Bush: "No coordination" with super PAC if I run

Last Updated May 31, 2015 11:13 AM EDT

Jeb Bush said he is not violating the law by raising money for his super PAC ahead of a possible presidential campaign and said there will be "no coordination at all" with the outside group if he runs for president in 2016.

The former Florida governor spoke with "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer about recent charges that he's avoided announcing his candidacy so he could continue raising unlimited funds through his super PAC, Right to Rise -- a move which experts say tests the limits of campaign finance regulations.

"No, of course not," the former Florida governor said when asked if he felt he had violated any campaign finance laws. "I would never do that."

Bush, who has paid visits to early-voting states like New Hampshire and Iowa over the last few months, clarified that he was still in the process of testing out the viability of his candidacy.

"I'm nearing the end of this journey traveling and listening to people, garnering, trying to get a sense of whether my candidacy would be viable or not," Bush said. "We're going to completely adhere to the law, for sure."

When Schieffer asked if there's a possibility he may not run, Bush said, "I hope I run, to be honest with you. I'd like to run, but I haven't made the decision."

The Right to Rise super PAC has already raised "historic" amounts of money, according to the Tampa Bay Times -- so much cash, in fact, that Bush has reportedly asked donors to limit their super PAC contributions to $1 million. Once the former governor announces his intent to run for president, he will have to hand control of the super PAC over to someone not working for the campaign, and can only explicitly ask donors for $2,700 per donor per election.

Earlier this month in Nevada, the potential GOP contender appeared to slip up when talking to reporters, saying "I'm running for president in 2016, and the focus is going to be about how we, if I run, how do you create high sustained economic growth."

As the Associated Press noted, the potential GOP contender seemed to catch his misstep mid-sentence and corrected himself.

Despite his lack of an official campaign, claims that Bush has flaunted campaign finance rules have followed the former governor.

Two watchdog groups recently asked the Justice Department to investigate if the former Florida governor and his super PAC, Right to Rise, are violating any campaign finance laws. The watchdog organizations are also filing a complaint against Bush and Right to Rise with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

But the possible presidential candidate dismissed the accusations, saying "there's always people that are going to be carping on the sidelines."

"Look, politics is politics," Bush added. "And should I be a candidate -- and that will be in the relatively near future where that decision will be made -- there'll be no coordination at all with any super PAC."

Bush also previewed the way he would handle the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), immigration reform in Congress and reforms to Social Security if he should run for president - a decision he indicated will be coming in the near future.

"It'll be soon, for sure. I have a trip to Germany, Poland, and Estonia, a week from Monday. And after that, I'll have to make up my mind," the former Florida governor said.

In a portion of the interview released Saturday, Bush weighed on whether he believes his brother, former President George W. Bush, will be his main challenge if he runs.

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"My brother's not going to be a problem at all. I seek out his advice. I love him dearly. I've learned from his successes and his mistakes," Bush said. Bush counts among those successes "protecting the homeland" in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"You can talk about a lot of stuff, but when you're president of the United States and you're confronted with that kind of event, to respond the way he did is admirable. And I've learned from that," Bush said.

But he also added that he learned about the importance of "keeping the reins on spending," an issue on which he said his brother "let the Republican Congress get a little out of control" because of the war.

But Bush has said he plans to run on his own record from the Florida statehouse, and in the interview talked about how he would handle the major policy challenges he would be likely to face.

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He named the threat from ISIS as "front and center" and "maybe the most important" threat to U.S. national security at the moment.

He said the U.S. needs to coordinate with the Iraqi government and military, embed American troops with Iraqi troops, and encourage the Iraqi government to provide support to Sunni Iraqi tribes as they did during the Iraq surge.

"We need a strategy. We don't have a strategy right now. We have a series of tactics, reacting to whatever's going on on the ground," Bush said. But, he added, "That doesn't mean we have to have combat troops in harm's way."

The fight will require better intelligence, Bush said, as well as special forces. He did credit President Obama for using the latter, saying, "that's a good thing."

On the other hand, he was critical of the 2011 withdrawal orchestrated by the president, saying that it left "a huge void" and the U.S. "did not engage politically." That, he suggested, was the start of the sectarian tensions that led to the Iraqi military becoming more divided and too weak to keep ISIS out of places like Ramadi in 2015.

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He said it is important to take the advice of "military leaders that know a lot more about this than folks in the White House." And Bush added that defeating ISIS will have to happen "over the long haul."

"This is not something that's going to happen overnight," he said.

On immigration, Bush predicted that the Supreme Court would overturn Mr. Obama's executive actions that lifted the threat of deportation for millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally. And while he said he could merely overturn the president's actions with another executive order, he said, "one of the first priorities for substantive policy changes is fixing a broken immigration system."

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Bush has staked out a more moderate position on immigration than many of those in his party. He says that he favors "a path to legalized status" for immigrants who are currently undocumented, which would allow them to get a provisional work permit if they pay taxes and a fine, learn English, don't commit crimes and don't receive assistance from the federal government.

"They don't earn citizenship. They don't cut in line with people that have been patiently waiting on the outside. That it seems to be a fair system," Bush said. "But those that are opposed to that, or call that amnesty, don't have a plan, really, to deal with the 11 million people that are here illegally."

That stance has earned Bush criticism from some in his party, but the former governor has said previously that candidates should be prepared to "lose the primary to win the general election without violating your principles."

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He told host Bob Schieffer that while he doesn't intend to go out of his way to lose the primary - an act that would cost him the chance to compete in the general election at all - he believes that people "are so disaffected...and so cynical about politicians and politics" that they don't want a candidate who changes their position between the primary and general election. Immigration is an issue where he promised that "I'm not going to back down."

He also weighed in on Social Security, a program that 2016 candidate Mike Huckabee has pledged to protect by fighting any attempts to change it. Bush, on the other hand, said that an increase in the retirement age should be phased in "over an extended period of time."

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"People that already have this supplemental retirement system, which is a contract -- I don't think we violate that. For people that are about ready to be, be beneficiaries of their supplemental retirement, I don't think we change that. But we need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in, over an extended period of time, going from 65 to 68 or 70. And that, by itself, will help sustain the retirement system for anybody under the age of 40," he said. He added that he would also consider means testing as a way of reforming the program.

He also urged Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act - and bulk collection of telephone metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA) - because, "there's no evidence, not a shred of evidence, that the metadata program has violated anybody's civil liberties.

The potential GOP candidates have a wide range of views on the issue of NSA surveillance, ranging from those like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who would end bulk collection and have phone companies hold the data, to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has pledged to force the expiration of the program.

As for the political landscape, Schieffer asked Bush whether he believes that it was acceptable for foreign governments to contribute millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

"No, I don't. Or at least, at a minimum, it should be fully disclosed, which was the agreement I thought she had between the government and the Clinton Foundation. It turns out that the rules don't always apply consistently for, for the Clintons," Bush said.

Clinton's team has defended the donations and said there hasn't been even a suggestion of quid pro quo. Bush said, "There's the implication of it, for sure" based on the news coverage. The fact that some of the donations went unreported was "inappropriate," he said.

Reena Flores contributed to this story.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.