Jeb Bush defended calling children of illegal immigrants born in the United States "anchor babies," while also attempting to distance himself from the controversial expression during a tense exchange with reporters in New Hampshire on Thursday.
When asked if he regretted using the term, which is considered highly offensive by many, during a radio interview, Bush quickly went on the defensive: "No, I don't regret it."
But then he appeared to second-guess himself, asking the reporter: "Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I'll use it. I'm serious." A few minutes later, the 2016 Republican contender attempted to clarify his use of the term: "Here's the deal, what I said was it's commonly referred to that. That's what I said. I didn't use it as my own language."
The exchange highlights the political tightrope that contenders now must walk as they face pressure from conservatives and Donald Trump to take a hard-line on illegal immigration while the Republican establishment works to win favor with Hispanics and minority voters ahead of the presidential election.
Trump has forced the GOP field to answer for an immigration platform that he debuted over the weekend which, among a wide array of policy prescriptions, calls for an end to birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.
While some conservative Republicans, such as Scott Walker and Ted Cruz, have been quick to praise many elements of Trump's platform, Bush has made clear that he does not endorse many of Trump's ideas and has been quick to defend birthright citizenship as a constitutional right.
"You want to get to the policy, for a second? I think that people born in this country oughta be American citizens," Bush said Thursday.
He also criticized what he called "a tidal wave of accusations or bombastic talk," saying that "this whole immigration debate is hurtful for a lot of people." Bush added: "I think we need to tone down the rhetoric a little."
But his use of the term anchor babies, a phrase Trump has been quick to throw out into the debate, drew fierce criticism from the Left.
2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton was quick to tweet a rebuke Thursday, following a similar one after Bush said it Wednesday.
How about "babies," "children," or "American citizens." https://t.co/ofxEG6Za00— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 20, 2015