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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 12, 2006

Interview of First Lady Laura Bush by ABC This Week
Diplomatic Reception Room

10:51 A.M. EDT

Q Mrs. Bush, thank you very much for doing this.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks, George.

Q Let's start out by talking about the Gulf Coast. You've made 11 trips down there. Your foundation is helping 1,100 schools. Is this the most important work you're doing right now?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think it is. It's certainly among the most important work that I'm doing right now, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, because schools have to be rebuilt, or families can't come back. If they're good schools, then families can start coming back to put their kids in school there. And because so many of these communities -- New Orleans, as well as all the other little communities along the Mississippi Coast -- have lost their tax base because most businesses have closed, they're in a lot of trouble financially. It's hard to build a school without your tax base, but you can't build your tax base until your schools are open.

Q They're the magnets.

MRS. BUSH: That's right, they are. So I've been really inspired by some people, like the school superintendent in Chalmette, who immediately started rebuilding her school which had flooded and actually have been the site that people in St. Bernard's Parish went to. Some people swam up to the second floor, or came in boats to stay there until the flood waters -- until they were rescued. They were there about a week.

And she started so that she was able to open the second floor of her school in November. And now she has so many kids back that she will open an elementary school across the street this fall. So I got to go down there last week and give them, the St. Bernard's Parish two schools, the high school and the elementary school, a grant for their library.

Q There's so many kids in Louisiana, especially, still displaced -- 125,000. And I was reading this week one expert said, we're facing there the worst children's health crisis in American history. Can more be done through the schools to help kids with --

MRS. BUSH: A lot can be done through the schools if the schools can get open. Schools can supply counselors. Schools are a very good site for counselors to come to, to work with children that need help. There are a lot of problems of every kind. But many of those children who are displaced are in good schools because they're in other states. Every state, I think, took some people from Hurricane Katrina. But -- my home state, Texas, took a lot and there are a lot of kids in school there, and I think those school districts are doing what they can to make sure they get the mental health, the counseling that they --

Q These kids are going through a lot of trauma.

MRS. BUSH: Unbelievable trauma -- to lose every single thing. And not only to lose every possession you own, but to lose your home in the sense of being where you're familiar, where you know things, where people know you, and having to go to a new town where no one knows you. And that's really difficult.

Q You've been traveling all over the world in the last year, as well -- Afghanistan, Africa, the Middle East. And the historian of First Ladies, Carl Anthony, says you're staking out a new kind of international feminism. Are you a feminist?

MRS. BUSH: Sure. Absolutely. Of course. One of the -- a lot of the things that I've gotten to do that are really fun are go to the inauguration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman ever elected on the African continent, in Liberia --

Q Liberia.

MRS. BUSH: But all of the -- a lot of what I do internationally does have to do with women's issues, with women's rights, with the education of women and girls, because it's so important and because women, as we saw in Afghanistan, and girls had been left out, actually, forbidden to be educated. It's really hard for us in the United States to imagine that a government would do that. But now we see girls and women in Afghanistan hungry to be educated. And little girls are in school, more than a million, several million little girls are in school there.

Q How can we make sure there's no backlash there? The former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke just came back and he said, boy, Afghanistan is doing great at the top levels, you have women in government, but there's still a lot of fear in those rural areas.

MRS. BUSH: Well, of course, there is. And that's part of their culture and tradition. And we do have to make sure that anything we do fits in with their culture and their tradition. But you can't tell me that mothers and fathers don't love their daughters. I know they do. They want the best thing for their daughters and their sons, the world over. I truly believe that. And if women are educated, then they're more likely to be able to make wise and healthy decisions for their children.

In Africa, the African Education Initiative -- it's part of what U.S. taxpayers' money goes for there -- gives scholarships to girls, because we know if girls are educated, they're more likely to be able to avoid AIDS, they're more likely to make better and wiser decisions that protect their children. So it's really important. And since that's what I'm particularly interested in, education, and have always been, that's been the focus of most of my international travel.

Q This has been a tough year politically for the President. And all the polls show his approval rating down and a majority of Americans think that we're on the wrong track. Yet the economy is doing quite well.

MRS. BUSH: Right.

Q How do you explain it? Why are Americans so --

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think because things are so difficult. We've had a very, very difficult year, starting with the hurricane last September, but already because of the terrorist attack in 2001, and then the war on terror since then. He has to make the hard choices. He is the one that has to make the hard decisions. And of course, they don't please everyone.

