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Interview with Former President George Bush and Wife Barbara Bush

Aired June 9, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive. Former President George Herbert Walker Bush, and Barbara Bush. The only interview together on the death of President Ronald Reagan, whose body now lies in state in the nation's Capitol. President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, exclusive, next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: Good evening. It's a great honor for us to be at the Houstonian Hotel in Houston, Texas, to talk with the 41st president of the United States and his wife, the former first lady. George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Bush. We have been with them on many occasions. This is one of the sadder ones, the death of Ronald Reagan.

How did you learn of it, President Bush?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just heard of it -- somebody came rushing in and said they had heard on the news, so there was no inside information. And of course it made a profound impact on both Barbara and me because we loved the man.

KING: Tell me your first thought, Barbara. Was it shock? At 93, maybe not?

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: No, not 93, but 10 long years for Nancy, I think. I thought this would be very lonely for her afterwards. On the other hand, what a terrible 10-year period she had. So I think she'll be happy knowing he's in heaven, and that's what I really thought.

I had a brother-in-law who had Alzheimer's...

KING: Oh, you did.

B. BUSH: And I know that my sister, at first, missed caring for him. On the other hand, it was such a burden.

KING: In a sense, kind of a blessing, Mr. President?

G. BUSH: Oh, definitely. The battle's over, the victory won. I mean, he fought this thing and without a lot of cognizance, but I think everybody said, look, it's been a long, long time. It's been a terrible burden on loyal, wonderful Nancy. But life goes on, and at 93, he's got so much that -- his life meant so much to so many people that I think it's now a celebration, rather than a sadness.

KING: And the two of you, of course, all of you are going to be interconnected forever in history. You were his vice president. We'll get into a lot of that. One thing I want to talk about right away is this Saturday night, you're going to turn 80.

Your 80th birthday party is here in Houston at Minute Maid Park. I'm proud to be the emcee of this. You're going to jump out of a parachute -- you're going to jump with a parachute, not out of a parachute the next day. My doctor would not let me go with you. I had planned to go.

G. BUSH: I know.

KING: Do you still think he's a little nuts to do this?

B. BUSH: No, no. I think this is what he wants to do. I know he's safer than safe, so I'm not going to worry.

KING: Were there any thoughts to canceling?

G. BUSH: Well, I think there was some thought, and then we said, look, after a week of mourning, a week of great sadness, life goes on. And in this case, we've got five world leaders, former world leaders, coming here. We've got 5,000 people. We've got a lot of planning that went into it. And so I think in the final analysis, the committee decided that it should go on. And I think that was the right decision.

KING: And the Points of Light are the charity that benefits from this.

G. BUSH: Points of Light, plus the MD Anderson Cancer Center, plus the George Bush Library Foundation which has our school and our museum there.

KING: So it will be my honor to be master of ceremonies.

B. BUSH: Well, I'll bet you, Ronald Reagan would have loved it.

KING: He would have. He would have had a good time, with the talent, especially.

B. BUSH: That's right.

KING: This is the first presidential funeral in the nation's capital in 31 years. The last was LBJ's, back in 1973, and you're going to speak. Have you already prepared your remarks?

G. BUSH: I'm working on them. Larry, I've got a problem. Maybe you can help me with it. I get too emotional. I get too emotional if I'm speaking, eulogizing somebody I loved. And in this instance, I felt very close to the president.

KING: So it will be emotional?

G. BUSH: Well...

KING: Why not let it...


G. BUSH: ... up there and not be able to say anything. So I'll try. I'll rehearse it, and I'm working on it. Mine's very short. The president is giving the main address there. And I was very flattered that Nancy wanted me to come and do this, but I'm going to try my hardest to get through this.

B. BUSH: Tell what Ronald Reagan told you about that.

G. BUSH: I'd asked him after Normandy -- I said, "Mr. President, how do you get through an emotional speech like that?" He said, "I wrote it down, and then I read it, over and over again to myself, out loud, but to myself. And he said, "after a while, I get used to the words and I'd know what they were, but I didn't feel it quite as much in my heart."

But he was a master at that. Once in a while, he got emotional. He did a little bit on that Pointe de Hoc speech, but he was a superb communicator and...

KING: What was it like -- what was it like to run against him? You challenged him in 1980 and that -- and back and forth in the primaries.

G. BUSH: That was pretty tough. It was pretty tough. We had some differences, but we had a lot of things in common, but he blew me away pretty early, although we did carry some pretty good-sized states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, a few others. Iowa was good to me.

