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Interview With Laura Bush

Aired December 8, 2003 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, from the White House, the first lady of the United States, Laura Bush, for the hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We are here right inside the front entrance of the White House on this beautiful, lovely crisp December night, and we welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Laura Bush.

Where exactly are we?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Well, we're in the Cross Hall. This is the Blue Room right here to our right...

KING: A tree behind us.

BUSH: ... and the Green Room and the Red Room. And this is the grand foyer. This is where we come down the stairs for a state dinner and with the other head of states, the visiting heads of state.

And it's really a beautiful place. It's perfect for decorating for the holidays because of the red rug and the red drapes that are already here. So it's been really fun to decorate it and get ready.

KING: We're going to make a whole tour of that later on in the program, so stay tuned with us, and we'll show you all the highlights of this beautiful house.

Is it hard for you in troubled times, following a war? Does that diminish this any?

BUSH: No, not really. I mean, it's really -- every holiday season is always slightly bittersweet for everyone because of people that aren't with them over the holidays. And certainly this holiday, when we have so many American military men and women deployed, it's a bittersweet holiday for the families who are here separated from their loved ones. But there is always something really joyous about the holiday season, and certainly having the opportunity to decorate this beautiful house is always fun.

It's fun to show it off, have friends come, all the tours that get to see it. You know, it's really a very happy time of year here.

KING: Is it a social world for you?

BUSH: It's a social world. We have -- last night were the Kennedy Center honors. And we have the reception here before we go to the Kennedy Center for those honors. We have parties coming up every night this week.

All of the staff, the White House staff, the Secret Service, all have opportunities to have parties here during the holiday season. So we invite our friends and then a lot of people that we work with. It's very fun.

KING: And I noticed your in-laws were here, right?

BUSH: That's right. They were here because he made a tribute last night, President Bush, number 41, as we call him, to Loretta Lynn. So it was really nice having them stay with us.

KING: Do you deal painfully with the daily reports out of Iraq?

BUSH: Sure, absolutely.

KING: How do they affect you?

BUSH: I mean, that's a very painful part of this job. It's a painful time for our country when we lose people.

KING: Do you take it personally a little?

BUSH: No, not -- I wouldn't know if I would say it personally, but it is -- you know, it's wrenching. There's no doubt about it. Wrenching for us, but wrenching for everyone, for all Americans when they read about it.

It's really a difficult time, but it's also a very, very challenging time for our country. And Americans are strong. And I see it.

I see it everywhere I go. I see it when I visit military bases, when I visit Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval Hospital with the president.

One of the most moving times we had this year was when we visited the hospital and there were two soldiers who had been wounded in Iraq. Neither one were American citizens. And we were there while they were sworn in to become American citizens. And, you know, a tear came to our eyes for sure. It was really a special time.

KING: All right. Let's go back to that extraordinary surprise to Baghdad. When did Laura Bush know?

BUSH: Well, I knew about...

KING: I've never seen your whole story line.

BUSH: I knew fairly early, maybe at least six weeks out when they first started talking about. I knew that of course it was a big secret. I didn't mention it to anyone, and we didn't mention it to each other that often. You know, maybe once a week he would say, well, it looks like it's still on.

And then finally, on that Wednesday right before Thanksgiving, we knew that it was definitely on. And so I was there on the front porch to give George a hug when he and Condi got in the unmarked van to drive to the airport. He had just told the girls who were there for the holidays.

KING: That's when they learned?

BUSH: That's when they learned.

KING: When did your in-laws learn?

BUSH: They didn't learn until they got to the ranch the next morning for Thanksgiving dinner. And that's when they found out.

KING: Was this the best kept secret ever?

BUSH: I think it was really one of the best kept secrets ever.

KING: You'd have to go back to the A-bomb.

BUSH: It had to be a really good secret, because the security was so tight and because the president didn't want to jeopardize the lives of anyone to be able to do this.

KING: Did you have concerns?

BUSH: I was very concerned at first. By that Wednesday night, I knew they probably wouldn't go unless, you know, unless they really thought it was 99 percent safe. So I was not that concerned once they were really -- once they had left. And then when they landed, I got a call. I knew they had landed. And then they were wheeled up, I got a call and knew they were on their way home.

KING: How do you think he did it?

BUSH: How did he do it?

KING: I know. How did he pull this whole thing off? I mean, it was a great surprise.

BUSH: Well, I think just because so few people knew, and that was the way they could pull it off. It was just the generals who were on the ground there, and Bremer that knew there. Very few Secret Service even knew.

In fact, Dr. Rice usually stays in what we call the Governor's House, which was the little farmhouse that was on our property when we brought it that we lived in while we built our other house. And her agent stayed outside her house all that night while she was flying to Baghdad.

KING: What about the president's physician?

