For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 11, 2005
Interview of the President and First Lady Laura Bush by Matt Lauer, Nbc "today Show"
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
AND FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH
MATT LAUER, NBC "TODAY SHOW"
Habitat for Humanity Site
6:07 A.M. CDT
Q Two of the volunteers this morning are the President of the United
States and the First Lady. President Bush, good to see you again; Mrs.
Bush, nice to have you here.
MRS. BUSH: Hi, Matt.
THE PRESIDENT: Eight trips to this region for you since September 2nd;
six, I believe, for you, Mrs. Bush. Give me a sense of the biggest change
you've seen over the past six or seven weeks in this area.
THE PRESIDENT: I think we've seen the spirits change. I mean, the storm
hit, it was an overwhelming moment for a lot of people. And then they're
beginning to realize, people - the local people are beginning to realize
there's hope, there's a chance to rebuild lives. And a lot of people care
I've seen some infrastructure change; the debris is being cleared and roads
are being built. And it's a remarkable spirit here in this part of the
world. I mean, people say, look, we're going to rebuild our lives and
they've realized a lot of people from around the country want to help them.
Q And as you see the progress, you also see how much remains to be done.
MRS. BUSH: Sure.
Q Schools still need to be reopened --
MRS. BUSH: That's true.
Q -- health facilities and all that sort of thing.
MRS. BUSH: Well, I'm worried about the schools; I'm really interested in
that. But I'm also proud that so many people have gone to school, so many
parents have put their kids in school wherever they are - if they're in
Houston or Fort Worth or Baton Rouge or wherever, and I think that's really
Q So much more visibility on your part, President Bush, following
Hurricane Rita and, as I mentioned, the eight trips to the region, as
compared to what was seen as a slow and inefficient federal response after
Hurricane Katrina. Is this one of those situations where you're trying to
get a second chance to make a good first impression?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I do my job as best I can. One of the things that we do
is we respond to crisis. And as I told the people, if I didn't respond
well enough, we're going to learn the lessons. If there's any mistakes
made at the federal level, I, of course, accept responsibility for them.
On the other hand, there's a lot of good that's taken place, a lot of
people are working hard. We had chopper drivers pulling people off roofs;
we had, you know, people working long hours to save lives. And the story
will unfold. I mean, the facts of the story will come out over time and
the important thing is for federal, state and local governments to adjust
and to respond.
Q I talked to a prominent Democrat in Louisiana who has said that this
type of appearance, while it's great to see you guys rolling up your
sleeves and grabbing a hammer and helping with this piece of wall here,
that it's a photo op, and they want to see a plan on paper, your plan to
rebuild this region. Do you have that kind of a plan?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Matt, you see, I don't think Washington ought to
dictate to New Orleans how to rebuild. I guess we have a different
philosophy than whoever the prominent Democrat was you spoke to. Last
night, Laura and had dinner with Mayor Nagin and a group of distinguished
New Orleans citizens from all walks of life. And my message to them was,
we will support the plan that you develop.
The point is, is that it comes from the local folks. And I recognize
there's an attitude in Washington that says, we know better than the local
people. That's just not the attitude I have.
Q There was recently a loan package approved by Congress, a billion
dollars in emergency loans for the states hardest hit by hurricanes Katrina
and Rita. That's the good news. Some Democrats complain that there was
wording taken out of that loan package, a forgiveness clause that has
traditionally been included in loan packages in the past. And they're
wondering why these three states were singled out. Would you ask Congress
to go back into that legislation and reinstate the forgiveness clause?
THE PRESIDENT: I think Congress - what Congress said is that the previous
loans were limited to a relatively small amount of money. These loans are
much greater loans. And that what Congress has said is you'll have five
years to repay, plus an additional five years to repay. And so I think
it's a kind of package that Congress was comfortable with giving and I was
happy to sign it.
Q Carolyn Maloney, who, as you know, is a Democrat from New York, a
congresswoman, said --
THE PRESIDENT: You're quoting a lot of Democrats today, Matt, that's
Q She said that we aren't asking the people of Iraq to pay back the
money we're spending there - why are we asking the people of the Gulf
Coast, requiring them to pay back this money. How would you respond to
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the people of Iraq are paying a heavy price for
terrorism. A lot of people are dying, Matt. These people are working hard
to establish democracy and they're paying a serious price. Look, I
understand there are a lot of politics. One of the things that I suggested
was we keep the politics out of New Orleans and Mississippi as we all work
together to rebuild these communities. And we've got people here who
volunteered their time, from all over the country - and they didn't say,
you know, I'm a Democrat and I'm going to work here, or, I'm a Republican
and I'm going to come and work here. They said, I'm an American that wants
And the reason why Laura and I are here is because we want to encourage
other Americans to help somebody find shelter or help somebody find food,
or to continue to express the incredible compassion that the country saw
when displaced persons moved from this part of the world and are scattered
around the country.
