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U.S. Governors Balk At Taking In Syrian Refugees


Let's listen to some objections to accepting Syrian refugees. President Obama's administration has accepted fewer than 2,000 into this country. He wants to let in more. And in the wake of the Paris bombings, that is triggering resistance from many governors. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is in our studios. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the governors saying?

GONYEA: Well, let's start with Michigan's Rick Snyder. He's a Republican. He calls himself, Steve, the most pro-immigration governor there is. He sees it as a good thing for Michigan's economy. Recall, too, Michigan has a huge Arab-American population. Previously - previously, Snyder has welcomed Syrian refugees. But yesterday, he called timeout. He now wants assurances on how they're being screened.


RICK SNYDER: It was not just Paris. Paris is terrible. It also happened in Lebanon, in terms of terrorist attacks. So this is something that we need to be aware of and on top of. And it just seemed this was a good, prudent decision to make as to say, let's go talk to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about their practices and procedures.

GONYEA: And these are all Republicans saying no, except for one Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. She is also running for the U.S. Senate. New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, also a presidential candidate...


GONYEA: Says none can come to his state. He said not even a 3-year-old orphan.

INSKEEP: Because he says he doesn't trust President Obama. I am trying to think about this, though, in practical terms, Don Gonyea. To refuse Syrians - people of a particular nationality - you'd have to impose some kind of internal border control. You know, my home state of Indiana would need some kind of checkpoint on the road in from Cincinnati. And we heard Mary Beth Long, a former Pentagon official in a Republican administration, say that governors have no legal authority to refuse refugees.

GONYEA: Right, and you can't just remove somebody based on their nationality. Listen to Iowa Republican Terry Branstad. He spoke to this very issue yesterday.


TERRY BRANSTAD: I don't know that the states have the authority to decide whether or not we can take refugees. This is a federal program. But I share the concern of the other governors about the safety and wellbeing of our citizens.

GONYEA: So that was early in the day yesterday. He was not on the list of governors saying no. By late last night, he was on that list. And as for definitive guidance on this from Washington, a State Department spokesman says their lawyers are looking into it.

INSKEEP: All right, you already mentioned Chris Christie. What are other Republicans running for president saying about this?

GONYEA: Obviously, it's a huge topic. And it's a way to attack President Obama, whose foreign policy credentials are not very popular right now with the American public. Some, Ted Cruz - put Jeb Bush on that list, too - have suggested screening refugees to only allow Syrian Christians in. But let's listen to a sampling - Cruz first.


TED CRUZ: To bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America, I think, is absolute lunacy.


DONALD TRUMP: Is this a Trojan horse? We all know the story of the Trojan horse.


JEB BUSH: We have a responsibility to help with refugees after proper screening. And I think our focus ought to be on the Christians who have no place in Syria anymore.


BEN CARSON: President Obama announced at his press conference that it was our responsibility to accept these refugees. He is wrong.

GONYEA: You also heard in that mix Trump, Bush. You heard Ben Carson. Carson, incidentally, spoke after struggling through a Sunday morning TV interview. Yesterday, he was very careful with his words. He read that statement from his smartphone as he stood before cameras and reporters.

INSKEEP: Always good to have a script in front of you. Now, of course, there are Democrats running for president, too. What are the Democrats saying?

GONYEA: Well, let's first talk Obama. He was in Turkey. He made the moral case, and he said screening based on religion is not American. He accused Republican candidates of popping off. Democratic candidates, they go beyond the 10,000 that he says he would allow in. Hillary Clinton says that number could be up to 65,000 Syrian refugees. Martin O'Malley agrees. Senator Sanders simply says the U.S. can do more. But I will tell you this. Based on what we're seeing at their campaign events, all of these Democrats much prefer talking about the economy.

INSKEEP: Indeed, other issues they'd rather be talking about. Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.