Former President George W. Bush made the case for continuing to fund foreign aid programs and offering a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in a recent NPR interview.
Although Bush refrained from directly criticizing President Donald Trump in his comments, they contrast with the current Oval Office occupant’s call for dramatic cuts to the foreign aid budget and his hard-line rhetoric on immigration.
“When you have an entire generation of people being wiped out and the free world turns its back, it provides a convenient opportunity for people to spread extremism,” Bush said, arguing for U.S. aid to programs like those that fight AIDS in Africa. “I believe in this case that it’s in our national security interests as well as in our moral interest to continue funding this program.”
On immigration, Bush argued that the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that he proposed as president will eventually become policy. "There needs to be a way for somebody to be able to get in line to become a citizen so long as they met certain criteria," he said.
Bush also signaled some skepticism that Trump would follow through on some of his more controversial proposals, like building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and enacting policies that are often described as isolationist and protectionist.
Echoing comments his own successor, Barack Obama, has made about Trump, Bush noted that presidents often “think one thing going in, and then the pressures of the job or the realities of the world are different than you thought.”
“I have been relatively quiet during my post presidency, but I have given several speeches on the dangers of isolationism and protectionism,” Bush said. “And our country goes through these kind of, I guess, mood swings, is the right way to say it. And it seems to me that in both parties there was an isolationist and protectionist sentiment.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, “the realities of the job sometimes undermine those sentiments. I guess I would caution patience and see how policy evolves from this point forward with the current administration.”
On Trump’s border wall proposal, Bush similarly said: “The border, the idea of building a wall, I mean, I built a wall. … But it’s not going to be a brick wall all the way across Texas. A lot of times in politics the rhetoric is different from reality.”
That reality, he said, includes the importance of not alienating Mexico, with whose leaders Trump has publicly conflicted over the wall proposal.
“I think it’s very important for us to recognize the importance of Mexico and the relationship we have with Mexico,” Bush said. “We want Mexico to succeed. It’s in our national interest they succeed.”
Bush also addressed a report that he referred to Trump’s inauguration as “some weird s—” (he is not confirming or denying).
“If I said it, I don’t remember it, but I’m glad I went to the inauguration,” Bush said. “It’s a really beautiful experience to watch the peaceful transfer of power.”
The former president also referenced the viral photos that circulated after the inauguration of him struggling to put on a poncho as it started to rain.
“I wish I had gotten the rain poncho on a little more cleanly,” Bush said. “My daughters were aghast. You know, ‘Dad, you’re a national tweet sensation,’ or whatever they say. ‘You’re trending,’ or whatever the words are. And I said, ‘I don’t know what the heck that means.’ But then I saw the pictures, and I can see why I was trending.”