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Interview With George W. Bush, Laura Bush

Aired August 12, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight exclusive, the president of the United States, George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush for the hour together.
George W. Bush, Laura Bush, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We're at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, California. And a great pleasure to welcome President George W. Bush and Laura Bush. They did a full hour with us back in September of 2000 during the campaign you may have heard of.

He won that race. And he is now president. And she is, of course, first lady. They have just come from a visit with Nancy Reagan. And Nancy just called here to tell me that there had been some mix up about endorsing you.

And she wanted to be very clear, the fact that she has fully endorsed your candidacy.


KING: How did it go today with her?

She is a really fine woman. Laura and I love being in her presence. She's very strong. She is recovering from a painful period in her life when she lost the love of her life, a great president, Ronald Reagan.

And so it was a wonderful visit with her.

KING: Did you enjoy it?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I really enjoy Nancy Reagan.


L. BUSH: She's doing very well, I think, really well. She looks great. Of course she always looks great.

KING: But she has bounced back...

L. BUSH: She has.

G. BUSH: You know, the country responded in such a powerful way. And I think it helped her a lot to know that so many people really loved her husband. And he'll go down in history as a great president. KING: The other night we were talking concerning that. There seems to be a lack of civility in America, angry people, talk radios's angry, people are angry, people hate you, hate other candidates. It eased for a week during the Reagan funeral. What do you make of this? What's going on in America?

G. BUSH: I think there may be handfuls of people that are very emotional, but I think by far the vast majority of Americans are, you know, are -- want to know whether they're going to be able to work, and whether or not the government is doing its job of protecting the country...

KING: Is the smaller group louder?

G. BUSH: I think it's pretty loud, but they certainly don't represent the majority of Americans.

KING: You don't, so you think there's less civility in America?

L. BUSH: Well, I don't know if I would say less. I think every campaign, you know, in the end, has a part of it that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I think that's what we're seeing in this one.

KING: Is it hard to stay away from it? I mean, is there a desire to...

L. BUSH: It's hard for me.


I don't like it.


G. BUSH: Not really. I think my most important mission is to let the people know what I want to do for the next four years. These are very serious times that we live in. I've got a lot of explanations to give on decisions I have made. So I spend most of my time explaining why I have made some very difficult decisions and why I know that those decisions will make the country a safer place, or a better place.

KING: You don't have your opponent, though?

G. BUSH: Not at all. Listen...

L. BUSH: No, of course not.

G. BUSH: There's a chattering class of kind of, you know, professional politicians who get on the airwaves and they kind of feel like it's their duty to stir things up. But the American people are -- they're focused on their families, and they're focused on their work. And they're interested in, you know, how government can help secure this country during these dangerous times. But I just don't see it. When I travel the country, and I've been traveling a lot, there are thousands of people who come out and wave, and they are -- you know, they respect the presidency. Sometimes they like the president, but I have this -- I don't have a sense that there's a lot of anger.

KING: So you think issues will resolve this campaign, not personalities or discord or...

G. BUSH: Oh, absolutely.

KING: In view of that, do you think that it's fair, for the record, John Kerry's service record, to be an issue at all? I know that Senator McCain...

G. BUSH: You know, I think it is an issue, because he views it as honorable service, and so do I. I mean...

KING: Oh, so it is. But, I mean, Senator McCain has asked to be condemned, the attack on his service. What do you say to that?

G. BUSH: Well, I say they ought to get rid of all those 527s, independent expenditures that have flooded the airwaves.

There have been millions of dollars spent up until this point in time. I signed a law that I thought would get rid of those, and I called on the senator to -- let's just get anybody who feels like they got to run to not do so.

KING: Do you condemn the statements made about his...

G. BUSH: Well, I haven't seen the ad, but what I do condemn is these unregulated, soft-money expenditures by very wealthy people, and they've said some bad things about me. I guess they're saying bad things about him. And what I think we ought to do is not have them on the air. I think there ought to be full disclosure. The campaign funding law I signed I thought was going to get rid of that. But evidently the Federal Election Commission had a different view.

KING: You have a view, Laura?

L. BUSH: About the 527s?

KING: Yes and also about the ads that have been running...

L. BUSH: No, I haven't seen...

KING: ... from the former servicemen who said his service record is a lie.

L. BUSH: I haven't seen those ads either. But I do know there are a lot of terrible ads against George, as well, by 527s. You know...

G. BUSH: Look, the senator ought to be proud of his record.

KING: Senator McCain has been very strong in condemning it and he's very strong endorsing you...

G. BUSH: Yes, he is. Senator Kerry is justifiably proud of his record in Vietnam and he should be. His noble service -- the question is...


G. BUSH: The question is: Who can best lead the country in a time of war? That's really what the debate ought to be about. And I think it's me. Because I understand the stakes.

KING: Is this, though, a war they can never win? I mean, isn't a terrorist being born today somewhere...

G. BUSH: Well, it can be won by spreading freedom. It can be won by, if the United States continues to lead the world and encourage those who long for freedom to seek freedom, and to work with governments to put institutions in place that allow women to have rights and honor human dignity and human rights.

You know, I tell the story about the time I had dinner with Prime Minister Koizumi, Laura and I did in Tokyo. During the course of the dinner it was very interesting to hear two people that represented countries, that at one time were at war with each other, are now talking about the peace.

And had we given up on this concept that people could self-govern and that liberty can change the habits of people after World War II, it's conceivable I wouldn't have been having that conversation.

And some day, somebody is going to be sitting down with an American president, with an elected Iraqi leader, talking about the peace, because free societies are peaceful societies.

And so, to answer your question, you bet.

KING: You can win the war?

BUSH: Yes, we can. And in the short-term, we will secure our country by never relenting in our desire to bring people to justice. It's best that we bring them to justice overseas so they don't hit us here at home.

In the long run free countries will end up listening to the hopes and desires of their people. Free countries will be peaceful countries. Free countries are countries that don't export terror. And it's vital that the United States never forget the power of liberty when it comes to transforming societies.

KING: Isn't it hard to send people to war?

L. BUSH: Sure. Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's the most difficult decision any president ever makes. And you know, that's the hardest thing about serving as president.

KING: We've had more today, there are more eruptions in Iraq. And it seems never-ending, does it? What does it do to you?

G. BUSH: Well, first, it's painful to know that a young American has lost his or her life in combat. It's painful because I know how broken-hearted their loved ones are. We have met with their loved ones a lot.

KING: You have?

G. BUSH: You bet.

KING: Because we don't see any stories.

G. BUSH: Well, you shouldn't. These are private moments. These aren't moments to be publicized. These are moments between me and Laura and their families. And I assure them, when I meet with them, that their loved one will not have died in vain.

In other words, we will complete our mission, which is a free Iraq. And we will.

And, of course, it's difficult right now.

But eventually -- and that's because there are people that cannot stand the thought of a free society emerging in the heart of the Middle East.

But what's happening in Iraq is, slowly but surely, the Iraqis are beginning to take more responsibly.

We've got a great leader in Prime Minister Allawi. He's a tough guy who believes in free societies. And more and more Iraqis are being trained. And more and more Iraqis are stepping up to do the hard work of bringing these terrorists, these former Baathist and some foreign fighters to justice. And that's why we are going to prevail.

KING: We are with President George W. Bush and Laura Bush. And we'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: Want to talk about a lot of issues tonight.

This all started on 9/11. 9/11 changed the world, changed you, changed everybody watching.

John Kerry, your opponent, has said at the convention: Had I been reading to children and had my top aide whisper in my ear, "America's under attack," I would have told those kids very nicely and politely, the president of the United States has something he needs to attend to. And there's a film showing you sitting. What was going -- let's explain this, so we hear it from the other side.

G. BUSH: Well, I had just been told by Andrew Card that America was under attack. And I was collecting my thoughts. And I was sitting with a bunch of young kids, and I made the decision there that we would let this part of the program finish, and then I would calmly stand up and thank the teacher and thank the children and go take care of business.

And I think what's important is how I reacted when I realized America was under attack. It didn't take me long to figure out we were at war. It didn't take me long to develop a plan that we would go after Al Qaeda. We went into action very quickly.

KING: So you think the criticism was unwarranted?

G. BUSH: Oh, I think it's easy to second-guess a...

KING: What was going...

G. BUSH: What is relevant is whether or not I understand and understood then the stakes. And I recognized that we were at war. And I made a determination that we would do everything we could to bring those killers to justice and to protect the American people. That is my most solemn duty.

KING: Wasn't that the hardest seven minutes of your life?

G. BUSH: Well, there's been a lot of hard moments in my life.

KING: But at that moment, to hear that news...

G. BUSH: Yes, it was -- trying to understand exactly what it meant. But there have been a lot of hard of moments. It was hard to go to the ground zero on September the 14th, 2001, and see those workers and police men and women and the firefighters who had been searching the rubble looking for their loved ones. That was a hard moment.

But it was a moment where I resolved to them publicly that we would do our duty in government, and protect this country by staying on the offense.

And, Larry, it's very important that we never yield, that we are steadfast and determined to bring these people to justice. This is serious business. And they've got the capacity to lurk and wait and hope we forget September the 11th and the lessons of September the 11th. That's what they do. They plan and plot, and this country must not yield.

KING: You worried about the convention?

L. BUSH: No, I'm not really worried about it...

KING: I mean security-wise.

L. BUSH: No...

KING: New York?

