President Bush on Larry King Live (Transcript and Video)

President and Mrs. Bush were on Larry King Live last night on the occasion of the commander-in-chief’s 60th birthday. It was a wideranging but frank discussion of world events and the personal side of the world’s most stressful job.

NYT television columnist Alessandra Stanley began her story on the interview with the rather bizarre opener, “Two kinds of celebrities go on ‘Larry King Live’ on CNN: those with something to sell and those with something to hide.” She seems to think the president is one of the latter:

“Larry King Live” is the first stop in any damage control operation — a chance to explain oneself to the least contentious journalist in the land.

And that is why President Bush invited the CNN talk show host to the White House on his 60th birthday. The standoff with North Korea over its missile tests, the war in Iraq and ever-sliding ratings in the polls have given the president little reason to celebrate. Mr. King gave the president a chance to defend his policies without risk of interruption or follow-up

While King is conversational rather than Mike Wallace style in-your-face, that strikes me as an unfair characterization of both his show in general and his interview with the Bushes in particular. Following is a transcript via CNN. Decide for yourself.

Photo President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush on Larry King Live LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Good evening. We’re in the Blue Room of the White House. This is the first presidential interview ever done in this historic room and we’re honored to have the president and first lady with us, President George W. Bush and Laura Bush. The occasion is the president’s 60th birthday. Happy birthday.


LARRY KING: What does it feel like?

G. BUSH: I feel pretty good, you know. Feel real good, as a matter of fact, really.

KING: This is kind of dramatic.

G. BUSH: Yes, it turns out it is dramatic. But I feel pretty young. I’m surprised I feel so good. I can remember when I was a kid looking at people 60, I said, “Man, there goes an ancient person.” But I feel great. Thank you.

KING: Does he feel ancient to you?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all. I’m approaching his same age.

KING: That’s right, November.

L. BUSH: That’s right.

KING: First things first and first thing obvious. What’s going on? Were you surprised by the missiles?

G. BUSH: You know, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Obviously, we knew the missile was teed up. We rallied our partners in the six-party talks to make clear statements about not firing a missile. Sure enough, a couple of days ago, he not only fired one, he fired seven.

KING: Why do you think he did?

G. BUSH: You know, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think he wants us to either fear him or pay attention to him. And I view it as an opportunity.


G. BUSH: Well, to get the Chinese and the South Koreans and the Japanese and Russians to work with us and send a clear message that this is unacceptable behavior. This morning I called [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and [Chinese President] Hu Jintao and last night I spoke to the president of South Korea, President Roh [Moo-hyun], as well as Prime Minister [Junichiro] Koizumi and said, “Look, we’ve all sent a signal to him. He’s ignored us. Now we need to send another signal and we speak with one voice. This issue is one that will be solved when the international community works in concert.”

KING: What did Mr. Putin say?

G. BUSH: He said he agreed. He said this was a serious problem and he wants to work with us.

KING: Since it’s always better, one would think, to talk to somebody, would you meet with Kim Jong?

G. BUSH: I think he’d love to have the United States sit down at the table alone with [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il. The problem is we tried that and it didn’t work. I think the best way to solve this problem diplomatically is for there to be other nations around the table with us so that when he looks out, when he looks at the table, he looks at the world, he hears China and the United States speaking one voice or China, the United States, Russia, Japan and South Korea speaking with one voice. Now, I am into solving problems and I’m convinced the strategy we’ve got is the best way to solve this problem.

KING: But, also, Mr. President, you’re into taking the lead on things. Iraq was an example. You took the lead on Iraq. The United Nations went along.

G. BUSH: Right.

KING: You got other countries to go along. Why not take the lead here?

G. BUSH: We have. The reason why there’s six-party talks is because we took the lead. And I’ve looked long and hard at this issue and I’m confident the best way to solve the problem is to have the Chinese and South Korea and the Japanese and Russia sitting side-by-side with us, saying to Kim Jong Il, “It’s not in your interest to isolate yourself from the world. It’s not in your interest to keep defying the demands, reasonable demands of the world, and there’s a better way for you to move forward.”

KING: Did this affect your July Fourth, Laura?

L. BUSH: Not really. You know, we watched the fireworks, of course, from the Truman Balcony right above this window and had a birthday party for the president.


L. BUSH: But we knew by the time the party started that the rockets had pretty much failed or…

KING: But when it happened…

L. BUSH: … you know, weren’t that destructive.

KING: … did it destroy your day?

L. BUSH: Well, sure. You know, we worried about it, obviously. But what I spent the day doing actually was watching our shuttle take off from Florida.

G. BUSH: And I had been in Fort Bragg speaking to our troops and, you know, the system worked well. {Defense Secretary] Don Rumsfeld called me and said, “Look, he’s fired, you know, rockets, some of them scuds, you know, that went in the Sea of Japan. Looks like he fired his long-range rocket that tumbled out of the sky.” But we responded very quickly. We had a plan in place to respond if he were to fire these things.

KING: Were you prepared to shoot it down?

G. BUSH: If it headed to the United States, we’ve got a missile defense system that will defend our country.

KING: Do you fear it more now?

G. BUSH: I think that’s what he wants. I think he does want people to fear him. My response to him and the response of our partners is to be that, you know, “It’s very important for you, leader of North Korea, to make rational decisions, because the United States is not alone in making these demands.” The demand, of course, is to give up his weapons programs in a verifiable fashion. There’s a better way for the people of North Korea, by the way. I mean, these people are hungry, they’re starving. There are concentration camps there.

And I just hope at some time he gets some sense, because the human condition in North Korea is totally intolerable. I mean, one threat, of course, is a proliferation threat, which we’re dealing with through what we call the proliferation security initiative, which is a group of nations that say, “We’re not going to allow this country to proliferate.” Another threat, of course, is something on Iraq, which we’re watching very carefully. And the third threat is just the terrible condition of the people living in North Korea. And it grieves me to know that.

KING: You’ve often said to me that options — you always hold options open. Is one of those options to go in first?

G. BUSH: We want to solve all problems diplomatically. That’s our first option. But, of course, the president has got other options.

KING: Was Iraq then a diplomatic failure?

G. BUSH: Well, you could say that, after 17 U.N. resolutions.

KING: Concerning Iraq, do you ever have doubts about it? Do you ever say, you know, “The country obviously turns one way. Things don’t look great sometimes. People are kind of down?” Does it ever get to you to say — and this is for both of you. Does it ever get to you to say, “Maybe, maybe it was wrong?”

G. BUSH: The decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision and I’m actually convinced it was. Where I get mad is when I — you know, that some grieving mom or wife or dad has lost their loved one and that’s the agony of war. And I’ve met with enough families to know how it’s broken their heart to lose a loved one.

But I made the decision and we will succeed in Iraq, unless we decide to quit. And success in Iraq will be really important for the world. It’s important for there to be a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Things don’t happen quickly when it comes to helping a nation go from a tyranny to a democracy. But the Iraqi people were given a chance to vote and they did overwhelmingly. And now we’re working with entity, government, to help succeed. And when we succeed, I think they’ll look back at this moment in history and say it’s the beginning of changing the conditions that caused there to be such resentment that people would be willing to commit suicide, acts of suicide against U.S. citizens.

KING: You have had doubts?

L. BUSH: I feel exactly like George does. I think it’s really the right thing to do. I think if you look back and we — Saddam Hussein was still there. And nothing had ever been done, and 17 resolutions had been passed and he had never complied with any of those resolutions. But then George would be blamed, the president would be blamed, the United States would be blamed for not doing anything.

KING: How do you handle it emotionally when people say…


L. BUSH: Well, it’s…


KING: And you listen…

L. BUSH: It’s tough. I mean, the polls, that’s, you know that’s…


KING: Though it’s public opinion.

L. BUSH: You know, that doesn’t — don’t really mean anything. The polls aren’t important. But when you meet families who’ve lost someone there, you know, it’s sad. It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for them, it’s heartbreaking for us. It’s heartbreaking for everybody in the United States.

KING: But you never lose resolve?

L. BUSH: No, I don’t think you can lose resolve, not at this point.

G. BUSH: It’s easy to lose resolve if you made decisions based upon polls. If you make decisions based upon what you believe in your heart of hearts, you stay resolved. And what we’re doing is hard. But what we’re doing is going to make this country more secure. And what we’re doing is going to lay that foundation for peace.

I just want to remind our fellow citizens that I went to Graceland with Prime Minister Koizumi. Sixty years ago, Japan was the enemy of the United States. And the reason why I was now able to work with Koizumi to keep the peace and to go to Graceland to honor Elvis, was because Japan adopted a different style of government.

KING: I’ve got to take a break. Did you expect him to dance?

G. BUSH: No I didn’t. Nor did I expect him to sing.

KING: We’ll be right back with the Bushes at the White House. Don’t go away.


KING: We’re back with President Bush and Laura Bush at the White House in the Blue Room on this, the occasion of his 60th birthday. A discord from William Kristol in the Weekly Standard — “North Korea is firing missiles. Iran is going nuclear. Somalia is controlled by radical Islamists. Iraq isn’t getting better. Afghanistan is getting worse. I give the president all the credit for hanging tough in Iraq, but I’m worried that it has made them too passive in confronting other threats. In other words, so much in Iraq that the rest of the world is getting short-tripped.”

G. BUSH: Completely disagree. The United States is in the lead in solving a lot of problems. We’re obviously in the lead when it comes to Iraq. We’re helping a coalition of NATO allies in Afghanistan. And we’ve, we’re working with, you know, the multiparty talks for Iran and North Korea. In other words, we’ve laid the foundation and the framework necessary to achieve, you know, common goals. We’re leading an effort of other nations.

You know, some people say well, America’s unilateral in nation. Quite the contrary. We set up multilateral frameworks to solve these problems. Problems don’t get solved overnight, but this government has got enough capacity and enough tout to deal with many of the problems at the same time.

KING: Do you ever feel that it’s all coming in around you?

G. BUSH: No, I don’t. I do this…

KING: No president has had to face, maybe with the exception of Roosevelt with Depression and World War II, what you faced at the same time, domestically and…

G. BUSH: No. That’s not how I look at life. I look at life as a series of opportunities to make this world a better place. One reason there’s a problem is we’ve confronted them. The status quo was unacceptable to me. And therefore, it’s important to deal with problems before they become acute. And the Iranian issue is a classic example. If we were to sit back and say that maybe they’ll have a program, maybe they won’t have a program.

You know, history will say whether the administration was asleep at the switch and when they showed up with a nuclear weapon, which is unacceptable. And so you might remember early on in my administration I talked about the axis of evil. Step one of solving problems is to identify a problem. Since then, we have encouraged the EU-3 and Russia to join with the United States to work on this issue.

KING: Do you lose sleep, Mrs. Bush, over what he goes through?

L. BUSH: Do I lose sleep? No. Do I worry? Sure, of course. Absolutely. Who wouldn’t? But I also have great faith in my husband. I know he’s very disciplined and he’s very strong. And he has a great administration, a great group of advisers that work very, very hard. And I’m proud of the job he does.

KING: Do you ever — you don’t ever fear like, “Why me?”

G. BUSH: Quite the contrary. I feel it is an honor to be in this position, and, you know, I wake up enthused about working on this year’s problems, because I’ve got confidence we can — we can solve them.

KING: How do you deal with bad news?

G. BUSH: You know, in this job you get quite a bit of it.

KING: I know.

G. BUSH: That’s what you do, is you deal with it.

KING: Your baseball experience help?


G. BUSH: Interesting way to put it. It’s hard to hide from the win-loss column, but in baseball — I am — first of all, I believe in what we’re doing, and I know I made decisions — I fully understand people don’t agree with some decisions I make. But I’m confident that — that — I look back at this. I say, you know, you made your decisions based on what you thought was right and on principles.

KING: When the polls are bad, doesn’t that affect you emotionally?

G. BUSH: No.

KING: Safe to say more people are — don’t like what I’m doing than like what I’m doing?

G. BUSH: Well…

KING: Does it bother you?

L. BUSH: Not really. I mean, the polls are just…

KING: But it’s a sign.

L. BUSH: It’s a sign, but it’s not necessarily really what we see. I mean, when we travel around the country, when we visit with people, that’s not what we hear all the time. When they’re good polls — I think I told you this the last time I interviewed with you, you don’t see them on the front page. And you know, just — we’ve been involved for a very long time. We’ve seen somebody else we loved a lot in this job, George’s dad. And we know what it’s like. And we know what to expect. And are there going to be good times? Sure. And are there going to be bad times? Absolutely. That’s just a fact of life. Everyone’s life, really. But it’s very magnified when you are the president of the most affluent country in the world, the country who every other country brings their problems to.

G. BUSH: Let me tell you something about polls. If you had a president who worries about polls, that means you could have a president who makes decisions based upon the polls. We cannot achieve big goals and accomplish hard things if you’re worried about opinion polls. The president that chases the opinion poll is the president that will have failed policy, in my judgment. I like to tell people I would rather be — when history looks back, I’d rather be judged as solving problems and being correct, rather than being popular.

KING: As [President] Truman once said.

G. BUSH: Is that what he said?

KING: I think he was the most unpopular president, leaving office, since, I guess, Wilson.

G. BUSH: I will tell you, and that may be true. But his legacy is a strong legacy. And one of the reasons why I’m able to go to Graceland with Koizumi, Prime Minister Koizumi, is because Harry Truman helped Japan become a democracy. He had faith. And it wasn’t an easy decision on his part.

KING: Wouldn’t you rather be popular?

G. BUSH: No — I mean, you know, look —

KING: We all want to be popular.

G. BUSH: You’re a guy who relies on ratings. No wonder you’re asking about the popularity question.

KING: No, I mean, it’s human.

G. BUSH: I’ve been popular before, as president. And I’ve been — people have accepted what I’ve been doing. Sometimes things go up and down. The best way to lead and the best way to solve problems is to focus on a set of principles. And do what you think is right.

KING: We’ll be right back with the Bushes in the Blue Room of the White House. Don’t go away.


KING: We’re back with President Bush and Mrs. Bush. A couple more things on Iraq. You — you the other day mentioned the amount of casualties. You did, too, at Fort Bragg.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: You definitely previously had refrained from that. Any reason?

G. BUSH: No, I mentioned it a couple of times before, because I want the American people to know that this is costly. But I also want those who’ve lost a loved one to know that we honor their sacrifice and their service. One of the interesting things about my meetings with the loved ones of the fallen is, almost to a person, they have said, “Don’t let my son or daughter die in vain.”

KING: You ever go to funerals?

G. BUSH: No, I don’t.

KING: Why?

G. BUSH: Because it’s hard. Whose do you go to and whose do you don’t go to? I mean, I want to honor all of them, all those who sacrificed. I think the best way for me to honor them is to complete the mission — that we’re in there to achieve a victory in Iraq. And to meet with families.

KING: So there is no doubt, if you had it to do over again, knowing the WMDs weren’t there, you’d still go in?

G. BUSH: Yes. This is — we removed a tyrant, who was a weapon — he was an enemy of the United States who harbored terrorists and who had the capacity, at the very minimum, to make weapons of mass destruction. And he was a true threat. And yes, I would have done the same thing.

KING: Fear another 9/11?

G. BUSH: Larry, yes, I do.

KING: Do you think we’re safe?

G. BUSH: I think we’re safer, but I’m — I’m worried about — worried about an enemy that wants to hit us again. And I’m comforted by the fact there’s a lot of people working hard on the issue.

KING: Have we stopped them? Have there been things that we don’t hear about that have been stopped?

G. BUSH: We’ve disrupted plots. And not only here but elsewhere. And it’s — you know, I’m worried about some of the tools we’re using being disclosed. I — I think it’s a huge mistake.

KING: You blame The New York Times, but the L.A. Times also published that story about intercepting and also The Wall Street Journal printed it.

G. BUSH: Well, disclosure is disclosure. I don’t think I’ve blamed any paper by name — maybe I have.

KING: You did name The New York Times.

G. BUSH: I did? I don’t know if I did or didn’t but anyway, let me put it this way. I am disturbed that people would feel comfortable enough going to newspapers with state secrets. It doesn’t make any sense to me to give the enemy — our — our game plan on how we’re going to deal with them …

KING: Isn’t that a ticklish line, though, a free press …

G. BUSH: I do support a free press strongly. I also want people to recognize that we’re at war and it’s just — it’s just — I just don’t understand. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

KING: Laura, let me ask you. One came in for you. “I read that you were once a librarian and I wonder what your feelings are on the provision of the Patriot Act that requires public libraries to use filters that restrict access to certain kinds of Web sites. Are you for or against this kind of censorship?”

L. BUSH: Well, there are several issues there. There is pornography that is on the Web sites that librarians are asked to filter for children who use their computers. Obviously I’m not for censorship of any kind. But on the other hand I think librarians, just like teachers and just like parents should choose what’s appropriate for our children — for their children — to not have their children see something that’s not really appropriate for them.

I know there’s also a part — assume there are some filters on how to make bombs, those sort of things, and sure, I’m not really anxious on everyone to have access to that.

KING: What do you make of the court’s decision on Guantanamo?

G. BUSH: They finally ruled and I have been saying to people that we want to resolve the Guantanamo issue, but the court has got to give us a road map forward. They did. It basically said it’s OK to have Guantanamo but you have got to work with Congress to devise a military tribunal, military commission in such a way that conforms to our laws and …


G. BUSH: Yeah. It is. Everybody wants to solve the problem. This is a very unusual set of circumstances, though. These are illegal combatants. People picked up off the battlefield. We’re at war against these folks but they don’t wear uniforms. And the Geneva Convention was set up for dealing with nation states. There’s no nation state here. There is an ideology but not a nation state and so this is an opportunity to work with Congress to deal with this issue.

KING: Right back with more. Don’t go away.


KING: We’re back in the Blue Room with President and Mrs. Bush. Immigration. This law. When is it going to be passed and did you hedge back a little. You now say the other day that you first want to see that the borders are safe before we work on legalizing the immigrants.

G. BUSH: I don’t think I said that. I have always said we need a comprehensive plan. First and foremost we’ve got to enforce the border and that means more border patrol agents, better technology, ending catch and release. Secondly that we’ve got to have interior enforcement. But I don’t see how you can enforce a border unless you have a rational way for people to come here and work temporarily.

KING: Why do you think so many members of your own party don’t agree with that?

G. BUSH: Mm — I think people — I think words mean different things to different people. I think …

KING: Does it disappoint you?

G. BUSH: We’re not — the process is just beginning. This is a hard issue. This is an issue that, you know, we really haven’t addressed since 1986. One thing that everybody recognizes, the current system has failed. Fittingly there is — there is — I think there is a rational way forward that will accommodate people’s needs, but there needs to be a lot of debate, a lot of discussion. When I hear amnesty, that means you’re automatically a legal citizen, which I am against. Some …

KING: Well, we had amnesty in other cases in the past.

G. BUSH: I know but it won’t work in this case. Just not the right thing to do. If you’re trying to solve the problem, bringing people automatic citizenship isn’t solving the problem. It’s creating another problem, which is another 8 million people or so will come and hope to get granted automatic citizenship.

Secondly, is you can’t reward people who broke the law because you’ve got people standing in line legally, because we’re a nation of laws, we’ve got to uphold the laws. But this is — we have a duty to enforce the border and I think everybody agrees with that and — and we are. We are expanding agents, and we’re expanding technologies, but I think it needs — there needs to be a plan that recognizes people coming here to do work Americans aren’t doing. And they ought to be allowed to do so on a temporary basis for a limited period of years provided they pass a criminal background check and then go home.

KING: You’ve always had a lot of compassion for the Mexican people …

G. BUSH: Yes, sir.

KING: As the governor of Texas and being raised in Texas, right?

G. BUSH: Absolutely. It’s an issue I’ve been dealing with a lot and I think it’s very important to uphold the honor and dignity of anybody and that we’ve got to also remember we’re a nation of immigrations. I hold the belief, you know, when a person comes here legally and starts a business — it’s a first time citizen and begins to realize the great benefits of the American society he helps renew our soul. It helps invigorate our spirit.

I went to a deal yesterday to talk about immigration at a Dunkin Donuts. It’s a very interesting moment of America — of American history — or American — American society. The owners were two Iranian-American brothers. The district manager for these two Iranian-American brothers was a Guatemalan-American young girl, young woman, she is learning responsibility, she is managing and her store manager was a Salvadoran-American.

KING: I want to ask you about Iran in a moment but here’s an e-mail question on immigration. “Why is there not more effort to penalize the root of the immigration problem, employers and corporations who look the other way or neglect to check the validity of a document?”

G. BUSH: That’s why I went out to this store. Because I was heralding a program that enables employers now to get on the computer to make sure that the documentation they are seeing is real documentation. One of the problems we have is there is a lot of document fraud and people are — we’ve got smugglers smuggling people, we’ve got people housing these people when they smuggle them across, we’ve got document forgers giving people false documents and so part of the way you make sure you’re able to enforce employer — the rules of our employers is to have a tamper-proof temporary worker card. In the interim, we’ve got a way for employers to check to determine whether or not the documents they are seeing are real.

KING: Seeing Iran — North Korea was cited as part of your “Axis of Evil.” Yet the United States has joined other nations in offering Tehran incentives to suspend its nuclear program. Why the difference? Why do they get a deal?

G. BUSH: First of all, there are different circumstances. You mean what’s the difference between North Korea and Iran?

KING: Yes.

G. BUSH: There’s just different circumstances. The situation in North Korea is — you know, we tried incentives before. A president looks not only at what his administration has tried, but what others have tried. And there have been incentive packages laid out for the North Koreans, which they took and then didn’t honor the commitment they made. And so the history in each case is different and you deal with each case based upon the current conditions.

KING: What’s your biggest worry about Iran?

G. BUSH: Having a nuclear weapon in the midst of the Middle East. There’s a lot of worries about them having a nuclear weapon. There’s the worry about political blackmail. There’s a worry that they would harm our ally, Israel. I mean, there’s a series of worries. And the good news is, Larry, that most nations now understand the danger of the Iranians having a nuclear weapon.

KING: Vladimir Putin, you’ll see him next week, right?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: You said in June of 2001, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward, trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Still have that feeling?

G. BUSH: I know him well, yes, I do.

KING: Like him?

G. BUSH: I do like him. I do like him. I don’t necessarily…


G. BUSH: Well, I don’t necessarily agree with every decision he’s made about what’s happening inside of Russia, but it’s very important for me to keep a good personal relationship with him so I can have good, candid discussions. But nobody either wants to be lectured by somebody, nobody either likes to be scolded publicly.

The people I deal with, you know, share the same emotions that you would share if somebody were to scold you and then say, “I’m going to come and now I want to sit down and talk to you.” And so I’ve got a good relationship with him. And I don’t understand some of the decisions he’s made, but my relationship is such that I’m able to express that concern and listen carefully as to why he does what he does.

KING: Do you like him, Mrs. Bush?

L. BUSH: I do like him.

KING: He’s very Western, isn’t it?

L. BUSH: Well, I don’t know if I would say that. I think he’s very Russian. But I like him a lot.


KING: … said once he’d be a successful politician in America.

L. BUSH: That’s possible. It’s possible. He’s a good politician for sure.

KING: We’ll be right back with more. Don’t go away.


KING: We’re back with the Bushes. And the Mexico elections have been decided, apparently, and the conservative, Mr. Calderon, narrowly wins. Any thoughts?

G. BUSH: I look forward to working with whomever the Mexican people have elected and…

KING: Do you know him?

G. BUSH: I don’t know him. Looking forward to getting to know him.

KING: Apparently he won. I’m glad to bring you the news.

G. BUSH: You sure did.

KING: The death of Ken Lay.

G. BUSH: Yes, yes.

KING: I know he was your friend. How do you feel? Were you shocked?

G. BUSH: I was. I was really surprised. You know, my hope is that his heart was right with the Lord and I feel real sorry for his wife. She’s had a rough go and she’s now here on Earth to bear the burdens of losing her husband, a man she loved.

KING: Was that whole thing, the whole Enron story shocking to you?

G. BUSH: Yes, yes.

KING: Because, I mean, you knew him pretty well from Texas, right?

G. BUSH: Pretty well, pretty well, I knew him. I got to know him. People don’t believe this, but he actually supported Ann Richards in the ’94 campaign.

KING: She told me that.

G. BUSH: She did?

KING: She liked him a lot.

G. BUSH: Yes, he’s a good guy. And so what I then did was we had a business council and I kept him on as the chairman of the business council and, you know, got to know him and got to see him in action. One of the things I respected him for was he was such a contributor to Houston’s civil society. He was a generous person. I’m disappointed that he betrayed the trust of shareholders, but…

KING: Do you know him well, Mrs. Bush?

L. BUSH: Not really. Not really well.

KING: Did you know his wife?

L. BUSH: But I did know him. And I know Linda and I’m sorry for her.

KING: Do you have contact with her?

L. BUSH: I haven’t.

G. BUSH: I haven’t yet. I’m going to write her a letter at some point in time.

KING: Move to politics. An unusual situation in Connecticut. Joe Lieberman is running for re-election to the Senate. He’s in the primary fight, may lose, and has said that if he loses, he might well run as an Independent. He supported you staunchly on Iraq, and Iraq is the major issue in that campaign, the primary. Would you support him if he ran as an Independent?

G. BUSH: First, the Democrats have to sort out who their nominee is going to be and that’s going to be up to the Democrats. And the rest of it’s hypothetical.

KING: But he said he would run as an Independent, if he were…

G. BUSH: He also has said he’s going to win his primary.

KING: I know you like him.

G. BUSH: You’re trying to get me to give him a political kiss, which may be his death.

KING: You hugged him before the State of the Union, right? No, I know you generally…

G. BUSH: The Democrats are going to figure it out. They’ll figure it out.

KING: So you would not make a decision on that.

G. BUSH: Well, I’m not going to wade into a Democratic primary in the state of Connecticut.

KING: How well are we prepared if there’s another Katrina?

G. BUSH: I met with the folks today. I met with [Secretary of Homeland Security Michael] Chertoff and the person responsible for putting the plan together, who have been meeting with [Louisiana] Gov. [Kathleen] Blanco and [New Orleans] Mayor [Ray] Nagin. We’re much better prepared today than we were last year. We’ve got supplies pre-positioned. We’ve got a better relationship with the Guard so that the Guard can move more immediately. We’ve got better communications.

One of the things that happened down there is the communications just went kaput, you know. We’ve got the capacity now to be up on satellite phones very quickly. We’ve just got a comprehensive strategy. They’ve analyzed the process of getting a contract with the business company to make sure the buses get there quicker. The decision as to whether or not to evacuate a city or a parish will be made by the local folks. It’s still the case. If there is the desire to evacuate and there’s a desire for federal help, the governor’s going to have to sign a document that will then enable us to pay for certain federal assets and other assets.

KING: Did you learn a lot from last year?

G. BUSH: I did, I did. I think that…

KING: Because there were mistakes all the way around there.

G. BUSH: Well, I think there were some unbelievably heroic things done and there were some responses that could have been better.

I know in the midst of analyzing things people tend to focus on what could have gone better. I do want to remind you that 30,000 lives were saved, pulled off roofs, because of unbelievable daring and courage by Coast Guard chopper pilots and Guard chopper pilots.

And there was a lot of ice and water delivered. Obviously, the thing that happened that needed to happen better was, how do you deal with a breakdown in law and order.

KING: How’d you do it, Laura, seeing all those schools?

L. BUSH: It was hard to see it all, but I have, I’ve been there a lot. I think of the Gulf Coast a number of times since the hurricane. And I’ve been raising money for a foundation that gives the school a library. We gave 10 grants to seven schools in Louisiana and three in Mississippi and we’ll announce another round of grants this September. And these are for schools to totally restock their libraries, not just a small grant, but a big grant. It costs about $50,000 to stock an elementary school library, and well over $100,000 to stock a high school library. So these are large grants to help schools as they rebuild and as their library is rebuilt, to be able to totally stock their libraries.

KING: We’ll be back with more of the Bushes right after this.


KING: We’re back. We’re going to touch some other bases. We’re going to have two segments remaining. Are you concerned about these charges about the troops killing civilians in Iraq?

G. BUSH: These are very serious charges and what the Iraqis must understand is that we will deal with these in a very transparent upfront way. People will be held to account if these charges are true.

KING: Because they want to know that.

G. BUSH: Of course they do. Yes, they do. And they’ll learn that we will be very open about how we deal with this issue. What concerns me is not only the action and, you know, if this is true, the despicable crime, if true. But what I don’t want to have happen is for people to then say, well, the U.S. military is full of these kind of people. That is not the case. Our military is fabulous. The men and women who wear the uniform in the United States are some of the finest people I have ever known. And they are, anyway …

KING: A little bit (inaudible) …

G. BUSH: Yeah, you worry about a — one person or a couple of people staining the image, the honorable image of the United States military. So one thing you’ll hear me do is defend our troops because I believe them and then the other thing people will see is people will be brought to justice. There will be absolute justice if this person is guilty.

KING: Because officials in the Iraq government certainly have a right to be concerned.

G. BUSH: Well, it’s a sovereign government. Of course they do. If in fact the charges are true that somebody was raped and murdered, then they ought be concerned by the Iraqis. But they’ve got to be comforted in knowing is that we will deal with this in a way that is going to be transparent, aboveboard and open.

KING: Al Gore was on recently on this program and concerning the environment he said, “President Bush and Vice President Cheney have anointed to any key position that has anything to do with climate change special interest spokesmen for the oil companies, coal companies, and this is no secret.” How do you respond to that?

G. BUSH: Um.

KING: Have you seen his film?

G. BUSH: No I haven’t seen it but I guess politics never stops. We have done a lot to deal with greenhouse gases by advancing new technologies. I campaigned against Al Gore. I said we’re going to spend money for clean coal technologies and we’re in the process of doing that and one of these days people are going to look back and say, well, thank goodness the Bush administration made these investments because we’ll be able to have electricity from coal that won’t pollute.

KING: Why do you think he put a bad rap on you?

G. BUSH: I don’t know why. Politics, I guess. But we’re the ones — my administration started the hydrogen initiative. Spent over a billion dollars for research in the hopes that we’ll be able to power our automobiles by hydrogen, which would be an amazing advance in — in — in — in — in cleaning the environment. We’ve done more on ethanol that any administration. We’ve got a great record and — but this town is full of politics. People just say what they want to say.

KING: Are you going to campaign for the Republican nominee …

G. BUSH: For president?

KING: In 2008?

G. BUSH: I’ve got to get through the ’06 elections.

KING: Are you going to do a lot of campaigning for ’06.

G. BUSH: Absolutely. I’m doing a lot of campaigning. We’re going to do just fine in ’06.

KING: Going to keep the House and the Senate?

G. BUSH: We are. We are. And you know why? Because we’re right on winning this war on terror and we’ve got a good economic record. People are working under the leadership of the Bush administration and the Congress.

KING: Going to get [al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden.

G. BUSH: Oh we’ll get him. Oh we’ll get him.

KING: Why has it been so hard? Five years coming.

G. BUSH: It’s a …

KING: More than that, really.

G. BUSH: One way to look at it is he in charge of the folks he was in charge of before, have they got training — you know, places, and a safe haven, the answer is no. We’ve got him on the run. And they’re hiding. I, of course, would like to bring him to justice but we’ll get him. We’re, we’re — it’s just a matter of persistence and patience. Every day I think about this.

