Exclusive: Former First Lady Barbara Bush 'On the Record'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," April 22-23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former first lady Barbara Bush goes "On the Record" from the George Herbert Walker Bush presidential library in College Station, Texas.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mrs. Bush, nice to see you.

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Oh, I'm thrilled to be -- I'm very flattered that you came down to help us celebrate our 20th anniversary.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's really fun, and it's particularly fun to be in the library -- the library -- we were here last night. It looks spectacular.

BUSH: Isn't it great? I'm so proud for George to have this wonderful museum.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, when you walk up to the building, especially at night, it's all lit up. And of course, we were lucky because it was empty and we got a private tour. You get a taste of history.

BUSH: Well, it was a wonderful life that he's had and I've shared, so -- it does show, I think, in this library -- the airplane and time at the U.N. and time in China and Congress, our first car that we had we took to west Texas and -- we've had a great life.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's funny because it's not just the history that I got last night in walking in, but it's also a little bit of a love story, too, because we see -- you know, we see your whole life and your whole life with the president and the children and the wedding dress, everything.

BUSH: That was amazing that was found, I think. But I am in love with George Bush, 64 years later -- pretty lucky.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's pretty evident.

So big celebration of reading tomorrow. Tell me about this.

BUSH: Well, it's going to be very exciting. We have five readers. And people have worked very, very hard, and they have raised a ton of money. I'm just beside myself. I think they raised over $1 million, eight-hundred dollars, which is, in this economy, amazing.

But it shows that people know how important it is for families to be able to read and for children to go to school fed and reading-ready, and for parents to be able to get jobs. And so that's pretty exciting.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's not a one-time deal. You've been doing this for a number of years. Tell me how to -

BUSH: Well, we've done it 20 years, but 15 years we've been doing the celebration of reading. And it's such a fun evening that we don't really have to work that hard. People say as they walk out, "Now put me down for next year."

I think -- I'm not sure -- I should really ask -- but I think maybe 1,700 people are going to come.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you've raised, what, $1.8 million, is that what you said?

BUSH: A million eight hundred dollars.

VAN SUSTEREN: Wow. Where does this go? What do you do with the money?

BUSH: It goes to family literacy. And this year we've got -- we're announcing tomorrow the 10 big grants. And I noticed that they are almost all $65,000. And they go to family literacy programs where the children learn at the same time the parents are learning.

And then they spend maybe an hour together where the mothers or fathers, or grandparents sometimes, read to their children as best they can, or the children read to the grandparents.

But we think that bonding is very important, because then the mother will check on the school, will go to school meetings, will know how important an education is. And in many cases, the mother herself can't read, so that -- or she is brushing up on her reading so she can get a job.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's so interesting, I hadn't really realized until you and I spoke first about your program, is that it's several generations where they can't read. And I guess that I've, you know, been so lucky with reading that it never occurred to me, people can't fill out job applications.

BUSH: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, of course, it's obvious, but I never thought about it.

BUSH: Or they can't read medication bottles so that they might very well take the wrong pill or give the wrong pill. And I know there are cases where people who can't read have given their siblings or their children the wrong medication and they die. I mean, it's not -- it's universal.

Plus, we'll be a stronger country. We're not going to be able to compete with other countries if we can't read.

VAN SUSTEREN: The celebration of reading that you have, I neglected to ask you -- why literacy? What was it that 20 years ago that got you going on this, because every single year you're pushing on this one?

BUSH: I was interested in literacy before that, because I knew George was going to run for president, and -- although people said, "president of what?" But anyway, I knew he was.

And I decided I ought to do something that would help the most people, would not be controversial -- that's the generational thing, I think -- and would not really cost the U.S. government money. Although my George, 41, did the literacy act on 1991, and I'm very proud of that.

But after running all summer -- I jogged in those days, which probably explains the knees. But if more people could read and write, it would be better for our country. It would make happier lives. It would just -- everything I worried about would be better if more people could read, write, and understand.

And then, of course, there is that love of reading, the joy of reading, which so many people are denied.

But -- so that's why I chose literacy.


VAN SUSTEREN: Up next, more with Mrs. Bush. The former first lady will tell a family secret. Her family goes around going oink oink around at her. Yes, oinking like a pig. She will tell you why.

Plus, a very special guest, President Bush 41 is up, the former president on leaping from planes, what President Bush 43 is up to, and more.

And then a bizarre experience for all of us. You go inside the cockpit of a crashing plane. Now, watch this video of a pilot forced to try an emergency landing when his engine went out.

We will also show you the ending of this video, coming up.



VAN SUSTEREN: Continuing now with former first lady Barbara Bush.