L. BUSH: I mean, I think we'll be safe in New York.

KING: So complete confidence -- no fear? L. BUSH: No, I don't. I think it will be safe. I mean, I think people will be vigilant. I think obviously everyone in the federal government and the state government and the city government will be doing everything they possibly can to make sure it's safe. But I do know they'll all be doing everything they can and that New Yorkers will also be paying attention.

KING: You first were opposed to the 9/11 Commission and then changed. Why?

G. BUSH: Not really.

KING: You weren't opposed?

G. BUSH: Well, I just wanted to make sure that it was done the right way. I felt like that -- one of my concerns was that it would usurp the Congress' need to fully investigate.

Then I recognized this was a good avenue -- a good venue and a good way to really get out the facts. And they did a really good job.

KING: What did you think of the report?

G. BUSH: I thought it was a great report. I read it.

KING: Are you going to implement most?

G. BUSH: Well, we have already implemented a lot of their recommendations. And the other day I announced that we would have a national intelligence director.

KING: Will he have all of the power they recommended?

G. BUSH: Well, I want to work with Congress on that. The issue of the budget is probably the most interesting issue. And Congress itself has got to get its house in order on the budget. There is a lot of different jurisdictions involved with intelligence...

KING: Shouldn't that man or woman have a lot of power?

G. BUSH: Yes, absolutely. There's no need to have a position if that person doesn't have the capacity to make important decisions. The person should not be in the Cabinet and will not be in the Cabinet.

KING: Because?

G. BUSH: Well, because I think you want this person to be independent from the administration to a certain extent, separate from the administration is a better way to put it, not independent...


G. BUSH: You bet. Not independent in the sense that the person can't be fired. I think the president ought to have the right to name and nominate, with the consent of the Senate, and have the ability to fire the person.

But I really don't think it makes sense to have the intelligence director sitting around a Cabinet table as we discuss, you know, agricultural matters or health matters. I think this person needs to be -- independent is the wrong word, separate from the administration, with powers.

KING: There is a rumor, I don't know if you've heard it, that you are going to ask Senator McCain to take that job -- leave the Senate and take that job. Did he come through your thoughts?

G. BUSH: Well, we haven't really started thinking about...

KING: Will he be in your thoughts?

G. BUSH: You know, as I say, you're catching me totally fresh. I haven't really thought about a person to fill the job, because the job doesn't exist yet.

KING: I know.

G. BUSH: We have to first get it through the Congress. And, frankly, my attention has been focused on naming somebody to run the CIA. And I found a very good man in Porter Goss, nominated a good man from Florida who I think will do a great job.

KING: Do you expect him to breeze through it right away?

G. BUSH: You know, breeze is an interesting word. I expect him to be nominated. I would certainly hope people wouldn't hold up his nomination, because he's a very capable individual.

KING: Your opponent has said that this war was going it alone -- you went alone. How do you respond to that?

G. BUSH; My gosh, you know -- Tony Blair doesn't think that.

KING: Perhaps alone in relationship to previous where we've had so many united people with us...

G. BUSH: Well, let me -- there's 30 nations now involved in Iraq. And I know their leaders well. I've thanked them on behalf of the American people for serving alongside our troops. I think to say we've gone it alone really does denigrate the contributions of other countries.

These leaders and these people and these countries from all around world, whether it be Japan or South Korea or Denmark or Holland, they've made sacrifices like we have, because they understand the stakes.

KING: Have any expressed any regrets? G. BUSH: Not to me. Because people -- people understand that Saddam was a threat. And the world was better of with him sitting in a prison cell. We're safer because he's in a prison cell. The Iraqi people are certainly better off because he's in a prison cell.

But they also understand that, what I told you earlier, that a free Iraq, in a part of a world desperate for freedom is -- will be an agent for change. These are historic times. That's how I view it.

KING: Is this the most important election ever?

G. BUSH: For me it is.


KING: Well, people are saying that. though. Sure, they said it when Franklin Pierce was running. But wouldn't you say, based on history there isn't...

G. BUSH: I think it's very important. I think the election is important for a lot of reasons.

KING: There's clear definition between you, right?

G. BUSH: Absolutely, there is, particularly on how to fight and win a war, on taxes, on a lot of issues and...

KING: Why do you think, first, it's so close?

L. BUSH: Well, because, I mean, look at the last election. I think, you know, I think United States is divided as they say. I don't think we're divided against each other but I just think they're...

KING: Politically.

L. BUSH: Politically.

KING: And that hasn't changed?

L. BUSH: I don't think it really has changed since the last election.

G. BUSH: But we'll see. You are speculating here in August.


KING: Only based on polls.

G. BUSH: I know but I mean, you know...

KING: We got to go.

G. BUSH: But give us a chance to kick down the stretch. It really is early...


G. BUSH: Yes, exactly. It's early in the campaign in a certain sense. I mean, a lot of people want to be on vacation. You and I follow this closely, of course, but a lot of folks are vacationing and they will start to focus again...

KING: Do you think there are a lot of people who haven't made up their minds?

G. BUSH: I guess the polls don't say that. But I think there are some people that can be persuaded to change their opinion.

KING: Do you run into people who say, "I don't know." Or do you run into mostly people who say, "I support you"?

G. BUSH: I run into both. And when you say, "run in," the president generally doesn't run into anybody. I mean, we're driving...

KING: But you've been attending -- you've been doing public forums now?

G. BUSH: A lot of public forums. A lot of bus trips. And we see people express their opinions. The great thing about our country is they're free to do so. And by far the vast majority of people who come out to wave are doing so in a friendly fashion.

Although occasionally there is the not-so-friendly wave. But I do believe -- OK, I don't know if it's going to be close or not. I believe I'm going to win. I believe the American people know my style of leadership. They know what to expect.

And they understand that the commander in chief must not waver in this era, that we must continue to stay on the offense.

But they're also beginning to understand my deep desire to spread liberty around the world as a way to help secure our country in the long run.

I think we have an obligation to lead. And we will lead, and we will continue to work with others in a vast coalition.

This debate on coalitions is a very interesting debate. Sometimes I think they're basically saying that there is no such thing as a coalition unless the French are involved. But the truth of the matter is, the French are involved in Afghanistan, and the French have been involved in Haiti. The French government just didn't agree with the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. And, therefore, there was a difference of opinion on that issue.

But I will argue that Saddam Hussein out of power has made the world a better place and a safer place.

KING: Even without weapons of mass destruction?

G. BUSH: Well, we thought we'd find stockpiles. The whole world thought we'd find stockpiles, including, evidently, the French government, which voted in the United Nations Security Council to say to Saddam: Disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences.

But what we do know is Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. And after September the 11th, a risk we could not take was that he would share that capability with our enemies.

Let me say one other thing. Had we not moved, Saddam Hussein would be even more powerful. He would have defied the world again, after 11 years of defiance, he would have defied the world again and would have been even more dangerous.

KING: So you'd do it again?

G. BUSH: Absolutely. We made the right decision.

KING: Would you send more troops, though? They had -- everything couldn't have been perfect, you certainly -- let me pick that up in a minute.


KING: We'll be right back with President Bush, Mrs. Bush, on LARRY KING LIVE. We're going to talk about stem cell research, about which Mrs. Bush has been strongly speaking recently, and they met with Nancy Reagan today, who has opinions on it. We'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: We're back. We're in Los Angeles with president and Mrs. Bush, and we're on the subject of, if we had to do it over, we would do it over, would we do it with more troops?

I mean, everything wasn't perfect.

G. BUSH: No. Listen, some things happened that were hard to predict. And some things didn't happen that we thought were going to happen. For example, we thought they'd blow up the oil fields. We though there'd be mass starvation, refugees.

Now, here's the way I'm doing my job. I set the strategies, and I ask the experts to provide the tactics. And General Tommy Franks came into my office. I said: General, do you have everything you want?

I'll never forget the day that we launched the war. And in my heart of hearts, I know that diplomacy had failed. The last option of a president ought to be to commit troops, in large right. It is a very serious decision.

And I went down to the situation room in the basement of the White House. And there was Tommy on the screen. And I said to him: General Franks, do you have everything you need? Are you satisfied with the plan? And do you have all you need? And he looked at me and said: Yes, sir, Mr. President.

And I went to around to all the other commanders that he had assembled there on the video. And I -- to a person, they said they had what they needed.

And I said -- gave the order to the secretary of defense, Tommy saluted. I said, God bless you, and left.

And the reason I tell you that story is that Tommy, General Franks, now Tommy, knew me well enough to be able to walk right into the Oval Office and say: Mr. President, we don't have what we need. We need of this or that.

KING: Does the buck, though, stop with you?

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: President Kennedy was told the Bay of Pigs would go smoothly and then he took the rap. He said...

G. BUSH: I'm taking the rap, too, of course.

KING: So the buck does stop...

G. BUSH: Absolutely. That's what elections are about. The American people can go in that voting booth and decide whether or not...

KING: So is that what led you to say on that ship that the battle is over?

G. BUSH: No, I didn't say that. Now, let's be careful about that.

I went on that aircraft carrier to thank a crew.

KING: The sign said it, I think.

G. BUSH: No, the sign said, "Mission accomplished." It didn't say the battle was over. It said, "Mission accomplished." And I was talking to sailors and a pilot who had been on an extended tour -- I think, maybe the longest in a long period of time. They were both -- this carrier was both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

And I wanted to look them in the eye and say: Thank you for doing your job.

In the speech I gave on the carrier deck, I also went on to say, there is more hard work to do. And I'll do it again. I would do it again. I think I have an obligation as the commander in chief to do a couple of things as far as the military goes: Thank the military every change I get.

