In a shocking break with their party, eight California Democrats supported a GOP bill in Congress that would prevent refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the U.S. unless the heads of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence certify that the refugee would not endanger the U.S.
The bill from Reps. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, passed the House, 289-137. Forty-seven Democrats voted for the bill. The eight California Democrats included: Ami Bera of Elk Grove, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, Jim Costa of Fresno, Julia Brownley of Oak Park, Pete Aguilar of Fontana, Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, Janice Hahn of Compton, and Scott Peters of La Jolla.
All eight House Democrats from California just happen to hail from swing districts in which the GOP could take advantage of someone accused of being soft on terrorism, as Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M Unruh Institute of Politics at USC noted, telling the Sacramento Bee, “If it looks like you’re facing a competitive election, you cross party lines.”
The Democrats are eager to reassure their Democratic constituencies that they have not deserted Barack Obama and his desire to welcome Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Obama had stated, “This legislation would introduce unnecessary and impractical requirements that would unacceptably hamper our efforts to assist some of the most vulnerable people in the world, many of whom are victims of terrorism, and would undermine our partners in the Middle East and Europe in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.” He also stated in reference to the bill, which he said he would veto, “I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.”
Bera defended his vote, claiming, “A lot of folks have contacted us wondering if my position was not to take refugees. I’ve explained that is not what this bill was about.” Costa explained that the bill was a “much-needed conversation to develop a long-term comprehensive plan so we can properly screen individuals who travel to or are seeking safety in the United States. It is critical that we protect the American public from those who intend to do us harm, while not unduly delaying the refugee resettlement process for those who are fleeing terrorism in their own countries.”
Garamendi asserted, “It does not delay, it does not stop, does not do anything more than what is already done and holds these folks responsible for it being done properly,” adding, “The least likely way a terrorist will arrive in the United States is as a refugee, and the most likely way they would get caught is as a refugee.”
Bera’s Republican challenger, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, has focused on immigration, but Bera protested that was not the reason for his vote.