BUSH: Well, I'm sure they knew. I'm sure there was a doctor that was along.

KING: Yes. Because you have to be covered for that. BUSH: That's right.

KING: Are you going to go to Afghanistan?

BUSH: I hope so. I really hope I'll have the chance to go there. President Karzai has actually invited me when I ran into him in New York at the U.N. General Assembly. I'm hoping that by this time next year we'll have an American school in Kabul up in running, and a teachers' institute.

I'm working with a lot of people, including Karen Hughes, to make sure women who live in the more remote parts of Afghanistan can have a safe dorm to stay in when they come in to Kabul to be trained to teach, and then can go back to their villages. We want to be able to work within the traditional structure of Afghanistan. A lot of fathers and husbands don't want their wives to travel to Kabul unless they can live in a women's dorm in a safe way.

KING: So it looks like you're going.

BUSH: So I hope I'll have the chance to go. It's not scheduled. I don't have it on my schedule yet, but I'd love to have that chance.

KING: If you want to go, you go. What would change it?

BUSH: Well, I guess we just have to make the plans. The plans haven't really been made yet.

KING: It still looks pretty good?

BUSH: It looks pretty good.

KING: Are you going to be involved in this campaign?

BUSH: Sure.

KING: I mean, I know how much -- you worked hard for your father-in-law when he ran. You worked hard the last time. Do you like it?

BUSH: I do like it. I like seeing people. You know, politics is really just a people business, for people -- all politicians like people, they like to be with them. That's why they run for office.

And it gives me the chance -- I've already done a number of fund- raisers for my husband around the country. It gives me the chance to see friends, people who I've known from other campaigns and certainly from my husband's last campaign. To meet new friends who are new, new supporters of my husband.

KING: So you don't mind the, "here we go again?"

BUSH: Not at all. I mean, of course, no one likes the slings, the darts and arrows, or whatever they call it that come during a campaign. But also, by this point, believe me, we're used to it.

KING: When you see a "Time" magazine headline like a couple of weeks ago, "Love Him, Hate Him: Country Divided?" What does it do...

BUSH: Well, you know, of course, most of the people I see are the ones who say they...

KING: Love him?

BUSH: Yes. They want him to stay the course in Afghanistan, they realize what the stakes are for our country and how important it is for all of us to come together and really make sure we stay secure. But also, that's my husband's main responsibility as president. And I'm really proud of him.

I'm very proud of the job that he's done. And I'm proud of how steady he is.

KING: We're talking with Laura Bush. We're at the White House to kick off the Christmas season. We'll be back with the first lady of the United States.

Oprah Winfrey is with us tomorrow night, President Carter on Wednesday. It's not equal time; it just worked out that way. Tom Brokaw on Thursday. And Friday night, the former first lady, Betty Ford. Quite a week.

Right back at the White House with Laura Bush after this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere. Thanks for inviting me to dinner.




BUSH: One of the favorite (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the White House, and that is when we accept a tree from the Christmas tree grower who's been chosen this year to donate the tree to the White House. And it's the Chapman (ph) family from Wisconsin. This tree was actually grown on their farm, and we're so thrilled. We thank you very, very much. Thanks all of you.



KING: We're back at the White House. Don't forget, later in the program, the first lady and I will tour this most famous building in the world.

Speaking of famous buildings, what was it like to stay at Buckingham Palace?

BUSH: It was really fabulous. Unbelievable. I mean, it's like a fairy tale for Americans to have the chance to even tour Buckingham Palace, much less stay there.

It was beautiful. And, of course, her majesty, the queen, and Prince Philip, were very gracious and generous and nice to us when we stayed there. But it was really lovely. I had a lot of tours of the palace itself, saw the great picture gallery with the fabulous art that's there.

KING: Was that diamond and pearl necklace Barbara Bush's?

BUSH: That was Barbara Bush's. When she came to visit recently, I said, "We're going to Buckingham Palace, and do you have any big jewelry?" And she said, "Yes, I happen to have some big jewelry." So that was great to be able to borrow it from her.

KING: What do you make of our fascination with royals?

BUSH: I don't know. I think it is very interesting that Americans are so fascinated because, of course, we came over here, our forefathers and mothers, to get away from that. But I think it's a fairy tale quality, it's an interesting story quality that all Americans like to hear about.

KING: Do you like Prince Charles?

BUSH: I do like Prince Charles. I had him for a dinner partner one night. And I enjoyed sitting with him a lot.

KING: What was the trip like to Russia?

BUSH: The trip to Russia was terrific. Madame Putin and I had a book festival. And she had actually come here to the National Book Festival last year, and then had a book festival herself.

She invited librarians from around Russia. And it was really very interesting to be there with them during that time, and to see all these librarians who were so excited to get to be there and hear all these readers.

