Former President George W. Bush offered what appeared to be a thinly veiled critique of his Republican successor on Monday, as he defended the importance of the media and immigration policies that are "welcoming."
Bush, during an interview on NBC's “Today” show to promote a new book of military portraits, addressed a range of President Trump controversies, specifically when asked about the executive order to temporarily restrict travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. That order stalled in court, though Trump is expected to issue a new -- but similar -- order this week.
“I am for an immigration policy that’s welcoming and upholds the law,” Bush said.
Host Matt Lauer referred to a “Muslim ban” and asked how Trump's policies meshed with Bush’s warm White House rhetoric directed toward Muslims.
“I think it’s very important for all of us to recognize one of our great strengths is for people 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.”
He also echoed the reported comments of new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, refusing to term terrorism as inherently Islamic.
“People who murder the innocent are not religious people,” Bush said. “They want to advance an ideology. And we have faced those kind of ideologues in the past.”
Until now, Bush largely has remained mum about the policies not only of Trump, but of former President Barack Obama. Bush's comments Monday stopped short of a reprimand, but highlighted differences between his and Trump's respective approaches to common challenges.
While Trump has repeatedly lambasted media organizations and termed numerous negative reports “fake news,” Bush applauded the same media that often derided him during his Oval Office tenure.
“I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy,” Bush said. “That we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive. And it can be corrosive.”
Bush said it was important to know the truth about any relationship between Russia and members of the current administration -- “I think we all need answers” -- but dodged when asked if a special prosecutor was required to look into collusion allegations. Bush also specifically cited Russian President Vladimir Putin when discussing the importance of free speech.
“One of the things I spent a lot of time doing was trying to convince a person like Vladimir Putin, for example, to accept the notion of an independent press,” said Bush, who cautioned that “it’s kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press and we’re not willing to have one ourself.”
But Bush conceded that Trump has only been in office for a month and urged his critics to “take a man for his word that he wants to unify the country.”
“Everybody looks at the presidency when they campaign one way,” Bush said, “then they get in office and find out there’s a reality to the job.”