WASHINGTON Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a bill that would have greatly tightened screening procedures on refugees from Syria and Iraq, saving President Barack Obama from another vexing veto scenario on an issue that has divided the country.
The bill, which required 60 votes, failed, 55-43.
While the measure passed overwhelmingly in the House late last year, Senate Democrats had vowed to stop it, and the matter quickly became enmeshed in presidential politics, presaging what is all but certain to be a protracted proxy battle for the White House in Congress this year.
"Over and over again Republicans remain committed to pledging loyalty to the divisive platform they have built for Donald Trump," said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, not so loosely tying the issue of the refugee screening to Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Two Republican senators running for president abandoned the campaign trail and returned to vote on the measure, an outgrowth of the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere last year. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has missed scores of votes during the past several months, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas both voted to move forward with the bill, along with the overwhelming majority of their fellow Republicans.
The bill, which the House passed in November 289-137, with nearly 50 Democrats supporting it, would require that the director of the FBI, 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, which the White House denounced last year as "untenable."
"We'll not allow Republicans to hijack the Senate floor to play politics with our national security," Reid said.