Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives defied a White House veto threat, passing Republican-backed legislation to suspend President Obama’s program to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees and create a stricter screening process.
The measure was approved on a vote of 289-137, with 47 Democrats breaking from the President to support it.
Congressman Michael Capuano was not one of them.
“There will be refugees from Syria accepted,” Capuano said in an interview with Boston Public Radio. “The president seems committed to it, congress is unlikely to do anything to stop it, despite all the rhetoric. Like any process, you could probably tighten it up a little bit, and I think those types of discussions would be worthy to have. I’m open to hearing exactly where you might be able to tighten it up, I’m not open to shutting the process down.”
After the terror attacks in Paris earlier this month, governors in 31 states across the country protested admission of Syrian refugees into their states. “With all due respect to all the governors,” Capuano said, “they have no role in the matter. They don’t participate in immigration issues. That is done by the president, pursuant to congressional authority, and right now the president has the authority to accept refugees, as they have all along.”
Capuano spoke to Boston Public Radio hosts Margery Eagan and Jared Bowen immediately after a press conference held by President Obama and French President Francois Hollande. Both presidents mentioned how destroying terrorist networks was vital, and cooperation between both countries was necessary to be successful. “We will not allow those who want to destroy what we have built. . . . We need a joint response,” Hollande said during the conference. Hollande vowed to intensify France’s airstrikes in Syria, but there was no suggestion of troops on the ground. According to Capuano, ground troops could be the only possible solution. “You cannot do it from the air, and I don’t think any military person would say otherwise,” Capuano said. “If that’s the case, I think they have to lay out their goals.”
The larger question, according to Capuano, is what happens after the bombs have dropped. “If the West gets together, we could militarily defeat anybody,” he said. “The question is, what do you after that? That was a question that was never answered in Iraq...Even in Syria today, the president has no authority from Congress to be doing what he’s doing. I’m not saying he shouldn’t get it, I’m saying he should come to congress and say, ‘here’s what we’re doing, here’s our goal, here’s what we consider victory, now we want your approval or your rejection.’ Whenever you bomb somebody else, and you put U.S. military people into harm’s way, that is an act of war, and it requires congressional input.”
In an interview with CBS in June of last year, President Obama discouraged the country from pursuing a “whack-a-mole” strategy. “"This is going to be a global challenge and one that the United States is going to have to address but we're not going to be able to address it alone. And as I said yesterday, what we can't do is think that we're just going to play whack-a-mole and send U.S. troops occupying various countries wherever these organizations pop up,” The president said.
The reason this isn’t effective, according to Capuano, is the aftermath. “Destroying an entity like Daesh or ISIL or ISIS, is a worthy goal that everyone would agree to,” he said. “If we wanted to, militarily, that could be done in 30 days, 60 days, 90 days...whatever it takes. But what happens on the 91st day? Do we just pick up and leave them in the same situation? That would probably be okay for us as far as a security reason, because whoever is left on the ground there would be incapable of attacking us, but is that what we’re really all about? And on top of that, we have to ask the rest of the world. Are the French willing to do that? What about the rest of Europe? What about the Russians?”
According to Capuano, the connection that has been made between terrorism and refugees is flawed, to say the least. “People need to understand just last year, the big evil country in the whole world was Iran,” he said. “Remember that? They were going to have Nuclear weapons, and we hated Iran, hated all Iranians… well, last year, we accepted 3,100 Iranian refugees through the exact same process, and I didn’t hear any big concerns.”
“Refugees don’t come from France,” Capuano said. “They come from the worst places in the world, including Syria. The process is pretty good. Does that make it perfect? Nothing in this world is perfect. Any standard of perfection is unachievable.”
Capuano said he would be willing to have a discussion and listen to reasons for making the screening process stricter, provided there is a legitimate reason. “I am open to hearing discussions about thoughtful ways to tighten it up,” he said. “I’m not aware of any, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I am not open to simply saying no. Especially when France just got attacked, and yet you just heard in the press conference, President Hollande recommitted France to accepting 30,000 refugees. If they can do it after that attack, I think we should be doing our fair share.”
To hear more from Congressman Capuano’s interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.