Walters Put Bush on Defense in 2001, But Tosses Softballs to Obama

In the interview for Wednesday’s Barbara Walters Special on ABC with Barack and Michelle Obama, excerpts of which were also shown on Wednesday’s World News with Charles Gibson, Walters asked few questions that put the Obamas on the defensive, in contrast with her January 2001 interview, aired on 20/20, with then-President-elect Bush in which she challenged him on a number of fronts. Most notably, she seemed to chide Bush for choosing John Ashcroft as Attorney General because he "openly opposes abortion," and claimed that Ashcroft was "not considered a friend to civil rights." She asked Bush about reports that, as governor of Texas, he "spent relatively little time studying specific issues," and "only does a few hours of work" a day. The ABC host also challenged Bush from the left on the trade embargo against Cuba, and even asked Laura Bush if her more "traditional" plans for her time as First Lady would be a "setback for women." It is also noteworthy that Walters asked Bush about his plans for dealing with Saddam Hussein and cited "people in the know" who contended that the Iraqi dictator was "stronger than ever."

But after having pressed Bush on a number of questions, several times from the left, Walters this time not only failed to challenge Obama from the right, but she actually pressed him from the left as well as she seemed to fret about how long America has to wait for him to raise taxes on the rich. Walters: "During the campaign, there was a central and consistent theme of yours to raise taxes on people earning over $250,000 a year. Now, it seems there’s a little waffling on that. When are you going to do it?"

While introducing Michelle Obama for the second half hour of the special, Walters invoked President Kennedy’s family as she effused: "The Obamas harken back to another First Family, with their youthful embodiment of style, substance, and hope." But earlier, at the top of the program, she had taken a shot at President Bush as "one of the most unpopular Presidents in modern history" and suggested that it is not "an exaggeration to say that the fate of the nation is riding on [Obama’s] shoulders." Walters: "In only 55 days, Barack Obama will replace one of the most unpopular Presidents in modern history. He will inherit two wars and an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Tonight, as families across our country gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, there is a sense of unease and a hope that someone can restore confidence and leadership. Although Barack Obama insists we have only one President at a time, some say that fear and financial uncertainty have forced him into the unprecedented role of a shadow President, even before he has taken the oath of office. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that the fate of the nation is riding on his shoulders."

In her interview with Bush which aired on the January 19, 2001, 20/20 on ABC, after asking Bush a couple of questions about the bitterly fought 2000 election and beliefs by his critics that the Supreme Court "handed" the election to him, Walters moved on to the issue of Ashcroft, showing a clip of him expressing pro-life sentiments while holding up an unclear photograph of what was likely the image of an unborn baby. Ashcroft: "God's precious gift of life must be protected in law and nurtured in love."

After claiming that Ashcroft was "not considered a friend to civil rights," Walters then took Bush to task for nominating a "lightning rod" after saying he wanted to "unite" the country:

WALTERS: Now, he openly opposes abortion. But he's going to have to be the one to protect the abortion clinics. He's not considered a friend to civil rights. He's been against court-ordered desegregation. The big question is, can an attorney general enforce federal laws and protect rights that he personally, vigorously opposes?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. His job is going to be to enforce the laws and there’s no question in my mind he will. John is a steady hand. He'll do a fine job.

WALTERS: Did you expect him to be as much of a lightning rod?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.

WALTERS: You really did? And you did it anyway, even though you talk about wanting to unite?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it doesn't mean we can't unite the nation once we put somebody in place who can do the job as Attorney General.

After asking Bush a few questions about his own investment choices, which she used to challenge him on his plan to allow workers to invest a portion of their Social Security tax payments in the stock market, Walters went on to bring up reports that Bush did not spend much time working in his job as governor of Texas:

WALTERS: I want to talk a little bit about your, your own presidential style. It has been reported that, as governor, you spent relatively little time studying specific issues. You started work at 9, you took two hours for lunch and jogging, and you finish work at 5.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, this is just ridic-, I don't know where-

WALTERS: This is what we’ve, this is what we’ve read.

