Jeb Bush: I’m A 'Practicing Reform-Minded Conservative' Named ‘Veto Corleone’

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 01, 2015 6:30 PM
Jeb Bush: I’m A 'Practicing Reform-Minded Conservative' Named ‘Veto Corleone’

Friday, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush decided to venture into less than friendly territory by having a Q&A session with Fox News’ Sean Hannity that lasted almost 30 minutes. Bush was originally supposed to give a speech, but that was scrapped at the last minute.

Hannity asked the potential 2016 candidate about his quotes criticizing conservative Republicans for being too focused on what they’re against, which Bush feels has made the party look “anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-worker” to the rest of the electorate.

Bush said he feels that Republicans have fought in a principled way against the overreach of the Obama administration (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and the Stimulus), but there needs to come a time when the party should be for things, like a strong national defense. He also mentioned being for an agenda that focuses on growth; offering alternatives to the failed tax, regulatory, and education polices of this administration.

So, what about immigration and Common Core, the two issues that seems to be hurting Gov. Bush with the Republican base? Well, here’s what he had to say:

SEAN HANNITY: You [Jeb Bush] said, “Yeah, they broke the law, it’s not a felony, it’s an act of love.” You also said that you support a path to citizenship. And when you were governor, two other things, when you were governor, you supported drivers licenses for illegal immigrants and you supported in-state tuition prices for those children of illegal immigrants that weren’t citizens. I want to give you an opportunity to address that

JEB BUSH: So, on immigration, I wrote a book about this -- instead of people pining about what I believe, that might want to read the book. It’s called ‘Immigration Wars.’ You can get it on Amazon for probably $1.99; it’s probably deeply discounted. And in that book, I talk about first and foremost the need to enforce the borders. A great country needs to enforce borders for national security purposes, public health purposes, and the rule of law. First and foremost we have to do that. Secondly, we need to narrow family petitioning so that it’s the same as every other country, spouse and minor children. Not this broad definition of spouse, minor children, adult siblings and adult parents, that crowds out what we need, which are economic-driven immigrants. Those who come here to work, to invest in their dreams in this country, to create opportunities for all of us, and that’s what we need to get to.

And so -- the plan also includes a path to legal status. I have not seen anybody, and I know there’s disagreement here–some of these people are angry about this–and, look, I kind of feel your pain. I was in Miami this morning; it was 70 degrees. So, the simple fact is there is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal status, where they work, where they don’t receive government benefits, where they don’t break the law, where they learn English, and where they make a contribution to our society. That’s what we need to be focused on.

On Common Core:

HANNITY: The second big issue that always comes up when you read about Governor Jeb Bush is the issue of Common Core. It was interesting. I didn’t know until I was researching you that you were the first governor to institute vouchers in the country, was eventually overruled by the Supreme Court of Florida. But, you were the first governor to allow a voucher system. I think a lot of conservatives believe in vouchers. I want you to address the Common Core issue.

BUSH: I’ll do it in the context of comprehensive reform because high standards, by themselves, aren’t meaningful, they’re helpful, they’re better than lower standards, but by themselves, if there is no accountability around this, if there is no consequence for mediocrity and failure or excellence, then the system won’t move forward. In Florida, we took a comprehensive approach.

Yes, we did have the first statewide voucher program, and we have more school choice in Florida, both public and private than in any state in the country, and we have the largest virtual school. We have the largest corporate tax scholarship program. We have 30,000 students, that if their parents…if their child has a learning disability, they can take the dollars, the state and local dollars, and send them to any private school of their choice. We have all of that–and that’s improved public schools. We eliminated social promotion in third grade, which was a pretty difficult thing to do. We did all this, and we raised standards. And my belief is that our standards have to be high enough, where a student going through our system is college or career ready, and that’s not what’s happening right now.

HANNITY: Is Common Core a federal takeover?

BUSH: No.

HANNITY: It’s not?

BUSH: And it shouldn’t be. Here’s where I think conservatives–and myself–all of us are deeply concerned with this president and this Department of Education, there’s a risk that they will intrude and they have, as it relates to Race to the Top. What we should say quite clearly in the authorization of the K-12 law– that is just…I think it may have actually been on the floor in the House of Representatives today, is to say, the federal government has no role in the creation of standards, either directly or indirectly. The federal government has no role in the creation of curriculum and content. The federal government should have no access to student I.D. or student information. The role of the federal government, if there’s any, is to provide incentives for more school choice. Take the Title 1 money, and the IDEA money. And if states want to innovate with their own programs–give them the money to let them create their own programs. That is a better approach.

Hannity then discussed Gov. Bush’s record, which he took tremendous pride in that fact that he issues $19 billion in tax cuts and vetoed $2 billion in spending in his eight years as governor of Florida. This earned him the nickname “Veto Corelone” in the state legislature. Bush also said he made Florida business-friendly–and they noticed. The Sunshine State grew at 3.9 percent, whereas the national average hovered around 2.6 percent.

The governor also mentioned that under his watch 1.3 million net new jobs were created in his eight years. On education, Bush noted that Florida has been an example of rising student achievement–and that kids in poverty are the leaders in education, outperforming their peers in various areas.

Bush referenced his executive order that eliminated affirmative action, “but through hard work, we ended up having a system where more African-American and Hispanic kids attending our university system than prior to the system that was discriminatory,” he said.

On fiscal matters, Gov. Bush took pride in the fact that he left the governor’s mansion with a huge surplus for his successor. He told the crowd, “I left the state with $9.5 billion of reserves–no drunken sailors were around.”

“We left my successor $9 billion+ of cash for a rainy day,” he added.

Hannity then asked his top five primary action items if he were to be elected president. Bush said he would 1. Roll back Obama’s executive actions 2. Institute a regulatory reform agenda 3. Do something about taxes 4. Have policies that focus of rebuilding America’s economic growth at high rates and sustaining them and 5. Have a robust national security, telling the world we will be their partners to maintain peace and security.

Before they exited the stage, Hannity and Bush did some word association for fun.  Hannity described himself as a Reagan constitutional conservative.  Bush said he's a practicing reform-minded conservative. When Barack Obama’s name came up, the first two words that came to mind for the former governor was “failed president.”

From the looks of it, one might think Jeb Bush did well at CPAC. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote that Bush did “very, very well” at the conference. The reported attendee walk out on Jeb fizzled fast–and the ballroom was packed. This was probably due to the fact that Jeb supporters were bused in from K Street.

Many will probably agree more with National Review’s Jim Geraghty’s (who was honored as Conservative Journalist of the Year at CPAC) assessment of the Bush Q&A, which is that as long as he didn’t trip up on the issues that are plaguing him thus far–Common Core and immigration–he would be fine.

Bush ended up in fifth place in the CPAC straw poll.