NBC's Tom Brokaw sat down with first lady Laura Bush Thursday at the Republican National Convention in New York. What follows is a complete transcript of their conversation.
Tom Brokaw: Mrs. Bush, the Republican Party platform is pretty unforgiving on social issues that are important to a lot of American women out there — on choice, for example, and stem cell research and gay rights. Do you see your role as an attempt to close the gender gap for the president?
First lady Laura Bush: Well, I don't know if I would say that. I mean, I think what I can do is talk about him in a very personal way. And that's what I tried to do on Tuesday night. Told what I've seen over the last four years from my vantage point that nobody else has. And in these very difficult times over these last few years.
Brokaw: But as you speak out more and more here and on the campaign trail aren't you going to get pulled into some policy discussions as well?
Bush: Sure. I mean, I've discussed policy, of course. You know? It ends up you just can't help it even though I'm not an expert on any of the policies that he deals with. And he has plenty of experts around him who advise him. So I don't see myself as a policy advisor by any means.
Brokaw: There was a little buzz, as you know, in the last week or so when Vice President Cheney and Mrs. Cheney said they really prefer the states to handle the question about civil unions and the whole question about homosexual marriage. It's a little hard for me to determine just where you stand.
Bush: Well, I'll tell you what a constitutional amendment debate will do. It'll give people in the United States a chance to debate the issue, to talk about it, on both sides. If each state takes it up and discusses it and either chooses to have the amendment or not have the amendment. And I think that's really what this issue needs. And there are people who feel very, very strongly, as you know, on both sides. But as there is a debate — we all need to be sure that we're careful and that we're very considerate of the feelings of everybody involved.
Brokaw: Have you ever had a personal conversation with the Cheneys about the issue?
Bush: No, I haven't.
Brokaw: Would you be inclined?
Bush: Sure, I mean, I would certainly talk to them about it.
Brokaw: Last night — it's the purpose of the convention after all and the role of the keynoter — Sen. Zell Miller lit up these delegates with some very tough language.
Bush: I saw it on TV.
Brokaw: He suggested that John Kerry was unfit to be commander in chief. Do you and the President share that point of view?
Bush: I don't know that we share that point of view. I mean, I think Zell Miller has a very interesting viewpoint just like I had the personal viewpoint to talk about the President when I spoke on Tuesday night. He has a viewpoint of being a Democrat, being a member of the senator's party and, you know, sees from the viewpoint that we don't have.
And so I think it's interesting. I think it adds to the convention to have him speak, to have him be our keynote speaker. But, I mean, his voice is one with a lot. You also heard Sen. McCain. You also heard Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Brokaw: Do you think this is going to be a tough campaign with that kind of language throughout on both sides?
Bush: Sure. But you know what, Tom? Every one of them are. They always are. And I know. And this is the seventh convention I've been to. And you know, George and I loved a candidate before at a couple of those conventions, his dad. And every single time they're tough. That's just what it is. People kid themselves to think that politics isn't tough. It is. And we've sure come to know that.
Brokaw: Speaking of his father, we were all a little surprised to hear him say this week that he was a little bit hurt when he read that your husband, President George Bush the 43rd, said he was going into Iraq to finish the job that didn't get done in 1991. President, in fact, said it twice, 41. Were you and the President aware that his feelings were hurt on that?
Bush: No. Of course not. That's the way he does it. He tells the media first. (LAUGHTER) He's a wonderful father-in-law. He is a wonderful man. And George and I adore him and he knows that.
Brokaw: And his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, is in the paper this week saying in a rare interview that he's given on the subject that he believes that the president is relying on a closed circle, as he described it, of advisors about Iraq. And the manner in which he said it was critical, I think it's fair to say. Is the president going to open up that circle if there's a second term?
Bush: I don't know about that. I have no idea who's going to be on the staff if there's a second term. I don't know that. But he's got a terrific circle around him, as you know. Very, very experienced people. And very decent people. You know, really great public servants who are doing the very, very best they can for the United States of America -- who take their responsibilities as sworn officers in the executive branch very, very seriously. Just like my husband does.
Brokaw: Did the president share with you the speech that he's going to give here tonight?
Bush: He has shared some of it. I mean, of course, I could read all of it. But we talked about some parts in it. And it's going to be a really great speech I think. He's going to talk about how government can change with changing times to make things better and easier for families and for individuals. And how to make things better in education and for lifelong learners as well, for people who are looking for a job. How they can be educated to have the new jobs of the 21st century that pay more and that are better jobs.
Brokaw: More about the economy than we've heard so far this week?
Bush: I think every issue will be talked about. But certainly the economy.
Brokaw: Did you and the president watch Jenna and Barbara the other night?
Bush: Sure, I watched them and he watched from that softball game where he was. They had screens there and they all watched it — sat down with the picnic and watched.
Brokaw: Did you see their remarks beforehand?
Bush: Yes, I'd seen their remarks beforehand. And I thought they were very funny and lively just like our girls are. And I also think they speak to young people. And that's what we wanted to do. That's what they want to do. I mean, that's their purpose. That's one of the reasons they want to be involved in the campaign because they want to talk to young people around the United States.
They want to bring young people to our party. It's very important, I think, that we reach out to young people. And I thought they were funny and cute. And I hope people have a sense of humor about it. You know what happens? I'll tell you this. When you put yourself out on the line in politics, and this talks about everyone from the candidates to the children of the candidates, you'll get criticism. That's just what happens.
Brokaw: But when you were previewing their remarks and you got to that one about...
Bush: Did I think they were too wild?
Brokaw: Yeah. “Sex in the City” aimed at Grammy thinking that's about married couples and what they do and never talk about. Did you say to them, "Are you sure you want to say this?"
Bush: I actually did. I actually did kind of think about it. And I thought, "I wonder if those Republicans in the hall will laugh." But they did. But Barbara and Jenna, as you can tell, adore their grandmother. But they love to harass her and as you might guess, she loves to harass them. So I think it was funny and showed how 22-year-old girls think and are self-deprecating and, you know, are funny.
Brokaw: What's your best single piece of advice to them as they get more exposure on the campaign trail?
Bush: Well, I mean, just to know that. I mean, they'll learn that. They, you know, they've also read some of the criticism of it. And I'm sure it hurt their feelings. But that's just the fact of life in politics.
Brokaw: And Jenna has learned there's always a photographer around.
Bush: That's right. Exactly. She said she is working on her issues with impulsiveness.
Brokaw: Mrs. Bush, thanks.
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