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Larry King Live

George and Laura Bush Discuss Election 2000

Aired July 20, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, from the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, an hour with the governor of Texas, George W. Bush, the first lady of Texas, Laura Bush: all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We're in the great, beautiful governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, the residence of Governor George W. Bush of Texas, and his wife, the first lady of Texas, Laura. They're our guests for the full hour.

George will be nominated in Philadelphia for the Republican nomination for the presidency. You're going to speak on opening night.

LAURA BUSH, GEORGE W. BUSH'S WIFE: I'm going to speak on opening night, too. I'm looking forward to it.

KING: Now, you have -- have not been crazy about politics. You're now looking forward to this.

L. BUSH: That's right. You know, George made a prenuptial agreement with me that I'd never have to give a speech.

KING: Why the decision, opening night for Laura?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's our -- it's our best foot forward. It's a way to set a good tone for the convention. And Laura's a person who was born and raised in Midland, Texas. She's a -- she's a gentle soul with a wonderful voice. She's got a good ear for America. And people are going to really love to see it.

This is going to be an interesting convention. It's going to be a little different convention...

KING: And it's her and Colin Powell opening night, right? Not bad.

G. BUSH: It's a strong -- it's a strong double-play combination.

L. BUSH: I'm proud and honored to be paired with him.

KING: Is he high on the list for a Cabinet consideration?

G. BUSH: Of course. This is a man that's unbelievably experienced. He loves America. He's a powerful figure in American history already and still a young man. There's more for him to do.

And I was honored the other day when I saw that -- when I read that he said, well, you know, he might consider serving in a Bush administration, which made me feel great.

KING: We can say that Bush might consider that?

G. BUSH: I will definitely consider that.

KING: Speaking of a different kind of convention -- the first I heard of it was before we started this interview -- there will be no keynote speaker?

G. BUSH: Not really. There's going to be -- no, no, there will not be somebody -- this is the keynote speech.

There's going to be a series of speakers that will ultimately, you know, end up being the keynote. Laura is a part of it. Colin Powell's a part of it. Condoleeza Rice, who is a foreign policy adviser of mine and a very close friend, will be speaking. Senator John McCain will be sharing that, the same night with Condoleeza Rice. Elizabeth Dole will be speaking. There's going to be a series of speakers that will end up...

KING: But no one signified person.

G. BUSH: No. And the other interesting thing -- I think you'll find interesting -- is we're not going to have, let's go bash the vice president night. You know, most conventions have got a night where they lay out to go tear up the opponent...

KING: Gore will be spared?

G. BUSH: He will be spared, because I want to spend time talking about what we intend to do. I may needle him a little bit, but this is not -- this is not going to be a bitter convention. This is a convention that says -- that says to America, this campaign and my presidency will lift this country's spirits. And you can't lift a country's spirits, or you can't unify a country, by tearing somebody else down.

KING: You got that from your father a little.

G. BUSH: Maybe. I got a lot from my father, but never forget, I got a lot from my mother, too.

KING: Are you nervous?

L. BUSH: I am nervous. I am a little bit nervous. This will be a big crowd. I'm sure it will be by far the largest crowd I've ever spoken to. I did speak at the last convention, Bob Dole's convention. I talked about literacy.

KING: Yes, but it was probably 5 o'clock in the afternoon...

L. BUSH: That's right. Exactly. KING: ... and no one remembers.

L. BUSH: My mother watched it.

KING: All right. In the news: What do you think of this Mideast thing still going on?

G. BUSH: I'm proud of the president. I am. I hope we achieve a peace. And I couldn't think of, you know, a more important legacy for President Clinton and for Mr. Barak and yet -- and Mr. Arafat, to leave peace. And I hope they achieve something.

Last Sunday, I was upstairs in the mansion here and I got a phone call saying Prime Minister Barak is on the phone. And I answered it, of course, and he just said, I want to -- he wanted to touch base. And he informed me that he had not only called me, of course, but he called Vice President Gore just to let me know and let us both know that progress, he thought, was slow, but he thought something might happen, positively. And I was very grateful for the phone call.

I had met him -- Laura and I both met him when we were in Israel right after the '98 election. He was -- he was -- a very courteous phone call.

He said to me something that I think will interest you, Larry. He said: "The president is working really hard." He said, "Governor, you need to know how hard President Clinton is working to try to bring us together." And he said, "The obstacles are mighty, but this is a president who's giving it his best effort." And I'm grateful for that.

KING: Will you -- would both of you go -- other candidates have for president, meet with leaders of other countries before the election?

BUSH: Sure. I mean, you know, I'm not going to go to other countries before the election.

KING: But if they're here, you would certainly meet with...

BUSH: Oh, absolutely.

KING: ... the president of Germany or the...

BUSH: Oh, absolutely. I'd be honored, of course. And I can tell you one that I have -- I don't know if it's scheduled yet, but we intend to meet with, is the newly elected president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.

KING: What do you think of him? You're very involved in Mexican politics. I know your interest in Mexico is great.

BUSH: It is great. And I...

KING: Do you know him?

L. BUSH: We know him. He was the governor of a state, when we were in the Border Governors Association, so we met him several times.

KING: He's a unique kind a guy, right?

L. BUSH: He is.

G. BUSH: He is.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) industry.

BUSH: He's a big man. He's a real -- he's got a great spirit to him. He is, he's coming from the market-oriented side of life there.

Let me say one thing before we get off Mexico. And I'm -- first -- two things. One, I'm confident that I can work with Vicente Fox for what's best for both our countries.

KING: Takes over in December, right?

BUSH: December 1st, yes.

