Jeb Bush had fighting words at his Wednesday speech at the Detroit Economic Club. The former Florida governor, who is actively thinking of running for president, said he was down for a rumble—at least, if anyone tried to say a bad word about his father, George H.W. Bush.
"My dad is the greatest man alive, and if anybody disagrees, we'll go outside," Bush said with a smile. "Unless you're, like, six-five and two-fifty and much younger than me. Then we'll negotiate. I'm still not going to change my mind."
Jeb's jest came in an answer to a question from an audience member about how the son of a former president and the brother of another might set himself apart. The Republican cited his 1994 defeat in the Florida governor's race, not long after his father had left the White House and the same year his brother, George W. Bush, won his race in Texas.
"People didn't connect with me" in 1994, Bush said. "So in 1998, I had the same views about education, but I went to visit 250 schools. Trust me, by the end of that journey, people knew that I wasn't just the brother of George W. and the son of my beloved dad. I was my own person. I earned it by working hard to connect with people on a level that truly mattered."
He added that he loves his brother and thinks "he's been a great president."
The speech might as well have been a presidential stump speech, focusing on what Bush views as the problems facing the country -- outdated government policies, a lethargic bureaucracy, and a lack of economic mobility. Bush described his solution to these problems as "a mix of smart policies and reforms to tap our resources and capacity to innovate, whether in energy, manufacturing, health care or technology." He also said that the country shouldn't "settle for anything less" than 4% economic growth. Bush spoke to the group with the assistance of a teleprompter, diverging little from his prepared remarks and stumbling at times in his delivery.
It was the question-and-answer session where Bush became looser and more animated, giving fluid responses that revealed a little more about his views, particularly on immigration. Bush said he felt "great frustration" at the federal government's inability to pass immigration reform.
"This should be the lowest hanging fruit, to be honest with you, because this is a huge opportunity," Bush said. "While the political fights go on, we're missing this opportunity."
Bush, who has been outspoken in his support for a comprehensive immigration reform package, included in his pitch an olive branch to conservatives. "It starts with regaining confidence that the federal government can enforce the border. They need to secure the border, first and foremost. There's no denying that. That ought to be the highest priority," Bush said.
He added, "I don't think the president should use his executive authority where he's gone beyond his constitutional powers. That creates greater doubt as well."
But Bush also touted the need for more immigration, saying federal laws should encourage workers to be able to enter and stay in the country legally, as well as become more integrated into American society. "We need young, dynamic people that can make an immediate contribution to our economy," he said. "We shouldn't be fearful of this. We should say, 'What an incredible opportunity.'"