Jeb Bush Splits With Republicans Over Syrian Refugees

In an interview for Bloomberg's “With All Due Respect,” the Republican candidate stressed the U.S. shouldn't allow in refugees “if there's any kind of concern.”
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Jeb Bush on Syrian Refugees

Jeb Bush said he wouldn't ban Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., separating himself from most Republican governors and his party's presidential field as he pitched himself as the most experienced candidate running for the nomination.

“The answer to this is not to ban people from coming,” Bush said Tuesday in an interview with Mark Halperin and John Heilemann for Bloomberg Politics' With All Due Respect. “The answer is to lead, to resolve the problem in Syria.”

Attacks in Paris on Friday that killed or injured roughly 500 people have become a political issue in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, as candidates call for the U.S. government to shut the doors to Syrian refugees, saying terrorists might infiltrate the ranks of the displaced. More than 20 Republican governors are seeking to halt the flow of Syrian refugees to their states. 

At the Robert Mills House and Gardens in Columbia, South Carolina, Bush stressed the U.S. shouldn't allow in refugees “if there's any kind of concern.”

“But I don't think we should eliminate our support for refugees,” Bush added. “It's been a noble tradition in our country for many years.”

Jeb Bush: Trump’s Been All Over the Map on Islamic State

Bush had called on Sunday for the U.S. to let in Christian refugees, saying otherwise “they'll be either executed or imprisoned.” On Tuesday, Bush said he wasn't discriminating against other refugees.

“There's no discrimination to simply say that you want to protect religious minorities that are being exterminated,” he said.

Underscoring the extent to which Bush is standing apart from the rest of the presidential field on the refugee issue, one of his Republican rivals, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on Tuesday released a letter in which he told President Barack Obama that the Garden State will not be accepting Syrian refugees. "Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity," Christie wrote.

Another Republican governor running for president, Ohio's John Kasich, reiterated his call for a "pause" in the flow of Syrian refugees at the National Press Club Tuesday, but told reporters that governors "don't have the authority" to turn away refugees. "We can only express our concerns," he said.

Bush, in his interview with Bloomberg, focused on other issues to lay into his rivals. He said he doesn't trust Donald Trump to occupy the Oval Office, and described himself as “more consistent” and “less bellicose” than Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, a pair of first-term U.S. senators running for president.

Asked about Trump's suggestion mosques in the U.S. be put under surveillance or shut down, Bush said had confidence the FBI was “doing their job.” Bush also criticized Trump for being “all over the map on ISIS,” saying the New York real estate mogul had suggested Russia should lead the fight, while now wanting the U.S. to bomb the terrorist group. 

“It's a pretty good example of why he can't be trusted being president of the United States,” Bush said about Trump.

Asked to compare himself to Rubio and Cruz, Bush pointed to their opposition in May to Obama's request for air strikes in Syria. Rubio, who has portrayed himself as one of his party's biggest war hawks, voted against it, while Cruz said he opposed it.

Bush said Rubio has shifted his position on why he opposed the measure, and suggested Cruz had taken a narrow view on the conflict. “There’s a broader issue at stake here, and it is the fact that there’s a group of people that have declared war on Western civilization and on our country,” Bush said. “We need to be resolute as it relates to that. I’ve been consistent about it.”

Rubio explained his vote at the time saying he was unconvinced the proposed military action would work. In September, Rubio said he didn't trust the president's military strategy. Cruz said at the time that that Obama's request for military intervention was a public relations move, and that the U.S. shouldn't become “Al Qaeda's air force.”

Bush said he had the life experience to make tough decisions, pointing to his eight years as governor, his work overseas (mostly as an adviser for Barclays Plc), and time living in Caracas, where he helped open a Texas Commerce Bank branch.

“Some of this just relates to life experience,” the 62-year-old Bush said. “I’ve gone through good time and bad. I’ve had to make difficult decisions across the board and this is a tough job. And it requires a set of guiding principles to act and then to stick with it.”

Bush also clearly answered a direct question about his brother's legacy, notable after he needed nearly a week in May to say that, in hindsight, he wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Asked on Tuesday to name the best and worst foreign policy decisions from then-President George W. Bush, Jeb Bush said "both relate to Iraq."

Jeb Bush credited his brother for the 2007 surge of troops in Iraq, saying it was "an incredibly courageous act against popular will." The decision jeopardized his brother's legacy, but "was the right thing to do and it was a great success." 

The mistake, Bush said, was at "the beginning of the Iraq war, not bringing security to the country." "Focusing on other things was an error that created the need for the surge," Bush said.

More of the interview will air on With All Due Respect on Tuesday at 5 p.m ET on Bloomberg TV and BloombergPolitics.com.

—Kendall Breitman and Margaret Talev contributed to this report.

(Adds quotes from Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie)
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