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Larry King Live Weekend
George W. Bush on the Path to the PresidencyAired December 30, 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, George W. Bush on the path to the presidency. Highlights from his election 2000 appearances with us next on LARRY KING LIVE.
George W. Bush will be inaugurated as the nation's 43rd president three weeks from today. We had our first campaign conversation with candidate Bush, then governor of Texas, last December. The fight for the GOP nomination was still ahead. Not a single primary vote had been cast. The site of that first sit down, the Wild Horse Saloon in Nashville, Tennessee.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, DECEMBER 16, 1999)
KING: What -- now, I know Al Gore was here last night, but he lives here, right? What are you doing at the Wild Horse Saloon?
GOVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm campaigning. I just received the support of Senator Frist, the senator from Tennessee...
KING: The physician.
BUSH: The physician. And a great United States senator. I've got a fund-raiser here tonight. I'm beginning to lay the groundwork for a Tennessee campaign, should I be fortunate enough to win my party's nomination.
KING: So would you say to yourself, though, if I'm the nominee and I'm running against the vice president, Tennessee's going to be hard to win?
BUSH: I think it'll be hard to win, but Governor Sundquist and Senator Frist, former Governor Alexander, former Senator Baker all believe I can win. They've got a pretty...
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Fred Thompson...
BUSH: Well, Fred -- I hope -- if I'm the nominee, I hope he comes on my team. I hope he does. He's a good guy.
KING: Governor, let's -- we're going to cover a lot of bases. And you've got a wonderful book out, "A Charge to Keep," published by William Morrow. It's very interesting, especially there's some parts dealing with yours truly and Carla Faye Tucker. BUSH: Absolutely.
KING: But before we get to that, the most important question of the day, which is obvious: Are the Texas Rangers ever going to beat the Yankees?
BUSH: You know something? Yes, they will.
KING: You owned them once?
BUSH: I did own them. It's one of the most frustrating things in my life never to go to a World Series. I would love to have been the owner at a World Series. It just didn't work out that way.
KING: How do you explain? I don't want to get too much into this. But how do you explain? They're a great team.
BUSH: You mean against the Yanks?
KING: Yes. What happened?
BUSH: Because they were a better team.
BUSH: I thought so. I mean, the Yanks are loaded. They're a great baseball team. You know that. You follow baseball closely. Steinbrenner's done a good job with the Yanks in recent times.
KING: Give him credit.
BUSH: Listen, this is -- this is a team that after they won the World Series was on the field hugging each other in tears. It wasn't about victory or defeat. It was about the human -- the human side of life that...
KING: They're connected?
BUSH: Yes, well -- O'Neill's dad had died, and Joe Torre's...
KING: Prostate cancer...
BUSH: Yes, you bet. This was a team that obviously was a team. And we had a great group of players, and it was a good team, too. But the Yankees were a better team. This is -- this is a good -- this is a good ball club for the modern era.
KING: When we spoke about, I guess, seven, eight months ago, and we were talking baseball, which is what we talk about...
BUSH: It shows what a great American you are.
KING: ... I asked you about running, and you said at that time you weren't sure, and your big worry was the family, the daughters, and all the things that are going to be whacked around and sailed at each other, whether they were ready for that. What changed? BUSH: My desire to make sure that the American Dream touches every willing heart, make sure that people don't get left behind as we go into the 21st century.
KING: Yes, but did your daughters (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to go along with this? You were -- you were...
KING: ... concerned?
BUSH: My wife is. My wife's a willing participant. And maybe someday you'll have her on the show so you'll know what I know.
KING: Love to.
BUSH: She's fabulous. My daughters are 18. And sometimes it's hard to tell what's going through the mind of 18 year olds. They're focussed on college and high -- finishing their high school years.
I'm going to do everything I can to shield them from the glare of publicity. I'm not going to ask them to do events that they don't want to do. And I hope someday -- I hope someday they understand what it means to serve a cause greater than self, a cause greater than self.
But it's tough on the family. One of the reasons I was so reluctant is I remember what it was like to be a loyal son, fighting for a man I love. I was on your show with my brother Jeb, governor of Florida I might add, talking about a man we loved.
And it's -- when you see somebody under attack that you care about, it hurts. It's much easier to be the candidate than it is to be the son. And that was my concern for my daughters.
KING: Were there times when you said maybe I'm not going to do this?
BUSH: Yes. Absolutely. There were times running up to the inauguration where it was a 50-50 chance as to whether or not I'd run.
I had a -- I thought long and hard about it. I had a -- in my book, I talk about a church service during the inaugural service where I heard the call of the need for American ethical power, people using power to do good for the right reasons.
There was a series of events that just led -- convinced me that this was the right thing to do. Plus, I strongly believe that I've got policies that will make America a better place.
