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Jeb Bush Visits Europe Ahead Of Presidential Campaign Announcement


Jeb Bush was on the campaign trail today far from home. The former Florida governor, who, in a few days, will officially launch his presidential bid, gave a speech in Germany. He called for closer trade and security ties with Europe, and he warned Vladimir Putin that Russia must respect the sovereignty of all its neighbors. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, has more.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For a presidential candidate, making a trip to Europe is a rite of passage. Particularly for governors who are not directly involved with foreign policy, it's a chance to allow voters to imagine them as commander-in-chief. And foreign-policy matters a lot this year. It's the No. 1 issue for Republican voters, and the Democratic candidate is likely to be the former secretary of state. To that end, Jeb Bush gave a speech and answered questions at a major economic conference in Berlin today. Without giving specifics, he said if he became president, he would step up the U.S. response to Russian aggression.


JEB BUSH: Giving the sense that we're reacting in a tepid fashion only enables the bad behavior of Putin. So I think there's lots to do, and we're beginning to realize that the reset button didn't turn out so hot.


LIASSON: That last reference was to the now-abandoned policy of a reset with Russia that Hillary Clinton pursued when she was secretary of state. Bush said that Ukraine must be permitted to chart its own path, and when Putin pushes the boundaries, someone has to push back.


BUSH: And I believe that's NATO. NATO's responsibility is to do just that, particularly for NATO countries.

LIASSON: But just like President Obama, Bush is not promising to check Russia with military intervention on behalf of Ukraine, which is not a NATO ally.


BUSH: We should never do it in a way that pushes Russia away for a generation of time. Then ultimately, Russia needs to be a European nation and that everything we do ought to be to isolate its corrupt leadership from its people, for starters.

LIASSON: Bush talked about his father, President George H.W. Bush, who worked with German leaders on reunification, but he never mentioned his brother, President George W. Bush, who is still very unpopular in Europe. He took questions from the audience and showed that he was substantive and fluent in foreign affairs. And he avoided mistakes, an important goal for these trips. Two other Republican candidates weren't as nimble when they visited Europe. Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, refused to answer questions and New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, got tangled up in a domestic debate about measles vaccines. Bush stayed well within the mainstream of Republican thinking on trade, the defense budget and military aid to Ukraine. For the most part, he left politics at the water's edge, an almost forgotten tradition. On Chinese expansion, Bush sounded a lot like the president he wants to succeed.


BUSH: I think it's appropriate for the United States government, as it's announced it will do, is to have constant flyovers and to have a Navy presence be in in that space to make sure that international law is upheld, that the Chinese don't believe that they can re-create international maritime law. There's things that we can do, but the lesson is, we cannot pull back. The United States has to lead, and we have to do it in partnership with our allies.

LIASSON: From Germany, Bush will travel to Poland and Estonia, two NATO allies that are nervous about Russian aggression. Then on Monday, he'll be back in Miami, officially kicking off his bid for the White House. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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