Down to single digits in his days left in office, President George W. Bush is warning the Republican Party not to become "anti-immigrant" as it regroups from defeat and retools its leadership.
"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 departing president said in an interview broadcast Sunday, nine days before his term ends. "My call for our party is to be open-minded."
After Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006, the party took another thumping in November, when Barack Obama won the presidency and Democrats expanded their control of the House and Senate. Bush was not on the ballot either time, but both elections were seen at least partly as a repudiation of him.
"Obviously, we got whipped in 2008," Bush said.
Re-examining the message
Republican leaders are re-examining both their message and their messengers. Bush said the party need not change its basic tenets such low taxes and a strong defense. But he warned that there ought not be any "litmus tests as to whether or not you can be a Republican."
"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.' We've got to be a party for a better future."
Bush promised an overhaul of immigration policy in his second term. But it went down to defeat in Congress when some leading lawmakers, including conservative members of his party, thought that provisions such as a guest worker program amounted to amnesty for illegal immigrants.
On other topics, the president:
- said he turned to his father, former President George H.W. Bush, more for "unconditional love" than advice. "I was more interested in the father-son relationship. You've got a lot of people who can give you advice. But you rarely have people who can pick up the phone and say, 'I love you, son,' or `Hang in there, son,' and provide the kind of comfort that, you know, a president needs on occasion."
- defended as legal the use of tough interrogation methods against high-value terrorism suspects. Obama has criticized interrogation practices that he says amount to torture and has pledged to protect the country while also upholding the nation's values. Said Bush: "I just can't imagine what it would be like to be president without these tools available and we captured a known killer who might have information about the next attack on America."
- said his biggest disappointment in the Washington political process has been people he trusted who publicly express their bitterness about his leadership. Without naming names, he said such critics did not show respect to their own office or his. "They don't want to have a logical discussion or a civil discussion about policy," Bush said. "They just want to tear you down."
- first said his dad's "a nut to jump out of an airplane," referring to a series of skydiving jumps in recent years. Then the younger Bush added. "Actually, I think it's cool." His father plans to go skydiving once again, in June, to mark his 85th birthday.
George W. Bush appeared on "Fox News Sunday," in an interview taped Wednesday.