Published May 15, 2006
The following is a partial transcript of the May 14, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":
"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Well, these are tough times for the Bush White House, and who better to discuss all of it than the president's most trusted adviser, first lady Laura Bush?
We spoke with Mrs. Bush in the Vermeil Room, also called the First Lady's Room, on the ground floor of the White House.
WALLACE: Mrs. Bush, thank you for inviting us to the White House and welcome to "FOX News Sunday".
FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH: Great. Thanks very much, Chris.
WALLACE: Sitting in this room surrounded by the portraits of seven first ladies — Lady Bird Johnson is looking down on us — I know that many of these first ladies played roles as key advisers to their presidents, and as Nancy Reagan once told me, during the second term, they're more willing to talk about that.
BUSH: That's probably right.
WALLACE: So let me ask you, what role do you play on policy and personnel for your husband?
BUSH: Well, as I've said all along, you know, our conversations obviously are private. But we talk about policy. I talk about education, because that's what I'm really interested in.
We talk about — because I've traveled to Africa a number of times, we talk about the president's emergency relief plan for AIDS and the various sites that I've been able to visit in Africa where that relief is being offered to people with AIDS.
We talk about personalities, of course. We talk about personnel in the sense that I know everyone who works over there and have known them for years, just like he has. And I won't tell you what we said about that, though.
WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about that, though. Now, I don't want names — well, I'd like names, but I'll settle for just the issue. Andy Card, the former White House chief of staff, said that you sometimes weigh in against possible appointees.
WALLACE: Against and for. What makes your antennae go up about staff?
BUSH: Well, I guess it's different about different people, but there are a lot of people that I like a lot that I think are great. Andy Card is certainly one of them. I love Andy Card, actually, like a brother. We spent a lot of time with him for the last five years. And Kathy, his wife, is a very good friend of mine.
I love Josh Bolten. I've spent time with him. He came down to Texas before George even ran and lived in Texas and has worked with us for all that time. And so I'll talk about people that I admire or that I think will do a really good job in a different spot, but it's very informal.
A lot of our conversation, of course, like most couples, is about our kids or what we're going to do tomorrow or those sort of mundane conversations.
WALLACE: According to the polls, your husband now has the third lowest approval rating of any president over the last 50 years, better only than Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, and he's even losing some support among conservatives.
As someone whose, I'm sure you know, approval ratings are double your husband's, why do you think the American people are beginning to lose confidence in your husband?
BUSH: Well, I don't think they are, and I don't really believe those polls. I travel around the country. I see people. I see their response to my husband. I see their response to me.
There are a lot of difficult challenges right now in the United States. We face many, many challenges, unprecedented challenges, when you think about the huge area of destruction after Hurricane Katrina or a War on Terror. All of these things are new, really, for the American people.
The idea of a terrorist attack on September 11th and then this huge hurricane that devastated the entire Mississippi coast and, of course, New Orleans, one of our great cities — all of those decisions that the president has to make surrounding each one of these very difficult challenges are hard. They're hard decisions to make.
And of course, some people are unhappy about what some of those decisions are. But I think people know that he is doing what he thinks is right for the United States, that he's doing what he — especially in the War on Terror, what he thinks he is obligated to do for the people in the United States, and that is to protect them.
And as I travel around the United States, I see a lot of appreciation for him. A lot of people come up to me and say stay the course. And I think right now what we're seeing with these poll numbers is a lot of fun in the press with taking a poll every other week and putting it on the news, on the front page of the newspaper. When his polls were really high, they weren't on the front page.
WALLACE: But let me ask you about the War on Terror. We'll talk about Katrina in a moment. Now there's this new controversy, the revelation that the National Security Agency is collecting phone call records of tens of millions of Americans.
First of all, I want to ask you, what do you make of the series of leaks over the last few months of some of the top secrets in this country about how we're fighting the War on Terror?
BUSH: Well, of course, I don't like that, because I think that hamstrings us in the War on Terror, and the president vowed to protect the people of the United States, and that's what he has to do.
It's a very interesting conversation that we're having across the United States about this right now, because if intelligence activities had not been authorized by the president within the law, as they are, and we had a terrorist attack, people would — the question would be the opposite, why haven't you been trying to track Al Qaeda or links to Al Qaeda in the United States.
That's where the intelligence activities are focused, and it's his obligation as president to protect the people, and I think the American people understand that.
WALLACE: Do you think these leaks are an attempt to undercut his policies?
BUSH: Probably. But I have no idea.
WALLACE: People within the government who are trying to undercut...
BUSH: I have no idea, really, because I don't know who they are. But I assume it's either that or they just want to act like they know a lot.
WALLACE: How do you respond, though, to the concern that we're hearing a lot from Americans since the revelation of this program, that this is big brother invading our privacy?
BUSH: Well, you don't really hear that from a lot of Americans. I don't hear that from a lot of Americans. I know that Americans expect the president and the United States government to fiercely protect their privacy, and that's what they do.
These are links to Al Qaeda that they follow, and I also know that the American people expect their government to do that, to protect them however they can within the law, to protect our country from another terrorist attack.
WALLACE: Another issue that has, as you said, been tough for the president, has been the fallout from Hurricane Katrina. I know you have been to the region 11 times, that you're deeply involved in rebuilding schools and libraries.
