WASHINGTON -- Two Republican Party stars clashed at a conservative conference Friday during a discussion of immigration reform, illustrating the party's divide on the major issue currently moving through Congress.
Speaking at the Faith and Freedom Conference, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) warned against the legislation, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) -- who is widely rumored to be seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination -- made a case for reform that referenced the fertility of immigrants.
"We are looking at the legalization of over 30 million illegal aliens," Bachmann said. "This is not an anti-immigrant speech. Do not walk away with that thought at all."
She went on to offer another warning about immigration, while clarifying that she was not trying to offend anyone. "The estimate is that the average illegal alien that comes into the United States -- the average age is 34 years old. The average education level is about the 10th grade," she said. "That's not to demean anyone who comes into the United States with a lack of education."
Many undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. and work in low-skilled jobs that don't require an education. Others, such as those brought to the country as children, often go on to attend college like their peers (this group would be able to apply for citizenship under the proposed "gang of eight" bill in the Senate).
Bachmann's speech was her first major statement since late May, when she made a surprise announcement -- by way of a web video while traveling on a congressional delegation to Russia -- that she would not run for reelection.
As a longtime champion of immigration reform within the Republican Party, Bush spoke in support of the issue, but only as part of a laundry list of policies that would help conservatives succeed politically.
"We're going to have fewer workers taking care of a larger share of people that the country has a social contract with," he said. "We cannot do that with the fertility rates that we have in our country."
"Immigrants are more fertile," he said. "And they love families."
When Bush said that immigration was a "conservative idea," one member in the audience shouted out, "No." After he moved onto education reform, Bush won applause.
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