Politics & Policy

Jeb Bush: Marco Rubio Benefited From Birthright Citizenship

(Scott Olson/Getty)

Jeb Bush’s defense of the term “anchor babies” marks a departure from the messaging instructions that a GOP Hispanic outreach group he advised gave to Republican lawmakers in 2013.

Bush used the term while rejecting Donald Trump’s call for an end to birthright citizenship. “If there’s abuse, if people are bringing — pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement,” he told conservative talk-show host Bill Bennett on Wednesday. “That’s [the] legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.”

Bush reminded voters that some popular Republicans have benefited from birthright citizenship. “If people are here legally, they have a visa and they have a child who’s born here, I think that they ought to be American citizens,” he said today in New Hampshire. “People like Marco Rubio, by the way, that’s how he came. So to suggest that we make it impossible for a talented person like that not to be a candidate for president, or Ted Cruz? I think we’re getting a little overboard here.”

Hillary Clinton jabbed Bush over his use of the term — “they’re called babies,” she tweeted — and reporters asked him if it was too “bombastic” during a press gaggle at his New Hampshire appearance. “Do you have a better term?” he responded. “You give me a better term and I’ll use it.”

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The Hispanic Leadership Network, a GOP Hispanic outreach group with extensive ties to Bush, didn’t provide an alternative in 2013 when it instructed Republican officials to stop using the phrase. “Don’t use the term ‘anchor baby,’” the group said in a memo to congressional allies. The memo was sent to Republican lawmakers two weeks after Bush and other prominent Republicans held an HLN conference in Florida “to begin mapping out GOP outreach to Hispanics for the 2014 cycle,” according to Politico.

#related#Bush co-founded HLN in 2011 in order to attract Hispanic voters to the GOP. “We have a situation right now where Republicans send out signals that Hispanics aren’t wanted in our party, not by policy so much as by tone,” he said at the time.

The rhetorical shift testifies to the apparent difficulty of appealing to immigration hawks who have rallied to Donald Trump without turning off Hispanic voters — a tension that Bush appeared to feel during Thursday’s exchange.

“Here’s the deal, what I said was, it’s commonly referred to [as] that. That’s what I said. I didn’t use it as my own language,” Bush told reporters. “You want to get to the policy for a second? I think that people born in this country ought to be American citizens.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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