President George W. Bush at the 2022 USGLC Tribute Celebration

December 2, 2022 By USGLC

Full Transcript

Liz Schrayer: He’s tough. I have to say this is pretty wonderful.

President Bush: Yeah, we are happy to be invited. Thank you for having us.

Liz Schrayer: Well, thank you. Thank you, Mrs. Bush. Thank you, President Bush.

President Bush: It takes a lot to get me back to Washington.

Liz Schrayer: We’re gonna talk about it, let’s start. So, you know, I have been around long enough and based on the applause in this room. I think a lot of people in this room remember watching your State of the Union. And pretty inspired when you introduced PEPFAR. I also remember talking to Tony Fauci and I know that you sent him back when he came up with the original plan and you said, that is not enough go back. His original plan was too small.

President Bush: Amazing thing is the guy still around here.

Liz Schrayer: And you said, I’m gonna get 2 million and we just heard 25 million lives have been saved. I’m a little choked up by that.

President Bush: I said we’re gonna save 25 million lives in the State of the Union, but the press would have said here he is blowing again.

Liz Schrayer: So, President Bush in all seriousness take us back to that that moment to the State of the Union 20 years ago, and what was the moment that you felt like, I have to do something, I can do something, and maybe just between the two of us, ignore all the rest. Did you ever think at that time that it would have this profound of an impact?

President Bush: Not really. I thought I’d have an impact. I wasn’t sure how big. So, Condoleezza Rice tells me that there is a pandemic, destroying an entire generation on the continent of Africa. When you’re the president, there’s a lot of hyperbole. You know, in order to get something done, people exaggerate. I said prove it. And she did. She brought in the experts and sure enough, I had a campaign that we’re all God’s children. And the fact that an entire generation was being wiped out, broke my heart, and it broke Gerson’s heart, and it broke Condi’s heart. And so, I said, Let’s do something about it. And we put together a plan. We didn’t break the Congress. And there’s two reasons well…

Liz Schrayer: So, they just told us.

President Bush: We needed the Congress. Don’t get me wrong, we needed to Congress, but I didn’t want to spring it on the Congress, because I didn’t want people to say it’s better to spend money on bridges. You know, or highways in my district. I wanted people to focus on the task at hand. And, and then I didn’t want to get into the debate. Do we use condoms or abstinence? I was just interested in solving the problem and laid it out, but I’ll tell you one thing, Tom and Frist and Mitch I mean, they put the shoulder to the to the deal and I appreciate your leadership and made a huge difference.

Liz Schrayer: One of the things that you and Mrs. Bush have done and you’ve been very gracious of giving lots of people credit deservingly so, but you really have, and I want to talk about one of those and that’s we’ve already talked about is just Michael Gerson.

President Bush: Yeah, my man, Gerson.

Liz Schrayer: He was not only a gifted speech writer, but I know he was a very dear friend and a trusted a trusted adviser. And I looked at something he wrote. He wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post at the 10th anniversary of PEPFAR. And he wrote about the lessons learned and he said three things that I thought were interesting and one was the odd coalition. He talked about the scale and boldness of PEPFAR. This is 10 years out, and he talked about outcomes and results. And I know that’s not the only program you worked with him on you work on PEPFAR, but you also worked on fighting malaria, Millennium Challenge, worked on bringing in the private sector. And I’d welcome your thoughts of what you learned working with Michael, as well as these this impact on these programs of showing how America can have a real impact in the world.

President Bush: Well, I learned I couldn’t give a good speech without him or that I was pretty adept at mangling the English language.

Liz Schrayer: You’re doing okay now.

President Bush: Yeah, well, you know, but Gerson sure could write and his wife Dawn is here and Dawn, we love you. Thank you for being here. He was one of the most unusual people I’ve met in the political world. He’s a brilliant guy. When I first met him, it looked like he’s going to eat a big pin. You start chewing on the end of it, you know, and then all of a sudden, he started to use it and the words were spectacular, soft bigotry of low expectations. I mean, I could go through a whole litany of what Mike wrote. But Mike Gerson was a person that was driven by policy because of a good heart, he cared deeply about the less fortunate, he cared deeply about people that weren’t getting help on the continent of Africa. And so, it’s really more than words. He was an inspiration in the White House, and I think anybody who worked there who knew Mike will tell you that it was a remarkable experience to work with him. Matter of fact, I’m here because of Gerson, he called me on the phone said you got to come to this thing and said I don’t want to go to Washington, you know. I mean, the people deserve the thanks for this award and the American taxpayers. The problem is you ask some guy from my part of the country or from Daschle’s part of the country. Hey PEPFAR. Is that a toothpaste? I mean, people don’t know what PEPFAR is. And a reason to be here is to try to, you know, get into the consciousness of the American people, and explain to them this is unbelievable act of mercy and compassion.