The current president, President Zedillo, deserves a lot of credit for promoting democracy in Mexico. This is a man who said that for the first time in Mexican history or recent history, I am not going to pick who my successor is, let's have a primary for the PRI.

If you -- he oversaw an election that elected an opposition candidate. The PAN wins.

Fox is a miraculous and marvelous development for Mexico. And I called both Vicente Fox and President Zedillo, and I congratulated President Zedillo, as well. And he said it was a tough election for my party. But I said, "Sir, you're going to go down in history for being a true reformer in our hemisphere."

KING: Do you have the same feeling for the Mexican people as your husband?

L. BUSH: I do. My mother grew up in El Paso, Texas, which is right on the border. That's where I visited my grandparents until they died, every summer.

You know, when you grow up in Texas, you share a very long border and a long history with Mexico, and I think you have a special feeling for Mexico.

KING: And you're sister in law is Mexican?

G. BUSH: Si.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Si. OK.

We can't -- we have to talk about the vice presidency and all the names. Today, I think it was NBC said that Dick Cheney, who is supposed to be running the selection committee, is now on the list. Is that true?

G. BUSH: You know, I'm -- I wish I could break it -- give you -- tell you who it's going to be, because of all the people, all the journalists in America you deserve...

KING: Thank you.

G. BUSH: ... to be able to break the story.

KING: Good thinking, governor.

G. BUSH: However...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You can tell me if it's down to a few? Or you could tell me this: Have you picked the person?

g. BUSH: No, I have not. And let me -- I'm taking my time. I'm going to make a decision shortly.

KING: Before the convention?

G. BUSH: Yes, sir.

And I have yet to notify anybody. And to me, that's the definition of pick. When you pick up the phone and say...

KING: Hello.

G. BUSH: ... Larry, will you do it? And by the way, notify the others as well that they're not it.

KING: Do those others -- does anyone know they're on a list and a call is going to come or not come?

G. BUSH: I suspect those that know me have been looking into their records and their backgrounds and collecting information realize that they're being considered. I haven't sent out an e-mail blast saying: Stand by your phone at such and such a time.

KING: Are you part of the process, Laura?

L. BUSH: A little bit.

G. BUSH: Yes, she is.

L. BUSH: We talk about it.

KING: I mean, do you -- you value her input?

G. BUSH: A lot.

KING: If you were down to two people and it's a toss-up, Laura could say, I think this one's better, and that would have impact?

G. BUSH: Well...

L. BUSH: I doubt it.

G. BUSH: Thank you for getting me off the hook.

(LAUGHTER)

She's got a lot of input. I trust her judgment a lot. Laura's got a -- Laura's got a common sense about her that I obviously found appealing and still find appealing after all these years of marriage. I do trust her judgment. She's got -- she can read people well. And she's very much a part. She knows exactly what's on my mind, and she knows I haven't made a final decision yet.

KING: We'll be right back with the Bushes from the governor's mansion. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with the Bushes.

An editorial yesterday in "The New York Times," they said that they think that you -- that you should select -- it would be courageous to select a pro-choice candidate.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: That those in the party who are pro-life, as you are, have nowhere else to go. And the Republican Party has a wide base. Many in the party are pro-choice. Have you given thought to the possibility of that if you select someone -- would you possibly select someone who is pro-choice?

G. BUSH: Well, I've considered all people. And I appreciate the advice from "The New York Times." One of the -- one of the things I've discovered during this process, I'm getting a lot of advice from a lot of quarters and...

KING: So is there anything you've ruled out as an issue, where you say, no, if he's pro-choice, I...

G. BUSH: I've ruled nothing out at all. And...

KING: Nothing?

G. BUSH: No. It's a -- I think it's so important for people to know that the main criterion is, can the person be the president and can we get along? And can the person be added value? In other words, can we work together?

And I will tell you, there's been some great examples of people being able to work together in recent history. I think President Clinton and Vice President Gore have had a good relationship. I know my dad and President Reagan did. And Vice President Quayle and my dad did.

It all started really with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale redefining the relationship with...

KING: He boosted that office.

G. BUSH: He did. And I'm going to do the same. I'm going to have that same spirit of not only cooperation but counting on the vice president to bring some, you know, an interesting dimension to the administration.

KING: The getting along is that you have to like each other?

G. BUSH: Well, I think that would be helpful, of course. But the worse thing that could happen is I pick up the phone to the chief of staff and say, don't return the vice president's calls anymore.

In other words, there's been the time in the past where people -- competent people said, well, let's just pick the vice president, pick so and so to be the vice president, don't worry, we'll dump him once the -- once we get elected. In other words, use the person just for the election vehicle.

I'm not going to do that. I'm...

KING: So it's not going to be selected because he or she is from a state...

(CROSSTALK)

G. BUSH: That would be helpful. That would be helpful if a person could bring a state, but that's...

KING: As Johnson did for Kennedy.

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: This state.

G. BUSH: He sure did bring this state and got him elected president of the United States. There's some question as to what their relationship was like afterwards.

KING: Yes.

G. BUSH: But -- and so those are the main criteria for me, and then there's all the political consequences: gender, where the person lives. A lot -- there's a lot -- I've looked into a lot of aspects of different people's voting records, if they have one, and that's part of the consideration, you know, somebody's views on a different variety of issues. But the main criteria is the first two I said.

KING: You're looking forward to the debates?

G. BUSH: Yes, I am.

KING: How many are there going to be?

G. BUSH: I don't know. KING: We don't have anything written in stone yet?

G. BUSH: No, not at all. I kind of like to keep flexibility.

KING: Generally it's been three presidential, one vice presidential. Is that about the ballpark?

G. BUSH: And that was last year or last cycle. I think, you know, I can't -- I think President Reagan might have had two in 1980. I don't know yet. I do know that I enjoyed the debates. As a matter of fact, you got to see one of them close hand.

