Make no mistake, this is a dare. But the dare’s not aimed at who you think.
The White House issued a formal veto threat of a Republican-backed bill to overhaul screening process for Syrian refugees, saying it would “introduce unnecessary and impractical requirements” to the system.
The veto threat used the strongest language the White House uses to communicate veto threats, using this phrasing as the punchline: “Given the lives at stake and the critical importance to our partners in the Middle East and Europe of American leadership in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, if the President were presented with H.R. 4038, he would veto the bill.”…
The core of the bill would require three three top administration officials — the Secretary of Homeland Security,the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the FBI — to personally sign off that each Syrian refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”
A silly requirement? Sure, in the sense that that provision adds no extra practical security. It’s aimed at accountability, forcing big-name Obama deputies to personally vouch for each refugee in case one of them goes Tsarnaev later. There is, however, a small bit of extra security in another part of the bill in that the FBI, not just DHS, would be forced to perform its own background check of each refugee before admission to the U.S. The signature requirement is hardly onerous either; each of the three officials named above will simply sign pro forma once their deputies conclude the review process. The bill also contains no religious test or preference for Christian refugees over Muslim ones, as GOP candidates like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have suggested recently. It’s a very modest, essentially symbolic tightening of the system, designed to show voters who are angry about the plan to admit refugees that Congress is doing something to prevent terrorist infiltration. And yet here’s O vowing to blow it up if it reaches his desk. Why?
Walter Russell Mead knows why:
Obama’s own policy decisions—allowing Assad to convert peaceful demonstrations into an increasingly ugly civil war, refusing to declare safe havens and no fly zones—were instrumental in creating the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn. For him to try and use a derisory and symbolic program to allow 10,000 refugees into the United States in order to posture as more caring than those evil Jacksonian rednecks out in the benighted sticks is one of the most cynical, cold-blooded, and nastily divisive moves an American President has made in a long time.
I made the same point myself in a post written earlier today that’ll go up tonight. Sanctimony over refugees is Obama’s way of restoring his own moral superiority over people who’ve been complaining for years, entirely correctly, that his Syria policy is FUBAR and has contributed to the disaster. He can’t govern worth a sh*t and he doesn’t quite have the guts to do something really bold like close Gitmo amid the panic over ISIS, so instead he’ll lecture Chris Christie from a podium about how heartless he’s being towards Syrian refugees. It’s a simulacrum of liberal argumentation writ large: “My policies may be terrible but your motives are offensive, and that’s the real outrage.” Threatening to veto the bill, which does virtually nothing to change the process, is a continuation of that. Obama’s going to take a stand because he needs a foil to keep this distracting moral panic going. Why, this isn’t a fight about refugees or jihadis running wild on Obama’s watch, this is a fight over The Soul Of America. He can’t win a war with ISIS but maybe he can win a symbolic little skirmish like this.
But back to that dare. Seems like he’s daring Republicans to pass the bill and put it on his desk, right? He isn’t. Polls are on the GOP’s side on this; not only will Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress vote for the bill, they might do so unanimously. The dare here is to Democrats, to line up behind Obama like good soldiers and filibuster the Republican bill in the Senate so that it doesn’t reach Obama’s desk. By issuing a formal veto threat, the White House is signaling to lefties that this is a matter of moral importance worthy of not backing down to the sinister GOP. Any Democrat in Congress who crosses the aisle, regardless of what the polls say, will consequently be accused of betraying the better angels of our nature. Tough call then for Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and especially vulnerable swing-state Democrats like Michael Bennet who are up in 2016: What do you do? Do you protect yourself by voting with Republicans or do you protect the lame duck by taking and passing his moral litmus test? And if some Dems do cross the aisle, how many? Asking McConnell to get 67 votes for a veto override is a tall order, but getting 60 to break the filibuster seems feasible. Are there six Senate Dems willing to embarrass Obama?
While you mull that over, here’s Colorado’s Democratic governor passing the litmus test for a very thoughtful reason indeed:
Hickenlooper: "If your President decides something, you have to support it… if it's a matter of National Security" #copolitics
— 9NEWS Denver (@9NEWS) November 18, 2015
Exit question: If it’s true that Obama will eventually “pause” the refugee program anyway notwithstanding the sanctimony of the moment, why would any Democrats go out on a limb to protect him in this vote?