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Analyst Puts Odds Of Government Shutdown Over Refugees At 50-50

By William Douglas and Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Congress returns to Washington this week facing a potential showdown over Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S., a battle that could lead to a partial shutdown of the government.

Lawmakers must approve a $1.1 trillion spending bill before Dec. 11. And some opponents of President Barack Obama’s effort to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in this country view the must-pass funding measure as the perfect vehicle to thwart the administration’s plan.

“I think it’s better than 50-50 that we’re going to get one,” Norman Ornstein, a centrist scholar on politics and Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, said of a shutdown.

The House of Representatives passed a bill before its Thanksgiving recess that essentially blocks the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S. unless they pass heightened security background checks.

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has vowed to block the bill sponsored by Republican Reps. Richard Hudson of North Carolina and Michael McCaul of Texas. And Obama threatens to veto it if the bill arrives at his desk, even though it passed the House on a veto-proof bipartisan 289-137 vote.

That leaves the spending bill, said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.

“That’s the logical next step, especially if the Senate doesn’t take up the issue,” said Mulvaney, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “The House will use the power of the purse. If the president wants to challenge us on that and shut the government down we can have that debate then.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., dismissed shutdown talk on a series of potentially contentious issues from refugee resettlement to federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

“I don’t see a shutdown happening,” McCarthy said Monday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, speaking Monday in Paris, said the administration is trusting Republican leaders to keep their word. He noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has several times “assured the American public that there won’t be a shutdown this year.”

“Obviously, the Senate majority leader will have a lot to say about the outcome, so his steadfast commitment to ensuring that doesn’t happen is certainly something that we take some solace in,” Earnest said.

Despite those assurances, some GOP lawmakers are agitating to use the spending bill as a vehicle to stem the refugee resettlement program.

Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, sent a letter with at least 73 Republican signatures calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., to halt funding for refugee resettlement in the spending bill unless the White House establishes stricter vetting procedures for refugees.

Lawmakers who advocate linking the Syrian refugee issue to the omnibus spending bill feel that public opinion would be with them this time, despite polls showing the majority of Americans blamed Republicans for partial government shutdowns in 1996 and 2013.

But some political experts say Democrats and the White House also need to tread cautiously on the refugee issue or potentially pay a price if fear of terrorism remains a front-burner issue in 2016.

“I don’t think there’s any question where the public is on this,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Given that they (Democrats) are running upstream, they have to worry about how the public interprets it.”

House Democrats appeared mindful of that.

Among the 47 Democrats who voted for the GOP-sponsored refugee bill were 13 members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents.

And the question of Syrian refugees already appears to be playing out on the congressional campaign trail.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is seeking the open Florida Senate seat created by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s decision not to seek re-election, was among the Democrats who voted for the bill.

New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who’s running against incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, was the first Democratic governor to support suspending the refugees program until there are assurances that those seeking to enter the United States are properly vetted.

Governors in at least 30 states also have voiced objections to refugee resettlement plan citing security concerns.

Those concerns were magnified by reports that one of the Paris terrorist suspects had a fake Syrian passport and entered Europe with a wave of refugees from that war-torn country.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at the John Hay Initiative in Washington September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Senate Falls Short On Keystone, Battle Looms With Obama Next Year

By William Douglas, Kevin G. Hall, and Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Senate failed to vote for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday, rebuffing a Democratic senator fighting for her political career and setting up a confrontation between President Barack Obama and a Republican-controlled Congress over the pipeline next year.

Senators voted 59-41 for the pipeline, falling one vote short of the 60 needed to get past a threatened filibuster and pass the bill. Fourteen Democrats joined 45 Republicans in voting for the bill.

The vote was steeped in election politics. After refusing to allow a vote for months, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cleared the way to help a fellow Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, facing a tough runoff election in Louisiana, where the pipeline is popular.

Her opponent, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, sponsored similar pro-pipeline legislation, and it passed the House of Representatives last week.

Reid and Senate Democratic leaders allowed the vote in hopes of boosting Landrieu’s prospects against Cassidy back home. They still opposed the bill themselves and did not use the party machinery to formally push for or against the bill, leaving her and other Keystone supporters scurrying for yes votes.

“We usually know the outcome of the vote before we take it because the deals are all cut,” Landrieu said on the Senate floor. “I brought this bill to the floor knowing in my heart that we have 60 votes.”

Democratic foes, who say the pipeline would harm the environment and contribute to global warming, were supportive of Landrieu’s political plight but staunch in their opposition against her bill. In one breath, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., ensured that Landrieu got credit for the bill by reminding senators that they were voting on Landrieu’s, not Cassidy’s, measure. In the next, she blasted Landrieu’s bill, saying the “XL” in the pipeline’s name stands for “X-tra Lethal.”

“I believe it’s one more capitulation to our fossil fuel habit, one more accelerant to global warming that threatens our children’s future,” added retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. “Every dollar we spend today on developing and using more fossil fuels is another dollar spent in digging the graves of our grandchildren.”

Republicans, the oil industry and labor unions, have touted the pipeline as a job creator that would help the United States lower the amount of oil it uses from the Middle East.

“The Keystone XL pipeline really is, if there is such a thing, a win-win,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Tuesday’s vote doesn’t mean the end of the Keystone debate. Republicans vowed to approve the 1,700-mile pipeline that would bring crude oil from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to American refineries on the Gulf Coast when they control both the House and Senate next year.

“Once the 114th Congress convenes, the Senate will act again on this important legislation, and I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the new year,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will be the Senate majority leader next year.

If Congress passes a Keystone bill, Obama would have to decide whether or not to veto it. His aides signaled they don’t think Congress has a say.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday called the bill “a piece of legislation that the president doesn’t support because the president believes that this is something that should be determined through the State Department and the regular process that is in place to evaluate projects like this.”

The State Department, which determined in its first review that the pipeline would not have a significant impact on climate change, is now assessing whether the project is in the U.S. national interest. In addition, the administration is also waiting for a ruling from a lawsuit in Nebraska that could change the route of the pipeline.

The State Department in January said an average of 42,100 jobs a year would be created during construction of the pipeline, with wages totaling $2 billion.

However, once the pipeline became operational, it would only require an estimated 50 employees — 35 permanent workers and 15 temporary contractors, according to the State Department.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm