The House passed legislation Wednesday that would rescind President Donald Trump’s sweeping restrictions on admitting refugees, asylum-seekers and visitors from certain countries into the United States, a mostly party-line vote intended to serve as a rejection of Trump’s campaign-era call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
The measure, which is certain to be rejected in the GOP-controlled Senate, is aimed at blocking actions that Democrats say imposed overbroad, ethnicity-based restrictions that lacked national security justification. Republicans say the measure, which would also sharply limit how the White House may set such restrictions in the future, would tie the president’s hands in making those security determinations and jeopardize national security.
The bill’s passage on a 233-183 vote was delayed by four months — Democrats initially planned to advance the measure in March but backtracked as the coronavirus pandemic overtook the congressional agenda.
The measure is a response to what they say is Trump’s effort to ban Muslims from the country, a policy he embraced during his 2016 presidential campaign. Though he never instituted an outright ban, Trump imposed restrictions on a slew of Muslim-majority countries, describing them as security risks. Democrats said the effort was, in practice, an effort to implement Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and cloak it in the pretense of a national security justification.
“The United States has always been, and must continue to be, a place that welcomes and embraces people of all religions and nationalities,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday on the House floor. “But, as a result of the Muslim Ban, our country’s reputation as a beacon of hope, tolerance, and inclusion for those fleeing persecution, reuniting with their families, or simply seeking a better life has been forever tarnished.”
The proposal prohibits religious discrimination in immigration orders, and it limits the president, State Department and Department of Homeland Security from imposing new restrictions unless they’re justified by a “compelling government interest” and the restrictions are crafted as narrowly as possible to support that interest. The law carves out an exception for restrictions if the State Department assesses that it is based on credible threats to the United States.
Republicans, however, argued that the measure would prevent the president from reacting quickly to protect national security — and cited Trump’s ban on travel from China at the outset of the pandemic as an example.
“The president must have authority to act when our national security is at risk. When a situation demands we halt travel into our country, whether that be to protect us from a pandemic or other national security issue, the president must have the power to do so,” said Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas).