WASHINGTON – Hinting that a decision on his presidential ambitions is coming “in short order,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday condemned President Barack Obama’s recent immigration order for going “way beyond” what other presidents have done – including Bush’s own father.
Bush, the son of one president and brother of another, also reiterated his support for a pathway to legal status for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, but said Obama may have exceeded his constitutional authority by unilaterally lifting the threat of deportation from millions of such immigrants last month.
“The idea that, well, Reagan did it, my dad did it – they did it on a much smaller scale and they did it with consent of Congress. There are a lot of differences,” Bush said Monday night at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council, an invitation-only event in Washington featuring some of the nation’s most powerful CEOs.
Obama’s move “makes it harder” for Congress to adopt lasting immigration reform, Bush said, speaking publicly about the order for the first time. “It’s a shame.”
The former Florida governor is seen as the early favorite of business-minded Republicans eager to reclaim the White House in 2016. While he would be a force in the Republican presidential primary, Bush would face criticism from the party’s conservative wing unhappy with his positions on immigration and education reform. Those who attended Monday’s event, however, include many political donors and Republican business leaders who support a more forgiving immigration policy.
Bush was seen chatting with News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch, who has urged lawmakers to adopt a pathway to legal status for immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Two of the last three Republican presidents – Ronald Reagan and Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush – also extended amnesty to family members of immigrants who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.
Obama’s executive order has drawn a withering response from Republicans, but also has laid bare divisions within the GOP over how to deal with immigration. The issue is seen as critical for the GOP ahead of the 2016 presidential contest as party officials work to attract more Hispanic voters.
Bush reiterated his interest in a presidential run on Monday.
“I’m thinking about running for president. And I'll make up my mind in short order – not that far out in the future,” he said.
“I don’t know if I’d be a good candidate or a bad one,” Bush continued. “I kind of know how a Republican can win, whether it’s me or somebody else, and it has to be much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to be practical…”
The comments come as Bush works this week to keep his public profile high.
Earlier in the day, he attended a Capitol Hill fundraiser for Republican Senate hopeful Bill Cassidy, less than a week before Cassidy faces incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisana in a runoff election that could increase the GOP’s new majority.
On Tuesday, immigration may come up again as Bush addresses the annual luncheon on U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC in Miami. The organization is a political action committee that advocates a tough stance on Cuba.
Bush, whose wife is Mexican, told the CEO Council that he supports a nation in which people ultimately find no need to identify their cultural origin.
“That is the America we should aspire to – not the one where we’re dividing ourselves up to find where we are different,” Bush said, “but the fact that you’re from a different place or you’ve got a different origin is totally irrelevant.”