By most accounts, former Florida governor Jeb Bush performed well (to some observers, “very, very” well) in his Friday appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. The likely presidential candidate succeeded in defying expectations by receiving a warm reception at the right-wing confab, even as his unorthodoxies on a few important issues for conservatives were highlighted in the appearance.
Bush spent several minutes fielding questions from Fox News host Sean Hannity about a host of issues, including those like Common Core and immigration on which Bush differs from grassroots conservatives. Animated and funny (he preempted a lightning round question by blurting out “boxers!”), Bush looked comfortable onstage as he faced plenty of boos as well as ample applause from the large contingent of supporters filling the ballroom.
Surrounding Bush’s potential bid for the Republican nomination are questions not just about his conservative bona fides but the prospect of a third member of his family in as many decades occupying the White House. At CPAC, he confidently asserted he’d have the ability to make the case for himself in a presidential campaign. Bush encouraged conservatives to find new converts and suggested his candidacy might be one to do that. “If we share our enthusiasm and love for our country and belief in our philosophy, we will be able to get Latinos and young people and other people that we need to get to get 50 [percent],” he said.
How would Bush combat perceptions of a family dynasty?
“If I run for president, I have to show what’s in my heart,” he said. “I have to show that I care about people, about their future. It can’t be about the past.”
Nevertheless, Hannity pressed Bush on some of the former governor’s past statements and positions, particularly on immigration. Bush said that he didn’t regret his unsuccessful efforts as governor to allow drivers licenses for illegal immigrants or to provide in-state tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants. He also reiterated his support for a path to legalization, arguing it’s the only way to deal with the current problem.
“There is no plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants,” he said.
Bush was inarticulate, however, in his response to the question about what Congress should do in the current debate over funding the Department of Homeland Security. Conservatives in the House and Senate have sought to pass a bill that funds the department while prohibiting any federal dollars to implement President Obama’s executive order on immigration. Senate Democrats stymied efforts to pass such a bill via the filibuster, and Obama has said he would veto any funding block to his order. Other Republicans have pushed for passing a “clean” DHS funding bill, with nothing about blocking the funding. What, Hannity asked Bush, should Congress do?
“I think the Congress should pass a bill that does not allow him to use that authority,” said Bush, who had earlier stated he opposed the executive order. Hannity pushed the question: Should Congress pass a clean bill?
“Look, I don’t know,” said a slightly exasperated Bush. “I’m not an expert on the ways of Washington. It makes no sense to me that we’re not funding control of our border, which is the whole argument. I’m missing something. So I’m not an expert on that. The simple fact is, the president has gone way beyond his constitutional powers to do this, and the Congress has every right to reinstate their responsibility for what law’s about.”