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Bush on mortgage crisis: ‘My conscience is clear’

It was history — not the White House press corps or book reviewers — that former President George W. Bush had in mind when he sat down to write about his life, faith, political career and a presidency during which terrorists attacked the homeland, the U.S. waged two wars, and the country fell into a deep economic recession.

“I really didn’t spend time thinking about what the media would say about my book. I took the key issues, the key decisions I made, and tried to explain to the reader why I made them,” Bush told TODAY’s Matt Lauer during a live interview on Wednesday. “I was aware that some of the decisions I made were very controversial. And I knew putting them in the book would cause controversy … I am more concerned about what history thinks about the decisions I made.”

One of the key figures in Bush’s newly released memoir, “Decision Points,” told Lauer on Tuesday that he now regrets calling Bush a racist in the aftermath of the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused to New Orleans. Bush wrote that rapper Kanye West’s statement was one of the lowest points of his presidency.

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    Bush's Legacy

    George W. Bush entered the White House after one of the closest and most contested elections in U.S. history. The two-term president served during some of the nation’s most turbulent times. Take a look at the pivotal images from George W. Bush’s presidency.

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    Presidential hopeful George W. Bush waves to a crowd of supporters gathered in Kentucky on July 29, 2000. Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to Sen. John McCain but rebounded to claim the Republican nomination for president in 2000.

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    Broward County, Fla. canvassing board member Judge Robert Rosenberg uses a magnifying glass to examine a disputed ballot cast during the 2000 election. A ballot recount was ordered in parts of Florida following voting machine errors. Both Al Gore and the Florida Supreme Court ordered a recount to determine a winner. For 36 days after the election, the results in Florida remained in doubt, and so did the winner of the presidency. Bush emerged victorious when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 ruling, put an end to the ballot counting.

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    George W. Bush takes the presidential oath of office on Jan. 20, 2001. The president's daughters Jenna and Barbara stand at his side along with their mother Laura. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are seen standing on the right.

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    President Bush stands with firefighter Bob Beck at the World Trade Center in New York, three days after the 9/11 attacks.

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    Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld watches television as President Bush announces that U.S. troops are engaging terrorists in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001. Bush sent troops into Afghanistan to hunt for Osama bin Laden and other terrorists linked to the 9/11 attacks.

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    Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri are seen at an undisclosed location in this television image broadcast on Oct. 7, 2001. Bin Laden praised God for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. In the days following the attack, President Bush named bin Laden the prime suspect in the 9/11 attacks.

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    U.S. Military Police guard detainees in orange jumpsuits on Jan. 11, 2002 in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The legality of holding suspected terrorists indefinitely at the Guantanamo Bay facility has become a lightning rod of controversy. More than 750 detainees have been held there since 2001.

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    In his first State of the Union address, President Bush declares that an 'axis of evil' consisting of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq was 'arming to threaten the peace of the world.'

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    President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair deliver statements to the media at Camp David on Sept. 7, 2002. Blair was an ally to Bush and supported his decision to intervene in Iraq.

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    U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 14, 2003. Powell was tasked with presenting evidence that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction in order to get a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of military force.

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    Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad on April 9, 2003. The statue fell more than two weeks after U.S. forces invaded Iraq and started a hunt for Saddam Hussein.

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    On May 1, 2003, President Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast.

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    This photo taken in late 2003 shows an unidentified detainee standing on a box with a bag on his head and wires attached to him at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Accounts of abuse and torture of prisoners at the U.S.-run prison came to the public's attention in 2004. Seventeen soldiers and officers were removed from duty and seven were sent to prison for the treatment of prisons at Abu Ghriab.

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    President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry face off during the second presidential debate at Washington University on Oct. 8, 2004. Bush defeated Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

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    A woman displays her ink-stained finger after voting in Iraq on Jan. 30, 2005. The 2005 vote was the first free, democratic election to be held in Iraq in 50 years.

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    From left, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, political strategist Karl Rove, Vice President Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, White House communications director Dan Bartlett and Vice President Dick Cheney listen to the president deliver a speech in the Rose Garden on July 1, 2005. Since this photo was taken, McClellan has stepped down, Rove left his post and Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying in the investigation of the leaking of a CIA operative's name.

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    Saddam Hussein addresses the court during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq Thursday Dec. 22, 2005. Saddam and his co-defendants are charged with ordering the killing of more than 140 Shiite men in the town of Dujail, following an assasination attempt on Saddam in July 1982. (AP Photo/John Moore, Pool)

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    In this photo taken on Aug. 30, 2005, a victim of Hurricane Katrina is evacuated by helicopter over the devastation caused by the high winds and heavy flooding in the greater New Orleans area. President Bush was sharply criticized for what some called his lethargic response to the natural disaster.

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    President Bush delivers a speech on education at an elementary school outside of Baltimore on Jan. 9, 2006. The 'No Child Left Behind Act' was aimed at closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their richer counterparts. It was one of the big tenets of Bush's domestic agenda and was signed into law in early 2002.

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    Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts walk down the steps of the court house on Feb. 16, 2006. President Bush initially nominated Roberts to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, but when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died, Bush withdrew that nomination and nominated Roberts to be Chief Justice. The president then nominated Alito to fill O'Connor's seat.

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    The president is surrounded by Indian women after watching a women's discussion group in Hyderabad, India on March 3, 2006. Bush made a three-day visit to India to renew ties with the nuclear nation.

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    Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt points to a laptop computer screen as President Bush watches volunteers and seniors use the internet to sign up for prescription drugs. Bush's program provides prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients through private insurance companies.