GEORGE W. BUSH: No, that’s just absurd. It's just totally absurd.

WALTERS: Tell us your schedule.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm up at 5:45 to 6. I read the papers. I'm at work generally at 7:15 to 7:30. I do exercise. I try to exercise on a regular basis, because I happen to believe that I'm a more effective person if I exercise. I worked over lunch. I oftentimes got home at 8 or 9 at night.

WALTERS: Do you nap every day?

GEORGE W. BUSH: No.

WALTERS: You know, but this is what's been said about you, you know-

GEORGE W. BUSH: I know, but this is-

WALTERS: -that you're this sort of a gentleman President who comes in, does a few hours of work and leaves.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. That's because, that's just shoddy reporting. It's ridiculous.

Walters then moved on to the subject of Iraq, as she contended that Saddam Hussein was "stronger than ever" and that he was "building up his military capabilities." Walters: "The problem left over from your father's time, Saddam Hussein. And he's stronger than ever. Just this past week, he said yet again, no inspectors. People say that, who are in the know, that he's building up his military capabilities. It's in your lap. What do you do?"

She asked Bush about the apparent inconsistency between his support for the trade embargo against Cuba while supporting trade with China, and soon brought aboard Laura Bush. The ABC anchor managed to challenge Mrs. Bush from the left as she voiced concerns that her plans for the role of First Lady would be a "setback for women." Walters: "You are also going to be, in your own words, a more traditional First Lady. Hillary Clinton was very activist. She was involved sometimes in policy planning. And, you know, there will be those people who will say this is a setback for women."

Below are transcripts of portions of Walters’s recent interview with President-elect and Mrs. Obama, followed by portions of the January 2001 interview with President and Mrs. Bush:

#From the Wednesday, November 26 World News with Charles Gibson on ABC, substitute hosted by George Stephanopoulos:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The economy, of course, is one of the top issues the President-elect discussed with Barbara Walters in her exclusive interview airing tonight on ABC. And Barbara is here with us now to share part of that conversation. From what I saw, Barbara, the President-elect seemed to be in pretty good spirits.

BARBARA WALTERS: He is confident, but, George, he is very aware of how much he has on his plate. I sat down with President-elect Obama for over an hour yesterday evening in Chicago. In a wide-ranging interview that covered the status of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the state of the economy, and the cabinet and staff he's assembling, the President-elect made it very clear that he's concerned about the two-month lapse between now and when he can take action as President. As you prepared to lead the country, what is your biggest fear?

BARACK OBAMA: There are a lot of things that keep me up at night.

WALTERS: Yeah.

OBAMA: And one of the concerns I have is that the economy is so weakened that the next 60 days are, are going to be difficult, because we've got a President who, even though he may mean well, is now sort of in lame duck status, Congress isn't in, and I don't have the reins of power. But what we can also do is to try to instill in the American people a sense of confidence that help is on the way, that somebody's going to be thinking about the fact that you're losing your home, that somebody’s going to be working on making sure that, if you are at risk of losing your job, that there are plans in place to secure that job.

WALTERS: So what you’re saying is, "Hang in there"?

OBAMA: Absolutely.

WALTERS: How did you feel when you read about the three heads of the auto companies taking private planes to Washington?

OBAMA: Well, I thought maybe they were a little tone deaf to what's happening in America right now. When people are pulling down hundred billion dollar, hundred million dollar bonuses on Wall Street, and taking enormous risks with other people's money, that indicates a sense that you don't have any perspective on what's happening to ordinary Americans.

WALTERS: Are there sacrifices that Americans as individuals can do?

OBAMA; Yes. The first thing, I think, is for the American people to draw on that reservoir of confidence and stick-to-it-ness and perseverance that my grandparents had during much tougher times during the Great Depression. To feel confident that we're going to get through these times. But each of us have a role to play, in not being wasteful when it comes to energy. For us to turn off the lights when we leave the house, to make sure that we're unplugging the chargers that we use on our cell phones. Buying a fuel efficient car, making sure that the tire pressure is proper so that we're not using as much gasoline. All those things add up, can make an enormous difference.

