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Jeb Bush: Empty Baltimore stadium 'sends the wrong signal'

Jeb Bush criticized a decision to play a Baltimore Orioles game with no fans in response to rioting over the death of Freddie Gray.

WASHINGTON -- Former Florida governor Jeb Bush criticized a decision to stage an empty Baltimore Orioles game in response to rioting, telling the audience at the National Review Ideas Summit that it was counterproductive.

“I’ll just say it sends the wrong signal not to have a baseball game with people in it,” Bush told moderator and National Review editor Rich Lowry. “I think we need to recognize that life doesn’t just get paralyzed when these tragedies occur. You can’t allow that to happen because it might create more of them.”

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Bush blamed unrest in Baltimore on poverty, failing schools, and social breakdown on Thursday. He made no mention of criminal justice reform, a topic Republican rivals Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton have brought up in their own comments on the Baltimore protests sparked by Freddie Gray’s death in police custody due to a spinal injury. 

“First of all, I think it’s important to reflect on the fact a young man died and that’s a tragedy for his family, and this is not just a statistic -- that’s a person who died,” he said. “Second, there are a lot of people who lost their livelihoods because of this and I think we need to be respectful of private property.”

Bush praised President Obama’s complaints that poor communities suffered from a lack of two-parent homes, but disagreed with his demand for greater direct government investment in the inner city.

“I think we need to be engaged in this debate as conservatives and say there’s a bottom up approach and it starts with building capacity so people can achieve earned success,” he said.

Asked to elaborate on his concerns about family formation, Bush twice praised author Charles Murray, best known for his highly controversial 1994 book which touches on racial differences in I.Q., for his later research into the rise of single motherhood. 

“My views on this were shaped a lot by Charles Murray’s book,” Bush said. 

Turning to other topics, Bush criticized Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s recent comments expressing skepticism about whether legal immigration dragged down wages and took jobs from existing American workers. 

“It’s the wrong approach,” Bush said, arguing that legal immigration was not a “zero sum gain” and benefitted Americans through increased growth and an infusion of young, talented workers. He called for changes to the legal immigration system to prioritize immigration to address economic needs rather than family-based immigration, citing Canada’s system as a model. 

Asked about his family’s White House history, Bush said he would have to distinguish himself from his presidential father and brother, but acknowledged voter skepticism over the issue.

“I have enough self-awareness to know it’s kind of strange,” he said.  

Bush declined to take a decisive stand on an effort by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, another 2016 aspirant, to amend a bill granting greater congressional oversight to any nuclear agreement with Iran in a way that would require the deal to include an acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

While Bush said he believed Obama should have included the Israel issue in nuclear talks with Iran, he said he was concerned that Rubio’s amendment might derail the legislation entirely, resulting in no brakes on Obama’s ability to enforce an agreement. 

“A better way to look at this is we shouldn’t be negotiating at all,” Bush said, criticizing Obama for coming to the table with Iran without securing greater concessions first.