KING: So you -- you -- it's pretty -- it takes a lot of ego to say "I want to president, and I'm the best person, right now, to run this country." That's what you're saying, right?
BUSH: Yes, sir. I am.
KING: Isn't that hard to say?
KING: Especially from a family that teaches humility.
BUSH: Well, that's right.
KING: Knowing Barbara.
BUSH: It is -- it's a big statement. This is the greatest country in the world.
KING: And you want to run it.
BUSH: I do. I want to be your president. I want to lead the world to peace. I want to keep prosperity alive. I want to make sure every child is educated.
I understand it's a big step going from governor to president. I know that. I know it well. But I believe I'm prepared. And my job -- my job -- is to convince the American people I've got the judgment, the decision-making capability, that I'll bring a good administration of smart, capable people to Washington, that I can change the culture to get something done.
KING: Having a father who was president, is that a plus for you, other than the obvious name value plus?
BUSH: Well, I think -- you know, I love to say it -- I love to put it this way: that I inherited half his friends and all his enemies.
KING: You picked up the good and the bad?
BUSH: I did.
KING: So those who didn't like your father are, by nature, not going to like you?
BUSH: That's generally true. Some people who liked him are skeptical, and some people who liked him give me a break right off the bat. But my job is to convince people I can lead.
I've got a record of leadership in the state of Texas that I can share with the people. I've got an agenda that I know is conservative, and as you've heard me articulate, it's compassionate. And so I've got a lot of work to do.
KING: But did being his son help in the fact that you pretty much know what things are like there?
BUSH: Well, I've got a pretty...
KING: Not stepping into a strange house.
BUSH: Well, let me put it this way: I understand what a campaign is about. I know it's a marathon. I know it takes incredible patience...
KING: Too long?
BUSH: ... and discipline. It's long. You bet it's long. But it's important for candidates to go through the process, because it does two things, Larry, I think. One, it shows the American people that the candidate's got what it takes to become the president. And it shows the candidate, he or she's got what it takes to become the president.
KING: So it should be grueling?
BUSH: Yes, it should be grueling. I'm not so sure length necessarily equates to grueling, but it should be a tough process. You need to be scrutinized and questioned. There needs to be debates, like we're going through. There needs to be town-hall meetings. There needs to be travel.
This is a huge country. And a candidate's got to be able to travel the country with a consistent message that rallies people for a better tomorrow.
KING: And he's got to like it, right? You've got to like this?
BUSH: Well, you know what you like, if you're good at it, is you like people. It's a people business, is really what it is. If you don't like -- if you don't like people, the people are going to...
KING: Get out.
KING: We'll be right back with Governor George W. Bush of Texas. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Governor Bush.
You took a hit on the drug issue.
KING: And one of the things that was raised was that, I guess, the hypocrisy question. If you did -- and it's none of our business if you did or didn't -- if you did, is it fair to have anyone in prison who did in Texas?
BUSH: I -- you see...
KING: Now, that's a fair hypothetical.
BUSH: No, but I think -- look -- no -- what you're trying to do is to get me to talk about my past, and I respect your attempt to do so. I'm not willing to do so.
BUSH: Here's what's important in life. Here's what's important in life for a parent or a leader is that you learn from your mistakes.
BUSH: That's important, and that's the most important thing for leadership.
KING: So if I were -- let's say -- I don't want to make it personal -- if I'm governor and I did something illegal, whatever it was, and anyone in my state is in jail for doing the same thing, and I didn't get caught and they did, I'd go nuts. That would bother me -- it was hypocrisy. That guy sitting behind the bar who did the same thing I did and I -- he got caught and I didn't, and I'm the governor. It would drive me nuts.
BUSH: Yes, well...
KING: If that's true, seriously.
BUSH: Well, I appreciate your attempt to get me to talk about my past and...
KING: But that wouldn't bother you?
BUSH: Here's what people need to know about me, that I'm going to bring honor and dignity, that I've learned from mistakes made, that I am prepared to send a message of personal responsibility, and that's what I'm going to do.
KING: Why do so many -- maybe it's really the far-right end -- dislike the word compassion?
BUSH: Why are they like that?
KING: They're angry at compassion. They don't -- why did you say compassionate conservatism?
BUSH: Well, maybe angry people can't be compassionate.
KING: Maybe that's true. But it implies maybe that they're not, or that there are elements of people that aren't in your party.
BUSH: Well, see, I disagree with that. I think it's very important for someone who may be carrying the Republican Party banner to be so proud of our philosophy, our conservative philosophy of lower taxes, less government, local control of schools, to be able to explain to people who don't necessarily follow politics on a regular basis that our philosophy will yield the compassionate results. I think it's important to hear that we conservatives are compassionate people, because oftentimes in the past, as you well know, the conservative philosophy has been given the bad rap that we're not compassionate.