But it became clear that the country wanted him, that our party wanted him, and it was a marvelous moment when he called me at the hotel there and said he wanted me to be on his ticket because the common wisdom was that it was going to be Gerald Ford...

KING: Who last night told us that they discussed it, and it just didn't work.

G. BUSH: Yes, well, that was my break.

KING: How did he ask you?

G. BUSH: He just called up -- picked up the telephone.

KING: He was on the phone.

G. BUSH: Yes, and just a few minutes before that, I'd said to our son, Jeb, now the governor of Florida, who was saying, "Dad, this isn't fair, that you ought to get this." I said, "Nobody owes us a thing, Jeb, and it looks like it's going to be Gerald Ford. We're going to keep our heads high and go back to our life, and..."

KING: The phone rang.

G. BUSH: The phone rang. It's amazing.

KING: Now, what, did he simply say...

G. BUSH: He said, George, I've been thinking about this, and I'd like you to be my running mate, or something like that. And he said something -- well, can you support -- I hope you can support the platform, or something like that. I said, no problem. And it was a great experience, perhaps the greatest, in a sense, in my life, because it gave me real preparation for what followed.

KING: Were you happy that he decided to go for the vice presidency?

B. BUSH: Yes. He didn't run for the vice presidency...

KING: Or that he accepted the offer.

B. BUSH: But once -- you know, other people were running for the vice presidency, and I got thinking, well -- I don't mean Gerry Ford, either. But...

KING: No, there were others that were ...

B. BUSH: There were others who wanted it, and their great speech was going to come, or something, and I got sort of competitive, I have to confess. And so George is a much better man...

KING: Surprise.

B. BUSH: That's right.

KING: Was he a great president? The word great can get bandied around easily. Was he a great president?

G. BUSH: I think so. I think history will say that. And a lot of it had to do -- a lot of it had to do with accomplishments, the Reagan Revolution, you might say, in terms of hammering home the need for lower taxes. People forget that the highest rate, maybe not when he became president, it was up around 90 percent.

And Reagan articulated -- President Reagan articulated the need to get taxes down, even though, Larry, he had to compromise a time or two on increasing them. But his greatness stemmed from his adherence to principle. You knew where he was on the issue.

He was not sticking a finger up in the wind to see what the polls were doing, or which way the wind was blowing, and so he was great at that. But the side that I think I probably saw better than most Americans was this personal side...

KING: Tell me about it. G. BUSH: The American people understood it, but I saw it, up close and personal, because every Thursday I'd have a lunch with him -- or sometimes it was Wednesday, mostly it was Thursday -- had lunch there, and we'd talk, no agenda, no briefing papers. And what I saw was a certain decency and a certain sense of honor and a great sense of humor. And it was wonderful. Even when things were going tough, he'd tell me a joke, or I would him.

But it was that personal side of him that I hadn't known when I was chairman of the Republican Party.

KING: And did he involve -- I mean, were you on top of everything? Some vice presidents have been, like, let me know what's going on.

G. BUSH: Well, he did, and that was the great thing. I think I was one of a very few handful of people that could just walk into his office. But, yes, I had certain assignments. I loved it when I went abroad for him. People say that, well -- they said about me going to the Soviet Union, "you die, Bush will fly."

Well, the funny thing is, I met Gorbachev for the first time and sent President Reagan a cable that I think today would hold up in my observation. But that was a wonderful assignment. There are many others, too, and I had things that domestically...

KING: And I understand, President Gorbachev will be, Saturday night -- in addition at the funeral, he'll be, Saturday night, at the birthday party.

G. BUSH: I hope he will. I think so.

KING: We'll take a break, and we'll be right back with the Bushes in Houston. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: We're back at the Houstonian Hotel in Houston, Texas, with the 41st president of the United States -- the only living president, now, with an airport named after him. We had two living presidents with airports named after them, Reagan National, and now there's just Bush International here in Houston.

What's that like, by the way, to have an airport named after you?

G. BUSH: A great honor. It's a wonderful honor.

KING: I mean, you fly in there.

G. BUSH: Well, when I hear them say, "flying into Bush, fasten your seat belts," you know, you get a personal charge out of all of that.

KING: Sad thing was President Reagan, he never got to fly into Reagan National.

G. BUSH: I think you're right.

B. BUSH: But he knew it, didn't he? I'm sure he knew it.

KING: And you had a relative with Alzheimer's. How difficult was...

