Political Notebook

Dan Walters: Cowardice helps pass refugee bill

It was a profile in cowardice, not courage.

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 289-137 for a bill the GOP leadership admitted was “quickly cobbled together” to tighten up procedures for admitting refugees from Syria.

It was the Republican response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, echoing demands from GOP governors to crack down on admission of refugees from that war-torn country on the assertion that some could be terrorists bent on attacking here.

The bill’s provisions are ludicrous. Every refugee would have to have the personal approval of three Cabinet-level officials, the head of Homeland Security, the FBI director and the director of national intelligence before admission.

Refugees must already undergo a months- or even years-long vetting before being permanently allowed in the country, and if terrorists really want to enter, there are much easier ways to do so, such as posing as tourists from one of the many countries from which visas are not required.

So the House bill was just partisan political symbolism that would, if enacted, do absolutely nothing to protect the nation from terrorism.

Most Democrats voted against the bill, and the White House said President Barack Obama would veto it if it reaches his desk. However, 47 Democrats broke ranks to support the measure, including eight from California.

With one exception – Janice Hahn of San Pedro – all the California Democrats who voted “aye” are on lists of those considered potentially vulnerable to Republican challengers.

That said, the seven others all won against seemingly serious Republican foes in 2014, during a low-turnout, off-year election, and are unlikely to have much trouble winning re-election next year.

The sole exception might be Ami Bera of Elk Grove, who won a very narrow re-election last year and in 2016 will likely face Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, who is making immigration his chief issue.

Bera was not about to give Jones a talking point by voting against the bill, but he tried to have it both ways.

“It is critical that our first priority is to keep America safe – that is why I voted today for a bill to ensure that all Syrian refugees are thoroughly vetted,” Bera said in a statement, while going on to praise sheltering “those fleeing violence or oppression,” and adding, “we must stay true to those values.”

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, issued a similar rationale for voting for the bill, even though he is much less vulnerable than Bera. The others who followed suit are Pete Aguilar of Redlands, Julia Brownley of Thousand Oaks, Jim Costa of Fresno, Scott Peters of La Jolla and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert.

They, like Bera, apparently reasoned that voting for the bill would shut off an avenue of possible political attack without having any real effect.

However, were the bill to be vetoed, an override attempt could follow. And the 47 Democrats who voted for it would be on the spot because, with them, there would be enough House votes to override the veto.