Scott Walker: Donald Trump should let me block refugees, drug test welfare recipients

Wisconsin's Gov. Walker writes a letter to President-elect Trump urging more state autonomy and fewer federal rules

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published December 20, 2016 5:30PM (EST)

Scott Walker, Donald Trump                (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/AP/Dennis Van Tine/Photo montage by Salon)
Scott Walker, Donald Trump (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/AP/Dennis Van Tine/Photo montage by Salon)

Although Scott Walker was one of 16 Republicans vying to beat Donald Trump for the nomination of Republican primary voters, the Wisconsin governor is now giddily anticipating the installment of the president-elect into the White House and pushing Trump to help him finally fulfill his assault on the poor and vulnerable in his state.

In a Tuesday letter to Trump, Walker asked the incoming president to give his state more authority in determining how many refugees can come from countries with ties to terrorism, requiring drug testing of able-bodied adults on food stamps, increasing premiums for some on Medicaid and legalizing the hunting of the once nearly extinct grey wolves.

"The federal government was originally created to be a small, central government of limited powers, with everything else left to the states," Walker wrote. "Through years of federal overreach, this model has been turned on its head, and now is the time to right the ship."

In a statement, Walker explained that “Too often, states have become mere administrative provinces of an all-powerful federal government in Washington. Now is the time to reverse that trend. These requests are the first of many my administration will make as Wisconsin leads the effort to restore balance between state and federal government.”

Walker wrote to Trump to argue that states could "effectively develop and deliver initiatives that align with your goal to make America great again."

He told The Associated Press that he was "very optimistic" Trump would act quickly on his requests immediately after taking office next month. Walker said he recently spoke with incoming Vice President Mike Pence about several of the issues on his wishlist.

Top on the governor's list of appeals to the incoming Trump administration is a request block the resettlement of war refugees in the Rust Belt state. But the wish to ban refugees is particularly curious considering that a federal appeals court recently halted Pence’s own attempt at preventing social service agencies from helping resettle refugees in Indiana, calling the governor's fear that resettled refugees might commit acts of a terror a "nightmare speculation" that shouldn't rule public policy.

Still, Walker argued to Trump that Wisconsin should have the authority to bar refugees from their state “until we are comfortable with the vetting process that is being utilized to screen these individuals.”

Walker told the AP, “As far as we can tell, they’re just fully integrating these individuals into the communities that they’re in, which doesn’t really fit with the definition of refugee.” Pointing to ISIS, Walker said, "We have no idea how many people may have ties to the Islamic State or to other forms of radical Islamic terrorism or jihadist groups, and I think it’s a legitimate public safety concern.”

Yet despite his expressed concerns for public safety surrounding refugees, the governor soon revealed that his appeal for increased state autonomy is little more than a ploy to further his regressive right-wing policies on the poor and vulnerable in Wisconsin with his request to drug test food stamp recipients. Federal law does not allow states to impose drug tests on recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, better known as food stamps.

"We have been forced to delay our implementation and are optimistic your administration will give states like Wisconsin the flexibility to provide the accountability the taxpayers demand," Walker said in his letter.

A federal court recently threw out Walker's lawsuit against the Obama administration to permit drug testing of food stamp recipients. The policy was championed by Walker as he launched his doomed presidential bid in 2015, but the state has been unable to implement it because it conflicts with federal rules.

Last year, Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott was forced to drop his bid to drug test welfare recipients after two federal courts ruled it was unconstitutional.

According to a 2015 report from ThinkProgress that analyzed seven states with similar programs, states that have implemented drug testing measures "are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users." Although states have "collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort," the report found that the tests have turned up relatively little evidence of substance abuse:

The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent.

In Michigan, a year-long pilot project to drug test welfare recipients that ended in September found only one violation.

Walker also told Trump he wants the ability to raise premiums on 143,000 childless adults in Wisconsin's Medicaid program making less than the federal poverty level of $11,880 per year for a single person if they partake in health risks like smoking.

And the Wisconsin governor also asked Trump to let the state bring back a hunting season for gray wolves. A federal judge rejected the Obama administration's delisting of the animal from the federal endangered species list in 2014.

Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who beat Democratic challenger Russ Feingold as Trump took the Badger State for the first time in 30 years, echoed Walker's appeal to the president-elect on Twitter:

In a statement, Johnson said he would work with Walker to get these changes implemented.

"I urge President-elect Trump to work with Governor Walker on common sense reforms to increase flexibility and return authority to Wisconsin. I look forward to supporting these efforts by working with him, Speaker Paul Ryan and my colleagues in the United States Senate," Johnson said.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Donald Trump Drug Testing Gop Refugees Republicans Scott Walker War On The Poor Welfare