KING: Sure did. South Carolina.

(CROSSTALK)

G. BUSH: It was a great debate.

KING: That was some night.

G. BUSH: It was some night. And I thought the format was a good format.

KING: Sitting at a table.

G. BUSH: Yes. And not really structured, not kind of -- I thought you did a -- not to be pandering, but it is an election year of course. But I...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) know you long enough. You don't...

(LAUGHTER)

G. BUSH: Right. But I thought you did a good job of keeping the conversation going, and it was a very interesting discussion between Senator McCain and Alan Keyes and me. And it -- I felt -- I felt really good about just the ability to come in and debate or discuss.

And some of these formats that they've got set up really don't lend itself to a good discussion.

KING: You have one minute. You have one minute. You can reply.

G. BUSH: Then they reply and then you're stuck...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Are you worried about -- knowing Mr. Gore's reputation as a pretty good debater...

G. BUSH: He's a really good debater.

L. BUSH: I think George will do great. Of course I would say that, but I actually do. I think he'll be really terrific. KING: Do you know Tipper, by the way?

L. BUSH: Not really.

KING: Never met her?

L. BUSH: No, we've met just, you know, very, very briefly. I suspect I'd really like Tipper Gore if we had the opportunity to...

KING: I'll bet you would.

L. BUSH: ... meet again.

KING: Of the names on the vice presidents list that he's considering, do you like them? Are you comfortable...

L. BUSH: I like all of them. I know nearly all of them very well.

KING: Do you know their spouses?

L. BUSH: I know most of their spouses. I know most of their spouses very well also, certainly all the ones who are governors who are being considered, and a lot are governors. You know, we've been with them a lot at the national governors meetings.

KING: What's the campaign going to be like? Is this going to be buses, trains, a lot of whistle stops? How do you two plan, you going to be together a lot, apart?

G. BUSH: Probably apart for the early parts of the campaign. Laura's a great campaigner and people will want to see her, and I hope they do. She can help garner the vote.

KING: So you got two-for-one shot. You're in one place, she's in another.

G. BUSH: That's how I view it. We may do a little train work and some bus work, but toward the end it's just going to be getting on planes, flying to big market after big market, key electoral states.

And the way I look at the general election -- first of all, you've got to understand this is a marathon for both me and my opponent. I've been at this now for a year nearly -- or more than a year -- and it's a long pull. And I've got -- we've got a strategy in place that leads up to November, and we haven't varied from the strategy, we haven't changed anything, we've got a good game plan. And -- but from a marathon perspective, the last two months is a sprint, heading toward the finish.

KING: And that's when the public gets really...

G. BUSH: They do, except they're making up their minds now. I mean, shows such as this give people a glimpse into our lives.

KING: Oh sure. But the -- and the polls are close. You expect it to be a long night, honestly?

G. BUSH: Yes, I do.

KING: You too?

L. BUSH: Sure.

G. BUSH: A couple of things I'm certain of. One, I'm running against a very tough campaigner, and two, it's going to be a tough election. I'm running against incumbents. I'm the outsider challenging the incumbency. And I think I'm going to win, I do. I can feel it out there amongst the people, because they want something different. They're looking for somebody who can unite our nation and set a different tone in Washington.

KING: Like our old Congressman Claude Pepper, you always run like you're behind. That's what he used to say.

G. BUSH: Yes. Or another way to put it, the good news, I'm leading in some of the polls. The bad news, the election is not tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: We'll be right back with the Bushes. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You mentioned John McCain. He's also speaking at a shadow convention of people who have other things to say. And he's like their keynoter almost.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Does that bother you? It's bothering some Republicans.

G. BUSH: No, it doesn't bother me, because I know John's my friend and John wants me to win. And he is -- you know, I knew John before the primaries. I actually went out and campaigned for him in Arizona, and we campaigned with each other for Phil Gramm in '96 or my dad in '92 and '88. And...

KING: So it doesn't bother you that he's...

G. BUSH: No, I don't think so at all. I don't think John would do anything to undermine my candidacy. He wants me to win.

KING: If you're first lady, is education going to be...

L. BUSH: Education is going to be what I'm going to work on.

KING: You're a teacher.

L. BUSH: That's right. I'm a former school teacher.

KING: Second grade.

L. BUSH: School librarian. Second, third and fourth grade. And I think education is the single-most important issue that faces our country. If we can get every kids' education right, you know, we'd go a long way toward solving a lot of other problems.

KING: And Gore has been critical of the education record in Texas. And one of the things he said is you're the 45th -- 37th in per capita spending on education in America. That's pretty low for a state that big.

G. BUSH: You know, he's critical of everything. I mean, this is a campaign really where he'll tear down every single aspect of what is a very positive record.

And you know, he may want to look at it -- I mean, listen, you can talk about numbers all the time, but what matters are results. And we lead the nation when it comes to improvement. Say, for example, amongst minority students, Texas and North Carolina are ranked the two best states when it comes to improving in test scores for Hispanic youngsters or African-American youngsters. We've got a great record here.

And when you take all the politics out of the analysis, which is difficult to do in the year 2000, you're going to find we know what we're doing when it comes to improving public education in the state of Texas. And notice I said, we, because this just isn't me.

KING: You work with Democrats...

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: Were you -- did you have a long way to go in the state?

G. BUSH: Yes, we had a long way to go, but we -- and by the way, the cornerstone of good education reform is high standards, local control of schools, and strong accountability. And we measure because we want to know. I mean, a system that does not measure is a system that quits on kids, just pure and simple.

And one of the big reforms we need to do at the federal level is say, if you receive any federal money, you must show us whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. And if you can't prove it, there has to be a consequence.

