WASHINGTON — Tapping into heightened security fears after the Paris terrorist attacks, House Republicans – joined by Democrats – rebuffed President Obama on Thursday and overwhelmingly approved legislation that would effectively halt the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the U.S.

Faced with a White House veto, Republican leaders in Congress are threatening to include the restrictions in a must-pass spending bill to keep the federal government running past Dec. 11, raising the specter of another government shutdown.

The House bill would require leaders of the nation’s security apparatus – the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI and the director of national intelligence – to certify that refugees who are admitted pose no security threat.

The White House, which has proposed admitting at least 10,000 refugees to the U.S. this fiscal year from war-torn Syria, said the House bill creates “unnecessary and impractical requirements,” noting the current screening process is already rigorous and takes up to 24 months. Critics say the legislation would essentially shut down the program. Prospects for passing the measure in the Senate remain uncertain.

The House approved the measure 289-137, with several dozen Democrats joining Republicans, crossing the threshold needed to overcome a presidential veto. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed that a veto would be sustained.


Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, voted with the majority in favor of the bill, saying, “With the serious threats that America faces today, it is vital that we push to stop this Administration’s dangerous refugee resettlement program until we can ensure, for certain, that exhaustive measures are in place to keep our families and communities safe.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, voted against the bill.

“As our country fights terrorism, it is absolutely critical that we take all steps necessary to protect the safety of the American people at home. That is why the United States has developed the lengthiest and most robust process in the world to screen the security risk of refugees – a process that can take up to three years, involves multiple checks and the coordination of many agencies,” she said in a written statement. “I support steps to strengthen this process – such as devoting more resources to performing these checks – but this legislation does not do that, nor does it make our country safer.”

The issue has lit up the presidential campaign trail, with Republicans divided and Democrats siding with the White House.

“Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims … that’s just not who we are,” said Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner.

Republicans, who say the current vetting process cannot guarantee terrorist sympathizers won’t slip into the U.S. undetected, may decide to test Obama’s resolve in the weeks ahead. The political battle is taking shape as a slight majority of Americans in two new polls said they wanted to restrict Syrians coming to the U.S.

Senate Democrats were preparing an alternative measure to slap controls on a visa waiver program, which currently allows up to 20 million visitors a year from certain countries to enter the U.S. without biometric and in-person screening. Some experts say loopholes in the waiver program pose the bigger security problem.