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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush addresses immigration critics

Jeb Bush doubled down on his independent brand of pro-immigration conservatism in a speech Thursday night honoring his late grandfather.
Jeb Bush
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Chicago, Aug. 9 2013.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush doubled down on his independent brand of pro-immigration conservatism in a speech Thursday night honoring his late grandfather, U.S. Senator Prescott Bush. He talked passionately about “finding common ground without violating principle,” highlighting his Mexican-born wife and multiethnic, multilingual grandchildren as an example of American values.

Bush, who recently came under fire from fellow Republicans for calling some illegal immigration “an act of love” that people make to provide for their families and “not a felony,” joked that his comments “generated a little more news than I anticipated” but reiterated that his position is the same as it has been for the last three or four years.

“We need to consider immigration reform not as a problem but as a huge opportunity,” he said. “Perpetuating a system that’s broke won’t fix our problems.”

Bush has said he will make a decision as to whether to enter the 2016 presidential race by the end of this year. He is thought to be testing the waters with his recent comments on immigration reform, which are not widely shared among the broader Republican field, but have found support among elite GOP donors who are urging Bush to run.

Bush has said his decision would rest on whether he could run on a “hopeful, optimistic message” and do so without making a “huge sacrifice” for his family, echoing the "compassionate conservative" message propagated by his older brother, former President George W. Bush.

That optimistic message, notably, was on full display Thursday night as Bush spoke earnestly about rejecting pessimism and offering Americans a conservative solution to restore social mobility through higher economic growth and an improved education system.

Seeming to reject the partisanship that has divided Congress, Bush urged his fellow Republicans to remember that “winning matters,” but only “when you do it in a hopeful, optimistic way.”

“Great leaders have always emerged in American history to put us on that path,” he added.  

Recent polling shows the Florida Republican could be a formidable candidate. A CBS News/New York Times survey conducted in February found 41% of Republicans would like to see Bush run, edging out Sen. Rand Paul (39%), Sen. Marco Rubio (32%), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (31%) and Sen. Ted Cruz (24%).