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« Strategy Memo: Skin in the game | Blog Home Page | Biden dines with son in Iraq »

Bush: "Not My Nature" to Avoid Tough Decisions

President Bush defended his legacy as a leader who was not afraid to make difficult, potentially unpopular decisions, but also admitted some missteps as he held what is likely to be his final press conference in office this morning.

Lightly sparring with reporters who he said sometimes "misunderestimated" him, Bush also predicted that the Republican Party will rebound, and that his successor will soon feel the responsibilities of the presidency "land squarely on his shoulders."

But Bush made only limited remarks on current events, devoting more time to sometimes somber, but also some passionate defenses of his time in the Oval Office.

"Presidents can try to avoid hard decisions and therefore avoid controversy. That's just not my nature," he said when asked about criticism he has faced. "I'm the kind of person that is willing to take on hard tasks. ... [I] never really spent that much time frankly worrying about the loud voices. I of course hear [them]. But they didn't affect my policy. Nor did they affect how I make decisions. President-elect Obama will find this too."

He emphasized that there is "no such thing as short-term history," repeating his belief that the passage of time will bring a more positive outlook on his tenure.

"I don't think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed," he said.

He did concede that his rhetoric has often "been a mistake," singling out the "Mission Accomplished" banner that was displayed when he declared major combat operations in Iraq had ended in 2003. He also said that pursuing reform of Social Security right after his re-election was a mistake, and that he should have argued for immigration reform first.

But he became most animated as he discussed the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, considered by many to be the major turning point in his fortunes. First, the president said he has thought "long and hard" about his actions in the immediate days, and whether he should have landed Air Force One in Louisiana sooner. Later, however, he bristled at the suggestion of inaction.

"Don't tell me the federal response was slow, when there were 30,000 people pulled up off roofs," Bush said. "That's a pretty quick response."

Bush, as he did in a televised interview this weekend, warned his party to change its tone on immigration, even as he predicted the GOP would rebound if it is "compassionate and broad-minded."

"This party will come back. But the party's message has to be that different points of view are welcomed in the party," he said. "The problem with the outcome of the initial round of the [immigration] debate was that some people said, 'Well Republicans don't like immigrants.' Now that may be fair or unfair, but that's the image that came out. And, you know, if the image is we don't like immigrants then there's probably somebody else out there saying, 'Well if they don't like immigrants, they probably don't like me as well.'"

The president said he hoped that the tone in Washington for Obama is different than it was for him. And he assured him that he would not be carping from the sidelines, but would get off the stage on Jan. 20. Still, he won't be an idle former president.

"I just can't envision myself, you know, the big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach. Particularly since I quit drinking," he joked.