WASHINGTON -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who caused controversy this week when he came out against a pathway to citizenship despite previously supporting one, pointed out in his defense that he didn't anticipate others, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), would make the switch in the opposite direction.
The message on citizenship in Bush's book, "Immigration Wars," was widely considered ill-timed when it was released last Tuesday, given the groundswell of support for reform that came after the 2012 election. Despite plenty of on-the-record support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Bush and co-author Clint Bolick wrote that there should be no such thing in comprehensive immigration reform -- putting them to the right of fellow Republicans in the Senate "gang of eight," including Rubio.
Bush spoke to the Washington Post's Michael Gerson about why his book seemed somewhat out of step with the current political climate.
"It is really not surprising," Bush told Gerson. "The book was written last year in a certain environment. The goal was to persuade people against immigration reform to be for it. Since that time, eight of 100 senators have moved, and not much in the House. ... When we were working on this, Marco Rubio wasn’t for a path to citizenship."
Rubio and Bush are longtime allies on the issue of immigration reform, but have in the past differed on the idea of a path to citizenship -- although both have quibbled with the notion that their own views have changed. Some of it is rhetorical: Rubio had previously said he opposed a "special pathway," but says his support for the current "gang of eight" framework is consistent with that view because it would make it difficult to gain citizenship.
Rubio said on Tuesday that he thinks Bush could be convinced by their plan, which includes strict border provisions that must be met before green cards can be doled out. He defended the group's decision to allow eventual citizenship rather than simply legal status, as Bush has proposed.
"I thought about that issue a lot, and [went] back and forth on it before I signed on to my principles and I just concluded that it’s not good for the country in the long term to have millions and millions of people who are forever prohibited from becoming citizens," Rubio told reporters. "That hasn't worked out well for Europe."
Bush, meanwhile, said last year he supported a pathway to citizenship. In "Immigration Wars," though, he explicitly rules it out, saying undocumented immigrants should be punished for their action with "ineligibility" to become citizens. He and Bolick argue undocumented immigrants could become citizens only if they went back to their native country first and used other immigration channels.
On Tuesday -- the day the book was released -- Bush walked back the statement a bit, saying he was open to the idea of a pathway but couldn't think of a way it would work without attracting more unauthorized immigration.
He told Gerson he is more interested in the broader issue of ending incentives for unauthorized immigration, but again stated he is not necessarily opposed to a path to citizenship.
"If there is a way to deal with it that isn’t as onerous for people who have come here illegally, I’m for that," he told Gerson. "We're writing a book, not a law."