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Politics Sink Refugee Bill in Senate

McConnell, left, and Reid, right, are on opposite sides of the debate on the Syrian refugee bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate rejected taking up a bill Wednesday to enhance screening of refugees, after Republican and Democratic leaders failed to strike a deal on

politically charged amendments.  

The procedural vote on the refugee legislation fell five votes short of the 60-vote margin needed to bring the bill to the floor; two Democratic senators Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, voted with 53 Republicans to invoke cloture on the bill, which cleared the House in November.  

The politically charged issue brought Senate's GOP presidential candidates -- Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio -- back from the campaign trail to take a vote. But even though he wasn't in the Capitol, Donald Trump was claiming the oxygen.  

Senate Democrats Want Amendments on Refugee Bill 

Wednesday morning, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would support bringing the legislation to the floor if they could offer amendments, including one that would put senators on the record about Trump's campaign proposal to block Muslims from entering the country.  

Reid also said Democrats would bring up amendments related to barring suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from purchasing firearms; increasing funds for police counter-terrorism efforts and airport security; and passing a comprehensive Democratic security bill .  

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky essentially said he wouldn't agree to Reid's demand. He said that the way forward on the refugee admittance legislation would involve an open amendment process, alternating amendments between the two parties, which is different from the guaranteed four votes Reid suggested.  

The decision not to guarantee a vote on Trump's proposed policy drew ire from Democrats. Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin on Illinois said Senate Republicans have opted to "run like scalded cats," away from Reid's amendment about the Trump immigration proposal.  

Reid did not say whether the Trump-related amendment would reappear on future legislation, such a bipartisan energy bill that's expected to be on the floor next week. "What I personally am tired of is the Republicans saying one thing and doing another," Reid said. "We have been a constructive minority. We have worked with them to get things done."  

The underlying bill, known as the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, or American SAFE Act, passed the House in November with a lopsided vote, 289-137. But Reid said from the outset that the measure would not enjoy the same kind of support in the Senate, pledging Democrats would prevent the GOP from getting the 60 votes needed to bring it to the Senate floor.  

The bill would require that refugees from Iraq or Syria seeking to enter the United States, or anyone who has been in those countries at any time since March 2011, receive an extensive background check.  

The bill also stipulated that before being admitted as a refugee, the FBI must certify to the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence that the applicant has received a background check. The applicant can only be admitted after DHS, concurrently with the FBI and the DNI, certifies to Congress that the applicant is not a threat. The bill also requires the DHS inspector general to conduct annual reviews of the certifications and that DHS report to Congress each month the number of people admitted.  

Just before Wednesday's vote, Reid characterized it as a waste of time Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., characterized the bill as a waste of time. "We need to talk about efforts to defeat ISIS, not creating more paperwork for cabinet officers."  

Related: Vulnerable House Democrats Side With GOP on Refugee Bill

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