B. BUSH: My brother-in-law. Well, for my sister, it was terrible. But he was lucky, and I say this in -- well, he was lucky. He died in five years. That's lucky. The first three or four -- or two years -- were very, very difficult, though, because he knew there was something, as I'm sure the president did.

That's very difficult. But I think now that my sister was lucky.

KING: How difficult was it for you on those occasions when there had to be -- when you didn't agree with President Reagan?

G. BUSH: Well, it wasn't very difficult, because I vowed that when I was accepted for this job, then elected with him, that I would not deviate publicly from what he said. So it wasn't difficult, because when I had a nuance of difference, I could talk to him like you and I are talking now, but without any cameras, and tell him what I thought.

He never got angry, or he never said, wait just a minute, you're on the wrong track here. And I always felt he welcomed suggestions that might deviate a little bit.

KING: In other words, he wanted to hear -- some presidents, they say, don't want to hear.

G. BUSH: Well, I think he did. And there weren't that many occasions. But at times, there were some related to personnel in his administration that I might have a different view on how they were treating him.

KING: In fact, there's a story in today's "New York Times," I don't know if you saw it, that you had this desire to see Donald Regan go.

B. BUSH: Me?

KING: Yes.

B. BUSH: No, that was not I.

KING: It says you and Nancy had a disagreement over who ought to tell the president...

B. BUSH: We never discussed that.

KING: Well, it was in "The New York Times" today.

B. BUSH: Well, what you read in the "New York Times" might not always be true.

KING: You and Nancy get along?

B. BUSH: Yes, and we never...

KING: Because the story implied that...

B. BUSH: We would never have discussed something like that. Maybe George would have, with the president, but I never discussed that.

KING: They had the two of you discussing it.

G. BUSH: What they had in there was totally inaccurate in terms of fact.

KING: Did you see it?

G. BUSH: Yes, I did, but I don't like to dwell on that kind of stuff.

B. BUSH: Oh, really? It wasn't about you and Nancy, it was me and -- we didn't -- we never discussed that. And I think it would be offensive to Nancy and to me.

KING: Why did they -- where does a story like that come from, then? If the only people that know about it are the four of you?

G. BUSH: I remember distinctly President Reagan asking me if I'd talked to Don Regan about leaving, and I did. And so I remember intervening, but at his request. I wouldn't have done that without that.

KING: He told me in an interview we did in 1991, which we're going to replay Sunday night, that the hardest part to him was to fire someone.

G. BUSH: Well, he hated it. That's why I said, when there might be a difference, nuances of difference, they might be about personnel or something like that. But I would never go public with that. I mean, he was the president. I was the vice president. And he -- I owed him my loyalty as well as my judgment.

KING: Was that hard, though?

G. BUSH: No.


G. BUSH: I have no personal agenda. It came later, when I was running for president, and when I was president. But no, it wasn't hard.

KING: Did you like being Mrs. Vice President?

B. BUSH: Loved it. You could say anything you wanted, and nobody cared. You became the wife of the president, you couldn't say anything, everybody cared. KING: And you wanted to say things.

B. BUSH: I did, I'm afraid.

KING: Let's talk about his faith. Was he a strong believer?

G. BUSH: If you let me use a note on faith -- I didn't know whether we were going to discuss it or not but in his letter to the American people about his Alzheimer's, there was a couple of really nice references that I felt were pretty good.

"I'm now about to begin the journey into the sunset of my life. For America, I know there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

Another -- "When God calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours." And then I just sketched out one more. He believed that it came from somewhere, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), he quoted Jefferson often, and here's the quote, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty as well." And then he spoke to the great beyond.

So he had a strong faith. He wasn't always beating his chest about it, but he had a strong conviction that there was a hereafter. I think there was one reference in here where he talked about the difference between Communist and Marxist state and a lot of the rest of the world, but he believed in God and believed in the hereafter.

KING: And you share that belief?

G. BUSH: Oh, yes.

KING: We asked the Fords about this last night. Not to be maudlin, but do you know where your resting place will be?

B. BUSH: You bet, and I'd be glad to show it to you.

KING: Where is it?

B. BUSH: It's at College Station.

KING: At the library?

B. BUSH: It's the prettiest place you've ever saw.

G. BUSH: Yes, our daughter's already buried there.

KING: The one that died? How old was she?

B. BUSH: Almost four.

G. BUSH: But that was 50-some years ago.

KING: And you...

G. BUSH: ... a little stone.

KING: And you'll be buried together there, right?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Is that maudlin or comforting?