WALTERS: You talk about light bulbs and so forth. When you're in the White House, are you going to green the White House? You’re going to turn off the light bulbs, tell the kids to turn them, you know?

OBAMA: Absolutely. One of the things I want to do is to, I've already met the chief usher, and one of the things I want to do is to sit down with him and, let's do an evaluation. How are we using energy in the White House? Now, you know, I don't want to, part of what I want to do is to show the American people that it's not that hard.

WALTERS: Are you going to tiptoe around at night and turn out the lights?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm not going to be obsessive about it, but I do that in my current house. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t do it in my next one.

WALTERS: Well, he has a few more lights to turn off in this next one. When I finished my conversation with the President-elect, we were then joined by his wife Michelle, and we talked about everything from the theme of his inaugural address to concerns about his safety, to the chores they expect their children to do in the white house. George, this couple clearly enjoys each other's company. As you will see tonight, they were very candid and very funny.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Barack Obama funny?

WALTERS: He says that he does have a sense of humor, but hers is better.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Can’t wait to see. Barbara’s special airs at 10 tonight, 9 Central.

#From the Wednesday, November 26 Barbara Walters Special on ABC:

BARBARA WALTERS: Good evening. In only 55 days, Barack Obama will replace one of the most unpopular Presidents in modern history. He will inherit two wars and an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Tonight, as families across our country gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, there is a sense of unease and a hope that someone can restore confidence and leadership. Although Barack Obama insists we have only one President at a time, some say that fear and financial uncertainty have forced him into the unprecedented role of a shadow President, even before he has taken the oath of office. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that the fate of the nation is riding on his shoulders.

...

10:04 p.m.

You have said that Americans don’t expect miracles from you, but many of them, indeed, do. You’re expected to cure the economy, and to save the planet, and to do it quickly. Are you concerned that expectations might be too high for you?

10:08 p.m.

During the campaign, there was a central and consistent theme of yours to raise taxes on people earning over $250,000 a year. Now, it seems there’s a little waffling on that. When are you going to do it?

...

After Obama brought up the importance of Americans trying not to waste energy, Walters asked:

You talk about light bulbs and so forth. When you’re in the White House, are you going to green the White House? Are you going to turn off the light bulbs, tell the kids to turn the, you know?

After Obama talked about re-evaluating how the White House uses energy, Walters responded:

Are you going to tiptoe around at night and turn off the lights?

...

10:15 p.m.

You know, the primary theme of your campaign, of course, was "change" and new ideas, but a lot of the people on your team are former Clinton people, former Clinton insiders, so some people say, "What happened to change?"

...

Walters introduced the second half hour which focused on the relationship between Barack and Michelle Obama, and their expectations on raising their children in the White House:

WALTERS: The Obamas harken back to another First Family, with their youthful embodiment of style, substance, and hope. And at the epicenter, the woman the President-elect calls:

BARACK OBAMA CLIP FROM SPEECH: The rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation’s next First Lady, Michelle Obama.

#From the Wednesday, January 17, 2001, World News Tonight on ABC:

BARBARA WALTERS: Did you expect him [John Ashcroft] to be as much of a lightning rod?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.

WALTERS: You really did? And you did it anyway even though you talk about wanting to unite.

BUSH: It doesn’t mean we can’t unite the nation once we put somebody in place who can do the job as Attorney General.

WALTERS: He’s not considered a friend to civil rights, he’s been against court ordered desegregation. The big question is, can an Attorney General enforce federal laws and protect rights that he personally, vigorously, opposes?

BUSH: Yes. His job is going to be to enforce the laws and there’s no question in my mind he will. I know there’s a lot of people out there hollering, mainly voices of special interests in Washington. That’s what they’re paid to do. And they’re paid to create noise and emotion, but John is a steady hand who will do a fine job.

