Sen. Sessions Hits Bush On His Immigration Plan

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

GOP candidates should pitch their message at voters, not donors, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said in a speech at the CPAC convention.

“The most important thing right now is for candidates not to tailor their message with any idea about what contributions they get, but to tailor messages on what’s right for Americans,” he told his audience at a hotel just outside Washington D.C.

“Voters always trump money… and will attract more money too,” said Sessions, who is urging GOP candidates to win voters support with a promise of lower immigration and higher wages.

Sessions’ pitch, however accidentally or not, was a sharp critique of the primary campaign launched by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is using his wealthy network of funders to grab for market share in the crowded GOP primaries.

Sessions spoke shortly after Bush defended his support for high immigration to the crowded main hall at at CPAC.

But Bush’s plan to legally import millions of foreign workers — both blue-collar and white collar — is widely disliked by the Republican base that will pick the presidential candidate.

“We have to be young, aspirational and dynamic again,” Bush said about his plan to provide work-permits to illegals and to increase the immigration of blue-collar workers and professionals.

Bush didn’t want to highlight those issues, and sought to shift the focus. “We have to change the subject [from immigration] to high sustained economic growth,” he said.

His plan for large-scale legal immigration can speed annual growth from 2 percent to 4 percent, he argued. The growth will produce jobs and economic gains for all, he said. “We ought to be growing the economic pie, and growing it at the pace like the 1980s… there’s going to be opportunities for all,” Bush claimed.

Bush’s plan is popular among his wealthy donors, partly because the higher growth and cheaper labor will spike returns for Wall Street investors.

Sessions has a very different focus. He wants GOP candidates to offer a low-immigration plan that would increase Americans’ wages and win support from voters who earn less than $50,000 a year.

“We need a presidential candidate who talks to them and gets off his phone calls with donors with the big bucks,” the senator said, perhaps aiming at Bush.

“This needs to be a party for the working American… [we’ve] given enough love to the entrepreneur,” he added.

Sessions delivered some direct, although low-key, criticism of Bush. “He’s a very talented and good person, but I think the policy on immigration is a error and it would deny him the opportunity to appeal to a lot of people,” he said, citing polls which show widespread opposition to companies’ hiring of immigrants in place of Americans.

Attitudes about “immigration transcend party politics and the liberal/conservative typology,” Sessions said. Voters don’t like the “amnesty and open-borders policy that threatens their jobs and wages and that of their children,” he said.

Sessions also slammed wealthy donors who want immigrant labor. “They’ve got their money, they think they’re entitled to have things their way but [average people] have got a vote and it is every bit as valuable” the votes of wealthy people, he said.

“The money guys think they got all that counts [in elections], but they don’t,” he said.

GOP candidate will win in 2016, Sessions said, by showing voters that “we care about you more than we care about money.”

Follow Neil on Twitter