Two Philly-area Republicans break with Trump on refugee order, joining Democratic outcry

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U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) said U.S. policy, while protecting Americans, should also "protect innocent and vulnerable people abroad."

WASHINGTON -- Two Republicans from the Philadelphia area have broken with President Trump and his executive order barring U.S. entry for all refugees and the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, placing them among only a handful from the GOP to oppose a move that has stirred widespread protests, including in Philadelphia.

Most local Republicans, however, remained silent through Sunday, including some who have previously denounced bans targeting Muslims, while Democrats from the region have raced to airports to support people detained there and to forcefully denounce the president's actions.

"The president's policy entirely misses the mark," said U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), a Bucks County freshman who said he spent more than a decade as an FBI supervisory special agent working on counter-terrorism.

"We were focused on solutions, not engaging in partisan attacks or declaring a singular fix to a complicated issue," Fitzpatrick said in a statement issued shortly after midnight Sunday morning. He added, "The reality is, terrorism inspired by radicalism and hate is global in scope and, as such, requires a comprehensive response, not a purely regional focus. While serious actions are needed to protect our country, these must not be done in a way that singles out any specific nations or ethnicities."

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) said U.S. policy, while protecting Americans, should also "protect innocent and vulnerable people abroad."

The Allentown representative's district includes a large Syrian population. He said one family there told his office of Christian Syrian relatives who had valid visas and were not refugees, but were turned away at Philadelphia International Airport and may be forced back to Syria.

"This is unacceptable," Dent said, urging "a more thoughtful and deliberate policy."

Most Republicans from the Philadelphia area, however, had not weighed in on the issue roiling the country as of Sunday evening, and some other Republicans backed it.

"This is not a religious test, and it is not a ban on people of any religion," said a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.).

Trump told reporters that "it’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared." He added, "It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over."

One of the few other Republicans from the Philadelphia area to comment, Rep. Ryan Costello (R., Pa.), walked a careful line in a statement Sunday evening.

"Job number one of the federal government is to protect American people, and I support a comprehensive review of of this process over the next 90 days, and especially concerning the seven countries identified by the Obama and Trump administrations as being dangerous terrorist hot spots," said Costello, of Chester County. But he added that green-card holders and those who have aided the U.S. in fighting terrorism should not be denied entry. 

Local Democrats were at some of those airports Saturday and again Sunday, raising fierce objections.

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) went to Philadelphia International Airport from a downtown ball Saturday night, still in his tuxedo, to join protesters and other Democrats advocating for several people detained after a flight from Qatar and caught up in legal wrangling over the order. Two Christian families from Syria had already been sent back to Qatar before a judge's decision halted Trump's order.

"Generations of Americans have fought for the fundamental principles of this nation. We have a sacred obligation to do the same," Casey wrote on Twitter Saturday. In another post he added, ".@realDonaldTrump made a political decision w/ exec order. Whatever the politics, I won't stand by as the promise of America is diminished."

Philadelphia's three members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Bob Brady, Brendan Boyle, and Dwight Evans, all Democrats, also blasted the ban.

Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), meanwhile, went to Dulles International Airport just outside Washington Saturday to speak up for legal U.S. residents detained there and vowed to go to Newark Liberty Internal Airport Sunday. "This Executive Order violates our values and assaults our moral standing as a nation," Booker wrote on Twitter.

Around 1 a.m. Sunday, Boyle urged more Republicans to speak out.

"Many of you are friends of mine," he wrote on Twitter. "I know you don't agree w/ Trump. You need to go public NOW before it's too late."

Few have so far responded to his urging.

 Brady and U.S. Reps. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.) and Donald Norcross (D., N.J.) attended Sunday's protest at the Philadelphia airport.