BUSH: When people start -- when they ask those questions of you and you had that problem with the answers, and the guy sort of broad -- blind-sided you, and then people started saying, he ain't bright, or -- how do -- how does a candidate deal with something like that? In other words, how do you -- what do you say, I'm bright?
BUSH: Yes, exactly.
KING: How do you -- what do you -- what do you do with a tag like that? How do you end it?
BUSH: Well, here's the thing: There's a -- there's a game in politics called "Prove the Negative," exactly as you suggested...
KING: There's no way you can handle it.
BUSH: No, I understand that. But here's the thing: I've got great faith in the American people. My message is not to the kind of the chattering class. My message is to the people. And my job is to convince them I've got the judgment and the decision-making capabilities and the wisdom to become their president.
KING: But should a president be very smart?
BUSH: I think the president has to be smart, of course.
KING: So when they put that tag on you, how do you -- how do you deal with it? And is there any way to deal with it?
BUSH: Personally how do I do it?
BUSH: I just ignore it, because I know I've got confidence in my capabilities. I love to be underestimated. And in 1994, a person you've had on your show several times, who's a fine lady, Ann Richards...
KING: Funny lady.
BUSH: Very funny. And a tough competitor. Tough.
KING: And she said you'd be a tough competitor.
BUSH: And she underestimated me.
KING: Don't take him lightly.
BUSH: They underestimated me. They said the same things that were being said -- he doesn't have the experience, he's not -- he can't handle it. They ignored the fact that I went to Yale and Harvard, and said my intelligence wasn't heavy enough to handle the job. And I won. And I'm sitting here as the governor of Texas. And so I don't mind being underestimated.
I don't worry about the critics. This -- there's a series of criticisms that one normally goes through in a campaign. First, remember, it was he doesn't say anything, or he's not specific, or he doesn't have any policies. Of course, I laid out a series of policy statements that I think are going to make America better: policies to cut the taxes and strengthen the military -- really good education policies, by the way. Sound policy. And so people no longer say he doesn't have any policies, and now this is another phase. And it'll pass, and there'll be another phase.
But I'd rather be underestimated in politics than not.
KING: In your book, it's a poignant chapter when you write about Carla Faye Tucker and her -- and her -- she was...
BUSH: Execution. Yes.
KING: And we had done the last interview with her, and you talked about watching part of that and how that was difficult for you. That had to be the hardest thing to do. But the question is -- I hope I'm quoting her right -- Governor Richards said that a governor can't stop -- a governor has no power in Texas. He could stay it or stay it for 30 days.
BUSH: For 30 days, yes.
KING: But that's all he can do.
KING: Is that right?
BUSH: It was. But let me tell you...
KING: So what was the dilemma?
BUSH: Well, here's the dilemma. You know, the dilemma -- I was going to enforce the law of the land, but what made it tough was your compelling interview with this...
KING: Which you quote in your own book.
BUSH: Yes. It was a compelling interview. I quoted the interview exactly, because it was -- you had put a face, a human face on the death penalty.
KING: So you were going to -- but all you could have done was give her 30 days, right?
BUSH: Right, that's right.
KING: So why not -- why didn't you give it to her, 30 days?
BUSH: Because my job is to uphold the law of the land. My job is to ask the question, innocence or guilt. My job is not to judge hearts. That's not the job of the governor, is to judge someone's heart.
KING: Wasn't it painful the night she died? BUSH: It was. It was very heavy. I had a heavy, heavy heart, and I held a very quick press conference to announce, and I didn't want to hang around for questions, because my heart was heavy.
And ironically enough, one of the next death cases that came to my desk was the case of a really horrible person, the exact opposite of a Carla Faye. And there was real doubt as to whether or not this person committed the crime for which he was accused. And he was granted -- you know, he's not going to be put to death.
KING: Is he...
BUSH: And it was just one of those moments, Larry, where I was confronted with two unbelievable cases that...
KING: It went one way, the other way.
BUSH: One went the other way. And you know, and I give you credit for lining up an interview that really caught the imagination of a lot of folks.
KING: Because the pope contacted you, right?
BUSH: Absolutely. A lot of people contacted me. But my job -- and this is what's important for a president -- is to uphold the laws of the land. It's not to take polls. It's not to take focus groups. It's not to figure out what's popular. It's to uphold the law of the land.
KING: Right back with Governor Bush, right after this.
KING: You've led a pretty -- with drinking and all?
BUSH: Yes, I was a drinker.
KING: But you talked about Christ.
BUSH: I did.
