George W. Bush blames himself for 'populist uprising' on immigration

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Former President George W. Bush appeared to blame himself for the country’s “populist uprising” on illegal immigration after he failed to pass comprehensive reform during his eight years in office.

During an interview with “The Dispatch” podcast, Mr. Bush expanded on comments he made earlier this month that his failure to pass immigration reform was one of his biggest regrets of his presidency.

“Now, the reason I say it’s a regret is because it’s my fault,” the former president said Thursday. “I tried to reform Social Security before reforming immigration. And, you know, I was warned. I’ll never forget, a bunch of Republicans came to see me and said, ‘Hey, we hear you’re putting Social Security reform in your State of the Union.’ It’s 2005. And I said ‘Yeah I am, I campaigned on it.’ I mean, I was quite explicit about that and immigration reform. 

“And they said, ‘Well, we don’t think you should do that. As a matter of fact, we’re not gonna support it,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m the Republican standard-bearer, I just won.’ I said, ‘Why aren’t you gonna support it?’ They said, ‘We’ll lose seats.’ And I said, ‘We’ll lose seats in the next midterm if we don’t do big things.’ But I got stubborn and tried to run with Social Security. Fizzled out. But I do believe if I’d surprised everybody and gone with immigration first, we might have got ahead of the populist uprising on the issue.”

Mr. Bush, who wants a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and tax-paying illegal immigrants, said he would support a more piecemeal approach to immigration reform as suggested by President Biden during his joint speech to Congress Wednesday night.

“Now, if Congress won’t pass my plan — let’s at least pass what we agree on,” Mr. Biden said during his speech. “Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for the DREAMers — the young people who have only known America as their home.”

Mr. Bush agreed that passing smaller bills “may be a better approach” and that “comprehensive may be too big of a reach right now.”

“Like if they can get DACA done with some border enhancement plans to give Republicans comfort in voting for the bill, then all of a sudden there’s confidence to be gained, and then they can deal with the work or they can deal with the undocumented,” he said. “But, yeah, that may be a better approach.”

The House last month passed two bills offering a path to citizenship for DREAMers, who came to the U.S. as children, as well as farmworkers and immigrants with Temporary Protected Status.

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