By Andy Cohen | Congressional Watch
Welcome to the final San Diego Congressional Watch of 2015! November was another eventful month in Congress, with one vote in particular gaining national notoriety — or infamy, depending on your perspective.
On Friday night, Nov. 13, at least six Islamic extremists unleashed a series of terror attacks on Paris, France, leaving 130 people dead and several hundred more wounded. The terrorist organization the Islamic State group, operating out of Syria, claimed responsibility for the atrocities, just weeks after claiming responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt.
Although most of the assailants were identified as French citizens, authorities believe the ring leader, identified as Salah Abdelsalam, planned the operation in his native Belgium, where he was able to freely cross the border into France. The entire country of France was subsequently put on lockdown, with French President Francois Hollande ordering the borders closed in the wake of the attacks.
Back in the United States, tensions began rising, with many pols sitting, waiting for the other shoe to drop, biding their time until the inevitable attack on U.S. soil came. It didn’t. But that didn’t stop American politicians from becoming hysterical.
A mere six days after the Paris atrocities, on Nov. 19, Congress passed the American SAFE (Security Against Foreign Enemies) Act of 2015, just two days after it was introduced, with no debate and no amendments allowed.
The American SAFE Act of 2015, a bill written and introduced by Congressional Republicans, expands background checks against Iraqi and Syrian refugees seeking to escape the violent civil war and the horrors of the Islamic State’s militants in their own countries, making us “safer.”
Let’s set aside the fact that refugees seeking asylum in the United States already face some of the most stringent background checks in the world, with the process taking 18-24 months before they are allowed to set foot on American soil. Also set aside the fact that none of the Paris attackers were from Syria.
Broken down into its most base design, what this bill does is to close America’s doors to all Syrian (and Iraqi) refugees, shrouding all who seek safe harbor under a cloud of terrorist suspicion.
Critics have drawn comparisons to the turning away of the St. Louis, a passenger ship that sailed from Hamburg, Germany, full of Jewish refugees in 1939 off the coast of Florida, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. We’ll apparently never learn.
The SAFE Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 289-137. All but two Republicans who voted on the bill voted in favor, including Darrell Issa (R-49) andDuncan Hunter (R-50). Susan Davis (D-53) and Juan Vargas (D-51) voted against the bill.
The surprise vote came from Scott Peters (D-52), who joined 46 other Democrats to vote in favor of the bill.
“President Obama has explained how the United States’ process for screening refugees is the most thorough and advanced in the world. Our process [already] incorporates biometric checks, medical screenings, and stringent investigations with international intelligence agencies to ensure that every individual we allow to enter is not a threat to national security,” Peters said in a press release, justifying his vote. “However, the administration has not made the case to me that today’s bill will shut down or unduly delay our existing process.”
The bill, according to NPR, would require the director of the FBI, the secretary of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence to each personally sign off on each and every refugee from Iraq and Syria, personally affirming that he or she was not a threat.
That required personal touch virtually guarantees additional delays beyond the two years refugees currently experience. And oh, by the way, the FBI and Homeland Security already conduct independent background checks on all refugees before they are admitted to the United States.
In other news … Darrell Issa threw his support for the Republican nomination for president behind Marco Rubio, the first-term senator from Florida.
“Marco Rubio really is an exciting candidate, and I’m pleased to be able to endorse him and work for him for the presidency,” Issa said in an interview on “Fox and Friends.” “[Rubio] has been fighting for a lot of the things I believe in, and look, he’s not afraid to engage on the hottest subjects,” Issa said.
Issa is still the richest man in Congress, with a reported net worth of over $247 million, $150 million more than the next richest member of Congress, down from a reported $357 million last year. Not to worry, though: The decline likely has more to do with the way the data was reported than any actual financial losses.
Duncan Hunter has thrown his support for the Republican nomination for president to Mike Huckabee, the former pastor and Arkansas governor.
Disturbed by the lack of living veterans of the Iraq war who have received the Medal of Honor, Hunter last month penned a letter to President Obama inquiring on the matter. While 13 Medals of Honor have been awarded to veterans of the Afghanistan conflict, only four have been awarded to Iraq war veterans, all posthumously. According to Hunter, the process for awarding the Medal of Honor has become “overly politicized.”
“The fact that there’s not a single living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the war in Iraq is a mystery,” Hunter said.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.