G. BUSH: It's very comforting to us...

KING: Betty Ford said that is comforting?

B. BUSH: It is comforting.

G. BUSH: I went by there and these guys were working like mad. I said, slow down, you fellows. And they -- but it's beautiful.

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


KING: We're back at the Houstonian Hotel in Houston, Texas with the 41st president of the United States and his wife, the former first lady, George and Barbara Bush. They will be at the funeral ceremony on Friday morning. We'll be anchoring the ceremony, the burial ceremony, on Friday afternoon at 9:00, regular LARRY KING LIVE time.

Where were you when President Reagan was shot?

G. BUSH: I was in Texas, in Fort Worth, and we heard that he was shot. The Secret Service rushed me back out to the airplane, Air Force Two, and as soon as we could, we headed back to Washington. But it was a real shock.

But you know something, Larry? I said it at the time, I'll repeat it here, I didn't think about the loneliest burden in the world, the job of the presidency falling on my shoulders. We didn't know enough about what was happening. I thought that a friend had been shot. I thought it would be just a personal thing like that.

And then, of course, as time went on, and you had all the debate, who was running the country, and landing where -- it changed a little bit, but that was my first reaction. And that's what I'm trying to say about Ronald Reagan, you just felt -- you felt a sense of friendship and closeness to the guy. We did, Barbara and I did.

KING: Where were you?

B. BUSH: I was actually just coming back from a luncheon with Nancy Reagan. We'd gone to -- now I -- Phillips Gallery, I think, at a luncheon. And then -- it was pretty scary. Ed Meese came out to the vice president's house to tell me, which was very thoughtful.

KING: Did it at all enter your mind that you might be first lady?

B. BUSH: No, because Ed said George was coming back -- not at all. That sounds terribly stupid, but it didn't. I just wanted to be sure George was safe and back and that the president ...

KING: Didn't you have to think about it on that plane flight?

G. BUSH: A little bit -- back, I wrote some notes that are up there in my library, and I can't remember exactly what they were. But I didn't dwell on it, because we really didn't know how serious -- we get reports flying back, but none of them sounded like he was going to pass away, thank God, and there was no consideration given to transferring -- that I know of -- to transferring the powers of the president to the vice president.

If that had happened, I would have felt more, well, what do I do now kind of thing. But it didn't, and I never tried to act like I was president. I sat in my regular chair, landed the helicopter up at the vice president's instead of the South Lawn, and just went about my business.

KING: How soon after did you see him?

G. BUSH: I don't remember.

KING: At the hospital?

G. BUSH: I don't know that I saw him in the hospital. I don't think so.

B. BUSH: I think you did.

G. BUSH: I may have.

B. BUSH: I think ...

G. BUSH: They weren't encouraging visitors. I don't think Nancy ...

B. BUSH: I think you went by the hospital and saw her and saw him. Not that day ...

KING: He had optimism after that, too, right?

G. BUSH: Oh, yes.

KING: He was even funny.

G. BUSH: Oh, yes, saying -- about the doctors, that we hope you're all Republicans and...

B. BUSH: I forgot the duck hunting.

G. BUSH: ...a lot of things like that. And then one other wonderful incident where they found him on his hands and knees, wiping up some water, because he didn't want the nurse to get disciplined for spilling. I mean, you know, that...

KING: That was him, right? That's a classic example of him.

G. BUSH: That's right.

B. BUSH: He was innately polite.

G. BUSH: Larry, he'd no more walk by the guy running running the elevator in the White House, or the fellow doing the ground -- Irv (ph) out there, and the groundskeepers and all that, without saying, how's your family? How's it going? What's happening?

I mean, he just had that way of -- I call it kindness or decency.

KING: Did you ever think about assassination?

G. BUSH: Maybe, but not -- I guess I thought about it after I was out of the presidency and Saddam Hussein tried to knock us off, Barbara and me and a whole bunch of others, but...

KING: You didn't think about it while you were president?

G. BUSH: No, no. They'd brief us if there were any serious threats. And there were always threats on the president, but oddly enough, I think more about it now than...

KING: Do you think about it for your son?

B. BUSH: No, I think the Secret Service...

KING: You don't?

B. BUSH: Well, I'm much more optimistic. I think the Secret Service are fabulous, and I think they'll take good care of him.

G. BUSH: They are wonderful...

KING: You do think about it?

G. BUSH: Well, just once in a while, just because these al Qaeda people are nuts, and they'll do anything. But I agree with Barbara about the Secret Service. We have total confidence in it. And the intelligence is good. We get some excellent intelligence that they work on.

