|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
January 20, 2006
Interview of the First Lady by BBC
The Map Room
10:22 A.M. EST
Q Mrs. Bush, it's a great, great pleasure to be here and to be talking. And can I begin with a bit of "stop press" news from yesterday?
MRS. BUSH: That I'm not running for the Senate?
Q That's right, yes. The President thought you wouldn't -- there was a gentleman who thought our lovely First Lady should run for the Senate. But, on balance, the President thought that was unlikely.
MRS. BUSH: It is unlikely, absolutely unlikely.
Q Although you have -- you did once say -- you said to the President never to get you to make speeches. But you have done that now. Now you're a very accomplished speechmaker.
MRS. BUSH: Well, I have -- that's right, that was our prenuptial agreement, that I would never have to give a speech. And I did actually also agree that I would run with him, jog with him, which I never did, either. So we both broke our prenuptial agreement immediately.
Q Oh, that's perfect, one all. Very fair, very good. Well, you're just back from a triumphant trip to Africa -- Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. What was the most memorable thing you saw or heard?
MRS. BUSH: Well, certainly the inauguration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was very, very moving and very thrilling and hopeful for the people of Liberia. The people of the United States, as you know, have a very close relationship with Liberia, since it was founded by freed slaves. In fact, in the program, the inaugural program, was a list of all the presidents, and the first few presidents were born in Virginia and Kentucky and Maryland and other states in the United States.
So this is a hopeful time, it's a daunting time. There's a lot to do in Liberia -- everything to do, really, of course.
Q And democracy has had a pretty tough time in Africa.
MRS. BUSH: Very tough time there. But this was a very spirited, competitive election, and all the observers, all the international observers that observed the election saw it as transparent and free and fair. So I think she has a really good chance now, with a lot of help from the United States and from other countries -- she will need a lot of international help, the people of Liberia need help to move on.
Q What was the best -- what was the most moving site when you were there, or touching site?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I loved it when she gave her speech. I thought she gave a really lovely speech. She spoke to the children and she spoke to the women and she spoke to the men. She said she said she was everyone's President. But one of the things she said to the children was that she loved them. And I liked that, I thought that was really, really moving.
Q It really is, yes. But can she, can she unite that country?
MRS. BUSH: I think she can, I really do. I hope so, I really hope so.
Q What is your feeling about Africa from those three snapshots, as it were, the three separate days? Did you come away with optimism, pessimism, or what?
MRS. BUSH: Oh, I come away with optimism, absolutely. The people of Africa are so generous and energetic and warm. They're very, very friendly. I see -- of course there are many problems that I saw while I was there. But I also see a lot of people working on those problems, working to try to solve them.
Each of the countries that I visited -- Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria -- have very active, especially Nigeria and Ghana, programs to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. And I did AIDS events in both countries. I also talked a lot about girls' education. I visited schools where I saw girls who told me they wanted to grow up to be doctors so they could find a cure for HIV. And I'm moved by that. Every step is small but every step is important. And the more girls that get educated, and the more boys that are educated, the more likely each one of these countries can solve some of the problems that they have.
Q Obviously the American contribution is vital on AIDS. But what do you say to those people who say that they think that the American program is too geared towards abstinence, which is difficult to pull off, and -- two-thirds towards that and not enough towards just condoms and such?
MRS. BUSH: Well, the American program is really based on the Ugandan program: ABC -- abstinence, be faithful, and the correct and consistent use of condoms. But I think it's very important to talk about abstinence, especially in countries where girls think they have to comply with the wishes of men, in countries where girls are not educated, where they are oppressed, in many instances. They really don't have the social and educated way to negotiate their own sexual lives. And so I think it's really important to talk about abstinence, to let people know that that's a choice.
Of course, being faithful to your partner is very important, and the correct and consistent use of condoms is absolutely important. All of them are important. But I think it's really -- it sort of irritates me when I hear people act like abstinence is not a real choice, because it is, and it's 100 percent effective.
Q One hundred percent effective --
MRS. BUSH: In not spreading AIDS.
Q So birth control is -- (laughter.)
MRS. BUSH: Well, certainly for not being infected.
