Tea party-backed Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Wednesday excused Walmart’s decision to decline an invitation to the White House to discuss gun violence because “they are trying to grow the economy.”
The nation’s largest seller of munitions told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that it refused to participate in Vice President Joe Biden’s task force because of a scheduling conflict.
Walmart also explained to CNN’s Christine Romans that the company had already scheduled month sales meetings in Bentonville, Arkansas and none of its 2.2 million employees could make it to Washington.
CNN host Soledad O’Brien on Thursday told Johnson that “when people tell me they have a scheduling snafu, I just don’t believe them.”
“They’re probably out there trying to grow the economy,” the Wisconsin Republican shrugged. “You know, they’re concentrating on their business and I’ll take them at their word.”
“I think the concern is — from people who actually do want to protect gun rights — is that this is a fast-moving train to try and restrict those gun rights,” Johnson added. “So, people are suspicious of that.”
“From my standpoint, if they’ve got sales meetings, those things are probably pretty important. They are trying to grow our economy and that’s a good thing.”
New Yorker magazine Washington Correspondent Ryan Lizza pointed out that Walmart had a fleet of corporate jets in Bentonville and could easily send someone to D.C. for meetings.
“It’s just a slap in the face to publicly say you’ve been invited to the White House and you’re not going,” he explained. “Whenever someone in politics says it’s a scheduling issue it means they don’t want to be there.”
During his appearance on CNN’s Starting Point panel on Wednesday, Lizza also asked Johnson to respond conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who recently asserted that liberals were trying to “normalize pedophilia” by legalizing same sex marriage.
“Senator, Rush Limbaugh and pedophilia?” Lizza pressed. “What do you got?”
“Not gonna happen,” Johnson replied.
UPDATE (2:15 p.m. ET): A Walmart spokesperson on Wednesday said that the company had “underestimated the expectation to attend the meeting on Thursday in person, so we are sending an appropriate representative to participate.”
Watch this video from the CNN’s Starting Point, broadcast Jan. 9, 2013.