Senate Democrats on Wednesday stopped a bill aimed at increasing scrutiny on Syrian refugees, in a move one expert claims was a strategic attempt to put Republicans from blue states in a tight spot.
The American SAFE Act - standing for "Security Against Foreign Enemies" - was passed by the House last November with a veto-proof majority.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate Jan. 20 without amendments.
But, Democrats filibustered the bill, hoping to add amendments, including one to strike language that would add what Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid called a “religious test” for entry in the U.S. In doing so, Reid invoked the current Republican front-runner in the race for presidential nomination.
“As written, this Republican refugee bill cannot be signed into law,” Reid said in a statement provided to AMI Newswire. “It is a step in the wrong direction — the direction of Donald Trump.”
Proponents of the bill called upon Democrats to ignore the "intense political pressure" to oppose the measure, which McConnell said would simply allow the administration to take a "step back" and re-evaluate security protocols for screening refugees.
"Many Americans are telling us they want to continue helping Syrians,
but they want to do it in a smarter and more secure way," McConnell said. "Our Democratic friends know that an unfair cloud of stigmatization
threatens to hang over legitimate refugees, so long as Democrats block
common-sense safeguards to weed out ISIS sympathizers."
Joshua Huder, senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute of Georgetown University, said the amendments would have forced Republicans facing tough elections to go on the record with controversial votes. These, he said, included senators from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Illinois and Wisconsin.
“It’s no surprise that Mitch McConnell didn’t say yes to this sort of thing, because he wants to retain the majority and he needs those senators>> in order to do it, <<and it’s also no surprise … that the Democrats filibuster the deal.” Huder told AMI Newswire.
In Wisconsin, Ron Johnson faces a challenge from the long-time senator he ousted in 2012, Russ Feingold. A Marquette University poll from last November gave Feingold an 11-point lead over Johnson.
Meanwhile, Democratic contender Tammy Duckworth led incumbent Republican senator Mark Kirk in Illinois by narrow margins in two polls last summer, and Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are also defending their seats this November.
Tough votes such as this can put pressure on vulnerable senators of both parties, but the only Democratic senator up for re-election this fall in what appears to be a tough race is Colorado's Michael Bennett.
McConnell said prior to the vote that he preferred an open amendment process, instead of debating only amendments of the Democrats’ choosing.
Huder called it “message” legislation — President Obama was expected to veto the bill and the measure doesn’t have the votes in the Senate to override a veto.
However, University of Texas-Brownsville political science professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera said the vote should not be taken lightly. “I am very surprised at what is happening,” she told AMI Newswire.
Proponents say the bill would
halt the influx of refugees into the United States from Iraq and Syria until
authorities developed a comprehensive plan to strengthen background
But Correa-Cabrera said that invoking Trump during the floor session speaks to the influence the presidential hopeful has on at least a certain portion of the population. Presidential politics has obscured “complicated” debate in favor of what she called “xenophobic” discussion.
“This has resulted in a very successful campaign for Mr. Trump,” Correa-Cabrera told AMI Newswire. “The House of Representatives is just backing this because it represents … a political game.”
Huder said such stunts are not unusual, and that in a presidential election year it “only makes the stakes higher.”
He points to Reid's insistence - during the last congressional session, when he was majority leader - that the Senate debate measures such as one to effectively overturn the Citizens United free-speech Supreme Court decision, or attempts by House Republicans earlier this month to repeal Obamacare.
“This is just congressional politics being played out through legislative procedure,” Huder told AMI.