Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his candidacy for president by tackling head-on two of the issues that could be most problematic for him: immigration reform and his last name.
The son and brother of former presidents, he brought up his family 20 minutes into his announcement speech in Miami.
He said he "met his first president on the day he was born, and his second on the day he was brought home from the hospital." But he later added, “Not a one of us deserves the job by right of resume, party, seniority, family or family narrative. It’s nobody’s turn. It’s everybody’s test, and it’s wide open – exactly as a contest for president should be."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waves as he walks on stage to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, June 15 , 2015 in Miami. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Bush favors a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but with a shot at President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration, said that "the next president of the United States will pass meaningful immigration reform so that that will be solved, not by executive order."
He invoked Ronald Reagan on immigration reform and referred to his Hispanic wife.
“In 1971, eight years before then-candidate Ronald Reagan said that we should stop thinking of our neighbors as foreigners, I was ahead of my time in cross-border outreach,” Bush said.
“Across a plaza, I saw a girl. She spoke only a little English. My Spanish was OK but not that great,” Bush continued. “With some intensive study, we got that barrier out of the way in a hurry. In the short version, it has been a gracious walk through the years with the former Columba Garnica de Gallo.”
He sold a Hillary Clinton presidency as a third term for Obama.
"The party now in the White House is planning a no-suspense primary, for a no-change election. To hold onto power. To slog on with the same agenda under another name. That’s our opponents’ call to action this time around. That’s all they’ve got left," Bush said. “And you and I know that America deserves better."
He added, “The presidency should not be passed on from one liberal to the next."
“Our country is on a very bad course and the question is: What are we going to do about it? The question for me is: What am I going to do about it? And I have decided," Bush said. “I am a candidate for president of the United States."
Speaking at Miami-Dade College's Kendall campus and surrounded by supporters sporting signs with the red letters of "Jeb!", Bush leaned heavily on his record as governor.
“I know we can fix this because I’ve done it," Bush said. “Here, in this great and diverse state that looks so much like America. So many challenges could be overcome if we just get this economy growing at full strength. There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4 percent a year. And that will be my goal as president – 4 percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it."
In a message that hit home with the Miami crowd, Bush criticized Obama for normalizing relations with Cuba.
“We don't need a glorified tourist to go to Havana in support of a failed Cuba,” Bush said. “We need an American president to go to Havana in solidarity with a free Cuban people, and I am ready to be that president.”
The audience of supporters shouted, "Let's go Jeb."
He has touted a record of cutting taxes, education reform and fiscal responsibility. He has also tried to assert that he has appeal beyond the traditional Republican voter base.
Despite his name recognition, or perhaps because of it, Bush has been unable to open up any significant lead over his Republican rivals. Most polls show no clear frontrunner for the GOP nominating contest. The opposite is of course true in the Democratic presidential primary where Clinton has a commanding lead over all of her Democratic opponents. Bush is also lagging behind other GOP contenders in head-to-head matches with Clinton.
He seemed to take a shot at the four senators vying for the GOP nomination
“As our whole nation has learned since 2008, executive experience is another term for preparation, and there is no substitute for that,” Bush said. “We are not going to clean up the mess in Washington by electing the people who either helped create it or have proven incapable of fixing it.”
Bush has drawn the ire of many conservatives for his support of the controversial Common Core education standards, and for supporting a “pathway to citizenship” for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants. He further called the NSA’s bulk data collection the best part of the Obama administration. And during the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, dozens of conservatives staged a walkout when Bush spoke.
Bush invoked Ronald Reagan on immigration reform and referred to his Hispanic wife.
“In 1971, 8 years before then-candidate Ronald Reagan said that we should stop thinking of our neighbors as foreigners, I was ahead of my time in cross-border outreach,” Bush said.
“Across a plaza, I saw a girl. She spoke only a little English. My Spanish was okay but not that great,” Bush continued. “With some intensive study, we got that barrier out of the way in a hurry. In the short version, it has been a gracious walk through the years with the former Columba Garnica de Gallo.”
During the months leading up to an announcement, Bush has faced scrutiny over his brother’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, a question he seemed to waiver on. He was also zinged for identifying himself as a Hispanic on a 2009 voter registration form. Meanwhile, other conservatives have called him out for his praise of likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
To allay these fears on th right, he made a pitch for shrinking the power of the federal government.
“What the IRS, EPA and entire bureaucracy have done with overregulation, we can undo by act of Congress and order of the president,” Bush said. “Federal regulation has gone far past the consent of the governed.It is time to start making rules for the rule-makers.”
He further warned Clinton would not protect religious freedom, bringing up the Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit over the Obamcare contraception mandate.
“The next president needs to make it clear that great charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor need no federal instruction in doing the right thing,” Bush said. “It comes down to a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother, and I’m going with the Sisters.”