MANILA, Philippines — President Barack Obama sharply criticized Republicans Wednesday for suggesting that Syrian refugees coming to the United States posed a security threat, blasting some GOP suggestions as “offensive” and mocking what he said was a fear of “widows and orphans.”
“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic,” Obama said. “We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”
“Apparently they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America,” he said later. “At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me.”
The President was speaking in the Philippine capital ahead of a summit focused on trade and climate issues. But like his previous stop in Turkey for the G20, his visit to Asia has largely been overshadowed by the fallout over the terror attacks in Paris.
In a defensive press conference Monday, Obama said his decision to forgo a major shift in strategy in fighting ISIS, who claimed responsibility for the terror spree. And he went after politicians who have questioned the administration’s earlier decision to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria.
The White House convened a conference call with governors earlier in the day explaining the vetting procedures for incoming immigrants. The White House said the call lasted 90 minutes and was led by Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough.
Through its social media feeds, the Obama administration has aggressively pushed back on suggestions the refugees could post a risk to the U.S., posting photos of Google co-founder Sergey Brin and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as examples of refugees to the U.S, using the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome.
Of particular offense to Obama: suggestions that refugees entering the United States undergo a “religious test.” That appeared to be a response to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s suggestion that the U.S. focus on accepting Christian refugees.
“When individuals say we should have a religious test and that only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted, that’s offensive,” Obama said Wednesday.
“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.
Obama was speaking following a bilateral meeting with Benigno Aquino, the president of the Philippines.