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Vulnerable House Democrats Side With GOP on Refugee Bill

Ashford voted against the Republican bill to add an extra layer of bureaucratic certification to security checks for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nearly every member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Frontline Program for vulnerable members voted Thursday for a Republican bill that would add bureaucratic security checks for Syrians and Iraqis hoping to enter the U.S. as refugees.  

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Democratic strategists say the vote was good politics for those 13 Democratic incumbents, who represent competitive districts of varying degrees. The vote gave them an opportunity to appear tough on national security, an issue they often struggle with.  

"I think that the politics of it were difficult for some people because of the way that it could be construed," said one House Democratic chief of staff.
Of the 14 Frontline members, just one, Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, did not vote for the SAFE Act, which passed the House Thursday 289-137.

President Barack Obama threatened to veto the bill Wednesday, and its Senate prospects are murky. But thanks to the support of 47 Democrats, Thursday's vote total in the House would be enough to override a veto, at least in that chamber.  

Kirkpatrick, who's challenging Sen. John McCain in a race the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates Favored Republican , said in a statement before the bill went up for a vote, “I will vote against this legislation because it presents a false choice and it betrays the core values of the United States of America.”  

The rest of the Frontliners all voted in favor of the legislation. They are:

  • Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy, who is running for Senate to replace Marco Rubio, who is running for president.
  • Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., who is on Roll Call's list of the 10 most vulnerable House members. His Omaha-based district voted for Mitt Romney by 7 points in 2012.
  • Florida Rep. Gwen Graham, who is also on the 10 most vulnerable list, and whose district voted for Romney by a 6-point margin in 2012. She could become even more vulnerable due to a pending redistricting case.
  • Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan, who represents the state's Iron Range and is facing a rematch from Republican businessman Stewart Mills, whom he defeated by less than 2 points in 2014.
  • The Frontline members from California — Reps. Pete Aguilar, Ami Bera, Julia Brownley, Scott Peters and Raul Ruiz — all backed the bill.
  • Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who represents a marginally Democratic Phoenix-area district.
  • Rep. Ann McLane Kuster from New Hampshire's 2nd District, the more Democratic leaning of the Granite State's two seats.
  • Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who represents a competitive district in New York's Hudson Valley.
  • Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who doesn't yet have a credible challenger. Bustos' district leans Democratic, but she is a member of the Frontline program nonetheless.

Other non-Frontline members also voted in favor of the bill, including Rep. Collin C. Peterson, a Blue Dog Democrat who holds a GOP-leaning district in Western Minnesota.  

"At the end of the day, everyone has to vote their district," another House Democratic aide said.  

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