Democratic lawmakers visited a mosque on Friday to show solidarity with Muslims in the wake of rising anti-Islamic rhetoric. They also showed resistance to any attempts by Republicans to restrict Syrian refugees from entering the country.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., attended prayer service at a Northern Virginia mosque on Friday. The visit was in response to try and tamp down rising anti-Islamic rhetoric, but comes at a time when Congress is beginning negotiations on how to fund the government.
Republicans have floated the idea of inserting language into the omnibus government spending package to block Syrian refugees. The bill must be passed by Dec. 11, when the government runs out of money, but Beyer pushed back against calls from Republicans to tighten refugee restrictions.
"It is really important to realize how tough it is to be one of those Americans admitted," he told the Washington Examiner after a press conference at the mosque.
Beyer noted that the asylum application process typically takes about two years, and there are much easier ways for potential terrorists to enter the country. He did agree to reforms to the visa process, which in some cases has weak background checks.
But the Virginia lawmaker demurred when asked whether he would advocate shutting down the federal government if the omnibus funding package includes tougher restrictions on refugees.
"I think we should wait and see if there is that kind of language in the omnibus and what it looks like," he said.
Outside groups are pushing to ensure that Democrats don't waver when it comes to refugees, even in the face of a government shutdown.
Polling commissioned by the liberal group MoveOn.org recently released showed 59 percent of Americans want the U.S. to do more for refugees. The poll data was of 800 Americans and was completed about eight days after the Paris terror attacks.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations also joined with several refugee groups to lobby on the issue.
"We are pressing Congress not to include any Syrian refugee exclusion provisions in the omnibus bill," said Robert McCaw, head of government affairs for CAIR, at the mosque.
Beyer said he coordinated the visit to the mosque because he wanted to help tamp down anti-Islamic rhetoric that has inflamed since the terrorist attack in Paris, and the California shootings this past week. Beyer said that he mainly reached out to his Democratic colleagues, however, and only informally to some Republicans.
The Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center recently had a bomb threat and had Molotov cocktails thrown into the parking lot, according to lawmakers attending the event.
The mosque has controversial ties to terrorists, as Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan was reportedly worshiping there. The mosque also previously had an imam, typically known as a prayer leader, named Anwar al-Awlaki that the government believes was a recruiter for terrorists.
Shaker El-Sayed, the imam that led prayers on Friday, called for an end to harmful anti-Islamic rhetoric and no retaliation from his congregation.
"No religion teaches terrorism," he said.