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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

An animated Jeb Bush impresses New York audience

NEW YORK -- Jeb Bush gave an impassioned speech before New York's top political donors, casting immigration reform as a way to grow the economy, warning of a declining American Dream and pressing back on Common Core critics.

"I believe high, lofty expectations are a huge part of making sure that children learn," Bush said at a Manhattan Institute dinner at Cipriani, across from Grand Central Station. "And whether they are Common Core state standards or higher standards in general, we cannot pull back and dilute and dumb down our standards."

Bush began his speech sounding like Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential rival, warning of country in decline.

"The American Dream is slowly being replaced by something economists call 'stickiness at the ends.' Those born wealthy will stay there and those who are poor will do the same. And those in the middle, the group that has defined who we are as a nation for two centuries, are shrinking and they are feeling the squeeze. Today for the first time over the longest period of time, a majority of Americans believe that their children will have less opportunity than what they had. If our people are not rising, our nation will not rise."

But Bush said taking more from the successful and "doling out the proceeds to the less successful" will not work. He called for lower taxes, better education and supporting families, "in a traditional way," in order to prevent childhood poverty.

Immigration reform was a recurring theme of the night, with several speakers calling for action, including mega-donor Paul Singer. Bush, who has been hammered over his "act of love" comment, was bullish.

"For the life of me I have a hard time understanding why people are fearful of our own heritage, our own history. ... The rules are you come to this country, you pursue your dreams, you create value for yourself and your families and others and great things happen to you and to our country. Why would we ignore that at time when we need to restart and rejuvenate our economy? It makes no sense to me."

He did not dive into the policy of reform. But Bush was animated, if a bit rushed in his delivery.

Rudy Giuliani, who introduced Bush, said the former Florida governor was elected with 61 percent of the Hispanic vote. "Wow," Giuliani said. "It just could be that our party could win an emerging group and get a big vote and change the nature of politics. Oh well, I hope we can."

"There's a lot of speculation that he may run for president," Giuliani said. "He's got a very, very high problem to overcome: He's got a record of success."

Bush made a flat 2016 joke, saying he was ready to announce ... That he would chair Giuliani's 2017 challenge to liberal New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

More than 700 people attended the dinner, among them some of the wealtiest donors in the country. Post-speech reaction suggested it was a success for Bush, though a few attendees brought up the Bush fatigue factor.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2014 12:57pm]


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