Politics

Top Senate Democrat: Rejecting Syrian Refugees ‘May Be Necessary’ [UPDATED]

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in Washington, Thursday, July 18, 2013.

Update: Schumer backed off his tentative support for the congressional push to “pause” the admittance of Syrian refugees on Thursday. “What they showed us is this: There are about 2,000 refugees who have come here from Syria over the last four years. None have been arrested or deported for terrorism. None,” Schumer told reporters after a national security briefing.

Temporarily rejecting Syrian refugees from entering the United States “may be necessary” in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, one of the Senate’s top Democrats said on Tuesday.

Breaking with most of his Democratic colleagues on the issue, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — who is widely expected to become leader of the Senate Democrats in the next Congress — said he was not necessarily against shutting down the federal program that is currently working to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. Most Republicans in Congress have called for halting the program, fearing that ISIS militants could pose as refugees in order to sneak into America and commit more crimes.

“We’re waiting for the briefing tomorrow, a pause may be necessary,” Schumer said. “We’re going to look at it.”

Later, during a press conference with reporters, Schumer clarified that he was not necessarily calling for a halt to the program, but wanted to wait to make a decision after a briefing on the issue Wednesday night.

“The United States certainly has a role to play in helping relieve the refugee crisis in Syria – and I think it’s important that we make sure we remain safe while we’re doing that,” he said. “We’re having a briefing tonight where we’ll learn more about that process, and go from there.”

Schumer’s comments are similar to those of newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who also walked a fine line on the refugee issue in the wake of the Paris attacks. On Tuesday, Ryan called for a “pause” in accepting Syrian refugees in the aftermath of the attacks. And on Wednesday, he said that he would seek to pass legislation tightening controls on the Syrian refugee program — but only when it comes to security screenings for individual refugees.

“We will not have a religious test, only a security test,” Ryan said, alluding to the position of some Republicans that only Syrian Christians should be allowed to seek refugee status in the United States.

Schumer’s comments breaking with most of his Democratic colleagues are particularly noteworthy given his powerful status in the Senate. Currently, Schumer is the vice chair of the Senate Democratic Conference and the third ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership. And though he avoids talking about it, most pundits expect that he will become leader of Senate Democrats in the next Congress, after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retires.

If Schumer were to seek the position of Senate Democratic leader, the idea that he would be able to work with Republicans in the House could play in his favor. Conversely, the idea that he is out of step with the policy positions of the majority of his caucus could work against him.

Either way, Speaker Ryan praised Schumer’s comments on the Syrian refugee resettlement program on Tuesday, calling them an example of “bipartisan concern” over refugees.