WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson’s bill to stall the migration of Syrian refugees to American soil cleared the House Thursday as President Barack Obama inked up his veto stamp.
House members approved the American SAFE Act of 2015 on a 289-137 vote with 47 Democrats joining the Republican majority.
The version that passed, H.R. 4038, is one House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas introduced Tuesday with Hudson listed as co-sponsor. It closely mirrors a bill by the same title, designated H.R. 3999, that Hudson introduced as primary sponsor the day before.
Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina’s 1st District and Rep. Steven King of Iowa were the only two GOP members to oppose the bill, which seeks increased vetting of refugees in an effort to block Islamic State extremists.
“Today’s strong bipartisan vote doesn’t say stop Syrian and Iraqi refugees and don’t ever let them in again,” Hudson said in a statement. “It says pause the program unless and until the top security officials in the United States are comfortable that we have a safe and reliable process and the American people can be assured that terrorists aren’t exploiting our country’s compassion by posing as refugees.”
Nine of North Carolina’s 13 representatives voted to pass the legislation. Joining Hudson were Republicans Renee Ellmers, Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker, David Rouzer, Robert Pittenger, Patrick McHenry, Mark Meadows and George Holding.
Jones was the lone Tar Heel Republican to oppose the bill, voting with Democratic congressmen G.K. Butterfield, David Price and Alma Adams.
Hudson said the vote was passed by a “veto-proof majority,” as 67 percent of those present supported the bill. However, two-thirds of the full House — 290 members — is required to override a veto, meaning the SAFE Act’s 289 supporters would need to pick up one extra vote.
Six Democrats and two Republicans comprise the eight congressmen who did not cast votes.
The SAFE Act has enjoyed wide popularity with conservatives, but Dylan Frick, chairman of the 8th Congressional District Democratic Party, said the bill stokes needless fear of the Islamic State’s victims and even plays into the infamous terror group’s hands.
“ISIS has a goal: to divide our nation,” Frick said in a Thursday statement. “Refugees are not the problem. They already go through a very extensive screening process that takes 18 months to two years, where only half will be accepted with most of those being children and mothers. No, refugees are not the problem…hatred and fear are the problem. In a time like this, we must remain resilient and we must not sacrifice our traditions and our Christian values for political expedience.”
In his remarks on the House floor, Hudson rejected claims that the bill and its sponsors are unsympathetic to the plight of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq, where Islamic State militants are fighting military and rebel group forces.
“As we welcome people into this country who are seeking asylum, we owe it to the American people to know who these people are,” Hudson said. “And when you’ve got a terrorist group like ISIS, who has said that they will exploit this refugee crisis to infiltrate America, this is an organization that has said their goal is to come to America and kill Americans. I take them at their word.”
Despite passage in the House by a near-supermajority, the bill faces an uphill climb. Senate leaders had not said Thursday whether they’ll take up the bill. Obama has vowed to veto the SAFE Act if it passes Congress, a pledge he reiterated after the House vote.
Gov. Pat McCrory and leaders in the Republican-controlled General Assembly have called for thorough screening of all asylum-seekers. McCrory joined more than a dozen other governors in asking Obama not to resettle Syrian refugees admitted without the enhanced vetting in his state.
“For the sake of our country’s safety and security, I strongly urge the president to reconsider his veto threat,” McCrory said Thursday. “The people of North Carolina expect our commander-in-chief to do everything in his power to ensure our citizens are safe and unite this country around a solution to the threat posed by ISIS, not alienate and attack people who disagree with him.
“This is no longer just governors urging the president to halt this program, it is now a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House demanding the president to listen and change course. I applaud Representative Hudson for leading the charge in Washington to keep our state and nation safe.”
The nonpartisan transparency group GovTrack predicts H.R. 4038 has a 5 percent chance of becoming law.
Reach Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670