NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — In a surprise speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) unloaded on former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—systematically dismantling Bush’s push for amnesty and a massive increase in guest workers from around the world.
“Right now, there are two conferences—one of them in public where candidates are out there having to speak and defend and answer questions on their views and on their positions on important issues facing America,” Sessions said to open up his remarks to the Breitbart News-sponsored meet-and-greet with CPAC activists. “Many people at this conference here and watching it from abroad are evaluating them, judging them and asking themselves whether or not their visions, their ideas, their character will be used to advance the interests of the American people and this republic—and that’s the way it ought to be.”
However, Sessions cited a Washington Times article saying Mitt Romney’s former top fundraising aide Spencer Zwick, “praised Jeb Bush’s stance on immigration, saying the party should follow his lead if the party hopes to win back the White House.”
“If someone wants to be serious about running for president, they need to be in a similar place [to Bush],” Zwick said on a conference call with GOP donors organized by Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist—a key figure at CPAC since he is a board member of the American Conservative Union (ACU). The ACU hosts CPAC every year, but the organization under new chairman Matt Schlapp has seen a shift away from the establishment wing of the GOP it had under old chairman Al Cardenas.
“I’ll tell you one thing: It’s the people of this country that run this country,” Sessions responded, pushing back against the donor community’s push for other Republican candidates to abandon their constituents in support of Bush’s immigration position. “Contributions and supporters are always important in presidential elections and other elections too, but votes trumps money.”
The crowd in the room cheered for Sessions.
Bush, on the other hand, was booed by CPAC activists—many of whom walked out on his speech as he argued that Congress needs to grant amnesty to the millions of illegal aliens in America right now.
“The president did use authority he didn’t have, the courts are going to overrule that,” Bush said, comments in which he was essentially calling for Congress to stop fighting President Obama’s executive amnesty. But instead of stopping executive amnesty, Bush wants Congress to pass a legislative amnesty.
“There is no plan to deport 11 million people,” Bush said, but calling—as the Senate “Gang of Eight” called for, something that turned out to not be true—border security to stop the flow of illegal immigration “first and foremost.”
Sessions offered a different vision on immigration that Bush, one more in line with the Republican base:
I think [people across America] are very ready to abandon this statist, amnesty and open borders threat to their jobs, wages and future for themselves and their children. People are worried about this. I’m going to tell you how we’re going to win this election.
It’s a fundamental question of who are our constituents? Who do we vote for and represent? A CEO’s job is to represent stockholders. Well, a politician’s job is to represent the people. We are not, as National Review said, an economy with a nation. We are a nation with an economy. People are not commodities.
Bush, during his interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on stage at CPAC, accused those who have the viewpoint widespread increases in immigration would hurt American workers—people including Sessions—of having liberal viewpoints.
“I believe that we we ought to be focused on is growing the economic pie and growing it in a way that looks more like the ’80s in America,” Bush said during remarks.
But Sessions fired back, by noting that “the American people want and rightly believe their federal government should defend their economic interest on the world stage effectively with passion and determination. That is an obligation that we have as representatives of the people to do so, and with regard to immigration the American people are good and decent. We have the most generous immigration system in the world.”
Sessions detailed how America right now allows in more legal immigrants than any other nation, and noted, “the American people’s view is right and good and decent.”
“They’ve pleaded for this, they’ve demanded this, Congress has promised this but never delivered—they’ve asked for a lawful system of immigration, one that serves the national interest, one that we can be proud of,” Sessions said.
While Sessions said that Romney would have been a great president, he lost the election because he failed to get lower-income American workers to vote for him. The way to get those people to the polls for a Republican, Sessions points out, is to make it clear to the voters that the Republican nominee whoever it is will stick up for them over corporatists, special interests and foreign workers.
Watch Sessions entire speech: