Transcript: First Lady Laura Bush on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Dec. 28, 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: We sat down with the first lady this week, and she told us about the highs and lows of her eight years in the White House, about her partnership with the president and the causes she has made her own.


WALLACE: Mrs. Bush, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."


WALLACE: You said recently that you didn't realize when you moved into the White House how much clout a first lady has, how much attention you could bring to a cause. How did that evolve over the last eight years?

L. BUSH: Well, I really didn't realize. I mean, I knew, of course — I'd been first lady of a state. My mother-in-law had been first lady. I'd watched her. But somehow, I just never thought that I would have that much — be able to shine such a spotlight on issues as I've been able to.

And I really first realized it after September 11th when I did the radio broadcast for the president about the women in Afghanistan.

And right after that I was in Austin visiting Jenna, who was at the University of Texas, and I went to a store there, a department store, and the women behind the cosmetic counters thanked me for talking about the women of Afghanistan.

And that told me two things — first, that they knew, that they were listening, and that what I said mattered to them, and second, that they — and I think this really speaks for American women in general — had a real feeling for the women in Afghanistan, and that as we all looked at Afghanistan after September 11th and saw a country where women were forbidden to even leave their homes without a male escort or go to school — the idea of a government that would forbid half of their population from being educated was just so shocking, especially to American women.

And so that's when I realized I had a podium. And did I act upon it that much? Then, probably not. I mean, it was really — I grew and grew in my — in both my realization that I had a podium but also in my expertise about some international issues that I didn't come to the White House with.

WALLACE: I want to pick up on Afghanistan, because I know it's one of your most heartfelt causes. It's not just women — a lot of men feel very keenly about this as well.

There's been substantial progress over the last seven years. Women can now participate in the parliament. Little girls can go to school. But with the Taliban on the march again, do you ever worry that we could go back to the days of the burqa and to that terrible oppression of women in that country?

L. BUSH: Sure, and the days of the burqa aren't over. Many women in Afghanistan still cover because they want to, partly, because it's part of their tradition and their culture, and also because they'd be afraid not to.

But that is a worry, and I met with a group of parliamentarians, women parliamentarians, from Afghanistan last January or so, and they said they were afraid, that their — that this is their only chance, and if they can't make it now, then they just don't know if they ever would be able to.

And I think that's all the more reason the international community needs to stay involved in Afghanistan and do what we can.

Afghanistan and Iraq both have the opportunity, if they can seize the moment, to build real democracies where the rights of every person in those countries is respected, and a lot of that is because of the United States, because of our policies of liberating them from the Taliban in one instance and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein in the other.

And it's very, very important for the people of these countries to stand up and to take this opportunity to build their countries.

But let me say about Afghanistan, they don't have a lot of capacity. They've been in the conflict for 30 years, and most of their population is younger than 30. They don't have the human capital.

It's very important for the international community to stay involved, to try to make education as fast and as broad-reaching as possible so they can build the kind of human capital they need to build the infrastructure of laws and of civil society that they'll need to build a democracy.

WALLACE: I want to take this into the debate in this country, though, because some critics say that we gave the Taliban a second chance, and one of the reasons that they're on the march in Afghanistan is because we switched our focus to Iraq.

L. BUSH: Well, I don't know that I would agree with that at all. I don't — I don't think that's true at all. We've stayed very, very invested in Afghanistan — not as invested militarily, maybe, and maybe that's what the critics say, that it should have been more military.

But I think we've stayed very invested. We're invested both financially with tons of support to Afghanistan as well as every other way.

I've met thousands, literally thousands, of different people who are Americans who are invested in Afghanistan in some way — women who are helping women there be educated, women who are helping with micro finance so that women can build small businesses and support themselves.

I just did a closed-circuit television into Afghanistan, a conference with women entrepreneurs. At the table in the Roosevelt Room at the White House were American women who had mentored women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan, and at the table in Afghanistan were these women who built these small businesses.

But they have employees and they're thriving, and they also, though, want our commitment. They want to know that the international community will stay with them while they work through all the things they're going to have to do, all the growing pains that go along with building a really good, safe country.

WALLACE: When the president was in Iraq recently, an Iraqi reporter threw two shoes at him, and a lot of people in this country acted as if it were a joke. I understand you were not amused.

L. BUSH: Well, no, of course I wasn't amused. It was an assault. And that's what it is. And it would be an assault to anyone for — if anybody had been there.

And the president laughed it off. He wasn't hurt. He's very quick. As you know, he's a natural athlete. And that's it. But on the other hand, it is an assault, and I think it should be treated that way, and I think people...

WALLACE: Well, let me — let me...

L. BUSH: ... should think of it that way.

WALLACE: ... ask you about that. When you talk about treated that way, some crowds — and I understand it's just a small group, but some crowds in Baghdad have acted as if this fellow were a hero and have demanded his being pardoned.

Do you think someone who attacks anyone, let alone a visiting head of state, should just be released?

L. BUSH: Well, I don't know about that. And that's going to be up to the Iraqis. And they'll do whatever. But I know that if Saddam Hussein had been there, the man wouldn't have been released. And he probably wouldn't — you know, would have been executed.

So it is — as bad as the incident is, in my view, it is a sign that Iraqis feel a lot freer to express themselves.

WALLACE: In preparing for this interview, I read that when Andy Card was White House chief of staff — that he used to schedule a 90- minute meeting with you about every six weeks to talk about personnel and policy.

With both him and the president over these eight years, how openly have you weighed in on policy, on personnel?

L. BUSH: Well, not — I mean, you know, I've certainly told the president things that I think and a lot of times about people, because that's what I know the most about. I don't know that much about the policy.

I'm not privy to the — all of the policy discussions that go on in the White House, certainly the ones that have to do with national security.

But George and I talk about a lot of issues. You know, we talk about different things that are in the press. We talk about people who are in the White House and people who are outside of the White House, and — but I would say that, obviously, I'm very free to tell George whatever I think, and that's the kind of marriage we have.

But I'm not going to tell the press what I tell him.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you a couple of questions about that. I've wondered, would he tell you secrets, or would you sometimes have to read on the front page of the New York Times when they got a leak and decided they were going to — you know, they were going to tell some national security secret? Would you suddenly read it and go, "Hey, what's going on here?"

L. BUSH: No, he would — certainly, he tells me secrets. But do we go over, you know, national security programs? No, probably not.

WALLACE: Nancy Reagan once told me that she had a keen sense of personnel and that her antennae would go up and she'd have a feeling for who was serving themselves and who was serving the president.

How do you tell that? What's the kind of telltale signs as to who's in it for themselves and who's in it to serve the president?

L. BUSH: Well, I will say that our staff in general, most of them, are unbelievable. And they're serving the United States of America, and they're serving the president, too. But they are really, really fine people.

We had a big senior staff dinner, holiday dinner, and we had all the former senior staff members and current. And one of the things the chief of staff, Josh Bolten, said when he was presenting the holiday gift to the president and just making the toast to everyone there — he said, "Look around the table. Look at your table." And it was a big, big dinner party in the East Room, bigger than the dining room would hold.

And I looked around at my table. And I know everyone looked around at their table. And he said, "Look around and you'll see some of the finest people you'll ever meet in your life." And he was right.

And that really — I'm so proud of the people that have served in my husband's administration. I'm very proud of the way they've served the country as well as served him.

WALLACE: The president has also said publicly that you have no qualms about reining him in. For instance — and this has been widely quoted, but I don't know that I've heard it from you — when he would say in the aftermath, understandable, of 9/11, "Bin Laden, dead or alive," what did you say to him?

L. BUSH: Well, I just didn't like that. I mean, I just didn't like that he said that, and...

WALLACE: So you said, "Tone it down, darling?"

L. BUSH: Well, I don't know if I said, "Tone it down, darling." I might have said, "Tone it down, buster." Only kidding. Only kidding.


WALLACE: And also, there have been stories that when he would feel sorry for himself, you would say something to him then, too.

L. BUSH: That he volunteered for this job?


L. BUSH: That's right. He doesn't feel sorry for himself very much. He really doesn't. And he knows that — he's very aware that when you campaign like you have to campaign for this job, the campaigns are very, very demanding physically and mentally and in every way — that when you get it, if you're fortunate enough to be elected, that you asked for it.

And you know, can you predict what you're going to get? No, absolutely not. We would have never predicted that this would have been a wartime presidency. You know, we came into this job suspecting and expecting to work on education, and Social Security, and all the things the president mentioned in his campaign, and then September 11th happened and everything changed.

WALLACE: Well, all right. I want to go over the events of the last eight years. So let's take a quick break here.

And when we come back, up next, we'll talk with Mrs. Bush about her thoughts about 9/11 and the Obamas and some of the major events over the last eight years. Back in a moment.


WALLACE: And we're back now to continue our conversation with First Lady Laura Bush.

With just 23 days until you leave office, I'd like to revisit some of the major events of the Bush presidency, and we obviously have to start with 9/11. What stands out for you personally about that terrible day?

L. BUSH: Well, you know, the whole tragedy of it, obviously. I was — I happened to be in Senator Kennedy's office when we realized it was a terrorist attack, not just an accident of — you know, of one plane flying into a building. And so I remember that. I remember being with him.

I remember being worried about George, but as soon as I talked to him on the phone, I felt reassured. And then I remember going back to the White House late in the afternoon right before his helicopter was ready to land, and he couldn't land on the White House lawn because we had hundreds of picnic tables on the lawn for the congressional picnic which was scheduled for that day, and — but I remember when he came into the room and the relief at seeing his face.

I also remember the very long period after that of anxiety that I had — so worried.

WALLACE: Anxiety about what?

L. BUSH: So worried about another terrorist attack, and worried about our troops after we went into Afghanistan, and just — I think it was everywhere. I think it was all over the country, but...

WALLACE: Now, in one of Bob Woodward's books, he says — he recounts a conversation that you and the president are having with him in August of 2002, and you're saying to him, "Boy, I was so nervous and so anxious in those days after," and the president says, "You never told me that."

L. BUSH: Well, I didn't tell him, I guess, because I...

WALLACE: Why not?

L. BUSH: Because I didn't want to worry him, really. And I knew he was anxious, too, and he didn't tell me that either. But I think we could read each other and know that.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about another event, Hurricane Katrina, seeing a major American city drown and having a lot of people blame your husband, not for the hurricane but for the response.

L. BUSH: Well, you know, I feel terrible about Hurricane Katrina, and I'm sad that the response wasn't faster than it was, although it's — I think the — in hindsight, the rescue of so many people by the U.S. Coast Guard off their roofs or in boats is unprecedented, and I don't think the Coast Guard gets the credit that they should for that. And that was really, really wonderful.

The other thing that happened right after — it was really not true reporting. There was a — the reporting was — ended up being not really factual, but many, many people heard the first reporting, and that's what they think happened, that 10,000 people died or, you know, whatever the things were that were not true.

It's been a very slow rebuild, and it was very, very serious and devastating destruction, along — not just New Orleans, but all along the Gulf Coast.

WALLACE: The troop surge in Iraq — Democrats win in 2006. Everybody says, "Get the troops out." The Iraq Study Group headed by your friend James Baker says, "Let's get ready to begin pulling out."

And your husband stands up to everybody in Washington and says, "No, we're going to send more troops in." Where did that come from?

L. BUSH: Well, I think that came from his really tough inner core which he has and which we needed these eight years. That's why I think he was such a really good president for these times.

He didn't want us to lose. He didn't want us to give up on Iraq. He didn't want to think that the people who had died, the Americans who had died, our troops who had died, would just die in vain because we left. And he's right. We can't give up.

WALLACE: We're now learning that you and the president met with wounded soldiers, with the families of soldiers who had been lost, much more often in private than we were aware of.

What do you say to a soldier who's lost a leg or to a family who's lost a son or a husband?

L. BUSH: Well, I mean, you know, what can you say? It's a really very, very difficult moment. It's really more of a moment of emotion, I think, than conversation, although — so it's a lot of, you know, holding hands and hugging and crying. And you know, it's very, very difficult.

But it's — we're also always comforted by the families. They're so strong and they're so terrific, and they know that their loved one in most cases was doing what they wanted to do. They volunteered to serve the United States of America.

That's what's so terrific about our military, is that they are volunteers. These are people who volunteered to put their life on the line for the United States.

WALLACE: Mrs. Bush, is there anything that you'd like to get off your chest that you've had inside there for the last eight years?

L. BUSH: You mean about the press?

WALLACE: About anything.

L. BUSH: No, not really. I mean, I — not really.

WALLACE: Anything you want to say about the press?

L. BUSH: No, no, not really. I mean, I'm just kidding. Do I think the press is fair? No, absolutely not. But you are, Chris, so thanks a lot.

WALLACE: Well, thank you. Thank you for that.

And how do you respond to some people — and you know this is going to be true, because you look at the polls — who are going to view this as a failed presidency?

L. BUSH: Well, I know it's not. And so I don't really feel like I need to respond to people that view it that way. And I think history will judge and we'll see later.

But my husband responded in a way that kept our country safe after September 11th, and I think that's very, very important.

He's liberated, because of our policies, the policies of the United States and our military, 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq from — from oppressive governments and tyranny.

He's saved, because of our policies, the United States policies and taxpayers' — over 2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are on antiretrovirals because of his policy of trying to save people from disease as well as from tyranny.

And I think that the — his inner core and his belief in freedom — and that means not just freedom from tyranny, but freedom from disease and freedom from illiteracy — is what really is the basic of American values, and that's what I think he's shown the whole time he's been president.

WALLACE: Since the election, you've had the Obamas in a couple of times to the White House, both Mrs. Obama and at least once the little girls. What are the kinds of practical questions they ask about living in the White House?