I took three American writers with me, three really best-selling writers. One of them, RL Stine, has the "Goosebumps" books, and he's very popular with children. And he did a reading. And even with having to use an interpreter, of course, which he did, it was great.

His grandparents had emigrated from Russia early in the last century. And so it was really wonderful to be able to bring him as one of our writers.

KING: We've had Mr. Putin on this show. He's quite a guy. What's his wife like?

BUSH: Lyudmila, I like her very much. I really like her a lot.

KING: They're very Western. I mean, they're very...

BUSH: Well, we hope so. I mean, that's what we hope, is that they'll... KING: No, they seem very at home.

BUSH: ... be that way. But they are. We've been with them a lot at our ranch and at their dacha outside of Moscow. And so we've had to have -- we've gotten to have a personal relationship with them, a friendship with them, which I think helps.

KING: And your husband hit it off with him almost immediately, didn't he?

BUSH: He did. He really does. He likes him a lot. And it's because we have a friendship and a personal relationship, it gives us the opportunity, certainly the president the opportunity, to say things to him in the spirit of friendship that maybe you couldn't say if we were still so adversarial.

KING: OK. What was the meeting like with Chirac? Was that difficult? I mean, owing to France's disagreements with us over Iraq and...

BUSH: No, I would not say it was, you know, at all difficult. I mean, he, of course, is very charming, like the French are. And it was nice of him, very nice of him, I think, to ask me there.

KING: Did you mind the kiss on the hand?

BUSH: No, not in the least.

KING: Were you surprised at all the attention it got?

BUSH: I was a little surprised at how the picture went around the world on the front page of papers, but...

KING: What were you supposed to do, not accept?

BUSH: It was fun. It was really interesting to be there. And the reason we were there, the reason I was there in Paris, is because the United States has rejoined UNESCO after an absence of about 19 years. And I was really glad to be able to represent the United States when we joined UNESCO.

UNESCO works on a lot of projects on literacy worldwide. And I'm really glad to be a part of that.

KING: What did you make of the resentment over the United States in parts of the world over Iraq?

BUSH: Well, I don't know that I would call it resentment, but -- that they felt. I think there was a sincere anti-war strain to it. But I also think if they had stood with us against Saddam Hussein and stood behind the resolution that they had all voted for, that maybe we wouldn't have had to go to war. So I wish they would have.

KING: Do you think it might have been avoided?

BUSH: Well, I hope so. I mean, I wish they had stood with us. You know, who knows what would have happened.

KING: What do you make of his still being around?

BUSH: Well, I don't know about that. I mean, I have no idea. I don't know anything that anyone else doesn't know from reading the newspaper.

KING: Are you surprised that there was reaction in Iraq, that it didn't go as smoothly as people thought it might?

BUSH: Well, no, not in the least. I mean, I don't know why we should be surprised. It's very, very difficult to build a democracy, you know?

I mean, we know that. We should know it from our own history. We've had 200 years to build our democracy. And we started off very fortuitously with people like Jefferson and Adams and Madison, and people who were really brilliant writers and could really build a wonderful Constitution.

So no one said it would be easy. I don't think any of us should have expected that it would be easy. Of course it's difficult.

One of the people who I admire very much that I've had the opportunity to meet since my husband has been president is Vaclav Havel, who was a freedom fighter in Czechoslovakia.

KING: Sure was.

BUSH: And then ended up being president of the Czech Republic. And he said to me when I visited Prague last year, he said, "You know, democracy is hard." We don't think of it that way, because we had all these generations before us that helped us build our democracy.

But he said, "It's hard. It requires the participation of everyone." And sometimes it's easier to be under a tyrant and just have the tyrant tell everyone what to do and the government to do everything. And maybe they don't do it very well, but it doesn't require the hard work and the participation of citizens that democracy does.

KING: Mandela.

BUSH: That's right.

KING: Amazing stories, aren't they?

BUSH: They're unbelievable stories. And when we look at these countries, Russia, the Czech Republic, all of these countries, they're just new democracies. They've just been building their democracies for 12 years.

KING: I remember the first time we met in Texas when you were on with your husband and you were just running for office...

BUSH: Yes. KING: ... then and starting. And then many times we've been here. What about this job has in the last three -- what surprised you? I mean you had a mother-in-law...

BUSH: That's right.

KING: ... who was here. Your father-in-law...

BUSH: I had a huge advantage, because I really did know a lot, and watched her, of course. I learned so much from Barbara Bush.

I knew what it was like to live here. I knew the house, and I knew the staff, really, because the White House staff is permanent. They're not political, the people who work here. And so I had met them over the years when I visited them.

