Jeb Bush defended his support for a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants before a conservative audience Thursday, saying his critics are simply wrong.
The expected Republican presidential contender’s stance on immigration and Common Core education standards have proven a sticking point with conservatives, but Bush says the opposition is misplaced.
"I love you and I love National Review, I just think you're wrong on immigration," Bush told National Review editor Rich Lowry, who moderated an hour long session with the former Florida governor. “You think I'm wrong."
Bush said an immigration overhaul is critical to restoring the U.S. economy. He said he backs narrowing the number of immigrants who arrive for family reasons, and expanding the number of economic immigrants.
“If you’re going to grow at 4 percent per year, rather than 2 percent, you need younger, more dynamic people,” he said. “You can’t do it with a declining population.”
He said critics are embracing a “world of declining population, it’s the world of Japan, it’s the world of Europe.
“We are at our best when we’re young, aspirational and dynamic,” Bush said. “I’m willing to listen to other views ... but I think I’m right about this.”
Bush warned that if Republicans don’t act to fix immigration laws, they will lose to Democrats and President Barack Obama -- whom he said plays immigration “like a Stradivarius violin.
“He uses this as a wedge issue, and we always lose,” Bush said. “Delaying this is what he wants.”
Bush also endorsed statehood for Puerto Rico, which a National Review’s editorial board today called “an awful idea.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Bush also offered his thoughts on his “model” Supreme Court justice, saying Antonin Scalia is “by far and away the most interesting opinion writer.” And he said he “admires and likes” Clarence Thomas and that he “generally shares" his views.
He also joked about his brother, George W. Bush’s painting skills and his mother’s reputation for forthrightness. Touting his record as governor, he said he felt “the looming presence of my mother saying ‘Don’t brag, it’s not about you.’ “
And he suggested his mother had something in common with the woman in Baltimore who was filmed corralling her wayward son away from rioting in the city earlier this week.
"I admire her a lot for doing what she did," he said of the woman, Toya Graham. “It was a nice visual symbol of what needs to be restored."
But he criticized Major League Baseball for shutting fans out of Wednesday’s Baltimore Orioles game after the violent protests, saying it sent the wrong signal.
"I think we need to recognize that life doesn't just get paralyzed when these tragedies occur," he said. "You can't allow that to happen, because it actually might create more of them."