Senate Blocks Amped Restrictions on Refugees

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate blocked a Republican bill Wednesday that would have further restricted refugees seeking to enter the United States from Iraq or Syria.
     The American SAFE Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in November, would require refugees from Iraq or Syria to undergo additional background checks from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security before entering the United States.
     Only those who received approval from the FBI, Homeland Security and director of National Intelligence would gain admittance under the scheme.
     Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, introduced the bill in the House four days after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which spurred concerns in the United States about the potential for Islamic State and other terrorist organizations to use the refugee system as a means of entering the country unnoticed.
     Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to end debate on a motion to bring the bill to the floor Wednesday, but could not scrounge up enough support across the aisle to clear the procedural hurdle.
     The vote failed 55-43, short of the two-thirds majority required to end debate on the motion to proceed to the bill.
     Democrats put an offer on the table just before the maneuver to allow a vote on the refugee bill so long as they could be guaranteed the chance to offer several amendments of their own to the legislation.
     One of the amendments included condemning Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s plan to block Muslims from entering the United States.
     Leadership claimed that another would increase funding for local police’s anti-terror efforts, and the third would close the loophole that allows people on the no-fly list to buy guns, which Democrats have tried to pass several times with no success.
     “The Republican leader has pledged over and over again a Republican Senate would have an amendment process, an open amendment process,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters, referring to McConnell.
     Rejected the Democrats’ offer, the Republican leadership said they would rather have amendments to the bill voted on in regular order where Republicans and Democrats alternate in offering amendments.
     Before the vote, Republican leadership rebutted charges from opponents that the vote as an attempt to stop refugees from coming into the country.
     “What this legislation is about, though, is national security,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas told reporters Wednesday.
     It’s about ensuring whether refugees “are actively vetted by the appropriate authorities before they come to the United States and live in our communities,” Cornyn added.
     “This is not about banning refugees. It simply is not.”
     Cornyn pointed to comments from FBI Director James Comey that suggest concerns with the accuracy of background checks conducted on people coming from war-torn countries like Syria.
     Critics of the bill, including many Democrats in the Senate, say it would only make an already lengthy background-check process longer for innocent people fleeing violence in the Middle East. These critics paint the bill as a distraction to the real fight of combating ISIL and terror abroad.
     Reid tied the bill closely to Trump at a press conference Wednesday, suggesting Republicans did not want to condemn his ban on Muslims because of the grassroots support the business mogul has gained in his presidential campaign.
     Sen. Dick Durbin said the bill would stop peaceful women and children from escaping their dangerous homelands to seek better lives in the United States. The Illinois Democrat spoke passionately about a group of Syrian refugees he met with at his office in Chicago recently.
     “What they were looking for was not an opportunity to terrorize,” Durbin said. “They were looking for an opportunity to live, to leave war-torn Syria.”
     After the vote McConnell filed a motion to begin the process of overcoming a presidential veto on a rule related to federal definitions of waterways. He told reporters Wednesday he would plan to have the Senate move to a bipartisan energy bill if the refugee bill failed.

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