Lawmakers react to refugee crisis

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Lawmakers react to refugee crisis

The image of a dead 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach has horrified officials in Europe, Canada and the United States, prompting calls in the U.S. for some kind of humanitarian action.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called the crisis “heart-wrenching,” adding “it’s critical that we help the thousands of people who have fled violence and instability at home in search of a better life.”

“The U.S. should be focused on assisting our allies and friends in the Middle East who are inundated with refugees,” Brown said. “I am heartened that the State Department has announced that our nation will accept more Syrian refugees — enabling us to assist those fleeing the ravages of war and religious persecution.”

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, said, “We can no longer look away,” adding “basic humanity calls upon every nation — European or not — to contribute to helping these refugees escape the dangers in which they find themselves. I would hope and expect the Republican-controlled Congress will take up this issue as soon as possible.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest reminded reporters Thursday the United States has “provided more than $4 billion in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict in Syria since 2011.”

“There’s also some technical expertise that the United States can provide to our EU partners who are dealing with this difficult problem,” Earnest said. “And the United States Coast Guard has some expertise in this regard and that is something that is being readily shared with our allies and partners in the EU.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., has sharply criticized the Obama administration for not taking a more forceful stance in the Syrian conflict and in trying to crush the Islamic State militants who hold large sections of Iraq and Syria.

“As Speaker Boehner has repeatedly said, the president has failed to put forward a broad, overarching strategy to defeat ISIL and promote stability in the Middle East,” said Olivia Hnat, a Boehner spokeswoman. “This tragedy is just one of the consequences.”

Less than a year after the civil war erupted, Obama in 2012 rejected calls from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to provide weapons to moderate Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since then the bloody war has raged on with more than 250,000 killed and millions of Syrians displaced.

During his Thursday briefing, Earnest said there “is a bias among many observers that assume that more robust or muscular engagement, as you described it, would have had the result of preventing this humanitarian atrocity. And there’s not really much evidence to substantiate that claim.”

Earnest acknowledged that a more robust U.S. response “might have hastened” Assad’s departure. But Earnest said “it also would have subjected the United States to a whole host of more significant risks, including more significant outlays of funds to fund essentially a war in Syria.”

“It certainly would have put tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of American troops in harm’s way on the ground in Syria,” Earnest said. “So the President has made policy decisions in this area that are admittedly very difficult, but his primary focus has been on the best national security interests of the United States.”

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