KING: Do you think it was a blessing that President Reagan, arguably, I guess, didn't know about 9/11?

B. BUSH: Yes, I think it's -- anybody who didn't know about it was lucky.

G. BUSH: In a way, that's a good point, Larry, because it changed the dynamic for our whole country. We thought we were immune, protected by the Pacific, protected by the Atlantic. And, suddenly, this terror comes right home to our...

KING: By the way, where were you?

G. BUSH: I was -- we spent the night in the White House that Sunday night. I think it was a Monday, wasn't it? KING: It was a Tuesday.

B. BUSH: We'd been at a cancer meeting on Monday, I think.

G. BUSH: And then we were flying out, when we heard about it. Flying -- we were going to Minnesota and they grounded us in Milwaukee. A few hours later, the president called and said, where are you dad? I said, where you made us land out here in some little town outside of Milwaukee.

So it changed everything. And it's -- the country will be all right, though. The country will be all right. Reagan's optimism will prevail for the country, even then.

KING: We'll be right back with George and Barbara Bush. Former president, former first lady. Don't go away.



REV. DANIEL COUGHLIN, HOUSE CHAPLAIN: Support with your grace the Reagan family, and especially Mrs. Nancy Reagan, who stood by him in memorable moments of history and never left him in the long moments of difficult performance when the wheel turned, ah, so slowly.


KING: We're back with the Bushes.

What about Nancy during this period, Barbara? Ten years of a husband with Alzheimer's.

B. BUSH: Well, you just can't imagine unless you've been there, I guess.

KING: The long goodbye, what it's called ...

B. BUSH: Very long goodbye. And they were so close that it must have just broken her heart, because they literally were like one.

KING: That was a genuine love affair.

G. BUSH: And you could sense it. He'd talk about it quietly, privately as well as publicly. I remember up in Reykjavik, he said, tell the troops I've got to go home, Nancy's making dinner, or something like that. Well that's you know, that was hyperbole, but that's what he was about. And it was a genuine love affair, and she set a huge example for the whole country in the way she has conducted herself over this long period of trouble.

KING: I don't want to take you into politics, that's was not the point, but Nancy's come out for stem cell research. I know your son has in certain areas come out not for that area. Have you got votes on it? G. BUSH: Well, he's come out for some of it. He just wants to restrict the amount of federal funding that goes into certain lines or something like that. I don't really know much about it. But there may be a difference there -- not with me, but I can see her anxiety about getting the federal government to do more.

KING: Did you like her?

B. BUSH: Yes. I admired her enormously. She -- you know, we're as different as night and day. I've forgotten -- once I had a good description, I've forgotten it now, but something like she wears a size two and my leg is a size two, or something. But we had just such different interests. I mean, I liked sports and we just did different things. But that did not take from my liking her very, very much.

I have a lot of friends who are as beautiful as Nancy, which is hard to be, and don't do any athletics, and we're still very close friends.

KING: Were you friends with Ronald Reagan?

G. BUSH: I hope so. I'd like to think so. Maybe it's a little presumptuous for me to say so, but yes. In terms of my view of my friendships, I was. And I've been going through diaries and there's so many intimate moments, so many wonderful ...

KING: You keep a diary?

G. BUSH: Not anymore. I did, but I did it too sketchily when I was vice president and president. But once -- that interacted with the president was when I was vice president, and there were a lot of times he was just so kind and wonderful that I -- I think I was a friend, yes.

KING: That's nice. In other words, that you could level with him in personal dealings.

G. BUSH: Definitely that. And I knew he would not be, you know, unless -- it kind of agreed to be out telling here's what George thinks and he's wrong, I mean, behind my back doing something or saying something like that. The minute I was on that ticket, the minute we were elected, he was totally friendly, or in my corner, you might say.

Remember the Carter debate, when he was debating Carter, and Carter said, well, your own vice president candidate down here called your economics voodoo economics. Reagan looked over at me, he goes -- it was like this, and then he came in with a great answer. I don't -- and he just put me at ease, so much.

KING: Instinct, right? His instincts worked well.

G. BUSH: Oh, yes. But it's instinct -- was timing and communication, but it's an underlying decency, honor, kindness, humility, all of these things that are -- about which I learned so much. KING: Did you visit him at all when he was ill?

G. BUSH: Yes -- well, no, not when he was ill. We visited him after I left the presidency, and I guess he might have been in the early stages of the illness.

