House Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership—and his reputation for conservative pragmatism—is being put to an early test by the GOP’s determination to halt the flow of Syrian refugees because of purported fears that some ISIS killers may be among them. Ryan has come up with what he thinks may be a compromise between voices calling to end Syrian refugee migration, and the administration’s plan to admit at least 10,000 more. But it indulges the fear-mongers and is unlikely to satisfy them anyway.
So far the new speaker has framed his approach as a “pause,” but his rhetoric tracked that of the 30 governors, all but one Republican, who say they won’t take in the Syrians fleeing violence at home (though they have absolutely no say in the matter.) “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than to be sorry so we think the prudent, responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population,” he said Tuesday. He promised the House would vote on a bill to address the problem this week.
I think Ryan’s intellect is over-rated in the Beltway—the numbers in his reverse–Robin Hood budgets never add up—but he is certainly smart enough to know that refugees already go through a tougher vetting process than anyone else who enters the United States. It includes interviews, fingerprinting, biometric testing, and extensive searches to domestic and foreign databases tracking terror groups to look for connections. Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner recently called it “the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States”—and he’s right. So what will Ryan’s party propose?
On Wednesday, in his first “one-minute speech” on the House floor, Ryan promised to introduce a bill Thursday that would “pause” refugee admission “until we can be certain beyond any doubt that those coming here are not a threat.” House Republicans including North Carolina Representative Richard Hudson and California’s Devon Nunes have proposed “a new certification process” whereby the federal government would somehow guarantee that refugees have no ISIS ties. “We will not have a religious test—only a security test,” he said. But while Ryan promised “a new standard of verification,” he did not spell out what that would include.
The far right is already railing against the plan. Daniel Horowitz at the Conservative Review says it “would do absolutely nothing to stop or defund refugee resettlement…. It calls for the administration to certify that any refugees brought here from Iraq and Syria are not terrorists. As long as Obama says they are not terrorists he can bring in as many as he wants.” A version of the bill under consideration reportedly requires the FBI director to approve the vetting.