Newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan is setting the stage this week to cave to President Barack Obama’s efforts to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees across America, even in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.
On Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET, the House Rules Committee will meet to prepare a bill from House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) that doesn’t end up stopping Syrian refugee resettlement in America. Sources Congress-wide confirm to Breitbart News that McCaul’s bill leaves the entire refugee program unchanged and doesn’t affect funding for the program.
The bill number is H.R. 4038 and its title is the American SAFE Act of 2015. “SAFE” stands for “Security Against Foreign Enemies,” and McCaul has billed the legislation in the headline of a House Homeland Security Committee press release as an act that would “Protect Americans from ISIS.”
“America has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees into our country, and we lead the world in humanitarian assistance. However, we also must put proper measures in place to ensure our country’s safety,” McCaul said.
The bill requires the nation’s top security officials—the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence—to certify before admitting any Syrian or Iraqi refugee into the United States that the individual does not represent a security threat. I sent a letter to President Obama on Monday calling for a temporary suspension of Syrian refugee admissions until a full review of the resettlement program, including vetting security risks, could be completed. It is apparent that the President will ignore these concerns, making this legislation necessary to toughen security measures in order to keep terrorists from infiltrating America disguised as refugees. We cannot afford to play Russian roulette with our national security.
McCaul’s team in the release also claimed: “The American SAFE Act requires comprehensive background checks of every refugee from Iraq or Syria before they can be admitted into the United States and certification that each does not pose a threat.”
A House Homeland Security Committee policy aide told Breitbart News that the bill “institutes an unprecedented process of having the three top national security officials have to personally certify every single refugee, which as you know a number of these top security officials are actually privately opposed to the program.”
“You introduce immediately an antagonist into the process,” the aide said. “Obviously, [FBI director] James Comey has been not too secret about the fact that he feels like he personally cannot certify the security of the vetting process.”
Comey, the aide noted, is a Republican FBI director who is going to outlast Obama’s term as president.
“Every single one of these individuals [refugees] has to go through a two-stage certification process,” the aide said.
Also, the aide noted, there’s a clear effort by the legislation to shift refugee responsibilities from the State Department and Health and Human Services Department over to the intelligence and law enforcement community.
“It is the most dramatic escalation for refugee admissions into the United States for a vetting process,” the aide said. “There has never in history ever been a level where a Cabinet secretary has had to personally affirm every refugee has number one had a background check and doesn’t have any terror ties, and number two ‘I personally certify that that person is not a national security risk to the United States.’ So it’s not just their reputations that are on the line, it’s the integrity of their Departments and agencies that are on the line.”
But despite McCaul’s and the committee’s tough-sounding rhetoric, the bill—several congressional aides and the actual text of the legislation confirm—simply requires one new step for Syrian and Iraqi refugee admittance and resettlement: That the Director of National Intelligence, the director of the FBI and the Secretary of Homeland Security approve any such refugees beforehand. Each of those people work for President Obama at the pleasure of the president.
“That’s like asking Janet Napolitano to verify the border is secure,” one GOP aide told Breitbart News. “Of course they are going to approve them without hesitation.”
When asked about these concerns, the McCaul aide said that the extraordinary review process for every refugee will gum up the works and essentially grind the program to a halt.
“Our point here is this is going to have an immediate effect of a pause on the president to do what we have wanted to do all along—to make sure that the vetting process itself is appropriate,” the aide said. “Again, this bill is not designed to stop all refugees from coming into the United States period. The problem that we have identified is we haven’t been able to confidently vet these individuals.”
But another congressional GOP aide from an office highly skeptical of the package told Breitbart News if anyone expects three top officials who serve at the pleasure of the president to rebuff Obama’s wishes they’re kidding themselves.
“If you believe that, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona,” the aide said.
The only other detail in the bill is that those officials then have to take that information and report it to Congress at a later date and the Inspector General has to review it.
“The point of the Inspector General review is one extra antagonist in the process and that is for the IG to go through on a risk-based factor and ask if the FBI director, and the DNI director and the DHS Secretary are really doing the right thing,” the Homeland Security aide said. “So at this point, you lose all possibility of Barack Obama and the White House colluding secretly with these cabinet secretaries to jam this through. You have the IG looking over their backs to make sure they’re doing this appropriately and if they’re not that’s the whole point of inserting Congress into this process. Congress has never had a role in this.”
The bill, which is just five pages long, has only two sections. The first just deals with the shortened title of the legislation, while the second section deals with those new requirements.
“Review of Refugees to Identify Security Threats to the United States,” is the second section’s title.
The subheading (a) under section 2 reads “BACKGROUND INVESTIGATION” before detailing the meaningless change to federal statute:
In addition to the screening conducted by the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall take all actions necessary to ensure that each covered alien receives a thorough background investigation prior to admission as a refugee. A covered alien may not be admitted as a refugee until the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation certifies to the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence that each covered alien has received a background investigation that is sufficient to determine whether the covered alien is a threat to the security of the United States.
Subheading (b) under section 2 reads “CERTIFICATION BY UNANIMOUS CONCURRENCE” before detailing how three of the president’s administration officials need to agree on refugees before they can come in:
A covered alien may only be admitted to the United States after the Secretary of Homeland Security, with the unanimous concurrence of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Director of National Intelligence, certifies to the appropriate Congressional Committees that the covered alien is not a threat to the security of the United States.
Subheading (c) under Section 2 reads “INSPECTOR GENERAL REVIEW OF CERTIFICATIONS” before detailing how the Inspector General, which is supposed to be neutral would now need to present a fancy report to Congress on their findings about refugees once a year: “The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security shall conduct a risk-based review of all certifications made under subsection (b) each year and shall provide an annual report detailing the findings to the appropriate Congressional Committees.”
