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Jeb Bush Talks Paris Attacks, National Security, Immigration

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The audio:

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The transcript:

HH: On a horrific evening in Paris, with more than 60 people dead, ongoing terrorist attacks across the city of lights, I am joined by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Governor Bush, obviously our hearts go out to people in Paris tonight. But I can’t say I am surprised given Mumbai, given the Charlie Hebdo attacks, given yesterday in Beirut or the Russian plane last week. Are you surprised?

JB: No, I’m not surprised. This is a war being created by Islamic terrorists. It’s not a law enforcement operation. And the mindset that, in our country, at least, needs to change to recognize it for what it is. This is an organized effort to destroy Western Civilization. And we need to lead in this regard. We need to re-garner the alliances, fortify those alliances, reconnect with our counterintelligence and intelligence capabilities with our European allies, and engage in the Middle East to take out ISIS, which is the wellspring, and more likely to be the wellspring of this type of activity. If it’s not them, there are other terrorist groups. This is the war of our time, and we have to be serious in engaging and creating a strategy to confront it and take it out.

HH: Tomorrow night, the Democrats debate, and John Dickerson may or may not ask, but I would, if I were in his position. Is this because we scampered from Iraq in 2011 without a status of forces agreement? Do you believe it is, Governor Bush, that incidents like the one underway in Paris are an outgrowth of our retreat from the world?

JB: Well, I think first and foremost, you have to recognize that the tragedy is because Islamic terrorists are on the run, and we should focus, it’s not anybody else’s fault other than theirs, but yeah, when we pulled back, we allowed the energy to exist to create ISIS. And it’s now a caliphate the size of Indiana. And the status of forces, the agreement could have been signed to keep up to 10,000 troops there, and I think that that would have had a dramatic impact on creating a, building from a fragile stable situation to one that would be more stable. And in Syria, the red line is the beginning of the end as well of the chaos that ensued. You have a situation in these countries where without the United States leadership, our friends and allies are acting in their own interests, and it is disparate. It is totally not coordinated, and it’s creating real problems. Now, we have to lead. Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for the president of the United States to actually admit that we need a strategy.

HH: Now by leading, do you mean more than 50 Special Forces in Syria? Are you willing to join in the robust calls for troops that Lindsey Graham and others have said now are necessary?

JB: I would ask the commanders, the leaders of our military to say what does it take to destroy the Islamic State. Start with that premise first, and then develop a strategy, communicate what that strategy is, make sure that there is an end games so it’s not just to create a perpetual gridlock, have a strategy to get in and to get out, and leave a stable Syria and a stable Iraq behind. And so I wouldn’t put conditions on how many troops that’s necessary to do that. I think you have to have a strategy, and then you can determine the number of people. We can’t do it alone. That’s for sure. We can’t, we’re not the world’s policemen, but our involvement requires leadership to get the support of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, the Kuwaitis, the Egyptians, the Turks. You know, all of these countries have a significant security interest in this conversation, and Europe.

HH: Now Governor Bush…

JB: We can do this. We’ve done it in the past. We can certainly be a lot more successful if we applied American leadership to the challenge.

HH: My colleague, Guy Benson, tweeted out earlier tonight that think about the selection and the vicinity of the targets – a concert hall, a restaurant, a soccer match, and now, reportedly, a shopping mall, sending the message that no one is safe anywhere. And that is, in fact, going to be the message out of Paris. Do you think we face the same degree of vulnerability in the United States as they do in Europe?

JB: Maybe not the same intense degree, but we do face this challenge. And each and every that ISIS exists, they sent out hundreds of thousands of messages, text messages, email messages to vulnerable people that are disaffected and could be easily radicalized. And that could happen in the United States as well. I think our society is different than that of the European countries, but we still have that vulnerability for sure. And that’s why, by the way, the conversation that, on the periphery of the presidential debate, needs to be upgraded as well about what the role of the NSA is, what is our counterintelligence capabilities, how do we identify attacks before they happen, what’s the balance between our own civil liberties and keeping us safe. And we need to have another conversation about that, because I think we have diminished our capabilities at the wrong time.

HH: There are a number of conversations that have only been on the periphery of the debates, Governor, and I’ll be back on the panel in Las Vegas. And I’m going to try and drag this back to national security. But briefly, a national security debate broke out within the debate. It was between Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. You didn’t, you were not invited to participate in that segment of it. Who would you have been with there, Marco or Rand Paul?