#From the Friday, January 19, 2001, 20/20 on ABC:

BARBARA WALTERS: You will become the President after one of the most contentious elections in history. Half the country was for you. Half the country was not for you. What can you do right away to assuage the resentment that many people still have?

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm not going to change what I campaigned on, nor would I change my philosophy, but I'm going to be the president of everyone. It's rare that there’s a landslide in American politics. Most elections are fairly evenly divided. And it's incumbent upon the victor to be humble and smart and focused to win the respect of the other half, and that's exactly what I intend to do.

WALTERS: What do you say to the people who feel that you didn't win the election, but that the Supreme Court handed it to you?

GEORGE W. BUSH: I say that they didn't watch the recounts. They counted the votes more than one time in the state of Florida. And every time they recounted, I won.

...

WALTERS: Well, let's talk about John Ashcroft. Everybody is.

GEORGE W. BUSH, LAUGHING: Yes.

WALTERS: He is your candidate, your nomination for Attorney General.

CLIP OF JOHN ASHCROFT, HOLDING A PHOTOGRAPH OF WHAT IS LIKELY AN IMAGE OF AN UNBORN BABY: God's precious gift of life must be protected in law and nurtured in love.

WALTERS: Now, he openly opposes abortion. But he's going to have to be the one to protect the abortion clinics. He's not considered a friend to civil rights. He's been against court-ordered desegregation. The big question is, can an Attorney General enforce federal laws and protect rights that he personally, vigorously opposes?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. His job is going to be to enforce the laws, and there’s no question in my mind he will. John is a steady hand. He'll do a fine job.

WALTERS: Did you expect him to be as much of a lightning rod?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.

WALTERS: You really did? And you did it anyway, even though you talk about wanting to unite?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it doesn't mean we can't unite the nation once we put somebody in place who can do the job as attorney general.

WALTERS: Let's talk a bit about the economy, especially the stock market. Months ago, your economic advisor, Larry Lindsey, took all of his money out of the stock market. He said at time that the bubble will burst. Now, you are now required to put whatever investment you have in a blind trust. But before that, you took your money out of the stock market. You said you wanted to be liquid. Now, does this show a lot of confidence in the stock market?

GEORGE W. BUSH: No. It shows a person who wants to, who needs income from T-bills in order to be able to pay for expenses.

WALTERS: Yeah, but you could also get income from equity.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, you bet. I, actually, I've got some of my money in real estate right here in Crawford, Texas, some of my money in the market.

WALTERS: Still?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah, you bet. And I don't know what, I don't what it is, because that's the blind trust portion of my-

WALTERS: Yeah. But the fact that you said you were liquid, the fact that Larry Lindsey took his money out, I mean, this is, doesn't show great confidence.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I made my decision really to meet my own personal situation. And I've got confidence in our economy. I'm a little concerned about the short run.

WALTERS: Still, it was surprising that before Mr. Bush put his money in a blind trust, he had pulled it out of the stock market. Because one of his major campaign issues was that a portion of people's Social Security savings should be invested in the market. Do you still think that Americans should invest part of their Social Security in the stock market?

...

WALTERS: I want to talk a little bit about your, your own presidential style. It has been reported that, as governor, you spent relatively little time studying specific issues. You started work at 9, you took two hours for lunch and jogging, and you finish work at 5.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, this is just ridic-, I don't know where-

WALTERS: This is what we’ve this is what we’ve read.

GEORGE W. BUSH: No, that’s just absurd. It's just totally absurd.

WALTERS: Tell us your schedule.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm up at 5:45 to 6. I read the papers. I'm at work generally at 7:15 to 7:30. I do exercise. I try to exercise on a regular basis, because I happen to believe that I'm a more effective person if I exercise. I worked over lunch. I oftentimes got home at 8 or 9 at night.

WALTERS: Do you nap every day?

GEORGE W. BUSH: No.

