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Jeb Bush talks immigration -- and tries not to talk about 2016

March 10, 2013|By Lisa Mascaro
  • Former Florida governor Jeb Bush autographs his new book "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution" before speaking at the Reagan Library.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush autographs his new book "Immigration… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

WASHINGTON – Potential Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush compared the banter about his political aspirations to "crack" and also declined Sunday to say whether hiring an illegal immigrant should be an automatic disqualification for public office.

Bush, the former Florida governor, has given mixed signals about both his presidential intentions and his latest thinking on immigration reform as he tours in support of his new book "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution." He appeared on five news shows Sunday.

What became clear, though, was Bush's fatigue with the endless political speculation, particularly when he was asked about the 2016 presidential prospects of another Florida Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio.

"You guys are crack addicts. You really are obsessed with all this politics," Bush said on NBC's "Meet the Press," calling Rubio a "great guy."

"Heroin addict. Is that better?" Bush amended. "I mean, put aside the politics for a moment."

Bush, who is the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush, has shifted his views on immigration at a time when the party hopes to court minority voters, particularly Latinos who fled the GOP in the last election.

Once a supporter of a pathway for citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally -- a position that was until recently considered outside the mainstream of the Republican Party -- Bush now suggests legalization may suffice.

"We could take either path; either a path to citizenship or a path to legalization," he said on the show.

Immigrant-rights groups worry that legalization alone would create a permanent second-class status for those here illegally.

Bush was also asked whether hiring illegal immigrants should disqualify candidates for public office, as it has in the past, including President Clinton's nomination of lawyer Zoe Baird for U.S. attorney general.

"I don't know. That's – that’s above my pay grade," he said. "I would hope that people try hard to make sure that they hire legal workers. It's the law."

Political observers have questioned whether the country would welcome another Bush -- or Clinton -- presidency, if Hillary Rodham Clinton decides to seek the Democratic nod.

But Bush suggested his family's legacy in the White House would look better with time.

"My guess is that history will be kind to my brother, the further out you get from this and the more people compare his tenure to what's going on now," he said.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

twitter.com/LisaMascaroinDC

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