In Context: What Scott Walker said about a Canada wall

Gov. Scott Walker was asked about building a wall on the U.S.-Canada border during an interview on "Meet the Press" that was done on Aug. 29, 2015. (NBC photo)
Gov. Scott Walker was asked about building a wall on the U.S.-Canada border during an interview on "Meet the Press" that was done on Aug. 29, 2015. (NBC photo)

Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign had been scuffling before he made a comment in a "Meet the Press" interview, in response to a question about terrorism, that led to headlines saying Walker was interested in building a wall along the border with Canada.

In the wake of the comments being posted online, the Republican hopeful was ridiculed as having uttered a crazy idea.

Walker responded by denying that he had proposed any such thing.

So, we’re offering In Context, our periodic feature that gives to context to headlines or sound bites that capture widespread attention.

Did Walker propose, or does he support, building such a wall?

How did his comments come about?

And what exactly did he say?

The wall comments were part of a 30-minute interview with the NBC public affairs program. The full interview was posted online Aug. 30, 2015, the same day the show was broadcast. (The interview was done the previous day.) The comments in question were not included in the seven-minute portion that was shown on television.

The interview

The exchange began with host Chuck Todd referencing a speech Walker gave at The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

Todd: "All right. Let's go to your foreign policy speech.  I found it interesting that the first thing you brought up in your foreign policy speech was securing the border.  And you said that that was basically your number one priority, and that you're concerned about terrorists coming over the border. The most famous incident that we had of terrorists coming over our border was on our northern border.  Why aren't you talking about securing the northern border?"

Walker: "Well, I think we need to secure borders in general.  We spend all this money on TSA (Transportation Security Administration).  But I think right now one of the most rampant spots is on our southern-based border. When I was there earlier this year with Governor Abbott, in his Texas public safety, they actually showed us the list of people -- these are just people they have actually caught, not many others that probably are going across the border, but people that they have caught from places far beyond Mexico, far beyond Latin America.

"And I think it does raise some very legitimate concerns. If we're spending, millions of dollars on TSA at our airports, if we're spending all sorts of money on port security, it only makes sense to me that, if part of what we're trying do is protect ourselves -- and set aside immigration for a minute, but protect ourselves from risk out there -- I think we should make sure we have a secure border."

So, Walker didn’t answer directly the question about the northern border. Todd persisted, and there was a quick back-and-forth.

Todd: "But why are we always talking about the southern border and building a fence there? We don't talk about a northern border."

Walker: "I was just talking about it."

Todd: "Where, if this is about securing the border from potentially terrorists coming over?"

Walker: "Well, we have --"

Then Todd got the answer that drew so much attention.

Todd: "Do you want to build a wall north of the border, too?"

Walker: "Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire. They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at.

"To me, when I brought this up in front of The Citadel, I said, "There are a couple key things.  You need to secure the homeland, you need to go after terrorists around the world, particularly in the Middle East, be it ISIS or Iran or others, that are willing to do harm against us. You need to reestablish our friendships with our allies like Israel and the Sunni Arab states that feel just as threatened by Iran as do the Israelis. And we need to rebuild our military.

"Those were the things we laid out in our speech to the cadets at The Citadel. But to me, it starts with securing the homeland. It wasn't just about building a wall and securing our borders. It was also about making sure our intelligence community has the ability for counterterrorism and the ability to go after the infrastructure they need to protect us."

The interview continued with Todd asking about birthright citizenship.

The aftermath

Walker's wall comments produced headlines saying he was open to building a northern wall, or that a wall was a legitimate issue, or that he hadn't ruled out erecting such a wall.

His campaign responded with a statement, saying: "Despite the attempts of some to put words in his mouth, Gov. Walker wasn’t advocating for a wall along our northern border."

Two days after Walker's comments were posted, Fox Business News' Stuart Varney asked Walker about them. Walker responded that his comments were misinterpreted by the media, saying:

"When asked about that, I pointed out that a voter came up to me at one of our recent meetings -- and I believe it was someone who actually retired in law enforcement -- and expressed concern that there wasn’t enough staff in the federal government to work with local law enforcement along the northern border counties. And I said that’s a legitimate issue that should be addressed. I’ve never talked about building a wall in the north. This is just a classic example of the media spinning from one to the next to the next without actually looking at the source."