KING: Getting…

G. BUSH: Every day — well, everyday I think about al Qaeda. Every day I think about protecting this country. I mean, every day. The thought has not — the thought has entered my mind and I think about it and talk to people about it and strategize about it every day.

KING: Obsessed with it.

G. BUSH: No. Well, in a way I guess you could say obsessed, but obsession is the wrong word. Doing my duty. That’s what the American people expect. They expect this government to protect them and so long as there’s an enemy lurking out there, I’m going to — I’m going to talk to people, work with people. I have an intel briefing every morning except for Sunday.

And we talk about what we know, what we don’t know, what we need to do better. We talk about plots. We talk about things we might have heard or read and we’re responding and it is — it is — it is the calling of our time to win this war on terror.

KING: Back with our remaining moments from the blue room at the White House right after this.


KING: A couple of other things. Mrs. Bush, how has your husband changed since becoming president? Biggest change.

G. BUSH: Don’t talk about the hair.

L. BUSH: The gray hair I guess.

KING: What else?

L. BUSH: He hasn’t really changed that much. I mean, he has a very solid, very centered personality. He always has. He’s got a lot of discipline and he still does and are we under more stress? Sure. Do we worry about things? Absolutely. But …

KING: An e-mail question. “With all the pressures in your jobs,” this is for both of you, “and the harsh treatment of the public life, how do you manage to keep a healthy marriage and avoid bringing work home. Or do you bring work home?”

L. BUSH: In this house, when you live here in this house above the shop, so to speak. We live right in the apartment …

KING: (INAUDIBLE) above this …

L. BUSH: So work is 24 hours. I mean, you think about it all the time, I think, because that’s where you are.

G. BUSH: Well, one way to get your mind off work is to exercise and I’m an avid exerciser and I would recommend anyone who is 60 or approaching 60 or over 60 to exercise and — well, I don’t have time but you’ve got to make time.

KING: You do it first thing in the morning.

G. BUSH: No, I do it in the evening.

KING: You’re a night exerciser?

G. BUSH: Evening exerciser. My schedule is I finish my work in the Oval Office around 4:30 or 5:00. I go and exercise and then go back to work. So I use it as a — I can break the day up a little bit but there is no excuse for not exercising.

KING: You exercise, Laura?

L. BUSH: I exercise. I do.

KING: Both of them. They’re both in great shape. It’s also Nancy Reagan’s birthday.

G. BUSH: It is. We wish her a happy birthday.

KING: She is a great lady.

G. BUSH: She is. She wrote me a very sweet note for which I am grateful. As a matter of fact I may just call on Air Force One flying into Chicago.

KING: Why don’t you do that?

G. BUSH: I think I will. Thanks for reminding me of that.

KING: You share a birthday and — what are you going to do after or when this is all ended? When you don’t live above the store?

L. BUSH: Well, who knows? When we think about that — I think about that certainly. We have our house at our ranch which we’ll go back to, but I have a lot of urgency to get as many things done now — out of my office, issues that I’m working on certainly in the next 2 1/2 years and I certainly know the president feels the same way. Thinking about today rather than 2 1/2 years …

G. BUSH: Yeah. I’m going to run the race. I’m going to sprint to the finish line.

KING: You’re going to build a library?

G. BUSH: Yeah. Yeah.

KING: Know where?

G. BUSH: Not yet.

KING: Build in Crawford and they will come.

G. BUSH: It’s going to be in Texas. We are Texans and that’s where we’re going home to, but I’m sure there’ll be a lot of questions the closer we get to the end of eight years about this, that and the other but I — we’ve got a lot to do and a lot of problems to solve and a lot of you know, a lot of peace to make. And I’m looking to forward — looking forward to the next 2 1/2…

KING: One quick note. Are you optimistic that this Korean thing will be resolved?

G. BUSH: Absolutely. I’m optimistic that all problems will be resolved. I believe firmly that the capacity of the United States to solve problems is real and robust and I know that by working with those we can do it. We will succeed in Iraq, we will deal with the Iranian issue, we will help the — person in North Korea understand the wisdom of working in the international community. Yeah, we’ll solve problem.

KING: Always good to —

G. BUSH: Thank you, sir.

KING: Thank you.

L. BUSH: Thanks, Larry.

KING: Laura Bush and George Bush, the first lady and president of the United States, from the Blue Room at the White House.

UPDATE: Rep. Jack Kingston thinks that, if President Bush really wants a friendly forum, he should reach out to bloggers like Glenn Reynolds and Hugh Hewitt. (The latter, certainly.-ed.)

UPDATE (Greg Tinti): Allah has video of the highlights.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tom says:

    Watch the Video