REUTERS - The U.S. House of Representatives, defying a veto threat by President Barack Obama, overwhelmingly passed Republican-backed legislation on Thursday to intensify security screenings of Syrian refugees and suspend Obama's program to admit 10,000 of them in the next year.
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The measure, introduced this week following the Islamic State attacks in Paris last Friday that killed 129 people, was approved on a vote of 289 to 137, with 47 of Obama's 188 fellow Democrats breaking with the White House to support the bill.
The vote came hours after a testy exchange between lawmakers and State Department official Anne Richard as Republicans responded with incredulity to her assertion that there is only a "very, very small" threat of any of them being a "terrorist."
The House measure now goes to the U.S. Senate, which also is controlled by the Republicans although their Senate majority is slimmer.
The White House has said the House bill would introduce "unnecessary and impractical requirements" that would hamper U.S. efforts to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world while providing no meaningful additional security for the American people.
Under the proposal no refugees from Syria or Iraq could enter the United States until several top-level U.S. security officials verified they did not pose a threat.
Michael McCaul, Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the bill passed by the House would create "the most robust national security screening process in American history for any refugee population."
The bill "strikes an important balance between security and our humanitarian responsibilities. It sets up roadblocks to keep terrorists from entering the United States while also allowing legitimate refugees who are not a threat to be resettled appropriately," McCaul said.
Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer called it "a message bill" to let lawmakers go home "and say how tough they are."