"I think we've accomplished most of what we set out to do: smaller government, a more secure America, got most of the White House lawn re-seeded and mulched the flower beds real good. It's time for some fresh blood," the President said in an impromptu news conference outside the Oval Office.
Several presidential aides, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said they had no idea Mr. Bush would be making the announcement.
"In all our briefings -- and trust me, we have these things constantly -- this thing never came up," said one Bush aide. "We've told him not to declare war or to name new states without checking with us and rehearsing how it would sound. Last year we headed off that pardon he wanted to give the Mr. Potter character in 'It's a Wonderful Life.' We didn't see this one coming."
The president told surprised reporters that he hopes to use his retirement years in an international good will tour to boost the nation's image overseas.
"Gonna see Venezuela and Central America and ride a boat through the Suez Canal," Mr. Bush said. "Planning to see Alaska, too. You know, next to Canada, it's our closest neighbor and we haven't even opened an embassy there. We've got some fences to mend. That reminds me. Mexico. Gonna spread some good will and get one of those hats."
Mr. Bush did not rule out future bids for office and said he is open to placing his name on the ballot for the Supreme Court, although he said he gathered it is too late to enter any of the key primaries next year.
"That's always an option down the road. Some of those guys are old," Mr. Bush said.