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In the House, Personal Debates on Refugees

Amash has family ties to the Middle East. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House debate on refugees and national security this week took a turn for the personal and for good reason: Several members are refugees or the children of refugees, have family ties to the Middle East or were imprisoned in U.S. internment camps on the basis of their ethnicity.  

After the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, House Republicans drafted legislation requiring the FBI to certify background checks for U.S.-bound Syrian and Iraqi refugees and U.S. national security agencies to vouch that they are not security threats. The final vote in the House on Thursday was 289-137, a veto-proof margin. In the run-up to that vote, elected officials beyond the Beltway called for Syrian refugees to be turned away from their borders. One, Mayor David A. Bowers of Roanoke, Va., a Democrat, even invoked the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II to justify taking a pass on resettling refugees.  

White House Loses Votes to GOP on Syrian Refugee Bill

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Democratic leadership braced Thursday for at least 60 defections on the Republican bill to strengthen the vetting of Syrian refugees seeking resettlement in the United States.  

It wasn't quite that high, but 47 Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with nearly every Republican for Congress' first legislative response to the terrorist attacks in Paris — despite a veto threat from President Barack Obama. The coalition of Democrats supporting the measure, which passed 289-137, wasn't atypical of previous votes for which leadership could not justify opposition. Articulating a reason to vote "no" on a bill sold as one to keep Americans safe was the challenge for White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who delivered a pitch to House Democratic whips Thursday morning that was criticized as incoherent and unconvincing.  

House Democrats Plan Alternative to Syrian Refugee Bill

Lofgren tried to get changes made to the GOP refugee bill due on the floor Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:15 p.m. | House Democrats will use procedural gambits to get a vote on their proposal aimed at easing concerns about Syrian refugees coming to the United States but without completely blocking their resettlement.  

The partisan maneuvering has the potential to weaken support for a Republican-backed bill set to come to the floor Thursday. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure, but the bill is expected to pass with GOP votes and some from fiscally conservative Democrats.  

Congress Scrambles for Response to Refugees, Paris Attacks

Ryan speaks Tuesday before signing the defense policy bill. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Top Republican leaders in Congress called for a "pause" in allowing Syrian refugees to enter the United States, as lawmakers in both chambers scrambled for a response to the Paris terrorist attacks.

 

House's Muslim Members Brace for Charged Terror Debate

Ellison, in 2011, arrives to testify at a Homeland Security Committee hearing on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response" (Bill Clark/Roll Call)

Updated 5:30 p.m. | The two Muslim members of the House share the sentiments of their fellow Democrats: Under no circumstances should the United States block Syrian refugees from this country in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris..  

But for Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and André Carson of Indiana, there's a greater sense of urgency in how Congress responds to the violence at the hands of the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, that has a stranglehold in Syria. Ellison and Carson live and work in a political environment where “Islam” is often paired with the phrase “radical,” and many Republicans argue the only way to prevent “Muslim extremists” from coming to the United States is to bar entry of all asylum seekers from Syria.  

Ryan Calls for Classified Briefings After Paris Attacks

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is laying the groundwork for the House's active engagement in the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks in Paris.  

The Wisconsin Republican asked the Obama administration to provide lawmakers with classified briefings in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 shootings and bombings carried out by Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, he said Monday morning in an interview on Bill Bennett's radio program. Ryan said he also instructed the House committees of jurisdiction to make policy recommendations for how the U.S. might continue letting Syrian refugees into the country without risking a deadly attack.  

The Congressional Wish List for the Pope's Speech

(Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

Every lawmaker on Capitol Hill has a cause that could use a boost from a powerful person's endorsement — and next week there won't be a more influential seal of approval than one from Pope Francis.  

Since taking on the papacy in March 2013, the leader of the world's largest church has shown a willingness to wade into some of the thorniest political debates around the globe, from economic equality to climate change to immigration.  

Boehner Slams Syrian Rebel Program, Offers No New Strategy

Boehner says Syria strategy isn't working. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner stopped short of calling for U.S. ground troops to combat Islamic State terror group fighters, but the Ohio Republican made it clear Wednesday he doesn't think President Barack Obama's strategy in the Middle East is working.  

With recent reports that only 60 Syrians have been trained to combat ISIS, Boehner was asked if he was open to the idea of putting American soldiers on the ground. "No," Boehner said, "I think that the initiative, which is the president’s, basically his anchor, in his strategy isn’t working.  

War on Islamic State Finally Gets House Floor Debate

McGovern spearheaded the push to force a floor debate on U.S. military action in Iraq and Syria (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Three House lawmakers wanted a robust debate on whether there should be boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria.  

On Wednesday, they got their wish. After nearly two hours of debate, the House voted down a privileged resolution directing President Barack Obama to withdraw most U.S. military personnel from the two countries by the end of the year at the latest.