And I think the ultimate consequence is to give that taxpayers' money to the parents so the parent can make a different choice for his or her child.

KING: Teachers need better pay?

L. BUSH: Teachers need better pay. There's no doubt about it.

KING: They're underpaid?

L. BUSH: They're underpaid, and I think you can't pay a good teacher enough. Teachers' profound impact on students is more than the impact of almost anyone else except parents have.

KING: Well, you're to have a lot of money. You've got -- what is it? The surplus is going to be twice what they thought it was going to be. My gosh, you're going to have a lot of...

G. BUSH: You mean the federal government...

KING: The next president...

G. BUSH: I thought you were talking about Texas -- I thought you were talking about Texas...

KING: The next president -- no,

(LAUGHTER)

No, I'm taking it from Texas on. Texas is going to get a big chunk...

G. BUSH:: Yes, we are.

KING: You're going to have a lot of money.

G. BUSH:: Sure, unless Congress spends it, in which case we won't have a lot of money.

KING: Or if you return it, you won't have a lot of money.

G. BUSH: No, that's what you want to do is return some of it. See, that's -- there's where the philosophical divide comes. There's an attitude that says, hey, this is our money, this is Washington's money, let's spend it. And appropriators will appropriate, particularly if you have a president who keeps driving that appropriations train.

What I want to do is set priorities, fund those priorities and send money back to the people. I...

KING: Would you set the priorities first, right?

G. BUSH: Well, one of the priorities is to make sure the economy continues to grow, and the best way to do that in my judgment is to have tax relief. I also think there ought to be tax reform. And I would sign the bill to eliminate the death tax.

KING: You would?

G. BUSH: I sure would. Absolutely. And I would sign the bill to -- that would have mitigated the marriage penalty. I also think we ought to have reforms such as allowing non-itemizers to deduct charitable gifts. That's a fairly costly item, but that will encourage charitable giving, which, by the way, is going to be a huge opportunity for the next president.

KING: How about the estate taxes, which help, I think, under 1 percent of the population? G. BUSH: Death tax?

KING: Yes.

G. BUSH: Yes. I think we need to get rid of it. But I'll tell you why, because it forces farmers and small businesses to prematurely liquidate assets. It's hard for a family to pass assets on from one generation to the next.

And secondly, it's the ultimate form of double taxation.

KING: Yes, but only 1 percent of Americans are even affected by it, right?

G. BUSH: Well, if that's the case, let's do it.

KING: Yes, but when 1 percent convinces 99 percent that it's in their best interest to lower their...

G. BUSH: Well, maybe we ought -- maybe we ought -- I don't know the figure of 1 percent or 99 percent, but if that -- if it's good public policy, it's good public policy. And it's bad public policy to double tax a person's assets.

KING: So...

G. BUSH: I think.

KING: So we could lower the tax too on stock gains?

G. BUSH: No. I wouldn't. I'd lower the tax on income taxes. I'd lower the top tax from 39.6 to 33 percent. But more importantly, and where most of the money goes in the marginal rate reduction, is at the bottom end of the ladder, where I reduce the rate from 15 percent to 10 percent. Let me tell you, this is...

KING: Let me get a break and come back, pick right up on that. I won't leave it.

We'll be right back with the Governor and Mrs. Bush.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with the Bushes at their home they hope for a very limited time.

All right. You were saying?

G. BUSH: Well, I was just saying the current tax code is very harsh on people at the bottom end of the economic ladder, and the example I like to use is, say, a person, a single mom trying to raise children and she's earning $22,000. And for every additional dollar she earns above that, she pays a higher marginal rate on that dollar than someone making $200,000. She begins to lose her earned income tax credit, she pays payroll taxes; she jumps into the 15 percent bracket.

It's a disincentive for people to get into the middle class. And so my plan not only says we're not going to take more than a third of anybody's check, and that'll encourage growth and entrepreneurship, but as importantly, or more importantly, it'll make it easier for people to get into the middle class.

KING: Laura, what might we not know about him that you know?

L. BUSH: Let's see...

KING: No, really. What -- is there an aspect -- I mean, he's been covered and recovered, and overcovered, but is there some...

L. BUSH: Well, I hope people -- I hope everyone's had an opportunity to see what his heart is, because I think that's what's most important. But maybe people don't know that he actually is the one who gets up and feeds the pet every morning.

G. BUSH: Yes, sir. Also, by the way, what she failed to mention: I'm make the coffee.

L. BUSH: He's the coffee maker.

G. BUSH: And bring her a cup of coffee every morning, too.

KING: You don't have someone doing this for you?

G. BUSH: No.

L. BUSH: No.

G. BUSH: Are you kidding me?

KING: I want to ask you: Do you run? Do you exercise?

G. BUSH: I do. Yes, sir. I ran today.

KING: In this weather?

G. BUSH: I do.

KING: Are you...

G. BUSH: I'm in pretty good shape.

KING: This is hot. This is a tough town to live in, in the summer.

L. BUSH: It's hot.

G. BUSH: But you know something, we've been used to it all our lives.

KING: That's right. Midland had it too, right?

G. BUSH: Midland had it, a lot drier than Austin. But it's -- we're used to the heat. And I frankly don't mind the heat.

KING: You, too?

L. BUSH: I don't mind it at all. I mean, we are used to it. This is hot, I'll have to say, 102 or whatever it is today.

KING: What did you think of -- we're hop-scotching a lot of bases. The tobacco verdict in Miami?

G. BUSH: Big verdict, a lot of money. And you know, we'll see what the appellate courts do. My attitude about our society today is we're an incredibly litigious society, that a lot of public policy is being conducted through the -- by the plaintiffs' bar and courts. And I'm mindful of the high cost of litigation in America.

KING: But the jurors -- almost all of them were interviewed -- said that the companies lied.

G. BUSH: Yes, well, if that's the case, they're all -- just going to be a consequence, because we shouldn't tolerate lying.

KING: Are you taking a strong stand on tobacco? Are you going to try to continue this reduction? I think we're the lowest tobacco- using country in the world now.

G. BUSH: Absolutely, and it starts with children. And we have got to continue to focus on our children, and I applaud the administration's efforts to convince children not to smoke.

KING: You've praised the administration three times in this half hour.

G. BUSH: Well, I praise them for not trying to -- sure. Why can you not praise them for trying to get peace in the Middle East or convincing kids not so smoke?

KING: Some say maybe we're too involved. You would be involved, too, right? You would tend to be involved in the world?

G. BUSH: In terms of teaching, in terms of sending a message to children that you should not smoke.

KING: And in world affairs, you intend to be as involved?

G. BUSH: Oh, absolutely. I'm going to have a great foreign policy team, some of whom you know personally.

KING: Oh, so we know some of the people coming aboard...

G. BUSH: Well, I'm not naming -- I'm not naming jobs. But let me just start over, if you don't mind, now that you nearly pinned me down.

(LAUGHTER)

You know my friend Condoleeza Rice? KING: Sure do.

G. BUSH: You know George Shultz, you know Colin, you know Henry Kissinger. These are all people that stood by my side when I talked about nuclear security. These are people that are -- some of whom, you know, may be a part of the administration, but all of whom are my supporters and friends.

KING: That's a nice way, a nice -- what part is Laura going to play?

Now some presidents have -- the first lady takes a -- Hillary is a classic example of an activist first lady. Nancy Reagan was an activist inside the White House, but not -- we didn't hear much from her on public policy. What role do you want Laura to play?

G. BUSH: Whatever makes her happy.

KING: If she wants to speak out on an issue -- go?

G. BUSH: Sure, absolutely.

L. BUSH: I'll speak out. I'll speak out a lot about education. I hope I have that opportunity to work on education. I've been an active first lady in Texas. I've traveled a lot. I've done a lot of work with George's reading initiative for our schools, and also a lot of work with early childhood education. So I hope I have that opportunity.

KING: What if you disagree?

L. BUSH: Well, if we disagree...

G. BUSH: ... she'll let me know.

L. BUSH: I'll secretly tell him.

G. BUSH: Yes, she'll tell me. Trust me.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: While you're handing the coffee over.

(LAUGHTER)

G. BUSH: Yes, exactly.

KING: We'll be right back with the Bushes. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Governor Bush and his lovely wife, Laura. We're at the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas, where they have lived -- how long have you been here now?

L. BUSH: Six years. KING: Six years. By the way, is your father going to campaign?

G. BUSH: Sure, you bet.

KING: But he says he won't criticize a sitting administration, right? So if he campaigns, it'll not be out there, knocking the others.

G. BUSH: That's right. I know, he's very serious.

KING: Do you want them out? Do you want your mother-in-law out?

L. BUSH: Sure, absolutely.

G. BUSH: Are you kidding me?

L. BUSH: I hope she'll campaign with me.

G. BUSH: Of course we want the mother out.

KING: And Jeb?

G. BUSH: Yes, Jeb, Dorothy. My little sister, Dorothy, by the way, is leading the charge in the state of Maryland.

KING: So the Bushes will be out in force?

G. BUSH: Absolutely. We're a close family. And there's nothing like a political campaign to energize a family.

KING: Will it get, frankly, mean-spirited, do you think?

G. BUSH: Yes, I do, because I'm running against a -- if the immediate past is anything like this campaign is going to be, this -- these are folks up there that like to tear people down and stretch the truth on the record.

And Bill Bradley expressed himself very poignantly against his opponent, there in the primaries, about how, you know, you can tell if you're the president if you don't so as a candidate. And I'm expecting the worst.

KING: The worst?

G. BUSH: I am. I -- this is a "war-room" mentality, and...

KING: And how do you tackle that?

G. BUSH: Well, first thing is you counterpunch, defend your honor and defend your ground. But always tell people why I'm running to kind of paint that picture, that vision of a better tomorrow. And I'm going to spend a lot of time talking about education and prosperity, and make sure prosperity continues to grow. Entrepreneurship...

KING: You can't say, are you better off today than you were four years ago, because most people are?

G. BUSH: Well, if you're looking at only just the Dow Jones industrial average, but if you're looking at whether or not the public schools have improved, I'll make the case they're not. If you -- do seniors have prescription drugs in Medicare? The answer is no. Has there been reform of Social Security? Absolutely not.

What is the morale in the United States military like today? Your old friend Norman Schwarzkopf would be an interesting testimony to the fact that the morale is low today in the United States military. And I intend to rebuild the military power of the United States.

So there's a lot of other indices that I'm going to talk about.

KING: One of the things you said earlier on about politics, Laura, was whether -- what we just asked about, I guess. And you're not a fan of that? You don't like that.

L. BUSH: No. Negative campaigning. Of course...

KING: But you expect to see it?

L. BUSH: I mean, I think that's the hard part for families when they're married to somebody who's a candidate or the child of a candidate...

KING: How will you handle it? And how will the girls handle it?

L. BUSH: Well, I think, all three of us will probably not read any critical articles, or you know, use the remote...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And you're going to see commercials. I mean, it's -- you know how it's going to get.

L. BUSH: That's right. I do.

KING: You're prepared for it?

