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Jeb Bush twists and turns on immigration debate

Jeb Bush waves to the audience at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida on August 30, 2012
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush waves to the audience on the final day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida on August 30, 2012. Withthe roll-out of his new book, "Immigration Wars," Bush was inserting himself into a critical debate, bu

For a member of one of America's foremost political families, Jeb Bush's reintroduction to the national stage this week could have gone more smoothly.

Instead, the former governor of Florida twisted himself into a pretzel on immigration, a key issue on the political radar in the build up to the 2016 elections.

He rankled fellow Republicans who accused him of undercutting their efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, and became a target for Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said Bush "made a fool of himself."

Bush, the son and brother of two presidents, has not announced his own presidential ambitions, but he has not ruled it out either.

With his name, his mighty fundraising ability, and the roll-out this week of his new book, "Immigration Wars," Bush was inserting himself into a critical debate that thrusts him into the national spotlight.

But his opinion on what to do about the 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States has caused an uproar.

In his book he argues for legal status, not US citizenship, for illegal immigrants already in the country.

That runs contrary to a plan which includes a pathway to citizenship, among other proposals, put forward by a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential 2016 candidate.

On Tuesday Bush took to the cable news shows and backpedaled. He told MSNBC that "if you can craft that (pathway to citizenship) in law... where there isn't an incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally, I'm for it."

Earlier in the 2012 campaign Bush declared support for a "path to citizenship," rebuking Romney for his hard-line stance on illegal immigrants.

But some saw Bush's book as holding a nearly identical position to Romney, and an unnamed former Romney advisor accused Bush of flip-flopping.

"He spent all this time criticizing Romney and it turns out he has basically the same position," the adviser told the Miami Herald.

The contortions irritated Republicans in the immigration working group as well, with Senator Lindsey Graham warning that Bush's stance "undercuts what we're trying to do," according to USA Today.

And it prompted Democrat Reid to take a swipe at Bush -- although he may have inadvertently boosted another potential Republican frontrunner.

Bush "keeps going backwards," he said.

"Frankly on this issue I don't think Jeb Bush is a Florida leader. I think Marco Rubio is."

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