Scott Walker waffles on immigration -- again: Why his latest about-face could do him in (UPDATED)

Speaking at private dinner, 2016 hopeful abandons his hard line

Published March 26, 2015 6:26PM (EDT)

Scott Walker                               (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
Scott Walker (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

From 2002 to 2013, Scott Walker was on the record as a supporter of immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants. As Milwaukee county executive, Walker signed two resolutions backing an immigration overhaul and urging Congress to secure "legal residency" and "full labor rights" for the undocumented. In the aftermath of the GOP's 2012 drubbing among Hispanic voters, the Wisconsin governor joined the chorus of conservatives calling for the party to abandon its hard line on immigration, telling Politico that "we should have a system that works and lets people in." But you may have heard that Walker has been running for president lately, and as he seeks to appeal to conservative primary voters, Walker has discarded his support for reform, telling Fox News' Chris Wallace this month that he opposes "amnesty."

“My view has changed. I’m flat-out saying it," Walker said. "Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don’t.”

Well, it appears that Walker's view has changed again, although he's not "flat-out saying it," at least not in public. The Wall Street Journal reports this afternoon that at a private dinner with business-minded Republicans in New Hampshire earlier this month, Walker told attendees that he favors a path to citizenship -- a stance that starkly contradicts his recent "no amnesty" tack:

But during the March 13 New Hampshire dinner, organized by New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn at the Copper Door Restaurant in Bedford, Mr. Walker said undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be deported, and he mocked 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s suggestion that they would “self-deport,” according to people who were there.

Instead, they said, Mr. Walker said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to “eventually get their citizenship without being given preferential treatment” ahead of people already in line to obtain citizenship.

“He said no to citizenship now, but later they could get it,” said Bill Greiner, an owner of the Copper Door restaurant. Ken Merrifield, mayor of Franklin, N.H., who also attended, said Mr. Walker proposed that illegal immigrants should “get to the back of the line for citizenship” but not be deported.

"Get[ting] to the back of the line for citizenship" is a crisp, concise summary of precisely what the 2013 immigration overhaul -- which passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote but floundered in the House -- would have required of unauthorized immigrants. That's also what President Obama has called for. Walker, in other words, just endorsed the immigration framework favored by virtually all Democrats and a bloc of squishy moderate/liberal/Alinskyite/communist Republicans.

Three separate sources at the dinner confirmed Walker's remarks to the Journal, and Walker spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski isn't even bothering to deny that Walker uttered them.* Instead, she reiterated to the paper that Walker "is opposed to amnesty," whatever that means to him, and believes that Obama exceeded his authority with his executive actions on immigration. Well, Jeb Bush says that too.

The great irony in Walker's latest immigration U-turn is that it was likely intended to ease establishment-type Republicans' doubts about his less-than-stellar candidacy, which has been tainted by unforced errors and unschooled answers on foreign policy, tensions with religious conservatives, and an inflammatory comparison of union protesters with ISIS. Speaking before a dinner featuring GOP businessmen and party apparatchiks -- a group of people who generally don't see a seal-the-borders-and-send-them-all-back approach as either economically sound or politically astute in a general election -- Walker had a chance to assuage establishment doubts about his viability. If you want to woo these kinds of people into your camp, you say sensible things about how you support a path to legal status and think that Mitt Romney sure did blow it with all that "self-deportation" chatter. So that's what Walker did. But his audience could hardly have been reassured, given the transparent pandering involved -- it had been mere days since he owned up to his first flip-flop on Fox News, after all. It's little wonder that the well-heeled Republicans who aren't Ready for Jeb are increasingly turning their attention to Marco Rubio.

*Update, 4:00 p.m. EDT: While Kukowski initially did not directly address the attendees' account, she is now dutifully denying it, following the publication of the Journal's story. "We strongly dispute this account," Kukowski said in a statement to reporters. "Governor Walker has been very clear that he does not support amnesty and believes that border security must be established and the rule of law must be followed. His position has not changed, he does not support citizenship for illegal immigrants, and this story is false."

We close by contemplating whether there's any job in America more arduous than explaining your boss Scott Walker's position on immigration.



By Luke Brinker

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