House votes to curb Syrian refugees, snubs Obama veto threat

Governors Don't Want Syrian Refugees In Their States

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a stinging rebuke to President Barack Obama by Republicans and members of his own party, the House ignored a veto threat Thursday and overwhelmingly approved GOP legislation erecting fresh hurdles for Syrian and Iraqi refugees trying to enter the United States.

Forty-seven Democrats joined all but two Republicans as the House passed the measure by a veto-proof 289-137 margin, a major setback to the lame duck president on an issue - what to do about the Islamic State and the refugees fleeing them - that shows no signs of settling down. The vote exceeded the two-thirds majority required to override a veto, and came despite a rushed, early morning visit to the Capitol by top administration officials in a futile attempt to limit Democratic defections for the measure.

SEE ALSO: Clinton urges stepped-up fight against ISIS in Syria

Thursday's roll call came six days after a burst of bombings and shootings in Paris killed 129 people, wounded many more and revived post-9/11 jitters in the U.S. and Europe. The attacks have turned the question of admitting people fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq into a high-stakes political issue in both the United States and Europe, and many congressional Democrats were willing to vote against Obama for fear of angering voters nervous about security at home.

Democrats opposing the GOP bill said the U.S. has no business abandoning its age-old values, including being a safe haven for people fleeing countries racked by violence. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and controls vast swathes of Syria and Iraq, despite a growing military campaign against them by the U.S. and other nations.

See scenes from inside the discussion on Capitol Hill:

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Congress discussing, voting on refugee screening
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House votes to curb Syrian refugees, snubs Obama veto threat
WASHINGTON, USA - NOVEMBER 19: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the press about legislation being introduced in the House of Representatives to modify the 1980 Refugee Act in Washington, USA on November 19, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - NOVEMBER 19: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks to the press about legislation being introduced in the House of Representatives to modify the 1980 Refugee Act in Washington, USA on November 19, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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"Defeating terrorism should not mean slamming the door in the faces of those fleeing the terrorists. We might as well take down the Statue of Liberty," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

Republicans said that in dangerous times, the government must first protect its own.

"It is against the values of our nation and the values of a free society to give terrorists the opening they are looking for" by not tightening entry restrictions, said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Besides the 47 Democrats, 242 Republicans voted for the bill. Opposing it were 135 Democrats and two Republicans.

Before Thursday's House vote, the White House sent chief of staff Denis McDonough and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to the Capitol to try winning over Democrats. Democratic aides said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., had a forceful exchange with Johnson, saying that opposition to the bill would be a terrible vote for Democrats that could cost them seats in next year's elections.

With the House's 246 Republicans ready to solidly support the legislation, the administration was eager to keep the final tally for the bill below the two-thirds margin required to override a veto. In a sign of the conflicting political undercurrents confronting Democrats, senior House Democrats said they did not push rank-and-file lawmakers to oppose the bill.

"I've said to them from the start, 'Nobody's asked you to do anything. Do whatever works for you, for your district,'" House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who opposed the legislation, told journalists.

Freshman Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., who faces a tough re-election fight next year, called the Paris attacks "a game changer" and supported the bill, saying, "I cannot sit back and ignore the concerns of my constituents and the American public."

The measure, which in effect would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, would require the FBI to conduct background checks on people coming to the U.S. from those countries. It would oblige the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee "is not a threat to the security of the United States."

On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. should welcome refugees from the region and bolster America's defenses and intelligence operations.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who hasn't yet scheduled debate on the issue, said Thursday it is time "to press pause" so policy makers could decide whether adequate vetting procedures are in place, calling it "the most responsible thing for the administration to do right now."

Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he's been disgusted in recent days by the comments from Republicans and called it "fear-mongering and bigotry."

