On the last leg of his Asia trip, President Barack Obama made a stop to send a message straight home.
On a visit Saturday with children at a refugee assistance center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Obama said, “One of the reasons that I wanted to come visit here is because globally we’re seeing an unprecedented number of refugees. The world is rightly focused on the humanitarian tragedy taking place in Syria but we can’t forget that there are millions of other refugees from war-torn parts of the world.”
He acknowledged the Malaysian government for welcoming roughly 150,000 refugees, including “Rohinga, who had fled discrimination and ethnic violence in Myanmar.”
Then Obama all but called out political opponents back home, including governors of over half of U.S. states and a majority of the House of Representatives, who have sought to sharply curb the entrance of Syrian nationals under the refugee program.
“Anybody who had a chance to see those kids, hopefully you understood the degree to which they’re just like our kids,” Obama said. “They deserve love and protection and stability and an education.” He added, “The notion that somehow we would be fearful of them, that our politics would somehow leave them to turn our sights away from their plight is not representative of the best of who we are…. American leadership is us caring about people who have been forgotten or been discriminated against or tortured or subject to unspeakable violence or separated from family at very young ages.”
Back in the United States, Obama is facing fierce opposition from Republicans and some Democrats who have claimed that the Syrian refugees pose a national security threat and need to be either blocked or subject to more delays for additional screening.
On Thursday, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation blocking the refugee’s entrance by a 289-137 vote, with 47 Democrats voting in support of the bill. Obama has vowed to veto the bill if it comes to his desk, though Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid signaled that won’t happen. “Don’t worry, it won’t get passed,” Reid told reporters Thursday.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest outlined the administration’s position to reporters on Air Force One on the way to Kuala Lumpur Friday. “The fact is, if you are someone in Syria who is bound and determined to carry out an act of violence on American soil, you are unlikely to choose a process that requires you wait an average of two years and submit to repeated interviews and background checks by American national security officials,” he said. “You’re much more likely to choose a path that is shorter and requires less scrutiny.”