VAN SUSTEREN: How many grandchildren do you have?

BUSH: Well, if you count my two in-laws, I have 19. Jenna's husband and George P.'s wife, I count them. George Bush doesn't necessarily -- he loves them, but doesn't necessarily count them. I count them all, 19.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how often do you get to see them? Not often enough, I suppose.

BUSH: Well, we see -- Mandy just stayed with me, and George P. does occasionally stay with us in Houston. And they all come to Maine. And we're going up there soon.

They'll all be together for George's 85th birthday, when he is going to take the last and final jump.

VAN SUSTEREN: And that -- you know, he told me that, and there's going to be a jump. In fact, he asked if I would jump with him. And I said, "Oh, sure," thinking that -- you know, that maybe you'd talk him out of it.


VAN SUSTEREN: I was hoping we could -

BUSH: No, no. He wants a crowd. But now they're jumping at the church, evidently, and I picture him on the steeple.


VAN SUSTEREN: On the way down you mean, to be hung out on the steeple?

BUSH: on the way down, I picture him just hanging on the steeple. But -- and it's not a big space, so I'm hoping they'll reconsider.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you said anything to him about this? I mean --

BUSH: No, I don't care, because they won't let him be hurt. The Golden Knights are going to take wonderful care of him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Even when you hit the ground, though, you hit with a little speed -- you hit with speed.

BUSH: No, he's sitting on some man's lap. So that man maybe will have a little bump, but George won't. And they can pull the breaks, you know. It's very interesting.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about you? Do you want to jump?

BUSH: I'd be scared to death of the heights. No, I wouldn't even consider it.

VAN SUSTEREN: How are your knees, by the way? You had knee replacement.

BUSH: I have great knees.

VAN SUSTEREN: That much improved? I mean, they work great now?

BUSH: Yes, they do.

VAN SUSTEREN: And your health is good? You look great.

BUSH: My health is very good. You know I had a perforated ulcer, which came as a huge shock. And then I had the open heart surgery, which was not a shock. But the shock was it didn't hurt.

I'm taking a lot of garbage from my family, though, since I have a pig's valve, so they're all saying oink, oink and wonderful, as though I could answer in pig language.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who does that to you?

BUSH: Guess who.

VAN SUSTEREN: The former?

BUSH: The former.

VAN SUSTEREN: The former president going "oink, oink" to you.

BUSH: And other rather rude things about the pig valve.

But the pig valve is great because you don't take Cumanden. If you have the man-made valve you take the Cumanden.

I had the best doctors, Dr. Lawry, and the best everything. So I'm very happy.


VAN SUSTEREN: During our interview with Mrs. Bush, a very special guest dropped in.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, it's awfully nice to see you, sir.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, Greta, I'm glad you're back here. I love it when you come to this library.

VAN SUSTEREN: The library, I was telling Mrs. Bush, it looks spectacular. And coming in here alone at night, which is what we had to do, unbelievable. It's beautiful, history. It's fun.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It is history, a lot of history here. I told someday, I said there's a little too much about me in here. He said, "It's your library. It's supposed to be about you." It did seem a little overwhelming.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it's not just history, it's also - I mean, the first time I went through it a couple years ago, I read the history of the thing. And then, - but last night I sort of got the love story aspect. I see the more family aspect.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No, that's right. And I think they've done a great job on the balance of it all between different stages of our careers and life together.

There is Barbara in her bathing suit at Manursing Island. Look at her at 17, fantastic looking woman.


There is Barbara, age four, salty little girl, but nice, very pleasant.

BARBARA BUSH: Oh, come on. Look behind us. Here is George at -

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: That's right, various athletic poses. I can't do any athletics any more. It's killing me.

VAN SUSTEREN: You've got a lot of programs going. I know the thousand points of light to clean up the beaches.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, that's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's going on with the beaches?

BARBARA BUSH: What's wrong with them?

VAN SUSTEREN: No, what's going on with them? What are you doing to them?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We're just trying to get some junk off them down in Bolivar Peninsula. Jimmy Baker and I are going on this. This is a project with President Clinton. This is a Bush-Clinton Fund thing.

And we're trying to give them money to do different things for Galveston and Bolivar. And it's working, but we're not getting as much money as we did for Katrina.

But it's important work, and you feel you're doing something, helping somebody.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you drafted President Bush 43 into this ex-president's club that's doing all these humanitarian projects. I mean, have you drafted him yet?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Not yet, but I have great plans for the boy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you been able - can't you help, give him some help?

BARBARA BUSH: Laura's already interested. George has to make a little money first to pay for his house, I think.

VAN SUSTEREN: How is that? Have you seen the new house?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes I have. It's very nice.