Subheading (d) under Section 2 reads “MONTHLY REPORT” before detailing how it would require Jeh Johnson, the current Homeland Security Secretary, or any of his successors to present a report on a monthly basis to Congress regarding refugees:
The Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the appropriate Congressional Committees a monthly report on the total number of applications for admission with regard to which a certification under subsection (b) was made and the number of covered aliens with regard to whom such a certification was not made for the month preceding the date of the report. The report shall include, for each covered alien with regard to whom a certification was not made, the concurrence or nonconcurrence of each person whose concurrence was required by subsection (b).
Subheading (e) simply defines the terms of the act, including which are the relevant congressional committees and which aliens qualify as a “covered alien” under this program. Interestingly enough, the only refugees considered a “covered alien” under this bill are those who are “a national or resident of Iraq or Syria,” have “no nationality and whose last habitual residence was in Iraq or Syria,” and have “been present in Iraq or Syria at any time on or after March 1, 2011.”
In other words, this so-called extra approval process of requiring three top aides to the president to sign off on his planned refugees only applies to very recent departures from Iraq and Syria—those who have left in the last four and a half years—and it doesn’t even apply to those coming from other predominantly Muslim countries like Somalia.
At the Rules Hearing on Wednesday evening, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX)—a member who’s also got his own legislation that would block such Syrian refugees from getting into America—plans to offer an amendment that would strengthen McCaul’s bill to more closely match McCaul’s rhetoric. Babin’s amendment would institute a six-month moratorium on the refugee program and make substantive changes to the program to help clear it up. It’s unclear if House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) plans to allow the amendment or block it, but without it McCaul’s bill wouldn’t change anything.
What’s more, according to D.C. insider trade publication E&E News, this is at least part of—potentially all of—Speaker Ryan’s efforts to cave on actually stopping the president’s plans to resettle refugees from Syria all across America.
Technically, the only way to actually stop refugee resettlement in the United States would be for the House of Representatives—and the U.S. Senate—to include language in the base appropriations bill that funds the government that would block taxpayer dollars from being used for this purpose by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
ORR is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which means it would need to be included in the HHS portion of an appropriations package. Since Congress has not been especially in recent years doing 12 separate appropriations bills as regular order calls for—but instead has been doing giant omnibus spending bills—so such language would need to go into the omnibus spending bill.
Current government funding legislation runs out in early December, so that means if an effort to defund is included in the upcoming legislation—which will be considered after Thanksgiving—it could lead to brinksmanship with the president and even a government shutdown if Obama doesn’t agree to shutting down the refugee program.
But that fight will never happen if Republican leaders in Congress don’t step up to pick it. And it looks right now like they’re going to stand down to Obama’s refugee resettlement plans, meaning Ryan’s first act as Speaker of the House would be funding with taxpayer dollars President Obama’s efforts to place refugees from Syria—potentially connected with ISIS—in cities and towns across America.
According to the Wednesday morning E&E report, when Ryan was asked on Tuesday whether he would use the appropriations process to block the refugee program’s funding, he responded that he would not. “We don’t want to wait that long. We want to — we want to work and act on this faster than that,” Ryan said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, backed Ryan’s play.
“I think Speaker Ryan has the right idea,” Reid said. “He’s said he’s going to leave any refugee legislation separate and apart from the omnibus.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has actually, at this time, left the door open to defunding measures being attached to a forthcoming omnibus spending bill.
“We’re talking to the White House, we’ll see what they’re open to,” McConnell said on Tuesday. “There’s certainly a possibility it could become part of legislation, I understand the House may vote on a freestanding measure along these lines.”
Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told E&E News he’s open to using the appropriations process to block funding for the refugee resettlement though he “would rather” not. “Much rather,” McCain said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and his Alabama colleague Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) issued a joint statement earlier in the week calling on language that would defund the refugee efforts to be included in the Appropriations legislation. Shelby, the second senior-most appropriator to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s chairman Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), speaking out can’t be understated—he’s an authority on legislation like this, like Sessions is an authority on matters related to national sovereignty.
“As Chairmen of Subcommittees on both the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees, we believe it is essential that any government funding bill cancel the President’s blank check for refugee resettlement,” Sessions and Shelby said in the joint statement.
Long before the barbaric attacks in Paris, government officials and investigators have stated that we do not have the capacity to effectively screen Syrian refugees. The bloody assaults on the streets of France add new urgency to an already dangerous situation. Right now, our refugee program – like all of our visa programs – runs on autopilot. Each year, millions of visas go out the door without any input or action from Congress. We would not accept this policy for the federal budget, and we should not accept it for immigration. We therefore urge the inclusion of a provision in any omnibus spending bill that makes it absolutely clear that no refugee resettlement will take place without a separate, affirmative Congressional vote to authorize any resettlement and offset its huge costs.
When asked to confirm the E&E report of Ryan’s plans to balk at a real defunding measure in the appropriations bill that funds the government in December, Ryan’s communications director Brendan Buck referred Breitbart News to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office. “They [McCarthy’s office] are leading the task force that be outlining multiple steps to deal with this issue,” Buck said.
McCarthy’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
A spokeswoman for the House Rules Committee also hasn’t responded to a request for comment.
All is not said and done yet, either, and each of these guys could turn this around and block the funding for this program in the December funding bill. Ryan had previously signaled he was open to such a fight. At this time there is no omnibus bill yet that has been introduced as it’s currently being negotiated.