WALTERS: You know, but this is what's been said about you, you know-

GEORGE W. BUSH: I know, but this is-

WALTERS: -that you're this sort of a gentleman President who comes in, does a few hours of work and leaves.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. That's because, that's just shoddy reporting. It's ridiculous.

...

WALTERS: The problem left over from your father's time, Saddam Hussein.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.

WALTERS: And he's stronger than ever. Just this past week, he said yet again, no inspectors. People say that, who are in the know, that he's building up his military capabilities. It's in your lap.

GEORGE W. BUSH: It is.

WALTERS: What do you do?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we're going to insist upon some certain things. Insist that the agreement he signed he lives up to. We're going to have to rebuild a, a coalition of nations that, that have kind of unraveled recently.

WALTERS: You're going to do that?

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm going to try, darn right. I'm going to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein. This man's got to understand he cannot--he cannot develop weapons of mass destruction and threaten our friends, the Israelis, and/or destabilize the--the Persian Gulf. We're just not going to let him do that.

WALTERS: Mr. President-elect, you're going to start now building up a, a relationship again with the allies to what?

GEORGE W. BUSH: To keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein.

WALTERS: To bomb? To invade?

GEORGE W. BUSH: No, no, no, I didn't say bomb. You're putting words in my mouth.

WALTERS: Okay, but that's what I'm wondering. What are you putting-

GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, to keep the pressure on him in terms of the sanctions.

WALTERS: Many of our allies don't want sanctions.

GEORGE W. BUSH: That's the problem. I agree.

WALTERS: Yeah.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I mean, if what you're suggesting is the sanction regime is starting to unravel, it is.

WALTERS: So you got to do some work on that?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Absolutely, we're going to have to do some work on that.

...

WALTERS: We have recognized Vietnam, an old enemy and now a socialist country. We have relations with China. We don't tell them what kind of government to have. Are there any circumstances that would induce you to establish relations with Cuba?

GEORGE W. BUSH: With Cuba?

WALTERS: Cuba?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. Free elections and free prisoners and free press.

WALTERS: You don't say to China, unless you have free elections and free press, we won't do business with you?

GEORGE W. BUSH: No, but we do say this to China, and that's different. That is to say, we say, we want to make sure if there's trade, we trade with an entrepreneurial class. That doesn't happen in Cuba. In order to trade with Cuba, you're actually trading with a Castro or government-owned entity, and the people don't benefit.

...

WILL FERRELL, PLAYING GEORGE W. BUSH, FROM SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: Excuse me, Uncle Dick, I was wondering since technically I am the president, if I could keep this dog I found in the parking lot? My Cabinet and I have decided to name him Awesome Dude.

WALTERS: I want to talk about people poking fun because Saturday Night Live is still poking fun of you.

GEORGE W. BUSH: That's good. That's a good sign.

WALTERS: And that-

LAURA BUSH: Won't that go on for another four years?

WALTERS: I think it's going to go on for four more years, but the description of you as good natured, but bumbling, and not too smart, why does that linger?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Had I not won the election, I wouldn't have been on Saturday Night Live. But I don't worry about all that business.

WALTERS: Does it bother you, Mrs. Bush?

LAURA BUSH: We're usually in bed before they're on, but when you're in politics, you know that there’s going to be criticism, of course. It is just part of the job. It’s just what happens. And, you know, you just try to not pay attention to it.

...

WALTERS: You are also going to be, in your own words, a more traditional First Lady. Hillary Clinton was very activist. She was involved sometimes in policy planning. And, you know, there will be those people who will say this is a setback for women.

LAURA BUSH: Well, those weren't my own words. I didn't say I would be a traditional first lady. I said that I have been, I've always had traditionally women's jobs. I was a teacher and a librarian. I stayed home to raise my children once George and I married and I had twins. But I don't think I've been a traditional first lady of Texas. I've been a very activist first lady. I've worked on legislative issues, legislator appropriated money for the early childhood initiatives that I thought were important. So I don't think I'll be traditional in that sense.