Jeb Bush: "I haven't changed" on immigration

CBS News

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., pushed back against accusations that he is moving away from his prior support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, insisting, "I haven't changed," during an interview on "Face the Nation."

The accusations sprang from a passage in his recent book, "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution," in which Bush appeared to suggest that undocumented immigrants should be given a path to permanent residency, but not necessarily a path to citizenship. Bush has previously indicated support for a path to citizenship as part of an immigration reform package.

Bush doesn't buy the criticism. "I haven't changed," he said. "I support a path to legalization or citizenship so long as the path for people that have been waiting patiently is easier and costs less, the legal entrance to our country, than illegal entrance."

"The worst thing that we could do is to pass a set of laws and have the exact same problem we had in the late 1980s, where there was not the enforcement and it was easier to come legally than illegally," Bush explained. "So we need complete reform, and if that happens, the work being done in Washington right now -- the effort is to create this disincentive for illegal immigration, and incentive for illegal immigration -- then I would support a path to citizenship."

He also rebuffed suggestions that his perceived shift to the right was undertaken with an eye to the 2016 GOP presidential primary.

"Yeah, see, that's the Washington world, the world of everything has to have a personal political ambition, motive," he said. "That's not the case. The book was written last year at a time when the tenor of the debate on immigration was dramatically different than it is today."

He also said his views on the subject "absolutely" coincide with those of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a close ally and former protégé of Bush's who is part of a bipartisan group of senators working on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal.

Bush said that the cooperation on immigration reform is an encouraging sign - a chance to prove that bipartisan deal making is still possible amid the seemingly endless parade of drama and conflict in Washington.

"This is a very encouraging time," he said, "because if we can get immigration right, imagine, there's possibilities of cats and dogs living with one another in other policy areas as well."

The former governor, frequently mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also unpacked the 2012 election results, lauding President Obama as a "very good campaigner" but arguing that "he won by, in some ways, dividing the country."

"I think the basic part of his campaign was that those that were successful weren't paying their fair share, even though we have incredibly high taxes for high income Americans," Bush explained. "I think he ran a campaign of them and us. And it was quite effective, that somehow the Republicans don't care about the large number of people.

"And so, Republicans, I think, need to learn from this and not just be reacting to what we think is wrong about the president's policies," he said. "We need to be advocating positive policies as well."

Bush counseled Republicans to accommodate a certain level of give-and-take in budget negotiations, saying if he was presented with a plan that included an increase in revenues, currently a non-starter for congressional Republicans, he "wouldn't say 'no, heck no,' and that's it.'"

"What I would do is advocate policies that would create high growth because the revenue collected by government" when the economy is growing faster "is exponentially more."

"By having a patriotic energy policy, bringing regulation to the 21st century, immigration reform would be a good one, reforming our education system, tax policy -- all those things would yield, I think, far more revenue," Bush said. "That should be where there's the common ground."

"And in return, there should be some give and take as it relates to entitlement reform," he added. "The President has not been willing to discuss that, but in the last week, he's begun to at least reach out to Republicans, which is quite encouraging."

Bush said he did not know if Obama's overtures were politically motivated or whether the president genuinely wants to find consensus, but he welcomed the outreach regardless. "I do know that if he reaches out and builds a dialogue where there's greater trust and there's a persona relationship, it matters," he said. "It's mattered for all presidents, and it would matter for him."