US Senate Democrats on Wednesday narrowly blocked legislation that would slow the entry of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the US in a contentious vote cloaked in presidential election-year politics.
The vote was 55 to 43, with “yes” votes falling short of the 60 needed to advance the Republican-backed measure in the 100-member US Senate. No Republicans voted against the bill, and only two Democrats backed it.
Among other things, the bill would halt the admission of refugees and require high-level US officials to verify that each refugee from Iraq and Syria posed no security risk before being allowed into the US.
Republicans said the tighter screening was essential to ensure the safety of Americans and prevent attacks within the nation by the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other militant groups.
“This bipartisan bill would allow Washington to step back, take a breath and ensure it has the correct policies and security screenings in place,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said in the Senate before the vote.
Democrats called the legislation an attack on people who are fleeing war. They accused Republicans of holding the vote to allow their presidential candidates serving in the Senate this year to back legislation touted as tough on security.
All three Senate Republican presidential hopefuls, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, backed the bill. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders missed the vote.
Democrats also sought to play politics. They tried and failed to reach a deal with Republicans to set up a vote on an amendment establishing a religious test for would-be immigrants.
That vote was planned to see if Republicans would side against presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has advocated barring Muslims from entering the US.
The Syria refugee bill passed the US House of Representatives by a large margin days after the Islamic State attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 last year. The bill was supported by dozens of Democrats who defied US President Barack Obama’s veto threat.
“We need to talk about efforts to defeat ISIS, not creating more paperwork for Cabinet secretaries,” Minority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, told reporters before the vote.
It currently takes between 18 and 24 months for Syrian refugees to be screened before they can move to the US.
Washington has offered refuge to far fewer of the millions fleeing war in Syria and Iraq than many of its closest allies in Europe and the Middle East. Obama announced last year that he would admit 10,000 Syrians.
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