Jeb Bush’s Heretical View of Illegal Immigration
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The Fiscal Times
April 7, 2014

With his name much in the news in the past week as a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush did nothing to quell the speculation with an appearance at his father’s presidential library on Sunday.

Bush was in College Station, Texas, for a three-day event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the administration of his father, President George H. W. Bush. The event was closed to the press, but Jeb Bush gave an interview to Fox News Channel that was aired publicly.

The most headline-grabbing part of the interview was Bush’s insistence on staking out a position on illegal immigration that is starkly at odds with many rank and file Republicans voters. Speaking to Fox News host Shannon Bream, he urged the country to “get beyond the harsh political rhetoric” surrounding the immigration debate.

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He appeared to argue for a compassionate approach to the illegal immigration issue, saying of illegal immigrants, “Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's an act of love, it's an act of commitment to your family."

"I honestly think that is a different kind of crime, that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families," he said.

The big question in conservative circles right now is whether Bush really wants to run for president, and in his criticism of the current political environment, he left himself plenty of room to bow out.

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Politics on the national stage are “pretty crazy right now,” he told Bream, saying he was worried that he would not be able to run a campaign for the presidency “joyfully” – something he tied closely to the viability of running with a “hopeful, optimistic message.”

It is practically inevitable that parallels will be drawn between Jeb Bush’s statements on immigration and the platform of “compassionate conservatism” that his brother George W. Bush used to help win the presidency in 2000.

While his brother’s statements were vague, and more general (“Don’t balance the budget on the back of the poor.”), Jeb Bush’s statements on illegal immigration were specific to that issue. He also has a unique perspective on an issue that increasingly seems to pit the GOP against the Hispanic Americans in general in that his wife of 40 years, Columba, is Mexican-American.

Columba Bush has, throughout her husband’s career been a reluctant political spouse who is uncomfortable in the limelight, and that is something that her husband has very publicly said is one of the things he loves about her. But while that may have been a surmountable obstacle in a gubernatorial campaign, it’s far from clear that running for president without a spouse committed to the process is possible.

Columba Bush has also been the source of some public embarrassment for her husband, as she once attempted to bring some $15,000 worth of purchases into the U.S. without declaring them all to the Customs Service. The Bush’s daughter has also struggled with apparent substance abuse problems.

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While there are many reasons why a Jeb Bush run for president might run into problems, including association with his still-unpopular brother, and a possible reluctance among Americans to see the presidency as a dynastic institution (Hello Hillary?), family, in fact, appears to be the biggest question besetting Jeb Bush at the moment.

On Sunday, Bush said that in the end, his biggest concern about running for president is whether it would be acceptable to his family. He also said that he would make a decision by the end of the year whether to run in 2016.

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A longtime reporter on the intersection of the federal government and the private sector, Rob Garver is National Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ProPublica, The New York Times and other publications.