KING: And you mentioned it the other day and now some people are criticizing you that you brought him in as a philosopher saying he wasn't -- critics say he wasn't a philosopher -- and two, that you've introduced something in the campaign that doesn't belong.
BUSH: Yes, let me answer that. I appreciate that and thanks for bringing that up. I've heard some people were a little concerned about that. The question was, who has made the most influence on your life? At least that's what I heard. I can't remember whether it was philosopher. And I interpreted it to mean who had the most influence on my life. Christ has.
I didn't say he had the most influence on your life and should. I just was responding to a question to let people know about me, and if they want to know about me, they want to know the kind of person I am, then they need to know that fact: that Christ has had a huge influence in my life.
And that doesn't mean I'm a better person than you, necessarily, and it doesn't mean somebody should vote for me because I've said that. It was a way for people to get a sense for who I am, and it's the right answer. It was the right answer, because...
KING: And if it had been a rabbi, you would have a said a rabbi, right?
KING: So you were not bringing a Christian element into it; I'm a Christian, you're not.
BUSH: I wasn't saying I'm a Christian, and therefore, you're not worthy. I was saying this is what George W. Bush is about, and if you really are interested in knowing about me, this is important for people to know about me.
And I -- you see, the interesting thing about the political campaign is people don't get many glimpses at a candidate. I mean, they don't see a candidate a lot.
KING: They do in this kind of setting.
BUSH: Yes, they do. Absolutely, they do. But a lot of people, you know, they're not quite as interested in the political process as me or you are, and therefore I need to -- when given a chance, I need to share with people as best I can who I am.
BUSH: And there are going to be some people that will say, you know, I don't particularly care about that aspect of him, and I understand that. But there's no need for me not to tell people who I am and...
KING: But in the past you have not carried it out on your shoulder? You're not a born-again...
BUSH: I've accepted Christ.
KING: But you don't go around proselytizing?
BUSH: I don't say, vote for me because of that, and I didn't that night. But when asked the question, I answered it the way I felt like answering it. That was...
KING: So you answer it the same way again, he's been the most important person in your life?
KING: Can you tell me something that confounds a lot of people who haven't had that what experience was like?
BUSH: Well, for me it was, you know, for my mentor, my religious mentor, who's Billy Graham, who you know well...
KING: Very well.
BUSH: It happened...
KING: He'll be with us New Year's Eve with the Dalai Lama.
BUSH: You've got to be kidding me.
KING: On together.
BUSH: You know something? What a treat.
But Billy Graham is a fabulous man.
KING: And he did it for you?
BUSH: Well, he planted the seed is the way I like to describe it. He planted the seed in my heart that grew over time. I got into the Bible. I read scripture. I read the Bible everyday now. I'm into prayer. There is a gradual warming of the heart, as we Methodists like to say. For Billy Graham there was an overnight acceptance of Christ.
KING: Yes, walking in the field down there.
BUSH: Absolutely. Up in Illinois or Minnesota.
BUSH: It was an overnight experience.
KING: That didn't happen to you?
BUSH: No, but for me I felt something change when I had a talk with him in Kennebunkport, Maine. And I -- you know, I -- it just -- and the only thing I can tell you is the Lord works in mysterious ways, the Lord does.
KING: And prior to that, you would have laughed at something like that?
BUSH: Well, I was respectful for Dr. Graham. He is one of the great men of all time.
KING: But you certainly didn't...
BUSH: I didn't view him as a religious mentor. I viewed him as one of the really interesting historical figures in America. But he had such a general countenance and a strong faith and a way to him that, obviously, did something in my heart.
KING: And prayer is important in your life now?
KING: We'll be right back with more of Governor Bush of Texas, right after this.
KING: George W. Bush hit a few bumps on the road to the White House, even before enduring the longest election night in U.S. history. Republican rival John McCain beat him badly in New Hampshire's first in the nation primary. But Bush struck back big time in South Carolina. Four days before the primary there, I moderated a debate with the Republican White House hopefuls.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, FEBRUARY 15, 2000)
KING: All right, Governor, what do you make of all these past two weeks, the charges and countercharges? You go and then the senator.
BUSH: Well, it's kind of politics. And John and I shook hands and we said we weren't going to run ads and I kind of smiled my way through the early primaries and got defined. I'm not going to let it happen again. And we shook hands and unfortunately he ran and ad that equated me to Bill Clinton -- he questioned my trustworthiness.
KING: Are you saying he broke the agreement with you?
BUSH: Well, I'm just saying, you can disagree on issues, we'll debate issues, but whatever you do, don't equate my integrity and trustworthiness to Bill Clinton. That's about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary.
KING: And that's...
And that's what -- and that's what -- and that's what got you mad to sort of fight back?
BUSH: Well, I stand by my ads. I stand...
KING: You wouldn't change any?