Liz Schrayer: Here, here.

President Bush: People ask why, you know, why should I care? Shouldn’t we be doing other things for our people? And the answer is, what’s the role of a of a great country in the world? Is it to look inward? Is it to think about how to solve big problems? People here at this table right here and elsewhere, we all decided to work together to solve big problems. And that’s uniquely American. I gotta get to my point here. I’m 76 years old. I tend to ramble.

Liz Schrayer: So, this is my future? I’m getting there.

President Bush: I’m here to say as loud and clear as I can. Congress must fund PEPFAR.

Liz Schrayer: Here, here. Can I ask you about this?

President Bush: It works in verifiable results and a few government programs can’t say that. But anyway, this one can.

Liz Schrayer: President, I want to ask you this. I noticed you’re doing some painting. I love your book. I noticed you and Mrs. Bush are talking about spending a lot of time with your grandchildren. I’m the new grandma. So, I get that. But you said you don’t love coming to Washington. You came. I’m really glad you came. But I want to get to this why you came, and you said it was PEPFAR. I was looking at the statistics just today 80% of the Congress that was there when PEPFAR was launched are not there and it’s gonna get even more so in January.

President Bush: Hell, 80% of Congress never heard of me.

Liz Schrayer: This one has. So, help us here because we’re gonna be out there telling the why? So why is it so important? Why does Africa matter, why does PEPFAR reauthorization matter? Why do these global matter when everybody’s you know, says they’re hurting a little at home?

President Bush: Well, if you care about human life, it matters. This is a life issue. Every life is precious, whether they live in Texas, or in Africa, and you can tell those new Congressmen, to whom much is given, much is required. And we are blessed to live in the United States, and we have a responsibility to uphold that blessing.

Liz Schrayer: I hope they know who you are.

President Bush: Put me in the pulpit. Wanna hear a cool story?

Liz Schrayer: I do. I don’t know if the rest do, but I do.

President Bush: They don’t have a choice anyway. So, Laura and I, we go to Rwanda at the end of the presidency, we took a tour of the countries that were well run, and there are quite a few on the continent of Africa then, and, and we went to Rwanda, and we were watching and so one of the reasons why PEPFAR was successful is because we included faith-based programs in the delivery of compassionate care. I’m sure some of the people here tonight are part of a faith-based initiative. And it was Catholic Charities that did extraordinary work in on the continent of Africa. So, they’re teaching these young girls to thwart the predatory advances of tribal leaders. Nobody prepares them for what’s going to happen when they come of age. Catholic Charities did and so Laura and I are watching this, and there are a bunch of orphans there. And I walked by and said, I don’t know why I’ve said it. But I said God is good. Without hesitating, the orphans said at the top of their lungs all the time. It was an extraordinary moment. I you know, first of all, it shocked me because you think you know, some rich white guy saying God is good. They say yeah, it’s easy for you to say we lost our parents. And so, I tried it again. God is good all the time. And when I got back to Washington, I called the senior team together in the White House, like Josh Bolton, who’s here, I’ve said, I want to tell you this story. Actually, he was there. And in America, if we ever hear anybody say God is good, we ought to scream at the top of our collective lungs all the time.

Liz Schrayer: That’s a beautiful story.

President Bush: Thank you.

Liz Schrayer: Thank you for sharing that. I like that. Now, Mr. President, we are also honoring Mrs. Bush tonight.

President Bush: I don’t blame you. Hell yeah.

Liz Schrayer: Hell yeah. And you know, she’s raised the bar, and she has done some pretty fabulous things as you know. Mrs. Bush when you are an office travel to 75 countries. That’s worth an applause, but there’s more. As you know, she inspired all of us with her work on women and girls in Afghanistan, helping lead and work out, reach out to First Ladies around the world. So, thank you.