But I think you're still always surprised by the magnitude of it, by the whole -- and maybe this has surprised me the most, and that is how important the United States of America is to the world right now. And that's just a fact of life in our country. Every country comes to us and wants us to help them in some way or another, or help solve a problem. And because they come and want help and ask us for help, they also blame us for a lot of things that really aren't our fault.

Not in every case, certainly. But that -- the huge role of the U.S. in the world, maybe it's not such a surprise to me, but it's certainly been reinforced, that idea.

KING: Betty Ford is here on Friday. We've had many first ladies on. What's the role of the first lady, as you see it?

BUSH: Well, I think the role of the first lady is really whatever the first lady wants to do. There's nothing written in the Constitution, there's no real...

KING: No pay.

BUSH: ... a legal role for the first lady. But when we look back, and certainly when you look at the life of Betty Ford and how she's helped people, first just by living her life, by letting people know what it was like to have breast cancer and by being very public about a disease that before that had really been taboo to even mention -- and how that helped us, by her strength of character.

And then, of course, the Betty Ford Centers and her bout with alcoholism. And once again, just by being so up front and having so much strength to let Americans know.

KING: So your advice would be, do what you want to do.

BUSH: That's right, to do what you want to do. And that's how we've been served, by all of our first ladies letting us know and inspiring us by their very passions. Lady Bird Johnson's love of the outdoors.

KING: We'll be back with more of Laura Bush, Christmas at the White House. Don't go away.


G. W. BUSH: Laura and I would like to ask Maggie (ph) and Andre (ph) to come up and turn on the lights, but I ask you all to join us in the national countdown, starting with five, four, two, three, two, one.





BUSH: ... used oil paints, and I really wanted watercolor, but as you can see, Barbara's watercolor is quite vivid. And I thought it was really perfect for this setting and the diplomatic reception room. I like this the way she did it, with the coziness of the two chairs that are here. I think that shows friendship. It also shows a great place to pull up a chair, to read, and then of course it's the very famous spot that Franklin Roosevelt gave his fireside chats.


KING: We're back with Laura Bush at the White House. In some ways, this coming campaign could be, win or lose, I guess, your last.

BUSH: That's right. That's right. It will be. It's sort of sad in that sense, although I guess I'm pretty happy in that sense too.

KING: If some day, let's say reelected or whatever, he was offered the commissionership of baseball? And would you say, take it?

BUSH: Sure, absolutely. I think that would be great.

KING: Because I think secretly it's a job anyone would want who's a baseball freak as he is.

BUSH: We had a really great time when he owned the Texas Ranchers. That was a lot of fun. Baseball is a great family business.

KING: It sure is.

BUSH: And it was fun to take those little girls, who were little then, to 60 baseball games a year.

KING: So if he wanted a job...

BUSH: But politics is also a family business.

KING: So if he wanted that job, and it were offered, you'd say take it? BUSH: Sure. Absolutely.

KING: And you'd go to games? Because no one sits in front of the commissioner.

BUSH: You get to be on the front row every time.

KING: How are Jenna and Barbara doing?

BUSH: They're doing great.

KING: They're both seniors now, huh?

BUSH: That's right. They're seniors. They're doing very well in school. They're good girls.

KING: What are their majors?

BUSH: Jenna is majoring in English, and Barbara is majoring in humanities.

KING: And they hope to do?

BUSH: Well, they don't know. They're thinking about what they'll do next year. They're both interested in teaching, which makes me proud, because I think that's a really good thing to do. And they're both considering graduate school, but that would be later. I think they want to work for a while first.

KING: Any boyfriends yet?

BUSH: No serious boyfriends. No marriage, in other words. No White House wedding coming up anytime soon.

KING: Do you want that soon, or...

BUSH: Sure. I want a lot of grandkids soon. But I think I'll wait until they find somebody they really love.

KING: We know about your reading of books. Are you going to write one?

BUSH: I don't really have plans to write one, but I hope I write one someday. I'm so proud that my mother-in-law can write those books.

KING: What did you think of her -- we had her on.

BUSH: I thought she was great.

KING: You said you watched it.

BUSH: I watched it, I did. I got a copy of it, because we were in Asia on that trip when she was on. But I love to watch Barbara Bush and to be with her. She's so natural and funny and fun to be with and very entertaining. People think of her as sort of grandmotherly, but actually she's who you want to sit by at a dinner party. She'll keep you entertained.

KING: Were you a reader a lot as a kid?

BUSH: Yes. I always read. My mother read to me. And I loved reading so much so that I made it my career as a librarian.

KING: Are we kind of fighting a Quijote war in an age of television, when they have all this -- 500 channels exposed to them, and you're telling them go read a book?

BUSH: In a little bit. In some ways, I think. There's supposedly what's called a-literacy, people who are literate, who can read, but who don't read, and who just watch television or do other things like that.