BUSH: No. I stand by what I'm trying to do. I mean, when the man says that I'm spending all the surplus on tax cuts and it's not true, I'm going to define what reality is.
KING: Senator McCain, did you break a promise?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let me tell you what happened. There was an ad run against me, we ran a counter-ad in New Hampshire, Governor Bush took the ad down. And then I was beat up very badly by all of his surrogates, called Clinton, called Clinton-lite, called every -- a hypocrite. I mean, you've seen...
KING: In New Hampshire? MCCAIN: No, here in South Carolina. You've seen it -- turn on the radio, turn on the television, and unfortunately now pick up the telephone and you'll hear a negative attack against John McCain.
But let me tell you what really went over the line. Governor Bush had an event, and he paid of it, and standing -- and stood next to a spokesman for a fringe veterans' group. That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans.
Now, I don't know if you can understand this, George, but that really hurts, that really hurts.
And so five United States senators, Vietnam veterans, heroes, some of them really incredible heroes, wrote George a letter and said, Apologize, you should be ashamed...
BUSH: Let me speak to that.
MCCAIN: You should be ashamed. Now if you want...
KING: Is he responsible for what someone else says?
MCCAIN: Well, this same man -- he stood next to him, it was his event. This same man had attacked his father viciously.
BUSH: Yes, he did. Let me speak to that. Let me speak to that.
KING: All right.
MCCAIN: So I'd be glad to tell you the rest of the story, if you'd let me, when it's appropriate.
KING: Well, let him respond on that point.
BUSH: Let me -- let me answer that.
MCCAIN: You should be ashamed -- you should be ashamed of sponsoring an event with that man there whop had attacked your own father.
BUSH: Let me say something, John. Let me finish. Let me finish.
John, I believe that you served our country nobly. And I've said it over and over again. That man wasn't speaking for me. He may have a dispute with you...
MCCAIN: He was at your event.
BUSH: Let me finish please, please.
MCCAIN: He's listed as your...
BUSH: Let me finish. Let me finish.
KING: All right, let him finish. BUSH: The man was not speaking for me. If you want to know my opinion about you, John, you served our country admirably and strongly, and I'm proud of your record, just like you are.
And I don't appreciate what he said about my dad, either. But let me say something, if you're going to be -- hold me responsible for what people for me say, I'm going to do the same for you. And let me give you one example.
Warren Rudman, the man who you had as your campaign man in New Hampshire, said about the Christian Coalition that they're bigots. He talked about the Christian Coalition in a way that was incredibly strong. I know you don't believe that, do you?
MCCAIN: George, he's entitled to his opinion on that issue.
BUSH: Well, so is this man.
MCCAIN: You paid for an event...
BUSH: So is this man.
MCCAIN: You paid for your...
KING: Please don't...
MCCAIN: You paid for an event...
MCCAIN: You paid for an event and stood next to a person. And when you were asked if you would repudiate him, you said, no.
BUSH: No. John, what I said -- what I said -- let me say what I said.
MCCAIN: So, let me tell you what happened -- let me tell you what happened after that effectively.
KING: But I want Alan to give me one thing.
If you have surrogate making a speech for you today, are you responsible for what he says?
ALAN KEYES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Larry, I'm sorry. I really am sitting here wondering, because I said we were going out to 202 countries, and is this kind of pointless squabbling really what we want them to see?
We're talking about electing the...
... president of the United States. KING: But it happened.
KEYES: But it -- happened or not happened, and I don't know whether this is the influence of the media corrupting our process or whether it's that personal ambition becomes a substitute for our real focus on substance. But it seems to me we've got a lot more important things.
We have got a country that has abandoned it's most profound and fundamental principle. Killing babies in the womb every day is a contradiction...
KING: I'm going to get to that.
KEYES: ... of the Declaration of Independence. We have got a country with an income tax system that enslaves its people and...
KING: I'm going to get to that.
KEYES: ... and needs to put that back in their hands.
KING: I'm going to get to that.
KEYES: We have got a school system that needs to be put back into the hands of parents.
And all I'm sitting here listening to is these two guys go on about their ads.
KINGS: I'm going...
BUSH: Because he asked about it. That's because he asked...
KEYES: I know you did...
KING: The question...
KEYES: It seems to me -- it seems -- let their ad people get in the back room and fight it out, and let the American people hear what they've got to hear about the issues...
KING: I'm going to...
BUSH: Let's discuss the issues. Let's the discuss the issues.
KING: All right -- that's what -- all right. MCCAIN: Let me just finish up, OK?
KING: And hope for...