L. BUSH: Well, I don't know if you're ever prepared for it, but I also know it's a fact of life in politics.

G. BUSH: It doesn't have to be.

L. BUSH: And I think it's probably harder when it's your father is the one who's being criticized. Somehow I feel like I'm so in this with George...

KING: But the vice president did offer, forget the ads. Why don't you just debate every week? And this way...

G. BUSH: Sixty-two debates. America would be into a deep snooze by the time we...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: So what -- what attribute about his do you fear the most? Well, fear may be a wrong word.

G. BUSH: I don't fear anything in the campaign. I just anticipate what's coming. I mean, I think...

KING: You expect the worst?

G. BUSH: I do expect the worst, because this is an administration that has -- that has, anytime there's any threat to their power, they tear people down. That's just the way it is. It's the attitude of Washington, D.C. today, and it's a terrible attitude for the country. And it's something I'm going to change. I have a record of doing that in the state of Texas.

I don't know if you ever met my old friend, the lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, who's now deceased, but he was a longtime Democrat, one of the tough old Democrats in the state of Texas. And he didn't know me from Adam. And he looked at me kind of, you know, with skepticism. And I said, Bob -- I'll never forget -- I came back from New Hampshire and Iowa, from the first trip out as a presidential candidate, sitting by his death bed.

He held my hand and he said, you know, why weren't you smiling on the magazine cover?

(LAUGHTER)

Well, we ended up being -- and frankly, I will tell you something, which I haven't shared with many people. The first time that the seed was planted about running for president happened right here at the governor's mansion.

Laura had given me a 50 -- a surprise party for my 50th birthday, and Bullock, the lieutenant governor of Texas, the crusty old battle, you know, tough guy stands up in the backyard over there in front of friends of mine from all around the country and says, we are here celebrating the birthday of the next president of the United States. I had birthday cake falling out of people's mouths. They just could not believe that the Democrat would say that.

But I have a record, and the reason -- my point is...

KING: What did you think when he said it?

G. BUSH: I said, he must have been drinking again.

(LAUGHTER)

And -- but he'd quit drinking. And I said afterwards, I said, what are you doing?

He said, I mean it. He said, I mean it. He endorsed my candidacy in 1998, my re-election campaign, helping me become the first governor ever to be re-elected to back-to-back four-year terms. My point to you is, Larry, is that I've had a record of working with people. And I'm coming to Washington for a reason. I want to get some positive things done, and then we're coming home.

KING: Not an ego trip.

G. BUSH: Not for me. I've got -- if you live in Texas, most people think the Texas governor's office is about the best job there is.

KING: We're with the Bushes from the mansion in Austin. Don't go way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You know, somebody reminded me of something. I guess it's been written, I just haven't read it: How did you two meet?

L. BUSH: We actually grew up together, but we never knew each other. We grew up in Midland, Texas, and George lived there until we were in the eighth grade. That's when he went to Houston.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: You go to the same school?

L. BUSH: Went to the same school for one year, the same junior high.

G. BUSH: I went to Sam Houston Elementary School.

L. BUSH: I was at James Bowie. We name our schools for Texas heroes.

KING: And what high school did you go to?

L. BUSH: Then we were -- then I went to Lee High School in Midland.

G. BUSH: We had moved to Houston, and then I was -- I went to Phillips Andover in Massachusetts.

KING: Oh. Oh, ho, oh, ho.

L. BUSH: But then when...

KING: Fancy-dancy. So how did you two meet?

L. BUSH: George had moved back to Midland after graduate school in 1975, and I was working here at a school in Austin. I went home for a week in the summer, and some friends asked us over for dinner, and we married three months later.

G. BUSH: It was -- I fell in love over the barbecue pit.

(LAUGHTER) KING: She changed you a lot, right? She had a great effect on your life.

G. BUSH: Well, yes, she did. She...

KING: No, I mean, you were a single guy leading a pretty good single life.

G. BUSH: I was. And when I married Laura, I found the person I wanted to spend my life with, the rest of my life. And Laura's had a fantastic effect on my life at all age.

KING: Was your feeling instant (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

L. BUSH: It was.

KING: Really?

L. BUSH: I mean, it was pretty -- maybe not actually instant, but pretty shortly after that.

G. BUSH: I had a little persuading to do is what she means.

KING: A little courtship.

G. BUSH: I had a few rough edges that she was worried about.

KING: Did your parents approve right away?

G. BUSH: Absolutely. You kidding me? They fell in love faster than I did.

KING: All right. On some other issues and then we'll touch some other bases. Time flies.

The vice president has proposed a victims' bill of rights, including a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing victims the right to testify at sentencing, parole hearings, notify of a criminal's release, legislation already sponsored by -- in that vein by senators Kyl and Feinstein.

G. BUSH: Yes, it's a good idea.

KING: You favor that idea?

G. BUSH: Yes, I do.

KING: Any other areas of crime that you have a particular interest in?

G. BUSH: Yes. Prosecuting criminals.

KING: But everyone wants to do that.

G. BUSH: Well, they don't do it sometimes. Prosecuting people who illegally carry guns. You know, I mean, literally going -- sending task forces into areas and neighborhoods and getting people who carry guns illegally where they belong, and that is in jail. The best gun control is crime control.

KING: You've said a lot to try to change the old Republicans to compassionate Republicans and new Republicans, and one of the things the Republican Party's been hit with, that you are captives of the NRA, the NRA owns...

G. BUSH: Of course, that's easy politics. I mean, that's the kind of -- the kind of politics I'm telling you about that goes on.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gun legislation?

G. BUSH: Yes, absolutely. I'm favoring -- as a matter of fact, not only in favor of gun legislation, like instant background, but I said that if you're worried about gun safety here are free trigger locks in the state of Texas. We're distributing trigger locks throughout our state for somebody to come and use them, and hopefully people will use them.

