Jeb Bush backs Senate immigration bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Republicans should back the Senate’s pending immigration bill, Gov. Jeb Bush said at a news conference Thursday.

The possible GOP presidential candidate and former governor of Florida, said the bill can improve the nation’s long-term economic strength by spurring population growth, and the GOP can gain by breaking the politics of “stasis” in favor of diversity.

“I’m actually very pleased with the ‘Gang of Eight,'” he told attendees at an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, shortly after he spoke with Republican leaders in the House.

To overcome opposition, Republican leaders should “change the conversation to how do we restore our greatness as a nation by sustained economic growth,” said Bush, who served two terms as governor of Florida.

“Unless you can tell me that every one of our kids and grandkids will have four, five kids — if you can promise me that … there is no way … that we can grow over a sustained period of time,” he said.

“That is a winning message in conservative America, for sure,” he said.

Previous reform efforts failed in 2006 and 2007 because the debate wasn’t about policy, he said.

When public protests hit Congress, “a lot of people ran for cover on both sides. It was a must-vote, and then all of a sudden, it stopped being a must-vote, and people got scared, and they went from 61 to 62 people supporting the bill to 39 and 40 at the end.”

The influx of low-skill and high-skill immigrants will also be good for working-class voters because it will spur the economy, he said. “Absolutely, a growing economy creates opportunities for everybody,” he said.

Inaction is also bad, said Bush, because it reduces the opportunity to bring in higher-skilled workers.

“If we do nothing, we’ll have family unification be the dominant [form of immigration] and they’re not necessarily as aspirational as those [who would come] if we created a strategic approach to this,” he said.

The pending bill would bring in or legalize roughly 30 million people over the next decade, and also allow companies to bring in more than 10 million blue-collar and university-trained guest-workers.

An increased inflow of legal workers will also reduce the problem of illegal immigration, he said. “Creating a legal system of immigration is also a key element of border security,” because fewer people will try to cross the border illegally,” he said.

Bush also sought to allay conservatives’ fears that immigration would create a wave of Hispanic voters in 12 or 16 years. “My hope is … they will not apply for citizenship,” Bush said, who may run for president in three or seven years. “They want to come out of the shadows and be treated with dignity and respect, they don’t necessarily want to be citizens,” he said.

Bush also said the GOP can prosper amid change. Currently, GOP politics are in “stasis [and assume that] everything has to be all about politics, nothing ever changes, immigrants don’t like Republicans. … Why? Why do we assume that?” he said.

He also urged the GOP to offer more than a small-government message. “If we just play the game where we are for less government [and say] ‘We don’t believe in muscular government,’ that message is not aspirational, it is not very hopeful, it’s not particularly optimistic and we could lose,” he said.

“My guess is that the [party’s] messaging will change, and we could garner significant support amongst immigrants from Africa, from Asia, from Latin America.”

Growing social diversity is also good for America, said Bush, whose father and brother were also presidents.

“I live in Miami where half the people in my vibrant beautiful place were born outside the United States,” he said.

“When I finally make it home, normally on a Friday afternoon, I spend the night with my … wife who was born outside the United States,” he said.

“On Sunday fun-days … I get to be with George Helena Walker Bush, my little munchkin 22-month-old grand-daughter [whose] mom was born in Canada [of] Iraqi national parents,” he added.

“That [diversity] is the unique American experience that I have had the blessing, truly a blessing, to be able to experience in a way that adds a tremendous amount of vitality to my life,” he said.

“It is something that no other country has done as well as we’ve done. Why can’t that be what the [immigration] debate is about, why can’t it be about those bigger things that tie to our heritage and make us a better country?”

“Actually, I think George is probably going to be [president number] 52 — that should be her nickname, I think she might be president,” said Bush, whose son, George P. Bush, is also embarking on political career in Texas.

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