Jeb Bush Steps Up on Immigration

Jeb Bush just made the race for the 2016 Republican nomination a lot more interesting.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Well, anything you propose is amnesty,’ but that’s not a plan,” Mr. Bush said during a discussion with local business leaders here. “That’s a sentiment, that’s not a plan. I think the best plan, the most realistic plan, the grown up plan, if you will, is once you control the border and you’re confident it’s not going to be another magnet, is to say, ‘Let’s let these folks achieve earned legal status where they work, where they come out of the shadows.’”

Later, during a brief exchange with reporters, Mr. Bush said he could also be supportive of a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally – as he did at one time – but said there currently isn’t sufficient political support for it.

“If you could get a consensus done, where you could have a bill done and it was 15 years [to achieve citizenship] as the Senate Gang of Eight did, I’d be supportive of that,” Mr. Bush said, referring to the comprehensive immigration legislation the Senate passed in 2013.

It’s important to note that his statement to reporters goes beyond giving “legal status” to undocumented workers (what he has suggested recently) and indicates that he would be supportive of a “pathway to citizenship” as was contained in the bipartisan Senate bill. That distinguishes him from every other candidate in the field. Notice the implication by Bush that his competitors don’t have an “adult plan.”

This is likely to lead to some interesting exchanges in the upcoming Republican debates. It could force other candidates to either articulate their “deport ’em all” position or hedge and be accused of promoting “amnesty.”

At the same time, it is a position that would make Bush much more competitive in a general election. But he’ll have to get the nomination first. Did he just ruin his chances with Republican primary voters? His position on the Senate immigration bill now aligns with President Obama’s. I suspect he’ll be hearing it phrased just like that in the coming weeks.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.