Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, despite a smattering of boos, stuck to his views on immigration and education, controversial with some conservatives, in his question-and-answer session today at the Conservative Political Action Conference, saying any immigration overhaul needs to include a “path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants.
“The simple fact is there is no plan to deport 11 million people,” Bush told the audience and moderator, Fox News host Sean Hannity. “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.”
He stressed “first and foremost” the nation’s borders need to be “enforce(d)” for “national security purposes, public health purposes, and the rule of law.”
He noted some in the audience were “angry” over his stance, but he said the country needs “economic driven immigrants.”
“Those that want to come here to work to invest in their dreams in this country to create opportunities for all of us,” he said at the CPAC gathering in National Harbor, Maryland. “And that’s what we need to get to and so … the plan also includes a path to legal status.”
The likely 2016 presidential candidate did say he disagrees with the president’s executive action on immigration, adding he used “authority he doesn’t have” and has “gone way beyond his constitutional powers to do this.”
Bush, 62, was greeted at times with boos, but they were drowned out by applause from his supporters in the hall. A few dozen CPAC attendees quietly walked out of the room during the session and once outside the small group chanted “USA, USA.”
Bush also stood by his stance on Common Core education standards. When asked by Hannity whether it is a federal takeover of education, Bush answered, “No, and it shouldn't be," stressing the education standards created “more school choice.”
"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," Bush said.
He stressed the federal government should have “no role” in creation of “standards" or "curriculum,” nor have “access” to student information, adding the federal government should have “no role in the creation of standards, either directly or indirectly.”
Bush has been criticized by some Republicans for not being conservative enough or too moderate on immigration and education, specifically his support for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. But when asked by Hannity whether he is a moderate, Bush replied: “I would describe myself as a practicing, reform-minded, conservative.”
He directly addressed those who booed him, saying he was “marking them down as neutral” and “I want to be your second choice if I decide to go beyond this.”
He did seem all in, though, noting he has to use “legal terminology” that he is still considering the “possibility of running.” He told supporters gathered in a ballroom after his session, “I hope that I’ll see you on the trail.”
Earlier in the day, talk radio show host Laura Ingraham blasted Bush, saying, “Jeb and Hillary can run on the same ticket.”
“The idea that we should be conducting any type of coronation in the Republican Party today because 50 rich families decide who they think will best represent their interest, no way Jose,” she said. “We also need a candidate who is proud to be called a conservative, proud to stand with you. Not a conservative who comes to CPAC to check a box, but a conservative who comes to CPAC because they are conservatives.”
In a lighter moment, Hannity asked Bush whether he was “mad” at his mother because of her previous comments that there had been “enough Bushes” in the White House. Bush said at the time it was “a little difficult, but since that time she’s had a change of heart and that’s all right by me.” As he has recently, Bush again stressed his “love” for his family, including his father and brother, both former presidents, but he said if he runs, he needs to show voters “what’s in my heart.”
“I have to show that I care about people about their future,” he said. “It can’t be about the past, it can’t be about my mom and dad and brother who I love. I love them all. It has to be about the ideas that I believe in to move our country forward.”
The Democratic National Committee responded to Bush’s speech with spokesman Ian Sams saying in a statement, “It didn’t take long for Jeb Bush to run away from his own advice on losing the primary to win the general election. At CPAC, he said his top priority as president would be undoing President Obama’s executive actions, which would include actions to keep families together on immigration…Jeb Bush isn’t a new type of Republican, and he certainly isn’t looking out for everyday people in America.”
ABC News’ Rick Klein and Greg Hughes contributed to this report.