Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.
“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.
Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.
“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”
Walker said such questions from reporters are reflective of a broader problem in the nation’s political-media culture, which he described as fixated on issues that are not relevant to most Americans.
“To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”
Walker said he does not believe that most Americans care about such matters.“People in the media will [judge], not everyday people,” he said. “I would defy you to come to Wisconsin. You could ask 100 people, and not one of them would say that this is a significant issue.”
After the interview was completed, Walker spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster telephoned The Washington Post to say the governor was trying to make a point of principle by not answering such kinds of questions, not trying to cast doubt on Obama’s faith.
“Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” she said. “He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin to make the state better and make life better for people in his state.”
Walker’s comments Saturday came after a week in which he was asked repeatedly whether he agreed with former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani when he said at a private dinner last Wednesday that he was not sure whether Obama loves his country. Walker was a guest at the dinner.
Walker again declined Saturday to weigh in on Giuliani’s characterization of the president’s patriotism and background.
“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know, one way or the other,” Walker said. “I’ve said that 100 times, too.”
Some of Walker’s possible rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination have issued statements about Giuliani’s remarks.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush said late Friday in a statement distributed by aides: “Governor Bush doesn’t question President Obama’s motives. He does question President Obama’s disastrous policies.”
Earlier in the week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal proactively declined to criticize the mayor. And while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told a reporter that he also didn’t believe that Obama doesn’t love America, he criticized reporters for seizing too often on comments made by various political players.
On Saturday, Walker suggested that he is being held to a different standard than some Democrats. Citing Teamsters President James Hoffa’s criticism of the tea party movement at an Obama rally in 2011, Walker wondered why the president has also not been asked by reporters about controversial comments made by figures who are prominent on the left.
“Was it Jimmy Hoffa that ripped on the tea party and called them unpatriotic, and the president was standing there and nobody asked him that?” Walker asked. “To me, it seems I’ve had multiple days of an incredible double standard. They don’t ask the president about people like Jimmy Hoffa, they don’t ask Hillary Clinton about others out there.
“My focus isn’t on what the mayor said,” he continued, referring to Giuliani. “My focus is on why I believe, should I choose to get in this election, why I believe we need a fighter.”
Later Saturday, Walker was scheduled to attend a gathering of conservative leaders with anti-tax activist Grover G. Norquist.
Some figures on the right have consistently questioned Obama’s faith, with some suggesting that he is a Muslim. Obama, however, has often talked about his Christian faith, as he did recently at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Walker said Saturday that if he runs for president, he will focus on problems affecting the country, from tax policy and the economy to confronting Islamic State terrorists.
He was critical of Obama for not conveying strongly enough the breadth and depth of the threat from Islamic militants, mentioning the videos of beheadings and other barbaric acts.
“If I were in position to be commander in chief,” he said, “I would take nothing off the table. I would firmly say to the American people that I will do whatever it takes to make sure that no American’s son or daughter . . . will ever have to deal with the kind of horror we’ve seen on these kinds of videos.”