Q Which is a good point. So in other words, if someone says to you,
okay, you're moving a wall today and it's a photo op, but if that inspires
someone else in another community to move a wall and grab a hammer, then
that's mission accomplished?
MRS. BUSH: That's right. Also, this gives us a chance to thank the people
who do this all the time, not just in a crisis situation, but who volunteer
with Habitat in their towns wherever they are across the country, or
volunteer in a million other ways - working in schools or other ways. And
this is really, really important, and it's very American to step out and
THE PRESIDENT: I understand there's a lot of politics, and you keep
talking about this politician or that politician. I think our job is to
elevate this whole process out of normal politics. Frankly, we're supposed
Q Is that possible, though? I mean, isn't it inevitable it will be
bogged down in politics?
THE PRESIDENT: It depends on who asks the questions, I guess. I think
most Americans aren't interested in this kind of politics. I think most
Americans are interested in contributing. And the amazing thing about
Katrina and Rita is that there has been a fantastic response by people from
all walks of life that have welcomed a neighbor and said, brother, what can
I do to help you? Or, how can I show you love? And I applaud the "Today
Show" and Habitat for Humanity and your partners in being a part of a
larger picture of helping people rebuild their lives. It's a great
Q While I have you here and while you don't have a hammer in your hand,
can I ask you - well, you have it in your belt - (laughter) - about some
things going on in Washington?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q A lot of criticism coming for your nominee to the Supreme Court,
Harriet Miers, from conservatives - people like Trent Lott and Pat Buchanan
and George Will and Bill Kristol. Were you taken off-guard a little bit,
caught by surprise by the amount of criticism you're getting for Judge
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I made a decision to put somebody on the
Court who hadn't been a part of what they call the judicial monastery. In
other words -- I listened, by the way, to people in the Senate who
suggested, why don't you get somebody from the outside. And I figured that
people are going to kind of question whether or not it made sense to bring
somebody from outside the Court.
I would remind those, one, that Harriet is an extraordinary, accomplished
woman who has done a lot. As a matter of fact, she has consistently ranked
as one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States, that she has
broken the glass ceiling. She has served as a great example. She is a
brilliant person. And that just because she hasn't served on the bench
doesn't mean that she can't be a great Supreme Court Justice.
Q But, you know, conservatives are worried about what's going to happen
when she gets on the bench, and they're worried about what's going to
happen in the future. And I get the feeling - and I'm not sure if this is
too strong - I get the feeling some conservatives, President Bush, are
feeling let down by you; and they're thinking they've supported you for so
long and when an issue that is so important to them comes up, that you let
them down. How would you answer that?
THE PRESIDENT: My answer is Harriet Miers is going to be confirmed and
people will get to see why I put her on the bench. She is an extraordinary
woman. She is -
Q You said she is the most qualified candidate for the job -
THE PRESIDENT: As I told you.
Q -- would you agree with that?
MRS. BUSH: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Q You had pushed for a woman to be a nominee.
MRS. BUSH: That's right. And I know Harriet well, I know how accomplished
she is, I know how many times she's broken the glass ceiling, herself.
She's a role model for young women around our country.
Q Some are suggesting -
MRS. BUSH: Not only that, she's very deliberate and thoughtful, and will
bring dignity to wherever she goes, but certainly to the Supreme Court
she'll be really excellent.
Q Some are suggesting there's a little possible sexism in the criticism
of Judge Miers. How do you feel about that?
MRS. BUSH: That's possible. I think that's possible. I think she is so
accomplished, and I think people are not looking at her accomplishments and
not realizing that she was the first elected woman to be the head of the
Texas Bar Association, for instance, and all the other things. She was the
first woman managing partner of a major law firm. She was the first woman
hired by a major law firm, her law firm.
THE PRESIDENT: My attitude, Matt, is when people get to know her they'll
see why I picked her.
MRS. BUSH: They will. In the confirmation hearings alone they'll see that
she what she's like.
Q I think The Washington Times has a story this morning that said they
had about 27 Republican senators have serious questions about Judge Miers -
or about Harriet Miers -
THE PRESIDENT: No, Judge Miers -- well spoken.
Q I was going to say - kind of getting ahead of myself here. So you are
convinced that she will be confirmed?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Not only am I convinced that she'll be
confirmed, I'm convinced that she'll be a fine, great judge. And I'm
convinced that she'll be the kind of - she won't change. I mean, the
person I know is not the kind of person that is going to change her
philosophy. And her philosophy is, is that she is not going to legislate
from the bench. So I told the American people when I campaigned for
President the type of judge I'll pick - I picked that type of person in
John Roberts and I picked that type of person in Harriet Miers.
