Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush knew he would face a firing squad of sorts at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, and did so describing himself as a “practicing reform-minded conservative.”
Some walked out at the beginning of the speech, led by a Tea Party supporter carrying a Gadsden flag, but the house was still packed as his detractors stayed to boo or heckle the governor.
Bush had just as many supporters, who frequently jumped to their feet to applaud the governor. Love him or hate him, the CPAC crowd was hanging on his every word.
With no opening remarks, Bush conducted the interview Q&A style with Sean Hannity, standing instead of seated as some previous speakers were.
Bush quipped that he used to be mad at his mom for saying the White House had seen enough Bushes, but “since that time she’s had a change of heart and that’s all right by me.”
“I have to show what’s in my heart. I have to show I care about people and their future. It can’t be about the past,” he said of the family legacy.
Conservatives in Washington, he said, “have been principled in opposing the overreach” of the Obama administration, but “need to start being for things again.”
“It’s good to oppose the bad things but we need to start being for things.”
Being for the right policies that stimulate economic growth will bring out voters who “don’t know they’re conservative,” Bush argued. “We will be able to get Latinos and young people and other people you need to get to get 50.”
Responding to boos over his immigration policy, Bush said his critics should read his book, Immigration Wars, before casting an opinion on his positions.
“A great country needs to enforce its borders,” he said, adding that he also wants to “narrow family petitioning” to a spouse and minor children “so it’s the same as every other country.”
“There is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal citizenship” where they work and make a contribution to society, he said.
The division in the crowd was most evident at this point, with some booing and heckling while others were standing and applauding.
“The simple fact is this nation needs to start growing again … we need to change the subject to high sustained economic growth,” Bush said. Of the argument that U.S. citizens should get jobs before immigrants, he replied, “You either believe that the pie is static, that’s the left’s point of view… someone’s benefit is someone else’s detriment” or growing the economy “at a rate that looks more like the ’80s.” His target? Four percent.
“There’s going to be opportunities for all. We don’t believe in the government divvying it up to get our crumbs.”
Bush stressed that he doesn’t agree with President Obama’s executive actions. “The Congress ought to pass a bill that does not allow him to use that authority.”
On Common Core, he said “our standards have to be high enough… our students need to be career-ready.”
“In this Department of Education there is a risk they will intrude” on the states and localities, he said. “…The federal government role, if any, is to provide incentives for more school choice.”
Bush, who eliminated the affirmative action system in Florida, said there are now more minorities in the college system there than in the previous “discriminatory” one.
On fighting ISIS, he stressed that “we can’t disengage in the world and have a good results.”
“We’ve managed to mess up every relationship in the world” under Obama, “even Canada, which is hard to do.”
By restoring trust between critical coalition countries such as Egypt and the White House, Bush said such power could put a “noose” on ISIS and “take them out.”
He endorsed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) idea of creating a safe zone for the Free Syrian Army and said he didn’t want conditions on boots on the ground in order to allow intelligence and special forces capability to “make a difference.”
He panned the Iran nuclear negotiations, adding “there should be no light between us and Israel” and calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress “very important.”
Bush was also asked about his “Terry’s Law” efforts in the Schiavo case. “I acted on my core belief that the most vulnerable in society should be at the front of the line,” he said.
When Hannity said he was going to pose a question he was asking of all the politicians who joined him on stage during the conference, Bush quipped, “Boxers.”
The end of Bush’s Q&A session differed from the other 2016 hopefuls in that he shook hands and took selfies with the crowd.