WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to drastically tighten screening procedures on refugees from Syria, seizing on the creeping fear stemming from the Paris attacks and threatening to undermine President Obama’s Middle East policy.
The bill, which passed, 289 to 137, with nearly 50 Democrats supporting it, would require that the director of the F.B.I., the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq poses no threat. The bill’s fate is uncertain in the Senate.
The White House called the demands “untenable” and said that the president would veto the bill if it reached his desk.
The sweeping majority of the House vote was a rejection of Mr. Obama’s moral appeal on the issue and the most vivid manifestation of the rapidly shifting politics within the United States, where Americans are at once war weary yet also frightened by the threats made by the Islamic State. More than two dozen governors, including one Democrat, have said they would try to block Syrian refugees from entering their state, and a recent Bloomberg poll shows that more than half of the nation agrees with them.
Graphic | Paris Attacks Intensify Debate Over How Many Syrian Refugees to Allow Into the U.S. A growing number of governors said they oppose the entry of Syrian refugees into their states.
The House action also served as another blow to Mr. Obama on an area that has repeatedly bedeviled him over the last two years of his presidency — how to articulate and put in place a policy in Syria, where there are no clear paths or partners to end the conflict.
The fact that lawmakers in both parties have refused Mr. Obama’s request for an explicit authorization of force against the Islamic State, even as they vote to curb refugees, further highlights the vexing politics in the era of terror.
“People are very nervous, very worried about this,” said Speaker Paul D. Ryan in an interview Thursday, referring to a town hall forum he conducted in a Wisconsin county that is fairly split politically. “I think that people want to see that their leaders are taking this situation seriously.”
Mr. Ryan, who said he talked to Mr. Obama about the bill earlier in the week, said he worked to persuade Democrats to support the legislation. “This should not be Congress against the president, Republican against Democrat, this should be about ‘What do we need to do to keep our people safe,’ ” he said.
Mr. Obama even tried, without success, to convince members of Congress from his travels in Asia on the issue by sending Twitter messages. In a half-dozen tweets to his 5.1 million followers early Thursday morning, the president repeated his promise to “provide refuge to at least 10,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria” after passing “the highest” security checks.
“Slamming the door in the face of refugees would betray our deepest values,” the president tweeted in defiance of the congressional action. “That’s not who we are. And it’s not what we’re going to do.”
On Thursday, Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson raced to Capitol Hill to talk to House Democrats who had become increasingly concerned about voting against the measure. But the meeting, by several accounts, went poorly, and the officials were unable to clearly explain the certification process.
“I started out strongly opposed to it,” said Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York. “But then I read the bill and realized that what it actually required was simple certification. My back and forth with them was to make sure I wasn’t missing something.”
Mr. Maloney ultimately voted for the measure and said of Mr. McDonough and Mr. Johnson, “They had a rough day in the caucus.”
Late Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, made a procedural move that would allow the Senate to take up the measure right after the Thanksgiving recess.
But its fate in that chamber is far from certain. On Thursday, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, vowed that Senate Democrats would serve as the administration’s firewall. “Don’t worry, it won’t get passed,” he snapped.
The White House, in promising to veto the bill, repeatedly said it would undercut American leadership in a region where Republicans have said it is lacking, and would hurt the nation’s ability to command a coalition against the security threats in Syria.
Mr. Obama continued to emphasize that refugees were subjected to “the most rigorous vetting process that we have for anybody who is admitted.” He said the process of screening a potential refugee takes up to two years and includes background checks by the national counterterrorism center, the F.B.I. and the Defense Department.
“That somehow they pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn’t jibe with reality,” he said.
White House aides, realizing the storm brewing back home, scrambled to offer details about the vetting process and provide details of the program.
Many Democrats tried to support Mr. Obama and his program on the House floor. “We must keep in mind that our nation was founded by immigrants and has historically welcomed refugees when there is suffering around the globe,” said Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
“Rather than shutting our doors to these desperate men, women and children who are risking their lives to escape death and torture in their homelands, we should work to utilize our immense resources and good intentions of our citizens to welcome them,” he added.
The vote capped a week on Capitol Hill that was dominated by the issues raised in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris. Members on both sides of the Rotunda were given security briefings, and many hearings previously planned to address other subjects, were consumed with the issue.
Right before a debate on the House floor, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the national security implications of the refugee crisis , where refugee advocates argued that the screening process was too onerous for terrorists, and Republicans grilled officials over the security assurances. “I haven’t heard a single one of you say there’s no risk,” said Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, who oversaw the hearing.
Repeatedly asked how she could prevent a refugee from turning terrorist, Anne C. Richard, the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration at the State Department, said: “I am very worried about terrorists. I think the odds of a refugee becoming a terrorists are very, very small.”
A handful of Republicans rejected the measure because it did not go far enough. Michael A. Needham, the head of Heritage Action, a conservative group, raised the possibility of a further fight in Congress over funding the refugee program.
“Lawmakers should deny funding to this program until there is a real plan to mitigate the serious national security risks posed by Obama administration’s current resettlement plans,” he said in a statement.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats moved toward alternative measures. Senators Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said they had legislation that would keep some travelers who have been to Iraq or Syria in the past five years from entering the United States without a travel visa. Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, called for a Syria Study Group that would be similar to the Iraq Study Group from 2006 and, he hoped, bipartisan.
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