Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son of 41st President George H. W. Bush and brother of 43rd President George W. Bush, discussed economic and immigration reform at the Cobo Center in Detroit Wednesday afternoon in what many pundits see as a trial speech before a potential presidential campaign.
The Detroit Economic Club hosted the ticketed event with about 600 club members, guests and a mix of university and high school students in attendance.
Bush, who in December announced he is considering a presidential run in 2016, advocated primarily for a new economic plan rooted in conservative principles.
Though he did not provide many details for specific policies, he said his agenda would focus on an immigration policy that would drive the economy. He also advocated for “economic freedom,” and through that, a reduction in the “opportunity gap,” a term which refers to the ways in which race, socio-economic status and other factors influence one’s ability to attain educational or economic achievement, among other markers.
Bush’s remarks aligned closely with the plan of his Right to Rise political action committee, which was launched earlier this year and is dedicated toward reforming immigration policies and addressing the national income gap.
“We believe that every American in every community has a right to pursue happiness,” Bush said Wednesday. “They have a right to rise.”
Bush told the crowd that since the 2008 economic recession, the country has seen some economic relief, but still has a long way to go.
“The recovery has been everywhere but in the family paychecks,” he said. “The American Dream has become a mirage for far too many.”
Speaking specifically to the younger demographic, Bush said Americans need to embrace the period they live in and view their difficulties as economic opportunities.
“We need young, dynamic people that can make immediate contribution to our economy,” Bush said. “We shouldn’t be fearful of this. We should say, ‘What an incredible opportunity.’”
He said to the solution to increasing opportunity is growing the economy, citing problems with the American education system as connected the state of the country’s economy.
“It’s an economic issue, but it’s also a huge moral issue,” Bush said on education. “Our country doesn’t do this well. These huge (income) gaps that exist are now increasing because of education dropouts. This is not the environment that has led the world.”
Bush said he aims for the U.S. economy not to accept anything less than an annual 4-percent growth rate, which he added could contribute to narrowing the opportunity gap.
“Trust me, if we grew at 4 percent, our growth, income rising from the middle, people have a chance to leave poverty, we would help other countries that will prepare to follow suit,” he said.
Bush also said immigration reform should be viewed as an economic issue, not a political issue.
Immigration has been moved to the forefront of the national political agenda, recently following President Barack Obama’s controversial plan to expand eligibility for immigration deferral. Republicans have unsuccessfully voted twice to defund the plan in recent weeks.
Bush added that Americans and immigrants should cherish their heritage and identity.
“In that, we would reestablish this unique American experience, which is you come, you work hard, you embrace these values and you’re as American as anybody that came on the Mayflower,” he said.
Addressing his as-of-yet uncertain 2016 campaign, Bush said if he decides to run, he does not want to participate in the negative rhetoric associated with campaigns.
“If I go beyond the consideration, I hope I have the discipline to not turn back and get into the food fights,” Bush said.
State and national Democrats responded strongly to Bush’s speech Wednesday citing what has become a familiar criticism for Republicans in Detroit — criticism of their stances on the 2008 auto bailout. That point was also raised during the 2012 election for then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who penned an editorial in 2008 titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”.
Obama delivered a speech in Metro Detroit last month touting his administration’s efforts to strengthen the auto industry.
“Jeb Bush has an interesting sense of humor going to Detroit to talk about urban revitalization, after opposing the auto rescue that is helping Detroit and Michigan rebound from the recession,” said U.S. House Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D–Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, in a statement. “But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is the same guy who supports massive tax breaks benefitting the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations at the expense of working Americans. And it’s the same guy who has spent much of the past decade enriching himself at big banks and concocting problematic business deals.”
Bush is not the first potential presidential candidate to stop in Metro Detroit in recent months. In November, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton campaigned for Democratic candidates in Rochester Hills, Mich. In August, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) campaigned for then Rep. Gary Peters during his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate.