Dec. 8, 2008— -- As the end of his presidency nears, President George W. Bush sat down with "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden for a wide-ranging interview in which he discussed in depth his personal faith and how it has informed his presidency. At the outset, he also answered questions about the auto industry bailout.
Bush said that all options should be on the table when it comes to ensuring that U.S. automakers "can survive in the long term," and did not rule out asking the companies' top executives to step down.
Bush told McFadden that he was hopeful that Congress and the White House would reach an agreement soon, but stressed the importance of "viability," saying that "we just don't want to put good money after bad."
The White House has received a draft of a short-term $15 billion bailout package for Chrysler and General Motors to keep them in operation into the new year, and senators began debating the proposal this afternoon.
Bush said it's difficult to say how close they are to a deal, "because there are some pretty strict standards. One is that anything that's done would as best as possible guarantee the taxpayers get their money back. In other words, there needs to be viability."
When asked by McFadden if requiring the auto executives to step down was an option, Bush said, "I think all aspects of the deal are on the table. I don't want to take one single aspect. The danger with trying to pick out one thing and say this has to happen, is that these companies need a comprehensive review of everything they're doing, and all aspects of the business need to be on the table in order to make sure we don't put good money after bad, which would be unhelpful."
Bush: Iraq War 'Not a Religious Decision'
In the interview, Bush also spoke at length about his personal faith and how it has informed his presidency. The president said that his relationship with God has grown over time, and began when he decided to stop drinking.
"It is hard for me to justify or prove the mystery of the Almighty in my life," he said. "All I can just tell you is that I got back into religion and I quit drinking shortly thereafter and I asked for help -- I was a one-step program guy."
When asked if he thought he would have become president had it not been for his faith, Bush said, "I don't know; it's hard to tell. I do know that I would have been -- I'm pretty confident I would have been a pretty selfish person."
Bush said he is often asked if he thinks he was chosen by God to be president.
"I just, I can't go there," he said. "I'm not that confident in knowing, you know, the Almighty, to be able to say, 'Yeah, God wanted me of all the other people.' My relationship [with God] is on a personal basis trying to become as closer to the Almighty as I possibly can get. And I've got a lot of problems. I mean, I got, you know, the ego ... all the things that prevent me from being closer to the Almighty. So, I don't analyze my relationship with the good Lord in terms of, well, you know, God has plucked you out or God wants you to do this. I know this: I know that the call is to better understand and live out your life according to the will of God."
He also pushed back on the notion that the decision to go to war in Iraq was somehow based on his faith.
"I did it based upon the need to protect the American people from harm," Bush said. "This was a period of time where we were deeply concerned about the security of the country, and given all the behavior of Saddam Hussein, and given the intelligence that we thought was valid at the time, and given the fact that we tried to give him a diplomatic way out, it was the right thing to do, and frankly, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and so are the citizens of Iraq, but it was not a religious decision."
Faith in the White House
The private religious life of a president has always garnered public interest. As President-elect Obama prepares to take his place in the White House, many are wondering which church he will choose to attend in Washington, D.C.
Like his father, Bush is a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington and often attends services at Camp David. He told McFadden that he prays in the Oval Office and said that faith "has made a great difference in my life."
"There is a sense of calm in the Oval Office, where there are obviously a lot of dramatic moments and a lot of, you know, pressure, but there is calm in the Oval Office," Bush said. "People say, 'But how do you know that it's because of prayer?' And I guess the answer is because of faith is how I know -- I can't prove it for you. People, you know, say it's just a crutch. For me, it's not a crutch, for me it's the realization of a power of a universal God and recognition that the God came manifested in human and then died for sins. Now, all of this was hard for me to understand for a period of time and I am still trying to understand as best as my human mind can possibly do so. But in the understanding and in the search and in the quest, I find comfort and strength."
When asked if he thinks that he prays to the same God as those with different beliefs, Bush said, "I do."
"I do believe there is an Almighty that is broad and big enough and loving enough that can encompass a lot of people," Bush said, but he drew a distinction when it comes to those who perpetrate terror.
"I think anyone who murders to achieve their religious objective is not a religious person," he said. "They may think they're religious, and they play like they're religious, but I don't think they're religious. They are not praying to the God I pray to ... the god of peace and love."
When asked if he believes the Bible is literally true, the president said that he's "not a literalist" when it comes to reading the Bible, but rather focuses on the important lessons he believes the Bible teaches.
As for whether one can believe in the Bible and believe in evolution, Bush said he does, adding that "I happen to believe that evolution doesn't fully explain the mystery of life.
"I think that God created the Earth, created the world," he said. "I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty, and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution."
President Bush on Faith-Based Programs
Last week, McFadden traveled with the president to meet participants in a Youth Focus program in North Carolina.
The program, funded by the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, pairs children of convicts with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
Bush told McFadden on the trip that he found the children to be inspiring, and called the mentors' commitment "an act of love."
"Inspiration is seeing acts of compassion that really are the backbone of the great American scene," he said, adding that he hopes the children take away from the experience "that God continued to provide loving people in their lives, so that they don't get lost and so that they realize that the American experience is made as much for them as it is [for] anybody else."
Throughout his presidency, Bush has supported faith-based programs, and said he hopes Obama will continue some of those initiatives.
"I think he knows that in certain communities, in order to help achieve a national objective, there needs to be something more powerful than government, and you can find that there's something more powerful than government on nearly every street corner, in a house of worship," Bush said. "And if you say results matter more than process, then you'll recognize the great efficacy, as well as the love, of a faith-based program."
He also told McFadden about the role of the president as the "comforter in chief."
"Well, one of the things, as president, you see a lot of hurt," he said. "And the great thing about America is most people deal with the difficulty with great strength and courage and determination. The 'comforter in chief' usually is the comforted person when you talk to Americans who overcome adversity."
His remarks echoed those from a recent interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson, when Bush said that, despite dealing with tragedy, he has found his time in the White House to be joyful.
The president told McFadden that his faith has been one of many sources of strength in his life.
"I've got a fabulous wife ... my mother and dad gave me unconditional love," he said. "I get strength from my friends, who were my friend before politics, during politics, and they will be my friends after politics, regardless of what took place during politics. And then I get my strength from just fellow citizens."
Bush on Presidential Parenting
After the event in North Carolina, the president told McFadden that he always enjoys meeting with young people, and reflected on his own experience raising two daughters in the White House.
"I have done it, I have lived through, and I am a better man for it," he said, adding how proud he is of daughters Barbara and Jenna.
"They both have been good stewards and they are learning what it means to serve something greater than themselves, and it makes their mom and dad very proud," he said.
While traveling recently in Panama on her last solo trip as first lady, Laura Bush told McFadden that she and the president tried to find a "balance" for their family and said she would advise the Obamas to "err on the side of privacy for children. I think it lets children grow up and make childish mistakes, which, of course, they will out of the limelight. And I think that's really the best."
Watch more of Cynthia McFadden's interview with first lady Laura Bush Tuesday on "Nightline."
When asked if he thinks it's difficult to be a Christian and be president, Bush said, "It's hard to be Christian period, whether you're president of the United States or whatever, because in order to be a true Christian, you have to accept that God's gift is one of grace and there's nothing you can do to earn God's love, God is love and that ... what's hard is take that love and then change your behavior to honor that love."
After he leaves the White House, Bush said that he will try "to stay on the walk to the last day on the face of the Earth."
"I've come to this conclusion -- maybe I'm wrong, I don't know -- that the full understanding of Christianity is going to take a full lifetime of study," he said.