After weekend of silence, Toomey backs Trump's ban on refugees

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who argued against a proposed ban on Muslim immigration in December 2015, said Monday he supports President Trump's recent executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly-Muslim countries.

WASHINGTON - Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who  argued against a proposed ban on Muslim immigration in December 2015, said Monday that he supports President Trump's executive order barring refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

After a weekend of silence amid national turmoil and confusion, including in Philadelphia, Toomey said in a statement Monday morning, “I support the administration's decision to increase vetting and temporarily suspend the admission of certain individuals from states that sponsor or provide safe havens to terrorists, or are too weak to prosecute terrorists within their borders. Terrorists have successfully infiltrated refugee populations entering Europe and gone on to commit heinous acts of barbarity."

He added that the initial executive order issued Friday was "flawed," but praised the administration for clarifying it, and said he looked forward to learning more about how it will be enforced.

The senator's statement did not address criticism from Democrats that Trump's order is a Muslim ban in disguise. Other Republicans have countered that attack by noting the order targets people from specific countries -- ones the Obama administration also raised concerns about -- and still allows Muslim immigration from most nations.

Trump's order indefinitely bans refugees from Syria, stops the admission of other refugees for 120 days, and blocks entry from seven other countries for 90 days.

In December 2015, when Trump floated the idea of a Muslim ban and Toomey was facing a tough reelection campaign, the senator spoke out against the idea. "Trump is wrong," he wrote on Twitter. "We should not have a religious test for admission to U.S. We should have a security test, and it should be bullet proof."

Toomey weighed in Monday after a weekend of protests from activists and Democrats, who rushed to Philadelphia International Airport, and criticism of the orders from some Republicans, including two from the Philadelphia area.

One of those GOP critics, Rep. Charlie Dent, represents Toomey's hometown, near Allentown, and said relatives of his constituents had been turned away after years of planning to legally come to the United States, including buying a house in Pennsylvania.

Toomey's initial silence came as he spent at least part of the weekend at a Palm Springs, Calif. seminar sponsored by the conservative Koch brothers, and drew sharp criticism from the left.

His statement Monday was one of several from Republicans in the region who began speaking up in favor of Trump's executive order, and as Democrats argued that the order turns the country's back on people fleeing war-torn places like Syria.

Democrats cited comments by some Trump supporters and the president's singling out Christian refugees for help to say this was actually the president's promised Muslim ban. Several Republicans also raised concerns that the plan could seem like such a ban, and provide fodder to terrorist recruiters. 

In a letter Monday to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) asked how many people had been turned away from or detained at Pennsylvania airports since the order. Casey again said the decision "flies in the face of American history and values."

Republicans from the region reacted cautiously, but late Sunday and Monday, more than two days after the  order was announced, they struck a common theme: that the Trump plan is good for safety, but executed poorly.

Rep. Patrick Meehan, whose district includes parts of Delaware and Chester Counties, had spoken against a Muslim ban in 2015, calling the idea "wrong" and "contrary to our values as a nation," according to Lancaster Online.  As he remained silent over the weekend, Pennsylvania Democrats called it  "the ultimate profile in cowardice."

On Monday afternoon, however, Meehan released a statement saying, "It’s only responsible that we take immediate steps to protect our citizens and prevent terrorists from entering the U.S." He questioned how the directive was drafted and implemented. 

"It appears to have inadvertently harmed families already in transit to the U.S., immigrants who have already completed the rigorous green card screening process, and interpreters and others who have aided our forces overseas," the statement said. "I’m going to work with my colleagues to press for screening policies that are fair, responsible, and effective in keeping Americans safe.”

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) walked a similar line. 

“The security of our nation and safety of Americans must come first as we combat radical Islamic terrorism. This is a temporary pause in the refugee resettlement program so that we may strengthen the screening process to prevent Islamic jihadists from coming to our country to attack us," LoBiondo said in a statement Monday morning. But he said the administration should "quickly reassess" the execution of the orders, saying they have caused "widespread confusion, frustration and misrepresentation of what America stands for."

Rep. Ryan Costello (R., Pa.), whose district includes much of Chester County, said late Sunday he supported "a comprehensive review" of immigration and refugee rules by the Trump administration, but called for allowing entry for green card holders and people who had aided U.S. military efforts.

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R., N.J.) took the same approach in a statement late Monday.

"The president’s first responsibility is to keep Americans safe, and while I believe this could have been implemented better, I applaud him for acting," MacArthur said in a news release, calling the vetting of refugees "dangerously flawed." 

Breaking GOP ranks were Dent and newly elected Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), a former FBI agent from Bucks County, who on Sunday criticized Trump's order for singling out specific ethnicities and countries.