How the 2016 Presidential Candidates Have Evolved on Syrian Refugees

A look at where the candidates stand.

ByABC News
November 18, 2015, 7:06 AM

— -- More than two months before the deadly attacks in Paris, President Obama announced that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees who are victims of the ongoing civil war there.

Most Democrats have been supportive of Obama’s promise to take in the refugees. Indeed, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley even pushed the Obama administration to accept a higher number: 65,000. In the weeks following the president's Sept. 10 announcement, several of the Republican candidates also signaled their support.

But after Friday in Paris, many of them are changing their minds. Here’s a look at how the positions of a handful of candidates have evolved:


At the beginning of September, Trump acknowledged that the Syrian civil war represented "an unbelievable humanitarian problem," but he promised Tuesday that if he wins the presidency, any Syrian refugees in this country will have to go back.

THEN: Fox News with Bill O’Reilly – Sept. 8, 2015

“You do have people from ISIS in that group you know; there’s a lot of security risk with it, but something that has to be done. It’s an unbelievable humanitarian problem.”

NOW: Knoxville, Tennessee - Nov. 16, 2015

“Anybody that's brought into this country from the migration is going to be out. We’re not going to do it. We’re going to have a country again, we’re going to have borders, we’re going to have a country again. Right now we don't have a country."


The Democratic front-runner reaffirmed her position on welcoming refugees.

THEN: CBS’ “Face the Nation” – Sept. 20, 2015

"We're facing the worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II and I think the United States has to do more.

"I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000, and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in."

NOW: Campaign rally in Dallas, Texas – Nov. 17, 2015

"And now you know with this new refugee crisis of course we have to have a lot of vigilance and we have to vet people and I would depend upon our defense and intelligence professionals to guide us in doing that. But we can't act as though we’re shutting the doors to people in need without undermining who we are as Americans and the values we have stood for.”


The Ohio governor Monday joined the other 30 U.S. governors who are opposing Syrian resettlement in their respective states, calling for President Obama to stop granting “refugee status to individuals from any country who have no personal information in federal databases or official papers.” But that wasn't the case in September.

THEN: ABC News’ “This Week” – Sept. 6, 2015

"I think we have a responsibility here, but I think this fundamentally falls on Europe... And I think we do have a responsibility in terms of taking some more folks in, making sure they assimilate, and at the same time helping people to actually be safe as they move.”

NOW: National Press Club – Nov. 17, 2015

"At this point in time, it is reasonable for us to be in a position to properly screen. We have to have a system to determine who these people are."


Cruz is planning on introducing legislation that would ban Syrian Muslim refugees from coming to the United States. Cruz had a softer stance last year on the issue but even in 2014 he brought up the issue of Christian Syrians.

THEN: Fox News - 2014

"We have welcomed refugees, the tired huddled masses, for centuries that’s been the history of the United States. We should continue to do so."

THEN: Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Syrian Refugees in Jan. 2014

"This disaster demands the attention of the United States not only because Americans are and have been traditionally a generous people who have volunteered to step forward with assistance in humanitarian crises. It is also a serious concern that some of the al Qaeda affiliated terrorists who have infiltrated the Syrian opposition have also apparently infiltrated the refugee population or are using them as cover to move into host nations. This has obviously been a grave concern to many countries who have been asked to grant additional visas. In addition, I am particularly concerned about the neglected plight of the many Christian refugees both inside and outside of Syria. The reports of the ancient Christian communities that are targeted by extremist elements in the opposition that the regime forces can’t or won’t protect are heartbreaking. And as we explore the visa issue, we should not neglect the tragic circumstance of Syrian Christians facing oppression.”

NOW: Sun City, South Carolina Rally – Nov. 16, 2015

“And I think virtually anybody, and actually doesn’t matter, you can ask Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, anyone with an ounce of common sense, would say ‘no.’ We shouldn’t be bringing in tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees. Instead, we should be resettling them humanely, in Middle Eastern countries that are majority Muslim. We can help them deal with their refugee status but the first obligation of the president needs to be, as commander in chief, to protect the safety of the United States of America.”


The former Florida governor emphasized the United States’ role in caring for refugees back in September, adding it was a “notable tradition.” But on Tuesday Bush said: “You’re not going to solve this problem by bringing people in.”

THEN: Press availability Bedford, New Hampshire Town Hall – Sept. 30, 2015

"Look, we have a noble tradition of taking care of refugees; we’ve done it since the beginning of time and I think we need to maintain that.

"Send them all back? To a hellhole?"

NOW: Fox News – Nov. 18, 2015

“I think there should be a pause. The Obama administration hasn't sent a clear signal of what the vetting process is. And, governors have a legitimate concern about that. I also think that there is a humanitarian crisis. If you're a Christian in the Middle East, you're being beheaded, and but for us who? Who but the United States will provide support for the persecuted? I think there is ways to do this. Ultimately though, the issue needs to be resolved in the region.”


Carson's stance on the issue hasn’t evolved much because he has always been opposed to taking in Syrian refugees.

THEN: Speaking to Doctors in New Hampshire – Sept. 30, 2015

"We do not need to be bringing in people who obviously are going to be infiltrated with jihadists.

"Unless we have a way they are not being infiltrated by jihadists or likely to be radicalized they should not be coming here. What I have said repeatedly is that we should be concentrating on getting them settled in that area, in the Arabian Peninsula, in Turkey. And I would have no problem with helping them financially or with expertise. But I believe that that is a regional problem that needs to be settled over there."

NOW: Letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan – Nov. 16, 2015

“Today I am urging you and your colleagues in the Republican Leadership to move legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives this week that terminated all public funding for any ongoing federal programs that seek to resettle refugees and/or migrants from Syria into the United States, effective immediately.

“While many of us were troubled by the President’s decision at the time, given the events in Paris Friday night, there can be no disputing the fact that the United States cannot, should not, and must not accept any Syrian refugees, let alone the dramatically larger number President Obama volunteered to host.”


In September, the Florida senator said he was “open” to welcoming refugees if it could be “done in a way that allows us to ensure that among them are not infiltrated people” belonging to ISIS. Now, Rubio has determined the United States “ won’t be able to take more.”

THEN: Interview with Boston Herald Radio -

“We’ve always been a country that’s been willing to accept people who have been displaced. I would be open to that if it can done in a way that allows us to ensure that among them are not infiltrated people who were, you know, part of a terrorist organization that are using this crisis. I think overwhelmingly, the vast and overwhelming majority of people that are seeking refuge are not terrorists, of course, but you are always concerned about that. But the bigger issue, some of these communities that are being displaced -especially Christians -- have a long standing ancient tradition in that region. They would prefer to stay in the region.”

NOW: ABC News’ “This Week” – Nov. 15, 2015

“You can have a thousand people come in and 999 of them are just poor people fleeing oppression and violence,” Rubio said. “But one of them is an ISIS fighter. If that’s the case, you have a problem.

“There’s no way to vet that out. There’s no background check system in the world that allows us to find that out because who do you call in Syria to background check them?”


In September the New Jersey governor seemed open to a U.S. role in refugee resettlement, but as of this week, he was taking a hard line against such a plan.

THEN: “Fox and Friends” – Sept. 8, 2015

“I would sit down with our allies and figure out how we could help…we saw the image of that four year-old little boy drowned and we can't have those kinds of things… I can't come up with an exact number, we have to sit with our allies and work together… Let’s look at what the flow of the refugees are going to be and the United States should play their role in it along with the other countries.”

NOW: Letter to President Obama – Nov. 17, 2015

“I urge you to halt your plans to accept more Syrian refugees in the United States. I have no doubt that ISIS will try to exploit American humanitarianism to expose Americans to similar deadly risk.”


THEN: MSNBC – Sept. 15, 2015

"Do I think the United States should be welcoming and bringing in refugees to this country? Yes, I do."

NOW: Campaign rally in Cleveland

"During difficult times, we will not succumb to racism, we will not allow ourselves to be dived and succumb to Islamaphoia. And when hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything ... we will not turn our backs on the refugees."


The South Carolina senator was the first GOP candidate to suggest that the United States take in “its fair share of Syrian refugees." Graham has since backpedaled, calling for a “timeout."

THEN: Speech opposing the Iran deal at the National Press Club – Sept. 8, 2015

"You have the refugee organizations that are overwhelmed; I think it's in our national security interests to try to get ahead of this problem."

NOW: Fox News Radio – Nov. 16, 2015

"The one thing I’ve learned from Paris is that we need to have a timeout on bringing refugees into this country until we have a system that we think will work. So I’m calling for a timeout on Syrian refugees,"

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