Top Republican says he's nudged Jeb Bush to run for president in 2016

The Associated Press
May 12, 2014 03:38 PM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner, Monday, May 12, 2014, in New York. Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., courted some of Wall Street’s most powerful political donors Monday night, competing for attention from tuxedoed hedge fund executives gathered in midtown Manhattan as the early jockeying in the 2016 presidential contest quietly continues. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

SAN ANTONIO - The top Republican in Congress has delivered the strongest hints about his preference for the White House. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner says that he's "nudged" former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to seek the party's nomination for president in 2016.

Bush is the former Florida governor, brother to President George W. Bush and son of President George H.W. Bush. If he decides to run, a possible showdown looms with another familiar name — Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state and now a favourite hopeful of Democrats.

Various potential Republican candidates are still jockeying for position with a long two years remaining before 2016, and Boehner cautioned that the talk was a bit premature, but didn't shy from praising Bush.

"Jeb Bush is my friend. I think he'd make a great president. I've nudged him for some time," Boehner told the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas as well as Rep. Paul Ryan, the party's 2012 vice-presidential candidate, have been mentioned as possible presidential candidates along with a number of Republican governors. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an early favourite, faces multiple investigations in a political retribution probe.

Bush, who speaks Spanish and is married to a Mexican-born wife, has prompted questions about his viability as a potential presidential contender by speaking with compassion for immigrants in the U.S. illegally. He sparked a conservative furor earlier this month when he described illegal immigration in an interview as an "act of love" by people trying to provide for their families. He said immigrants who enter the country illegally should pay a penalty, but he added that he viewed such a violation as "a different kind of crime."

Hispanics have become a crucial voting bloc from Florida to Colorado to Nevada and other battleground states that decide the state-by-state race for the White House. Bush enjoys the support of some of the Republican Party's most powerful insiders and financiers, who are hoping the party can woo Hispanic voters and rebound from candidate Mitt Romney's damaging rhetoric in 2012, when he spoke of "self-deportation" as a solution to America's immigration issue.

But his views on immigration would likely put him at odds with conservative activists who influence the primary process that will decide the Republican presidential nominee.

Bush called for more welcoming immigration policies Monday night at an award ceremony in New York hosted by the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think-tank led by high-profile Republican donor Paul Singer. He also offered his own poverty prescription: "A loving family taking care of their children in a traditional marriage will create the chance to break out of poverty far better, far better than any of the government programs that we can create."

Bush and Ryan were largely cheered by the audience of roughly 750 who included some of the party's most powerful political benefactors. The donors represent the party's pragmatic wing, a group that includes many Wall Street executives frustrated by Washington gridlock driven, in part, by the party's more ideological members.

As a scion of one of America's most famous political dynasties, Bush could both benefit from and struggle under its weight. His grandfather was a senator from Connecticut, while his father, George H.W. Bush, was elected to one term in 1988; his brother, George W. Bush, served two presidential terms beginning in 2001. The family's vast fundraising network and political connections, in addition to Jeb Bush's own donors and advisers, could be formidable. And Jeb Bush remains a favourite on Wall Street, as senior adviser at the financial firm Barclays.

But his older brother's presidency, fraught with two long wars and the U.S. economy's near collapse, still looms. Even former first lady Barbara Bush has spoken of Bush fatigue, saying, "If we can't find more than two or three families to run for high office, that's silly."

Bush briefly considered a presidential campaign in 2012 but declined to run. He has said he'll decide by the end of the year whether to run. He has travelled to some battleground states and in March flew to Las Vegas to meet party super donor Sheldon Adelson and address senior members of the Republican Jewish Coalition at Adelson's casino company's airport hangar.

In this year's midterm congressional elections, Republicans are expected to keep control of the House and have a legitimate shot at seizing the majority in the Senate.

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