NBC's Lauer to Jeb Bush: Can GOP 'Damage' With Hispanics 'Be Repaired by 2016?'

In an interview on Monday's Today with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his co-author Clint Bolick about their new book, Immigration Wars, co-host Matt Lauer seized Bush's critical words for fellow Republicans: "...this is an alarm to your party. You called Republicans 'tone deaf and hostile to immigrants and Hispanics,' you fault the party for being unwilling to expand the base, and you warn that Republicans face, your word, 'extinction' if they continue to alienate Hispanics. Is this damage that was caused and has been inflicted, whether self or not, something that can be repaired in time for 2016?"

Lauer began the segment by wondering: "Your brother [George W. Bush] won 44% of the Hispanic vote. By contrast, Governor Romney won 27%. 71% went to President Obama. Was it Governor Romney's fault or the party's fault?" Bush replied: "I think both. Governor Romney put himself in a box, I think, in the primary, by trying to out-conservative some very good conservative candidates, and never really recovered from it."

While being eager to tout Bush's criticism of the GOP on immigration, Lauer soon hit him from the left on the issue: "When it comes to a path to citizenship, alright? You fall short of that....you want legal residency and you want people to admit they've committed a crime by coming here illegally to pay back taxes, pay some fines. But you do not want to offer them a path to citizenship. If they do all the things you've asked them, why not grant them that right to be an American?"

Bush explained: "If we want to create an immigration policy that's going to work, we can't continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration. And so, I think it's important that there is a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place, I think, to be in that sense."

Lauer pressed him further: "The party wants to expand its base. If I'm an illegal immigrant and I look out there at the proposals coming forward and I say, 'Wait, okay, the President's offering a path to citizenship, I think, in eight years. The team – a bipartisan team in the Senate looking for a slightly longer time frame than that. Now I look at Jeb Bush here and he's saying, no, I don't get a pathway to citizenship. I get legal residency.' Why did I jump on board with your proposal?"

Earlier on the show, Lauer talked to Bush about the budget sequester and was puzzled why there wasn't more public "outrage" over the modest reduction in future government spending.


Here is a full transcript of Lauer's March 4 exchange with Bush and Bolick:

8:36AM ET

MATT LAUER: Former Republican Governor Jeb Bush has not been afraid to criticize his own party's treatment of immigrants and Hispanics. In his brand new book, Immigration Wars, he offers his ideas for reform and how the GOP can appeal to the country's fastest growing minority group. He is with us once again this morning, along with the co-author of the book, Clint Bolick. Clint, good morning to you.  

CLINT BOLICK: Great to see you.

LAUER: Governor, nice to have you back.

Let's talk about Mitt Romney, he gave his first interview post-election the other day. He talked about some of the reasons he thinks he may have lost. And I know minorities, Hispanics, those groups played a large role in the election. Let's take a look at what he had to say.

MITT ROMNEY: The weakness that our campaign had, that I had, is we weren't effective in taking my message primarily to the minority voters, to Hispanic Americans, African Americans, other minorities.

LAUER: Let's go back to 2004. Your brother won 44% of the Hispanic vote. By contrast, Governor Romney won 27%. 71% went to President Obama. Was it Governor Romney's fault or the party's fault?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mightier Than the Sword; Jeb Bush Offers A Plan in "Immigration Wars"

JEB BUSH: I think both. Governor Romney put himself in a box, I think, in the primary, by trying to out-conservative some very good conservative candidates, and never really recovered from it. Immigration is a gateway issue. It's not the dominant issue for Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, but it's a gateway. If you send a tone that you don't want people to be part of your team, they don't join.

LAUER: And in the book, here's what you say, this is an alarm to your party. You called Republicans "tone deaf and hostile to immigrants and Hispanics," you fault the party for being unwilling to expand the base, and you warn that Republicans face, your word, "extinction" if they continue to alienate Hispanics. Is this damage that was caused and has been inflicted, whether self or not, something that can be repaired in time for 2016?

BOLICK: Absolutely. And it's not just a Hispanic problem. Romney got even fewer Asian votes, and that is absolutely remarkable. Basically, Republicans have lots in common with immigrants, a desire for entrepreneurship, a desire for educational opportunities, pursuit of the American dream. It has to begin by talking to immigrants and making common cause.

LAUER: When you look at comprehensive immigration reform and you look at a guy like Senator John McCain, who ran into trouble out in Arizona not long ago at a town hall style meeting, where constituents were furious with him for his stance on this issue. How do Republicans then, in the coming years, balance the need to expand the base, while at the same time staying true to their conservative tenants?

BUSH: I think whether it's immigration, or tax reform, or spending, or all these big issues that we're facing, we can't be reactionary. We have to have a positive, proactive set of policies. And we need to persuade. We need to listen to people and we need to persuade.

LAUER: When it comes to a path to citizenship, alright? You fall short of that.

BUSH: Right.

LAUER: That's not – you want legal residency and you want people to admit they've committed a crime by coming here illegally to pay back taxes, pay some fines. But you do not want to offer them a path to citizenship. If they do all the things you've asked them, why not grant them that right to be an American?

BUSH: Because this, our proposal, is a proposal that looks forward. And if we want to create an immigration policy that's going to work, we can't continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration. And so, I think it's important that there is a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place, I think, to be in that sense. Not to take away people's rights-
 
LAUER: But again, we want to – the party wants to expand its base. If I'm an illegal immigrant and I look out there at the proposals coming forward and I say, "Wait, okay, the President's offering a path to citizenship, I think, in eight years. The team – a bipartisan team in the Senate looking for a slightly longer time frame than that. Now I look at Jeb Bush here and he's saying, no, I don't get a pathway to citizenship. I get legal residency." Why did I jump on board with your proposal?

BUSH: Well, first of all, half the people in '86 that could have gotten amnesty didn't apply. Many people don't want to be citizens to our country. They want to come here, they want to work hard, they want to provide for their families, some of them want to come home, not necessarily all of them want to stay as citizens. So that's point number one. Point number two is I think there has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally. It is just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law. If we're not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, then we're going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.

LAUER: Just about a month or so ago, Clint, and I talk about this group of eight senators who've come up with this bipartisan approach here. It seemed as if this was an area where there was going to be some compromise and something would get done. And now we bring in the sequester and so many other things. Do you truly feel this can get accomplished in the coming years?

BOLICK: Absolutely. It has to be accomplished. We need an immigration policy that works. Our immigration laws are over 60 years old right now. We desperately need both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants. Mainly, if for no other reason, to support the number of people who are retiring. We are not growing our own anymore. And so we desperately need an immigration policy that works.

LAUER: Clint, Governor, it's nice to have you here.

BUSH: Thanks.

LAUER: And again, the book is called Immigration Wars.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC