Scott Walker says he won't talk about private conversations with foreign leaders

Gov. Scott Walker, shown in February during a trip to London, is saying he won't talk about conversations with foreign leaders any more after British Prime Minister David Cameron disputed his statements.

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS — Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he’s learned his lesson from a recent foreign policy faux pas involving British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Walker was asked during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters about a Cameron spokesperson disputing Walker’s statement last week that Cameron had criticized President Barack Obama’s foreign leadership when they met in February.

“Going forward, I’m just not going to comment on individual meetings I’ve had with leaders like that, be it there or anywhere else,” Walker said.

Walker didn’t address the substance of the dispute with Cameron.

“What I learned best from that is I should leave discussions like that that aren’t done in front of the media to be treated privately, whether it was there or anywhere else,” Walker said. “That’s not something I’m going to do going forward for precisely that reason.”

Time Magazine reported last week on the dispute after Walker made his comments at a Republican donor event in Utah. He was referring to a meeting with Cameron in February that was part of a state taxpayer-funded trade mission to the United Kingdom.

Walker has insisted the trip was related to state business, yet he has continued to name-drop Cameron in national interviews about his foreign policy experience, a perceived weakness of an expected presidential campaign.

State budget: Walker, who was promoting his latest trade mission to Canada, took a limited number of questions from reporters, which included two others on state budget issues.

On the still unresolved matter of funding a new $500 million Milwaukee Bucks arena, Walker pushed back against a question as to whether he hasn’t spent enough time in the state selling a recent deal he announced. The deal would commit $80 million in state funding over 20 years, plus $170 million in local taxpayer funds in addition to interest on any borrowing. Private funds would cover the other $250 million.

“Whether I’m personally in a market or not I think is less of a factor than getting the facts out,” Walker said. “The bottom line, the most compelling argument I’ve pointed out is for every dollar the state would invest in a plan like this for an arena, we get $3 in revenue. That has yet to be disputed.”

Walker also said he hopes the Legislature won’t try to micromanage which highway projects get funded as it reduces his record $1.3 billion in proposed borrowing for road projects, possibly by as much as $800 million. Rather he would like the Department of Transportation to decide based on safety, economic development and other normal highway repair and expansion considerations.

“That really is the thing that is the major deal left on the budget,” Walker said. “There’s other bits and pieces, there’s questions of what’s in and what’s out. But really the thing that has to be resolved, ideally this week, is what level of transportation bonding will the members of the Assembly and the Senate and particularly on the finance committee support. My hope is they’ll leave a reasonable amount in to get major and important projects done.”

Trade mission: Walker’s six-day trip to Canada was his third taxpayer-supported foreign trade mission of the year, after separate trips to the United Kingdom and western Europe. He also took a privately funded trip to Israel.

During stops in Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec City, Walker and representatives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. met with dozens of business executives to discuss possible new and expanded ventures in Wisconsin, his office said in a statement.

Walker also spoke at the 2015 Leadership Summit of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers in Québec City. The summit, which was hosted by the Council of Great Lakes Governors, focused on regional economic clusters, maritime transportation and environmental initiatives.

The Washington Post, reporting from Quebec City, noted Walker did not arrive in time for a news conference with Canadian journalists that focused primarily on the health of the Great Lakes and climate change.

Walker also met with Canadian government leaders, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and received a briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Walker declined to discuss those meetings in detail, other than events that took place in public, such as an event with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

“We did that in front of the press and so I think we’ll leave it in those formats out of respect for the people I’m meeting with,” Walker said.

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