The other day I was -- yesterday -- last night in Phoenix, there was this huge crowd. And there was a woman holding up a sign that said, "My son is in Iraq."

And I singled her out. And I said: I just want to tell you, ma'am, your son is providing a noble service during these historic times. And I want to thank you and your son for sacrificing for long- term peace.

And, you know, I owe an obligation to our troops.

KING: Was the sign a mistake?

G. BUSH: People make a big deal out of it. It was not a mistake to go to the carrier.

And there was certainly no intention to say that this was over; quite the contrary. If people had listened to what I said, I said, there is more hard work to do. And there is hard work to do.

I think it's an unrealistic expectation to say that Iraq was going to be a free society instantly -- or not instantly -- nearly instantly after Saddam Hussein had been removed from power. Because this is a man who had brutalized people for years. And...

KING: So why are so many of them so upset?

G. BUSH: So many so upset, you mean, the Baathists, why are they radical Baathists? Well, they are upset because they are not in power.

And but, by far, the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a free and peaceful world.

KING: What is the thing with Mr. Chalabi, and looking back, was that a mistake?

G. BUSH: You mean, to have him in the governing council initially?

KING: And he sat with you at the State of the Union address.

G. BUSH: Oh, oh, yes. Well, we'll see. I mean, he came with a...


G. BUSH: You know, I don't want to prejudge the facts. But I do know that Chalabi came with a...

KING: I keep saying Chalabi.

G. BUSH: That's all right.

KING: You pronounce it better than me.

G. BUSH: That's the only word I pronounce better than you.

But he came with a delegation of Iraqi citizens and leaders that we were able to herald to our country. It was important to say (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people here want to be free. And they want to self- govern. And it's important for the Americans to know that.

And whether or not Chalabi broke the law or violated this or that, the facts will be known on that. And hopefully it will be dealt by the Iraqis in a far way.

KING: So you reserve judgment?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: How will Mr. Hussein be tried?

G. BUSH: By the Iraqis...

KING: Do you know when?

G. BUSH: ... in a fair way. I really don't.

KING: That's totally up to them.

G. BUSH: You bet.

Listen, the governing of their country is up to them. They are a sovereign government. We are there at their request. They want us to be there.

KING: If they say go, you go?

G. BUSH: You bet.

KING: So if that governing council were to say tomorrow...

G. BUSH: "See you later." Yes. They are not going to. But it's their country. We said we'd pass sovereignty. And we did. And Prime Minister Allawi is in charge. And I have spoken to him several times. And he has thanked me. And he wanted me to thank the American people for the security we are providing.

And what we're really doing is giving them breathing room to prepare their own troops to be able to handle their own difficult situations. And they want to. And they will.

KING: Do you have a timeframe? You think?

G. BUSH: You know, look, look, here's the problem with timeframes. My opponent said we will substantially reduce troops in six months.

KING: Right.

G. BUSH: That says to the enemy: Wait for six months and one day. Or it says to the Iraqis, the Americans aren't serious. And it's very important for us not to be setting timetables.

KING: Don't tip a hat. G. BUSH: Well, the timetable is this: Not one day more than is necessary. And the commanders on the ground will let us know when.

KING: We will discuss other aspects of this extraordinary year right after this.


KING: We're back with President and Mrs. Bush. We're at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, and touching a lot of bases. We expect to see a lot of them during the campaign. This is going to be -- our campaign is running very long. All right.

L. BUSH: It will be 81 days...


KING: Nancy Reagan has come out very strong for embryonic stem cell research. I was at that dinner when she came out. She told me the other night she expects to speak more on the subject. Her son spoke very strongly about it at the Democratic convention. And the picture is that you are opposed to embryonic stem cell research, which many scientists say will provide many answers, not just to Alzheimer's, but Parkinson's, diabetes and others. What is your position?

B. BUSH: Well, I'm...

KING: And you have been speaking out.

L. BUSH: I have been speaking out, because there's not a ban on stem cell research. And that seems to be the buzzword now that you would read in the press. And the fact is, the president is the one who -- is the only person who's authorized any research on embryonic stem cell, and several countries have a complete ban on embryonic stem cell research.

KING: So what is the rub to you?

L. BUSH: There isn't a rub to me. It's very preliminary. I mean, I would say, the only rub is that from the talk, from what you hear or what you read, you'd think that there is a cure for Alzheimer's, you know, just around the corner, but that's not the way.


KING: They are very hopeful about it.

L. BUSH: They're hopeful, but it is very, very preliminary. There is adult stem cell research, which is very promising, but there's no ban on stem cell research. People can...

KING: So you're not opposed to it morally.

L. BUSH: No, I'm not. I mean, you know, my dad died of Alzheimer's. KING: What's the rub?

G. BUSH: Well, here's the decision I made. As Laura said, there had been no federal dollars given to embryonic stem cell research. I decided that there were existing lines which could provide promising potential discovery. As a matter of fact, there's 22 active lines now which has led to over a couple of hundred projects being explored off those lines.

