‘A golden opportunity’ — Jeb Bush likes Trump's moves so far

Hank Hayes • Updated Dec 13, 2016 at 8:17 AM

KINGSPORT — Former GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush admits he didn’t support President-elect Donald Trump, but he likes Trump’s job performance so far.

That’s what Bush told reporters Monday after speaking to a Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) leadership forum held at MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.

“(Trump) has appointed some solid conservatives to his cabinet, and for that I’m very grateful,” Bush, the former Florida governor, said. “He’s got a golden opportunity. The country is anxious to be unified around a set of common purposes. Our economy has lagged behind because of over regulation, and the president-elect’s appointments suggest he’s serious about draining the swamp. So I’m excited about that.”

When asked what’s next for him and if he would like to run for president again someday, Bush responded: “I’m back to private life. ... We have a president, and I’m back to my private life. ... I called him to congratulate him and tell him — and this is true — that I pray for him every day. I pray for President Obama every day. I think it’s important to pray for our leaders, and I hope he continues to have the discernment. We’re a divided country right now. You can’t really say that any candidate won with a mandate ... but he has a golden opportunity to get our country back on track. I’m excited about that possibility. ... I think people want him to succeed.”

When asked if he would be interested in a Trump appointment, Bush noted: “He’s not going to do that.”

Bush was also not critical about Trump’s announcement that he doesn’t need daily intelligence briefings.

“He’s not president yet,” Bush stressed. “I have family members who’ve had the daily intelligence briefing, and my guess is they went, ‘Oh my God.’ These are real threats, real challenges, and some very talented professional people provide the president with those briefings, and I’m sure he’ll recognize the importance to guide our country through all this turbulence.”

Bush’s connection to MSHA is MSHA President and CEO Alan Levine, who previously served as Bush’s deputy chief of staff and senior health policy adviser. Levine also served as the secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, an agency responsible for administering a $17 billion budget.

“I was lucky to work with Alan in Florida. He is a great leader. He loves his community. ... This is a very hospitable part of the country,” Bush said of Levine.

Reporters weren’t allowed to cover Bush’s remarks at the leadership forum, but he indicated that he talked about the need to have principle-centered leaders in the private sector in times of change.

Bush also advocated the planned MSHA-Wellmont Health System merger.

“I think the merger makes a lot of sense with the commitments being made by the leadership of both organizations to expand services to the community here, whether it’s mental health services or creating a model for the rest of the country to deal with opioid abuse,” he said.

Bush also recalled his family ties to Kingsport. Grandfather Prescott Bush briefly lived in Kingsport in the 1920s, and his son, President George H.W. Bush, thinks he might have been conceived in Kingsport, according to Jeb Bush.

Bush, who dropped out of the presidential race last February, concluded his time with reporters by reiterating his commentary published by the Wall Street Journal that Republicans have to come up with big ideas and implement them.

“Those (ideas) would range from regulatory reform in a dramatically different way. ... We want to grow manufacturing jobs in this country,” Bush explained. “We can’t have an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) organized around stifling investment in the country. We have the most convoluted tax code. ... I think the incoming administration and Congress are poised to reform taxes to simplify the code. ... We need to get the government out of picking winners and losers.

“Our brand is tarnished. Theirs is as well. The other team (Democrats) doesn’t have any good ideas or many ideas. This is a period where we could renew. I’m pretty optimistic we’ll do it.”