For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
January 13, 2006
Mrs. Bush's Interview by CNN-International
The Map Room
10:33 A.M. EST
Q Well, thank you so much for this interview. Why is it so important for you to attend the inauguration ceremony of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think it's a very, very historical time for Liberia, of course, and really for the whole continent of Africa, to have the first woman President. Liberia just has had 14 years of civil war, a lot of problems. And they just ended up with a really good, competitive and fair election, and it's really thrilling that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is going to be the new President.
Q She's a magnificent woman, isn't she?
MRS. BUSH: She is.
Q Very, very powerful. As an American woman, seeing that Africa has its first elected President who is a woman, what does that make you think? Do you think it's time that America --
MRS. BUSH: I think it will happen for sure. I think it will happen probably in the next few terms of the presidency in the United States.
Q Who would you like to see?
MRS. BUSH: Well, of course, a Republican woman. (Laughter.) Like maybe Dr. Rice.
Q Yes, Dr. Rice.
MRS. BUSH: She says she definitely is not running.
Q But you would like to see her run.
MRS. BUSH: Sure, I'd love to see her run. She's terrific.
Q Anyone else?
MRS. BUSH: She'll be actually traveling with me to the inauguration. She was invited by the President-to-be, the President-elect.
Q I have grown up in Africa. I've seen sort of the poverty, the HIV/AIDS there, that really devastates the continent -- the lack of education programs, as you're well aware of. And how do you think you can make a difference, even a small difference, to the lives of African women, and Africans in general, in the projects that you're trying to do?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that when, actually, if we talk about it, if we speak out from all over the world and talk about how important it is for girls to be educated, how if girls are educated, they have much more of a chance to be able to negotiate their own sex life, for instance, to protect themselves from sexually-transmitted diseases, and then to be able to contribute to their economies, to their societies. As we look around the world and we see countries where women are left out, we usually see an unstable, not very prosperous economy. And we know that for countries to be able to really succeed, everybody needs to be able to be involved.
Q What about issues or difficulties of culture, the local environment?
MRS. BUSH: Well, there are those, we know. I mean, we all watched the Taliban in Afghanistan, when women were so oppressed that girls were forbidden to go to school. Women couldn't leave their homes without a male escort. And of course, there were many, many widows from their years of war. And so women were literally isolated in their homes.
But when people looked, when people saw it around the world and reached out, Afghanistan was able to change.
Q And you've been involved --
MRS. BUSH: Now, has it changed totally? No, of course not.
Q And it's certainly progressing.
MRS. BUSH: Each step is important.
Q And you've been involved -- you've been involved in those steps and trying to move that forward in Afghanistan, as you point out.
In other parts, too, of the Arab and Muslim world, what kind of progress do you think the U.S. has made in those regions? Do you think that we've made headway?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think we've made some very significant progress in some parts, certainly in Afghanistan. The Afghan people have, too. In Iraq, where you see all the people that turned up for the election, even though there were threats of violence, and how many people showed up to vote, and how many people wanted to be involved in politics and run for office. And I think that's very important.
In Afghanistan, their elections, as well, when you see the number of women that stood for election there, I mean, that's a huge change in a very, very short time.
Q There's a huge change also in Iraq, with the constitution, with the elections. As far as women go, there are a lot of Iraqi women that say, you know what, we're really frustrated now, looking at this constitution, because it actually limits our rights based partly on Islamic law, meaning that divorce laws are not in their favor, inheritance laws are not in their favor. What are your thoughts on that?
MRS. BUSH: Well, a lot of people, some people say that. A lot of people actually say it's a very good constitution that does protect the rights of women. But what we know is it's an Iraqi constitution, that they wrote it. They wrote it and they ratified it. And that's what it has to be. It can't be a democracy like we might think it should be, or an American-style democracy, but in fact, as we look around the world, each democracy, as they -- Liberia -- as they now try to rebuild, as they do the hard work of reconciliation, all the other things that they'll need to do after these elections, it needs to be Liberian, it needs to be the way they want it to be.
Q Your daughter, Barbara, is going to be on this trip with you.
MRS. BUSH: That's right.
Q That's got to be exciting.
MRS. BUSH: I'm really excited about having her go with me.
Q What will she be doing as part of the official delegation?
MRS. BUSH: Well, she'll just be going with me to all the events. She worked for part of this year in South Africa at a pediatric AIDS hospital, worked with -- or pediatric hospital -- worked with a lot of patients, little children with AIDS. So she's particularly interested in that. She's interested in the policy surrounding AIDS and what we can do in our country and in other countries around the world to really stop AIDS.
Q Doesn't the President call her and Jenna "my little humanitarians?" (Laughter.)
MRS. BUSH: No, he doesn't really call them that. But they're doing very well. Jenna's teaching school here in a charter school. The charter school movement is an important educational movement in the United States, and she's particularly interested in that.
Q Let's talk a little bit about the families that you meet whose sons or daughters have been killed in Iraq. What's it like for you to comfort them, to console them, especially if these are families who no longer believe in the cause, no longer believe that Iraq is worth it and it was all in vain? How do you console them?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I mean, of course, as you can imagine, it's unbelievably difficult for them, what they have to suffer. But they'll suffer for the rest of their lives with the loss of somebody they loved best. And then for the President and for me to meet with these families and to know what they've lost, what they've suffered.
