|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 28, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Interview by Chris Wallace, Fox News Sunday
Fox News Studio
9:00 A.M. EDT
Q And good morning again from FOX News in Washington. Well, joining us now to discuss her recent trip to the Middle East and her increasingly public role in foreign policy, First Lady Laura Bush.
And, Mrs. Bush, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
MRS. BUSH: Thanks. Thanks, Chris.
Q You just got back from traveling across the Middle East to promote breast cancer awareness, which still carries something of a stigma there, and I was astonished by one figure: 70 percent of Saudi patients are diagnosed when the disease is advanced, as compared to 30 percent here in the West.
MRS. BUSH: In the U.S.
Q You get the sense that this taboo on women and their bodies is killing some people.
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that's right, and that's one of the reasons we started this partnership. It's a State Department partnership between these three governments -- Saudi, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates -- and M.D. Anderson.
And so it's a way for doctors there to find out -- work with M.D. Anderson on research with doctors here. There are actually -- faculty is going back and forth between different hospitals in those three countries and M.D. Anderson.
But it was also a way for me to talk about something that Arab women traditionally have not been able to talk about. And what I found out when I was there was that they were very glad to talk about it, because it is true that breast cancer presents about 10 years younger in Arab women than it does here in the United States.
And so because younger women are getting breast cancer, they don't know they have it until they're really into stage 3 or 4, and so many more die there with breast cancer than do in the United States, because early detection is the only thing we have -- the closest thing we have to a cure.
Q Obviously, we've got many critics in the Middle East. Do you think this kind of personal diplomacy, what some people call soft power, changes people's minds about the U.S.?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I hope so. And that's one of the whole goals behind the Middle East partnership, which includes a lot of things, including education with young people and exchange programs where young Arab boys and girls come to the United States and stay with families in Wisconsin or other parts of the United States, where they really get an idea of what Americans are like.
And to be perfectly frank, I got an idea of what Arab women were like that I didn't have. I always, I think, sort of subconsciously thought the cover was a way to -- I felt like I couldn't reach Arab women because they were covered.
And what I found out when I met them is they're just like us. I mean, they are -- especially the ones I met, who were breast cancer survivors and doctors and researchers.
You know, they are afraid because they have breast cancer. They're scared. They're dealing with all the same emotions that any woman would deal with if they got a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Q Do they feel frustration or even anger with the fact that their social status in their culture makes it -- you know, what should be a health problem becomes kind of a societal problem and, as I say, a stigma?
MRS. BUSH: Well, no. I mean, I think they feel like they can do something about it.
I met one woman who was covered, totally covered -- just her eyes were exposed -- at a roundtable called "Breaking the Silence," and she wants to start an Internet support group, which we have a lot of Internet support groups for breast cancer survivors here, but none in Arabic.
So she wants to start this Internet support group because she felt like she didn't have a support group when she got a diagnosis.
But all of the people that I met are very anxious both to work with the State Department exchange, with M.D. Anderson and with their own hospitals to reach out to Arab women everywhere and tell them first they should do breast self-exams and have a yearly mammogram, and especially if they have breast cancer or a history of breast cancer in their families.
Q As we said, you are taking on an increasingly public role on a number of issues, from repression in Burma to the AIDS crisis in Africa. You said recently that there's a myth that you're upstairs in the White House baking cookies. What's the truth about your involvement in policy?
MRS. BUSH: Well, the fact is I've been involved for a long time in policy and I think I just didn't get a lot of coverage on it.
I mean, I really do think there's a stereotype, and I was stereotyped as being a certain way because I was a librarian and a teacher and, you know, had the careers that traditional women have that were considered traditional women's careers.
But in fact, I've been very interested in Burma for a number of years, since I've really learned about Aung San Suu Kyi, and then after I learned about her --
Q That's the leader of the democracy movement.
MRS. BUSH: That's the woman whose party, the National League for Democracy, was elected in 1990, and since then the military has kept her in house arrest for most of the years since then.
And she's the democracy leader, really, there, but she's a Nobel Prize winner. She's the only Nobel Prize winner in the world who's jailed, under house arrest, and she is a devout Buddhist.
She wants a peaceful reconciliation in her country, and I've just been inspired by her story. But anyway, when I learned about her story, then I learned about Burma and how repressed they are -- this military junta that leads Burma that's the government.