But as I travel around the country, most of the people I see think we're doing the right thing. They're glad that girls and women are educated in Afghanistan. They want the Iraqi people to build a government and be able to be a democracy there in the heart of the Middle East. They all want the Gulf Coast to be rebuilt. And not only do they want it, but many, many thousands of people go there on their spring break, for instance, college kids did to go clean up debris.

Q But they wonder whether the President has the team in place to do it.

MRS. BUSH: Well, no, I don't -- maybe they do. Maybe that's -- maybe you see that. But I think it's just that they think it's very difficult. And the only other thing I can say is most Americans -- and certainly all through our history -- have been able to face difficulties. And we've come through many, many challenges. When you live here in this house you're so aware of other families that lived here and other challenges our country has faced. And so I have a lot of optimism that we will be able to face these challenges, and the world will be better afterwards.

Q Have you looked back specifically at any President and First Lady as a model --

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think everyone thinks about Lincoln, of course, because that seems to be the most difficult time in our country, when we were in a civil war. And when I went to Rwanda last year, I met with girls -- some of them with African Education Initiative scholarships at a girl's school. And so they told me about themselves, and different ones of them talked. And then when their teacher said, do you have any questions for Mrs. Bush, their first question was, what did you do in the United States after the Civil War -- because they'd just had a genocide. And, fortunately, we had a President like Abraham Lincoln who wanted the country to unify.

Q You seem to escape unscathed from all these political troubles. Your approval rating is way up in the 60s right now. Does the President tease you about that?

MRS. BUSH: No, not really. I tease him. No, I'm only kidding. (Laughter.)

Q You tease --

MRS. BUSH: Not really.

Q Why do you think that's the case, first of all? And then, secondly, and I guess, more important, what do you do with it? You are quite popular now. You've started to campaign more for the President, for Republican members of Congress. What's your message?

MRS. BUSH: Well, the President has an agenda that he wants to see out through the rest of his term. And that's one reason I campaign for Republican candidates around the country, because I think it's really important that they're elected, because I share their values, but also because they share the President's values. And I think it's important for the rest of his agenda to have a Republican Congress. So I'm happy to have the opportunity to campaign for Republicans.

Q How about inside the White House? How do you see your role? And has there ever been a moment, particularly in the last year, where you've woken up and said, you know what, we've got to get a handle on this, we have to turn things around?

MRS. BUSH: Well, sure, of course, I wake up and think that a lot when I see the bad poll numbers on the front page of the newspaper. I didn't -- back when poll numbers were good, I don't think they put them on the front page. But now the bad ones are there.

Q Do you think the press has been unfair?

MRS. BUSH: No, I don't think it's necessarily unfair. I think it's just -- I think they're maybe enjoying this a little bit. I mean, that's what it seems like. (Laughter.)

Q Enjoying it?

MRS. BUSH: That's what it seems like a little when I read it in the paper -- because it isn't really what I see everywhere. I travel all around our country. I go to every part of our country, and what I see is that Americans are standing with our troops. They want them to succeed. They want them to be successful. They want the Iraqi people to be successful. They want the people in Afghanistan to be successful. And they want to rebuild the Gulf Coast. That's what I see everywhere in our country.

Q You've been really stepping up your activities. Is it because in some way -- and I think this happens to everyone in the White House -- you feel the clock ticking, you feel the days slipping away?

MRS. BUSH: That's absolutely right. There comes to be sort of an urgency because you know the term is only four years long, and that's how long you have left.

I think also, since I've been here for as long as I have, there are number of issues that I've worked on that I want to continue to work on. I want to make sure that I'm effective, that something happens, that I can be constructive and productive for our country. You feel a real obligation when you live here to do that.

And one of them is literacy. This fall I'm going to host a global conference in Washington during the time of the United Nations General Assembly when leaders from around the world will be -- in New York, we'll be in New York -- in New York, not Washington -- to talk about ways we can spread literacy around the world, because I think that's really important.

Q Have you thought about how you're going to continue that work outside the White House?

MRS. BUSH: Not really. I think I focused on our few years here that are left and not more on what I'll do afterwards. But I suspect I'll continue to work on education. It's what I've been interested in and worked on since I was in the second grade when I decided I wanted to be a teacher.

Q We're just about out of time. What's Mother's Day like at Camp David?

MRS. BUSH: Well, Mother's Day will be fun. I won't be with my children, sadly. They won't be there with me. But we go to church with the troops that are stationed at Camp David, and we've gotten to know their children from the Christmas Pageant when the little children are dressed up as shepherds or angels. And it will be fun to get to be there with them and their mothers.

Q Thank you very much.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot. Thank you, George. Thank you very much.

END 11:03 A.M.

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