Q Absolutely right, yes. No, I mean, exactly. And when it's a Christian country or Christian president or whatever, there's that factor, obviously, that obviously the formula you just -- is a Christian formula, as it were.
MRS. BUSH: Well, no, I don't know that I would say that. I think it's a human formula. And these countries, many of the countries in Africa are very religious. Their churches in communities are many times where the school is, as well, the churches support the schools, and -- or the mosques. And the people in certainly Ghana and Nigeria and Liberia are religious. And their churches and their mosques are a very important part of their life.
And so that's a good way to reach out, for instance, with the PEPFAR program, the President's emergency relief for AIDS money that comes from the United States government. Part of the -- of my trip, I went to a hospital, St. Mary's Hospital. It's a Catholic hospital, but it's also a treatment center. It's a place where people can get their antiretroviral treatments. And that's important, because they're already in the communities. And if we had to go and try to build a health center in every single community, we couldn't. It would be impossible. It's much better and more effective to be able to reach through faith-based groups that are already on the ground.
Q Do you think, in terms of what more can be done, I mean, do you think -- I mean, Bono, for instance, and Bob Geldof, who visited you here at the White House, I know, visited you both. And, I mean, do you think that their campaigns help, too, with Bob Geldof out there shouting his words and so on?
MRS. BUSH: Sure, absolutely.
Q Do you think that helps?
MRS. BUSH: Each campaign that comes from any country and from every country and from inside each of these countries is important. The point is to get the word out so that everyone knows how you get HIV, and everyone knows how you can avoid it. That's the whole purpose, is to let -- to be sure people are educated. And we know educated -- girls, especially, who are educated, are much less likely to have HIV/AIDS.
Q When you read the press, Mrs. Bush, about your husband, the trail of your husband in the press, do you -- is there something where you say, no, no, no, they've missed out -- dot, dot, dot, dot, dot?
MRS. BUSH: Sure, a lot of times. (Laughter.)
Q What sort of things do they miss out on?
MRS. BUSH: Well, that he's a great reader, that he loves to read. You know, my husband takes his job very, very seriously, and of course, he has to. When he was inaugurated, he swore his allegiance to the people of the United States. And after September 11th, it becomes even more and more important for him to do everything he can to protect our country from another attack. And he takes that very, very seriously. So I think people know that. I know the American people know that, but I hope people around the world know that, too.
Q We saw in that press conference yesterday where he was talking about how you said that parents should teach their -- read to their children, read to their children books. That was something that Laura taught me. She taught me to read, he said. It was a great throwaway at the end there. The humor is an important part of your private life, I would think, as well as public, isn't it?
MRS. BUSH: That's right. And one of the very first things I liked about him when I met him was his sense of humor. And to be married to someone who can be funny at the dinner table when you have two teenage girls at the dinner table is really very nice. Hnd he was always able to diffuse moments of tension when 13-year-old girls are acting like 13-year-old girls. He's really a wonderful father to our girls.
Q Do you, in a sense, think it would be nice -- do you have a yen that it would be nice to have one more term at the White House? Would your husband like one more campaign?
MRS. BUSH: I think it's really great in the United States that we have term limits, that we have two -- a term limit of two terms. I think that's plenty; eight years is a long time.
Q Has the job been more difficult to you or for the President, or less than you expected?
MRS. BUSH: I think the job has been really what I expected. I mean, obviously, we didn't expect what happened on September 11th. We never expected that we would be in a war, and that's very, very difficult. But I watched people that I love very much in this job, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. And I had a real idea of the weight of it, the weight of the job.
I remember during the Gulf War, when President Bush, my husband's father, was President, and at the very start of it, when the body bags, for instance, went over to Kuwait, and the whole worry of that, the whole gravity of that. The choices that a President makes, for instance, are so consequential, there are so many consequences. And so I knew that, even though of course that doesn't always help when you're in the midst of it yourself.
Q Of course, in fact, with the first Gulf War, there was more unanimity, really. In a way Iraq is sometimes compared -- because of the protests, I mean, you are far too young to remember the Vietnam War, of course.
MRS. BUSH: No, no, of course I remember that. (Laughter.) I wasn't that young. I'm not that young.
