Scott Walker courts House GOP
© Getty Images

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker courted House Republicans and social conservatives in Washington on Tuesday seeking to assure them he has their backs on issues ranging from abortion to foreign policy.

Walker’s team arranged separate meetings with House Republicans and leaders from prominent social conservative groups, many of whom told The Hill they were familiar with the Wisconsin governor’s record but were eager to hear from him in person.

The morning visit with House Republicans, which drew about 80 lawmakers, was arranged by Wisconsin’s House GOP delegation. Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Trump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece MORE (R-Wis.), the Ways and Means Committee chairman and 2012 vice presidential candidate, introduced Walker.

The governor recounted how he took on public sector unions in his state, a fight that led to a recall election that raised his national profile. He also touched on his views regarding the economy, energy, immigration and religious liberty.

But it was foreign policy where he might have made the most substantial inroads.

The issue is considered a potential weakness for Walker, who, as governor, has focused more on domestic issues than on matters of national security.

But Walker has just returned from a five-day trip to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials in the region. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who attended Tuesday’s event, said Walker talked about how a visit to the country can be “life-changing.”

In addition, Wilson and Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone Rohrabacher'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Former Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE (R-Calif.) said they were pleasantly surprised to hear Walker weigh in on unrest in Ukraine as well as U.S. strategy in the Baltic region.

“He’s clearly been doing some homework to make sure he’s capable of handling the foreign policy end of it,” Rohrabacher said. “He was very explicit about the people he met with and the leaders in various parts of the world he’s spoken to in the last few months, so he’s beefing up his credentials on foreign policy, so he won’t be vulnerable on that issue.”

But not everyone was convinced. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who also attended, said it will take more than a short speech to House lawmakers to prove Walker’s national security bona fides.

“He just doesn’t have that much experience in that area,” Huelskamp said. “He’s got an advantage in one area — he’s done some things as governor, which is more than you can say for some of these folks. But the disadvantage is that he doesn’t have much foreign policy experience.”

Walker was also challenged by one lawmaker at the gathering, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), who asked him about not having a college degree. 

Lawmakers who attended said Walker relished the question, arguing that it puts him in the same boat as a majority of Americans.

“He said, ‘Frankly, I love it when I get that question because it lets me identify with 68 percent of Americans that are in the same boat, and quite frankly, it’s a bit of an elitist question that plays in my favor,’ ” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said. “He’s certainly very confident, and he projected that.”

Neugebauer was satisfied, with his staff telling The Hill in an email that he was “impressed” with the governor’s answer.

In the afternoon, Walker talked about social issues with representatives from dozens of conservative organizations, including the Family Research Council, Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America.

Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, speaks the language of evangelical Christians, but those who attended said they wanted to hear what he’s done in Wisconsin on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, and how he’ll be proactive on those issues if he’s elected president.

Nationally, Walker remains best known for his fight against unions, and some social conservatives would like to hear an appeal more focused on their concerns.

“He’s not known for these issues,” said one activist after the meeting. “He’s going to need to talk directly to grassroots conservatives, and they won’t let him get away with anything. He’ll have to get to the bottom line and give straight answers. He’s working on it, and I think it’s something he’ll do.”

Walker on Tuesday sought to alleviate those concerns by expressing strong opposition to abortion.

According to Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, Walker had previously written a letter to the group saying he supported their effort to pass fetal pain legislation.

But on Tuesday, Walker went further, vowing to advocate for the bill in the Wisconsin Legislature and sign it into law if it reaches his desk. She said Walker laid out a strategy for addressing abortion in the presidential election, something anti-abortion activists think has been lacking in recent elections.

“Going in, I was waiting cautiously optimistic,” Dannenfelser said. “I went out with more confidence that he can actually pull together a common ground coalition to get this done.”

Still, this was just Walker’s first time meeting many of these people, and he still has work to do in firming up their support.

“I want to talk with him more,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, a Christian organization. “I was interested in what he had to say, and he didn’t just speak in generalities. He’s thought through these policies, and that’s important. He also has a good record. But I still want to get to know him better, and have more one-on-ones with him. We’ll see.”