MCCAIN: ... so here's what happened. We ran an ad that was a response ad. At a town hall meeting a mother stood up and she said, "Senator McCain, my son was 13 last year. We had a lot of trouble of explaining things to him that went on in Washington." She said, "Now he's 14. He's told me not long ago, 'John McCain is my hero.' He's the man I want to be like.
"Well, last night he came into her room," she said, "and he had tears in his eyes because he had answered the phone and the phone call, even though he told the caller that he was 14, said, 'Do you know that John McCain is a liar, and a thief and cheat?'"
Well, that night I called my people together. I said, Take down our response ad.
We're running nothing but a positive campaign from now on. I committed to that, I promise that.
KING: Now, are you saying that...
MCCAIN: I hope George...
KING: ... George...
MCCAIN: Let me just say...
KING: Are you saying that Governor Bush was responsible for that call?
MCCAIN: I don't know who was responsible for it. But I know that the attacks go on.
BUSH: Let me just say one thing.
MCCAIN: I know that the attacks go on.
BUSH: Let me say one thing about all this business, John.
MCCAIN: I told you I pulled them all down.
BUSH: You didn't pull this ad.
MCCAIN: Yes, I did.
BUSH: This had ended up in a man's windshield yesterday...
MCCAIN: Yes, I...
BUSH: ... that questions my -- this is an attack piece.
MCCAIN: That is not by my campaign.
BUSH: Well, it says, "paid for by John McCain."
MCCAIN: It is not by my campaign.
MCCAIN: That's not -- that is not by my campaign.
BUSH: Well, then somebody's putting stuff up.
MCCAIN: I pulled them off.
BUSH: I agree with you.
MCCAIN: But you're putting out stuff that is unbelievable, George, and it's got to stop.
BUSH: I find that...
MCCAIN: And your ads have got to stop.
KING: Are you going to -- well, let me put...
MCCAIN: My ads have all stopped.
KING: I'm going to end this now. Are you going to pull anything that you now have on?
BUSH: I'm going to stand by what I'm putting on TV. And what I put on TV was looking in that camera and saying, You can disagree with me on issues, John, but do not question -- do not question my trustworthiness and do not compare me to Bill Clinton.
KING: With the GOP presidential nomination locked up and his party's convention less than two weeks away, George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, talked with me at the Governor's Mansion in Austin, Texas.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, JULY 20, 2000)
KING: 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.
LAURA BUSH, WIFE OF GEORGE W. 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.
KING: While you're handing the coffee over.
G. BUSH: 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.
KING: 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.
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.
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?
L. BUSH: It was.
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: 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...
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...
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?
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.
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: More with the Bushes from the mansion in Austin. Don't go away.
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.
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.
L. BUSH: Well, you have...
G. BUSH: I certainly hope not, but I'm sure I do...
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.
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.
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.
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: 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: 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.
KING: We'll be right back with the Bushes. Don't go away.
KING: With a little more than a month to go to election day 2000, and the poll numbers going up and down like elevators, I interview George and Laura Bush again; this time in Los Angeles.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, SEPTEMBER 26, 2000)
KING: You are 19 points ahead. And when you were, you told that was unrealistic.
G. BUSH: Yes.
KING: You are 19 points ahead. A week later, you are 10 points behind.
G. BUSH: I know it.
KING: But then -- that happens because Gore -- Al kisses Tipper. You, a week later, kiss Oprah and dress like Regis and you are up by two points.
G. BUSH: Imagine if I had worn suspenders.
KING: Does this mean we -- no one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public? Are polls just -- what do you make of it all? G. BUSH: I think this means it's going to be a really close race, is what it means. It's going to be one of the really interesting presidential races that we have had in a long time. And I'm excited about my chances. The fact that I'm this close to a sitting vice president, with the economy pretty good and the world at peace, indicates I have got a very good chance of winning.
KING: Why do you think you are close, with the economy doing great and the world at peace?
G. BUSH: Because we have a difference of philosophy. I believe that the American people ought to be empowered to make decisions for themselves. That's part of my tax-relief plan. It's part of the reform for Medicare for seniors, part of education reform. And my opponent believes that Washington, D. C. is the place where most knowledge resides.
KING: And those are two distinct philosophies.
G. BUSH: Completely different. And, you know, I have got to make it clear where I stand on the issues, and talk about my philosophy. Also, people are beginning to understand I have got a deep passion to work in our country to change the culture, to usher in a period of personal responsibility.
KING: Do you think you can? Do you think a president can change a culture?
G. BUSH: I do. No, not single-handedly. But I think a president can set a tone. And a president can lead people to understand there is a difference between right and wrong. A president can rally mentoring programs around the nation. A president can call upon the faith-based programs, programs, you know, who got their genesis in churches or synagogues or mosques, to help people in need -- absolutely.
KING: Is -- close means you are going to be up late on November 7. Do you both expect that?
