Jeb Bush on California rampage, Common Core, GOP infighting, legacy

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 3, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, 'SPECIAL REPORT' HOST: We are pleased to welcome Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush to our Center Seat. Let's bring in our panel of questioners, syndicated columnist, George Will, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for the "Washington Post," and Steve Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard." Governor Bush, thanks for being here.

JEB BUSH, R, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a joy to be with you.

BAIER: Well, it's a sad couple of days obviously with the tragic events in San Bernardino yesterday, and the obviously the FBI hasn't made their determination exactly, officially what it is. It looks like the main suspect may have been radicalized in some way. Yesterday as it was happening, President Obama said this about the issue of gun control.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For those who are concerned about terrorism, some may be aware of the fact that we have a no- fly list where people can't get on planes. But those same people we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there's nothing that we can do to stop them.


BAIER: He's calling for legislation. You're thoughts on all of this and this issue as it develops?

BUSH: Well, first of all, the first impulse I would have rather than talking about gun control is to make sure that we protect the homeland.
And last week the metadata program was ended on November 30th. I think it ought to be restored. There was apparently some tracking, if he was radicalized, there were suspects that were being followed by the FBI.

And this is the job of the president. It isn't to turn every instance into a need for taking rights away from people that are law-abiding citizens. We need to protect the homeland. And I think every aspect of how we go about that while we protect civil liberties in this country ought to be used.

BAIER: And when Hillary Clinton tweets out "I refuse to accept this as normal. We must take action to stop gun violence now," What is your reaction? Should something be done on the issue of guns? Put this issue aside.

BUSH: I don't think so. I don't think that there's a national federal government solution to this. The issue of this mass violence, which is so tragic it really breaks everyone's heart, ought to be, you know, the main thing that we've seen up until now is mental illness. And we could do better probably identifying people before they go completely out of control. But there's this impulse to always solve a problem in Washington, D.C., typically ends up taking rights away from law-abiding people.

BAIER: George?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Governor, you say we are at war with ISIS. Yesterday the British parliament felt constrained to vote to authorize simply an expansion of British strikes on ISIS. We've been striking ISIS now for 15 months with no congressional authorization. If you were president, would you hesitate before having, proceeding with force until Congress acted?

BUSH: I would seek congressional authority. I think the president does have the authority. But I think you need to get people all in on this. We need to have a budget. If it is a war of our times, then I think we need to be serious.

When President Obama presented this to the Congress, and then he backed away, he put all, all sorts of constraints on it rather than listening to the military advisers. And not only that, the three Republican senators who are running for president of the United States did not give him that authority. But I think the next president should go and get this authority, lay out a clear strategy where the United States leads to train local forces, to create, make sure that everybody understands what the clear objective is and go at it and be successful at it.

WILL: On a related matter. Two of your competitors are at daggers drawn over the issue of Libya. The attack on Libya was administered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, supported by Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz says it was a disaster. Where do you come down on the U.S. intervention on Libya?

BUSH: The disaster was there wasn't a clear strategy to create security at the end of this. That's the lesson learned over the last 15 years I think in the Middle East is if we're going to be engaging and put men and women in harm's way in uniform, we ought to have a strategy to create a peaceful solution at the end.

WILL: Are U.S. interests in stake there?

BUSH: I don't know. Clearly, we've now made things worse by not having a strategy to create -- we have chaos. We actually have ISIS now with a foothold that's now undermining Tunisia.

So it appeared to me that this was -- this we were leading from behind. We were providing support to our European allies without any thought given about the overall strategy. So in reality I don't think it was the right approach. And then bragging about it as Hillary Clinton did is pretty amazing.

BAIER: Karen?

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": As George was saying, daggers drawn. What is your sense of the debate within your party about America's role in the world? It used to be that Republicans you know, you would pick the isolationists school or the internationalist school. Do you have a sense that it is shifting as a result of this?

BUSH: I think it's a healthy debate to be honest with you. I think it's clear that some candidates have thought it through, and one particular candidate hadn't.