In fact, I just learned that about 90 percent of the people in Burma make less than $1 a day. The economy -- Burma was the bread basket of Asia. It was known for its intellectual people and wonderful culture, and now it's just in total shambles.
Q Do you weigh in on policy with the President? Do you weigh in on the war in Iraq or Iran?
MRS. BUSH: You know, sure. I mean, I talk to the President about Burma. I meet with Burmese dissidents. I've had the chance to talk about that.
But many of the policies that I've had the chance to visit, like the PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or the President's Malaria Initiative in Africa, are policies that really came from him, I mean, that he felt like the United States could be effective by making sure a whole lot of people in Africa had the chance to get on antiretrovirals and literally save lives.
And my daughter Barbara was in Kenya and Rwanda this week. She went with the World Food Program. And I visited some World Food Program sites and PEPFAR sites.
And she said that when she was introduced -- this made her weep -- people would say your dad saved my life, because they're very aware they're getting antiretrovirals because of the President's Emergency Plan which, of course, is funded by the American people, by the American taxpayer.
Q Nancy Reagan once told me that during her husband's second term, she felt freer to go out to talk about public policy and her views on them, and you seem to be doing the same thing. Why is that?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I don't know that it's -- I mean, I think I felt perfectly free during the first term as well to talk about whatever I was interested in.
But I also think it took me a while to realize what a platform I had, and that I could be the one to go to the Middle East and talk about breast cancer and literally bring up a topic that was a taboo topic to talk about, very much the way it was in the United States 25 or 30 years ago.
Betty Ford made her bout with breast cancer public, and she did a huge favor for American women, because she brought a disease that women were embarrassed about, that they were fearful about, that they wouldn't mention to even their friends, to the forefront of American policy.
And then Nancy Reagan did the same thing when she had breast cancer. And then Nancy Brinker, my friend, started the Komen Foundation, and because of that, now everyone knows what the pink ribbon is.
And all of these women that I met were wearing shawls that had pink ribbons and pink sequins on them. So, you know, it's a way to -- that I realize that I have a platform and there's a way for me both to take a message from the American people to people worldwide, to let people worldwide know what we're really like, and also to let the American people know what they're doing, how their generosity is helping people around the world.
Q Of course, Mrs. Bush, with a higher profile almost inevitably comes criticism. And some conservatives in this country are upset with you -- and we have a picture up there on the screen --
MRS. BUSH: Oh, you've got to be kidding.
Q -- putting on a scarf given to you --
MRS. BUSH: Oh, really?
Q -- by a Saudi doctor. And let me put up a blast, if you will, from The Weekly Standard: "That she would oblige her hosts by wearing a shmata," which is Yiddish for a scarf, "on her head is a tacit endorsement of Islam's subjugation of women."
MRS. BUSH: Well, I did not see it that way at all. In fact, I'd had the meeting with them totally uncovered. I mean, you saw other photographs, obviously.
MRS. BUSH: And they saw this as giving me a gift from their culture. And it was the scarf with the pink ribbons and the pink edging on it, the breast cancer scarf, that I put on.
I will say that I told them that I had always felt like they were closed to me, that I wouldn't be able to reach them because of the way they're covered, and one of the women said to me -- she said, "You know, I may be all dressed in black, but I am transparent."
And what they were saying to me is they want to reach out. They want American women to know what they're like. And these women do not see covering as some sort of subjugation of women, this group of women that I was with.
That's their culture. That's their tradition. That's a religious choice of theirs.
Now, I did meet, on the other hand, in Kuwait, where women just got the vote in 2005, with a group of women activists, several of them who had run for office the first parliamentary election after women got the vote -- didn't win, any of them, but they made the first step, certainly, by getting in the political process.
And in that meeting, very few women were covered. And they don't feel like they have to be. But you know, I think we all have these stereotypes of each other, Americans and Arabs, and it's a really good thing to be able to break those stereotypes down and get to know each other.
Q I want to talk to you about some other issues. While you were away, Democrats were attacking your husband for vetoing SCHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, saying that he doesn't care about kids. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR KENNEDY: How could the President be so disinformed about the needs of these children?
