She caught her mistake right away.
“Oh, excuse me,” Pelosi said, looking surprised and putting a hand over her heart. “I'm so sorry, President Bush! I never thought I'd pray for the day that you were president again.”
She was referring, of course, to George W. Bush, the 43rd U.S. president. Democrats famously opposed him on numerous fronts, including the Iraq War and the privatization of Social Security.
Pelosi acknowledged as much — but, well, what a difference several years and two administration changes make.
“And so you asked the question, how would I work with a Republican president? The way we worked with President Bush,” Pelosi told Karl. “We got a great deal accomplished. … Biggest energy bill in the history of our country, a tax bill that helped low-income working families that we wanted and we wanted to be big and we found our common ground. The list goes on and on.”
When Bush left office in 2009, he was one of the least popular presidents in recent history, particularly among Democrats. According to Gallup, Bush's approval ratings steadily declined over his two terms, ending with a second-term average of just 37 percent.
After office, Bush remained largely out of the political spotlight, taking up painting and appearing to maintain a tenuous but respectful relationship with Barack and Michelle Obama after they moved into the White House.
As The Washington Post's Callum Borchers reported in January 2016, some of this “Bush nostalgia” emerged early in the presidential primary race, amid anti-immigrant rhetoric from the 2016 Republican presidential candidates, including Trump.
“Positive media references to Bush have been mostly relative, rather than absolute,” Borchers wrote. “It’s not that (Bush) was actually a good president; it’s that today's Republican options are so bad that Bush sounds pretty decent, by comparison. That’s the argument.”
Many contrasted Trump's hard-line rhetoric against Muslims with Bush's actions in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Many have pointed out that, within a week of the attacks, then-President Bush publicly urged people not to conflate the terrorists' actions with the Islamic faith, even quoting from the Koran to make his point.
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war,” Bush said in a speech at the Islamic Center of Washington. “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”
The curious reimagining of Bush 43 continued throughout a contentious election — bolstered by a photo of a warm embrace between Bush and Michelle Obama in September that went viral — and into the early weeks of Trump's presidency.
Last month, The Post's Katie Mettler reported that Bush nostalgia was in full tilt.
After the “Ellen” show posted a video of the former president joking about his inner “Rembrandt” and learning to paint, viewers flooded the comments with unexpected praise.“A few years ago I would have rolled my eyes at the of this man, but 6 weeks of Trump makes W look like a pretty decent guy,” one woman wrote. “Perspective is a funny thing.”Added another: “I used to be a big critic of him and still don’t agree with much of what he did while in office. But, given who is now in office and how scary 45 is making the world, I’ve come to actually like this man.”
At a Saturday event billed as “Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner,” comedian Will Ferrell captured some of this sentiment when he emerged on stage in character as George W. Bush — and was met with cheers and applause.
Ferrell ambled slowly to the front of the stage, smoking a cigarette and soaking in the reception. He let a brief pause fill the room before holding out his arms to the audience.
“How do you like me now, huh?” he said in Bush's characteristic drawl, grinning.
“Quick presidential update: I'm doing quite well, thank you,” Ferrell-as-Bush said. “History's proven kinder to me than many of you thought.”