MANILA, Philippines — President Barack Obama lashed out Wednesday at Republicans who insist on barring Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., deeming their words offensive and insisting "it needs to stop."
"Apparently they're scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America," Obama said.
Mocking GOP leaders for thinking they're tough, Obama said overblown rhetoric from Republicans could be a potent recruitment tool for the Islamic State group. He insisted the U.S. process for screening refugees for possible entry into the U.S. is rigorous and said the U.S. doesn't make good decisions "based on hysteria" or exaggerated risk.
"We are not well served when in response to a terrorist attack we descend into fear and panic," the president said.
Obama's comments during a meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino marked his harshest condemnation yet of Republicans' response to the Paris attacks blamed on IS that killed 129 people last week. Republicans in Congress and on the 2016 presidential trail have urged an immediate closure of America's borders to Syrian refugees, but the Obama administration has shown no sign of backing off its plans to bring an additional 10,000 Syrians fleeing civil war into the U.S.
Obama took particular ire at a proposal by GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush to admit only Christian Syrians. Bush later clarified he wants to give preference to Christians but not exclude properly vetted Muslims. Still, Obama said the idea of only allowing Christians in amounted to "political posturing" that runs contrary to American values.
In Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have urged at least a temporary halt in the resettlement of Syrians, while disputing Obama administration claims that the small numbers making their way here so far are being thoroughly investigated. Obama said he's been waiting for a year and a half for lawmakers to take up refugee legislation, questioning why they are now suddenly in a rush.
Defending his administration's screening program, Obama said it takes 18 to 24 months to clear a refugee for entry, following vetting by the U.S. intelligence community and other agencies as well as biometrics.
Although there are indications that one of the IS attackers carried a Syrian passport and may have arrived in France alongside refugees, Germany's top security official has said the passport might have been a fake intended to stoke fears. Still, Obama acknowledged that the U.S. public was concerned about attacks on the homeland, noting that Paris "reminds us of home.
"I understand why Americans have been particularly affected," he said.