Jeb Bush defended his “act of love” immigration comment during a Republican Party event on Thursday, saying that the controversial statement was “nothing new” for him.
Although the former governor did not repeat his remarks from last weekend, Politico reporter Maggie Haberman writes that Bush did encourage the audience to stay “sensitive” to the immigration experience.
The debate stemmed from a speech at his father’s presidential library, where Bush said that undocumented immigrants to the United States came here in search for a better life for their families, and that although they broke the law, “it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”
At Thursday’s annual Prescott Bush Award dinner in Connecticut, attended by about 700 people, the potential 2016 White House contender worded it a little differently.
“To be young and dynamic again, we have to be young and dynamic again,” Bush told the crowd, saying that people need to look at “immigration reform, not as a problem, but as a huge opportunity.”
Bush admitted his previous comment “generated more news than expected.”
“You know, I’ve been saying this for the last three or four years. I said the exact same thing that I’ve said regularly,” he added. “And the simple fact is, there is no conflict between enforcing our laws, believing in the rule of law and having some sensitivity to the immigrant experience, which is part of who we are as a country.”
Bush’s “act of love” comments set off a wave of criticism from conservatives.
Even though Bush advocated reform for years, immigration has now taken a new life in politics, as President Obama and Senate Democrats began last year to push for a comprehensive reform package.
Haberman noted that Bush’s speech had all the makings of an early stump speech, with the Republican hitting many GOP bullet points, such as repealing Obamacare, U.S. foreign affairs and fixing the tax code.
Bush also touched on the subject of education reform — his signature issue since his time as Florida governor.
While he portrayed immigrant reform as an “economic driver,” not once in Bush’s speech did the top name for the GOP presidential ticket mention 2016.
However, Prescott Bush award winner Linda McMahon, the former Connecticut gubernatorial hopeful, referenced it in passing during her speech.