Q But I mean, this war, there are comparisons sometimes because there's a division of feeling in the country for these two wars. But there wasn't the Gulf War.
MRS. BUSH: There is, obviously, because many people are very, very sincerely anti-war. Everyone is anti-war. The President is anti-war. No one wants war. But no one wanted what happened on September 11th either. And we are in very historic times. If Iraq can build a stable democracy that they're on the road to, that they had millions of people turn out to vote -- first, for their constitution, then for their leaders -- each of those are really good signs. Is it hard? Sure. Is it going to take a long time? No doubt. But is it worth it? Absolutely. If we can have a stable democracy in that part of the world, it will be such a beacon for all the other countries that are around it.
Q And it was sort of dispiriting or -- not despairing, but dispiriting to see Osama bin Laden, who has made another pronouncement. Allegedly he's still alive, although --
MRS. BUSH: Oh, sure, absolutely. I mean, every threat has to be taken seriously. And the President does take every threat seriously.
Q Do you think every threat seriously to him? You must worry about him when he goes on quick trips to Baghdad or whatever.
MRS. BUSH: I worry about him, of course. I don't think there's anyone who's been married to a President that doesn't worry a little bit.
Q And in terms of future policy and so on, you said on one occasion that you thought that in fact, Condi Rice would be a splendid candidate for President, very good for there to be a woman President and so on. She hasn't fully decided.
MRS. BUSH: No, I think Condi's fully decided she's not going to run. In fact, every time I endorse her, she probably gets a lot of letters from people who are "Condinistas," as they call them. So she's going to make me start answering those letters, probably. She's a wonderful friend of mine, and she's a very, very accomplished woman. And in Liberia, she was really the hit of the inauguration. People applauded her so much. I think the people of Liberia feel a very special closeness to Dr. Rice.
Q And, in fact, I mean, you are keen for the sisterhood, you have worked for women's rights and all of those things -- very, very important to you. But I don't think your love of the sisterhood or women's rights would go quite as far as to welcome every woman into the White House, e.g. Hillary Clinton?
MRS. BUSH: You mean as President?
MRS. BUSH: I think I'll vote for the Republican woman. (Laughter.)
Q The Republican woman, whoever it may be.
MRS. BUSH: Whoever that might be.
Q And what are your plans for the future?
MRS. BUSH: Well -- after this over, you mean? Or in the next few years --
Q Yes, yes.
MRS. BUSH: -- before it's over? I'll continue to work on all the issues I've worked on my whole life, which have to do with education. I decided when I was in the second grade I wanted to be a teacher. And I've been really interested in education. And the older I get, and the more I've had the chance to travel around the world, the more I realize how important education is, especially for girls, but, of course, for boys and girls.
Q What would you like your girls to end up doing? It's their decision, of course.
MRS. BUSH: What would I like what?
Q What would you like your daughters to end up doing?
MRS. BUSH: Jenna is teaching school now, which I'm so proud. She's very, very interested in education. She's teaching at a charter school, and she's interested in the charter school movement in the United States. And I expect she'll continue in education for her career forever. She really likes that.
Barbara worked recently for a few months in South Africa at a pediatric hospital. And she's here living with us right now, briefly, while she decides what she's going to do next. But I'm very proud of both of my girls. They're wonderful girls, and they're really interested -- like many in their generation are -- what they can do to make this a better world.
Q May I have one minute more?
MRS. BUSH: Sure.
Q So summing up, this experience that you've had five-and-a-half eighths of and so on, how has it changed you, being in this incredible vantage point, living in this -- how are you different from the day you first entered the White House?
MRS. BUSH: Well, that's a really interesting question. In a lot of ways I'm not different, but what I know, I think -- I know a lot more, really. I know more about my country. I know more about the American people. And I admire the American people more and more the more I know about them and the more I see our country as I travel the country.
But I also know more about people around the world. And what I found out is that we're all a lot more alike than we are different. And that, I think, is sort of encouraging in many ways. I know that mothers around the world want their children to be safe, and want their children to be educated, and they want -- mothers and dads want their children to have a better life than they had.
Q Mrs. Bush, thank you so much.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks.
END 10:39 A.M. EST