Maloney Votes With Republicans on Refugees

Risks liberal upset in suddenly changed atmosphere

By Kevin E. Foley

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the Democrat who represents New York’s 18th Congressional District, which includes Philipstown and Beacon, joined with the Republican House majority last week in voting for the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015. The hastily written bill came in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people and wounded several hundred others.

The legislation, according to new Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, would further tighten the certification process for refugees from Syria and Iraq hoping to enter the United States.

In addition to the current screening requirements, the bill would require three agencies (the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence) to certify that a refugee applicant is not a threat to Americans. President Obama and refugee advocates have argued that stringent screening is already in place for refugees, with wait times approaching two years.

Maloney, no stranger to bucking the Democratic leadership when he thinks it is needed, issued a statement on the day the bill passed:

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (file photo)
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (file photo)

“Our nation has long stood as a beacon of freedom, but after the events of the last few weeks some leaders have given into fear and turned their backs on refugees,” he said. “These actions are reprehensible, and present a false choice between our values and our security. It’s understandable that people are scared, and Americans have a right to know that the process we use to screen refugees will keep us safe.

“I have faith in our system, and I don’t believe these refugees — the overwhelming majority of whom are women, elderly, and children — threaten our communities or national security. So instead of slowing the program or pausing it, the administration should agree to immediately certify refugees if they pass the current extensive screenings and we should all refocus on actual threats.”

The statement gives the impression that he would be opposed to actions such as the Republican legislation he actually voted for. The New York Times asked Maloney for comment on his and other Democrats’ discussions with presidential aides: “I started out strongly opposed to it,” he told the Times. “But then I read the bill and realized that what it actually required was simple certification. My back and forth with them was to make sure I wasn’t missing something.”

Other media, including the Huffington Post, described Maloney as particularly outspoken during discussions with administration officials about the threat to Democratic congressional seats if he and others voted “no” on the bill.

Speaker Ryan said he worked hard to bring Democrats such as Maloney on board so the legislation could be seen as a bipartisan concern for public safety rather a partisan political move. Nevertheless, the legislation was a swift and direct rebuke to the president, who urged Congress not to send a message abroad inconsistent with his administration’s efforts to find common ground with other countries, including European nations, on solutions to the complex issues of Iraq, Syria and terrorist organizations such as ISIL and al-Quaida.

The president was on a foreign tour when the legislation passed the House. The Senate has yet to act. Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate minority leader, has vowed to defeat it, and the president has promised a veto, which would require both houses to override with a two-thirds majority vote. The House vote of 289-137 (including 47 Democrats) already meets that threshold.

The U.S. has accepted 1,500 refugees from this region in the four years since war broke out between the government of Syria and various rebel factions. In contrast, President Francois Hollande of France reaffirmed his country’s commitment to take in 25,000 refugees, most of whom are arriving from the Syrian-Iraq region where intense fighting and bombing campaigns are underway, including action by French, American and Russian forces.

The Republican-led congressional effort coincided with announcements across the country by Republican governors that they would seek to bar refugees from Iraq and Syria from their states even though their authority to do so is questionable legally.

Political calculation

Recent polls taken soon after the Paris violence reflect a majority in favor of the House legislation and a belief that national security is the top issue for the 2016 presidential race, replacing the economy.

Members of the House run for reelection in 2016 and Democrats in so-called swing districts where either party has a strong chance to win have to consider national election history, which generally gives Republicans the advantage when national security tops leads the agenda. Maloney’s “yes” vote can be seen as taking away a potential Republican wedge issue on legislation likely to not become law while risking the ire of some liberal Democrats who are offended by his vote and have expressed it loudly on social media.

Maloney has made a bipartisan approach to congressional matters a hallmark of his three-year tenure and often points to successes, such as recent train safety and bridge upgrade provisions in the new highway legislation, as proof of the value of his approach.

7 Responses to "Maloney Votes With Republicans on Refugees"

  1. Lillian Rosengarten   November 27, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    I am seriously disturbed by Sean Maloney’s vote. It is hard to trust a Democrat who will vote along with Paul Ryan and his minions of Republicans who in my view are self serving, ignorant and speak as well as behave like fools.

    I find Maloney’s response to explain his vote unclear and ambivalent. It seems self-serving with a view to appeal to more conservative voters in Putnam. I expect his vote may have the opposite effect and turn Maloney supporters off.

  2. Annie Chesnut   November 27, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    Bipartisanship is sorely needed in our fractured Congress, but this particular vote — clearly one of expedience — is reprehensible. Evidently the Congressman learned well years ago when he worked inside the Clinton White House, with its questionable positions on welfare, as well as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, NAFTA, and DOMA. Maloney has a lot of explaining to do.

  3. Diana Hird   November 28, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Politics over humanity is indeed reprehensible. His twisty legalistic response is truly insulting and patronizingly Clinton-esque. Since reading about Maloney’s vote on this, I have looked into his other congressional actions and find myself shocked.

  4. Anthony Merante   November 28, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    As much as I detest the reasons the Republicans brought up this bill and the b.s. that Maloney spilled out, he has been, for the most part, a decent representative for this district. Politics is the art of compromise and the possible. Knowing that the Senate and the president will kill this unAmerican bill, I can accept his vote, holding my nose, and smiling at his baloney, in lieu of returning “the Nan” or some other dirtbag to Congress, where there will be no question about everyone of her/his votes.

  5. Diana Hird   November 28, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    He is banking on us all saying that he’s better than Nan. I certainly can’t argue with the point. I am just frustrated that he can basically keep moving right more and more because he knows we Democrats will vote for him anyway because “he’s better than Nan.” He can vote on the Republican refugee bill, he can co-sponsor a Republican bill to strip away discrimination protections in car loans, he can vote for the Keystone Pipeline. And we all vote for him because he’s “better than Nan.”

  6. Lynn Miller   November 29, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Yeah, remind me how he’s better than Nan? Please?

  7. Diana Hird   November 30, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Now that I’ve been following some of his campaign contributions and actions in Congress, I’m starting to see a politician who is sipping the Wall Street Kool-Aid. Or is it a coincidence that he co-sponsored a Republican bill that weakens the Consumer Finance Protection Board just when Goldman Sachs is about to enter the consumer lending field? Goldman Sachs is his biggest contributor. By the way, the bill that Maloney co-sponsored weakened the Board’s ability to protect consumers from a known pattern of racial discrimination. I find that shocking coming from a crusader for LGBT equality. Post-script: a few weeks after Maloney co-sponsored the bill, he changed his tune and voted against the same exact bill he co-sponsored. That is very odd. In any case, the fact that he co-sponsored the bill in the first place gives me pause to ask, as Lynn Miller did, “remind me how he’s better than Nan?”