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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 3, 2006

Interview of the First Lady by the Today Show, NBC
Jackson Square
New Orleans, Louisiana

7:11 A.M. CDT

Q Mrs. Bush, good morning. Nice to see you, as always.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks, Katie, good morning.

Q I know that this is your 11th visit to the Gulf region, and while I know you just arrived in New Orleans last night, I'm curious about your impressions in terms of how the recovery efforts are going eight months after Katrina hit.

MRS. BUSH: Well, every time I come, things look better. There's a lot less debris here, so that looks a lot better. There's a lot of traffic, a lot of people going to restaurants. I think Jazz Fest was very popular and very successful last weekend, and then it will be again this weekend.

And then the really good news is that kids are back in school. Later this morning, I'm going to be at Chalmette High School in St. Bernard Parish, because they're one of the schools that's receiving a grant to restock their school library. And they opened -- they determined to open last November, even though they were just going to be able to go to school on the second floor of the high school and have all grades on the second floor while they continued to restore the first floor that had flooded. And they thought maybe they'd have 50 to 100 kids, and now they have more than 600, because kids want to go back to their own school.

Q And I know now --

MRS. BUSH: So now, in the fall -- in the fall, they'll --

Q I was just going to say, we can show you touring this school, because I know you visited that school in January, January 26th of this year. But go ahead, I'm sorry to interrupt. You were saying.

MRS. BUSH: And so -- but now they've determined to open an elementary school, so they're going to make sure the elementary school is open in September so they'll have both a high school and an elementary school open. So I'm really --

Q And this is -- go ahead.

MRS. BUSH: -- happy to be here to be able to give these grants to ten school libraries -- seven in New Orleans and three in Mississippi. I'm really happy to be here today to do that. These are ten schools that are back on line now and ready to stock their libraries.

Q Where did the idea for the grants come from, Mrs. Bush?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I had started this foundation back in 2001, because of all the libraries I'd visited during the campaign, and all the many, many schools that I know lack books in their school libraries. And so we were just about to have our final meeting of the leadership council, the people who are the fundraisers for the foundation, last September. And when we met, one person on the council said, let's don't disband, let's keep raising money, and whatever we can raise from now on will go straight to Gulf Coast schools. So I'm really happy to be making about $500,000 worth of grants today.

Q What have you learned, Mrs. Bush, from the residents of the Gulf Coast, in terms of their input? I know a lot of people from New Orleans who are very worried about Katrina fatigue, and of course, many people in the early days and months following the hurricane were upset with the response by the local, state and federal government. What do you think is the most valuable lesson you've been hearing from actual residents on your many visits there?

MRS. BUSH: Well, one thing is that we know it's going to take a long time, and I went out to dinner with friends last night that live in New Orleans and, you know, they're tired, I know they are. But they also are very, very determined. And one of them said, let's stop looking backward, let's start looking forward now, and figure out what we're really going to do.

And a lot of plans are underway. There's housing money now, people can start moving back. I know Secretary Gutierrez, the Secretary of Commerce, is bringing Fortune 500 company heads, as well as many small and medium-sized company heads here later this week to talk about commercial interests so that businesses can move back to New Orleans. I've seen, just by going out to dinner last night, how many businesses are open again. So even though it's going to be a long road, there's a lot of encouragement.

Q And do you feel, looking forward, Mrs. Bush, positive about the level of preparation the government has in place now, given the fact that hurricane season is less than a month away.

MRS. BUSH: Is upon us, that's right. Well, the Army Corps of Engineers say that the levees will be built back by June 1st to pre-Katrina levels. I think Mayor Nagin released his evacuation plan yesterday. What we all learned, the most important lesson, is how state, federal, and local governments need to stay in contact with each other, and have a really, really good system of communication.

And so I think that alone will make a huge difference. We expect probably again more hurricanes. Weather patterns sort of follow a cycle, as we know from last summer and the summer before; we're in a hurricane cycle right now on the Gulf Coast.

Q Meanwhile, your husband and his look-alike, a comedian named Steve Bridges, they were a big hit at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. And one of the funniest lines was when they talked about you. Let's take a quick look and then we'll chat about that.

(Video clip is played.)

Q Mrs. Bush, did you add that line?

MRS. BUSH: No, I didn't, but it is one of the funniest, I think. (Laughter.)

Q Well, they were really funny together, and I think a lot of people enjoyed it and appreciated the President's sense of humor, and yours, as well. Good luck in New Orleans, and thanks so much for talking with us this morning.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot, Katie.

END 7:17 A.M. CDT

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