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Vulnerable Senate Dems lukewarm on reported White House plan for Palestinian refugees

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Electorally vulnerable Senate Democrats are in a tricky position over Biden administration plans to allow Palestinian refugees into the U.S. — a move that’s becoming a political football in the party’s toughest races.

The idea of allowing Palestinian refugees into the U.S. blends a couple of political problem points for Democrats. It touches on immigration, a subject Republicans regularly hammer their opponents on, and it could also be seen as a referendum on Israel’s handling of the war in Gaza, where high civilian casualties have sent many fleeing for refuge.

“I’ve been clear that allowing anyone to enter the country without being properly vetted and going through a legal process undermines our national security,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “And that neighboring countries in the region including Egypt and Jordan should play a leading role in taking in refugees.”

And Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said the White House and Biden’s administration should keep its focus on a bigger prize: “The administration should be focused on reaching an agreement that ends the fighting, frees the hostages, and gets much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

The plan from the administration — which has not been finalized — would open a pathway for entry to Palestinian refugees who have family members that are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. It would be a small portion of the larger population of Palestinians affected by worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

Still, with just about six months until Election Day, Democrats from red and purple states are hesitant to stick their neck out for the plan. And GOP candidates are starting to focus on the issue: Dave McCormick is hitting Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) for not doing more to stop the resettlement program, while Bernie Moreno is asking Brown to stop the plan.

The result has been a swirl of lukewarm responses from frontline Senate Democrats. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), who’s in an increasingly competitive race, said she’s “focused on ensuring the safe release of hostages held by Hamas and am closely monitoring the current negotiations.”

“At the same time, more must be done to reduce civilian casualties and provide humanitarian assistance, which is why I’m encouraged to see the dramatic increase in aid being delivered in Gaza,” she added in a statement.

Casey echoed a similar sentiment, with a spokesperson saying in a statement that the senator “is focused on supporting Israel as it prosecutes its war against terrorist Hamas leaders, getting the hostages home, and ensuring Israel fulfills its obligation to prioritize humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza. He believes U.S. focus should be on these three goals right now.”

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, the Democratic nominee for the Michigan Senate race, appears to be keeping a fairly neutral tone, too. Slotkin spokesperson Lynsey Mukomel said “the U.S. has a longstanding program to vet and allow entry for refugees.”

“That program has long applied to Palestinians in some circumstances, and the Congresswoman expects that to continue in line with USCIS plans,” Mukomel added.

Senate Republicans have cast opening the door to an influx of Palestinian refugees as a national security risk. A letter penned by 34 Senate Republicans last week to Biden said, “we are not confident that your administration can adequately vet this high-risk population for terrorist ties and sympathies before admitting them into the United States.”

One vulnerable senator POLITICO surveyed gave a slightly more positive response to the administration’s reported plans. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said in a statement, “The U.S. has a proud tradition of sheltering innocent civilians fleeing war and persecution while also ensuring Americans’ safety. Refugees are thoroughly vetted before they enter the United States to ensure they are not a threat to Americans.”