BRET BAIER: Governor Bush, you have insisted that you’re your own man. You say you have a life experience uniquely your own. Not your father’s, not your brother’s.
But there are several opponents on this stage who get big-applause lines in early voting states with this line: quote, “the last thing the country needs is another Bush in the Oval Office.” So do you understand the real concern in this country about dynastic politics?
JEB BUSH: Absolutely, I do, and I’m gonna run hard, run with heart, and run to win. I’m gonna have to earn this. Maybe the barrier — the bar’s even higher for me. That’s fine.
I’ve got a record in Florida. I’m proud of my dad, and I’m certainly proud of my brother. In Florida, they called me Jeb, because I earned it. I cut taxes every year, totaling $19 billion. We were — we had — we balanced every budget. We went from $1 billion of reserves to $9 billion of reserves. We were one of two states that went to AAA bond rating.
They keep — they called me Veto Corleone. Because I vetoed 2,500 separate line-items in the budget.
I am my own man. I governed as a conservative, and I govern effectively. And the net effect was, during my eight years, 1.3 million jobs were created. We left the state better off because I applied conservative principles in a purple state the right way, and people rose up.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we’re turning to a new subject that all of you have been talking about and some of you have been disagreeing about, and that is the issue of immigration. Governor Bush, you released a new plan this week on illegal immigration focusing on enforcement, which some suggest is your effort to show that you’re not soft on that issue. I want to ask you about a statement that you made last year about illegal immigrants. And here’s what you said. “They broke the law, but it’s not a felony, it’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.” Do you stand by that statement and do you stand by your support for earned legal status?
BUSH: I do. I believe that the great majority of people coming here illegally have no other option. They want to provide for their family. But we need to control our border. It’s not — it’s our responsibility to pick and choose who comes in. So I — I’ve written a book about this and yet this week, I did come up with a comprehensive strategy that — that really mirrored what we said in the book, which is that we need to deal with E-Verify, we need to deal with people that come with a legal visa and overstay. We need to be much more strategic on how we deal with border enforcement, border security. We need to eliminate the sanctuary cities in this country. It is ridiculous and tragic that people are dying because of the fact that — that local governments are not following the federal law. There’s much to do. And I think rather than talking about this as a wedge issue, which Barack Obama has done now for six long years, the next president — and I hope to be that president — will fix this once and for all so that we can turn this into a driver for high sustained economic growth. And there should be a path to earned legal status…
BUSH: — for those that are here. Not — not amnesty, earned legal status, which means you pay a fine and do many things over an extended period of time.
KELLY: Governor Bush, for days on end in this campaign, you struggled to answer a question about whether knowing what we know now…
BUSH: …I remember…
KELLY: …we would’ve invaded Iraq…
BUSH: …I remember, Megyn.
KELLY: I remember it too, and ISIS, of course, is now thriving there. You finally said, “No.”
To the families of those who died in that war who say they liberated and deposed a ruthless dictator, how do you look at them now and say that your brother’s war was a mistake?
BUSH: Knowing what we know now, with faulty intelligence, and not having security be the first priority when — when we invaded, it was a mistake. I wouldn’t have gone in. However, for the people that did lose their lives, and the families that suffer because of it — I know this full well because as governor of the state of Florida, I called every one of them; every one of them that I could find to tell them that I was praying for them, that I cared about them, and it was really hard to do. And, every one of them said that their child did not die in vain, or their wife, of their husband did not die in vain.
So, why it was difficult for me to do it was based on that. Here’s the lesson that we should take from this, which relates to this whole subject, Barack Obama became president, and he abandoned Iraq. He left, and when he left Al Qaida was done for. ISIS was created because of the void that we left, and that void now exists as a caliphate the size of Indiana.
To honor the people that died, we need to — we need to — stop the — Iran agreement, for sure, because the Iranian mullahs have their blood on their hands, and we need to take out ISIS with every tool at our disposal.
BAIER: Governor Bush, you are one of the few people on the stage who advocates for Common Core education standards, reading and math. A lot of people on this stage vigorously oppose federal involvement in education. They say it should all be handled locally.
President Obama’s secretary of education, Arnie Duncan, has said that most of the criticism of Common Core is due to a, quote, “fringe group of critics.” Do you think that’s accurate?
