Fact-checking Jeb Bush, possible 2016 presidential contender

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner on May 12, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner on May 12, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced on Facebook Dec. 16 that he "decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States."

His decision means that Florida, already a crucial swing state, will play an even more high-profile role in 2016.

PolitiFact Florida has fact-checked Jeb Bush 20 times on our Truth-O-Meter. We’ve rated five statements True, seven Mostly True, two Half True, four Mostly False, one False and one Pants on Fire.

Bush left office in 2007, so he hasn’t been in the public eye as much as some of the other 2016 contenders. PolitiFact Florida has fact-checked U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida 77 times and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 97 times, for example. (Mitt Romney, who we have fact-checked 205 times, has said he has no plans to run, though some polls show him topping the GOP field.)

In many ways, Bush, who served 1999-2007, was one of Florida’s most powerful governors. He took office after voters changed the Constitution to give the office more power, served while his brother was president and was the first Republican governor since Reconstruction to work with a GOP-controlled Legislature. He served during Florida’s famous 2000 recount and during the busy 2004-05 hurricane seasons. Bush implemented the state’s A through F school grading system, cut billions in taxes and slashed thousands of state jobs.

Bush had his failures, too -- including his effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive on a feeding tube. In 2005, the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s school voucher program as unconstitutional, and the court tossed out a law designed to speed up executions. Despite some commentators now calling him a "moderate" for his views in favor of Common Core and changing immigration policies, he governed as a conservative in Florida.

In December, Bush announced that he was writing an e-book and will release 250,000 emails from his tenure as governor.

Here’s a look at some of our fact-checks of claims by or about Bush.

Immigration

Bush has been a leading Republican voice for changing immigration law for years. In a book he co-wrote in March 2013, Bush wrote about the positive role of immigration and criticized those who focus only on border security.

The book called for an overhaul to the country’s immigration system, including an emphasis on work, rather than family reunification, when granting visas.

"Nearly 65 percent -- almost two-thirds -- of all new permanent residents obtained that status by virtue of their family status," he wrote.

That’s accurate. This number refers to a group known as legal permanent residents, or "green card" holders. In 2011, about 1 million people became legal permanent residents, and those who entered based on family ties accounted for about 65 percent. We rated Bush’s statement True. (This trend has continued -- the same statistic holds true for 2013.)

One of Florida’s leading Democrats, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has accused Bush of flip-flopping on immigration over the years, though.

"@JebBush a flip-flop-flip on immigration?" tweeted the Democratic National Committee chair from Florida in March 2013. "Wow. I fashioned you more of a baseball player than a gymnast. My bad. #notsurprisedatall."

Has Bush’s position changed over the years? In 1994 when Bush ran against Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, the Miami Herald asked Bush what he would do about illegal immigration. "Start deporting people," he answered.

Bush lost that race, then won the seat four years later. While governor, he began to change his stance. He called it "just plain wrong" to charge illegal immigrants with a felony, and he opposed "penalizing the children of illegal immigrants" by denying them U.S. citizenship.

But after he left office, Bush clearly made his "flip" in favor of a path to citizenship. "You have to deal with this issue," Bush said in 2012. "You can’t ignore it. And so, either a path to citizenship, which I would support, and that does put me probably out of the mainstream of most conservatives; or a path to legalization, a path to residency of some kind."

He then "flopped" back somewhat with the release of the book, in which he explicitly opposed citizenship. "A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage," he wrote.

However, the book didn’t take a hardline deportation approach: Bush called on illegal immigrants to plead guilty, pay fines, and learn English and then become eligible to start the process to earn permanent legal residency.

Because Bush has had different positions on immigration over the years, we rated Wasserman Schultz’s statement True.

Since the book came out, he has presented a more flexible approach keeping open the idea for a path to citizenship. For instance, he urged the GOP to move beyond "harsh rhetoric" about illegal immigration: "Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love, an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that is a different kind of crime."

Education

Bush said in a speech at his education summit in November that we shouldn’t fret so much about students’ self-esteem.

The Orange County, Fla. school board, for example,  "voted to make it impossible for a student to receive a grade below 50. You get 50 out of 100 just for showing up and signing your name. This was done  -- and I quote here from a local official -- ‘so that the students do not lose all hope.’"

Bush’s anecdote was accurate The school board voted that 50 is the minimum number for quarter and semester grades, though it’s still possible to get a lower grade on an individual assignment or test. The goal was to give students some chance at catching up: it’s possible to pull up a 50 to a passing grade, but that’s nearly impossible if a student starts at a zero. We rated the claim Mostly True.

Military

Bush said at a Wall Street Journal event that among the reasons applicants are rejected by the military -- in addition to being obese or not passing the test -- is that some have "too many tattoos" on visible body parts.

Since the Army updated its tattoo policy earlier this year, 2,919 applicants could not proceed due to tattoos. Other branches of the service also have restrictions on types and locations of tattoos that keep some applicants out of the military. We rated his claim True.

But Bush flubbed a line about how many applicants pass the military entrance exam.

"The pass rate for a high school level test to join the military" is 35 to 40 percent, he said.

Bust meant to say that one-third failed the test, a rate that is roughly in line with one credible measure of applicants to the Army (though the available data is scattered and incomplete). We rated his claim False.

Obamacare

On Thanksgiving eve 2013, Bush tweeted "Why would our president close the embassy to the Vatican? Hopefully, it is not retribution for Catholic organizations opposing Obamacare."

As it turned out, Obama was not closing the embassy to the Vatican -- the U.S. was moving to a more secure location closer to the Vatican. In addition, the move didn’t originate with Obama. It has been in the works since George W. Bush -- Jeb Bush’s brother -- was president. Finally, we found no evidence to support the idea that the relocation was related to battles over Obamacare. We gave Bush a  Pants on Fire -- his only one.

Spot a claim by Jeb Bush or another political figure in need of fact-checking? Tweet us #PolitiFactThis or email us at florida@politifact.com.