Did Jeb Bush just walk back his 'softer' stance on immigration?


MANCHESTER, N.H. — Last night, it was pie. This morning, it was eggs.

As former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush explores a presidential run and traverses the first-in-the-nation primary state, he’s attended two Granite State staples: the Politics and Pie dinner in Concord and the Politics and Eggs breakfast at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

And on his Friday stop at St. Anselm, three undecided voters pushed him to reveal the meat of his position on three key issues: immigration, climate change, and foreign aid.


The first undecided voter asked Bush about the nation’s “broken” immigration system, and what the former governor would do about it.

Bush’s more moderate position on the issue has raised ire among conservatives; last year, when he skipped a GOP cattle call here in New Hampshire, the audience booed him mercilessly when his name was invoked for saying immigrants who cross the border illegally do so out of an “act of love.”

In the past, Bush has said that he could support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but on Friday he suggested undocumented immigrants should be given a path to “earned legal status.”

“Deal with the folks who are here illegally in a rational, thoughtful way,” Bush said. “My suggestion is earned legal status. Not earned citizenship, but earned legal status. You don’t create a system where people cut in line in front of those who have been patiently waiting. But you get a provisional work permit, you work, you pay taxes, you pay a fine, you learn English, you don’t commit crimes, and you earn — over an extended period of time — legal status.

“That will be a good driver for economic growth.”

Bush cast overhauling the nation’s immigration laws as a central component of a potential campaign platform, if he chooses to run. He said reform was essential for the nation to grow economically, saying it could boost gross domestic product by as much as 4 percent each quarter.

The U.S. should target high-skilled workers to fill a skills gap Bush said was about 3 million, welcome immigrants who are looking for work that Americans don’t want to do, and invite international students who complete degrees at universities ways to stay in the country.

“It would be as though we would have the first 500,000 draft picks,” Bush said, in a nod to the upcoming NFL Draft.

But in a nod to conservatives, he said he realized that reform is only possible if America’s borders were secure.

Climate change

The second undecided voter asked Bush about his energy policy and how it would be mindful of the environment.

It was a question aimed at getting Bush to clarify his position on the issue of climate change, where he has been somewhat ambiguous and expressed some skepticism about whether humans are causing the Earth to warm.

On Friday, he took a middle-of-the-road approach to the issue. He acknowledged he’s “concerned” about the climate changing, but he said he was “more concerned” about the economic effect of any policy changes.

“The climate is changing, and I’m concerned about that,” Bush said. “But to be honest with you, I’m more concerned about the hollowing out of our country, the hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.

“We need to restore our competitive posture, which I think our energy revolution will allow us to do — and, simultaneously with that, be cognizant of the fact that we have this climate-change issue and we need to negotiate with the rest of the world a way to reduce carbon emissions.”

Bush said the real challenge is getting developing countries to reduce their carbon emissions. He said the U.S. could continue to do so by taking advantage of a natural-gas revolution.

Foreign assistance

The third undecided voter’s question was a rather easy one for Bush: What does he think about foreign-assistance programs that help provide aid, clean water, and more to underdeveloped countries?

That’s because Jeb’s brother, former President George W. Bush, has continued to see the biggest bipartisan praise for The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest fiscal commitment by a nation to address a global epidemic.

“I can promise you if you travel around Africa, the guy who’s got the best approval rating, if that matters, is my brother,” Jeb Bush said.

That kind of “soft power” — a sense that “we have people’s back across the board” — will help America internationally, he added.

Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He’ll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.

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