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    President Bush appears with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the Rose Garden on Sept. 27, 2006. The trio met to discuss cross-border relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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    U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announces his resignation during a news conference at the Justice Department on Aug. 27, 2007. Gonzales stepped down amid controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

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    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erek at the White House on Nov. 28, 2007. Bush invited the two leaders to Washington to initiate a new round of peace negotiations.

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  • Construction Of Fence Along Mexican Border Picks Up Speed

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    Border fence -

    A metal fence forms a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. The fence was a result of the Secure Fence Act, calling for 698 miles of border fences to try to keep illegal immigrants from entering the U.S. Critics argue that extensive fencing damages fragile desert environments and divides border neighborhoods.

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    Thousands of climate change protestors march toward the U.S. Embassy in London on Dec. 8, 2007. Mass demonstrations have occurred worldwide since President Bush opposed signing the Kyoto Protocol which seeks to impose mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush talk during a bilateral meeting at Putin's summer retreat in Sochi, Russia on April 6, 2008.

    Epsilon via Getty Images / Epsilon via Getty Images
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    The president walks alongside Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Christopher Cox and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson prior to a speech on the economy on Sept. 19, 2008. The president called together his economic team to discuss a weakening economy and a global financial crisis.

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    The president hugs first lady Laura Bush as he gives an emotional wave of appreciation after speaking on the transition to administration employees on Nov. 6, 2008, on the South Lawn of the White House.

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    President George W. Bush,first lady Laura Bush, Michele Obama and president-elect Barack Obama stand outside the White House on Nov. 10, 2008. Obama visited the White House at the invitation of Bush ahead of his Jan. 20, 2009 inauguration.

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“I would say of George Bush, in my moment of frustration, I didn’t have the grounds to call him a racist,” West said in a clip that Lauer showed to Bush. “But I believe that in a situation of high emotion like that, we as human beings don’t always choose the right words.”

Reacting to the clip, Bush said: “I appreciate that. It wasn’t just Kanye West who was talking like that during Katrina. I cite him as an example.”

The former president added: “I am not a hater. I don’t hate Kanye West. I was talking about an environment in which people were willing to say things that hurt. Nobody wants to be called a racist, if in your heart you believe in equality of race.”

Mother’s miscarriage
Dressed in a navy blue suit and red tie, Bush gave a 14-minute live interview with Lauer that followed an hourlong taped discussion that aired on NBC on Monday night, in which he talked about his decision to stop drinking on his 40th birthday; Vice President Dick Cheney’s anger over Bush’s refusal to pardon Cheney’s former chief of staff; the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina; the rationale for invading Iraq, and many other topics.

Bush said Wednesday that he never expected the reaction that has followed his description of driving his mother to the hospital after a miscarriage: his recollection from his teens that Barbara Bush brought the fetus to the hospital in a jar she held in her lap.

“I had no intention of creating a national dialogue,” Bush told Lauer Wednesday. “My intention was to describe a relationship between a mom and her son, and an interesting anecdote that helps the reader understand why Mother and I are so close.”

Many critics have panned “Decision Points” as Bush’s attempt to put a positive spin on a difficult period in American history. A Washington Post reviewer wrote: “Like most presidential memoirs, W.’s is generic and unsurprising.”

Economic stewardship
But Bush defended his memoir, saying it is more of an explanation than an excuse. About the economic downturn, Bush wrote that his administration saw the housing crisis coming but “powerful forces on Capitol Hill” blocked its efforts to put limits on the freewheeling lending practices that caused it.

Noting that 2.6 million jobs were lost, the bank system nearly collapsed, the housing system did collapse and the country fell into the deepest recession since the Great Depression after the stock market crash of 1929, Lauer asked Bush, “How much of the blame for that should be laid at your feet and your policies?”

Bush acknowledged that his administration deserved some of the blame for its handling of the economic downturn, but said Congress could have slowed or prevented it. Bush said his economic advisers saw the approaching housing crisis, but Congress refused to restrict the government-backed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae mortgage buyers.

“My conscience is clear when it came to recognizing an impending problem,” Bush said. “Anytime you are in power and there is a problem, you are going to get the blame; I realize that.”

While accepting some blame, however, Bush said lawmakers could have and should have done more to prevent the housing bubble. If Congress had, the Wall Street bailout might not have been necessary, he said.

“The hardest thing for me was not whether or not blame was assigned,” Bush said. “The hardest thing for me was to explain to hardworking America why taxpayer money was being used to prop up [Wall Street].”

Father of the Tea Party?
Turning to current politics, Lauer asked the former president: “Did you give birth to the Tea Party?”

“I don’t think I was that powerful,” Bush said, chuckling. “I think what gave birth to the Tea Party was severe frustration with the political system in general.

“I understand perception; the purpose of this book is to state reality,” he added. “I’m confident over time that when people take an objective look at the fiscal record of my administration, they’ll have a better understanding of why I said I was proud of our fiscal record.”

Asked about the controversy surrounding a proposal to build an Islamic community center and mosque just blocks from the site where the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said that he wasn’t about to get “roped into” that or any other debate.

Bush said that he is staying out of the issues of the day intentionally. “The problem with the arena today is that a few loud voices can dominate the discussion,” he said. “I don’t intend to be one of the voices in the discussion.”

Looking ahead, Bush said that he plans to remain active in causes and the charities he supports, including his own foundation. In terms of politics, he’s retired.

“I have no desire to debate. My debating days are over,” he said. “I knew when I laid out the book, people would chomp on different issues, sometimes spit it out, sometimes swallow it. I’m pleased with the response. All I ask is that people take a look. After I sell this book, I’m heading back underground.”

 

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