WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan is moving toward a House vote Thursday on a bill to "pause" the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the United States, as the White House struggles to save the program from mounting political opposition in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
Administration officials launched a massive outreach to Capitol Hill and held a conference call with governors Tuesday, trying to prevent a suspension of the decades-old program over concerns that it might allow terror sympathizers to slip into the United States.
"We cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion," Ryan said Tuesday after meeting with House Republicans. "This is a moment where it's better to be safe than to be sorry.
"We think the prudent and responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program, in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population," Ryan said.
The new speaker faces pressure from Republicans in Congress — and on the presidential campaign trail— to stop the program that expects to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also wants "a pause or a moratorium," said he and Ryan are working together on the issue.
President Barack Obama, speaking this morning in the Philippines, deemed the backlash to refugees offensive and insisted that "it needs to stop."
"Apparently, they're scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America," Obama said.
The administration showed no sign of backing off its plans and mounted a hasty defense of its vetting process, which Attorney General Loretta Lynch assured Congress is "robust."
The House GOP's package was still being formed, but it would cover refugees from Syria and Iraq, and allow entry only if the FBI director and other officials certify the refugee is not a security threat and has passed a background investigation, according to an aide to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Most of the Republican presidential candidates have called for the program to be suspended, though Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas wants to make exceptions for Christians.
Breaking from the pack, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush shifted his approach Tuesday and said the United States should not do away with its "noble tradition" of helping refugees.
"I don't think we should eliminate our support for refugees," Bush said in an interview with Bloomberg Politics. "It's been a noble tradition in our country for many years."
But Bush said the United States should not admit refugees "if there's any kind of concern."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.