When you say stem cell line, that stem cell line can yield different cells, groups that can be used by scientists. And there's hundreds of scientists now doing research based upon my decision.

What I did say was that because a stem cell is derived from the destruction of a human embryo, that there's an ethical dilemma as well. And I believe that the expenditure of taxpayers' dollar on future destruction of human embryos was something we ought to consider very carefully. As a matter of fact, I listened to a panel of ethicists and made the decision that the stem cell lines which existed was ample for federal research.

KING: Don't you think though that the good would outweigh the bad? There's good and bad in a lot of things.

G. BUSH: That's the big debate, Larry, and this country has got to be very careful on destroying life to save life. And it's a debate that needs to move forward in a very careful way. And I listen very carefully to ethicists who impressed me about being cautious and respecting human life, I guess, is the best way to put it. And that's one issue, embryonic stem cell.

The other issue is therapeutic human cloning which I am against. And I think that leads down a slippery slope for people kind of -- designer clones. And so it's a classic discussion between ethics and science.

KING: You don't see it as moral to you?

L. BUSH: No, I mean, I think the president's stand is right, that...

KING: Doesn't in vitro also involve cells?

L. BUSH: Sure. I mean...


L. BUSH: ... what these embryos are from.

KING: Right.

G. BUSH: These are embryos that represent life and the fundamental question, as a society, is: Does society continue to take life, destroy life?

And I made the decision that there was ample number of stem cells, 22 thus far, and we believe more, that can spawn a lot of research to determine whether or not the hopes of these scientists become real.

Now listen, nobody cares more about curing disease than Laura and me. I mean, that's one of our responsibilities. As a matter of fact, at the NIH I made sure that the NIH's budget was doubled, as I said, during the course of my campaign so that we could conduct more research.

As Laura said, there is more research for stem cells than just embryonic stem cells; there are adult stem cells. And a lot people believe that is a very hopeful aspect of the stem cell research field.

And we've increased spending quite dramatically.

KING: Do you understand Mrs. Reagan's viewpoint?

L. BUSH: Sure.

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

L. BUSH: And we have the same...

G. BUSH: Her dad had Alzheimer's.

L. BUSH: ... viewpoint. We all want a cure.

KING: He died.

L. BUSH: Yes, he died of Alzheimer's.

G. BUSH: I think my position is very reasonable. And you know, you say, well, why is it framed the way it is? Because it's a political season. Things happen -- people say things in politics in order to try to create division I guess. And but to say that we have banned embryonic stem cell research is simply not the truth.

But to say that I do care about human life is the truth.

KING: So doesn't that cause a quandary in you, even to include the 22 cells?

G. BUSH: No, they had already been established prior to when I needed to make a decision.

KING: So we're looking at new ones?

G. BUSH: Yes. New ones, that's right. These had already existed. And it's more than 22 stem cell lines.

L. BUSH: But there's no ban on -- this only federal funding that we're talking about.

KING: Only federal, I understand that.

L. BUSH: There is private funding... KING: The private funding can go on.

L. BUSH: Sure.

G. BUSH: I do think it's important for us to promote a culture of life in America. I think it's very important. I think a society which promotes a culture of life is a compassionate society and a decent society.

And it makes it easy to -- easier if you have a culture of life to wrestle with these very difficult decisions. I mean, there's -- should there be suicide -- allow people assisted suicides? I mean, there's a lot of issues that are very important.

KING: Isn't that a dilemma...

G. BUSH: There are a lot of dilemmas...


L. BUSH: They're all dilemmas.

G. BUSH: That's the whole point. They're not easy issues, but if you believe that the job is to promote a culture of life in society, the issues become more clear.

KING: We'll be right back with President and Mrs. Bush. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with the Bushs.

Senator Kerry got a huge ovation at his convention. Did you watch any of the Democratic convention?

G. BUSH: Not much of it.

KING: When he said he will not put his religion, carry his religion on his sleeve, implying that you do.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Do you?

G. BUSH: I may -- when asked, I profess my faith.

KING: Does it come to the office? Does the faith come to the office? By that I mean...

G. BUSH: You can't separate your faith from your life. I make decisions on what I think is best for the country but my faith is important to me and a lot of times my faith comes up because I thank people for their prayers and I mean people from all religions. But, no, I think the church ought to be separate from the state, the state separate from the church but I don't see how you can separate your faith as a person and my faith is an integral part of my life.

L. BUSH: I think he's right. I mean, you know, whatever anyone's faith is is a part of their lives. But the great thing about our country is we have the right to worship if we want to, however we want to or not to worship. And, you know, as we look around the world right now that's one of our most important freedoms and they're -- you know, I know George knows that. I mean, I think that's the whole point of the separation of church and state but it's also our right.

KING: But you don't see this as a Christianity against the world.

