Debate over refugee crisis sharpens on the campaign trail

Since the Paris attacks, the issue of the Syrian refugee crisis has become a hot talking point on Capitol Hill and among the presidential candidates. Political director Lisa Desjardins offers a roundup of reactions.

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    But, first, here in the U.S., politicians have clashed in response to the Paris attacks, over refugees and security at home.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.


    Last night in Iowa, the pointed debate over refugees sharpened even more, when Donald Trump was asked whether to register and track Muslims.

  • DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    But we should have a lot of systems. And, today, you can do it.


    So, a reporter followed up, Trump would implement a Muslim database?


    Oh, I would certainly implement that.


    In a tweet today, Trump didn't back down, per se, but did clarify, saying: "I didn't suggest a database. A reporter did."

    In New Hampshire today, rival Ben Carson flatly rejected the database idea.

  • BEN CARSON, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    If we're just going to pick out a particular group of people based on their religion, based on their race, based on some other thing, that's setting a pretty dangerous precedent.


    But last night in Alabama, Carson sparked criticism himself. While arguing that security must balance with compassion, he offered this analogy about refugees.


    If there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you're probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you're probably going to put your children out of the way. It doesn't mean that you hate all dogs, by any stretch of the imagination.


    Some other Republicans struck a different tone.

  • JEB BUSH, Republican Presidential Candidate:

    I think we need to be cautious as we go through this not to get a point where our emotions overtake our brain.

    REP. STEVE RUSSELL (R), Oklahoma: The Statue of Liberty cannot have a stiff arm. But if we use our passions and our anger, fear, and we use that to snuff out her flame by xenophobic and knee-jerk policy, the enemy wins.


    The Democratic presidential candidates today condemned the rhetoric, including former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.

  • MARTIN O’MALLEY, Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    When you hear people like Donald Trump talking about wanting to do I.D. cards based on religion, what the hell is that?


    The war of words has also engaged the current White House.

    In the Philippines this week, President Obama criticized Congress as acting quickly to block Syrian refugees, but taking no action to authorize military force against the Islamic State.


    And now suddenly they are able to rush in, in a day or two to solve the threat of widows and orphans and others who are fleeing a war-torn land, and that's their most constructive contribution to the effort against ISIL? That doesn't sound right to me.


    The refugee issue barely discussed 10 days ago is now the top political debate in the country.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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