By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2009
President Bush called for a "compassionate" Republican Party and warned against the GOP becoming "anti-immigrant" in one of his last interviews as president, defending his vision of the party, which has become unpopular among some Republicans.
"It's very important for our party not to narrow its focus, not to become so inward-looking that we drive people away from a philosophy that is compassionate and decent," the president said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" that was aired yesterday. "We shouldn't have litmus tests as to whether or not you can be a Republican. And we should be open-minded about big issues like immigration reform, because if we're viewed as anti-somebody -- in other words, if the party is viewed as anti-immigrant -- then another fellow may say, 'Well, if they're against the immigrant, they may be against me.' "
Bush, when asked about how the GOP could avoid the kind of losses it suffered in the 2008 election -- it lost the presidency and several seats in the House and Senate -- said, "I think that we shouldn't change our philosophy." But he added: "We may want to change our message. . . . We need a new group of leaders."
He declined to name any of the leaders except his brother Jeb, who has decided against running for a Senate seat in Florida in 2010 despite encouragement from the president.
Some of the Bush administration's efforts, such as expanding the federal government's role in education through the No Child Left Behind Act and proposing an easier path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, have come under fire from some Republicans. But, in the interview, Bush used the phrase that marked his 2000 campaign, saying, "We've got to be compassionate conservatives."
The president, joined for part of the interview by his father, former president George H.W. Bush, said he would take up to four years to write a book about his presidency. He said the book would explore his decision-making on some of the key issues of his eight-year tenure.
The two men, who have almost never been interviewed together during the younger Bush's time in the White House, defended each other's presidencies. The president said his father was "almost too humble to be president."
"He's going to be judged great, too," Bush said of his father. "When history finally gets objective, they will be able to say a lot of positive things about George Bush."
The elder Bush said he viewed his son's tenure "very positively."
Even as President-elect Barack Obama spoke out in an interview on ABC's "This Week" that aired yesterday against an interrogation technique known as waterboarding, President Bush called his administration's policies legal and necessary. He said he would be concerned if Obama abandoned the techniques.
"Obviously, I feel like it would be a problem," Bush said, "because these are tools that we have in place. I do want to -- you know, I firmly reject the word 'torture.' "