But the best laws, Larry, are on the books, and those say that if you commit a crime with a gun that there is going to be a serious consequence. And we're a tough state when it comes to crime, as you well know, and that's the kind of president I intend to be.

KING: Was it tough for you when someone dies in Texas through capital punishment?

L. BUSH: Sure, absolutely.

KING: Do you feel the weight it puts on your husband, even though all he can give them is 30 days?

L. BUSH: I feel the weight. You know, that's -- that's what he was sworn in, in our state, you know. It's the law in our state, and sure.

G. BUSH: You -- you, doing your job, really created one of the most visible people ever executed, and that's Karla Faye Tucker, and that decision weighed very heavily on my heart. I...

KING: You watched part of the interview...

G. BUSH: I did, unfortunately. I...

KING: That has to affect you.

G. BUSH: Of course it does.

Just like it affected you.

KING: Sure did.

G. BUSH: And it's a very compelling story. And you know, obviously, our hopes, our mutual hopes are that she's now comforted by an almighty God. KING: Well, what goes through you though, Governor, really, because to have that kind of power, responsibility? What's it like that night?

G. BUSH: It is a -- it is a heavy burden.

But you know something, my job is to uphold the laws of the state. My job is to stand firm. And I do, I do.

People got a glimpse of me as a result of this case and other cases, that I'm sworn to uphold the laws. I don't get to rewrite the laws. I don't get to judge somebody's heart.

See, I come from the school of thought that I'm just a lowly sinner myself. Who am I to judge...

KING: But you have to give thought of, do we have the right person?

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: Are we doing the right thing? What's worse than executing someone who didn't do it?

G. BUSH: You're absolutely right. There's absolutely no question about that. The matter of innocence or guilt is a big question. That was not the case in the Karla Faye case.

KING: No.

G. BUSH: The other thing that should comfort people is that the courts take a good hard look at all these cases. And you know, one of the things that I'm obviously aware of is that the death penalty brings out a lot of emotion, and that's healthy for democracy. I don't resent that in the least that people want to express themselves in different ways about the death penalty.

And I welcome people's expressions, because I know how difficult an issue it is for some people.

KING: As you do on abortion, right?

G. BUSH: Of course I do.

KING: Your party tries to hear all sides.

G. BUSH: I want to hear...

KING: Even though your platform is tough on this...

G. BUSH: That's OK, but I want to hear all sides. I mean, as I say, good people can disagree.

And -- but there's a larger issue than just abortion, and it's valuing life, a culture of life. It's not just life of the child or the unborn; it's life of the living; it's life for the elderly. And I don't support physician-assisted suicide, for example. To me, that diminishes the value of life.

And so I view this issue in a larger context. And I know there's going to be a lot of politics and a lot of finger pointing and a lot of name-calling on the issue. But a leader is somebody that sets a positive tone...

KING: But people who are in death stages should be entitled to any medication that could relieves pain.

G. BUSH: No question about that.

KING: Because sometimes it gets ridiculous.

G. BUSH: No question about that.

KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with the Bushes. On gay rights, you had that thing move back and forth. Did you -- you want to meet with the -- want to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans. Didn't meet with them. Where are we now?

G. BUSH: I met with them -- with a group of people.

KING: How was it?

G. BUSH: Great. And they saw my heart and that I'm going to judge each individual person as an individual. That I don't -- I don't want to battle this kind of group thought that tends to sometimes dominate the discourse.

And I also told them -- again, I'm going to repeat what I said earlier, that I believe all humans are sinners. And...

KING: Who are you to judge?

G. BUSH: Yes, who am I to judge? there's a great Biblical admonition that says, why take -- why would I want to take a speck out of your eye when I may have a log in my own.

KING: South Carolina, you said that you would appoint a gay to public office, to the Cabinet or something like that. You would not ask whether they were...

G. BUSH: That's exactly what I said.

KING: It's not your business.

G. BUSH: No, it's not my business. And I think somebody's sexual life is their private life. And I did -- but I did say that.

KING: Do you feel the same way?

L. BUSH: Sure. KING: Do you like "don't ask/don't tell"?

G. BUSH: I do.

KING: You think that's a good policy?

G. BUSH: I absolutely do. It was written by a really good man, too, General Colin Powell.

KING: And that meeting did go well, though?

G. BUSH: Of course.

KING: With the Log Cabin. You were -- were you hesitant about it?

G. BUSH: No.

KING: Is that true? Because the story said you put it off, et cetera.

G. BUSH: Well, what happened was there was a lot of politics early on and I decided to wait until the -- kind of everything settled down, and I had a very good meeting.

KING: What did you make of the recent charge about Hillary?

G. BUSH: The charge...

KING: The -- of the Jew line.

G. BUSH: Yes, 26 years ago. I just -- look, I hope she doesn't get elected. I'm for Rick Lazio. But I just cannot believe that, you know, the politics of dredging up something that somebody alleges somebody said 26 years ago as relevant.

I don't think Mrs. Clinton is anti-Semitic. I mean, I don't know her...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the issue, right?

G. BUSH: Well, I guess it is, but, I mean -- but this is not right for somebody to dredge up some quote.

KING: Laura, you know that tabloids have a field day with people as they become more public figures. Does it bother you?

L. BUSH: It does. I mean, it's sad. This is an example of exactly what I think I don't like about politics, this one part where totally made-up things are said or...

KING: People want to get even with people and they...

L. BUSH: Exactly. G. BUSH: Yes. They kind of spread stuff around.

KING: Because you make enemies in a public life.

G. BUSH: Of course you do.

KING: Right? You have enemies.

