Bush appeared on Today on Tuesday to promote his book Out of Many, One, which features his painted portraits of American immigrants

By Sean Neumann
April 20, 2021 12:03 PM
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Former President George W. Bush: Immigration system ‘needs to be reformed’
George W. Bush
| Credit: Today Show

George W. Bush told the Today show's Hoda Kotb in a Tuesday interview that, yes, he has been tempted to speak out about his presidential successors.

But anything more specific on his thoughts — on either Presidents Barack Obama or, perhaps, Donald Trump — will have to remain a secret.

"Yeah, I guess I have, sure," Bush, 74, told Kotb, laughing with a smile, before the Today anchor asked him to get specific.

"Anyone in particular? Nah, I think I'm fine," the 43rd president added. "If I did, Michelle Obama might not be my friend."

Bush appeared on Today in one of several new interviews to promote his book Out of Many, One, which features his painted portraits of American immigrants.

The former president also joined the Today panel outside on Tuesday, on Rockefeller Plaza, where he presided over a naturalization ceremony for 30 new citizens along with former First Lady Laura Bush.

"The system really needs to be reformed and fixed," President Bush said during his interview, echoing what has been a major theme of his new project.

Bush, who unsuccessfully pushed Congress to pass major reforms while in office, said he believes "there needs to be more judges and more courts so people can have a fair hearing," which he said could help alleviate hopeful migrants' infamously long waiting periods.

He added that "we need to change the work visas."

But first, Bush said, Americans need to change how they view immigration.

"It's a beautiful country we have," he said. "And yet it's not beautiful when we condemn and call people names and scare people about immigration."

Welcoming new citizens to the U.S. is "one of the beautiful moments in our country," Bush told Kotb, 56, during the swearing-in ceremony outside.

He said the current immigration process can be "complex," "difficult" and "can be very costly to some," pointing to one of the new citizens.

Per Rosenkvist, a nurse practitioner from Denmark, said he had been trying to become a citizen for 20 years while working at a U.S. hospital — including a trying past year on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Today marks the exciting end to my long journey, my own American dream," Rosenkvist said, adding that it was a "proud moment."

Former President George W. Bush: Immigration system ‘needs to be reformed’
George W. Bush joins TODAY panel outside of NBC's studios Tuesday
| Credit: Today Show

Continuing his interview after the ceremony, Bush said immigration was "an easy issue" but that politics — in his words, by both the Republican and Democratic parties — often muck up the country's approach.

Kotb pointed out that with his new book, which features oil paintings of immigrants and their "inspiring journeys," Bush was "obviously lobbying" for Americans to have a more empathetic mindset towards migrants.

"Part of the purpose of the book is to elevate the discourse and remind our fellow citizens about the beauty of America that attracts people who are escaping tyranny or fleeing oppression or just want an opportunity for a better life," he said.

"It's an easy issue to frighten some of the electorate, and I'm trying to have a different kind of voice," the former president explained, pointing out that his view isn't for the U.S. to have open borders.

"I think 'pro-immigration' isn't the right way to put it," Bush said. "I think 'border enforcement with a compassionate touch' is how I would put it."

Former President George W. Bush: Immigration system ‘needs to be reformed’
Credit: Today Show Twitter

Elsewhere in the interview, Bush commented on former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial as jurors now deliberate Chauvin's culpability in the killing of George Floyd.

"I think a lot of people have already made up their mind what the verdict ought to be," he said, after last year releasing a statement that said he and Mrs. Bush, 74, were "anguished" over Floyd's death.

"People know that the trial has been conducted fairly and that rule of law reigns supreme," he said. "We'll see what a jury of [Chauvin's] peers has to say."

He also said he "felt ill" while watching the deadly pro-Trump attack at the U.S. Capitol in January, though he was "optimistic that the U.S. would survive that."

He noted with positivity that "our institutions held" that day. Nonetheless, he had sharp words for some fellow conservatives while noting it was no longer really his place, as a former politician.

He called the contemporary GOP and Trump-leaning Republicans "isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist."

"It's not exactly my vision," said Bush, who grappled with his own controversies and steep unpopularity while in office. "I am just an old guy they put out to pasture — just a simple painter."