G. BUSH: No, of course not. I see it as people who love freedom against those who prevent others from being free and I say that it a lot when asked about religion that the greatest thing about America is you can practice your faith, or have no faith at all and you're equally an American. And if you choose to -- if you believe in the Almighty, you can -- you're equally an American. If you're a Jew, Christian or Muslim or Hindi or whatever. It is one of the great traits and traditions of our country, where people can worship the way you see fit. And that is not the case in parts of the world.

KING: Where?

G. BUSH: Take Afghanistan: Not only could you not worship freely, but if you didn't worship according to the Taliban, you were whipped publicly. For example, if you were a woman, if you weren't in lockstep with these dictators and tyrants, that you would be brutalized. And America stands in stark contrast to that. We're the opposite end of that spectrum.

KING: The gay issue.

G. BUSH: Yeah.

KING: There are many gays in your party.

G. BUSH: Sure.

KING: Many gays in the Democratic Party. Many gays in America. You want a constitutional amendment to protect heterosexual marriage?

G. BUSH: Yes, I do.

KING: Why? Why do you need an amendment?

G. BUSH: Well, because I'm worried that the laws on the books that basically define marriage as between a man -- not basically, do define marriage between a man and a woman will be ruled unconstitutional, and then judges will make the decision as to the definition of marriage. And I think it's too important an issue for judges to make that decision. And I think that one way to guarantee that traditional marriage is defined as between a man and a woman is through the constitutional process...

KING: What about the union of gays? G. BUSH: Well, that's up to states, you know. If states choose to do that, in other words, if they want to provide legal protections for gays, that's great. That's fine. But I do not want to change the definition of marriage. I don't think our country should, from the traditional definition of marriage that's between a man or a woman.

The other thing about the constitutional process, it will get states involved. In other words, the people ought to be involved in this decision. And so that's why I took the stand I took.

KING: You do think...


G. BUSH: Well, listen, I...

KING: You don't amend easily.

G. BUSH: Yeah.

L. BUSH: That's right. It's a debate. I mean...

G. BUSH: Absolutely. But it's an important debate, Larry, and it's a debate that the people need to be involved with, and not courts. And that's what you're beginning to see. There was a decision here in California, it was a court decision. In other words, it's -- and it ruled that marriages in San Francisco were illegal according to California law. But the point is that this ought to be decided by people, and I just happen to believe and know that if you believe that traditional marriage ought to be the law of the land, that the way to guarantee that is through the constitutional process.

And I want to say something about this debate. It is a debate that must be conducted with the greatest respect for people. And that my judgment, I think our society is great because people are able to live their lifestyles, you know, as they choose or as they're oriented.

KING: Gay people would honestly say they want the benefits of a marriage.

G. BUSH: Well, you can do that through the legal process. You know, people have said to me, well, if you're gay, you can't inherit because -- and you don't get the exemption from income tax. Well, my answer there is get rid of the inheritance tax forever, the death tax, which I'm trying to do. And there are ways to make sure gays have got rights. And you can do so in the law.

KING: Back with our remaining moments. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments with President and Mrs. Bush. Sales tax over an income tax?

(CROSSTALK) KING: Wouldn't that hurt the middle class?

G. BUSH: Yes. Listen, the guy asked me a question. He said, "what about getting rid of the entire income tax system for an alternative?" I said it's an interesting idea. My point to him was was that we ought to explore ways to simplify the tax code.

KING: You weren't saying replace it with sales tax?

G. BUSH: No, I said it was an interesting idea. This is politics. People put words in your mouth. People shouldn't worry about me raising taxes. I'm the guy that cut taxes. I worked with Congress...

KING: But you wouldn't replace income with sales tax.

G. BUSH: Well, it's an option that some people think is a viable option. I just said it's an interesting idea. I do think we ought to look at ways to simplify the tax code. The tax code is way too complicated but let me just make this clear so everybody understands. I'm the guy that believes in reducing taxes and keeping them low. It's the other fellow that says he's going to raise taxes and I think it'll be a mistake to raise taxes now. The economy is getting better and raising taxes now on people would slow the economy down.

KING: You're going to campaign a lot?

L. BUSH: Sure. Party...


KING: ... you weren't crazy about it.

L. BUSH: Well, I have liked it. I do really like it a lot. I like to be with people, I like to travel around our country and, you know, it's a huge privilege to get to travel around our country like I get to.

KING: The times are different. Reagan once said in debating Carter, "are you better off today than you were four years ago?" Is that a fair question to ask?

G. BUSH: Sure. I'll be glad to answer it. The answer is yes.

KING: We're better off today?

G. BUSH: Absolutely. The world is safer. What we have done -- think about this. Libya is no longer a threat, Pakistan is an ally on the war on terror, Saudi is after Al Qaeda, there are 15 million people that once live in tyranny are now living in societies which are heading toward democracies, the world is getting safer.

