The Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein is up with a report that, if true — and it is well sourced — will prove very troubling for Scott Walker on the campaign trail. Epstein writes that Walker “told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans this month that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and to eventually become eligible for citizenship.” That conflicts with statements the governor made as recently as three weeks ago that, in a reversal of his previously held position, he no longer supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
The report comes as Walker is working to position himself as the strongest conservative alternative to Jeb Bush, whose vulnerabilities with the Republican base include his support for comprehensive immigration reform, though not a path to citizenship, as well as to Florida senator Marco Rubio, who led the fight for the Gang of Eight bill in the Senate, but has since said he favors a border security-first approach to reform. Viewed in that light, the revelation about his remarks in New Hampshire may threaten to jeopardize his standing with the party’s rank-and-file-voters, among whom he has engendered tremendous goodwill since standing down public-sector unions and surviving a recall election in Wisconsin.
Walker spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski denied the Journal’s account. “We strongly dispute this account,” she said in a statement. “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 line is false.”
After reports of his past support for a path to citizenship emerged in early February, Walker said that his view had changed.
“I’m flat out saying it. Candidates can say that,” Walker told Fox News’s Chris Wallace, adding that “we need to secure the border” before ultimately moving toward a system of “legal immigration that works.”
Walker signed resolutions as Milwaukee County executive in 2001 and again in 2006 in support of comprehensive immigration reform, but said the Obama presidency and, in particular, the president’s lawlessness, had changed his view. That shift followed reporting, including here at National Review, on the Milwaukee County resolutions, which was at the time hotly contested by the Walker campaign, which said that the governor’s support for a path to citizenship was distinct from any support for amnesty.
Epstein says three separate sources present at a dinner in New Hampshire, where Walker allegedly made the remarks, confirmed his account. They also said Walker mocked Mitt Romney’s statement during the 2012 campaign that illegal immigrants should “self-deport.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This report has been updated since its original posting.