Jeb Bush: I won't enter "witness protection program" over family name

Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to supporters during a fundraising event at the Jorge Mas Canosa Youth Center on March 18, 2015 in Sweetwater, Florida.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

The weight of the Bush name fell heavily on Jeb Bush's shoulders last week, as he stumbled over questions about whether he would repeat his brother's decision to invade Iraq.

During a visit to New Hampshire on Wednesday, though, the former Florida governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate embraced his pedigree.

"I'm not gonna be in the witness protection program. I love my mom, I love my dad, I love my brother," he said. "What am I supposed to say?"

The event was a business roundtable held just outside Manchester at the Pease International Tradeport, a popular stop for GOP candidates courting New Hampshire voters.

When a man complained during the question-and-answer session that he'd taken a lot of flak for supporting the Bush family, Jeb Bush exclaimed, "Join the club!"

Last week, after a number of shifting responses, Bush eventually declared that he would not have invaded Iraq, knowing what he knows now -- that the country had no weapons of mass destruction.

But he's spurned suggestions that then-President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 created space for the Islamic extremism that thrives in the region today.

"There were mistakes in Iraq for sure," he said Wednesday, "but [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] didn't exist when my brother was president." He accused Mr. Obama of "abandoning Iraq" and turned the question that has been posed to him several times in the past week against the president. "Knowing what you know now, Mr. President, would you, should you, have kept 10,000 troops in Iraq? Or 15,000 or 4,000?"

Bush also defended the surveillance tools implemented by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks -- some of which are scheduled to disappear if Congress doesn't act by June 1.

"We need to protect the homeland," Bush said. "The notion that somehow programs that have not had any -- there's no evidence of the violation to civil liberties, none -- we're now going to gut them when they've been part of an effective strategy to protect the homeland from all sorts of threats...I think is foolhardy."

"I think we need to stay the course to protect the homeland," he added. "These threats aren't going away. we have to be serious about this and have a long term view of Islamic terrorism and the fact that it could happen in our country."

One of Bush's potential GOP competitors in 2016, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, started a filibuster-like speech Wednesday against legislation to extend the National Security Agency's controversial phone records collection program.

"I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged," Paul said from the Senate floor. "The bulk collection of all Americans' phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment." And several senators - many of them Democrats - lent their support to Paul and joined him on the floor.