Jeb Bush: 'I'm A Conservative'
(CNN) -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush predicted Monday night Congress would pass a series of immigration bills next year and touted his conservative credentials as he talked about his thought process on a potential 2016 presidential bid.
In a wide-ranging, onstage interview at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Bush said he didn't necessarily agree with his mother, who joked there have been "enough Bushes" in the White House.
The Spanish-speaking former governor also took a slight dig at another potential 2016 contender, Sen. Ted Cruz, for his Spanish language skills.
At one point in the discussion, moderated by Fordham law professor Thane Rosenbaum, Bush was asked whether the tea party could coexist with moderates like himself and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Feigning shock that he was called a moderate, Bush argued that his style may be different but he's still a conservative at heart.
"I'm a conservative--a practicing one. I'm not a talk-about it one," he said, listing off the ways in which he cut taxes and downsized government during his two-terms as Florida governor. "I would put my record up against anybody that is in Congress right now."
Bush, however, says it's his tone that separates him from some others in his party.
"It's OK to have a tone that is not nasty or mean spirited--what good does that do? The harshness of our message is the bigger issue, I think, than the differences, the nuances, the different strains of conservative thought," he said.
With Bush considered a potential favorite in a GOP presidential primary, the former governor said he hasn't made up his mind yet, nor has he sought advice from his famous family.
"I'm trying to avoid the family conversation to be honest with you. I want to defer that to when it matters," he said. "There's a time to make a decision. You shouldn't make it too early, you shouldn't make it too late. There's a time. There's a window. And this is not the time for me. This is the time to show a little self-restraint."
His mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, weighed in on the question earlier this year, saying she thinks her son is "by far the best qualified man" but she isn't the biggest fan of a 2016 run.
"There are a lot of great families, and it's not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified and we've had enough Bushes," she said on NBC.
Bush said he listens to his mom, but doesn't always agree with her-and vice versa.
"Even when I was a teenager, I'd listen to her respectfully and never always followed what she said, even though she was probably right. And now at the age of 60, I really feel I don't have to listen to every word she says," he said, drawing laughs. "At some point you got to make these decisions like a grown up."
The former governor didn't talk too much about other potential candidates, though he did take a subtle swipe at Cruz, the junior Senator from Texas. When jokingly reminded that Cruz speaks some Spanish, Bush cracked: "Not much."
Cruz last year declined a challenge from his opponent to hold a debate in Spanish during his Senate bid, and told the media he was not as fluent in Spanish as his father, who was born in Cuba.
"I'm not sure Ted speaks much Spanish," said Bush, who's fluent in the language. "His dad speaks fluent Spanish. He's a Cuban immigrant. He has a wonderful story to tell, a very powerful one."
Can Republicans take back the White House?
Bush said there will be a natural counter-reaction to the party in power by 2016, saying the same thing happened to his brother in the White House, but added the GOP needs more than that to reclaim the Oval Office.
"For the Republicans to win, I think we need to focus on a message that is more hopeful and optimistic and more positive and less reactionary to what we have now. And it should be more inclusive," he said.
"You don't do that by narrowing your party and by purifying your party...You win by expanding your party and you do that by creating a totally different tone to your message that draws people in," he added.
That includes finding a solution for the country's broken immigration system. As the former governor of a state with large swaths of immigrants and the husband of a woman born in Mexico, Bush has made immigration a major policy focus in his career and co-authored a book this year called "Immigration Wars."
"Immediately after the (2012) election, there was a lot of therapy, self-therapy--we must change, we must embrace diversity--that's kind of gone away now," he said, referring to the GOP's major shortcomings among the Latino vote in last year's elections.
While the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill-in part spearheaded by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida-the bill has gone nowhere in the GOP controlled House, and House Speaker John Boehner reiterated this month that the House won't be holding a vote on it this year.
A number of House conservatives take issue with the Senate bill's eventual pathway to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants.
Bush said he supports the Senate's version, a comprehensive package, but expects it will be stripped down and passed through multiple bills in the House next spring, which he said "wouldn't be a bad thing."
"If those elements are done separately and passed, you could go to conference and deal with it," he said.
"I've talked to Speaker Boehner, and he's totally committed to this but he needs to find a way to get enough of the support," he said.
Belonging to one of the most famous political families in American history, Bush answered questions about his father, brother and son, George P. Bush, who's now running for a statewide office in Texas.
"It's hard to be a son of a candidate. It's hard to be a brother of a candidate. I think it may be the hardest thing to be the dad of the candidate. Now I appreciate my poor dad's anxiety of having two sons run at the same time," he said, referring to his own run for governor in Florida and his brother's run for governor in Texas.
His father, former President George H.W. Bush is in "great spirits" and in "a good place," Bush said. The elder Bush, 89, spent weeks in intensive care nearly a year ago.
"He's not as mobile as he'd like to be," Bush said. "I was hoping that maybe on the 90th (birthday) he would jump out of a plane...it's a little unlikely."
The former president famously celebrated his 85th birthday by going skydiving.
As for his brother, George W. Bush, Bush said he believes "history will be kind" to the former President but joked that he has been "mis-underappreciated."
By Ashley Killough
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