KING: Did you sense some of the early stages? Gerald Ford told us he did.

G. BUSH: Yes. Yes, we did, when -- I didn't when he was president...

KING: No, but I mean after you ...

G. BUSH: Some people said then, and I never, never detected a trace of it then. But, yes, the time we saw him -- maybe it was twice, I think I saw him twice, one of them, it was quite clear that there were some disconnects.

KING: Was that hard to take, you sitting with -- you're a former of the free world, he's a former leader of the free world, and he's not connecting?

G. BUSH: Yes, it was. It was complicated and sad. I saw him after he left office, when I was president, and those were very nice occasions. I remember he went out to his library opening, and then there was a thing for Desert Storm. And so we'd see each other -- we gave him the Medal of Freedom.

KING: I was there you gave him the medal...

G. BUSH: These were wonderful occasions, but I don't remember, Larry, any disconnects in those years, when I was president. Maybe it started.

KING: Did you notice it in your brother-in-law?

B. BUSH: Well, I lived in Texas, he lived in Connecticut. And I know they went through a miserable year of -- he was an investment banker, wasn't he? Yes, he was a G.H. Walker. He was not related, but he was. And his wife took away some of his accounts, gently said to people, you'd better move on. And he didn't like that very much, because he knew there was something wrong, but it wasn't easy.

KING: When we come back, President Reagan on the world stage. We're at the Houstonian Hotel in Houston, Texas, with the 41st president of the United States and Barbara.


RONALD REAGAN, FRM. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So George, I'm in your corner. I'm ready to volunteer...


R. REAGAN: I'm ready to volunteer a little advice now and than. And offer a pointer or two on strategy, if asked. I'll help keep the facts straight, or just stand back and cheer. But George, just one personal request, go out there and win one for the Gipper.



KING: We're back. Barbara just told me a wonderful little anecdote we ought to share on coming back from China.

B. BUSH: Well, we carried home a present for him and wrapped it all up -- for them, Nancy and the president, and wrapped it up. And about two days before Christmas, I got a little note. Dear Barbara, it said, I just couldn't stand it when I saw you carry this home from China. And so I opened it early. I love it. Thank you very much.

KING: From the president?

B. BUSH: The president. He wrote the thank-you note. Like all kids, he opened it early.

G. BUSH: I'm really trying to think of what you can do for a president. I used to go -- twice I remember going to Al's Magic Shop and they had a -- trying to find a couple of clean items I could pick up for the president. And you know, you take him there and he'd laugh, and we had a lot of fun with that kind of thing.

KING: How about how well he handled himself on the world stage? There were great fears when he took office, with how well would Reagan do with the leaders of other countries?

G. BUSH: Larry, there was so much hand-wringing in the kind of conventional foreign policy establishment when he said something like this is an evil empire, and when he said tear down the wall. People went, oh, my God, this is going to cause World War III, you know, and all kinds of consternation. But the way in which he did it, you knew where he stood. He was very powerful, very strong, but it wasn't mean-spirited, and it wasn't trying to, you know, to stick a finger in the other leaders' eyes, even though he said, Mr. Gorbachev, take down the wall.

I think if you asked Gorbachev about that, he would rationalize and say, wait a minute, we can understand back then his feeling. So it was important. And he took on the foreign policy establishment and emerged, I think, with flying colors.

KING: All right, in other words, you appreciated how well he -- were you a little surprised at how well he handled it, because he didn't have any international experience...


G. BUSH: Well, in the beginning, yes, you just didn't know. But I think he ended up doing very, very well, even in Reykjavik, where he had to reverse himself a little bit. But people said, look, he was trying for peace. He was trying to get rid of these nuclear weapons. He was trying, you know, to do something for world peace. And I think that is what came through, even to those people who were hearing in their hands in the beginning about the heat of his rhetoric.

KING: How good was the team around him? Colin Powell will be with us tomorrow night. He made Colin Powell his national security adviser.

G. BUSH: Yes, he's one of the best. Colin is just -- of course, I'm prejudice.


G. BUSH: Well, I'm prejudiced because I just feel, again, a certain sense of friendship with him that's never going to be diminished. I mean, there's crisis here, crisis there, but, hey, he's a wonderful person and he can give you a very good insight into President Reagan. I'm sure he will.

KING: Did Reagan have, generally, President Reagan, a good team?

