Base Politics
Refugee Fight Splinters Democrats

Despite President Obama’s high-minded moral posturing, Americans remain deeply concerned about the White House’s resettlement plan for Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks. A Bloomberg poll found that only 28 percent of Americans want to proceed with the plan. Even high-ranking Democratic politicians are not persuaded by the president’s hectoring, as forty seven House Democrats have joined with virtually all Republicans to pass a bill toughening refugee screening with a veto-proof majority. Moreover, Democratic governors, including California’s Jerry Brown, reportedly sparred with the White House over its plans in a recent conference call.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Democrats have sworn to filibuster it. Even if Democrats cannot muster the votes for a filibuster, it seems unlikely that the GOP will be able to pick off enough Democratic votes to override the veto that President Obama promises is awaiting the bill if it arrives at his desk. So the White House’s plan to accept 10,000 refugees over the next year (a symbolic and relatively inconsequential gesture at a time when ten million Syrians are displaced, thanks in part to the White House’s Middle East failures) seems likely to move forward one way or another.

It’s unfortunate that the main political fallout in the United States from the tragic attacks in Paris has been an ugly and divisive culture war eruption. The president bears no small share of responsibility for this. The most impassioned part of his post-Paris remarks were his attacks on Americans who were worried about the security implications of the refugee program. Instead of addressing and responding to these concerns, he denounced them as bigoted on their face. And instead of offering even token concessions on security and screening to Republican governors and legislators pushing refugee bills, he immediately promised to veto them, ruling out any changes to the program.

The president is right that there is an ugly side to the anti-refugee politics of the last week. Donald Trump is veering into fascist territory, suggesting that the identities of Muslim Americans should be put in a database. But the president’s moral lectures have amplified, not ameliorated, this problem. By writing off all concerns as illegitimate, and by contemptuously talking down to large swathes of his constituents, the president has turned what should be a period of mourning, unity, and productive discussion about anti-terror strategy into a political brawl over an issue with little long-run significance.

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