President Obama criticized Republican presidential candidates Tuesday for stoking “hysteria” over Syrian refugees.
“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 risk,” Obama said at a press conference in Manila, Philippines.
In the wake of the attacks in Paris Friday, GOP presidential hopefuls have ratcheted up the rhetoric they use when speaking about Syrian refugees.
“We can’t roll the dice with the safety of Americans and bring in people for whom there is an unacceptable risk that they could be jihadists coming here to kill Americans,” Ted Cruz said Sunday. “We just saw in Paris what happens when a country allows ISIS terrorists to come in as refugees and the result can be a horrific loss of life.”
Five of the Paris attackers were French citizens; one is of unknown origin, but he arrived in Europe via Greece, possibly posing as a Syrian refugee.
Since Friday’s attacks, 30 Republican governors, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie, have said Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states. Of the 31 total states now objecting to the idea of accepting refugees, 26 have already accepted them — including New Jersey which accepted seven Syrian refugees just last month.
Obama appeared to be referring to Christie directly Tuesday, saying, “When candidates say we should not admit 3-year-old orphans, that’s political posturing.”
The U.S., which has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014, has accepted fewer than 2,200 refugees from the country since the civil war broke out there in 2011. Obama agreed in September to accept 10,000 Syrian immigrants over the next year.
“When individuals say we should have religious tests, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be allowed, that’s offensive and contrary to American values,” Obama said Tuesday. “ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there’s war between Islam and the West, and 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. It’s counterproductive. And it needs to stop.”
Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have both said the U.S. should prioritize assisting Christian refugees from Syria. “I think our focus ought to be on the Christians who have no place in Syria anymore. They’re being beheaded, they’re being executed by both sides, and I think we have a responsibility to help,” Bush said on Meet the Press this weekend. The same day, at campaign stop in South Carolina, Cruz said there was “no meaningful risk” of Christians committing terrorist acts.
Obama finished his thought on Tuesday by referencing the GOP candidates’ prior griping after the CNBC debate. “First they were worried the press was too tough on them in the debates, now they’re worried about 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”
Ted Cruz, apparently smarting for a fight that might increase his poll numbers, was quick to respond, delivering a message to Obama via a gaggle of reporters Tuesday. “I would encourage you, mister president, come back and insult me to my face,” Cruz said.