By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
WASHINGTON — House Democrats are planning to introduce a leadership-endorsed proposal that provides Americans with security without completely blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
The alternative measure has the potential to weaken support for the Republican-backed bill set come to the floor Thursday.
The GOP bill would take a more hard-line approach to the vetting process of Iraqi and Syrian refugees seeking to resettle in the United States. The legislation is a response to the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris carried out by affiliates of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Combining elements of policies proposed by Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., the bill would not “pause” Syrian refugee admissions entirely, as many Republicans have been clamoring for since last week and which makes Democrats nervous.
President Barack Obama rebuked congressional Republicans for “hysteria” and “an exaggeration of risks” about Syrian refugees coming to the U.S.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats believe imposing additional layers of bureaucracy to an already tightly controlled vetting process, as the GOP bill would do, could be tantamount to shutting down the program.
“It would close the program down for two years, if not more,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., ranking member of the Judiciary immigration subcommittee. She said Democrats were “working on language” Tuesday and consulting with the Department of Homeland Security, State Department and terrorist specialists.
“We were getting input and feedback from experts and not just ourselves,” she said in an interview.
A joint statement released by Lofgren and Democratic Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Bennie Thompson said the GOP bill would also “severely handicap future refugee resettlement around the world.”
Democratic leadership aides familiar with the alternative now say lawmakers are weighing procedural options for forcing a vote on their new bill, which is still being drafted.
One move would be to offer the Democratic bill as a substitute amendment to the GOP measure during the Rules Committee markup late Wednesday afternoon. The GOP majority on Rules usually rejects Democratic amendments, so this could be a test of Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s commitment to promoting a more open House.
Democrats could also offer their alternative during floor debate as a “previous question” or “motion to recommit,” two procedural maneuvers that are the minority party’s prerogative.
The Democratic proposal is still being crafted, but sources say it’s likely to include provisions sought by Lofgren and Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.
Lofgren and Thompson were in touch late Tuesday with their GOP counterparts to suggest modifications to the GOP bill. Lofgren did not share details of the Democrats’ request, but said it included alternative ways to tighten the refugee vetting process hampering the United States’ ability to admit asylum seekers.
At least one of the Democratic suggestions was included in the GOP text, according to a Republican aide familiar with the discussions.
As far as Lofgren is concerned, Republicans never responded to her and Thompson.
“If they really wanted a bipartisan bill, they didn’t act like it,” she said.
A senior GOP aide described the Democrats’ version of events as “not entirely accurate.”
There is also concern that some Democrats who may have been willing to support the GOP bill could feel pressure to back off.
One moderate Democrat, Rep. Brad Ashford of Nebraska, so far said he plans to continue supporting the bill by McCaul and Hudson.
“We have just agreed to be the only Democrat on it, so far, to co-sponsor that bill,” Ashford’s chief of staff, Jeremy Nordquist, told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday. “I think it gets to where we want to be — we don’t want to have a suspension of the program if we don’t have to — but I think Congressman Ashford wants … to make sure we’re addressing the security concerns of our constituents.”
Nordquist said Ashford plans to talk to his Democratic colleagues ahead of a Thursday floor vote. He might find allies among fellow members of the Blue Dog Coalition, the fiscally conservative Democratic group.
Hudson, meanwhile, told reporters he hopes Democrats would come on board.
“We’ve worked very closely with some leaders on the Democratic side,” he said. “The speaker has spoken to Leader (Nancy) Pelosi, so those negotiations are ongoing.”
Photo: Eleven-year-old Omran Wawieh, right, a refugee from Syria, is staying with parents and siblings at a motel in Pomona, Calif. Democrats in the Senate plan an alternative to a Syrian refugee bill. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)