Obama: Muslim Refugee Restrictions 'Offensive and Contrary to American Values'

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference with Philippines' President Benigno Aquino III in Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, ahead of the start of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Obama lashed out at those demanding religious restrictions on refugee admission, calling such suggestions or legislative efforts “offensive and contrary to American values.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is drafting a bill to block the admission of Syrian Muslim refugees. Cruz told CNN that Syrian Muslims “should be resettled in the Middle East, in majority Muslim countries.”

“We are not well-served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic.  We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks,” Obama said this morning at a press conference with Philippines President Benigno Aquino. “I think the refugee debate is an example of us not being well-served by some of the commentary that’s been taking place by officials back home and in the media.”

“Understand, under current law, it takes anywhere from, on average, 18 to 24 months to clear a refugee to come into the United States. They are subjected to the most rigorous process conceivable.  The intelligence community vets fully who they are. Biometrics are applied to determine whether they are, in fact, somebody who might threaten the United States. There is an entire apparatus of all of our law enforcement agencies and the center that we use for countering terrorism to check and ensure that a refugee is not admitted that might cause us harm.”

Obama lamented that the United States has been “criticized that it is so cumbersome that it’s very difficult for us to show the kind of compassion that we need to for these folks.”

He added that “concrete, actual suggestions to enhance this extraordinary screening process that’s already in place” are welcome, “but that’s not really what’s been going on in this debate.”

“When candidates say, we wouldn’t admit three-year-old orphans — that’s political posturing,” the president said, in reference to comments by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only Christians — proven Christians — should be admitted — that’s offensive and contrary to American values.”

That may have been a reference to Rupert Murdoch, who tweeted Monday: “Obama facing enormous opposition in accepting refugees. Maybe make special exception for proven Christians.”

“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. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there is a war between Islam and the West. And when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility, suggesting that Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counterproductive, and it needs to stop,” Obama continued.

“And I would add, by the way, these are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans.  That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”

The president accused Republicans of “playing on fear in order to try to score political points or to advance their campaigns.”

“And it’s irresponsible. And it’s contrary to who we are. And it needs to stop, because the world is watching,” he said.

Obama said ISIS would be defeated with the “Boston Strong” unity attitude displayed by the city after the marathon bombings. “Not by trying to divide the country, or suggest somehow that our tradition of compassion should stop now,” he said.