President Bush, in a wide-ranging interview with FOX News on Wednesday, said he's "looking at all options" for staving off a meltdown in the U.S. auto industry.
The president also said he's not worried that his response to the financial crisis or his handling of the Iraq war will mar his legacy as he prepares to leave office next month.
"I will be known as somebody (who) saw a problem and put the chips on the table to prevent the economy from collapsing," Bush told FOX News' Bret Baier. "I'm a free-market guy. But I'm not going to let this economy crater in order to preserve the free-market system."
The president said he's still considering how to deal with requests for emergency funding from Detroit's Big Three automakers, but will resolve the issue "relatively soon."
Bush said he believes a "disorganized bankruptcy or disorderly bankruptcy" would cause "great harm to the economy."
"That concerns me," Bush said, but added, "I'm not interested in ... putting good money after bad. So it's an issue that I'm thinking through."
After a $14 billion bailout bill failed in the Senate last week, the administration is considering several options. Aside from letting the automakers file for bankruptcy, the administration could tap funding from the $700 billion financial bailout bill.
The urgency was underscored by word Wednesday from Chrysler, one of the Big Three, that it will shut down production for a month starting Friday. Ford and General Motors also have announced short-term plans to shut down many of their plants to save money.
Bush would not offer a deadline by which the administration will decide how to address the automakers' requests.
The president also downplayed the importance of his approval ratings, which are hovering at below 30 percent and have been below 40 percent for more than two years.
"I don't care," Bush told FOX News, explaining that, "I have never used a poll to make a decision."
"Look, everybody likes to be popular. Everybody wants to be liked. But I just -- what do you expect? We've got a major economic problem and I'm the president during the major economic problem. I mean, do people approve of the economy? No. I don't approve of the economy," Bush said.
"If you make decisions based upon polls, you'll be a failure as president," Bush said. "And I've been a war-time president. I've dealt with two economic recessions now. I've had, hell, a lot of serious challenges. What matters to me is I didn't compromise my soul to be a popular guy."
Bush said his efforts to protect the American people are "paying off."
Asked about the persistent criticism he has faced regarding interrogation techniques and surveillance policies, Bush said he always operated within the law to make the country more secure.
"I know there's a lot of urban myths about certain decisions I had made," Bush said. "But when the truth comes out and people will say, 'Oh, I see what he did.'"
Bush acknowledged setting up with his staff a series of contingency plans for President-elect Barack Obama in the event of an international crisis.
He said it was the "absolute right thing to do," considering there hadn't been a transfer of power during a war in a long time.
"This may come as a shock to people," Bush said. "But I really want President-elect Obama to succeed. I want him to be able to say that we prevented further attacks."
Bush said he was impressed by Obama's national security team, which includes current Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"Solid team," Bush said. "I can't thank them enough for continuing to serve beyond my presidency."
As for his post-White House years, Bush said he'll probably take the route of other past presidents.
Bush said he would likely write a book and hit the speaking circuit. But he couldn't give too many details about his plans once he leaves Washington.
"Ask me after I've been home for a little bit," Bush said.
FOX News' Bret Baier contributed to this report.