TUMULTY: And name?

BUSH: Donald Trump. No surprise. Trump has been all over the map. He's lacking a seriousness on this subject and this is a serious matter. We're living in very dangerous times and we need someone as president that actually has things through in a proper way. So I welcome the debate. And the differences are important to discuss for sure.

TUMULTY: What is he advocating that you consider unserious?

BUSH: Saying let Russia take out ISIS. Let ISIS take out Syria. Bomb the bleep out of ISIS, all within three weeks' period. That is not serious. Admitting that he gets his, of course we love the Sunday show here on FOX, admitting he gets his foreign policy credentials from watching the Sunday shows? That's not serious.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Getting specific on that question, Ted Cruz said the other day that the United States doesn't have a dog in this fight. Do we?

BUSH: I disagree with that.

HAYES: Who is our dog?

BUSH: The dog?

HAYES: Who is our dog in this fight?

BUSH: The threat of global terrorism is the threat for our country. And every day that the caliphate exists is another day that they win and that they can recruit terrorists. And the chaos in Syria is a grave national security threat for our country.

HAYES: Do you think the United States has a moral obligation to intervene when somebody like Bashar al Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people?

BUSH: Not necessarily. I think you also have to have a national security imperative attached to it. We do, I think it's appropriate1 in foreign policy to have a moral underpinning for sure. But it can't just be exclusively that.

In this case we have a caliphate the size of Indiana, 30,000 battle- tested, well-financed terrorists who have declared war on us, and they're declaring war on the thing we're most vulnerable on, our own freedom. And I think we have to create a strategy because who else will do this? It's not going to be the French or the Brits or the Germans, and it's certainly not going to be the Arab nations unless the United States leads.

BAIER: More with Governor Jeb Bush in Center Seat after a quick break.

BAIER: Governor Jeb Bush is in our Center Seat tonight. Governor, a lot of people tweeted in, Facebook messages, Instagram, questions for you. Fred writes in "The results are in on Common Core and they are overwhelmingly negative. Why do you continue to support it?"

BUSH: Well, first of all, the Congress is going to do something incredible. They're going to actually pass a bill to present to the president of the United States, the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act which I helped work on. And the net result of that is that the federal government cannot have direct or indirect, any say in the creation of standards. And that's been my position from the very beginning.

I support higher standards. And Common Core standards were higher than the Florida standards that we had. They were implemented after I was governor, and high standards with real accountability and school choice and a performance based system of paying teachers will yield rising student achievement. My passion is to make sure that every child has the God-given abilities to be able to go to college or get a job, and right now about a third of our kids do.

BAIER: When you hear Fred and others, and I'm sure you hear it in town halls and in the Republican Party, really concerned about this.

BUSH: They're concerned about federal involvement principally. They're deeply concerned about federal overreach in education. And their voice was heard, and the Congress will pass with bipartisan support a reauthorization of the federal government's involvement in K-12 education that prohibits it. And I support that.

HAYES: On the question of crony capitalism, you campaigned saying that you will end crony capitalism if elected president. And yet you look at your biggest donors, they're the Republicans who are responsible in large measure for propagating crony capitalism here in Washington on K Street and elsewhere. If you're elected, do you lock them out? How do you do this?

BUSH: Yes. They're supporting me because they see that I'm a leading, that I can solve problems, that I have a proven record, unlike others that are running to have nothing in their past that suggests that they could lead.

And so, absolutely, I'm proud of the fact that people are giving me money. And I haven't changed my views about anything. I think we ought to phase out the sugar subsidies. I think we ought to phase out the subsidies in the tax code for oil and gas, for wind, for solar. We need to phase out the renewable fuel standard over a period of time. All of these things I've been clear. I go to Iowa and say these things. Look, I am who I am. And my compass points north, and the fact that people are supporting me is a good sign, not a bad sign.

BAIER: George?

WILL: You have a plan you say for four percent growth, which would be remarkable, and sustained four percent growth. Yet the next president may come to office in the middle of a recession, we're really overdue for one after a sputtering two percent recovery. How do you credibly say you can engineer four percent growth?

