Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Republicans ran “like scalded cats” from an amendment offered by Democrats that would have put senators on the record about Donald Trump’s proposal to block Muslim immigrants.
Dems ended up blocking the advancement of House legislation that would have paused the refugee resettlement program for Syrians and Iraqis until the Obama administration could certify at the top level that each applicant is not a national security threat.
It needed 60 votes to clear cloture. The final vote was 55-43, with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) not voting.
Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted for the bill.
“While our country has a long history of welcoming refugees and has an important role to play in the heartbreaking Syrian refugee crisis, it is the government’s responsibility to protect the American people,” Manchin said. “…We need to ensure that any refugee who comes to the United States does not present a threat to the American people, and right now, we cannot guarantee that.”
“Compassion for Syrian refugees is important, but our first priority is, and should always be, protecting the American people,” he added.
The Dems threw in a handful of amendments: one to denounce Trump’s Muslim comments, one to ban those on the no-fly list from buying firearms, a “dramatic” increase in police funding, and a new piece of legislation called the Democratic Anti-ISIS Security Bill.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lashed out at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for shutting out the amendments, saying McConnell was going against his vow of an open amendment process in a GOP-controlled chamber.
“Republicans would rather see their bill fail than take four simple amendment votes,” Reid said, accusing the GOP bill of going in “the direction of Donald Trump.”
“Democrats will seek future opportunities to vote on these important issues,” he vowed.
Outside a closed policy luncheon on the Hill today, Reid said Democrats “are committed to opposing hateful views of Trump and his Republican neighbors.”
Durbin said he sat down with Syrian refugees in his office yesterday. “A woman who barely speaks a few words of English talks about her husband being killed by a sniper. She took her little girl and ran from their city and went to Damascus, waiting for an opportunity to leave. She filed for refugee status and went through a year and a half of background checks before she and her daughter could make it to the city of Chicago. Her daughter is now a freshman in high school, beautiful young woman,” he said.
“What they were looking for was not an opportunity to terrorize, they were looking for an opportunity to live, to leave war-torn Syria. I don’t understand why the Republicans in the Senate and the Republican presidential candidates have declared war on these poor refugees.”
Durbin insisted that the GOP bill is “not a pause, it’s not reasonable — it’s unfair.”
“They are so smitten by the Republican presidential candidates, they can’t wait to bring the Syrian refugee bill to the floor,” he added. “But when we offer them a chance to vote on another statement by a Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Trump, about excluding people because of religion to the United States, they run like scalded cats.”
McConnell told reporters outside of the GOP luncheon that Reid wanted the four amendments added to the bill as a condition of Democratic support.
“I think a better way to go forward would be to go to the bill, have an open amendment process, alternate from side to side, which is the best way to handle a bill in the regular order, which I would like for us to do,” McConnell said. “So we’ll see whether they would like to get to the bill in an open amendment process where they would get their opportunities, and we would as well, rotating back and forth.”
Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) emphasized that the GOP legislation “is not about banning refugees, it simply is not.”
“And I hate to see the Democratic leader try to trivialize this very important national security debate and discussion by injecting presidential election politics right in the middle of this important discussion and debate on the Senate floor,” Cornyn said.
“Everyone with a constructive idea will be able to offer those ideas like, for example, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee [Dianne Feinstein] has concerns about the visa waiver program and whether people from visa waiver countries can travel to the Middle East, to Syria and Iraq, to visa waiver countries and then enter the United States on — without a visa. That’s a legitimate concern. I hope that would be part of the debate. That’s another reason for us to get on this legislation and offer constructive suggestions and vote on it.”