Related: See the extent of the migrant crisis:

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General migrant crisis - Syrian refugees, entering all European countries
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House votes to curb Syrian refugees, snubs Obama veto threat
Migrant and refugee children lie on the ground during a demonstration to protest against Turkish police blocking the access to the road and the ticket office for the Turkey-Greece border towns on September 15, 2015 at Istanbul's Esenler Bus Terminal. Over half a million migrants have crossed the European Union's border so far this year, up from 280,000 in 2014, the bloc's Frontex border agency said on September 15, 2015 -- but warned some people may have been counted twice. AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ROSZKE, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 13: A young boy wraps up to keep warm as migrants wake up to a cold morning at the Hungarian border with Serbia on September 13, 2015 in Roszke, Hungary. A record number of 4,000 people crossed the Hungarian border with Serbia yesterday. Migrants are rushing to the border due to fears that the borders will soon close before the official closure of midnight on Monday, September 14th. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 28: (TURKEY OUT) Kurdish refugee children from the Syrian town of Kobani look on near makeshift tents in a camp in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province October 28, 2014. Kurdish fighters, supported by US-led air strikes, have fended off the Islamic State militants offensive into the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani for the last 44 days but remain ill equipped and short on ammunition. (Photo by Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 02: Mother of Syrian child refugee 8-year-old Ahmet Kedru, with partial thickness burns on the face, Aisha Kedru weeps as her son demands support for an aesthetic surgery from Turkish doctors to return to the old days on July 02, 2015 in Aleppo's district Azaz. When Ahmet and his family members were inside of a tent that they take shelter in at Azaz district, the tent is burned out. Fire damaged both him and his mother. (Photo by Kerem Kocalar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugees wait for transportation after crossing into Turkey from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, on June 10, 2015. Thousands of people crossed from Syria into Turkey on June 10 to flee a battle pitting Islamist insurgents against Kurdish and opposition forces for the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - JUNE 06: A Turkish soldier carries a Syrian girl as she crosses into Turkey with her family from the borderline in Akcakale district of Sanliurfa on June 06, 2015. Hundreds of Syrians who fled from Syria after clashes between Syrian government forces and opponents in Rasulayn region of Al-Hasakah, have crossed into Turkey since Wednesday. (Photo by Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian refugee woman sits as a child sleeps near her early in the morning on Taksim Square, Istanbul, on May 26, 2015. Britain's David Cameron and Russia's Vladimir Putin have agreed to re-start talks on finding a solution to the crisis in Syria, a statement from Cameron said on May 25. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian Kurdish boy peers as children take lessons on November 10, 2014 in a makeshift school tent in a refugee camp in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province. Turkey's maintained an 'open door' policy for all those fleeing Syria's civil war and there are now over 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in the country. More than 280,000 Syrian refugees are living in refugee camps, mostly in the southeast, according Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINI (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish people watch the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on October 18, 2014. Turkey is turning a deaf ear to insistent pressure to take a more pro-active stance in the fight against Islamic State (IS) jihadists, adding to existing strains with the West under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Western diplomats have repeatedly made clear they want to see the key NATO member play a key role in the coalition against the militants, who are battling for the Syrian town Kobane just a few kilometers from Turkey. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A child cries as Syrian Kurdish people arrive after crossing the border between Syria and Turkey after several mortars hit both side in the southeastern town of Suruc, in the Sanliurfa province on September 29, 2014. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds flooded into Turkey fleeing an onslaught by the Islamic State (IS) group that prompted an appeal for international intervention. Some of the refugee now want to return to protect their homes and join the fight against IS militants. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
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In a statement assuring a veto, the White House said the GOP bill would not improve Americans' security. It said the legislation "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."

Currently, the refugee screening process typically takes 18 to 24 months and includes interviews, fingerprinting and database crosschecks by several federal agencies. Syrians undergo additional screening involving data from the U.N. Refugee Agency and interviews by Homeland Security Department officials trained to question Syrians.

The Obama administration wants to increase the 70,000 refugees to be admitted from around the world this year by 10,000, with much of the increase for Syrians.

The White House said that of 2,174 Syrians admitted to the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, none has been arrested or deported because of allegations they harbored extremist ambitions.

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AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner and writers Andrew Taylor and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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