Former President George W. Bush on Monday offered a gentle critique of some of the rhetoric and policies President Donald Trump has embraced in his first few weeks in office.
“Today” host Matt Lauer confronted Bush specifically about Trump’s assertion that some news-media outlets were the “enemy of the people.” It was a rare interview for Bush, who was promoting his new book, “Portraits of Courage.”
Though Bush qualified that Trump had been in office for only a few weeks and that the media ecosystem was far less splintered during his administration, he emphasized the importance to democracy of dissenting media voices.
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” Bush said. “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. I mean power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power. Whether it be here or elsewhere.”
Over six minutes, Bush countered Trump’s worldview, seeming to slightly criticize everything from Trump’s immigration policy to his description of “American carnage” across the US.
Asked about Trump’s executive order temporarily banning entry to the US by people from seven majority-Muslim countries, Bush seemed to acknowledge critics’ assertion that the ban discriminated based primarily on religion.
“I think it’s very important for all of us to recognize one of our great strengths is for all of us to be able to worship the way they want to or not worship at all,” Bush said. “A bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely. I understood that right off the bat, Matt, that this was an ideological conflict and people that murder the innocent are not religious people. They want to advance an ideology.”
When asked if he was for the travel ban, Bush added: “I’m for an immigration policy that’s welcome and that upholds the law.”
Though Trump has only begrudgingly acknowledged that Russia meddled in the US 2016 election, the former president was far less hesitant that the US needed to pursue answers.
Bush emphasized the need for the US to further investigate Russia’s hacking and leaking of US internal political documents, saying he trusted Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to investigate Russia’s role in the election.
“We all need answers,” Bush said. “Whether or not a special prosecutor is the right way or go or not, you’re talking to the wrong guy.”
He added: “That question needs to be answered.”
The former Republican president’s opposition to some of Trump’s initial policy decisions came after months of public and private criticism of Trump from the former first family.
Neither Bush nor his father, former President George H. W. Bush, supported Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump made rhetorical attacks on the Bushes a central part of his primary campaign against Jeb Bush, continuing to mock the former Florida governor even after he dropped out of the primary.