Republican vice presidential hopeful and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday that he stands behind his efforts to keep Syrian refugees out of his state, and defended his presidential nominee Donald Trump’s broader plan to ban people from the country based on their nation of origin and beliefs.
But his opponent, Democratic vice presidential nominee and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), had ammunition to use against him: A day before the vice presidential debate, a federal appeals court ruled that Pence’s order aimed at barring Syrian refugees from Indiana was discriminatory.
“We have different views on refugee issues and on immigration,” Kaine said during the debate. “Hillary and I want to do enforcement based on, ‘Are people dangerous?’ These guys say all Mexicans are bad.”
Pence said that was “absolutely false.”
Kaine continued, “And with respect to refugees, we want to keep people out if they’re dangerous. Donald Trump said keep them out if they’re Muslim.”
That’s an awkward point for Pence, who last year criticized Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
Trump has since shifted to saying he would bar people based on their nation of origin and ideology, which Pence, now his running mate, was more willing to defend.
“Donald Trump has called for extreme vetting for people coming into this country so that we don’t bring people into the United States who are hostile to our Bill of Rights freedoms, who are hostile to the American way of life,” Pence said.
After terrorist attacks in Paris last November, Pence and a number of other governors announced they would no longer accept Syrian refugees, although they do not have the authority to dictate the federal government’s policies on the matter and are not allowed to discriminate against people on the basis of nationality.
An Indiana-based refugee resettlement group sued Pence over his order to withhold federal funds to be used for social services for Syrians. In Tuesday’s ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Judge Richard Posner wrote that Pence’s argument that Syrian refugees could be terrorists was “nightmare speculation” with no evidence to back it up.
Republicans have argued that the Syrian refugee resettlement program lacks sufficient vetting ― something U.S. officials dispute, although some have said there are challenges for the program and no system is entirely free of risk.
Pence said attacks and arrests in Europe were evidence of the need to bar Syrian refugees, a misleading claim because the U.S. and Europe have vastly different processes for admitting people from the country.
“I have no higher priority than the safety and security of the people of my state,” Pence said. “So you bet I suspended that program. And I stand by that decision. And if I’m vice president of the United States or Donald Trump is president, we’re going to put the safety and security of the American people first.”
Kaine said that he and Clinton also support vetting refugees, although they support admitting more Syrians once they have been screened.
“We won’t do it based on discriminating against you from the country you come from or the religion that you practice,” he said.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.