BUSH: If you increase the economic activity by dramatic changes in how we create rules first and foremost. The proposal we've laid out is to say that there should be two years to be able to get a permit, not 10 years, that we're going shift power back to the states wherever possible.
We've treaded on the 10th Amendment and trampled all over it. I think the EPA, the Department of Education, Department of Transportation, as much of their programs, Medicaid, all of things have to go back to the states.

We should embrace the energy revolution rather than trying to make it harder and harder to create economic activity. We need to reform our tax code. If you combine all of those things together, you're going to get closer to four percent growth.
And George, let's just say I got it wrong. Maybe it's 3.75 percent growth. That would be a phenomenal difference in this tepid new normal of two percent growth that is trapping people in poverty and seeing $2,300 of disposable income lost since Barack Obama has been inaugurated.

BAIER: Karen?

TUMULTY: If we could go back to topic A among Democrats now after San Bernardino, gun control, what about the specific proposal that the president was talking about in the tape that we saw earlier? Do you think that if somebody's name is on a no-fly list that they should be able to get a gun?

BUSH: If that no-fly list is a concise list, yes, I think that that would be an appropriate qualifier.

BAIER: We should point out that you're sitting next to someone who was on the no-fly list.

HAYES: So I wouldn't be able to get a gun.


HAYES: There's no due process in me not being able to get a gun.

BUSH: I'm defending you, brother.


BUSH: My point is the no-fly list is not a concise list of people under investigation or that may be for a short period of time. But if you, if you narrow that down from that list to people that are, that are being investigated in an active way, yes, that would be appropriate.

HAYES: You still don't have the due process on front end, right? By definition if they're on the no fly list --

BUSH: That's why you would have to narrow it down to the point where it was clearly, there's an active investigation or something like that.

But that's not going to be the answer. The answer is going to be that we have to identify people before they come to the country or identify them if they're -- if they're communicating with known terrorists outside the country. And there's ways to do that to protect civil liberties in this country and we need to get back to that business.

BAIER: Governor, we always thought Steve was a little sketchy.


BAIER: Another round on politics with Governor Jeb Bush when we come back.


BAIER: We're back with our panel and Center Seat Governor Jeb Bush.
Governor, let's talk politics. The Real Clear Politics average of all the latest polls has you at a 5.3 percent. That is 23 percent behind Donald Trump. You take a look at the latest Iowa poll, you're at 5 percent there,22 points behind Donald Trump. I've asked you this question before as have many people about your place in the polls. Take a listen.


BUSH: I used to say it's a marathon, not a sprint. I think it's a triathlon. It's a more arduous than a marathon. You've got to swim and ride a bike and run at the same time. We've got a long way to go.

There is a long way to as always. There will be ups and downs, as always. Herman Cain was the winner at this time when he was running.

What I meant was that Herman Cain was the frontrunner with close to 30 percent of the vote, that measuring polls in October and November are completely irrelevant.


BAIER: Well, today, in 2011, Herman Cain dropped out of the race. Even though he was leading, he dropped out today in 2011. And here is what people are asking on Twitter and elsewhere. MDH2 says "Governor Bush, at which point should non-leading candidates get out and get behind leading non-Trump alternatives?"

BUSH: I think we need to let the process go forward, and that's exactly what I'm doing. The pundits aren't going to decide who the party's nominee is going to be. It's the people, for starters, in Iowa, and New Hampshire and South Carolina and Nevada. And then a surge of, you know, primary states in March.

And I think people just need to be a little more patient about this. Let democracy work. I am -- we are best ground game in Iowa and in New Hampshire. I'm a patient person, and I believe that we are making good, steady progress. And ultimately the decision is not going to be about who is the loudest voice, who is the biggest personality, who can insult the person the best. It's who can lead? Who has the proven record to make tough decisions during difficult times?

BAIER: If staying in means that the vote is split on the non-Trump candidate, are you OK with Trump being the nominee for your party?

