George W. Bush thinks it’s a ‘problem’ that people can’t understand his friendship with Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama and George W. Bush have garnered plenty of reactions over the last few years from Americans shocked to discover their friendship. 

Bush thinks that reaction is a problem.

“It shocked me,” the former president, 74, told “CBS Sunday Morning” in a recent interview, recalling a moment in 2016 at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture when the two of them went viral over a photo of them hugging. 

“We got in the car and I think Barbara or Jenna said, ‘Hey, you’re trending!’ The American people were so surprised that Michelle Obama and I could be friends. I think it’s a problem that Americans are so polarized in their thinking that they can’t imagine a George W. Bush and a Michelle Obama being friends,” he said. 

‘Our values are the same’: Michelle Obama defends friendship with George W. Bush

First Lady Michelle Obama hugs former President George W. Bush while President Barack Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush look on at the opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC on Sept. 24, 2016. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO, European Pressphoto Agency)

Some more viral moments shared between the unlikely duo: Bush sharing a cough drop with Obama at Sen. John McCain’s funeral in 2018, and again at his father George H. W. Bush’s funeral a few months later. 

Obama explained in 2018 that the two are “forever seatmates” because of the seating protocols for ex-presidents and their spouses at official events. 

“He is my partner in crime at every major thing where all the formers gather,” she told the “Today” show. “I love him to death. He’s a wonderful man. He’s a funny man.”

Speaking the following year to “Today” host Jenna Bush Hager, Bush’s daughter, Obama opened up about how the two had found common ground despite supporting different parties – and despite her husband, former President Barack Obama, frequently denouncing Bush’s policies during his campaign and presidency. (Ellen DeGeneres was similarly criticized for befriending a politician who critics argued upheld laws that threatened the safety and well-being of minorities.) 

“Our values are the same,” Michelle Obama said. “We disagree on policy but we don’t disagree on humanity. We don’t disagree about love and compassion. I think that’s true for all of us.”

It would seem the two would agree on the humanity at the center of Bush’s newest project: “Out Of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants,” a new book of paintings by the former president, is out Tuesday, and features 43 portraits by the 43rd president, of immigrants he has come to know over the years, along with biographical essays he wrote about each of them.

Bush became well-known for his paintings after leaving office in 2009, which came as a surprise to many – including his wife, Laura Bush.

“I was shocked. He hadn’t even ever looked at art,” she said with a laugh. “I mean, we lived with a major American collection at the White House. … He was not at all interested.”  

In 2007, the former president unsuccessfully pushed for an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, and has said that failure to act on immigration is one of the great regrets of his presidency. Now, he says he hopes this project will help create “a better understanding” about the role immigration plays in America. 

“I don’t want to be prescriptive. I don’t want to tell Congress how to do this or that,” Bush told CBS. “I do want to tell Congress to please put aside all the harsh rhetoric about immigration. Please put aside trying to score political points on either side. I hope I can help set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant, which may lead to reform of the system.”

Contributing: Matthew Brown, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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