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At Final News Conference, A Reflective Bush


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. First this hour, we're going to hear what President Bush had to say in an unusually personal press conference. The White House says it was the president's last official meeting with the Press Corps. He spent 45 minutes with reporters, at times relaxed and joking, and other moments firm and even angry. Mr. Bush defended decisions he's made over the past eight years, and he also laid out a list of regrets. NPR's Don Gonyea was there.

DON GONYEA: President Bush has never liked news conferences. He hasn't had one in the White House in nearly six months. But today, he did use a brief opening statement to thank the reporters who've covered him.

(Soundbite of President Bush's final news conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Sometimes I didn't like the stories that you wrote or reported on. Sometimes you misunderestimated me. But always the relationship, I have felt, has been professional, and I appreciate it.

GONYEA: The questions that followed covered both current topics and the sweep of Mr. Bush's eight years in office. On the current front, he said he would release the remaining $350 billion in emergency funds for the economy if President-elect Obama asked him to do so - something that happened immediately after the news conference ended. It was yet another sign that in this area, the current president is already deferring to the man who'll oversee the spending of that money. And on the economy, despite the loss of two and a half million jobs this past year, Mr. Bush still found positive news to promote as part of his legacy.

(Soundbite of President Bush's final news conference)

President BUSH: In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession, I'm ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth. And I defended tax cuts when I campaigned. I helped implement tax cuts when I was president, and I will defend them after my presidency as the right course of action.

GONYEA: The president was also asked about mistakes he has made. After years of refusing to acknowledge any, Mr. Bush has in recent interviews offered a few things he regrets. He repeated them today - the mission accomplished banner that hung above him on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as he declared major combat operations to be over in Iraq. That was in May of 2003, and that was not all.

President BUSH: There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. You know, not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were things that didn't go according to plan. Let's put it that way.

GONYEA: He also noted the response to Hurricane Katrina, but he got angry when he recalled how people say still that the federal response was slow. He pointed to 30,000 people rescued from rooftops as a counterargument.

Inevitably, the president turned to 9/11, saying his top priority and the top issue facing his successor was always to prevent another attack. Mr. Bush was asked to respond to accusations that in his so-called, War on Terror, the U.S. has lost moral standing.

(Soundbite of President Bush's final news conference)

President BUSH: I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged. It may be damaged among some of the elite, but people still understand America stands for freedom, that America is a - is a country that provides such great hope.

GONYEA: Asked about President-elect Obama, Mr. Bush said there will come a time shortly after taking the oath next Tuesday when Mr. Obama will suddenly feel the weight of the presidency on his shoulders. But he also said this…

(Soundbite of President Bush's final news conference)

President BUSH: I believe the phrase burdens of the office is overstated. You know, it's kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It's just pathetic isn't it - self pity. And I don't believe President-elect Obama will be full of self pity.

GONYEA: The president also said he, too, is caught up in the historic nature of Obama's election, and said he's pleased that he'll have a front row seat when the nation's first African-American president takes the oath. Then, the president said he'll be happy to step out of the public eye while the klieg lights find a new subject. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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