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Florida delegation breaks 19-8 in favor of House SAFE Act to block refugees; 2 Dems defect

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Florida’s congressional delegation split on the “SAFE Act”‘s Thursday afternoon vote. The measure calls for a halt on accepting any more Syrian refugees until vetting procedures are made more stringent.

The vote came after Gov. Rick Scott joined a national push by mostly Republican fellow governors in telling federal authorities they wouldn’t allow refugees displaced from war-torn Syria inside their borders.

Only Democrats U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter broke with their state caucus on a mostly party-line vote of 289-137.

Graham and Murphy cast votes in favor of the bill sponsored by Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul.

Both Graham and Murphy cited national security concerns.

“As the granddaughter of a Christian who came to America after fleeing religious violence, I do believe we have a role in helping peace-seeking refugees – but in light of new threats, we must strengthen our vetting process,” said Graham, elected in 2014. “We must be able to identify those who wish to do us harm, while continuing to offer a safe haven to those in need of refuge from war and persecution.”

“I am deeply disappointed how divisive this debate has become,” said Murphy in a prepared statement Thursday afternoon. “Homeland security should never be partisan and our number one priority is to always keep the American people safe.

“With new security considerations following the tragic and cowardly attacks in Paris last week, we must ensure that we have the strongest safeguards to certify refugees are not a threat to homeland security. This bill ensures that our entire intelligence community is on the same page without turning our backs on those fleeing violence and terror,” Murphy said.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz – along with Murphy’s Senate primary rival Alan Grayson – voted with President Barack Obama‘s position in opposition of the measure.

Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo stuck with his GOP caucus in supporting the plan, H.R. 4038.

His office released a prepared statement after the vote:

“After last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, it is clear that our country must help those suffering at the hands of ISIS,” said Curbelo.

“The refugees currently fleeing the Middle East  seek the same freedoms that we as Americans are blessed to enjoy. I want to ensure our country remains a place of refuge and hope for oppressed people from all over the world, while granting our law enforcement officials the tools they need to properly screen each refugee and keep Americans safe.

“The ultimate solution for this tragic refugee crisis is to defeat and destroy ISIS and clear the path for new leadership in Syria. On this, our country must lead,” Curbelo said.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at

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