In one of his testiest exchanges to date, Bush pushed back against reporters today in Keene, NH who asked if he thought the term -- referring to the American-born children of undocumented immigrants -- was offensive.
A reporter asked Bush if he regretted using the term “anchor babies” on Bill Bennett’s radio show earlier this week, to which he snapped, “You give me a better term and I’ll use it.”
But Bush may have been aware of the offensive nature of the term. He was co-chair of a conservative group, the Hispanic Leadership Network, at the time that it put out a memo warning against using terms that could be deemed offensive. "Anchor baby" was on that list.
The memo offers “suggested tonally sensitive messaging points when discussing immigration proposals” and suggests, when talking about immigrants, "Don't use the term 'anchor baby'."
ABC News’ Tom Llamas asked if the language Bush used was "bombastic," the same kind of talk from Trump Bush had knocked down just moments earlier.
“Look here’s the deal. What I said was it’s commonly referred to that," Bush said. "That’s what I said, I didn’t use it as my own language...I think that people born in this country ought to be American citizens.”
Moments earlier, Bush pushed for an end to divisive rhetoric.
"I’m talking about in general when you just- huge kind of tidal wave of accusations or bombastic talk. There are a lot of people who share the immigrant experience and when they hear this what they hear is, you don’t think I’m part of this- you don’t think I’m part of this country. I know that, and I know that for a fact because I have hundreds of people who tell me that so we have to tone down the rhetoric."
But for Bush, the language that he's used threatens to derail the Latino-friendly image he's has tried to project all of his adult life. Earlier that day Bush spoke of his Mexican-born wife and why she wanted to become an American citizen and often speaks proudly of his half-Mexican children.
This follows another heated line of questioning just last night directed at Donald Trump, the current front-runner in the GOP race. After being asked by Llamas if he was aware that the term was offensive, Trump eventually responded, “I’ll use the word anchor baby.”
It all happened as the campaign trail heats up over the topic of immigration. After Trump released his 6-page policy paper, calling in part for a wall to be built and an end to “birthright citizenship”, most of the GOP candidates have been asked to weigh in on their views.
Trump and Bush traded barbs last night, each with dueling town hall meetings in NH, just 20 miles from each other. Trump openly mocked Bush’s small crowds saying, “You know what’s happening to Jeb’s crowd right down the street? They’re sleeping!”
Bush instead pounced on Trump’s liberal record, calling him a “tax-hiking Democrat” adding, “He was a Democrat longer in the last decade than he was a Republican. He’s given more money to Democrats than he’s given to Republicans.”
Bush’s fiercest criticism today came from the other side -- his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Her campaign tweeted their response to the debate.