(CROSSTALK)

L. BUSH: Well, you have...

G. BUSH: I certainly hope not, but I'm sure I do...

(CROSSTALK)

L. BUSH: But you also have opponents, and you know, that's really what it is, I think, more than enemies, but because of that -- and then, plus, I think there are certain types of the press who want to sell things.

G. BUSH: But here's what a president can do: A president can change the tone.

KING: How?

G. BUSH: I believe it. By how he conducts himself in office. By the type of administration he brings to Washington.

There are two questions that I asked that I was real nervous about. One was my family. And you know, obviously I reconciled that in my mind, that our love is strong enough to endure this interesting experience we're going through.

But the second thing was, can an administration change the tone in Washington? And I believe the answer is yes, I do. It's going to take a lot of hard work. But a president can help purge the system of this kind of "gotcha" politics and pile-on politics.

KING: How do you -- when you take a moral -- for example, we can make a case that one of the most moral of all presidents was Jimmy Carter.

G. BUSH: Yes, he was.

KING: I mean, he didn't lie, believed in -- certainly believed in God, was a lay preacher, et cetera. Was he able to change a country around?

G. BUSH: No.

KING: No?

G. BUSH: That's right. And he got whipped as a result of it.

KING: Right. And you think you can? G. BUSH: I do.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: You can set a moral tone?

G. BUSH: I don't know about -- I can set a different tone. I can set a tone of -- I don't think necessarily setting a moral tone. That's what you live. That's a life you live. I will live a moral life.

I will set a tone that is different from Washington, that says we can unite rather than divide, that this kind of finger-pointing and tearing down -- you know exactly what I'm talking about. I mean, it's just a bitter atmosphere.

And I gave a speech to the Republican National Committee fund- raiser, and I said both folks are to blame. I mean, there's blame to go around. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be, you know, kind of mired in this type of environment forever. It's time for a new president. And this is going to be one of the key parts of this election.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're running out of time, but we'll be spending much time with the Bushes in the months ahead, trust us.

And with -- the vice president when they come along, we're going to spend a lot of time. We'll be at the conventions doing two live shows a night each night.

Any fears of the World Trade Organization erupting with some violence in Philadelphia like happened in Seattle?

G. BUSH: I talked to Governor Ridge about that, and he thinks it's going to be -- you know, there'll be protest, and that's fine. That's what democracy's all about. But the scene in Philadelphia is in good shape.

KING: You're not concerned then that we're going to have anything happen out of the ordinary?

G. BUSH: I certainly hope not. It certainly doesn't help the cause for those who are trying to make their case to try to be violent and disruptive.

KING: And you don't want it in Los Angeles, either?

G. BUSH: No, of course I don't.

KING: What -- Barbara aside, which first lady do you hold in high esteem?

L. BUSH: Well, of course I have to say Barbara. We can't put her aside.

KING: I said Barbara aside.

L. BUSH: She's my mother-in-law.

KING: You're not objective.

L. BUSH: Let's see...

G. BUSH: Plus she may be listening.

L. BUSH: Lady Bird Johnson I think is a fabulous first lady. She lived here in Austin.

KING: She's still going, huh?

L. BUSH: She -- I don't know how much people -- you know, modern people really know how tremendously influential she was and why now we plant wildflowers all along our roadsides everywhere. She -- her love of nature really was great and benefited all of us.

KING: All right, how do you -- you're about to go to Philadelphia. You're about to be nominated. What's it like? I mean, you've grown up in politics. Your father was a congressman, ambassador, U.N., CIA. What's it like now for George's boy...

G. BUSH: It's a huge honor. I'm sure you can imagine it is a big honor. And I'm going to seize this moment.

KING: Are there moments by yourself, do you say, whew?

G. BUSH: You bet. There are some moments when I say, whooo, and there are some moments I say, what happened? Like in New Hampshire.

But this is a -- if I could be really honest with you about the run for the presidency, you grow to the job. It's a long process that tests one's inner soul and tests the will, tests the vision, tests the vision.

And I believe I'm going to win, because I've got a clear vision for a better tomorrow.

KING: But it's a little humbling, isn't it?

I mean, you're saying, I'm the best person right now to lead this country.

G. BUSH: What I'm saying is of the two of us I'm the better person.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) somebody out there...

G. BUSH: ... not running, as John Kennedy said. But I am -- I take great confidence in a couple of things: One, I take confidence because of my spirituality. I take confidence because of my family. And I take confidence that I can do the job because I know the type of administration I'm going to have.

I have been a decision-maker. I know it's a big leap going from governor of Texas to president, but governors make decisions. And I'm going to make a decision. I'll be a decisive president.

KING: A couple of other quick things. Barak called. Arafat did not?

G. BUSH: No.

KING: But you would have taken that course, too, had he called?

G. BUSH: Of course. Sure, absolutely.

KING: And do you have any thoughts on the Democratic vice president?

G. BUSH: No.

KING: None at all. No person you're particularly worried about or...

G. BUSH: No, sir.

KING: And the announcement will be made -- probably, well, let's say -- we can expect to get -- what will be the setting of the vice presidential announcement? Will it be in his or her place?

G. BUSH: There's two options. One will be at the convention, in which case it will be Philadelphia, or if it's early, it will probably be here in Austin.

KING: Right here in Austin.

G. BUSH: Yes, sir.

KING: And you will let that person know the day before?

G. BUSH: Maybe. You're fishing, and I'm not going to get caught.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Thank you, sir.

G. BUSH: Yes, sir. Welcome.

L. BUSH: Bye. Thanks, Larry.

KING: Thanks. The Bushes, George and Laura, from the capital, their mansion in Austin, Texas.

Tom Selleck, another Republican, tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE. Thanks for joining us. Good night.

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