I submitted an amendment to rules, which was ultimately not adopted, that would create international safe zones for refugees in their homeland. The safety and security of the American people is paramount. I respect the House trying to find a solution but I do not believe this was the right or strong enough one.”

The Iowa GOP issued a corrected press release, blaming “incorrect press reports of a unanimous Republican vote” for their error. Always wait for the official roll call. I’ve added the new statement below, along with a screen shot of a tweet (since deleted) from state party co-chair Cody Hoefert thanking all three Iowa Republicans “for voting to strengthen our national security.”

SECOND UPDATE: Blum’s statement is below as well.

THIRD UPDATE: Added Loebsack’s official comment on the vote. When I asked whether Loebsack would vote to override a presidential veto of this bill, his communications director Joe Hand responded, “Will have to see what happens in the Senate before we talk overriding any possible veto.”

FOURTH UPDATE: I’ve seen lots of progressives criticize Loebsack’s vote on social media, and some of that feedback must be getting through. On Friday afternoon, Loebsack for Congress sent out an e-mail blast with the subject line “my vote.” Scroll to the end of this post to read the full text. Most of the commenters on Loebsack’s Facebook status update about this vote criticized his stance. As of November 21, neither Loebsack nor his staff had responded publicly to the comments.

Iowa GOP press release, November 19:

RELEASE: Kaufmann Applauds King, Blum, Young on Refugee Vote

Good afternoon,

If you are reporting on today’s vote on Syrian refugees in the House, please consider the below statement from Chairman Jeff Kaufmann:

“The people of Iowa thank our fantastic House members – Representatives King, Young, and Blum – for voting to strengthen background checks on refugees coming from areas with known terrorist threats. This bill, which passed with broad support from both political parties, will help keep Americans safe now and in the future.

It also serves as a stark reminder of the stakes in our 2016 congressional elections. Would Democratic candidates like Monica Vernon, Pat Murphy, Jim Mowrer, and others have stood firm and voted for this bill, or would they have bowed to President Obama’s pressure and voted against this commonsense legislation?”

Corrected Iowa GOP press release, November 19 (emphasis in original):

CORRECTION: Kaufmann Applauds House for Strengthening American Security

NOTE: The Iowa GOP based its initial statement on incorrect press reports of a unanimous Republican vote for H.R. 4038. We learned after the first release that Rep. King voted against the bill. We apologize for the error.

Corrected Statement:

“The people of Iowa thank the House of Representatives for voting to strengthen background checks on refugees coming from areas with known terrorist threats. This bill, which passed with broad support from both political parties, will help keep Americans safe now and in the future. While we understand Rep. King voted against this bill, we know he did so with an eye toward further strengthening American Security.

This issue is a reminder of the stakes in our 2016 congressional elections. Would Democratic candidates like Monica Vernon, Pat Murphy, Jim Mowrer, and others support strengthening American security, or would they have bowed to President Obama’s pressure to keep the status quo?”
-Jeff Kaufmann, chairman, Republican Party of Iowa

Iowa GOP fail photo Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 3.51.33 PM_zpsmgmfwaqb.png

Statement issued by Representative Rod Blum, November 19:

Congressman Blum Votes for American SAFE Act

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Rod Blum voted “yes” on H.R. 4038, the American SAFE Act of 2015, to pause the refugee intake from the Syrian crisis until the American government can be certain any refugees accepted from Iraq and Syria are not a security threat before granting them entrance into the United States. The legislation passed the House by a 289 – 137 vote.

“Today, I joined a bipartisan, veto-proof majority of my colleagues in the House to make sure we keep America safe,” said Congressman Blum. “With the recent attacks in Paris, this bill is a common sense measure that pauses the resettlement program until the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence are able to thoroughly vet any Syrian or Iraqi refugees seeking admission into our country. My chief concern will always be the safety of Iowans and all Americans, and in this situation we must err on the side of caution to protect our citizens.”

Rod Blum is the Republican Congressman in Iowa’s 1st District. He is a member of the Budget and Oversight & Government Reform Committees.

Representative Dave Loebsack’s office sent this statement:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the House voted on H.R. 4038, the American SAFE Act of 2015.

“I have spent my time in Congress working to ensure the safety of the American people and the security of our homeland. This has been and continues to be my number one priority. But let me be clear: I fully support bringing in all those who are victims of terrorism in their own country that we safely can. The legislation that was voted on today does not stop that process, rather it simply asks our screening agencies to certify that those entering our country are not terrorists.

“It is reprehensible that those on the right have used this tragedy for fearmongering. It is time for that to stop. At the same time, while the Administration opposes this bill, it is their responsibility to certify to the American people that those entering our country will do us no harm. Going forward, we must work together to make sure our screening processes are strong and effective so we can welcome those who are truly seeking safety.”

E-mail blast from Loebsack for Congress, sent in the late afternoon on November 20:

[Recipient’s first name],

America has long been a beacon for those throughout the world seeking refuge. We are a nation of immigrants that enjoys great opportunity, and I believe we have a sacred responsibility to help those fleeing war, terrorism, and violence. I fully support bringing refugees from Syria, Iraq, and other war torn countries into the United States. I have even called on the administration to do more for Syrian refugees, and I support admitting even more to our country.

I absolutely reject the hateful rhetoric and fear mongering coming out of the Republican Party, particularly many of those running for President. Suggesting that we create religious litmus tests or special databases or ID cards for Muslims is un-American, and has absolutely no place in our political discourse. It is abhorrent to use the suffering of a civilian population for political gain, and sowing the seeds of Islamophobia only strengthens the ability of those like ISIS to spread fear and distrust throughout the world.