BUSH: No, I don’t. And I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum or content. It is clearly a state responsibility.
I’m for higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way, with abundant school choice, ending social promotion. And I know how to do this because as governor of the state of Florida I created the first statewide voucher program in the country, the second statewide voucher program, in the country and the third statewide voucher program in the country.
And we had rising student achievement across the board, because high standards, robust accountability, ending social promotion in third grade, real school choice across the board, challenging the teachers union and beating them is the way to go. And Florida’s low income kids had the greatest gains inside the country. Our graduation rate improved by 50 percent. That’s what I’m for.
BAIER: And do you agree with your old friend? [Rubio on Common Core]
BUSH: He is definitely my friend. And I think the states ought to create these standards. And if states want to opt out of Common Core, fine. Just make sure your standards are high. Because today in America, a third of our kids, after we spend more per student than any country in the world other than a couple rounding errors, to be honest with you, 30 percent are college- and/or career-ready.
If we are going to compete in this world we’re in today, there is no possible way we can do it with lowering expectations and dumbing down everything. Children are going to suffer and families’ hearts are going to be broken that their kids won’t be able to get a job in the 21st Century.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we’re going to turn now to the subject of the economy, jobs and money and the government. And Governor Bush, I’m going to start with you.
You have made a bold promise in your announcement. You have promised four percent economic growth and 19 million new jobs if you are fortunate enough to serve two terms as president.
That many jobs, 19 million, would be triple what your father and your brother accomplished together. And four percent growth, the last president to average that was Lyndon Johnson during the height of the Vietnam War. So question, how on Earth specifically would you pull that off?
BUSH: We’ve done it 27 times since World War II. I think we need to lift our spirits and have high, lofty expectations for this great country of ours.
The new normal of two percent that the left is saying you can’t do anything about is so dangerous for our country. There’s 6 million people living in poverty today, more than when Barack Obama got elected. 6.5 million people are working part-time, most of whom want to work full-time. We’ve created rules and taxes on top of every aspiration of people, and the net result is we’re not growing fast, income is not growing. A four percent growth strategy means you fix a convoluted tax code. You get in and you change every aspect of regulations that are job killers. You get rid of Obamacare and replace it with something that doesn’t suppress wages and kill jobs.
You embrace the energy revolution in our country. This president and Hillary Clinton, who can’t even say she’s for the X.L. pipeline even after she’s left? Give me a break. Of course we’re for it. We should be for these things to create high sustained economic growth. And frankly, fixing our immigration system and turning it into an economic driver is part of this as well. We can do this.
KELLY: Governor Bush, I want to ask you, on the subject of name calling of your fellow candidates, a story appeared today quoting an anonymous GOP donor who said you called Mr. Trump a clown, a buffoon, something else that cannot be repeated on television.
BUSH: None of which is true.
KELLY: Is it true?
BUSH: No. It’s not true. But I have said that Mr. Trump’s language is divisive.
I want to win. I want one of these people here or the ones at 5:00, to be the next president of the United States. We’re not going on win by doing what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do each and every day. Dividing the country. Saying, creating a grievance kind of environment. We’re going to win when we unite people with a hopeful, optimistic message. I have that message because I was a governor of a state that saw people lifted up, because we had high sustained economic growth. Our economy grew at double the rate of the nation. We created 1.3 million jobs. We led the nation seven out of those eight years. We were only one of two states that went to AAA bond rating. I cut taxes, $19 billion. If you do that and apply conservative principles the right way, you create an environment where everybody rises up. That’s how we’re going to win. Campaigning in places to give people hope that their life is better because too many people are suffering today in America.
WALLACE: Governor Bush, closing statement, sir.
BUSH: Here’s what I believe. I believe we’re at the verge of the greatest time to be alive in this world.
But Washington is holding us back. How we tax, how we regulate. We’re not embracing the energy revolution in our midst, a broken immigration system that has been politicized rather than turning it into an economic driver. We’re not protecting and preserving our entitlement system or reforming for the next generation. All these things languish while we have politicians in Washington using these as wedge issues.
Here’s my commitment to you, because I did it as Florida. We can fix these things. We can grow economically and restore America’s leadership in the world, so that everybody has a chance to rise up. I humbly ask for your vote, whenever you’re gonna get to vote, whenever the primary is. Thank you all very much.