Q Your political guru, Karl Rove, is set to - or scheduled to testify
before a grand jury for the fourth time this coming week, it seems, looking
into the leak of a CIA agent's name. You've said if someone on your staff
had anything to do with that leak, you'll take care of that person. Has
Karl Rove looked you in the eye, Mr. President, and said "I, in no way,
bent or broke the rules, or the law, when it comes to this case"?
THE PRESIDENT: Matt, I've also consistently said I'm not going to talk
about the case; it's under review. So I'm not going to talk about it.
Thank you for asking, but - on the other hand, the prosecutor has made it
clear - and made it clear - that he doesn't want anybody speculating or
talking about the case, so I'm not going to talk about it.
Q But does it worry you that they seem to have such an interest in Mr.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to talk about the case. I've been asked this
a lot, my answer is consistent. The special prosecutor is conducting a
very serious investigation - he's doing it in a very dignified way, by the
way - and we'll see what he says.
Q Got a big date coming up in Iraq this coming week, on the 15th a vote
on the referendum on the constitution there. What do you expecting to
happen there? And what are you expecting to happen in the days leading up
to that vote?
THE PRESIDENT: I expect violence, because there's a group of terrorists
and killers who want to try to stop the advance of democracy in Iraq. I
also expect people to vote, which is a remarkable achievement. We had a
remarkable achievement last January when millions of people voted. They
now have a chance to vote on a constitution that will help unify the
country. And then they'll have a chance to vote, if the constitution
passes, on a permanent government.
And so what you're seeing is the unfolding of a dual track strategy. On
the one hand, democracy is advancing, much to the amazement of a lot of
people - particularly people in the region. And on the other hand, we're
working to train Iraqi troops so they can provide the security for a
democracy to move forward.
Q I'm going to let you get back to work in a second, I'm just curious
about one other subject, and you've spoken about this recently - this whole
issue of a possible worldwide pandemic, this avian flu. You know, 60
people have died in Asia so far. They're worried that if this comes here
there are, by some estimates, this could claim millions of lives around the
After Hurricane Katrina, there are some people in this country who are
worried; they're not sure who's in charge, who do I turn to, who's going to
handle a major catastrophe in this country? Are you confident that this
administration has a plan in place to handle something like that?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm confident that we're working to identify the possible
outbreak of avian flu, contain it to where the outbreak takes place, and
strategize how to deal with it if it ever were to come to the United
Q Who would take the lead in that? Would it be a military situation?
Would it be homeland security?
THE PRESIDENT: It's a really interesting question, and it's one that I
raised that has created a little bit of consternation among some. I have
said that there may be a catastrophic event such that the federal
government has got the - it's only the federal government that has got the
capacity to move in quickly with a lot of resources, which would require
law changes. For example, the military cannot become police without a
And so we're planning all this out. We're in the midst of, one,
identifying that there may be a problem, and, two, what to do about it.
When I have a plan that I'm comfortable with, of course I will talk to the
American people about it.
Q Your husband has been through an awful lot -
MRS. BUSH: Our country has been through an awful lot.
Q What toll have you seen this take, personally, on him? Not only - you
know, we had 9/11 in the first term, and now we've got Iraq, and we've got
Katrina, and we've got Rita. What toll have you seen this take?
MRS. BUSH: Well -
THE PRESIDENT: He can barely stand, he's about to drop on the spot.
MRS. BUSH: He's doing great. He's got big, broad shoulders. There's a
lot, but there's a lot on the American people, too. And their response has
been so terrific. You know, we can face challenges and they're tough, and
this is very tough down here. The number of people, the huge number of
people that are displaced, that have lost everything, but, you know, people
are rebuilding their lives and other people want to help them, and that's
what I see.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I'm the kind of guy who gets inspired by the
decency of others, and as I travel the country and see this incredible
spirit, it's so uplifting. It makes me understand how blessed we are to be
an American. These folks right here - I never met them before, but they're
from all over the country. They're here for one reason: to love a
neighbor. And that's a remarkable expression. And Laura and I want to
thank them and we want to encourage others around the country to do - to
follow their lead and follow their example.
Q Well, this is going to be the home of the Collins family, and we're
going to talk to the Collins family in a little while.
MRS. BUSH: That's great.
Q Mrs. Bush, President Bush, thanks so much for your time this morning.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Matt, appreciate it.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks, Matt.
Q Grab your hammers and go back to work. (Laughter.)
END 6:21 A.M. CDT