JB: Look, I think closer to the position of a more robust American presence in the world. We don’t have to, but we don’t have to be the world’s policemen, either. I think we need to lead where every chance we have, that we create coalitions. The best example of American leadership is Operation Desert Storm, in my mind, where we garnered the entire international community on our side. We created a clear and pretty compelling strategy, and when we acted on it, we didn’t change the mission. We were successful, and we left. And we did this in a way that represented our values, and men and women in uniform were not put in a vulnerable position. It was awesome force. It was not tepid force. And it worked. That kind of leadership is what we need now in America.

HH: Now can we even afford it, though?

JB: Yeah.

HH: I have as a list of questions, the triad is estimated to be updated at a cost of $260 billion dollars over 10 years. I mean, the Ohio class submarine alone is $160 billion. The B-3 is $20 billion. Do we have the money for this stuff?

JB: We should prioritize our spending towards the military. I don’t believe we’re going to, based on my analysis of this, we can afford it. We can afford the B-3. We can afford the triad that’s very important for our national security. We can enhance our special operations capabilities and our counterintelligence and intelligence capabilities, and we must. But it’s going to require, maybe, a 21st Century approach to procurement. We can’t afford an F-35 program like we’ve had. We need the F-35 fighter, but we, the next generation of war fighting equipment, whether it’s planes or submarines, they have to be delivered at a much lower cost. And the reforms that have been proposed by Senator McCain and Mac Thornberry, I think, is the proper path to go. Now we need a president who will roll up their sleeves to make sure that the executive branch fulfills the designs of the Congress in that reform.

HH: But is it possible to do that even as we’re fighting ISIS, because what you just described, even if we lead a Desert Storm-like coalition, is a very expensive overseas operation contingency fund in addition to a sequester-decimated Pentagon. Do you have in your mind a blueprint of how much and where the money’s going to come from?

JB: Well, Hugh, in the case of Operation Desert Storm, as you know, it ended up not costing us, the United States, a dime. So I’m not suggesting that we, you know, that we organize our war fighting capabilities that every time people, other people pay for it. But if you do this in partnership and coalition with other countries, you also share the cost. So…

HH: I agree. I agree. I’ve been reading Ted Koppel’s new book, Lights Out. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it, yet, but it’s awfully scary, and it brings to mind Governor Christie’s comment about cyberwar.

JB: Yes.

HH: And Koppel estimates that we are vulnerable on the electric grid to the tune of, you know, more hundreds of billions of dollars necessary. What about on that side? Do we have cyber capability anywhere near what we need?

JB: No, we don’t. We need, we have the capability. We don’t have the will. We don’t have the strategy. The strategy requires much more cooperation between the federal government and private industry. And where we share in the ever-changing capabilities both of offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, we need to make sure that we protect, you know, companies’ privacy and making sure they’re not getting sued to allow them to cooperate with the federal government. The federal government, I think, should outsource, the civilian side of the federal government ought to defer to the intelligence and military side, which has far advanced capabilities as it relates to cyber security. And we need to be much more unified in this effort. It is a grave threat. And it’s quite troubling to me that 20-plus million records are in the hands of the Chinese. And I don’t have a security clearance, so my file’s not there, but the simple fact is that we need to make sure both defensively and offensively that we’re the leader, and that there should be some deterrent effect because people know that we have that capability.

HH: Now Governor Bush, I want to turn, and it’s very relevant given the events in Paris tonight, which are going to turn out to be almost certainly the work of Islamist fanatics, many of whom are not from within France or recently unassimilated in France.

JB: Right.

HH: Peggy Noonan, in her most recent column, wrote the great enduring issue that divides the wise men, elders and big donors of the GOP, and who are the natural protectors and supporters of the party’s professional politicians, and the base, which is turning to the outsiders, is illegal immigration. The base hates it. The elders and donors vary in their support. Some accept it for practical reasons. Some are enthusiastic. Some are true open border ideologues. But they all support it. That taints their warnings to stick with politicians who know how things work. The party on this huge issue is split between the top, the affluent and the influential, and the bottom, the indignant, the worried and the working-class. And it’s dogged your campaign. That’s the end of quote. It’s dogged your campaign, Governor. What is the message that you want to give people about what we do on immigration in a dangerous world where people are not only worried about their jobs, they’re worried about their security as they watch in Paris tonight?

JB: Absolutely. And so we need to modernize our immigration system to bring it into the 21st Century, which means that we need to pick who comes in. To simplify this, we need to pick who comes in. We have family preference on the legal side that drives 90% of legal immigration. And on the illegal side, we have no commitment by the federal government to secure our border or to deal with the extended visa stayers that make up 40% of all illegal immigrants. This is, these are problems that could be solved if we had the will to do it. And we should, because we’re never going to get to the point where immigration is going to be a, have a positive economic effect until we fix the broken parts of our illegal immigration situation and the part of our legal immigration system that isn’t generating economic activity. There are, people are angry for good reason. I just argue let’s fix it rather than just get into this vicious cycle where it becomes a wedge political issue each and every year.