Q What do you say?
MRS. BUSH: Amazingly enough, many times they're the ones that comfort us. In a lot of cases, military families have a tradition of being military families. The fathers themselves, or the mothers, were in the military. And it's a proud tradition of their family. In many, many cases, the grandparents were also in the military.
But what we say is what we say today to you, which is we do think it's worth it, that we know we can really make a huge difference in the world if Iraq, in the middle of the Middle East, can build a stable democracy. That's -- it will be unbelievable, really. I mean, it will be something that will be so strong for all of the other surrounding countries, for Palestine, for Israel, for this opportunity to build peace there and to build strong and stable countries.
Q There was a very dramatic moment a couple of days ago in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, where Mrs. Alito just sort of broke down, cried, and left the room on hearing her husband being criticized.
MRS. BUSH: Do I ever feel like doing that? (Laughter.) Every once in a while.
Q Do you ever feel like crying when you hear the President being criticized, called a liar, being abused?
MRS. BUSH: Well, no, not really. But I will say I called Martha Alito yesterday to tell her to hang in there. I do think it's really important in the United States for people like Judge Alito to be treated with respect. I think it's very important for the Senate to have a very civil and respectful hearing for anyone that has been nominated for the Supreme Court or for the other jobs that require Senate confirmation.
But on the other hand, my family has been in politics for a long time and I think you do develop a thick skin. Does it ever not hurt? You know, not really.
Q So you don't take it personally.
MRS. BUSH: Well, you try not to take it personally. But that's what I want to say, is that I think personal attacks are what people don't like and what are really unwarranted.
Q Do you think Washington has become more partisan since the President took office?
MRS. BUSH: No, not really. I think Washington was very, very partisan, has been partisan for our entire history. George and I got to go to Springfield, Illinois, to the new Lincoln Library, and when you see there all the headlines from the newspapers, all the op-ed pieces written around the country about Lincoln, you realize that it's actually a constant in a democracy. And the great thing about a democracy is people can criticize, in the most horrible ways, people that are running for office.
Q The President, when running for office in 2000, said, I want to be a uniter, not a divider. Today, Washington is divided, the country is divided, you know, there's a depth of animosity within families even --
MRS. BUSH: Well, I don't know that I would agree with that. But I will say, remember his election, the first election -- it was so close that it wasn't even determined on election night. So that preceded his being President.
Q Okay. So the country is split, though. There are bitter divisions. And I'm wondering if you think there is anything that the President can do to heal any disparity or any of those sorts of divisiveness.
MRS. BUSH: Sure, and he does that every day, I think, by the way he acts and the way he treats people with respect -- which he does. He doesn't have the luxury of making personal attacks on other people because he's the President of the United States. And I think that he serves as an example to people all over. But I will say that one of the really great things about the United States is that we can be divided like this, that we can say whatever we want to say about anyone who's running for office, and at the same time get very, very united when there's a time to be united --
Q Like after September 11th.
MRS. BUSH: Or after the hurricanes, where people from all over the country did everything they could to welcome people from New Orleans or from the Mississippi Gulf Coast who had to leave their homes, welcome them into their communities; or went, themselves, to work and to volunteer there. I think there are still big groups of people who are cooking in Louisiana to feed people meals today. I just went in December and visited one of the great sites where people from all over the country come to volunteer.
Q What about you -- I mean, many view the President as a divisive figure. But you, as the First Lady of this country, one of -- or you are the least divisive figure in the White House. What do you think you can do to heal the country and address issues of divisiveness?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think really what both of us do every day, what we work on, the issues that we find important are ways to unite our country. Certainly, what I'm going to get to do this week -- represent our country in Liberia at the inauguration of a President, go to AIDS programs and African education initiative programs in Ghana and Nigeria that are supported by the United States government, by the United States taxpayer. And it's a way for me to not only represent the United States in Africa, but also to let the American people know what we are doing, what our country is doing. Because I see that Americans want to help. They want to help fight AIDS. They want to help make sure girls are educated here and everywhere around the world. And I really have the privilege to represent them.
Q And, finally, I know the President has an iPod. You don't have an iPod?
MRS. BUSH: I have an iPod. No, I have an iPod.
Q So I'll ask you then, what's on your reading list for -- what are you reading now?
MRS. BUSH: Well, right now -- let's see, I'm reading a really great book about Gertrude Bell. Gertrude Bell was a British woman who was really very ahead of her time. She did a lot of travel in what we would call the Middle East and Arabia, what she would, Persia. And she was very influential in actually the designation of Iraq as we know it, at the end of World War I. And it's a book about a very, very fascinating and adventuresome woman, but also a very interesting time.
Q Do you ever recommend your books to the President to read?
MRS. BUSH: Sure. Yes. We share books with each other a lot.
Q All right. Thank you so much, Mrs. Bush.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you.
Q It's been a real pleasure.
END 10:46 A.M. EST