Himes, Courtney tell GOP to keep Syrian refugee policy out of budget bill

Washington – U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney and Jim Himes, Democrats who gave the Republican Party a veto-proof majority on a bill that would suspend Syrian and Iraqi refugee admissions, are now demanding the bill’s language be left out of a massive budget bill.

The federal government will shut down on Dec. 11 unless Congress approves new legislation that would fund the federal government.

Congressional Democrats are warning the GOP against attaching policy riders like the Syrian refugee bill to the must-pass legislation.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes

Courtney and Himes were among 47 Democrats who last month gave the GOP a veto-proof majority on the bill, which would halt the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees until they undergo a more stringent vetting process. The bill would also require the Secretary of Homeland Security, the director of the FBI and the director of National Intelligence to personally guarantee each refugee is not a threat.

Senate Democrats would probably block the Syrian refugee bill, and President Obama has threatened to veto it if it does get through the Senate.

That’s why House Republicans want the legislation attached to the massive omnibus spending bill – a move that could result in a government shutdown.

Courtney and Himes are among  30 Democrats who voted for the GOP’s Syrian refugee bill but signed a letter late last week to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., asking he “reject attempts” to include any language blocking the acceptance of refugees in the omnibus.

“Congress should not attempt to strong-arm the president into turning his back on Syrian families desperately seeking refuge from violence and persecution by threatening to shut down the government unless he acquiesces to their demands,” the letter says.

Himes “doesn’t think that the omnibus is the proper place for a contentious policy rider like this,” said Himes spokesman Patrick Maloney.

Courtney’s chief of staff, Jason Gross, said the lawmaker has “consistently opposed any riders to an end-of-the-year spending bill that would threaten to shut down the government.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney

“Consistent with that belief, Congressman Courtney signed a letter to Speaker Ryan urging him to drop any Syrian refugee riders to a year-end spending bill, since the issue is a dead letter at this point, and avoid any potential government shutdown,” Gross said.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., authored the letter to Ryan. In a note collecting signatures from other Democrats, a Polis staffer wrote “no matter how your boss has voted on previous proposals, the omnibus spending bill is NOT the venue for controversial changes to our refugee screening and settlement policies.”

Polis’ letter said, “The United States has a moral imperative to be a safe-haven for those seeking refuge from violence abroad” and urged more funding for the intensified screening of Syrian refugees.

Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, said Courtney and Himes don’t want to be perceived as stopping the budget bill, but they want to be sensitive to the growing concerns [about terrorism] in each of their districts.”

Rose said Courtney’s and Himes’s districts – much of eastern Connecticut and Fairfield County reespectively –  are home to more conservative voters than other congressional districts in Connecticut.

Reps. John Larson, D-1st District; Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District; and Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District; opposed the Syrian refugee bill. They said the current screening program is sufficient.

“Barring innocent people — many of whom are women and children — from entering the country does not help us defeat ISIL,” Larson said.

Larson and Esty also signed the letter to Ryan.

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