HOUSTON — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used a speech here Monday before Hispanic business leaders to chide his party over its attitude toward immigration, drawing not-so-subtle contrasts between himself and bomb-throwing billionaire Donald Trump.
"This apparently is somewhat out of the mainstream temporarily in my party, but it isn't really," Bush told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's national convention. "A great majority of Republican believe in immigration reform."
Bush, who had hardly started speaking before being interrupted by protesters, only said Trump's name once, but clearly had the GOP foe on his mind. The real estate mogul's rants against illegal immigration have roiled the race for the White House, with Bush on the receiving end of many of Trump's attacks.
"We don't need to build a wall. We don't need to deport everybody that's in this country [illegally]," Bush said Monday, panning Trump's proposals as costly and unrealistic. "That won't solve the problems. Giving people the chance to earn legal status will be a far better approach."
In another allusion to Trump, Bush lamented how some in his own party have come to resemble President Obama, a "gifted man" who has "used his talents to divide." After laying out his immigration plan, Bush said: "There are voices in my party that don't agree with any of this, or some of it at least — the loud voices. I don't want to create any more of the food fight. That's not why I'm running."
Within seconds of starting his speech, Bush was interrupted by protesters chanting, "No hope without our vote!" and waving signs asking, "Who is the real Jeb Bush?" As the protesters were escorted out, Bush assured them he supports comprehensive immigration reform that specifically provides a pathway to citizenship for the children of people in the country illegally. The Texas Organizing Project, a liberal group that pushes for a more progressive U.S. immigration policy, later took credit for the protest.
Speaking with reporters after Bush's speech, the president and CEO of the chamber said he did not expect the protesters but understood why they showed up.
"It illustrates that we're at a time in our country where very divisive language has been used, people have been mischaracterized, and there is angst on both ends of the spectrum," Javier Palomarez said.
Bush's speech in Houston kicked off a week in which his brother, former President George W. Bush, planned to hit the fundraising circuit for him in Texas. The 43rd president is scheduled to headline fundraisers for Jeb Bush's campaign Wednesday in Houston and Thursday in Tyler.
On Tuesday, the convention is set to hear from Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro, a rumored running mate for Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, spoke Sunday at the conference.