HH: Now Governor, I was thinking about preparing for the interview today, and I was going back over past campaigns. And your campaign reminds me, in one crucial respect, of the Romney campaign, but not the last Romney campaign, George Romney’s campaign. He was crippled by one statement, his brainwashed statement. And you’ve got that infamous act of love phrase. Have you figured out how to deal with that, yet, because I was in Arizona last night, not Jeb Bush territory, and everybody brings that up. And they don’t know what you meant, and they’re afraid you’re soft on the issue.

JB: I’m not soft. I’ve written a book. Four years ago, I published a book with Clint Bolick, a solid conservative friend, and we outlined a conservative alternative. And the first and foremost thing that we proposed was controlling the border.

HH: And how do you go about that? Is it a wall? Is it, because that has become…

JB: It’s a wall where appropriate. It’s using GPS technology. It’s forward-leaning the Border Patrol where there’s reluctance to do that so that they’re on the border. It’s cooperating, creating cooperative arrangements with local and state law enforcement where in effect, they’re deputized. They can be further eyes and ears so that we create a deterrent effect. This is not the most complicated thing in the world to do, but it has to be a comprehensive strategy. We need to have much more money spent on the visa overstayers, which comprise 40% of illegal immigrants. Other countries have figured this out. They have exit and entry biometrics that help them identify where people are, where they’re staying. We just need to do this. We need an E-verify system that is, has gotten improved, but needs to get even more so, so that employers know that they’re hiring legal residents of our country. This is, the solution to this is a comprehensive strategy, not feeding people’s anger. That politically may be effective in the short run, but it’s not going to solve the problem.

HH: Do we need an absolute ban…

JB: There are places where you can’t build a wall. You cannot build a ball. It’s just, if you built a wall, you’d have United States citizens on the south side of the wall, and I don’t think anybody wants that.

HH: I didn’t follow that part. You broke up a little bit there, Governor, so I’ll ask you to repeat that. What did you say about the wall?

JB: Well, I just said there are places on the border that are so rugged and so difficult that you can’t build a wall.

HH: Okay.

JB: You could have circumstances where people are on the south side of the wall that are American citizens.

HH: Okay, now I got you. Now is there a case for an absolute ban on people coming to this country who have been in the ISIS zone? I know some American have gone, should we let them back, should we let anyone, and this goes to Syrian refugees for whom my heart breaks, many of whom are Christians. But after an attack in Paris like this, don’t we have to err on the side of exclusion as opposed to inclusion?

JB: Well, we have, we’re prepared to take a tiny fraction of the people that are coming, and they should be thoroughly screened, for sure. But I think we need to be much more aggressive in moving to a legal immigration system that, where we pick who comes. And it should be based primarily on the economic interests of our country that creates economic activity for all of us. That should be the highest priority of the legal system. And right now, it’s not. We have quotas by country, we have family petitioning being the driver of legal immigration. You have the broadest definition of families – spouse, minor children, like every other country, and adult siblings and adult parents, which is where you get what’s called chained migration, where you’re just having this cascading out of more and more people petitioning more and more family members. And the net result is we’re not getting the economic benefit that we could, and we may not be doing the proper screening that we need to do.

HH: So can you escape the act of love comment that’s been dogging the campaign? Can you somehow contextualize that and get back on…

JB: Yeah, it’s easy for me to do it in the sense…I’ll tell you why I said it, because 99% of the people that come here do it because they want to put food on their family’s table. They’re doing it because they have no other options. And whatever their motives are doesn’t change the fact that we need to control the border. But to disparage people’s aspirations to make sure that their child gets a meal, I’m not going to do it.

HH: So can you, can a Republican…

JB: So we need to make it clear that need to control our border. We need to pick and choose who comes in.

HH: So a last question, can a Republican primary voter trust you to be as tough on illegal immigration as they can, for example, Donald Trump?

JB: Donald Trump doesn’t have a practical plan. It’s not a question of toughness. It’s a question of his plan is not practical. They can trust me for sure, because I have a proven record of having a backbone taking on very powerful interests each and every day when I was governor. And when they hear the record of taking on the teachers’ union, the public union, the trial lawyers, all of these vested interests in my state, and winning, because I had a heart for people to rise up, and I took on very powerful interests, because I thought that was my job. Trust me, I can do the same thing in Washington, D.C., because I’ve done it already.

HH: Governor Jeb Bush, thank you for spending time with us on a terrible night. I appreciate your candor and your length of time with us. Thank you, Governor.

JB: God bless, Hugh.

End of interview.

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