BUSH: Donald Trump will not be the nominee of this party. I feel totally confident in the judgment of the voters, Republican primary voters.

BAIER: George?

WILL: Let's stay with Mr. Trump for a moment. It's almost impossible these days for a Republican to get to 270 electoral votes without Florida, the most important swing state. You know Florida very well. Is it conceivable Donald Trump could carry Florida?

BUSH: If Hillary Clinton is indicted for, you know, for her email scandal or something like that, perhaps. I think she is a weakened candidate. But you can't insult your way to the presidency. You can't insult people with disabilities. You can't insult people that are Latino. You can't insult women and expect that you are going to win the presidency.

I had thought, perhaps, that he would have a second act, that as he garnered this tremendous surge of support that he would actually turn into a serious candidate, but there is no evidence is he a serious candidate.

WILL: Trump against a non-indicted Hillary then, Hillary wins?

BUSH: I'm afraid so.

BAIER: Karen?

TUMULTY: At what point do think -- you keep saying there is a long way to go. At what point is there no longer a long way to go?

BUSH: February 1st would be the leading indicator because that's when the caucuses start.

TUMULTY: You think this stays fluid right up until voting.

BUSH: Yes.

TUMULTY:  Where do you think you would be right now in the polls in your name was John Ellis and John Ellis Bush?

BUSH: You know what, it doesn't really matter. I'm blessed to be a Bush. I'm blessed to be the brother of George W. and the son of George H.
W. Bush. And I am who I am. I have got my own record. I'm running about ideas about the future. I'm totally comfortable with it.

TUMULTY: And you are convinced that people are actually hearing this as opposed to sort of stopping it?

BUSH: Yes. And a lot of -- if you look at the polling that I have seen, a lot of people actually like my brother and love my dad.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: A lot of talk about the drama between you and Marco Rubio and your relationship with him in the past, and there have been reports that your -- the super PAC supporting you is willing to be pretty tough on Rubio not just on policy but going beyond policy. You don't control your super PAC. Where would you draw the line? You can tell them today what's appropriate and what's not.

BUSH: Everybody will be -- everybody will have scrutiny. And that's fair game. And that's exactly what I think everybody would want. And I'm not going predict what the super PAC does. So far the ads that I have seen when I'm working out at 5:00 in the morning all look pretty good. They are touting me. They're tooting my horn, which is what I like because I think people need to know what my record is and what my views are about how to fight ISIS and those ads are pretty effective.

HAYES: Did you say that working out at 5:00 in the morning thing to prove your high energy?

HAYES: Is that a response to Trump?

BUSH: Donald has got his little slippers on and tea and ornate bathrobes. He is calling into the shows at 5:00 in the morning. He is a hard working guy, too.

BAIER: We'll send the emails your way.
BAIER: What prospect of teaming up with others like John Kasich to go after Donald Trump, which had been talked about in some analytical circles, much like 2004 against Howard Dean in Iowa that had effect. Do you think that that is going to transpire over the next 58 days before February 1st?
BUSH: Look, my focus is getting my message out, the ideas that I have to create higher growth and create a safe and secure America and talk about the leadership skills that I have. We don't have vast resources to go beyond that, and to build a ground game in these states where retail politics really matters.

BAIER: Governor, last time you here you said have me back, things will change. You are back. And it's a couple months later.

BUSH: You invited me too early.


BAIER: It's about the same. What is happening in the GOP primary?

BUSH: You invited me too early. Trust me. I can sense it. When I campaign, our crowds are bigger. The convert rates to our campaign are higher. People are starting to get serious about this race. And this is not about electing the biggest personality. This is about having a candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton. And I believe you cannot beat Hillary Clinton without a proven, conservative record that is a record that draws people towards our cause rather than pushes them away, and that you have the skills to actually be president, because this is a serious kind of time we are living in and you want someone who has a steady hand, who has a backbone, who has a heart for people.

BAIER: Governor, thank you. Stay tuned if you will. That's it for the panel. But we are going to see one presidential candidate knock someone's socks off on the campaign trail.

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