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Bush 41 is a "Content Man"; Dedication Day for the Bush Presidential Center; Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush Speak at Presentation

Aired April 25, 2013 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John King is there at the Presidential Center getting ready to watch as all of us -- hear all these former presidents and the current president speak as well. John, you had a chance to sit down with the former President George W. Bush for a very candid blunt interview. How is he doing now? I guess that's the bottom line question.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as always, George W. Bush is comfortable in his skin. His friends have always said that. His critics have always said that as well.

"I am a content man," he said. He knows this dedication ceremony today with the public opening of this library will re-stir the very issues we're talking about, the controversial decision to go to war in Iraq, his federal response after Katrina, the financial crisis response in 2007 and, obviously very late in his presidency, in 2008.

He understands all that. He says that he is not trying to over-shape. He concedes, yes, any presidential library is an effort to shape some of the conversation about his legacy. But what the president told me is he thinks people will be surprised at how objective this library is. As Gloria noted, there is a place called the Decision Points Theater. You can see some of the advice the president received about going to war in Iraq, about what to do in Katrina.

And in the conversation, I talked to him about this. About Iraq, he said, yes, a lot of tactical mistakes were made, but he still thinks removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision.

About Katrina, he says, look, you know, he still stands by his decision not to declare an insurrection and overrule the governor of Louisiana in those moments right before Katrina when she did not want him to send the national guard in. She still wanted the state to be the first response.

So, look, he understands this will stir up the debate. But, again, he was very relaxed as always, pushing aside questions about legacy, saying history will decide that and saying he does not mind at all. He says he's not itching to get involved in the day-to-day conversations about politics right now.

It will be interesting, though, to have Bill Clinton here, who I'll tell you, Wolf, will be very, very jealous of the dedication day weather. You remember the Clinton Library dedication, monsoons in Arkansas on that day. And the current president, President Obama, it will be interesting to hear the two presidents who are the book-ends, if you will, of the Bush administrations talking about that.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's going to be -- we see all the dignitaries beginning to arrive right now. They've raised a lot of money, I think about $250 million, to build this presidential library and center, research facility, and we're going to be hearing from all these presidents, five American presidents, including the current president, all of whom will be here on this day at the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

Brianna Keilar, our White House correspondent, is there as well. Brianna, you've had a chance to take a look at this facility. What was it like?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was fascinating, Wolf. And what I was struck by going into it at the beginning was that it was just a brief moment in the Bush president that was pre- 9/11.

You really got that sense -- at one point, you were staring at a red dress from first lady Laura Bush and it was still at a time in September of 2001 where they were still experiencing firsts. And it was the first state dinner to honor the then-president of Mexico, Vicente Fox. It was six days before 9/11.

You immediately make a hard right turn and you're confronted with the twisted hulk of the South Tower, a piece of the South Tower from the World Trade Center, what employees told us, was believed to be the point of impact of one of those hijacked jetliners. And from there, obviously, the Bush presidency was defined and his controversial decisions that were made after that regarding the war on terror, regarding invading Iraq.

As John mentioned, one of the more interesting and certainly interactive parts of this whole display is that Decision Points Theater where visitors get advice from advisers.

They might talk to military commanders. They get a little input from the press and they get to make decisions on Katrina, on Iraq, on the financial crisis that President Bush made. He will explain in it why he made his decisions, exactly what his decisions were.

And I will tell you, Wolf, there are also some lighter moments here. I was sort of taken aback by how much square footage was dedicated to the presidential pets, Barney especially, always very popular, one of the Bushes Scottish terriers, a lot of artifacts from him and his, basically, sister Ms. Beasley, featured prominently in this museum, a popular thing, I'd say, for the kids, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Brianna, stand by.

John, you had a chance to sit down with the former president and you reviewed the good, the bad, and the ugly of his eight years in the White House. I know you have some excerpts, some clips, you want to play for us, but set the scene for us.

KING: Wolf, obviously, the former president has stayed out of the limelight. He says he does not want to talk about what President Obama's doing. He says anything he says will be viewed as criticism. He doesn't want to get involved.

I flew here to talk to the president and to Laura Bush, directly from Boston, which, of course, had just experienced a terrorist attack, so that's where I began our conversation.


KING: As the man who was commander-in-chief on 9/11, what went through your mind when you heard explosions at the finish line of the Boston marathon?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was reminded that evil exists and there are people in the world who are willing to kill innocent people to advance a cause. I don't know what this cause is, but we'll find out.

During the same week in a town close to us at Crawford, a plant exploded. And both incidents remind me how fragile life can be for some and both incidents, you know, made us weep, knowing that somebody was hurting a lot.

