Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush headlined a Presidential Candidate's Forum at Regent University where talked about how his proposals for turning the country around are deeply rooted in his faith.
The former Florida governor finds himself struggling in the polls as he seeks to become the third Bush to win the White House.
At Friday's forum, moderated by American Center for Law and Justice Founder Jay Sekulow, Bush shared how he came to a faith that changed his life.
His Faith Journey
"I first wanted to talk a little bit about my faith journey. Because now I think there's a debate about whether people of faith could actually act on their faith in the public square," he told those gathered. "Really? How do you put aside your faith on the important issues that really matter?
"The questions of life, the questions of compassion. The things that motivate people to act on their heart to try to help people. I, for one, believe that people of faith should act on their faith," he said. "And they should be informed by their faith."
"My life's journey started, thankfully, when I woke up in Midland, Texas, opened up my eyes, and there she was: Barbara Bush," he said, garnering laughter from the crowd. "Talk about a blessing from God!"
Raised Episcopalian, Bush said his faith deepened at a stressful time in his life 30 years ago.
"I was living the tyranny of the urgent, many people understand this, people driven to success. I was kind of overwhelmed at one point, and I just said, 'I gotta pause. I gotta get quiet,'" Bush said.
"And I started reading the Bible, and I think it was like, Romans. I got about to there and I realized Jesus was my savior, and I accepted Him in the late 1980s," he explained.
"And it has given me a comfort that I cannot describe to you very well, but I can promise you this: that it has given me a comfort and a serenity that has made my life journey a lot easier and a lot simpler," he said.
Jeb Bush's First Priorities
In 1995, Bush became Catholic so his children would be raised in their mother's faith. He said Catholic teaching helps inform his view of government.
"Every time we outsource responsibility over taking care of a neighbor, we allow government to get bigger. And today, government is huge," he said. "And the regulations on top of government—when you can't spend your way to prosperity, which is never going to happen, then you try to regulate your way to prosperity or tax your way to prosperity."
"That's what the progressive liberal agenda is all about—is taking power away from families and communities and shifting it as far removed as possible," he explained.
After his remarks, Bush sat down for a conversation with Regent University Chancellor Pat Robertson, who started by asking what a President Jeb Bush would make his first priority.
"You've just sworn the oath of office, you've got that little office off of the Capitol, you're sitting down. What are the few, let's say the number one issue you'd take, if you could -- with the stroke of the pen, do something? What would you do?" Robertson asked.
"Well, I think in the first week, you need to use the power, the executive authority you have, because working with Congress is going to take a little bit of time to reestablish," he said. "You know, the dysfunctional relationship there needs to be fixed. It's going to take making sure that people don't think you have bad motives."
"Unfortunately, we're in an environment where the way you win is push people down and make yourself look better. When we were growing up, you were spanked when you did that as a kid, right?" he said. "And now it's kind of a blood sport and so re-establishing that relationship with Congress is important."
"But I'd say using constitutional authority to undo what this president has done would be one of the things and there's a lot of places where that would happen," he said to audience applause.
"And then secondly, look at the world, we've seen an unraveling of the order of the world. Because as we pull back, now one has filled the void other than Islamic terrorism and nation states like Iran, which we've enabled by our agreement, and Russia and China," he continued. "So I think we have to re-establish America's leadership in the world, and there are some things I think that would send a clear signal about that."
"And if I had to pick the one place to start it would be Israel," he said. "It would be making sure that the world knows there is no gap between the United States and Israel again.
Jeb Bush on Foreign Policy
"What would you do with ISIS? They talk about boots on the ground. Would it take a force of American troops to get the job done?" Robertson asked.
"We have 3,500 troops in Iraq right now. But they're pulled back. They're not embedded with the Iraqi military. The Canadians are embedded with the Iraqi military. Maybe after this last election they may stop. But they're embedded and we're not," he explained. "We need to be embedded with their military, we need to have forward controllers to know where our sorties go, that they're going to the right place."
"We need much better diplomatic activity," he continued. "We're allowing Russia and Iran to have more influence in Iraq than we do. This is not the right way for American leadership."
"So I think you need a strategy that arms the Kurds, that reengages with the Sunni tribal forces, that is engaged with the military, where there is a clear objective of pushing ISIS out of Iraq," he said. "Then the hard work begins as it relates to Syria.
Asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy in Ukraine and the Middle East, Bush warned the Russian leader pays attention to deeds, not words.
Look, I'm a student of history just as you are," he told Robertson. "And I think real leadership is not about talking. It's not about grandiose language or trash talking."
"This president called Russia a regional power. Now, you're Vladimir Putin, and you see the vacillation of our leadership and negotiating with enemies, unilaterally conceding things, and not acting on the talk you give, and you say, 'This is prey for me; I'm all in!'" he said. "And he is a bully—what he sees, he calculates the risk."
Clinton and Big Government
"A highly decorated general, the former head of the CIA, was actually indicted and found guilty of at least misdemeanors because he gave a few documents to his mistress who was writing a biography," Robertson said. "Hillary Clinton has given a whole lot more than that around and who knows how many thousands of pages of confidential information have been leaked."