Reading has been such a huge part of my life and really such an important part of my life, that I can't imagine a life spent without reading. And that's what I want for everyone. I certainly want that for all children, and that is to spend a life filled with reading and books. And if you do that, then your life is filled with ideas and interests, and it's something you can have forever. And it's also a great way just to be a lifelong learner, to learn your whole life about things that maybe you didn't think you were that interested in when you were young.

KING: Did you read Hillary Clinton's book?

BUSH: No, I didn't read her books, but I read some excerpts of her book. But I'm reading Barbara Bush's book right now.

KING: What do you think of Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton? Does she -- a lot of people in the Senate, Republicans alike, admire her as a senator.

BUSH: I admire her as a senator. I think she's doing a very good job for her -- I know she works hard.

KING: Do you -- how do you look at the opposition? You know, there's nine running, you know that's going to be weeded down. There will be one eventually. Do you look at them, do you read about them?

BUSH: Yes, sure, I read the newspaper articles about them. Not every one, probably, but some of them. And you know, we're right now -- at this stage, we're wondering who the candidate will be. And the campaign will take on a very different aspect when there is a single candidate on the other side. And that's when the campaign will really start for us, I think.

But now it's interesting. The process is interesting. It's interesting to read about all of them.

KING: What do you make of Governor Dean?


BUSH: Well, I know Governor Dean, of course. I mean, he was the governor at the same time my husband was, and we knew each other in...

KING: Governors' conferences?

BUSH: The National Governors Association.

KING: Like him?

BUSH: Sure. I mean, I enjoyed being with him then. I will have to say there's another person who I think will make the best president, and that's the one who's president right now.

KING: Are you surprised at how well Dean has done, though?

BUSH: Well, not really. I mean, it's interesting. The whole political process is very interesting.

I remember when we were the ones who were in New Hampshire all the time and in Iowa all the time. And actually, when you are running for office, and when you're elected to this office, you have a great fondness for the people in New Hampshire and Iowa. You know those states better than almost any of the others, because that's where you spent so much of the time before the caucus and the primary.

KING: And we will not forget the South Carolina debate, which I moderated.

BUSH: Absolutely. Absolutely. And South Carolina. We have a very special spot for South Carolina.

KING: What a night that was, that debate. It changed that election that night, but it was --- did you like primaries, though?

BUSH: Sure. I guess so. I mean, they were interesting to do, and those debates were interesting.

When Mr. Bush, president, number 41 debated, I could barely stand to watch on television because I was so nervous. And then, of course, when my husband ran, I had to sit on the front row. But he did a great job. And it's, you know, those are all really -- they're -- like you say, they're times that you remember -- you know, that I'll remember for my whole life.

KING: Yes. Is the distasteful part, is that tough to handle? Or, I mean...


BUSH: What is tough to handle...

KING: ... gets rough on both sides?

BUSH: It's tough to handle, but it's also, at this point, in our lives, so -- I guess you never really get used to it. But it's so much a part of American political life and American politics. And after being as involved in as many races as we have been, I guess you just get used to it.

KING: We'll take a break, come back with our remaining moments with Laura Bush. We'll get our plans for the holidays so we know what they're doing. Unless there's a surprise coming again.

Don't go away.



BUSH: Our centerpiece in this room is the fabulous chocolate factory from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pastry chief put this chocolate factory together, and as you can tell, the chocolate is pouring now on top of the cake. So I think it's really pretty fabulous.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments in the discussion period with Laura Bush. There will be two segments where we tour the house at Christmastime. We're at the White House on this Monday evening.

The National Book Festival.

BUSH: That's right. This was our third National Book Festival. It was a beautiful weekend, and 70,000 people came on to the Mall here, the Washington Mall to hear their favorite writers read from their books or talk about their books. It was really a huge success. And I'm proud of it.

The Texas Book Festival was in its eighth year this year, and I started that one when George was governor of Texas. I love the idea of our National Mall being turned over for the weekend to art and to authors and to literature and to writers.

KING: You love of the feel of the book, don't you? Book.

BUSH: I do. I love the feel and the look and the smell.


BUSH: The whole way books are. And I think that's one reason we'll always have books, even though people do a lot of their reading now, of course, on a computer screen. But there's something so great about actually holding a book.

KING: What's the Foundation for American Libraries?

BUSH: It's a foundation that I started that gives money to school libraries. And we made our first round of grants last spring. We gave money to 132 school libraries across the nation. And over 6,000 libraries applied for the grants, which shows how desperate school libraries are.

So I want to urge all your viewers to pay attention to their closest school library. Especially their closest public school library, and figure out ways you can get great new books into the hands of children with your school libraries.

KING: Now you're also into the heart area...

BUSH: The Heart Truth Campaign.

KING: We have the Larry King Cardiac Foundation.

BUSH: I know you do. That's great.

