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Laura Bush: Rice in '08?

First lady would 'love to see' secretary of state run for president

Programming note: CNN's Zain Verjee interviews first lady Laura Bush on "The Situation Room," 7 p.m. ET Friday.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a big backer in the first lady. "She's terrific," Laura Bush said.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ahead of her trip to witness the inauguration of Africa's first elected female president, first lady Laura Bush said Friday that the United States could elect a female president in the next few terms, and said she would like to cast a ballot for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"She says she definitely is not running," Bush told CNN's Zain Verjee. "I'd love to see her run, she's terrific."

Laura Bush also weighed in on the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, which wrapped up on Friday, calling for a "civil and respectful hearing." (Read the transcript of the interview)

Bush said she offered support to Alito's wife, Martha-Ann Bomgardner, who left Wednesday's hearing in tears during comments by Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, regarding questions from Democrats. A staffer said Bomgardner apparently was upset at an earlier line of questioning over her husband's prior membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, which advocated admission restrictions on women and minorities.

The first lady said the hearings should not include personal attacks.

"I do think it's really important in the United States for people like Judge Alito to be treated with respect," she said. "I think it's very important for the Senate to have a very civil and respectful hearing for anyone that has been nominated for the Supreme Court or for the other jobs that require Senate confirmation."

Headed to Africa

On Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bush will head a delegation that includes Rice to the west African nation of Liberia to witness the inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

"I think it's a very, very historical time for Liberia, of course, and really for the whole continent of Africa to have the first woman president," the first lady said. "Liberia just has had 14 years of civil war, of a lot of problems, and they just ended up with a really good, competitive and fair election." (Watch as Bush talks about Liberia, and a future woman president -- 6:09)

Johnson-Sirleaf, 67, was officially declared president in November, after a runoff election with international soccer star George Weah, who had been favored to win. She received nearly 60 percent of the runoff vote, and Weah dropped charges of fraud he leveled in the initial election.

Johnson-Sirleaf will replace the country's two-year transitional administration, which came to power after Liberia's civil war ended in 2003.

The fighting claimed about 250,000 lives.

Liberia, which was founded by former American slaves more than 180 years ago, descended into chaos in 1989 under President Charles Taylor, who was ousted from power by a coup 10 years later.

Taylor, who was later convicted of human rights violations, is in exile in Nigeria.

After her visit to Liberia, Bush and six university presidents from the United States will head to Ghana to unveil a program that links American minority colleges with African institutions to provide textbooks and school supplies to needy African students.

Losses in Iraq

The first lady also addressed the Iraq war in her CNN interview, acknowledging that it is "unbelievably difficult" to talk to families who have lost loved ones in the conflict. But Bush said most of the families have proud traditions of serving in the U.S. military, and "many times they are the ones that comfort us."

"What we say (to the families) is what we say today, to you, which is, we do think it's worth it," she said. "If Iraq, in the middle of the Middle East, can build a stable democracy, ... it'll be unbelievable, really.

"It'll be something that will be so strong for all of the other surrounding countries, for Palestine, for Israel, for this opportunity to build peace there and to build strong and stable countries."

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