During an interview for “This Week,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush told me that he was “in sync” with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on the issue of immigration reform.
Graham, a key member of the bipartisan group of senators pushing for immigration reform, took Bush to task after the former Florida governor said Monday that he did not support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which is a key component of the plan being pushed by the Senate group. Bush subsequently reversed course and said he could in fact support a plan that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living in the United States.
“Senator Graham and I talked. He was responding to concerns that were expressed before the book was actually published,” Bush said. “I told him that I support his efforts and I applaud what he’s doing. And he concluded, after he heard what the thesis of the book is that we’re in sync. We’re on the same — on the same path.”
“The basic premise needs to be that coming to the country legally should be easier with less cost than coming to the country illegally. And if you can create a system like that as is being discussed in the Senate and in the House– through a path to citizenship, that’s fine,” Bush said. “But my guess is that will take a long, long time to achieve. In the interim, it’s important to take people out from the shadows to allow them to have– the dignity of being– having legal status.”
Bush told me that he was “very encouraged” about the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform – a legislative achievement that has eluded lawmakers for more than a decade — becoming law by the end of the year.
“I’m very encouraged. There are some big sticking points about how do you deal with making sure that there’s enough seasonal workers, temporary worker programs that have been quite successful in the past,” Bush said. “There’s a lot of work being done, really good work, courageous work, ’cause this is complex and may not be popular, but I think it’s– it is possible that comprehensive reform can be done.”
Turning to President Obama’s new effort to reach out to his colleagues on right – which included inviting the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to lunch — Bush complimented the president, comparing his actions to those of Ronald Reagan, an icon of the Republican Party.
“I’m very encouraged by the fact the president is trying to restore some personal connection with policymakers in Congress. I’m at the Reagan Library today and that’s kind of what Ronald Reagan did. He didn’t scorn his adversaries, he embraced them and got a lot done,” Bush said. “This is very positive in my mind. It makes it harder to reach agreement when there’s not trust. It’s just human nature. And so this is maybe a good, positive first step.”
Bush qualified his praise for the president, tweaking him for a lack of “seriousness” when it came to the president’s efforts to reach a deal to reduce the national debt and specifically his willingness to embrace entitlement reform as part of a potential bargain with Republicans.
“I haven’t seen the seriousness of the president’s efforts. I’d love to see a specific plan that really did reform– bend the cost curve for Medicare and the entitlement system. I haven’t seen it, so if there is through these talks, some kind of consensus that emerged, I don’t think you should say, ‘no, no, no’ about anything’” Bush said.
“Frankly, there was already been one of the largest tax increases in American history a month ago. And frankly, we ought to be focused on sustained economic growth, which grows more revenue for people and for government than any tax increase that’s been suggested, so there are a lot of things that could be done to create a real grand bargain. And let the process work. I’m hopeful that the president’s sincere about this,” Bush said.
Bush also insisted during out conversation that he is not positioning himself for a 2016 presidential run as he promotes his new book “Immigration Wars,” even as speculation grows that he aims to be the third member of the Bush family to occupy the oval office.
“I’m not viewing this as a political reentry either. I just don’t view it that way,” Bush said. “Everything’s viewed with a political lens in Washington and that’s just the nature of the beast and it is what it is.”
Finally Bush gave me an update on the health of his father, 88-year-old former president George H.W. Bush, who was released from the hospital earlier this year after a lengthy stay.
“He’s doing better. You know, he’s got his spectacular chief caregiver, Barbara Bush, taking care of him and he’s regaining his strength day by day. And he’s out more,” Bush said. “He was at the University of Texas, A&M, at the Bush School– twice in the last two weeks, so– we’re excited that he seems to be making great progress.”