Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued on the Senate floor yesterday in support of a bill to “pause” the refugee resettlement program for refugees coming from Syrian and Iraq. And while that wouldn’t ordinarily be noteworthy, McConnell’s specific pitch was amazing.
“This debate should be driven by facts and common sense,” McConnell said, “not fear-mongering about targeting widows and orphans or other straw-man arguments that the White House has made from time to time.”
Let that quote roll around in your mind for a moment. Republicans have spent months reveling in irrational fear and panic about refugees – many of whom are victims of ISIS – with rhetoric completely divorced from facts. One Republican congressman went so far as to say, “If we use our passions and our anger, fear, and we use that to snuff out her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins. We have played into their hands. Period.”
That same congressman then voted for the anti-refugee bill – at the demand of GOP officials.
As of this afternoon, however, the knee-jerk, anti-refugee policy appears to be effectively dead. Roll Call reported:
The Senate rejected a bill Wednesday to enhance screening of refugees, after Republican and Democratic leaders failed to strike a deal on politically charged amendments.The procedural vote on the refugee legislation fell five votes short of the 60-vote margin needed to bring the bill to the floor; two Democratic senators Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, voted with 53 Republicans to invoke cloture on the bill, which cleared the House in November.
In an unusual twist, Marco Rubio actually showed up for work, which seemed hard to explain. The senator known for skipping votes has said he likes to limit appearances to votes that actually matter, but the Floridian knew this proposal would come up short today. It’s almost as if he sees partisan value in casting a symbolic vote against refugees.
A variety of anti-refugee measures have been introduced over the last two months, but at issue today was something called the SAFE Act, which already easily passed the House. The legislation would “require 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.”
Critics noted that the restrictions had the practical effect of making any refugee resettlements effectively impossible.
At the G-20 summit in November, President Obama made the case that has apparently won the day.
“Slamming the doors in [refugees’] faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said. Syrian “refugees are the victims of terrorism.”“The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism … they are parents, they are children, they are orphans.” Obama said. “It is very important that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”