KING: It helps people get heart services. My wife has even recorded a song that benefits will go to it. She's going to sing it Friday night on this show.

BUSH: Great.

KING: And tell me about Heart Truth.

BUSH: Well, I found out -- I didn't know this. I didn't realize that heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined. And I think most women really think about breast cancer or other cancers like that, and they're not so aware that heart disease is the number one killer of women. And, in fact, a lot of times the symptoms of a heart attack are a little bit different in women than men.

KING: Oh, really?

BUSH: And on average, women go to the hospital about an hour later than men do when men or women have a heart attack.

KING: I didn't know that.

BUSH: And so they suffer more damage, because they don't get there right away. So I'm urging women to pay attention to their bodies, to prevent heart disease in all the ways you know you can prevent it, by not smoking, by losing weight, staying at a good weight, not becoming obese, by eating healthy, a heart-healthy diet, and by getting good exercise. All of those things are really important for everyone.

KING: We are an obese country.

BUSH: That's right. And children who are obese are going to have heart problems later. So it's really important for everyone, for parents and teachers and schools and vouchers (ph) to urge American parents to make sure their children get a healthy diet and that they get exercise.

KING: Let's run down the Bush Christmas. You stay here through?

BUSH: We'll stay here through the 22nd. The night of the 22nd is our Hanukkah party at the White House, where we light the Menorah. KING: My people!

BUSH: And this is a party we've had for three years. And our Jewish friends from around the country come in for the Hanukkah party.

And then we'll go to Camp David with my mother and our girls, of course, and the Bushes, and George's brother and his family, and his sister and her family. And then the day after Christmas we'll go to the ranch. So we'll get to spend New Year's there.

KING: Is Jeb coming up?

BUSH: Jeb won't be coming up. He'll be staying in his state for Christmas.

KING: And you stay in Crawford how long?

BUSH: We'll get to stay through New Year's. I'm really looking forward to that. And no surprises.


BUSH: Not this Christmas.

KING: New Year's Eve, what do you do?

BUSH: New Year's Eve we usually have friends come. A lot of our good Texas friends come, and we have a New Year's dinner, a New Year's Eve dinner. We usually don't stay up until midnight.


BUSH: We've just gotten to be too old now.


BUSH: But we do get up for -- and we've done this really since the millennium, New Year's 2000, we get up and go for a sunrise walk. And that's a special way to start the new year for both of us, to be able to go on that sunrise walk together.

KING: We know how much he lives the ranch. Do you?

BUSH: I love the ranch. I love being there...

KING: Because you're a big city girl.

BUSH: I'm a big city girl. Well, Midland, Texas isn't that big of a city. But Dallas and Houston and the other places...

KING: Close to it.

BUSH: ... I've lived. But I love being out there. We've re- seeded the Navy (ph) prairie grasses all around our house. And wildflowers, we had a spectacular wildflower show last spring. And this summer we heard (UNINTELLIGIBLE) quails back on our property. We hadn't had quail there in I don't know how many years. But I think they were attracted because of the Navy (ph) grass that we planted.

KING: A few other things. The extraordinary health of your father-in-law.

BUSH: He's in great shape.

KING: He's 80.

BUSH: Eighty, and he's planning his, you know...

KING: I'm going to jump...

BUSH: ... jump out of the plane.

KING: He's forced me to jump that day.

BUSH: Well, good luck, Larry.

KING: How does he do these -- how does -- he's...

BUSH: He's just in great shape.

KING: He looks extraordinary.

BUSH: He's a great guy. He's always exercised, of course, his whole life. And he's a lot of fun to be with and a really wonderful grandfather to our children.

KING: Will you live in Crawford when all this is over?

BUSH: I think we'll probably live in Crawford and probably Dallas, too.

KING: Do you think you will, whether it's sooner or later -- certainly you know definitely if it's later, you're going to have four more years -- you think you'll miss this?

BUSH: Sure, of course. I'm sure everyone's that had the opportunity to live here misses it when they leave. In fact, I remember once reading a quote of Linda Johnson Braabs (ph), who said she looked back on it when she got to live here as a beautiful dream. And so that's how it happens. It's a beautiful place.

KING: Not a bad place. When we come back, we'll show you this beautiful place at Christmastime. Laura and I will give you a little mini tour in the next two segments of LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't go away.


KING: We're going to conclude tonight's special edition of LARRY KING LIVE with two segments devoted to the wonderful, beautiful way they've done the White House for Christmas this year, and the first lady continues with us. We're in the East Room.

BUSH: That's right, the East Room. And as you know, the theme is the season of stories. And so we have "Harry Potter" here.

"Harry Potter" has really made kids read. Little boys are really reading "Harry Potter" all around the country. And I think that's terrific.

KING: The world.

