Jeb Bush: 'I don't have a problem' with offering pathway to citizenship

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that he did not "have a problem" with providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a reversal from just 24 hours earlier, when he warned doing so would invite more illegal immigrants to enter the country.

Bush staked out his position against a pathway for citizenship in a book on immigration that is being published this week, but was written last year. He said Tuesday that, like many other members of his party, he had shifted on the issue.

"So going forward — we wrote this last year — going forward, if there is a difference, you can craft that in law where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn't an incentive for people to come illegally, I'm for it," Bush told MSNBC. 

"I don't have a problem with that. I don't see how you do it, but I'm not smart enough to figure out every aspect of a really complex law."

Bush's book, Immigration Wars, stakes out a position to the right of Republican lawmakers like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who have advocated comprehensive immigration reform in the wake of an election where more than seven in 10 Hispanic voters broke for President Obama. 

During an interview Monday with NBC News, Bush said illegal workers currently in the United States should be allowed permanent residency, but not citizenship.

“There has to be some difference between people who come here legally and illegally. It’s just a matter of common sense and a matter of the rule of law,” he said. “If we’re not going to apply the law fairly and consistently, then we’re going to have another wave of illegal immigrants coming into the country.”

Those comments were met with surprise by many, including Rubio, who said Monday he disagreed with his former mentor.

“I just personally, ultimately concluded that to permanently say that you’re going to have millions of people that can never apply for citizenship hasn’t really worked well for other countries that have tried it,” Rubio said.

But Bush backtracked Tuesday during appearances on "Morning Joe" and "The Daily Rundown." In those interviews, Bush said it would be "satisfactory" to allow a pathway to citizenship if those who came to the U.S. illegally pay "real penalties."

"The simple fact is that it should be easier to come legally than illegally. And there should be rewards for legal status that are greater than illegal status," Bush said.

Bush's new view on a pathway to citizenship also renders part of his new book outdated. 

“It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the laws can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship. To do otherwise would signal once again that people who circumvent the system can still obtain the full benefits of American citizenship. It must be a basic prerequisite for citizenship to respect the rule of law,” Bush writes in the book, co-authored by Clint Bolick. “A grant of citizenship is an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage.”

- Cameron Joseph contributed