Scott Walker says changing immigration position not a "flip"

Gov. Scott Walker, pictured speaking at a conservative conference in February, says his changing position on immigration is not a "flip."

CLIFF OWEN — Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker told Fox News on Tuesday that he did not "flip" his position on immigration.

Fox News Host Bret Baier asked about Walker's changing position on immigration and whether he might change his position on other issues if elected president.

"There’s not a flip out there," Walker said. "A flip would be someone who voted on something and did something different."

Baier also asked Walker about his most recent comments suggesting the United States should have even tighter restrictions on legal immigration.

"What I’ve said is they actually should have a rational criteria," Walker said."I’ve said we’ve got a problem. We’ve got to secure the border, we’ve got to enforce the law. No amnesty, if someone wants to be a citizen they need to go back to their country of origin and go down the normal pathway. And as a legal pathway forward. Not for people here, but for legal immigration, for people who want to enter this country legally through the legal immigration process, it should be one based on standing up and making priority number one American workers and American wages and a strong way to improve the American economy."

Walker, a leading potential candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, has faced scrutiny and skepticism from some Republican voters for changing his position on or at least his framing of a variety of issues, including immigration, abortion, right-to-work and ethanol subsidies.

Here's what Walker told Fox News host Chris Wallace in an interview that aired March 1, according to a Fox transcript:

WALLACE: Over the years, you have supported comprehensive immigration reform and a right to citizenship for people who pay penalties. And this for the 11 million people who are in this country illegally.

Here's what you said to a Wisconsin newspaper in 2013.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAUSAU DAILY HERALD: Can you envision a world where with the right penalties and waiting periods and meet the requirements, where those people can get citizenship?

WALKER: Sure, yes. I mean, I think it makes sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Question, isn't that amnesty?

WALKER: Well, I don't believe in amnesty. And part of the reason why I made that a firm position is I look at the way that this president has mishandled that issue. I'm one of the governors that joined -- I was one of the first governors that joined the lawsuit that has been successful, at least on this initial technicality. And I hope we prevail ultimately throughout the courts.

And then going forward, I think the way you enforce it is not through amnesty. I think the better approach is to enforce the laws and to give employers, job creators, the tools like E-Verify and other things, to make sure the law is being upheld going forward.

WALLACE: The question was, can you envision a world where if these people paid a penalty, that they would have a path to citizenship? And you said, sure, that makes sense.

WALKER: I believe there's a way that you can do that. First and foremost, you've got to secure that border or none of these plans make any sense.

WALLACE: But it's a little bit slippery here. Back when you were the Milwaukee County executive, you actually supported the Kennedy-McCain comprehensive immigration plan.

Are you basically saying as part of a comprehensive plan, tough enforcement, E-Verify, the 11 million people already here paid penalty, they get citizenship?

WALKER: No, I'm not talking about amnesty. And even I said the reason for that is over time --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: But you said you supported it.

WALKER: And my view has changed. I'm flat out saying it. I'm -- candidates can say that. Sometimes they don't. I'm saying my --

WALLACE: So, you've changed from 2013?

WALKER: Absolutely. I look at the problems we've experienced for the last few years. I've talked to governors on the border and others out there. I've talked to people all across America. And the concerns I have is that we need to secure the border. We ultimately need to put in place a system that works. A legal immigration system that works. And part of doing this is put the onus on employers, getting them E-Verify and tools to do that. But I don't think you do it through amnesty.

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.