As the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches — I'm going to ask you to put on your hat as a former teacher — what grade would you give the response by the federal government?
BUSH: Actually, I think — you know, you could say a medium grade, somewhere in the middle, but I will say...
WALLACE: A gentleman's C?
BUSH: No, I think I'd maybe give them a B.
WALLACE: Oh, you're grading on the curve.
BUSH: Well, shall we talk about the response of every single government, the federal government, the local government, the state government? Is there room for a lot of improvement? Absolutely.
But I don't know if people really realize how huge the devastation is. I don't know how many people have been down there to see. I do know that millions of volunteers have gone down there.
I'm going to speak later to the Red Cross volunteers who are in town for their convention to thank them for what they've done. Every time I've been there, I've run into Red Cross volunteers from all over our country who do that because they want to volunteer and because they want to help people.
The Southern Baptist Convention has cooked. I think they're still there cooking for people. It's a huge problem, and when you look at these communities that have schools that are devastated and businesses that are devastated, so they don't really have a tax base anymore, but if they can't build schools, people won't come back, because people can only come back when there's a school for their children to go to.
So it shows how huge the problem is, but also what a response it demands from our government as well as from individuals around the country.
WALLACE: We're also on this program going to be talking to Mary Cheney, and I want to talk to you briefly about gay rights. As you well know, dozens of families, gay families, brought their children here to the Easter egg roll.
Karl Rove and congressional Republicans are planning to reintroduce a constitutional amendment this summer to ban same sex marriages and, they say, also to mobilize the conservative base.
First of all, do you support such an amendment and, secondly, what do you think about using it as a campaign...
BUSH: Well, I didn't know Karl was an elected official, but...
WALLACE: No, but he's got some influence.
BUSH: The Easter egg roll is open to all families. And families had a wonderful time, even though it was a rainy day. It was raining on everyone, but they had a wonderful time at the Easter egg roll, and I'm glad that families were able to come to the Easter egg roll.
It's the one event at the White House that's open to children all year, and it's totally designed for children. You can't come as an adult unless you're accompanied by a child under the age of eight. And it's a very, very happy and wonderful tradition at the White House, and it was just as happy and wonderful this year as it ever has been.
WALLACE: If I may press my question, what do you think of the constitutional amendment and the idea of using it as a campaign tool?
BUSH: Well, I don't think it should be used as a campaign tool, obviously. But I do think it's something that people in the United States want to debate. And it requires a lot of sensitivity to talk about the issue, a lot of sensitivity.
People, I have found, over the country don't want the governor of Massachusetts or the mayor of San Francisco to make the choice for them — the courts of Massachusetts, I should say. So I think it deserves debate. I think it's something that people want to talk about.
WALLACE: I saw a picture of your husband from 2001 recently.
BUSH: And he still had dark hair?
WALLACE: Well, you know where I'm headed. He has aged. Haven't we all in the last five years, I must say, except for you? But the hair is grayer, the lines a little bit more pronounced.
And I want to take advantage of your position as someone who, you know, sees him in his private moments. How much of a strain is it for him and has it been for years to be a wartime president who sends our young men and women into battle and who has to get up every morning feeling the responsibility of keeping the country safe?
BUSH: Well, of course, it's huge. It's unbelievable. And what you just said is the most difficult part of all, and that is to know that young American men and women are in harm's way. And you know, it's very, very difficult.
But no one said it was going to be easy when he ran for president, and he's got a lot of strength. He's a really strong man with some broad shoulders, which I appreciate.
WALLACE: Do you notice the grayer hair and the lines?
BUSH: Sure. You know, not really. I mean, when you live with someone every single day, you don't see every sign. I notice it if I see old pictures of him and myself, I'll add.
WALLACE: No, I don't think so about you, Mrs. Bush. But anyway, finally, on this Mother's Day, do you have a message that you would like to deliver and especially to the mothers of young Americans who are serving overseas in the military?
BUSH: Well, I want to say happy Mother's Day to mothers all over the United States and to my own mother, who I hope is watching this. But I also hope that mothers know everywhere how much — especially the mothers of our deployed troops, how much the people of the United States stand with them and how many prayers are said for our troops and for their families.
Everywhere I go, people tell me that, that they're praying for them and they want the very, very best for them. And so I want them to know that.
I also want them to know that their loved ones are performing a wonderful task. The idea of being able to have a democracy in Iraq for three — for Iraq to have had three huge elections where millions of people showed up even though there were threats of violence.
Iraq is trying to build its government right now, and I think if it's successful, which I truly believe it will be, that Iraq will end up being a beacon of hope, a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
In Afghanistan, women can walk outside their doors now, girls can go to school, and girls and women in Afghanistan are so hungry for education that most schools have three schedules, with little kids going in the morning, and older children going in the afternoon, and then their parents going to school at night.
BUSH: So those are huge accomplishments that we have been able to make as Americans because of our troops. So I want to thank all the mothers around the country, too, for their love and their strong support for their children everywhere, whether their children are in the military or not.
WALLACE: Well, Mrs. Bush, we want to thank you. And happy Mother's Day to you.
BUSH: Thanks so much.
WALLACE: And again, our thanks to Mrs. Bush and her White House staff.