"Do you think she might get indicted? Or is that too much to contemplate?" Robertson asked Bush.
"I may take a pass on that one," Bush started. "But I would say this: to slough off this as is what happened in the debate in Las Vegas, to say, well, ha ha ha, you know, no big deal. No big deal? The FBI's investigating it! The State Department's going to go through another six months of review of all this. They've had to hire people."
"This is the Clinton view of economic development—hiring 10 more people in the State Department to go through emails. That's what they consider economic growth," he said. "I think we ought to shrink government and create economic growth inside the private sector. So this is not finished yet."
"And look, in a world where people don't believe what politicians say, in a world where government is probably at its lowest respect amongst the people it's supposed to serve, these things make it worse," he continued. "And we need to restore some level of integrity in government."
"The government shouldn't be our master, it's our servant," he said. "And right now, you know, it doesn't feel that way, does it?"
"A little bit of transparency, a little bit of humility, a little bit of recognizing that these ideas that the top-down driven approach to things are going to solve our problems, that maybe there's a better way, is appropriate right now because we've lost our way in Washington," he said.
Jeb Bush's Tax Plan
"You've brought out a new tax plan that's a very thorough tax plan, that may be the best one out there. What is your concept of reforming the tax code?" Robertson asked.
"It's to eliminate as many of the carve outs, the credits, the deductions, that pick winners and losers," Bush explained. "Again, who cares what the intentions are? I assume everyone has good intentions when they come up with these ideas. It doesn't matter."
"In a free society, shifting power back to people means you don't pick winners and losers through the tax code or through the regulatory system," he said. "You create a free system where people can achieve earned success and the objective is to build capacity so they can do it. So a tax code that's simple and shifts power away from Washington, and creates, I think, an explosion of investment in our country."
"We do have this problem with entitlements," Robertson said. "The social security trust fund will be bankrupt in a few years as will the Medicare fund. What are you going to do with entitlements? There's some thought of making the eligibility age considerably older. What are you proposing?"
"When Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan got together and brought their teams together to save social security for a generation, they did it in a thoughtful way," Bush said. "The effect of what they did was that for higher income people, they paid a little bit more, and for the retirement age, for every month of raising the retirement age—a year goes by for a month of raising the retirement age. And now instead of 65 we're at 66 and moving toward 67."
"And I think we need to continue that. Because people do age and still make a contribution," he said. "We're living healthier, and our demography kind of demands it."
"And secondly, I think there are things we can do to create solvency for Social Security that would preserve and protect it for people who have it and reform it so it exists for people who don't," he said. "Because you're absolutely right—the next 10 to 15 years, the different trust funds of Social Security, there's going to be a 25 to 30 percent reduction in benefits because of its insolvency."
"And with Medicare, a similar kind of approach is necessary, where you're curbing the out-year costs. You're not cutting Medicare, but you're curbing the out-year costs by implementing health savings accounts, by allowing more competition where seniors have more choices, where there's competition that drives prices down instead of driving prices up," he said.
"Only in America—whenever the government is involved, choices mean more costs," he said. "The rest of us in the free market find that more choices drive costs down and quality goes up. So applying those principles to our health care system would yield a good result."
Bush Campaign Cuts
"The media's full of it the last day or two. You cut about 45 percent of the spending in your campaign. Workers are going on reduced pay. You've let some people go. You've shifted out of Miami, etc., etc.," Robertson said. "Does this mean 'lean and mean' for the future or does this mean you're in trouble?"
"This means 'lean and mean,' and it means I have the ability to adapt," Bush replied. "And the circumstances from when we started the election were different. I have not met a person who thought Donald Trump would be the front-running candidate at this point. God bless him for his success in that regard. We'll see how long that lasts."
"But you have to adapt," he said. "Every dollar we can save in overhead is a dollar that goes on television, goes on radio, goes on media, goes on voter outreach."
Addressing Urban Problems
Sekulow ended the conversation with one question from Bishop Harry Jackson over the concern about what's going on in the inner city right now.
"He asks, 'What is your urban economic agenda? What would you do to help the inner city?'" Sekulow said.
"This is—look, we have six million more people in poverty, our poverty is becoming inter-generational, it's sticky, and the despair that exists is heartbreaking. And any just society needs to be a right to rise society," Bush said.
"So how would you do it? The three things, or four, that matter most. One is security. Communities have to be secure. Law enforcement should not be pulled back. Their job is hard enough as it is and there should be—build trust again—but security."
"Number two, and more important, is family," he said. "A husband, a man and a woman, loving their children with their heart and soul, makes it—particularly in poverty where the economics are hard, really hard, it's a struggle for a single mother to bring up a child. It's huge—it's a heroic effort. And many of the transfer payments only exist when the family is not an intact family."
"So family matters, and we need to change our policies as they relate to that," he said.
"And I think dramatically improving the chance of low-income kids to be able to get a quality education, which means private choice, public choice, breaking down the monopoly, making sure teacher effectiveness is as good in the pockets of poverty as it is in the places of affluence," he said.
"There should be no tolerance for the mediocrity or abject failure that exists in inner city schools," he said. "We should all agree that that is a huge value for our country."
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