More must be done to screen Syrian refugees before they’re allowed into the U.S., Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday -- a shift, after the Paris terrorist attacks, from his past support of bringing such refugees to the U.S.
After speaking at the National Press Club, Kasich faced several questions about his new position.
“We have to have a system to determine who these people are,” Kasich said, acknowledging that governors do not have the authority to block refugees, only to voice concerns to the president. “We have to be careful for our country and our families.”
Kasich pointed to comments in September by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, who said at the time that it was a “huge concern” that Islamic State could try to infiltrate the refugees. That same month, President Obama ordered his administration to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country next year -- an effort lauded by Kasich prior to the Paris attacks.
Kasich, who while in Congress served on the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that his daughter recently asked why his position changed.
“I do have a big heart … but I said to my daughter, ‘We understand these people are in trouble but think about us putting people on our street that want to do us harm,’” he said.
When asked about the thousands of refugees from Syria who have arrived in the United States since the 9/11 attacks and who have not committed any acts of terrorism, Kasich said the world has changed.
“There have been a lot of changes, a lot has happened. At this point we have to be able to properly screen,” he stressed. The complex screening process, which includes medical checks and interviews with Homeland Security Department agents, takes between 18 and 24 months.
Kasich said he is sympathetic to the estimated 9 million people who have fled Syria’s civil war. Since the war began in March 2011, the United States has accepted nearly 2,000 refugees.
“We ought to be in the position to provide humanitarian relief to house these folks,” he said, noting that he doesn't “condemn Muslims,” but only radicals.
In a crowded Republican presidential field, in which many candidates are seeking to appeal to the party’s conservative base, Kasich has established himself as a moderate. He’s among a small group of Republican governors to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and his rhetoric on issues such as same sex-marriage – though he opposes it – has been compassionate.
But his new stance on Syrian refugees is in harmony with other GOP presidential hopefuls, including far-right candidates such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Asked questions Tuesday about whether his executive experience makes him more fit to lead on a global stage -- more so than GOP presidential front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson -- Kasich demurred. In debates, though, Kasich has used his time as Ohio's chief executive as a leverage point, citing his ability to work across the aisle with lawmakers to, among other things, balance the state budget. He has also touted his time in Congress, where he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee for six years.
“These are very serious times. We have to be careful to not use this as an opportunity to advance candidates,” said Kasich, who is polling toward the bottom of the crowded field of Republicans. “This is serious business. Our lives are under attack.”