KING: I want to ask you, sir, based on what you know now, do you wish that instead of the "Rumsfeld doctrine" which was "lean and mean," you know, go with a lighter force, that you had maybe adopted what your dad did in the first Gulf War, the "Powell doctrine" and gone in with overwhelming force?

BUSH: In my book, I pointed out there are some tactics that need to be revisited. On the other hand, the removal of Saddam Hussein was the right decision. America's more secure. The Iraqi people have a chance to live in a free society.

The museum, it does give people an opportunity to hear the different points of view I got on these particular issues, the purpose of which is not to try to defend a policy. The purpose of which is to try to show people what it is like to be the president and how you make the decisions.

History will ultimately judge the decisions that were made for Iraq. And I'm just not going to be around to see the final verdict.

KING: What have you learned from the formers, your dad, President Clinton, President Carter, about how to be most effective in a post- presidency?

BUSH: You learn that life doesn't end after you're president. In other words, you're going a hundred-miles-an-hour and, in my case, we woke up in Crawford and I was going zero.

And, so, the challenge is how to live life to its fullest. In my case, I've chosen to do so outside the limelight. On the other hand, I am confident that, when this chapter of our life is finished, we will both be able to say that we've advanced the cause of peace and freedom and helped improve the human condition.


BLITZER: There you see the current president and Mrs. Obama and the former presidents. They're all up there on the stage.

It was interesting just a few minutes ago when we saw Mrs. Obama walk in. Laura Bush was there, walking in as well, Hillary Clinton together with the former President Bill Clinton there as well. They're going through the preliminary events, including an invocation and some other moments right now.

We're going to have extensive live coverage. We're going to hear from five American presidents, four former presidents, including the current president.

We'll take a quick break. Our special coverage of the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center continues right after this.


BLITZER: All right, welcome back. We're watching the dedication ceremonies for the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

This is a 24-acre site, 226,000 square foot building. This is a major event. Every U.S. president in recent times has had these kinds of presidential libraries.

Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state, now speaking.



Mr. President and Mrs. Obama, President and Mrs. Carter, President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush, President and Mrs. Clinton, and President and Mrs. Bush, I have the honor of introducing a number of global leaders, national leaders and Texas state leaders who have come to join us on this momentous occasion.

As your name is called, may I ask you to stand and may I ask the audience to hold their applause so we can acknowledge our global leaders together.

President of the Republic of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, and Mrs. Sandra E. Roelofs; Former president of Spain, President Aznar; The former president of Ghana, John Kufuor; The former president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, and Mrs. Myung Ang-kim (ph); Former President and Mrs. Lourdes Maria Rodriguez de Flores of El Salvador; Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy; Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mrs. Cherie Blair of the United Kingdom; Former Prime Minister and Mrs. John Howard of Australia; Former President -- former Prime Minister and Mrs. Ehud Olmert of Israel; Former Secretary- general -- current Secretary-general of NATO, Mr. Fogh Rasmussen; His Royal Highness, Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia;Abdul Al Khalifa of Bharain;

Former ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Ronen Sen of India; Current ambassadors to the United States, Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah of Kuwait; Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal; Ambassador Eklil Ahmad Hakimi and Mrs. Hakimi of Afghanistan; Ambassador Tebelelo Seretse of Botswana; The German chief of missions, Mr. Jens Hanefeld.

Please join me in acknowledging and welcoming our global leaders.

I would now like the acknowledge the governor of Texas, Rick Perry; The governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer; The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie and Mrs. Mary Pat Christie; The former governor of Alabama, Bob Riley; And the former governor of Michigan, John Engler and his wife, Michelle.

I want to greet the following members of Congress: Senator Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, of Texas; Senator John Cornyn of Texas; Senator -- former Senator Bill Frist; Former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; The Speaker of the House, Congressman John Boehner and his wife, Debbie; Congressman Jeb Hensarling; Congresswoman Kay Granger; Congressman Michael Burgess.


BLITZER: So as the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues to introduce some of the VIPs who have come in from all over the country, indeed, all over the world, I just want to bring back Doug Brinkley.

Five American presidents, the current president, four former presidents, all the living presidents on hand at the same place, Doug; you're a presidential historian. This doesn't happen very often.

DOUG BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Oh, it is quite unique. I mean, Nixon's funeral was one of those events when all these presidents got together and a photo of them together will become a popular souvenir, I'm sure, in this Bush Library.

