Pelosi Floor Speech Opposing the Republican Syrian Refugee Bill
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his great service to our country promoting our values, strengthening our nation. I come to the floor in a very prayerful way today because we are all horrified at what happened in Paris, what happened in Beirut, what happened to the Russian airliner to name a few recent incidents. We recognize that that is horrible and that we have to protect the American people from it. And to do so, we must be strong. But our strength must also spring from our prayerfulness for those who lost their lives or whose security was threatened physically, emotionally and every other way.
“In our country, we have a relationship with France. They were our earliest friends. And that's why, in this Chamber of the House of Representatives, any visitor can see there are only two paintings: one is of our great patriarch, George Washington, our hero, our Founding Father. The other painting in this Chamber is the Marquis de Lafayette in the friendship that the French government extended to the colonies in our war for independence. Just imagine George Washington, Lafayette – a long, long friendship. And so, while we are concerned about violence existing in the world, when Paris was hit in such a vicious way, in some ways it hit home for us – not that the other lives were not equally as important.
“So, as we come to the floor to talk about what we do next, we take an oath of office, every one of us, to protect and support the American people, the Constitution of the United States. Keeping the American people safe is our first responsibility. It’s the oath we take, and if the American people aren't safe, what else really matters? We understand the concern, the fear that goes out in a country when an act of terrorism strikes. And in fact, that's the goal of terrorists – to instill fear, to instill terror. We cannot let them succeed.
“And so, we have to take the measures necessary to protect the American people and to be very strong in how we do it. And that's why I have a problem with the bill that is on the floor today because I think we have a much stronger, better option to protect the American people, and that is in the form of the Thompson-Lofgren legislation.
“In the bill, unlike the Republican bill, the Democratic alternative applies tough scrutiny to all refugees, potential refugees, not just Syrians and Iraqis, as the Republican bill is limited to. It would require – the Thompson-Lofgren Secure Refugee Process Act – would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to verify the identity of all refugee applicants. Any application that contains insufficient, conflicting or unreliable information would be denied from day one. The bill also requires that at least five federal agencies – the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence – to check all refugee applications against their records. Any applications that indicate a national security or criminal threat would be denied. All. Not Iraq, Syria. All.
“Two former Secretaries of Homeland Security, Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary Michael Chertoff, have written about the process that's in existence now and which the Thompson-Lofgren legislation respects: ‘The process that is currently in place is thorough, robust and so long as it is fully implemented and not diluted,’ and not diluted, ‘it would allow us to safely admit the most vulnerable refugees while protecting the American people. Fortunately,’ they say, ‘these goals are not mutually exclusive.’
“There are other things we could be doing in a bipartisan way, and I would have hope that was a place we could have gone with this. And one of them relates to closing loopholes in the Visa waiver program. Our colleagues on the Senate side today are putting forth their principles, and they state: ‘If an ISIS recruit attempts to travel to the United States on a fraudulent passport, paper passport issued by a country that participates in the Visa waiver program, that individual would avoid biometric screening and in-person interviews.’ How could we allow this loophole if we are truly addressing this challenge in a comprehensive way?
“And if the Republicans want to make the nation safer in the face of terror, there is another clear area in which we should act, and that is we should be voting on Congressman Peter King, Republican Peter King's bill to close the appalling loophole that's outrageous. It’s outrageous that a person who's on the terrorism-watch list – listen to this. If someone is on the terrorist watch list could walk into a gun store and buy a gun. His bill is called the Denying Firearms and Explosive to Dangerous Terrorists Act. Visa waiver, close the terrorist gun loophole.
“According to the GAO, over the last 11 years, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI’s terrorist watch list bought weapons in the United States. Did you know that? Did you know that? 91 percent of all suspected terrorists who tried to buy guns in the United States walked away with the weapon they wanted over the time period with just 190 rejected, despite ominous histories. What’s that, 5:1, 10:1 were able to get the guns? Why can’t we talk about guns when we talk about danger to the American people? It is outrageous that we would be slamming the door on mothers and children while we still allow people on the terrorist watch list to walk in the door of a gun store and buy a gun.
“And in regard to those mothers and children, I join with labor and civil and human rights [groups], faith groups – from the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals and Jewish groups – I join them in saying that the Republican bill before the House today fails to meet our values and fails to strengthen the security of the American people. Families in Syria and Iraq are desperately trying to escape ISIS' gruesome campaign of torture, rape and violence and terror from the Assad regime. The Republican bill before the House today severely handicaps the refugee settlement in the future in our country. Instead, it slams that door – that door again – on desperate mothers and children fleeing ISIS’ unspeakable violence.
“As Lee Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, said, quote: ‘Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.’ For the sins of ISIS. Did you know this? Here are the facts. Since 2001 only about – in just the last few years – only about 2,200 Syrians have been admitted to the United States. Half are children. 25 percent are seniors. [They] all faced an 18 to 24-month screening process. As the Refugee Council – a coalition of more than 80 states, humanitarian and human rights groups – point out in their letter to Congress, ‘Because so few refugees in the world are resettled, the U.S. often chooses the most vulnerable, including refugees who cannot remain safely where they are and families with children who cannot receive the medical care they need to survive.’
“Mr. Speaker, I’d like to submit the Refugee Council's letter with all of the co-signers for the record. Thank you.
“As it is a proud American tradition, we can both ensure the security of our country and welcome desperate women and children and seniors facing ISIS’s brutality. My colleague that spoke before me said ‘Our hearts go out to the refugees,’ but our hand of friendship does not and it could. We could do this in a bipartisan way. If we betray our values as a country and slam the door in the face of those innocent victims of terror, we do not strengthen our security. We weaken ourselves in the fight against ISIS’s savage ideology. As the Refugee Council coalition wrote to Congress, and this is important, ‘It would send a demoralizing and dangerous message to the world that the United States makes judgments about people based on the country they come from and their religion. This feeds into extreme propaganda and makes us all less safe.’
“You know, I talked about the French to begin with. It was interesting to me to hear President Hollande speaking to thousands of people in the wake of the tragedy. And what he said in some of his remarks at various venues was that France would be welcoming 30,000 refugees from Syria in the period ahead. With all that they had suffered, the immediacy of the tragedy, the emotion of the moment, and still doing the right thing.
“If we betray our values as a country and slam the door, again, on these victims, we do not strengthen our security, and I said that. And all I can just say is: this bill does not make us safer, the Republican bill before us does not make us safer, it does not reflect our values and it does not have my support. With that, I yield back the balance of my time.”