Bush Holds Final News Conference Of Presidency
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.
President Bush appeared in the White House briefing room this morning and looked out at the reporters who'd gathered there.
(Soundbite from news conference)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: We have been through a lot together.
INSKEEP: And with those words, Mr. Bush began what was billed as his final news conference as president. He was animated, he acknowledged some mistakes, and he said history will be the judge of his presidency. NPR's Cokie Roberts was listening in, and joins us now for some analysis, as she does every Monday morning. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: I suppose we should mention that there's a reminder here that President Bush is still president of the United States. We're in the middle of this $700 billion bailout of the financial industry; the first half has been spent. He was asked if he would ask Congress for the second half, and he said no.
ROBERTS: Well, he basically said that Senator Barack Obama - President-elect Obama - that they had talked about it, and that he'd said if Obama wants him to ask for it, that it's important for it to happen on his watch, that he will do it. But he says it's essentially up to Obama.
INSKEEP: So the president will not be taking that dramatic step; he will leave it to his successor. And he spent a lot of the rest of his...
ROBERTS: Or Steve, but I wouldn't say - it could happen in tandem, with the two of them doing it.
INSKEEP: I see.
ROBERTS: Because it could happen sooner than next week.
INSKEEP: And we are still, of course, days away from the inauguration, and who knows what kind of economic news those few days will bring?
INSKEEP: I suppose we should mention that a lot of this news conference was, of course, looking back at the nearly eight years now that the president has been president. And he spoke rather candidly, acknowledging a couple of mistakes.
(Soundbite of news conference)
President BUSH: Clearly, putting a Mission Accomplished on a aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake. I've thought long and hard about Katrina. You know, could I have done something differently?
INSKEEP: In particular, he wondered if he should have landed in New Orleans to look around after that storm instead of flying over it and be photographed looking out the window from Air Force One. In both cases, he was concerned about messages that he'd sent, images that had been left in the public's mind.
ROBERTS: That's true. And in terms of Katrina, he said, you know, if he had landed, it would have diverted people who needed to be doing more important things than protecting him at that moment. And he came back to Katrina later, and defended federal actions, saying $121 billion has gotten in there, the school system is dramatically improving, people are moving back into their homes, but more people need to. And he said, don't tell me - somewhat animatedly - that there was no federal response, or it was too slow, when 30,000 people were pulled off their roofs right after the storm passed.
But he was reflective about mistakes. He - I thought that it was very interesting that he said that Social Security, after the 2004 election, to emphasize that was a mistake, that it should have been immigration. And clearly, the failure to do something on immigration reform is something that he takes away as a disappointment from this presidency.
INSKEEP: Cokie Roberts, as someone who has seen a number of presidents come and go, how much power do they have to shape the way they're remembered?
ROBERTS: Well, he insists that it's history that will make this decision, and he has read many, many presidential histories. He always says, they're still writing about George Washington's presidency. And he, several times today, referenced Abraham Lincoln, both in terms of the tone in Washington, the things that have disappointed him about that tone, but saying it's happened before.
But he also was reflective about the presidency itself, Steve, in talking about how Barack Obama will walk into that Oval Office and that will be a moment when he realizes the responsibility of the presidency.
But one thing I found really interesting is he said he didn't feel isolated in this job, which you've heard from other presidents. And he said, I don't think Obama will. He has a great family, and he'll be a 45-second commute from a wife and two little girls who love him dearly. He said, you know, sometimes these burdens are overstated. These are people whining, why did the - why did the economic disaster happen on my watch? He said, you know, that's not the way to do it.
INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts, giving us analysis on this Monday morning.