Gov. Charlie Baker said Massachusetts will not do anything to halt its participation in refugee resettlement programs as he seeks to learn more about the screening of individuals fleeing war in the Middle East.
"The state's role in this is as a collaborator, and I have no intention of having Massachusetts walk away from its commitment and its participation in refugee resettlement programs," Baker told reporters after an economic development announcement in Lynn on Monday. "But I am very interested in knowing a lot more about how the feds deal with situations that involve governments in countries that for the past 10 years have basically been broken."
The Swampscott Republican explained why he did not sign onto a letter from other Republican governors to President Barack Obama.
"I'm interested in ensuring that Massachusetts maintains its standing as a welcoming community, and I've tried very hard to be a nonpartisan participant in political dialogue," Baker said. He said, "I don't see how elevating this and making it even more partisan than it is already really helps solve the problem. I just want to solve the problem."
In their Friday letter the 27 governors raised the concern that the Islamic State "may have exploited" Europe's refugee procedures to carry out coordinated attacks in Paris and said that the director of the F.B.I. has disclosed "inadequacies" in the U.S. vetting process. The governors asked Obama to "suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees" until completion of an "exhaustive review" of security measures.
Baker has taken flack since stating last week that he is "not interested in accepting refugees from Syria" before he learns more about the federal government's screening process.
Among those knocking the governor was Congressman Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat, who joined Baker on the steps of Lynn City Hall on Monday to announce a collaboration between the state and federal government with Lynn to help revitalize the city.
Some have questioned why Moulton focused on Baker rather than the two Massachusetts Democrats in Congress who voted for new procedures for screening refugees from Syria and Iraq - two countries where the terrorist group Islamic State has gained a foothold.
"I disagree with everybody who voted for the Republican bill," Moulton told the News Service. Asked about the current screening process, the former Marine who serves on the House Armed Services Committee said, "It's the strongest screening process for any traveler who comes to the United States, and the Republican bill does nothing to strengthen that process. It adds some layers of bureaucracy but doesn't actually strengthen the security."
Moulton also disavowed any political objectives in his public criticism of Baker.
"I spoke out on a policy that I believe is essential to our national security," Moulton said. He said, "I'm not running for governor."
Baker said he had a private conversation with Moulton after the two publicly criticized one another.
Declining to lay out what would satisfy his concerns about the screening process, Baker also said his discussions with the federal government are private and said the timetable of those is determined by the busy schedules on either side.
"I want these conversations to be honest, and I want them to be forthright, and the best way to ensure that they are both of those things is to have private conversations," Baker said.