POLITICS
11/30/2015 04:31 pm ET

Revise The Visa Program Or Reject Syrian Refugees? House GOP Wants To Do Both.

Republicans haven't let go of the idea that terrorists may be posing as refugees.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the lower chamber may vote on a bill on the visa waiver program by the e
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the lower chamber may vote on a bill on the visa waiver program by the end of the year.

House Republicans aim to pass an overhaul in December of one of the key programs through which foreigners enter the U.S., Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Monday.

In doing so, the House GOP would be at least partially cooperating with the White House and with many Democrats, who have insisted since the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month that while there are steps the U.S. can take to improve national security, Republicans are needlessly fixated on the supposed threat posed by Syrian refugees.

The White House is pressing Congress to change the visa waiver program, which allows the citizens of 38 countries to visit the U.S. without a visa. Most of the people believed to have been involved in the Paris attacks were citizens of either France or Belgium -- both countries on the visa waiver program list.

House Republicans said before the Thanksgiving break that a newly created task force will look at a number of responses to the attacks, but that their first priority was still a vote aimed at limiting the number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees who can resettle in the U.S.

That bill passed on Nov. 19, and a vote is yet to be scheduled in the Senate. The White House has already said President Barack Obama will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

McCarthy told reporters the task force will meet on Tuesday, and one of the items up for discussion will be the visa waiver program. He said they will be "looking at moving legislation and getting that done before the end of the year."

"We know there is a lot to be done here," he told reporters. "One of the areas that we are going to talk about tomorrow is the visa waiver program. We highlight five areas requiring all visa waiver program countries to issue e-passports -- that means the chips and biometrics. We want to make sure we do that very soon."

That doesn't mean dropping the effort to curb Syrian and Iraqi refugee resettlement, however. McCarthy also said Republicans might attach the bill they passed to critical omnibus legislation to fund the government -- a move that would set up a showdown with the White House.

The administration has signaled its willingness to make changes to the visa waiver program in order to respond to the attacks in Paris. 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that it was a top priority that Congress "make technical improvements to the visa waiver program" in the next three weeks, and that the administration was talking to senators from both parties about what those changes might look like.

Earlier Monday, the White House announced plans to add further security measures to the visa waiver program, following up on previous changes made in August. The new policies will include capturing more information about whether people attempting to travel via the visa waiver program had previously traveled to certain countries with terrorist presence, according to the White House.

The U.S. will also confer with other visa waiver countries to make sure they're holding up their end of the bargain on screening and information-sharing, and it will assist countries in things like border security, preventing terrorists from traveling and screening refugees and asylum-seekers, the White House said. The administration said it will look at ways to better collect and use biometric information such as fingerprints and photographs to make the program more secure.

Some changes will require help from Congress to give the administration the necessary authority, according to the White House, such as speeding up a requirement that all visa waiver program travelers use passports with security chips, or e-passports.

Laura Barron-Lopez and Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

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