Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday defended his support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers and Common Core education standards in front of a raucous CPAC crowd filled with scores of disapproving conservatives.
“I know there is disagreement here,” Bush told the annual gathering of conservative activists. “Some of these people are angry about this and look, I kind of feel your pain.”
The potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate spoke over competing cheers and boos while addressing the two contentious issues that are largely opposed by conservatives. And while Bush’s appearance drew a mixed reaction, it didn’t result in the large protest that some CPAC attendees had advocated for.
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Bush said the first step to addressing the country’s immigration problem is to secure the U.S. border with Mexico. It is the second step in his plan that has drawn the ire of some Republicans.
“There is no plan to deport 11 million people, we should give them a path to legal status," he told the jeering crowd.
He did not answer a question from Fox News host Sean Hannity on whether he believes Republicans should stand firm on the funding battle that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security over President Barack Obama’s immigration actions.
“I’m not an expert on the ways of Washington,” Bush, whose brother served eight years as president, said. He added that it doesn’t seem to make sense to defund the department responsible for protecting the border.
On Common Core, Bush’s other Achilles heel when it comes to courting conservative voters, said the education standards are not federal overreach and that he created “more school choice” as governor of Florida.
“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 said part of why common core has become a lightning rod for Republicans is because the Obama administration is overstepping its bounds. The federal government should not play a role in deciding curriculum, standards, or have access to student information, Bush contended.
Bush, who was the last of the potential presidential candidates to address the crowd, delivered a message that differed greatly from the likes of Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, and others who railed against Republicans who they believe have caved on important issues like immigration. But Bush’s appearance was meant largely as an olive branch to a conservative crowd he knew disapproved of some of his ideas.
“To those who made a boo sounds, if that’s what it was. I’m marking them down as neutral and I want to be your second choice if I decide to go beyond this,” Bush said.