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Syrian refugee plan in US spending bill a 'non-starter'

Updated: 2015-12-03 09:59

WASHINGTON - Congressional Republicans could doom a massive spending bill needed to keep the government running beyond Dec 11 if they try to fold legislation tightening screening of Syrian refugees into the measure, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the US House of Representatives said on Wednesday.

"It doesn't take much to know that you shouldn't be putting whole bills like that, which you know the president is going to veto, in that bill," Pelosi told Reuters in an interview.

"That is a non-starter," she said.

A battle over refugee screening would complicate Congress' efforts to meet the Dec 11 deadline for passing the trillion-dollar-plus spending package in order to avoid a government shutdown.

President Barack Obama promised to veto the refugee bill before the Republican-controlled House passed it as a standalone measure on Nov 19. The bill would bar refugees from Syria and Iraq, who already face 18 to 24 months of screening, from entering the country unless top government officials certify that they do not pose a security threat.

Despite Obama's objections, 47 of his fellow Democrats joined Republicans to pass the legislation by 239-137, generating Republican hope of mustering a two-thirds majority in the 435-member chamber to override a veto.

Pelosi, who cast a "no" vote, said some Democrats who had voted for it had assured her they would not back a Republican attempt to override Obama's veto, if it came to that.

"The votes will be there to sustain a veto, no question," she said.

Senate Republican leaders have yet to schedule a vote on the House bill passed last month. It must pass both chambers before reaching Obama's desk and then garner the support of two-thirds majorities in both houses to survive a veto.

Many Americans have been clamoring for tighter border controls since the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people, amid reports that one attacker had reached Europe by posing as a refugee.

Pelosi said Democrats wanted strong security, and were working with Republicans on a separate bill tightening entry requirements for visitors from countries that currently have visa requirements waived.

She said targeting refugees went against America's role as a refuge for downtrodden immigrants.

"It's really a sad thing. It's almost as if they decided to turn the Statue of Liberty around," Pelosi said.


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