Jeb Bush in Detroit: 'Immigration Reform Should Be the Lowest Hanging Fruit'

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) told the Detroit Economic Club —  an organization with a membership list that includes southeast Michigan’s most successful business people — “the American Dream has become a mirage for far too many people.”

Bush surprised many political observers by opting for blue-state Michigan and the economically ravaged city of Detroit as the location of his first 2016 policy speech.

“The question is, can we restore that dream?” Bush said. “If we can’t, there is no new tax or welfare system that will save our American way of life."

Bush promised to deliver in the weeks ahead “a new vision for America, rooted in conservative principles.”

As a preview, he pointed to the core principles of his Right To Rise PAC, beginning with the concept that the most important factor in a person’s success is not government but a committed family.

Bush also said his vision involved a government that made it easier to work than not to work, giving every child the opportunity to have a great education, embracing reform in government that would take power away from Washington and give it back to the states, “and above all else, growth.”

Bush told his audience he would not accept U.S. economic growth of less than 4 percent. The nation’s growth rate was 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014.

“A growing economy is the difference between poverty and prosperity for millions of Americans,” Bush said. “If a law subtracts from growth, why are we even talking about it?”

He also pointed to immigration reform that included a larger guest worker program, a high skills agenda, and welcoming of “investors and dreamers” as an essential component of his plan to hit a 4 percent growth rate for the U.S. economy.

“Immigration reform should be the lowest hanging fruit and I am frustrated that it is not,” said Bush. “We are missing this opportunity while political fights go on.”

The Detroit Economic Club audience may have applauded at all the right times during his speech, but that reaction was not unanimous in Michigan.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson blasted Bush’s speech five hours before the GOP presidential hopeful opened his mouth.

As far as Johnson is concerned, Bush lost all rights to be taken seriously in Michigan after telling TV host Charlie Rose a couple of years ago that he did not support President Obama’s plan to bail out the U.S. auto industry.

“Bush's position echoes that of the last GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who was willing to ‘let Detroit go bankrupt,’” Johnson wrote in an op-ed published by MLive.com.

“Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are one in the same on many issues, but their positions on the president's bold decision to rescue the auto industry, and save our local economy are unforgivable,” he added.

Johnson also wrote that Bush’s visit to Detroit was nothing but a reminder that Republicans fight for special interests and against the middle class.

Bush also pointed to Detroit. He told his audience the recession that began in 2007 and has yet to release Detroit from its grip is “a warning to all of us, an example of how a government too big making promises it could not keep.”

Michigan Republicans welcomed Bush and pointed to Detroit’s revival, Michigan’s economic rebound and Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) record.

“The progress Detroit has made because of Republican leadership is undeniable, so it makes perfect sense for potential presidential candidates both to come and share their vision for our country, and learn from the results we’ve achieved,” Bobby Schostak, the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said in a statement.

Sen. Rand Paul’s PAC issued a statement needling Bush for following the Kentucky Republican’s “lead in proposing solutions to revitalize Detroit.”

“Senator Paul visited Detroit twice over the last 2 years. While there, he introduced specific proposals and helped to open the first GOP office in Detroit," said the RANDPAC statement. "We hope Governor Bush continues to emulate Senator Paul by detailing his proposals and reaching out to help the party. ”

While he neither confirmed nor denied his intention to run for president, Bush said, “I am getting back into politics because that is where this work begins.”

Bush also said he understand the GOP’s frustration of being locked outside the gates of the White House, for eight years, peering through the fence surrounding 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue “wondering what was going on inside.”

The Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released today before Bush’s speech showed he was the Republican front-runner among possible presidential candidates in the critical swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But even with Romney out of the race, Bush's only clear dominance is in his native Florida, according to the poll.

"Taken as a whole, there is no clear leader for the Republican presidential nomination in these three critical swing states," said Peter A. Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

No one on the speakers’ stage endorsed Bush for president. However, Sandy Baruah, the chief executive officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and the Detroit Economic Club audience came close when Bush answered a question about battling terrorism.

“We must have an engaged America where our allies never doubt us,” Bush said. “Ask Israel if we have their back. I don’t think they believe that with any great certainty.”

“That doesn’t mean I believe we should be launching attacks, I just think we should be engaged,” Bush added. “I don’t know what that makes me. Everyone has to have a label. What should I be called?”

“Mr. President?” Baruah responded, and the audience cheered.