BUSH: Around the world, absolutely. I read them all this summer.

KING: You did?

BUSH: And I loved them.

KING: I have no surprise that storybook would be your theme somehow. What do you love about him?

BUSH: Well, I just love how imaginative J.K. Rowling is. That the stories are very creative. They're actually pretty adult. They're also great for adults to read, especially as you get on into the fifth volume. But I loved it this summer.

I had all five of them to read, because I never started them before. So I had her whole body of work to read at once in the summer.

KING: Did you supervise the whole setup of this?

BUSH: I supervised the whole thing. We picked the theme, the season of stories. And of course I picked the stories that I love best.

So on another mantle over here we have "Little Women," which is my favorite book. It was the book I remember the most, with reading my mother.

KING: That's over there.

BUSH: And Jo, of course, in "Little Women" is one of my favorite characters in all of American literature.

KING: The trees came from who?

BUSH: The trees came from Wisconsin and really from all over the United States. And the decorations are all candy. As you can see, these are all real glass ornaments, but they are cupcakes and peppermints and candy canes.

KING: As my little boy has discovered.

BUSH: Yes, exactly. So it's a perfect Christmas decoration for children.

KING: That's just beautiful. We're going to head into the -- I guess this is the main tree area, right?

BUSH: That's right. We're going to the Blue Room, where the tree is. This is the big Christmas tree in the Blue Room, the traditional Christmas tree. It is actually from the farm in Wisconsin.

And it's huge. It's so huge, they take down the chandelier, and then they secure the tree up there where the chandelier hook is.

And these decorations, all of these storybook characters -- and I think there are about 70 of them -- are on loan from the Bush Library, because the very first Christmas my in-laws were here, Barbara Bush, of course, had these stories as her Christmas decorations. And so I sort of hesitated from doing this theme, because she did it. But then I thought it's perfect. We like to pass down our ornaments, and so it's really nice to have...

KING: Beautiful ornaments.


BUSH: Barbara and Jenna's grandparents' ornaments on this tree.

KING: Now, this tree just came here one week ago. Because I saw the arrival...

BUSH: That's right. And it was very fresh. They had just cut it at the tree farm...

KING: How do they do all this so fast?

BUSH: Well, they have a lot of volunteers that come volunteer for us, and decorators from around the country, friends of mine who love to do this come, and they spend all week. And there is that point on the Tuesday before the first part on Wednesday, where you think, oh no, this year they're not going to be able to get it together. But of course they do.

And isn't it great? And on this tree we have Little Red Riding Hood and Gretel from Hansel and Gretel. And at the top we have the Queen of Hearts.

KING: Yes.

BUSH: There at the very top. And just every storybook character you can think of us is on this tree.

KING: Now today -- earlier today, you entertained kids here.

BUSH: That's right. We had the traditional kids' party, children's party at the White House. This year we hosted children who have at least one parent deployed, either in Afghanistan or in Iraq.

And because we set it up a little bit differently, we could have a lot more children. So some children were in here with Santa Claus, and some were in by the gingerbread house with Roland (ph), the pastry chef. And then we all came together in the East Room for the Washington Ballet to dance a little bit of the Nutcracker.

KING: You plan all this, huh?


BUSH: I do. Well, I plan on it, plan all of it. And then, of course, I have a lot of help. For instance, these were all made by the florists that were here. And, in fact, they made these ornaments for Barbara Bush 14 years ago.

KING: Wow.

BUSH: And they make everything now.

KING: One thing on the tree, Laura. How is it picked?

BUSH: Every year the national Christmas tree growers pick the actual tree.

KING: Oh, they pick it.

BUSH: They pick the farm, I guess, that's going to donate the tree.

KING: Beautiful tree.

BUSH: And it's beautiful. And this year it was a couple from Wisconsin who have a long history of growing Christmas trees. And they grow for the big retail Christmas tree market all over the United States.

KING: We're going to go to break. When we come back, we're going to see that gingerbread house as we walk to the next room with Laura Bush on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Say, "We'll be right back."

BUSH: We'll be right back.


G. W. BUSH: Sure glad you're here. Welcome to the White House. Thanks for coming. I hope you've had fun today. I'll make sure the guards are watching that you didn't eat pieces of the gingerbread house.




BUSH: We're here at the really magnificent gingerbread house. This is always spectacular, every year that Roland (ph) has done it, which has been for what, 28 years?


BUSH: Twenty-five years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This here, we changed a little bit of the structure of the White House, we cheated a little bit, because we needed a lot of wall space to exhibit all the characters from the book. So we made -- we actually changed the house and made it tall. So we cheated a little bit on that, on the design. But it's a very fun project, as you can see, to do all these figurines and things, and I know the children are going to have a wonderful time discovering their favorite books. So they're all here, as many as we could do, and we hope that everybody will enjoy that.


