Over half of the House Democrats who helped Republicans deliver a veto-proof vote to temporarily suspend Syrian and Iraqi refugee admissions last month are now demanding that language be left out of the must-pass omnibus spending bill.
Most of those speaking out also want House appropriators to put more money into the refugee resettlement and assistance programs — especially to help Syrian refugees.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has circulated a letter calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to “reject attempts” to include any language blocking the acceptance of refugees in the year-end omnibus spending package that lawmakers must pass by Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown.
“Congress should not attempt to strong-arm the President into turning his back on Syrian families desperately seeking refuge from violence and persecution by threatening to shut down the government unless he acquiesces to their demands,” the letter reads.
The letter does not make specific mention of last month’s House bill, sponsored by House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and based on a measure proposed by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), which passed the House by a vote of 289 to 137. Forty-seven Democrats supported it, including Polis.
But Republicans are presently trying to include the language of that bill as a rider to the omnibus spending package, according to congressional aides. Democratic leaders oppose the move and consider the rider including Syrian refugees a poison pill.
While House Democrats as a group are opposed to attaching riders to the omnibus spending bill, not all of the 47 who voted for the McCaul bill believe its potential inclusion in the omnibus would be a deal-breaker.
“If that’s the only rider and it’s identical to the bill, it would be hard for me to vote no,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said this week.
Yet Connolly is one of 26 Democrats who supported the McCaul bill who have signed onto Polis’s letter calling for the omnibus to remain free of measures to suspend refugee admissions.
He is also one of 23 Democrats who supported McCaul’s bill to sign onto a second letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders from Reps. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). The letter asks committee leaders to “substantially increase funds” to help the departments of State, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security process refugee applications and screenings.
“The world is watching how the United States responds to the situation in Syria,” the letter reads. “It is critical that our humanitarian and foreign policy priorities align with how we allocate our budgetary resources.”
A total of 112 members of Congress have signed that letter since the Paris attacks, according to Yasmine Taeb of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group that has been helping circulate the letters.
“It’s become abundantly clear that constituents are angry over the recent House vote that would halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees,” Taeb said in an emailed statement. “It simply goes against our American values to turn our backs to those fleeing violence and persecution and these members are realizing that their knee-jerk reaction is hurting them in their districts.”
Thus far, Democrats who voted for the McCaul bill have not openly disavowed that vote, and some have defended it as a move taken to ensure that maximum attention was being devoted to improving refugee screening, not because of a desire to block refugees from entering the country.
A total of 30 of the 47 Democrats who supported the McCaul bill have signed one or the other letter.