G. BUSH: I don't know. I don't -- it's hard for me to stay past up past 10:15.
KING: Are you going to do a Truman? Are you going to go to sleep no matter what time it is?
G. BUSH: Go to sleep -- no, I will be up, I promise you.
KING: So that -- it could be a long night.
G. BUSH: It could be.
KING: And there are key states, right?
G. BUSH: Yes, uh-huh.
KING: We're looking at -- could we have, in the realm of possibility, of a popular winner and an electoral winner, two different...
G. BUSH: Yes, I understand. I doubt that. I do.
KING: Would we have a calamity if we did?
G. BUSH: There would be a lot of discussion. And -- but I don't think that is going to happen.
KING: Do you favor the electoral college?
G. BUSH: I do like the electoral college.
KING: Why is it close in Florida?
G. BUSH: You know, I've been asking my little brother that question.
G. BUSH: It's...
KING: Your father has asked him. And so has your mother.
G. BUSH: Yes, we're asking him. I'm going to win Florida. I really believe I am.
KING: And why is it close -- if that is true?
G. BUSH: Well, because, I think Senator Lieberman helped down there. I think there is a constituency that was appreciative of Vice President Gore's pick of Senator Lieberman. I think that -- you know, I don't know. I don't pay that much attention to the polls, and...
KING: Young people coming out to vote, do you expect them to come out?
G. BUSH: I hope so. I think there's -- I think there's a lot of kids who are disillusioned right now. I frankly think that what's taken place in Washington the last couple of years has tended to disillusion children, young voters, and hopefully, the vice president and I can convince them to come to the polls. Obviously...
KING: Do you think...
G. BUSH: ... for me.
KING: ... bitterness in campaigns turns people off? Fifty percent is an amazing turnout in America.
G. BUSH: Yes, it's low. I don't know, I don't feel this is a bitter campaign. I mean, this doesn't seem like a bitter campaign to me.
KING: You don't feel like you're in a bitter... G. BUSH: Well, do I feel bitter? No, I don't. I really don't.
KING: You don't?
G. BUSH: And I don't think my language is particularly harsh to the vice president. We disagree.
KING: You borderline accuse him of lying?
G. BUSH: No. When?
KING: Well, not truthful, you don't trust him.
G. BUSH: No, I didn't say truthful. I didn't, you know -- but I don't when it comes to campaign funding reform law. I mean, how can you? This is a man who went to a Buddhist temple to raise money and now suggests he's for campaign funding reform laws. I just -- it's going to take more than that to convince me.
KING: So you're not saying lie, you're saying inconsistent?
G. BUSH: I wouldn't say he's a liar at all. I would say inconsistent.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Bushes. It won't be their last visit.
Don't go away.
KING: The education concept: Are we poorly educated, and if so, does that mean we have a poor electorate or an educationally illiterate electorate?
G. BUSH: I guess it depends on who wins, right?
KING: What are we saying?
G. BUSH: Well, we have an achievement gap in America. There's a lot of public schools that really do good work, and our daughters went to one. We were really pleased when Barbara and Jenna went to Austin High School and they got out and did well.
KING: Do more do good than not?
G. BUSH: Yes, absolutely.
KING: So what's the problem?
G. BUSH: The problem is there are some schools that are just mired in mediocrity and will not change. There are some school districts that are just stuck, and as a result, there's an achievement gap. There's a difference between, you know, income levels, the achievement gap of people of different income levels. There's an achievement gap between Anglo and minority students.
One of my proudest accomplishments is I worked with Republicans and Democrats to close that achievement gap in Texas. Our test scores for minority students are some of the best in the nation.
But we've got to do a better job of insisting upon high standards and strong accountability.
KING: How do you do that federally in a government where the states control...
G. BUSH: Absolutely, and that's important for people to recognize that. That's why I hope people don't fall prey to the fact where people running for president say, vote for me, I'm going to correct your public schools...
KING: You can't do that as president?
G. BUSH: No, I don't think so, but you can do this: You can make sure Head Start becomes a reading program. You can funnel monies for purposes such as reading initiative. And as importantly, you can say, if you receive federal money, we want you to show us whether or not children are learning. In other words, you can insist upon accountability. In return for flexibility and authority at the local level -- and we need to make sure Congress gets rid of as many mandates as possible in federal money -- you measure. You set the standards and you measure and show us whether or not we're getting a good return on our taxpayers' money...
KING: Or? Or?
G. BUSH: Or there's a consequence, and the consequence after a period of time is that the money will no longer, the federal money, will no longer to that particular school. It will go to the parents.
KING: Laura, did you teach in public schools?
L. BUSH: I taught in public schools, in Dallas and Houston and Austin.
KING: Good schools?