At the same time, the administration must provide reasonable security assurances to the American people that in admitting those in need, we do not admit anyone seeking to do us harm. That is simply what the American SAFE Act does, and why I voted in favor of it. It requires our intelligence and homeland security leaders, who themselves have recently stated that there are gaps in our screening process, to determine that each refugee does not pose a threat to American security, and certify to Congress that there is no threat before a refugee is granted admission to the United States. I have been briefed by administration officials at the highest levels, and I have not been presented with sufficient evidence that this legislation would be unworkable or would further delay what I understand is already a robust screening process.

A vote for this bill was not a vote to block Syrian refugees, or to stop or delay the admission process. And it was most certainly not an accusation that all those seeking refuge in our country are terrorists. Rather, it is a simple request that the administration do its duty to the American people by certifying that among those seeking asylum, no one slips through who aims to do us harm.

I also understand that there are gaps to our security outside of the refugee admission process that must be addressed. I support common sense proposals to close dangerous loopholes in the visa waiver program, and to restrict gun sales to those on the terrorist watch list. These are practical and sensible solutions that should have bipartisan support.

I urge the administration to do everything it can for victims of conflict who wish to come to the United States, and I will continue to support making sure that our intelligence and homeland security agencies have the resources necessary to keep Americans safe.

I recognize that this is a watershed moment for our country, and we will not turn our backs on those in need.

Please stay in touch for more details in the upcoming days on my Facebook page >>

Thanks for reading,

Dave

LATE UPDATE: Representative David Young’s office sent out a full op-ed on this issue rather than a separate press release on the refugee bill vote. Excerpts:

What happened in Paris is devastating and an act of pure evil. I know all across Iowa and America our hearts and prayers go out to France and her people.

Our hearts also go out to those refugees fleeing from the violence and terror in Syria. We are a generous nation and have always welcomed those from abroad who are escaping war and oppression. We will continue to be involved in providing assistance to these children, women and men.

However, we are in a very dangerous position as we consider opening our doors to those escaping violence in Syria and Iraq. It didn’t have to be this way. From the beginning, President Obama has not taken the threat of ISIS as serious as a commander-in-chief should. On the morning of the Paris terrorist attacks, the president said ISIS was “contained” – just hours before they carried out one of the most deadly and sophisticated attacks since 9/11. The disconnect is alarming to Congress and to the American people.

Now the Obama administration is charging full speed ahead on a plan to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States with no reliable way to vet whether these individuals are members of ISIS or have ties to other terrorist organizations. This makes me think back to 2009, when a flaw in the screening of Iraqi refugees allowed two al Qaeda-linked terrorists to enter the United States and settle in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In the aftermath of this case the Obama administration halted the refugee program for Iraqis for six months.

It is clear, we need to press the pause button on the Syrian refugee process. The most solemn and consequential responsibility of the federal government is to protect the American people. ISIS has publicly threatened to launch terror attacks on American soil, just like the threats they made to France before this attack and to Russia before downing a Russian passenger plane two weeks ago.

Department of Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson said, “It is true that we are not going to know a whole lot about the Syrians that come forth in this process.”

FBI Director James Comey stated, “My concern there is that there are certain gaps I don’t want to talk about publicly in the data available to us.”

It would be reckless for the Administration and Congress to not take ISIS threats seriously. We have an obligation to implement a well-thought-out process ensuring – without question – any refugee admitted to the United States has been extensively vetted.

That is why I joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 289 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act. This bill would require the Homeland Security Secretary, FBI Director, and Director of National Intelligence to certify refugees from countries with ISIS strongholds are properly vetted to ensure they are not affiliated with this terrorist organization. This is a commonsense step the federal government is required to take to fulfill its duty to protect Americans.

LATE NOVEMBER UPDATE: Loebsack published an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, headlined “Vote wasn’t to keep out refugees.” It appeared online on November 27 and in the Sunday paper on November 29. The arguments closely track points he made in the e-mail to supporters, posted above. Excerpts:

Like many of you, I feel passionately that as Americans we cannot lose sight of our basic values and that we continue to welcome those from regions experiencing horrific conflicts such as what we have witnessed in Syria over the past several years. Indeed, I believe that we ought to accept more than the 10,000 refugees proposed by President Obama.

It is also true, however, that the only way we can continue to accept such folks is if the process by which they are accepted here is one that ensures our homeland remains safe. A vote for this bill was not a vote to block Syrian refugees, or to stop or delay the admission process. My oath of office requires nothing less than protecting America from threats both foreign and domestic. Rather, this bill is a simple request that the administration do its duty to the American people by certifying that among those seeking asylum, no one slips through who aims to do us harm. That is the reason I voted to enhance what is already a robust process.

There has also been a considerable amount of misinformation spread about the bill. If any of that were true, I would not have voted as I did. After an exhaustive consideration of the legislation on my part, including hearing from top Obama administration officials, it is clear to me that this bill will not pause the process for admitting more refugees. There is certainly no religious test for admittance. And, contrary to claims by the administration, it is entirely feasible to implement the legislation. Unfortunately, I have no doubt that if even one person who may be allowed in did us harm, the voices of xenophobia would drown out those of us who are welcoming refugees and the very existence of the program would be imperiled.

Also on November 29, the Des Moines Register published a letter to the editor from Newman Abuissa of Iowa City. Excerpt:

French president François Hollande announced on Nov. 18 that France will continue to resettle Syrian refugees like many other European countries. Gov. Terry Branstad joined 26 other governors in officially asking President Barack Obama to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.

Nov. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to specifically block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from resettlement in the U.S. on the basis of their national origin.

As a Syrian American, I strongly condemn this and I am deeply disappointed in the House passing this bill. I am shocked that Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack voted to give veto proof majority to the bill. Blocking refugees is not American and is profoundly negative for America’s image abroad and troubling to our allies in the Middle East.

Photo credit: Greg Hauenstein

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