Paul Ryan held a news briefing on the bill Thursday.

Paul Ryan held a news briefing on the bill Thursday. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

House Vote Gives GOP the Upper Hand in Refugee Fight

Enough Democrats backed Thursday’s bill that it will be hard for the White House to head off future efforts.

The House bill paus­ing Syr­i­an refugee re­set­tle­ments in­to the U.S. may nev­er be­come law, but a strong bi­par­tis­an House vote all but as­sures the is­sue will re­sur­face after the Thanks­giv­ing break with Re­pub­lic­ans in a po­s­i­tion of strength.

With 47 Demo­crats join­ing all but two Re­pub­lic­ans to pass the bill to re­quire ex­ec­ut­ive-branch of­fi­cials to cer­ti­fy every Syr­i­an refugee be­fore they can be ad­mit­ted in­to the coun­try, Demo­crat­ic lead­ers will be hard pressed to make the case that sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion is a pois­on pill if it is at­tached to an up­com­ing must-pass om­ni­bus spend­ing bill.

That em­boldens Re­pub­lic­ans to press Sen­ate lead­ers to pass the bill, and Pres­id­ent Obama to aban­don his veto threat and sign it. Yet even in the in­stance that the up­per cham­ber stalls or Obama ve­toes the bill, House Re­pub­lic­ans can make a sol­id case to in­clude it in on­go­ing spend­ing dis­cus­sions.

“That’s what’s go­ing to hap­pen if we don’t get this bill, and that’s part of my mes­sage to Demo­crats. This is much more reas­on­able than what you may see later in an om­ni­bus. This has the best chance of the pres­id­ent sign­ing it,” Rep. Richard Hud­son, the bill’s au­thor, said Thursday. “There are some sin­cere Demo­crats on this is­sue, like Di­anne Fein­stein and even Chuck Schu­mer, so my hope is we can work with them now on a path for­ward with this bill.”

House Demo­crats handed Speak­er Paul Ry­an a veto-proof ma­jor­ity on the le­gis­la­tion Thursday, des­pite Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er vot­ing against. Like his House coun­ter­parts, Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has said he will seek to pro­tect Obama’s veto, prom­ising that the bill would fail if it came up in the Sen­ate.

“The prob­lem is not with refugees,” Re­id said Thursday. “I don’t think we’ll be deal­ing with it over here.”

Still, Re­pub­lic­ans are hop­ing the pub­lic pres­sure builds. Polling shows more than half of Amer­ic­ans want the gov­ern­ment to block Syr­i­an refugees’ entry in light of the IS­IS at­tacks on Par­is last week. In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dev­in Nunes, who is on the GOP task force look­ing at how to re­spond to the Par­is at­tacks, said the om­ni­bus would be the next lo­gic­al place to push the is­sue, and the bi­par­tis­an vote strengthens the GOP’s hand.

“This bill is prob­ably not the ul­ti­mate fi­nal [bill]. This is the start to a pro­cess that has got to be com­bined and fin­ished by the time we leave here in two weeks,” Nunes said. “It will be something based on this that will get done by the end of the year, no mat­ter where it has to go.”

Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers, however, are un­der pres­sure from con­ser­vat­ives and out­side groups to choke off fund­ing to agen­cies tasked with ad­mit­ting refugees. If they push too far on a spend­ing rider—for in­stance, with a blanket ban on refugees—they could lose Demo­crat­ic sup­port. If they craft a nar­row meas­ure that mir­rors the House-passed bill, they could walk away with a polit­ic­al vic­tory.

Sev­er­al of the bill’s Demo­crat­ic sup­port­ers are already balk­ing at the strategy of rolling it in­to the om­ni­bus pack­age. “If this bill doesn’t go any­where, I think it’s un­wise to roll it in­to an om­ni­bus if you don’t have to,” Rep. Ger­ald Con­nolly said. “The om­ni­bus is go­ing to be com­plic­ated enough. … We don’t need, however worthy, oth­er policy riders that just make life more dif­fi­cult.”

Rep. Henry Cuel­lar, who also backed the bill and is a mem­ber of the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee, said he’s seen enough fund­ing fights break down over un­re­lated amend­ments. “I don’t like con­tro­ver­sial riders on that,” he said. “I don’t think this lan­guage will go in the [spend­ing] bill.”

Oth­ers were hope­ful that the strong bi­par­tis­an sup­port in the House would cause Obama to change his mind on the stan­dalone meas­ure. “I’m hope­ful he won’t veto it,” said Rep. Dav­id Scott. “I’m hope­ful that we can come to some agree­ment here.”

Al­though many Re­pub­lic­ans have been call­ing on Ry­an and lead­ers to in­clude a meas­ure in an om­ni­bus, oth­ers have urged cau­tion. Rep. Trent Franks, a mem­ber of the House Free­dom Caucus, said hav­ing Demo­crats on their side sets the is­sue apart from oth­er, more par­tis­an ap­pro­pri­ations rider at­tempts, but that will only take Re­pub­lic­ans so far.

“I think it helps some, but it just de­pends on, if the Left can get away with it over there, they’ll fili­buster and once again drive that wedge between the Re­pub­lic­an base and Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship. They’ve been very suc­cess­ful at that,” Franks said. “I’m not against that at all, but the prob­lem is it’ll be a mir­acle to get even a con­sid­er­a­tion in the Sen­ate be­cause of the Sen­ate fili­buster. Then what hap­pens is we will have to al­low them to shut the gov­ern­ment down, for which we will be blamed, of course.”

Com­plic­at­ing the pro­cess is the hos­til­ity with which the is­sue has been de­bated. While some have raised alarms over na­tion­al se­cur­ity, Obama has mocked the GOP for be­ing “scared of wid­ows and orphans.”

Many Demo­crats felt that rhet­or­ic took the wrong tone, lump­ing those with le­git­im­ate na­tion­al se­cur­ity con­cerns in with xeno­phobes. “I don’t think it’s a time for name-call­ing,” said Rep. Brad Ash­ford, a Demo­crat­ic co­spon­sor of the bill that passed the House Thursday.

Rep. Ron Kind, who chairs the mod­er­ate New Demo­crat Co­ali­tion—which broke with most Demo­crats to help Obama pass trade le­gis­la­tion—also found him­self at odds with the White House this week. “Part of the prob­lem we have in this place right now is once one side pro­poses something, the oth­er side knee-jerk is in op­pos­i­tion,” he said, not­ing that the bill was not the anti-im­mig­rant, anti-Muslim meas­ure it had been made out to be. “To Speak­er Ry­an’s cred­it, he didn’t go over the edge,” he said.

Even op­pon­ents of the bill said the White House could have done a bet­ter job ac­know­ledging Amer­ic­ans’ con­cerns. “If we try to say, ‘Well, that’s silly’ or dis­reg­ard the fear, the le­git­im­ate and very real fear that’s out here, I think we’re go­ing to get slapped around,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleav­er. “The White House has been very meas­ured in not ac­know­ledging that it is easy to enter the United States. They’ve been a little strong in de­noun­cing what they see as a polit­ic­al move.”

And many were not con­vinced by the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­peal that the bill would be overly bur­den­some and slow the refugee pro­cess. “A lot of us went in with open minds and really wanted to un­der­stand the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­s­i­tion on this,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Malo­ney. Ul­ti­mately, the White House did not change his mind. “Bring a bet­ter ar­gu­ment,” he said.

Still, Pelosi de­fen­ded the White House’s pitch. “Some people walked in­to the room pre­pared to vote for the bill,” she said. “They solved their own prob­lem.”

Alex Rogers contributed to this article