After a handful of Republican governors declared they won’t accept Syrian refugees and some GOP presidential candidates suggested we should focus on helping Christians, President Obama was furious, calling their response a “betrayal of our values.” So now that more than half of U.S. governors have joined in, and congressional Republicans are set to vote this week against admitting more refugees, Obama is really angry.
“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks,” Obama said during an economic summit in the Philippines. “I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.”
He added that the terrorist organization “seeks to exploit the idea that there’s war between Islam and the West, and when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land that feeds the ISIL narrative.”
Obama also mocked Chris Christie for his refusal to accept even orphaned Syrians under the age of five (though he didn’t mention him by name). “Apparently they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion,” Obama said. “At first they were worried about the press being too tough on them in during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”
The president has an unusual ally on the migrant issue: Christians, and particularly evangelicals. Faith-based groups are heavily involved in resettling Syrian refugees, or helping the victims of war overseas, and Politico reports that many religious organizations were horrified by the refugee backlash in the U.S.
“That was offensive. That was mean-spirited,” one advocate with a Christian group that resettles refugees told Politico. “It’s disappointing because there have been Republican senators and presidents who have strongly supported this program over the years. There’s a proud tradition in the Republican Party of welcoming those who are fleeing persecution, and this takes the party in a negative direction. It’s easy to pick on vulnerable refugees who have no voice. But there are immigrant groups who have voting power that understand what is going on. They understand that it’s an anti-immigrant message.”
Note to the GOP: Criticizing a particular religion and getting tough on orphans is a risky strategy, particularly in an election year.