Politics & Government

Senate committee sends message on Muslims – sans Tillis

Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz of Texas had a chance to use their votes Thursday to decry Donald Trump’s recent call that all Muslims should be barred from entering the United States.

Both took a pass.

Tillis later explained his opposition, saying he didn’t like the way the measure was introduced at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing – it was tacked onto an unrelated bill about nuclear terrorism – but agreed that the U.S. should not ban all Muslims.

“As a stand-alone ‘sense of the Senate,’ I would vote for it,” Tillis said afterward. “What I didn’t want to do is complicate matters” with the nuclear terrorism bill.

He said banning all Muslims from entry into the U.S. “is not a good idea,” adding, “I don’t think it’s a productive discussion. What I find disturbing is when our committee meetings get hijacked by things that people are watching on the nightly news versus looking at the underlying bill.”

Cruz spokesman Phil Novack called the anti-discrimination measure “nothing more than a political stunt.”

The issue arose when Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the panel’s ranking Democrat, offered a “sense of the Senate” resolution affirming that the U.S. would not block people who want to enter the country on the basis of religion.

“It is the sense of the Senate that the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion, as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded,” the amendment says.

“Sense of the Senate” resolutions carry no weight of law, but are used to express a majority opinion.

Though the measure did not mention Trump by name or identify Muslims as the focus, there was no mistaking Leahy’s intent. The Republican presidential front-runner’s call for a “complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the U.S. has provoked widespread outrage in this country and overseas.

Some recent polls show a majority of Republican voters agree with Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims.

Several Republican lawmakers have condemned Trump’s plan but also reaffirmed that they would support whoever emerges as their presidential nominee next year.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday that he’s taken that position because, as speaker, he will serve as chairman of the Republican National Convention next summer, where the party will select its 2016 nominee.

“So I’m not going to say who I’m for or who I am against. I’m going to support the nominee,” Ryan said.

The Judiciary Committee passed Leahy’s anti-religious discrimination amendment measure 16-4, with most Republican members joining Democrats to approve it. Besides Tillis and Cruz, Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and David Vitter of Louisiana voted against it

Speaking for Cruz, Novack said “a nuclear terrorism bill is not the place for political games, which is why after voting against Sen. Leahy’s amendment, Sen. Cruz voted for the . . . bill to protect Americans against this grave threat.”

Still, of the four, all but Sessions ended up supporting the Leahy amendment because they subsequently voted for the nuclear terrorism bill, which was about using capital punishment on terrorists who kill using nuclear weapons.

Leahy, along with Sessions and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., ended up voting against the larger bill, even though it contained his amendment.

Another GOP presidential contender on the committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, supported both the amendment and the larger bill.

(Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews