WASHINGTON -- Most members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to say the U.S. shouldn't discriminate based on religion when it determines who to admit into the country -- a statement that effectively was a rebuke of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.
But four Republican members of the committee opposed making such a statement, including presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Cruz has been reluctant to criticize Trump in the days since the business mogul said he would bar all Muslims from entering the country, at least temporarily, because he fears they could be terrorists. Cruz said he disagreed. But he wouldn't go as far as many other Republicans, who criticized the remarks as unserious or an affront to American values -- although most said they would support any eventual GOP presidential nominee.
The Judiciary Committee gave its members, and may eventually give all senators, the chance to put their views on Trump's declaration on the record. Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a "sense of the Senate" amendment stating the U.S. "must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion, as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this Nation was founded."
Cruz voted against the amendment, as did Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Cruz wasn't actually there -- he voted by proxy because he was giving a speech -- nor were many of the other committee members.
The other seven GOP senators on the committee voted for the amendment, as did all nine Democrats.
Leahy noted at the hearing that national security experts have said the Islamic State, or ISIS, recruited members using the claim that the U.S. is anti-Muslim.
"I think we ought to listen to what our national security leaders and send a clear and direct message that America welcomes people from all countries and all faiths," Leahy said.
Sessions gave a lengthy speech in opposition, although he said he supports the freedom of religion. He said Leahy's amendment would prevent consular offices from asking about religion and would prevent them from banning people who espouse radical views. He also questioned how the U.S. could avoid accepting people who might later be radicalized if officials couldn't ask their views on religion.
The text says nothing about stopping government officials from asking about or considering religion. It just says people cannot be barred simply based on religious beliefs.
"I believe he means well and all of us are committed to religious freedom in America and to promote it wherever we can around the world," Sessions said. "But with regard to immigration, it is our responsibility to protect the rights and well-being first of American citizens."