House votes for tougher screening of Syrian, Iraqi refugees

WASHINGTON — The House last week approved legislation to require tighter screening of Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking to enter the United States out of fear that ISIS might try to exploit the current program, which has allowed 2,174 Syrian refugees to come to the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.

While none of those refugees has been arrested or deported on terrorism-related grounds, proponents said the recent terrorist attacks in Paris demonstrates the terrorist group could use the refugee crisis to carry out its threats to attack the United States.

“Today, we must take decisive action to show the American people that we are doing all that we can to protect our country. We must listen to the words of our enemies,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul. R-Texas. “ISIS has vowed, in their words, to exploit the refugee process, to sneak operatives, to infiltrate the West, and they appear to have already done that, to attack our allies.”

Opponents argued that the measure would close the door on admitting Syrian refugees — mostly women and children — who are fleeing the barbarism of ISIS. And, they said it would go against core values of the nation.

“America stands for freedom. We are the beacon of light, of democracy, of freedom in the world. And part of that value of America is allowing people who are escaping monsters like ISIS to be able to become Americans like us,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. “We need to screen and make sure that we are completely safe. But if we stop that program, we give ISIS a win.”

The bill would require the FBI to certify the background investigation of each refugee from Syria and Iraq. It would also require leaders of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence to certify that each refugee was not a security threat. The current screening process takes between 18 and 24 months to complete.

The bill was approved, 289-137, with 47 Democrats in favor and two Republicans opposed. Senate Democrats have vowed to block further action on the bill. Meanwhile, the While House has issued a veto threat.

Nevada representatives voted along party lines. Republicans Joe Heck, Cresent Hardy and Mark Amodei supported it. Democrat Dina Titus opposed it.

Veterans legislation

The House also approved legislation that would allow veteran-owned small businesses to compete in a federal program that sets aside 10 percent of Department of Transportation infrastructure contracts specifically for small, disadvantaged businesses.

“Connecting veteran-owned businesses to the contracting power of the federal government opens the door for increased production, the hiring of additional staff — oftentimes veterans themselves — and opens doors to national opportunities,” said Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.

Opponents argued that broadening the participants to include veteran-owned small businesses could jeopardize the entire program that seeks to eliminate discrimination against women- and minority-owned businesses. The U.S. Supreme Court, they say, requires the Department of Transportation to conduct extensive disparity studies to determine the appropriate goal for awarding contracts to the small businesses for the program to be constitutional.

The bill passed, 285-138. Amodei, Hardy and Heck supported it. Titus did not vote.

EPA regulations

As the Obama administration prepares for a major international climate summit meeting in Paris next month, the Senate voiced its opposition to new regulations here at home aimed at reducing heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

The Senate passed a resolution of disapproval on a rule the Environmental Protecting Agency released in August that sets substantial reductions in carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. And it passed a second resolution of disapproval against an EPA rule to prohibit new coal-fired power plants from being constructed.

The Obama administration has vowed to veto the resolutions, which would nullify the rules.

Proponents argued that the rules should be scuttled, saying they will cost jobs and raise utility prices for consumers.

“If the administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan moves forward, hardship will be felt all across the country. Fewer job opportunities, higher power bills, and less reliable electricity will result,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., argued that, if successful, the resolution would prohibit EPA from considering any carbon regulations — leaving no plan in place to address carbon pollution from power plants.

“We can’t make believe this planet isn’t endangered. We can’t make believe pollution from power plants does not cause problems for our people. We have to act,” she said.

The resolutions of disapproval were approved by identical votes, 52-46.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted against them. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for them.

Contact Peter Urban at or at 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @PUrbanDC.

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