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CNN Live Event/Special

America Under Attack: Talk with First Lady Laura Bush

Aired September 13, 2001 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, I am in the White House map room in the basement of the White House residence, as you mentioned, joined by a very special guest, the first lady of the United States Laura Bush.

Mrs. Bush, thank you for taking time with us. We know this is a very busy...


KING: ... and trying time. In this moment of despair, I guess the country very much looking for miracles. I'd like to ask you something our Martin Savage in New York just reported -- your reaction, five firefighters or rescue workers apparently found still alive in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Well that's what everyone's praying for in our country is that we can find as many people alive as possible, and I'm so thrilled to hear that some people have been found alive.

KING: A rough emotional period for the country as well as for the president and yourself. You just returned to the White House from visiting some of the injured in the Pentagon attack at the Washington Medical Center. Can you tell us about the scene there, your thoughts and anything you may have said to those injured?

BUSH: Well, these were the people who were burned and they're at the burn center at the Washington Medical Center. A lot of them are military or are civilians who were working at the Pentagon. Their families all surrounded them. The staff there in the burn unit at the Washington Hospital is wonderful. We visited with the doctors, we visited with all the families, we saw the patients and most of them are doing quite well. A number of them, of course, are still on ventilators from smoke inhalation so they couldn't speak but they could blink at us and their families were surrounding them with love. And I told each one of them, and I know what I said was right, in that every single American is praying for them. And I think they were comforted by that.

KING: You are the first lady of the United States but you're also a parent and you are a former school librarian. I understand you have sent a letter to school superintendents around the country today asking them to take a little time to speak to the children and you think parents should do that as well. Explain your thoughts on that. BUSH: Yes. Well, I actually sent a letter to children -- to the letter for elementary school children and a letter for junior high and high school students and asked the school superintendents to distribute that letter to the schools in their state. I want students to know that everyone in the -- our whole country reassures them that they're going to be taken care of, that they're going to be safe.

I know that as all of us deal with our own emotions that have to do with this tragedy, we need to be very careful about our children. We need to make -- we know that our children are suffering from the same sadness and the same feelings of fear and confusion that adults are. And so I hope that parents will really pay very close attention to their children, to be honest with their children about their own feelings but also to reassure their children that they're going to be there for them and that they'll be taken care of.

KING: Your thoughts on, I assume both you and the president have spent some time watching these harrowing images, commercial jetliners flying into the World Trade Center. Your own thoughts on seeing these pictures and then the devastation caused by these attacks?

BUSH: Well, and that's one thing I want to say to parents and that is don't let your children see these pictures over and over. Try to protect your children from these pictures of destruction, especially your young children but even elementary school age children shouldn't watch this all the time. It -- I think it's too frightening for them, and so I hope parents will turn off the television and think of something constructive to do with their children.

Children want to help just like all the adults around here. They want to know what they can do. Adults can give blood, children can't because of their age, but children can make red, white and blue ribbons for their friends to wear to school. They can write letters to their own fire departments and their own police departments in honor of the lives of the firemen and the policemen whose lives were lost in New York. They can figure out other ways. I heard this morning that one person -- one child was saving their pennies to send to the dependents of the firemen who were lost in New York.

So if we can figure out constructive ways so that our children can feel constructive but also ways that we can have a relaxed and calm atmosphere in our homes. Children are reassured by routine, so if everyone just keeps up their same routine, has -- shares meals with their children and reads bedtime stories to them. And in a time like this, even older children might want to sit in the evening with their parents and listen to a story read by their mother or their dad.

KING: Can you share with us your thoughts at the very moment this happened? You're on Capitol Hill,...

BUSH: That's right.

KING: ... you were supposed to testify at a Senate committee hearing. The Secret Service comes up to you and says, Mrs. Bush, there's been a terrorist attack, we need to rush you to a secure location. Frightened? BUSH: Well like everyone else, I knew the -- you know knew before I got in the car about the first plane, and of course at that point we weren't sure it was a terrorist attack. We just didn't know if it was some accident, but then I was with Senator Kennedy and Senator Judd Gregg when we got the news about the second plane and we were watching it on television.

I was not frightened for myself. I was like every American concerned about everyone who was in the World Trade Center and also so unbelievably saddened that something like this would happen in our country. And the disregard for life of the people who did this was so profound that they would harm people who were going about their daily lives. And it's a -- it's a terrible, terrible tragedy. And I know that I speak for everyone when I say that we're praying for every single person who's directly impacted by this tragedy.

KING: The country, indeed the world, watching your husband at this moment. He's been president of the United States for eight years now. This by far the biggest crisis ever faced, perhaps the biggest crisis any president has faced in quite some time. Take us a bit if you will into how he deals with crisis. Just this morning in the Oval Office, we saw, on the one hand, a steely resolve, if you will, of we will find those accountable. A few minutes later, hew was tearing up, as we talk about the toll this was taking on the families. How does your husband, when we don't see him, when he's over in the residence with at night, how does he deal with these things?

BUSH: Well, my husband is very resolved. He has a lot of discipline. He has all his life. He has a lot of strength of character. And he also is very caring of people. All the stories we heard today on the news, today's news, have the story. Thank God about people being found, but also the story about people looking for loved ones and have no idea where they are or if they will ever find them. Those stories touch his heart. They touch my heart. I know they touch every American's heart. And -- but he has a very firm resolve, and he also has a lot of confidence in our country, that we're not going to be brought to our knees by something like this, that everyone -- Americans are standing shoulder to shoulder. Just then when we drove to Washington hospital, all the people who were standing out on the streets were waving flags and giving the president thumbs-up.

In New York, I heard as relief workers drive in with this dump trucks and everything into the site of the World Trade Center, people are applauding on the streets. People really want to help, and they really want to be able to thank all those people who are working to find victims.

KING: And finally let me ask you, in your view, and in your conversations with the president, how has this changed the country permanently? We obviously see more security. The airports are more open today. But how much freedom, if you will, do you think Americans have to get up in the name of security? One example in a Pentagon briefing a short time ago, the undersecretary of defense saying matter of factly that there have been combat air patrols flying over Washington and other major cities in the United States in recent days. Has this transformed us for forever?

BUSH: Well, I don't know about that. I certainly hope not. But I also think that people are very willing to been convenienced when they wait in line now in an airport or something else, that they are now certainly more than willing to do that. I don't think we have to give up a lot of freedom. I certainly hope not. I mean, that's what makes our country so special, are our freedoms. I do know that Americans now realize that we can't take our freedoms for granted, that we -- before maybe we did a little bit. But now, all of us, really value the freedoms that we have and the many, many blessings we have to live in this great country. More than ever.

We know these are trying times for you and the president. We thank you for your time today. Joining us here in the White House, the First Lady of the United States. Laura Bush.

Now back to Aaron Brown in New York.


John, thank you. Mrs. Bush, thank you, both.