BARBARA BUSH: It's wonderful.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is nice?

BARBARA BUSH: It's wonderful.

Then he goes -- he splits his time between the library and down at Crawford. He loves that. This wasn't something put on to show he was a western guy. He loves the life on that little ranch, and he'll keep doing that for the rest of his life.

VAN SUSTEREN: I was talking to Mrs. Bush about the sadness of Sadie, but you have a new addition to the family. Where is the -

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I don't know where she .

VAN SUSTEREN: Where is she?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Come here. Get over here. Here. Get up here.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is - who picked her out? She's gone.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I never thought we'd have a fluffball like this. Get over here. Here. Beebee. Her name is Beebee. That's what we used to call each other. Now we call her this.

BARBARA BUSH: So when you yell "Beebee," now everybody answers.

VAN SUSTEREN: I was wondering in the museum last night. The submarine that rescued you, whatever happened to that submarine? What did they do with it?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It finally got junked. Finback. It was a diesel sub, noisy compared to subs today. But it did its job with several war patrols out there in the Pacific War, and saved my life.

BARBARA BUSH: Until recently, you would have some of the people on that crew come to the library opening or --

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It was a wonderful part of my life. We went - after I got picked up, we went on a war patrol. We had to stay there. I couldn't get off. So I had 30 days on there, which were terrifying days being depth charged and bombed, a nail bomber dropped some bombs. And it was a whole new dimension for my young life which had been piloting(ph).

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you really jumping on your birthday?


VAN SUSTEREN: Have you had your head examined about this one? I know that Mrs. Bush says that it's safe and they will take care of you and everything, but I'm afraid that I'd be hanging onto the side of the plane.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It's going to be at a little church there, which is very close.

VAN SUSTEREN: She says you're going to hang on the steeple.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Very convenient - no, just in case. But it's easy. It's a gimme. That's what they call a "gimme" in golf. It's very safe.

BARBARA BUSH: It's too small a place.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you like doing that?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Two reasons, for me. One, you get a thrill, a physical charge out of it. There's not many things you can get a physical charge out of these days, and that's one of them.

The other one is - don't think that - the other one is - Come on, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: I didn't think that. I didn't think that. I didn't think it.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, you did.

VAN SUSTEREN: I did not.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: And the other one was it sends a signal to old people you don't have to just sit around drooling in the corner. You can get out and do stuff. And that one resonates all around the world. Even in China, you can do this. And that's a good reason, too.

VAN SUSTEREN: I stopped by the picture of Robin last night and looked at it and realized saw she was 60 this year.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Isn't she beautiful?

BARBARA BUSH: 60 this year.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Some guy yesterday told me that - a big guy in the football practice I went out to see, the Aggies practice, and he said, I'll tell you something, he says, I - my birthday was on the very same day your child died.

I said God, I'm going to choke up and start crying right here, because I do that a lot now anyway.

And he was very sweet and very nice. I said please, god, don't let me start weeping in front of this guy. But you still feel it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Even after all these years. In fact, I was told last night that you read the letter that --

BARBARA BUSH: Because he couldn't possibly. Endoro(ph) can't read it, and I don't think any of them can. I have a little trouble myself.

But George's letter to his mother says a lot about him.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nothing like losing a child, is there. It's just the worst.

BARBARA BUSH: Nothing. You're not supposed to - you're supposed to - not supposed to outlive your children, are you?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I don't know. I'm going to give it a shot here.




GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now for part two of your interview with former first lady Barbara Bush. Mrs. Bush, she doesn't hold back, defending her family against attacks from the media.


VAN SUSTEREN: One of your sons has moved home, sort of, to the state.

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: That's right. That's right. And we're thrilled to have George and Laura home. And they're already entering in -- Laura's already been down to an Afghanistan luncheon here. And George has been to China. They're keeping out of the public eye, and they're not ever going to criticize the president. And they're just going to get on with their life. She's into literacy, as you know, or into libraries and reading.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it tough for you when the president gets criticized? I know that it's tough on President Bush 41. But do you have a thick skin and know that it goes with the business?

BARBARA BUSH: It kills me.

VAN SUSTEREN: It kills you? BUSH: I know it goes with the business, but it kills me. It kills me to read -- well, Easter eggs. The first time we've ever had the people come. Who did they think went before? The press saying that, not the Obamas. But the press saying, you know, first time they have ever had the public in. People lined up all night to go to the Easter egg hunt for all of the administrations.

VAN SUSTEREN: I saw you there last year at the Easter egg hunt.

BARBARA BUSH: That's right. That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: We were covering it. The press was there, I mean, the people were there.