There's still hard work to do. But it's getting safer, the economy is growing, we've overcome a recession, an corporate scandals, stock market decline, an attack and yet we've recovered and our economy is getting better. The education system is getting better because of the No Child Left Behind Act. The Medicare law has been strengthened so seniors will have prescription drug coverage starting in 2006. Yes, I look forward to answering that question.

KING: You were effusive at the unveiling of the Clinton portrait in praise of him. Why?

G. BUSH: First of all, I said that here's a man who when he lived in this house, was enthusiastic about his job. He loved every day. And I think I captured him well. He did. He loved the presidency. And I said...

KING: He had a great time, he told me...

G. BUSH: You bet. And I said, when he takes on a task, he believes in it. He throws his whole body and soul into it. And that also captured the spirit of the man.

And I think there's a lot of bitterness in the political process, kind of in that political circle. And I was hoping to, you know, say, have at least one moment where people from different parties could get together and enjoy themselves.

KING: You are going to the dedication of his library, right?

G. BUSH: I am, hopefully as a reelected president.


KING: First lady, should that be an issue? Mrs. Kerry be an issue, Mrs. Bush be an issue?

L. BUSH: No, I don't think so. I mean, our names aren't on the ballot. I don't think we should be in any...

G. BUSH: I think Laura ought to be an issue.


G. BUSH: Because it shows what good judgment I have.

KING: Married out of your league?

G. BUSH: Married out of my league. Married above myself. I'm really proud of Laura. She's a really good...

KING: But you don't think it should be an issue...

L. BUSH: No.

KING: ... what people think...

L. BUSH: I don't think it is an issue. I mean, I think when the time comes, obviously people will vote for who's on the ballot. I think Americans are very interested in the families, the spouses and the children.

KING: Are you going to sign off on the debate days?

G. BUSH: Do what now?

KING: They've signed -- Kerry has agreed to the debate days.

G. BUSH: Oh good.

KING: Have you agreed yet to those four dates? One vice presidential, three presidential.

G. BUSH: I'm sure we have. There will be debates. I don't think you have to worry about that.

KING: You can pick the dates and times, but last I heard, the White House hadn't signed off yet? Sign off tonight.

G. BUSH: I'll be there to debate.

KING: Sign off, you'll show up.

G. BUSH: Well, I don't have -- frankly, to be honest with you, I don't have any idea what the dates are. But I'm confident we'll have the debates.

KING: The three debates and the vice presidential.

G. BUSH: There will be debates.

KING: Will they be key?

G. BUSH: They're always key. I mean, that gives it -- people will tune in and see how we handle the questions and the pressure and the give and take. And I look forward to them.

I mean, I've been through a lot of debates. As a matter of fact, you and I went through one together in South Carolina.

KING: South Carolina, I'll never forget it.

G. BUSH: And they're important occasions. They are part of the process.

KING: Do you love this job?

G. BUSH: I do. I want to do it for four more years. It's been remarkable experience. As I said before, these are historic times, and it's been an honor to be a part of that.

KING: What's disappointed you?

G. BUSH: The bitterness inside Washington. It's different than I thought. Certainly wasn't that case in Austin, Texas, when I was the governor.

KING: You were never hated there.

G. BUSH: Oh, I don't, you know, I don't pay...

KING: How do you react to that?

G. BUSH: I just don't pay that much attention to it.

KING: You don't?

G. BUSH: No, I've got too much on my mind to worry about me.


L. BUSH: I don't like it.

KING: No, I mean...

L. BUSH: I don't pay that much attention either. But, you know, no one likes that, especially when it's somebody you love that you hear criticized -- unfairly criticized, I might add.

G. BUSH: You know, really, I'm serious about it. I've got too much to do, and too much to worry about. I mean, we are under threat, and I've got a duty to protect our country. We've got troops in harm's way in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I have a duty to see to it that they got the equipment needed to do their jobs, and to explain to the American people, to rally a coalition.

I mean, there's a lot to do in this job other than worry about, you know, whether people like me or not.

KING: How are your daughters doing?

L. BUSH: They're doing great.

G. BUSH: Yes, they are great.

L. BUSH: We've had really a lot of time with them, a lot fun with them on the campaign trail.

KING: And they are in the campaign, right?

L. BUSH: That's right.

G. BUSH: Nothing better than being out on the trail with your daughters.

KING: Fatherhood is the best.


G. BUSH: You would know.

KING: Oh, you bet.

G. BUSH: Thank you, sir.

KING: Thank you, Mr. President. G. BUSH: You bet.

KING: Thanks for joining us. The Bushes, the president and first lady of the United States. Great honor having them with us. We look forward to many visits in the days ahead with the 43rd president of the United States and his wife, Laura. Stay tuned for more news around the clock on your most trusted name in news, CNN. See you tomorrow night. Good night.


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