Gabbard backs refugee bill

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One of Hawaii’s four Democratic representatives in Congress went against party conventions in the wake of continuing tensions over the Syrian civil war and Syrian refugees following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.


One of Hawaii’s four Democratic representatives in Congress went against party conventions in the wake of continuing tensions over the Syrian civil war and Syrian refugees following last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was one of 47 Democrats who voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored bill that would require refugees from Iraq and Syria to receive background checks from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The heads of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence would be required to personally certify that each refugee does not present a security threat.

House Resolution 4038, known as the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015, passed the House of Representatives by a 289-137 vote on Thursday. A total of 135 Democrats voted against the measure.

Gabbard represents Hawaii’s District 2, which includes the Big Island. She traveled to Paris this week to meet with French government officials and offer condolences regarding the attacks that killed 129 last Friday, but did not offer comment on her vote after repeated requests made to her office.

Hawaii District 1 Congressman Mark Takai, also a Democrat, did not vote.

Representatives for Takai said Friday that he was unable to make the vote because he is out on medical leave. The congressman had surgery last week to remove a small cancerous tumor.

The White House said in a statement Wednesday that the measure “would provide no meaningful additional security for the American people, instead serving only to create significant delays and obstacles in the fulfillment of a vital program that satisfies both humanitarian and national security objectives.”

The United States accepts refugees only after they are referred by the United Nations. The ensuing process requires fingerprinting, criminal and terrorist background checks, and repeated rounds of questioning regarding political activities. The length of time for screening and security checks takes a minimum of 18 months and can last up to three years.

HR 4038 was received in the Senate and added to the calendar. Congress is in recess this week, and the Senate will reconvene on Nov. 30.

Sen. Mazie Hirono could not immediately be reached for comment on the measure.

Sen. Brian Schatz spoke earlier this week regarding President Barack Obama’s proposed refugee resettlement plan, which would bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the country, calling for continued vigilance and scrutiny.

The refugee plan has drawn criticism over the past week, with more than 30 governors saying they would not accept refugees in their states. Hawaii Gov. David Ige has said the state would accept refugees.

In a statement, Schatz said that “the Constitution gives the federal government, not individual states, the authority to regulate who may enter the United States, including the status of aliens. No one who presents a risk should be allowed entry into the United States, but applying a religious, ethnic, or national origin test to those who seek freedom and who are fleeing terrorism is antithetical to our values.”

Gabbard did comment on legislation she introduced Thursday along with Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) that would end U.S. efforts to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, which she described in a statement as illegal and counterproductive. Obama said he wouldn’t back off removing Assad.

The White House has called for Assad’s removal, saying it is key to defeating ISIS in the region because Assad’s tactics against Sunni Muslims have drawn fighters to the extremist cause. The U.S. has equipped Syrian fighters against ISIS. A CIA effort to create opposition to Assad began in 2013, according to Associated Press reports.

Gabbard, a twice-deployed combat veteran, cited “past mistakes in Iraq and Libya” in her criticism, and said removing Assad would allow Islamic extremist groups in the area to become stronger, “which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis, and pose a greater threat to the world.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email Ivy Ashe at

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