I think it is interesting also, Wolf, hearing Condoleezza Rice kind of taking charge at the outset, how she's really George W. Bush's foreign policy hand. And many of the critics of Bush talk about Rumsfeld and Cheney. But he has always stayed very loyal to Condoleezza Rice.

I might also mention a word about the artifacts in this library. There was -- what's missing is that "Mission Accomplished" banner. In many of these presidential libraries, when they open, have a hagiographic cast. It took about 20 years for the Reagan Library to deal with Iran-Contra and the Clinton Library still hasn't dealt with impeachment. So it's really a festival here today.



BLITZER (voice-over): Here is a video of this presidential center.



DON EVANS, FMR. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: Please welcome the chairman of the George W. Bush Foundation board of directors, Donald L. Evans, accompanied by the archivist of the United States, David Ferriero.


BLITZER (voice-over): This is the formal presentation of the library to the American people. Don Evans, who served as the Secretary of Commerce during the Bush administration, very close to the former President of the United States, making this formal presentation of the library.

And you saw in that video there are several presidential libraries that have been dedicated over the years. This is the seventh presidential library that's located on the campus or affiliated with a major American university.

So this is part of the ceremony, and we'll continue momentarily with Ms. Bush, delivering her remarks, followed by Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton and then President Obama. And the final speaker will be George W. Bush.

Laura Bush, the former first lady, about to speak.

LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to all of our friends and family who have joined us today. Be seated.

Welcome to all of our friends and family who have joined us today from around the country and around the world. Thank you all for coming, and a special welcome to President Obama and Michelle, to President Clinton and Secretary Clinton, to President Carter and Rosalynn and, finally, we're thrilled to have our father and mother, President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush.


LAURA BUSH: I know for the presidential families that nothing says an exciting get-together more than an invitation to come and see millions of documents from someone else's time in office, so thank you all very much for coming.

A warm welcome to the former heads of state who have joined us, the diplomatic corps, the members of the United States Congress and our Armed Forces. And we're especially happy to see the familiar faces of so many of the Bush-Cheney administration.

In the United States the presidency is not just about one person. The presidency is about all of the people that joined with that president in years of service to our remarkable nation. They are the people who never fly on Air Force One but who put in countless late nights and earlier mornings, who spend less time with their family and friends and more time hard at work, caring for our country.

The presidency is about the men and women of our military who serve every president and who make the ultimate sacrifice to protect us and keep us safe.

The stones in the walls behind us represent your years of service. This building is here because of your service. And for that, George and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


LAURA BUSH: A presidential library is not just about one president. Each library is about our nation and the world during that time. The George W. Bush Presidential Center reflects George's role as the first president of the 21st century.

Like our new era, the building and its grounds are designed to be forward looking and they are green and sustainable. They celebrate the native environment of our home state of Texas.

The archives housed here are completely digital and the entire Bush Center is designed to present the past and engage the future. We welcome scholars and students and the community at large to gather here for generations to come.

The center is designed to be human in scale because, like the White House, presidential libraries belong to all Americans. The people across our nation were the ones who inspired us every day. Here, we remember the heartbreak and the heroism of September 11th, and the bravery of those who answered the call to defend our country.

We remember the volunteers of all ages and all walks of life who came to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, and we remember all the people who stepped forward to help others, whether to teach a child to read or to feed a hungry family.

And throughout this center, I am reminded of my husband. I remember the image of George standing amid the rubble of the World Trade Center, his arm around the shoulders of a retired firefighter who had grabbed his old gear to go search for the missing.

I remember George standing alone on the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium, preparing to throw out the first pitch in New York of the 2001 World Series, during that long season of heartbreak and healing.

I remember his quiet visits with the families of the fallen, sharing their stories and their tears. And I remember how steadfast and steady he was for eight years.

Since we've been home I've added new memories. I see George lifting a brush to paint and refurbish a health clinic in the African nation of Zambia.

I see George last May on a bike ride with wounded veterans, when he hopped off his own bike to help push an Army major, who was pedaling with only one leg up the steep hills. My George is a man who, when someone needs a hand, offers him their arms. This is the spirit I hope is forever captured in this beautiful building, that this will always be a place that welcomes each visitor with open arms. Thank you all and welcome.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, President Jimmy Carter.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's a great honor for me to be here today and it reminds me of my favorite cartoon in "The New Yorker" magazine. This little boy is looking up at his father. And he says, "Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a former president."

Well, four of us have already made that goal, and one is still working on it, but it is a wonderful thing to be with the other presidents and to have a chance to address this wonderful audience.

I'll be very brief and I'll be limiting my comments just to the things that I know personally that have been important for me and for George W. Bush.