G. BUSH: I think so. I think at times he felt it might have been stronger, but you know, I think when he chose Jimmy Baker right at the beginning, who had opposed him, who'd been my campaign manager. But he saw in Baker a certain strength that I think the country really sees ex post facto. That was a broad-gauge view. It didn't have to always be there in the kitchen cabinet kind of guy. He said this guy will help me, and he did.

KING: How well did he handle criticism, press criticism?

G. BUSH: It just rolled off him. I'll tell you, he did a lot better than I do. It just rolled off his back. And it just the way he'd do it, I mean, you know, hi, come on. And he didn't like it. I mean, at times he felt he was really hammered.

KING: Was Iran/Contra the toughest time?

G. BUSH: I think it probably was, Larry. And I don't -- I think the speech that he gave where he said, I told you, I didn't trade (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I still think I didn't, but this is the evidence, and it looks like I may have or (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I mean, I think it -- I think it -- I don't ever remember him being totally down. But you could just tell it was a burden on him.

KING: How about the loss in Lebanon?

G. BUSH: Same thing. I remember I went over there -- you mean when the Marine barracks...

KING: Yes.

G. BUSH: I remember I went over there the day after that to pick through the rubble at Lebanon. He wanted me to do that, and I was glad he did. But I think it meant course of the conversation there, you could tell that it was hurting him. But it was -- it was -- I don't think he worried about his own standing. I think what he was worried about was the loss of those young Marines.

KING: Is that the worst part of the presidency, losing lives under your command?

G. BUSH: Yes. The worst part is sending somebody else's son or daughter into harm's way. I felt that way. I know the president feels that way. And I expect, though President Reagan didn't have to do it as much, felt that way. And I expect Jimmy Carter did.

KING: Does it affect you?

As first lady, did it affect you?

B. BUSH: Yes, because it affects your husband and it affects young lives.

G. BUSH: It's the toughest. They're no question. It's not even arguable what's tougher than that, because you can't pass the buck, you can't form a committee, can't go to get Congress to pass some -- you've got to say, I'm going to do this. And...

KING: There's a movement, Mitch McConnell of Kentuckian, a friend of yours, has started a movement to put President Reagan on the $10 bill, take Alexander Hamilton off and put him on.

What do you think?

G. BUSH: Well, I think it's probably going to take a little time to get that done, but I think it's -- you know, I'd be all for it. I'll vote on it.

KING: Would you be for it?

B. BUSH: Yes, I would, but then they're going to go through every president, maybe. I can't wait to see what George is going to be on.

KING: Well, I think there's a long wait. In fact, I think President Reagan signed the bill about before you can change it...


B. BUSH: Oh, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) can be changed.

KING: Yes, before it can be changed.

G. BUSH: I think it's going to take a while. Mitch is very able, though. Don't underestimate McConnell.

B. BUSH: It's very hard, but there'll be other American heroes who people want to put on bills. I guess I'm more -- less political and more practical than you. I mean, they're going to want to put Martin Luther King -- a lot of American heroes.

G. BUSH: Well, these are your presidents, though. They're not going to... B. BUSH: Well...

KING: Hamilton wasn't president.

G. BUSH: Is he on one?

That's the one you're talking about...

KING: It's the $10 bill.

B. BUSH: That a boy -- thank you very much.

KING: Secretary treasury, so Barbara's right.

B. BUSH: For what?


G. BUSH: Again.

B. BUSH: Well, I don't know. I think it would be wonderful, but I just suspect that everyone's going to come up with someone else.

KING: All right. When we come back, we'll have our last segment, and we'll talk about the aging process.

B. BUSH: Well, who's aging?

KING: The president's going to be 80 on Saturday, and he's going to jump out of an airplane on Sunday. We'll be right back.



JAMES CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was able to clarify and possibly simplify some very complex issues and he presented some very concise and very clear messages that really appeal to the American people.

WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even when we hard are differences about domestic policy, the one thing I liked about him was that he was not mean-spirited and he was always optimistic about our country and he believed that freedom was a universal value.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His work is done and now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan.


KING: They are an exclusive club, and they are not getting younger. There is now Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush. Do you think about...

B. BUSH: Jimmy Carter. KING: And Jimmy Carter. Do you think about dying?

G. BUSH: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) A little bit, but not a lot. It doesn't scare me. It used to. When I was a little kid, to think about dying, I was scared, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) unbearable. But when you get older, Larry, you don't think about it a lot. I've got too much to do, too much to live for, too much happiness ...

KING: Does 80 seem old?

