The bill will be introduced Tuesday night so the House can vote Thursday. It does not dictate how the intelligence officials should vet refugees, but instead would require the Homeland Security Department secretary and the directors of the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence to certify to Congress that every refugee admitted is not a security threat. It would also require the FBI director to certify that background checks have been completed before any refugee can be admitted and requires the DHS inspector general to audit 20 percent of the refugees admitted to make sure the vetting process is working.
The legislation came out of the task force convened by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy after the Paris attacks and largely resembles a bill that Rep. Richard Hudson has been promoting. Ryan has discussed the bill with a circle of advisors that includes members from different coalitions within the conference.
To attract bipartisan support, Republicans have been reaching out to Democrats, particularly Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. Some other Democrats have already signaled that they are on board, but Republican leaders feel if those members can be persuaded, they can bring many more Democrats along with them. Thompson’s and Lofgren’s offices said they are reviewing the bill.
Republican leaders have also been reaching out to conservative outside groups, such as Heritage Action and Numbers USA, to keep them abreast of the process. It is not clear that conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus would support the bill. Members of the group did not discuss the situation at their weekly meeting Monday evening. But there are signs that Republicans are willing to give Ryan the benefit of the doubt, as he has built up a cache of good will among conservatives so far by reaching out often before moving ahead with legislation.
Rep. Steve King, who is not in the Freedom Caucus but has taken a hard-line stance on immigration, said he wants to block refugees and believes the omnibus bill would be the best place to force the administration to do so, but also said he does not want to force Ryan’s hand.
“The omnibus is the only place where we’ve got the hook. … I want to encourage it, but I don’t want to put him in a trap,” King said. “I don’t want to put the speaker in a place where he’s in an untenable situation.”
Similarly, Democrats have shown some openness to working with Republicans on the issue. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that Ryan has “the right idea” in separating the refugee legislation from the end-of-the-year package, and Sen. Chuck Schumer said a pause might be necessary. Rep. Eliot Engel, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he could support a reassessment of the country’s vetting process.