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Malveaux: Bush finally opens up

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux reflects on covering president
  • President Bush reveals more of his feelings about job than ever before, she says
  • President most emotional over potential threats to United States, Malveaux says
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has covered the Bush administration for six years.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux shares a light moment with President Bush during his final press conference Monday.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux shares a light moment with President Bush during his final press conference Monday.

As always, she was in the room Monday when Bush held his final press conference, an almost hourlong event in which the president answered questions about current issues and reflected on his eight years in office.

Here Malveaux reflects on her time covering the Bush administration and on the final White House press conference, which she described as "raw," "fascinating" and "bizarre."

Q: How do you compare this to previous briefings?

Malveaux: This was an extraordinary press conference. It took the president a little time to warm up. He called on me third. About two questions after that, he embraced this different kind of mood and revealed things about himself that he didn't before. Video Watch Bush talk about his respect for the press »

We'd heard a bit about his misgivings before, but we didn't expect to hear about his disappointments -- "Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends."

At times he looked directly at me, other times away, in flashes of rage. And occasionally he turned to all of us pleading with an expression for understanding, empathy.

He raised his voice when it was suggested that he was alone, insisting that he never felt the burden of the office: "I believe this -- the phrase 'burdens of the office' is overstated," he said.

But at other points he reflected on the weight of the job: "You never escape the presidency. It travels with you wherever you go."

When he was discussing Iraq, he was almost yelling, defending his administration. He was using gestures, leaning forward on the podium, his finger raised in the air. It was dramatic.

Q: What was it like in the room?

A: You saw at times a defiant President Bush as well as ultimately reflective in some ways.

We know he regretted the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the aircraft carrier. But we heard some new details about how he had some regrets that Air Force One flew over New Orleans at that critical time when the city was under water during Katrina, as opposed to landing. He said he was wary of taking away law enforcement and rescue resources on the ground.

But later in the press conference he was defiant about Hurricane Katrina, telling us: "Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed." Video Watch Bush defend the response to Katrina »

It was from there the president shifted to the president-elect. He discussed the fact that many people never thought they'd see the day when a black man would become the president, and it spoke volumes about the progress the country's made with race. At that time, he seemed misty-eyed.

Q: Were you surprised at how candid the president was?

A: This is certainly the most open he has been about some of the failures of his administration.

You know, what was interesting, he took us back to the time of September 11 in a very emotional and strident way. He said -- remember those times when they had those tough questions, why didn't you put the dots together? It was almost as if he felt like he couldn't win either way.

But at the same time, he said self-pity was pathetic and it wasn't something he was going to engage in.

It was a very interesting look at President Bush grappling with all of these different things -- the successes as well as the failures.

You get a sense here that he is looking at his legacy, that he's trying to come to terms with some of the things he did, his role in all of this.

Q: Was there any one moment that stood out to you?

A: He was most defiant when he talked about what he believes are the threats, potential threats against the United States. You could see him becoming emotional -- that this is something the future president is going to have to deal with, that he is going to have face.

Every single time he went back to the threat out there, it seemed he wanted to reveal more, and would wish Barack Obama the best. At times, Bush seemed to be speaking directly to the president-elect: "He'll get in the Oval Office, and there will be a lot of people that are real critical and harsh, and he'll be disappointed at times by the tone of the rhetoric." Video Watch how Bush and Obama are working out the shift of power »

Q: The president ribbed you about the pronunciation of your name because it's French, even jokingly saying you can call him "Georges." But he finally got your name right.

A: Yes, you could say the president and I have had an ongoing standoff for years now. When I first met the president, he called me Suzanne [said: Sue-zan], and I initially corrected him: "It's Suzanne. Rhymes with John." The president would blame it on his Texas accent.

Actually, the first time he got it right was years ago on a trip to India and Pakistan. I remember feeling shocked.

Sometimes I thought he intentionally called me "Sue-zan," if he was angry with my questions.

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Q: Any other surprises about this press conference?

A: He didn't call on Helen Thomas, who is widely viewed as the dean of the White House press corps. She's been critical of President Bush and been covering presidents since Kennedy. She was out there, front row center with her hand raised.

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