Mr. President, I think that this is probably the most inexplicable veto in the history of the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Q Mrs. Bush, how do you respond, especially to those Democrats who say, "Look, this President spends all this money on the war in Iraq, and he's vetoing spending for children's health?"
MRS. BUSH: Well, let me just say that that is a perfect issue to try to get at the President in some way, and I think that's exactly what we saw in that -- in the tape we just saw.
You know, it's really easy to blame people for so-called voting against children. But it seems to me that it's just common sense that you wouldn't have a bill that is so expensive that it covers children who are not poor, when we know that there are at least 500,000 children in the United States who could be enrolled in SCHIP and that we need to find them and get them enrolled.
The President already proposed an expanding of this. In eight states in the United States now, SCHIP money -- more SCHIP money is being spent on adults than on children, and this is a program that was devised and made for children.
The veto was sustained, as you know. The President is very anxious to work with Congress and to come up with something that both he and they can be proud of and that is a really good bill that really does focus on poor children.
Q Sitting right across from me, I can tell you're a little ticked off at what the Democrats are doing.
MRS. BUSH: Well, I mean, it's just a perfect issue to demagogue. And instead of really trying to work on something that both sides could come together on, I think -- I think that's the easy way out.
Q The President predicts that Hillary Clinton is going to win the Democratic nomination, and she says she's got the most experience to be President. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR CLINTON: Perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR CLINTON: And I think that my experience on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, knowing how challenging it will be to take on the special interests --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Q Does experience serving as First Lady qualify somebody to be President?
MRS. BUSH: You know, I don't know. I mean, who knows? I mean, certainly, there's --
Q Well, you better than anyone.
MRS. BUSH: There's no doubt about it that you know everything about living in that house, for instance. And the other thing you know is you know how things are going to happen that you're not going to expect, that you better be prepared for.
And I would certainly say September 11th is the example that -- the most, you know, obvious example of things happening while you live there that you don't expect, that you have to deal with.
But on the other hand, I think one thing about the American political process, especially running for President, is it's so difficult.
It requires such endurance, both physical endurance as well as mental and, you know, emotional endurance to run for President, that what happens is we usually see the people who are experienced enough get the job just because they can live through the campaign and work -- do that hard work through the campaign.
Q You have supported qualified women for big jobs -- Secretary of State, Supreme Court Justice. Are you at all torn by Senator Clinton's candidacy? I mean, this is the woman that --
MRS. BUSH: No. (Laughter.)
Q You're not.
MRS. BUSH: No, not really. I mean, I'm looking forward to voting for a Republican woman, whenever that is, but I'll be supporting the Republican.
Q But this is the woman who's got the best chance any woman has ever had to be elected President.
MRS. BUSH: I know it. But I'm going to be voting for the Republican.
Q So the fact that she's a woman doesn't matter?
MRS. BUSH: No, it doesn't matter to me. And I hope it doesn't matter to other people. I hope that people will choose the candidate that they think really has the views that they want, you know, that they believe in, and that represent them in the way that they want to be represented.
Q Well, as long as I've got you in this, and what's wrong with Mrs. Clinton's views?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I'm not going to go into that, but, obviously, they aren't in line with mine in a lot of cases, and so I'm -- I'll be supporting the Republican.
Q Finally, your husband and you now have less than 15 months left in his presidency.
MRS. BUSH: That's right.
Q Do you look at the end of your time in the White House with delight or with dread?
MRS. BUSH: Well, neither, really. I mean, I just look at it as a fact of life. That's just what happens. When you run for this office and win, you know that there's term limits, that you're going to be there for four years or, if you're re-elected, you're going to be there for eight years, and that's it.
I would say that I look at these last months with a lot of urgency because I want to continue to do -- you know, work on these issues as long as I can, and I know the President looks on them that way.
I know that he wants Iraq, for instance, to settle down, to be -- really the Iraq democracy to be stronger and built up, and actually that's what I think we're seeing there.
Q Mrs. Bush, we're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you so much for coming in --
MRS. BUSH: Thanks, Chris.
Q -- and sharing part of your Sunday with us. You're pretty good at being a Sunday talk show guest.
MRS. BUSH: Well, thank you very much.
Q You ought to do it more often.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks.
Q Please come back.
MRS. BUSH: Thanks a lot.
END 9:17 A.M. EDT