- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

President Bush waxed nostalgic during a farewell press conference at the White House Monday morning in which he passionately defended his legacy but also admitted to a series of mistakes and disappointments over the last eight years.

“One thing about the presidency is that you can only make decisions based on the information at hand,” Mr. Bush said. “You don’t get to have information after you make the decision — that’s not the way it works. And you stand by your decisions and you explain why you made the decisions you made.”

The president who in 2004 could not name any mistakes he had made during his first term did not lack for things to discuss when asked this time.

He ran down the list: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina, the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the failed reform of Social Security, and the “Mission Accomplished” banner hoisted on an aircraft carrier in 2003.

But Mr. Bush, who was unusually animated at times during the 50th White House press conference of his presidency, even for him, said he did not believe that he had erred in flying over New Orleans after Katrina the day after the levees broke.

“I’ve thought long and hard about Katrina, you know, could I have done something differently, like, land Air Force One, either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission and then your questions would have been, ‘How could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?’”

Mr. Bush also regretted the first policy initiative he pushed after winning re-election in 2004, when he declared “I have capital and I’m going to spend it.”

“I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the ‘04 election was a mistake. I should have argued for immigration reform,” he said. “The crisis was not imminent as far as members of Congress were concerned.”

Mr. Bush also said Abu Graib was “a huge disappointment” and that “not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment.”

“I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but things didn’t go as planned, let’s put it that way,” he said.

“There is no such thing as short-term history. I don’t think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed.”

Mr. Bush also told the press that while he didn’t always like the stories they wrote, he respected and appreciated them.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” said Mr. Bush, who leaves office eight days from now, after eight years in office.

Mr. Bush also said he has spoken to President-elect Barack Obama about requesting the second $350 billion under the Troubled Assets Relief Program, but that he has not asked Congress to hand it over yet.

“He hasn’t asked me to make the request yet, and I don’t intend to make the request unless he specifically asks me to make it,” Mr. Bush said.

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It was only the fourth press conference since the beginning of 2008 for Mr. Bush, who has kept a particularly low profile in recent weeks, as Mr. Obama has assumed national leadership on the economy.

While the early Monday morning notice of the event set off a flurry of the usual activity as reporters scurried to get downtown, there was not the normal high demand to get in. The back two rows of the 49-seat James S. Brady Press Briefing Room were almost totally empty.

Mr. Bush said he called the press conference to thank the press.

“It seems like yesterday that I was on the campaign trail and you were analyzing my campaign speeches,” he said.

“Through it all I have respected you,” the president said. “Sometimes I didn’t like the stories you wrote or reported on.”

“Sometimes you misunderstimated me,” he said. “But always the relationship has been professional, and I appreciated it. I do appreciate working with you.”

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