Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker wants Republicans to take the lead on issues where they’ve been timid in the past, like overhauling the criminal justice and immigration systems.
“There are communities that are hurting, that are suffering,” the North Carolina Republican told a group of reporters Monday. “And that should be important to both parties, to all the parties.”
Part of Walker’s interest in issues like overhauling the criminal justice system and lifting people out of poverty comes from his background as a pastor. The sophomore congressman said he’s spent time in impoverished communities and led a diverse congregation.
“This wasn’t something that I decided to go and do political photo ops one day,” he said.
Walker worked with North Carolina Democrat Alma Adams last Congress to launch an internship program for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This February, he is partnering with Speaker Paul D. Ryan and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott to host a discussion with about 40 to 50 HBCU presidents and chancellors on criminal justice policy and job creation, especially in the defense and engineering disciplines.
Ryan had wanted the House to pass criminal justice last year but the effort fell short amid a compressed timeline and internal GOP divisions. Walker said he plans to lead on the issue this Congress, regardless of GOP divisions.
“From the members that I’ve talked to, there is a lot of energy to really begin to talk about, not just the surface issues, but to talk about local charges from one particular individual to the next and how those vary, how those differ,” he said.
“These guys have been out there beating this drum for the last few years and I believe it’s gotten to the place where it’s resonating among the entire Republican Conference,” he said.
Walker also wants Republicans to lead a new approach on overhauling the immigration system.
“When Republicans talk about, ‘Hey, what do we need to do to fix the immigration problem,’ well our top three things are secure the border, then after that we need to secure the border and then the third point would be we need to secure the border,” Walker said.
“Well we’ve got to get off that talking point, and we’ve got to talk about long term how do we resolve some of these immigration issues.”
Walker said he expects the GOP to move quickly this year on border security legislation but that after that, hopefully sometime this spring, the conference can begin working toward a plan that addresses the undocumented and things like how to deal with the children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the United States.
“I know it’s a sensitive issue, but we can’t ignore that,” he said.
House and Senate Republicans will huddle in Philadelphia at the end of this week and those issues are likely not at the top of the agenda. President Donald Trump will make an appearance and Walker said he wants to hear about plans for the fiscal 2018 budget, infrastructure and a tax code overhaul.
Reporters during the pen and pad questioned Walker about Trump’s ability to stay on message, after his rant during a visit to CIA headquarters this weekend about inauguration crowd sizes and accusing the media of stirring up controversy between him and the intelligence community.
Discipline of message is “part of a political maturation,” Walker said, noting, “I’m optimistic — and hopeful I should say — that that will over the next few months become more and more of a discipline that we see from the administration.”
Following the new administration’s first weekend, Trump on Monday took a few executive actions related to trade, abortion and the federal workforce that drew alternating praise and criticism from GOP leadership and Democratic leaders, ahead of an afternoon meeting with the principles from both parties.