(CNSNews.com) – President Obama ridiculed Republicans Wednesday for objecting to his Syrian refugee admission plans, saying some GOP presidential candidates vow to be tough on Russia and terrorists but are “scared of widows and orphans.”
Speaking in Manila, where he is attending an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Obama said some of the same people opposing his plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees claim to be tough enough to deal with President Vladimir Putin or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).
“These are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL or using some additional rhetoric some how’s going to solve the problems out there,” he said.
“But apparently they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion,” he said. “At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”
According to State Department figures, out of 2,216 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. since the civil war began in 2011, 965 (43.5 percent) are under 14; 949 (42.8 percent) are aged between 14 and 40; and 302 (13.6 percent) are aged over 40.Of the 14-40 cohort, 470 are women and 479 are men.
Following last Friday’s deadly terror attacks in Paris – and fears that one of the terrorists may have entered Europe posing as a Syrian refugee – more than 30 U.S. governors, mostly Republicans, have said they oppose allowing them to settle in their states, citing security concerns.
Several GOP presidential hopefuls have also spoken out against the refugee plans, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said given his lack of trust in the administration’s vetting abilities he did not Syrian refugees should be admitted – not even “orphans under five,” he added when that scenario was put to him by interviewer Hugh Hewitt.
Others, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, called for priority to be given to Christians among the refugee applicants, due to the severity of the threats they face at the hands of ISIS.
Obama doubled down on his criticism of those calls.
“When individuals say we should have a religious test and that only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted, that’s offensive and contrary to American values,” he said.
Obama said such talk served as a “potent recruitment tool” for ISIS, which he said “seeks to exploit the idea that there’s war between Islam and the West.”
“When you start seeing individuals in position of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land, that feeds the ISIL narrative,” he said. “It’s counterproductive, and it needs to stop.”
Obama also suggested that critics were being hysterical and exaggerating the risks.
“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic,” he said. “We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks. And I think the refugee debate is an example of us not being well served by some of the commentary that’s been taking place by officials back home and in the media.”
‘It needs to stop, because the world is watching’
The president defended the current screening of refugee applicants, calling it “the most rigorous process conceivable,” and saying that it includes biometrics and vetting by the intelligence community and other federal agencies, and takes 18-24 months to clear an applicant to enter the U.S.
If critics offered recommendations to improve what he called “this extraordinary screening process that’s already in place,” he said, the administration was open to hearing them.
“But that’s not what’s really been going on in this debate,” he added, accusing candidates of “playing on fear in order to try to score political points, or to advance their campaigns.”
“And it needs to stop, because the world is watching,” he added.
Finally, Obama noted that there is discussion in Congress about legislation on the refugee issue, and said he has been waiting for 18 months or more for Congress to authorize the military campaign against ISIS, to no avail.
“And now suddenly they’re able to rush in, in a day or two, to solve the threat of widows and orphans and others who are fleeing a war-torn land, and that’s their most constructive contribution to the effort against ISIL?”
It was the second time this month Obama contrasted campaign soundbites about Putin to candidates’ views on other issues.
In early November he mocked GOP candidates for talking tough about the Russian leader but complaining about CNBC debate moderators who were accused of trying to get candidates to “tear into each other” rather than pose questions on substantive issues.
“Have you noticed that every one of these candidates say, ‘Obama’s weak. You know, Putin’s kicking sand in his face. When I talk to Putin he’s going to straighten out,’” Obama told a Democratic fundraiser in Manhattan.
“And then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators at the debate,” he said. ‘I mean let me tell you, if you can’t handle – if you can’t handle those guys, then I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you.”