L. BUSH: Well, we really talked about the White House, about the layout of the White House, and which rooms are best for little girls to be in, and how we live in the White House that I think they would be interested in knowing when they try to build their life there and...

WALLACE: So, like, what's a practical question?

L. BUSH: Well, we talked about closets. I showed Mrs. Obama some closets that I'd added that — she said, "Good work," and was really happy about it.

And the girls showed them their rooms, the rooms that my girls had had that other children in the White House have had before them. And the little girls looked at the rooms and said, "I want this one," or, "I want that one."

So it was really very practical. It was about building a life there, building a home there for children. And I know that's one of her first priorities, and it's certainly the first priority, I think, of every first lady who's moved into the White House.

WALLACE: Your daughters gave the Obama girls a tour, and afterwards they seemed philosophical about gee, they're younger and cuter and hotter news than we are, and even their puppy's going to be cuter than ours.

L. BUSH: Than Barney.


L. BUSH: They were funny about that. I mean, they were being funny and cute about that. But it was fun for them.

They remember coming to the White House when they were Sasha's age. They were seven when President Bush, George's dad, was elected. And so they've seen the White House both through those eyes of a 7- year-old and then, of course, now as 27-year-old grown women.

WALLACE: Come Inauguration Day — and try to put yourself forward to January 20th — when the Obamas move in and the Bushes move out, what do you think your emotions will be that day?

L. BUSH: Well, bittersweet, of course, but I'm excited. I'm excited about the next part of our life. I'm excited about our new home. I'm very happy to be returning home to our home state, Texas that we love. And so there'll be bittersweet moments.

But it's also just — that's the way American life is and the American presidency is, and we know that very well from having watched President Bush and Barbara move home and have their life after the presidency. And so I look forward to it.

WALLACE: Well, I want to — I want to ask you — you know where I'm about to head now with this. Bret Baier asked your husband about life after January 20th, and this is...

L. BUSH: About cooking?

WALLACE: Well, here it is. Go ahead. Take a look.


BRET BAIER: What's the thing you're most looking forward to post-White House?

G.W. BUSH: I know what I'm not looking forward to. That's my wife's cooking.



L. BUSH: He's in trouble for saying that.

WALLACE: I mean...

L. BUSH: Actually, he's not. We can't — I can't even remember cooking. It's been 14 years since we moved into the Texas governor's mansion. And I don't think I — I love to read cookbooks.

I'm very interested in food, and I'm a reader, as you know. But am I actually a really good cook?

WALLACE: I hate to say this, but — all due respect, Mrs. Bush...

L. BUSH: I'm afraid not.

WALLACE: ... reading doesn't actually get the meal on the table.

L. BUSH: I know it. That's what's been so great about being able to read a cookbook and hand somebody else a recipe.

WALLACE: Well, do you think you're going to cook, or do you think you're going to have somebody help?

L. BUSH: No, I'm going to cook, probably, when it's just us. I'll have to get help when we're at the ranch or someplace where we host a lot of other people.

WALLACE: Just as a former White House reporter — and I covered the Reagan White House for six years — it's so intense. Every day of the presidency is so intense.

So I can only imagine for you and the president, when you look ahead to a much more normal life, you know, and going from 100 miles an hour to 30 or 40...

L. BUSH: To zero.

WALLACE: Well, it's not zero in the normal life.

L. BUSH: Okay, five.

WALLACE: But in any case, excitement or anxiety, or what?

L. BUSH: Well, everything. All of those. I'm excited about it. I'm excited about having my husband to myself again and being in our home state with so many friends.

But it's going to be very difficult. That's the hard part of the transition, and especially for the president, who's had every problem in the world come to his desk every single day for the last eight years — to, you know, a cleaned-off desk with nothing on it.

And I think that — that's going to be the really hard transition, really, for both of us, and the kind of camaraderie and conversation that we have with our staff every single day — you know, that will end, and I think that will be hard.

WALLACE: And we just have less than a minute left, but you're obviously young. I mean, you're way too young to retire. So how active will the two of you be?

L. BUSH: We'll be active. We'll be very active. We'll build a presidential library and the freedom institute that George wants to build with it.

We'll continue to meet with dissidents like we have from around the world. I'll still work with the Afghan American Women's Council, and I'll still talk about Burma and work on those issues. And so we'll both be very active.

WALLACE: Mrs. Bush, I want to thank you.

L. BUSH: Thank you very much, Chris.

WALLACE: I want to thank you for being so generous and talking with us...

L. BUSH: Appreciate it.

WALLACE: ... repeatedly over these years, and we want to thank you for your service to our nation.

L. BUSH: Thank you very much.