KING: As we enter the dining room, wow.

BUSH: This is the State Dining Room. And this is the big table where we have the buffets for all the receptions that we have. And of course the florists and everyone who builds everything for the White House did this really wonderful "Alice in Wonderland." We have the rabbit, of course, and Alice, and the Mad Hatter, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, who I think are really adorable.

KING: Which one's which?

BUSH: Yes, I don't know which one's which. I guess we can just name either one. And on the other side of the table we have the Queen of Hearts and the Chesshire Cat. And at night, when there are big parties here, this is the table that's filled with the buffet.

This is such a really beautiful room. The really significant thing about the dining room, of course, is the fabulous portrait of Lincoln that's above the mantle.

KING: There's such a great tribute to reading, too.

BUSH: I hope so. I hope it will make everyone remember that books are a great gift at Christmas. And when you give children books, then you're letting them know that reading is important to you and that you want it to be important to them.

KING: Why do children love to read the same thing over and over? Read it again.

BUSH: I think that's really a way that they learn to speak and learn to read and learn words. And that pattern of nursery rhymes, for instance, or stories, I think there's something very comforting about repeating the stories over and over.

KING: Tell us about this magnificent edifice.

BUSH: Well, Roland (ph), our pastry chef, as you can tell, is a genius. And look at this. This is the White House, and all these storybook characters around the White House. "The Cat in the Hat" standing right here at the front. Every storybook character you can think of. There's one of the little pigs. In this little window right here, this is a favorite story that we loved reading for the girls when they were babies. It's "Good Night Moon," and that's the Green Room right there in the White House.

And look who I brought in to show you the gingerbread house.

G. W. BUSH: Happy holidays.

KING: Same to you, my friend.

G. W. BUSH: You're looking good.

KING: Feel good -- you too.

G. W. BUSH: Yes, I'm feeling good.


KING: Can I pick him up?

L. BUSH: Yes. He's kind of heavy, too. He's a good boy. He's a good boy.

G. W. BUSH: He wants to be in the picture.

L. BUSH: Spotty wants to be in the picture, too. Come on Spotty.

KING: Spotty.

G. W. BUSH: How are you doing?

KING: I'm doing great -- you?

G. W. BUSH: Real good, thanks.

KING: Feel good?

G. W. BUSH: Feeling great.

KING: Getting all primed?

G. W. BUSH: Getting all primed.

KING: Do you get ready for a campaign? Are you just geared?

G. W. BUSH: No, not right now. You know, when you're an incumbent, you do your job. And I've got a lot on my agenda these days.

KING: I've heard.

G. W. BUSH: And you know, the politics will come in its own time. We've got about a year, about 11 months before the people vote. And there'll be ample time for campaigns.

KING: Your lady has done a wonderful job in this house.

G. W. BUSH: She has. She's doing a heck of a good job.

L. BUSH: He's pretending like he actually did all of the decorations.

KING: Did you do anything?

G. W. BUSH: No. Actually, I came and thanked all of the decorators.

KING: You know what, walking in like this? I'm getting to think that you've become Mr. Surprise.

G. W. BUSH: You think so? This is about as big as going to Baghdad, dropping in on Larry King.

KING: Mr. President, it's an honor. I'm so happy that you just walked in. We're right at the end of the show. You can close the show with us.

G. W. BUSH: Oh, well, good. Thanks.

L. BUSH: Great, perfect.

KING: This is a great Christmas.

G. W. BUSH: It is. We want all our fellow Americans to have a great holiday season. And we especially extend, you know, our greetings and joy to our troops overseas. There are some fine people that are serving our country. And I know it's hard for their families to be separated.

The sacrifices they're making on all our behalf is noble.

KING: Is that the hardest thing about being president, sending people off?

G. W. BUSH: Well, it's a tough part about being -- doing -- being the president. But I believe so strongly in what we're doing, that we're at war. And I want to win the war. My job is to protect the American people and promote the peace, and that's what we're doing. And our troops are doing that. And for that we're very grateful.


KING: It's tough, though, to know, even with the strong belief, that you're sending them somewhere in peril.

G. W. BUSH: Of course it is. Of course it is. It is.

KING: But the rewards are great. G. W. BUSH: I think no question. America's is going to be more secure and the world will be more peaceful. And that's really important.

L. BUSH: And that's our hope for the holidays, peace.

G. W. BUSH: It is.

KING: Not a bad wish.

I'll be back in a minute to close it off. Don't go away.


KING: Aaron Brown is next with "NEWSNIGHT." Oprah Winfrey tomorrow night.

We're with the Bushes. It's Christmastime in Washington. Say good night.

L. BUSH: Happy Holidays.

G. W. BUSH: Good night.

KING: Bye.


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