L. BUSH: Very good schools, but they were minority schools. The first school I taught in was almost 100 percent African-American in Houston, John F. Kennedy Elementary.
KING: And they did a good job?
L. BUSH: They did a good job and worked very hard.
KING: What did they do that...
L. BUSH: Well, I think it was just a focus. It was just absolutely focusing to try to make sure every child learned.
KING: Because nobody -- no race is smarter than another race? L. BUSH: No, absolutely.
KING: And if we have an equal playing field...
L. BUSH: That's right. That's right.
KING: ... then things should be equal.
L. BUSH: That's right.
G. BUSH: Absolutely.
KING: Dallas, Texas, hello.
CALLER: Mrs. Bush, what are your hopes and dreams for your twin daughters?
KING: Yes. What do you want them to do?
L. BUSH: That's -- that's a great question.
KING: How old are they?
L. BUSH: They're 18 years old. They're freshmen in college.
I think like every mother or every parent I hope they have a very happy life. I hope they have an opportunity to do a lot of things. I hope that they want to have a profession, that they have that opportunity. I hope if they want to stay home and raise babies, they have that opportunity. Actually, I might like that part as a grandmother.
KING: Are twins tough to raise?
L. BUSH: Twins were wild to raise. They were fun, very fun.
KING: Are they very alike?
L. BUSH: Very different.
KING: Very different?
L. BUSH: Very different. But the one thing that I actually hope for my children is that they'll be lifelong learners, because I think that's a very satisfying life.
KING: What -- are you going to worry about who they date?
G. BUSH: Yes.
I am. Actually, the boys they have brought home are pretty darn good kids.
KING: So far. G. BUSH: Yes, they are great. And, you know, we're -- we -- that was a fabulous question from the lady, because that is really what -- you know, the hopes and dreams of parents are really -- kind of help define who you are. And my answer is, I want them to be anything they want to be.
KING: Everything else in second place.
G. BUSH: It is. And I worry about, obviously, what this campaign, or what the presidency, could mean for their ability to be anything they could be. And...
G. BUSH: Well, it is hard. And we're not going to -- you know, we are doing the very best we can to protect them.
KING: How well do you handle the humor, the comedy, the late night shows?
L. BUSH: Fortunately, we can't stay up that late, so we haven't seen any of them.
KING: But do you hear about it? Do you hear of what Leno said last night, or Letterman, or Jon Stewart?
L. BUSH: We do. I mean, I heard the -- no, no, I didn't hear.
KING: What did you hear?
L. BUSH: I didn't read those. I read the "New York Times" article, as much of it as I could stand -- "New York Times" magazine -- about how now they think humor is so influential.
KING: Did it bug you?
L. BUSH: Yes, I mean of course, because -- but, you know, Larry, you know when you get into this race that it is just a fact of life, that that is what happens.
KING: Does it bother you?
G. BUSH: No, not really.
G. BUSH: Look -- I know -- well, I know who I am. I'm -- I think, when it's all said and done...
G. BUSH: ... the obituary will say: He was comfortable in his own skin.
I remember -- look, I remember where I'm called what.
KING: The dyslexia thing, did that bother you?
G. BUSH: Oh, that was just fiction.
KING: But did it bother you? Because, first of all, millions of Americans have it.
G. BUSH: Of course they are. My little brother, Neil, is dyslexic.
KING: Successful people have it.
G. BUSH: Very much so. Winston Churchill, one of my...
KING: So how did you react when a thing like that made...
G. BUSH: I just smiled. I just thought it was silly, you know. We've got a writer who just made something up. And, you know, I'm -- even if I were, I would be a good president. But I'm not.
KING: Hey, there could be good dyslexic president.
G. BUSH: But you know something, I mean, -- listen, I remember what they did Ronald Reagan. They belittled him and they said, oh, he can't possibly be smart enough to be president of the United States. He is simply an actor. The man turned out to be a great president.
And, you know, I think it is partly because those of us who don't spend our adult life in Washington, D.C. are seen to be -- somehow be deficient. But the great news is, most people don't spend their adult lives in Washington, D.C. The voters who make the determination in the elections are really looking for somebody who has got good judgment, common sense, and can relate to them.
And that is why governors have tended to be president of the United States: President Clinton, President Carter, President Reagan, and President Bush, I hope.
KING: Thanks for watching. We hope our encore interviews have given you some insights into the man who will be the 43rd president of the United States.
Happy continued holidays. Good-night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 13, 2000)
BUSH: Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests and I will work to earn your respect. I will be guided by President Jefferson's sense of purpose to stand for principal, to be reasonable in manner, and above all to do great good for the cause of freedom and harmony. The presidency is more than an honor; it is more than an office; It is a charge to keep, and I will give it my all.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com
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