Migrants and refugees walk on a snow covered street after crossing the Macedonian border into Serbia near the village of Miratovac on Jan. 17, 2016.
Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty

Senate Dems block restrictions to Syrian, Iraqi refugee resettlement


This story has been updated to reflect results of the Senate vote.

The Senate moved forward with a bill on Wednesday aimed at tightening vetting standards for all Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking to resettle in the United States.

The legislation sailed through the House in November, propped up by 47 Democrats who broke ranks to deliver a resounding 289 to 137 vote.

As expected, the measures did not surpass the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, though as Politico reported late Tuesday, Democratic leaders did try to force Republicans’ hand to vote on controversial amendments. The bill failed with a 55 to 43 vote, but even if the legislation had advanced in the Senate, President Obama had already vowed to veto the legislation the moment it hit his desk.

The timing of the lower chamber vote likely played a crucial role in its success. Paris had just been struck by one of its most horrific terrorist attacks to date. Indications that one of the assailants could have exploited the Syrian refugee crisis and migration to carry out the attack sent shock waves of fear that the plan could be replicated. 

Since then, GOP presidential contender Donald Trump has lead the charge to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. More than 30 governors have threatened to bar Syrian refugees from resettling in their states. Another terror attack in San Bernardino last month further heightened scrutiny into the vetting process for foreigners once it came to light that one of the attackers entered the U.S. on a spousal visa.

The Republican bill came in direct response to the attacks and Obama’s pledge to begin accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees.

Republican presidential hopefuls Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio both left the campaign trail and returned to Washington to vote to advance the measures. Cruz expressed disappointment with the bill’s failure in a statement, saying that “partisan politics prevailed” but that he looks “forward to future opportunities to debate this issue.”

The legislation would have required the FBI director to sign off on each individual refugee case and for other top administration officials to ensure that the Syrians were not security threats.