WASHINGTON – Gov.-elect Tim Walz declined an invitation to join a bipartisan group of new governors in a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday.
The six-term Democratic congressman stayed back in Minnesota this week to meet with transition staff and advisers, even as his counterparts from South Dakota, Wisconsin and other Midwestern states visited the White House.
“He’s not going because he’s in Minnesota conducting interviews and doing transition business. ... He’s busy building the executive branch,” said Kayla Castaneda, a spokeswoman for Walz.
The president invited governors-elect to meet him and members of the Cabinet for a discussion on workforce development, infrastructure, opportunity zones and the opioid crisis. Another topic on the agenda was supporting veterans and military families, a priority for Walz in Congress, where he has served as ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Walz has criticized Trump’s handling of veterans issues, accusing him of not consulting veteran service organizations before nominating White House physician Ronny Jackson to replace David Shulkin as secretary of Veterans Affairs. (Jackson later withdrew his name from consideration.) Walz questioned why Trump wanted to spend taxpayer dollars on a wall on the Mexican border instead of caring for veterans and has accused the White House of mismanaging efforts this year to overhaul a program to give veterans more access to private-sector health care. But Walz’s decision not to go to D.C. had nothing to do with political disagreements, according to Castaneda.
Minnesota House Republican leaders criticized the incoming governor for skipping a meeting with the president.
“Minnesota needs a strong relationship with our partners at the federal level — including President Donald Trump,” said Rep. Anne Neu, R-North Branch, incoming deputy House Republican leader. “I hope Governor-elect Walz will make it a priority to meet with President Donald Trump in the near future and work to build a productive working relationship with the White House.”
The group met for about 10 minutes in front of reporters, and the president was overwhelmingly congratulatory to the new governors. Joined by several Cabinet members, the president invited the governors to introduce themselves.
“We have some real stars in the room,” Trump told the group. “And they became stars because of the way they handled themselves. ... Because you won. Winning is a wonderful thing.”
Thirteen governors-elect agreed to attend, including those from Alaska, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Guam and the Virgin Islands. The Midwest was well-represented, with GOP governors-elect Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Mike DeWine of Ohio and Democratic governors-elect Tony Evers of Wisconsin, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. While Evers and Whitmer did not go heavy on anti-Trump rhetoric during their campaigns, Pritzker spoke about his plan to resist Trump and said at the time that he was committed to fight Trump’s “racist and bigoted agenda as governor.”
In an Op-Ed published in the La Crosse Tribune, Evers said that meeting with Trump would be a privilege. They disagreed on many issues, he said, but the federal government is an important partner and he would work with anyone, Republican or Democrat.
Walz also missed the 369-47 House vote on the $867 billion farm bill, which had been held up for months over disputes about a Republican proposal to expand work requirements for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. Walz is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and was one of 56 lawmakers serving on the conference committee charged with finding a final compromise on the bill. He also missed a controversial vote tied to the farm bill that for the rest of the year prevents votes on ending U.S. intervention in Yemen; it barely passed, by 206-203.
“This bipartisan farm bill gives farmers and ranchers much needed stability at a critical time and I am pleased it was passed by the House and Senate this week,” Walz said in a statement.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who is leaving Congress to serve as state attorney general, also missed the votes on the farm bill and Yemen.