G. BUSH: No, oddly enough, it doesn't. You think I'm probably -- probably think I'm exaggerating, but it doesn't. And part of that I'm blessed with good health, and I still want to do things. I still want to get out and do interesting stuff. They named an aircraft carrier for me. It's going to go to sea. It was christened earlier. It's going to sea in 2008, the George H.W. Bush, CVN-76. I've got to be alive for that. I've got to go out on that ship and relive my own days in the Navy.

KING: Did you christen it?

B. BUSH: No, our daughter.

G. BUSH: Our daughter's the sponsor. It's her ship.

B. BUSH: Isn't that exciting?

KING: Do you think about aging? Do you think about...

B. BUSH: I think about his aging, praying he'll age someday. No. I really don't. I think we're all limited slightly by aches and pains, but no, we feel good.

KING: How do you feel about him jumping, really?

B. BUSH: Really, I think it's great.

KING: Really?

B. BUSH: I mean, the -- the military men he jumps with, or women, are very, very talented. They're not going to let anything happen to him.

KING: Why do you do it?

G. BUSH: One, it feels good. It's exhilarating. It's like why do I go 68 miles an hour in my boat, which I do when I get to go fishing. I do. And there's a certain thrill in it when you're falling at 125 miles an hour and you're the one in control. It's not a tandem. It's just me, with a guy there in case I mess up. But there's a thrill in it. And the second thing, Larry, is, you asked about 80. I think it sends a message around the country, and I think it will around the world in this instance, that just because you're 80, that doesn't mean you can't do fun stuff or interesting things. You can, and I am.

KING: Looking forward to your birthday bash?

G. BUSH: Yes, and we're thrilled you're coming, incidentally.

KING: It's an honor to be master of ceremonies at this and...

G. BUSH: It's going to be fun.

KING: All the kids going to be there, everybody? Grandchildren?

G. BUSH: Yes. I think, most of them. Yes. No, the twins are gone. They're overseas.

KING: Anything you'd want to say to Nancy?

B. BUSH: Well, we've talked to her, and she knows that our hearts are with her.

KING: Did you talk to her soon after?

B. BUSH: No, we talked to her just before, but it was there.

G. BUSH: Like five minutes, 10 minutes before.

KING: Oh, really. Right before he died.

G. BUSH: Yes, but I guess she knew it, because she was -- she said, you know, she made it clear to us that he wasn't going to live.

My message would be that what you've done is set an example for how to cope with grief, an example of standing by your guy that loved you most, your husband. And she did it.

KING: And what's his legacy?

G. BUSH: I don't know, Larry.

B. BUSH: Decency.

G. BUSH: Yes, all those personal attributes...

B. BUSH: Giving hope. He gave huge hope to this country.

G. BUSH: Yes, morning in America. We're the greatest, we're the best, without putting anyone else down.

KING: And that wasn't PR, right?

B. BUSH: No.

KING: That's was his...

G. BUSH: It's in his heart, yes. It was in his heart. America the free -- home of the free, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the brave. I mean, he loved all that. And he conveyed it to the American people.

KING: It's OK to be emotional on Friday. When do you head to Washington?

G. BUSH: We go up there tomorrow afternoon, and then I've got to give a little eulogy there. But I'm the one that leads the bawl, B-A- W-L patrol in our family. And I can do it when I'm happy, and if I'm saying something about someone I love and respect, I'm afraid the tears will flow. But I'm going to try to find something to dry them up.

KING: Is it good to be around former presidents?

G. BUSH: Yes, I like it. I enjoyed seeing President Clinton at the World War II Memorial the other day. And people said, well, what were you talking about? I said, we were just -- friendly, you know, anecdotes.

KING: Thank you so much.


KING: Always great seeing you.

G. BUSH: Excuse my left hand, I've got a sprained thumb. And this is the hand that pulls the parachute.

KING: The hand that pulls the parachute is sprained?

G. BUSH: Well, it's just the thumb, but I got -- I just want to be sure it doesn't get injured by a big, warm handshake from you.

B. BUSH: Trust me, when the moment comes, his thumb will be able to pull the thing.

KING: We'll see you Saturday night.

G. BUSH: Thanks for coming.

KING: Thank you for joining us, and I'll be back in a minute to tell you about tomorrow.


KING: We thank President and Mrs. Bush for this wonderful hour. Tomorrow night, the aforementioned Colin Powell and Tim Russert. And don't forget, Friday night, we'll anchor the coverage of the laying to rest of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

Aaron Brown and NEWSNIGHT is next. Good night.


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