BARBARA BUSH: There were people.

VAN SUSTEREN: There were a lot of people there.

BARBARA BUSH: And, just, you know, that's OK, but George and Laura did not get the credit they deserved. She particularly was -- well, he, of course, but she, particularly, she had 80,000 people or 100,000 on the Mall for the book in conjunction with the Library of Congress for eight years. I never read about it. I mean, that wasn't bad.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it the press? Is that...

BARBARA BUSH: I guess. I think the local press would write about an author being there. They had 100 authors. And the local press would write about it. But the national press just isn't crazy about Bushes or Republicans. And that's OK, too, because I think the public like us, so that's OK.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you pay attention to it? Do you read it?

BARBARA BUSH: I do. George -- George does, every word, moaning and groaning.

VAN SUSTEREN: Because that's the hardest. Every first family I've ever spoken to every politician talks about the press is rough on them. And to read it is probably more painful.

BARBARA BUSH: They're not rough on me. They're very nice to me. But I mean, sort of a fat, old lady is OK. But they're not very nice to -- it's by omission in many cases, by not writing about the good things that Laura did. That makes me feel sad.

Or Nancy Reagan, or Betty Ford. They didn't really write about the good things they did.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about Secretary Clinton? How did she do?

BARBARA BUSH: I think she had some tough times. But I think, as first lady, she had some tough times. But they weren't very nice to her, certainly. Maureen Dowd wasn't very nice to her. They weren't very nice to her.


VAN SUSTEREN: President Bush 41 surprised us and decided to go "On the Record." We asked him about the just commissioned air craft carrier named after him, the USS George H. W. Bush.


VAN SUSTEREN: Your aircraft carrier, that's fun. That was in January.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, gosh. That was unbelievable.

BARBARA BUSH: That was the happiest day of his life.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not getting married?

BARBARA BUSH: No, that's right. Not getting married. Second happiest day, I hope.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I said that. This is the happiest day of my life. "What about the day we were married?" Very nice, too. Very nice.

VAN SUSTEREN: I figured that I was trying to help you out on that one.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Thanks. It was a wonderful day, very, very emotional for me. And the honor of this thing is great, but then seeing all the young men and women on the crew of 5,000, or whatever it is, is just mind-boggling. And it's a beautiful, beautiful ship.

BARBARA BUSH: Did you go on that carrier?

VAN SUSTEREN: I was there. I was there covering --

BARBARA BUSH: Did you go on it though?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yeah, I was walking around underneath it.

BARBARA BUSH: Because you need breadcrumbs to find out where you were it was so big.

VAN SUSTEREN: I know, it was huge.


VAN SUSTEREN: It was unbelievable huge. And actually I got - I interviewed the President Bush 43 about you on the aircraft carrier, down below.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, yeah. I remember where that was, actually. I remember your piece.

VAN SUSTEREN: It was - but they're massive, those aircraft carriers, absolutely massive.

BARBARA BUSH: They live on them for maybe for months or five months without hitting land. You know that's a long time.

VAN SUSTEREN: So is it fun to have your son home?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, yeah. I'm glad to have him out of that rat race. I mean, eight years, two terms as governor here, two terms as president. Glad to have him back in the family and back in private life, and back where he can be with his friends without every move being talked about in one way or another. And he's not bitter, and we're very proud of him. And I think history is going to be very good to George. And I think that's going to change -- some of the perceptions when he left office will change dramatically, as those perceptions have changed of many of his predecessors.

So he'll do fine, and is doing fine. And we are very, very proud of him now, as we were for every single day he was president.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it harder for you to have him criticized as president than you as president? Is that harder?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yeah. It is harder.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He's my son. He's my son, and part of my - our flesh and blood. He's part of our family. And there's no comparison. When your son is criticized - you get used to it yourself, just as he got used to the criticism himself. But when it's your family, it's very different.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about you, Mrs. Bush? You've got a double. You've got a husband and a son --

BARBARA BUSH: Much harder the son.



VAN SUSTEREN: Why is it harder for the son?

BARBARA BUSH: As George says, he's our son. And it just was much harder. And I think he was criticized more, if that could be possible, than you were even. Although the 5,500 or 50,000 body bags were a little depressing. But it was harder for the son. It's just harder for your children. I remember when one of our children got sick once, and someone said, "Well, maybe he had appendicitis, or something." And they said, that shouldn't be hard for you because you had Robin die, and this isn't as serious. I said "You've got to be kidding me. A sore throat bothers me for our children. It has nothing to do with Robin or anything else." Every hurt or every sickness for your children hurts more than - I mean, every parent will tell you that.

Wouldn't you say?



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