President Bush: Don’t bring that up. We got to help these people.

Liz Schrayer: We have to help them, but I have a question in here. We do have to help the women and girls.

President Bush: It really is shameful. I don’t want to, you know, I’m not political guy these days, but it’s the sad, unbelievably sad and, and this country needs to do something about it.

Liz Schrayer: I agree. I agree. One of the things I’ve noticed is in both of your post-presidency work, you’ve been extraordinary and continuing this legacy in the Bush Center you’ve had a real focus on global health. You both have traveled quite extensively to Africa, your initiative that you together launched have no further to devote to cervical cancer, or it’s just been extraordinary. So, you’re both really busy.

President Bush: Not really.

Liz Schrayer: Sounds to me like you are.

President Bush: You gotta delegate. That’s calling delegating.

Liz Schrayer: You’re delegating extremely well.

President Bush: We got a hell of a team at the Bush Center. Ken Hersh, and David Kramer and a bunch of that know what they are doing.

Liz Schrayer: Wonderful and we love partnering with them and we welcome hearing what are some of both of your priorities in this area of global health going forward? Do we need to ask David?

President Bush: Yeah, the key thing is to is to be flexible enough to help deal with problems. So, the cervical cancer deal came about because we heard stories of women dying of cervical cancer having been set safe with antiretroviral drugs and it broke our heart. And so, we started this effort and many people in this are some people in this room actually helped kick it off. And I think Merck, and I guess I better throw out Johnson and Johnson. Anyway, whether it’s true or not, anyway, yeah. But anyway, it’s because PEPFAR had developed a platform that you can then put these initiatives into. It made it much easier to solve and one of the beauties of PEPFAR is that countries that had no health infrastructure, now have developed a health infrastructure so that it’s much easier to deal with screening for cervical cancer than it would have been before. And the key thing is U.S. has got to hang in there and we can’t become isolationist and say who gives a damn.

Liz Schrayer: Here, here. Here, here.

President Bush: Wanna know why I paint.

Liz Schrayer: Why you’re painting?

President Bush: Yeah, why I paint.

Liz Schrayer: Yeah.

President Bush: It’s shocking to a lot of people that I do.

Liz Schrayer: I love your book.

President Bush: Well, thank you for everybody. That’s my Elvis impersonation. Anyway, so I read Winston Churchill’s essay Painting as a Pastime, I strongly recommend it. And I went and got home to Laura and told her if Churchill can paint. I can paint. That sounds cocky, doesn’t it.

President Bush: You gotta be pretty cocky to run for President.

Liz Schrayer: Absolutely.

President Bush: Only me out of 300 million of you. Anyway, so. So, I got painting and it’s changed my life. Yeah, love to paint. Never paint your wife.

Liz Schrayer: I’m not gonna go, definitely not going there. I have a question. I have two more questions we have time for and this one’s a little more serious than painting. Just ha before Thanksgiving, I saw that the Bush Center had a really very, very important program called the struggle to freedom, right? Putting a spotlight on the importance of America supporting democracies. I happen to be in Taiwan when I was watching which was pretty interesting place to be watching this, but I know that you were about to be interviewing President Zelensky, he got pulled away for some activities and more. I’m guessing you don’t get stood up very often.

President Bush: He’s a cool guy.

Liz Schrayer: He is a very cool guy. David Kramer interviewed, which was a terrific conversation.

President Bush: You didn’t even watch it.

Liz Schrayer: I watched the whole thing.

President Bush: You’re making it up.

Liz Schrayer: I’m gonna call you. I watched the whole thing. And you were also really good. And here’s something you said, which I want to ask you about. And I wrote it down so I would remember it. You talked about the amount of money going to Ukraine is small compared to how much money we’re spending elsewhere. And yet the consequences for failure are significant, not only for the Ukrainian people, but for our own country. So, Mr. President, why is it important from your thoughts of supporting democracies like Ukraine, not just for the people Ukraine, but for our own economic insecurity issues, especially when every headline is about how Americans are hurting at home?

President Bush: So, Americans are hurting at home, but not nearly as much as Ukrainians are hurting in their home. And this is the fundamental question. This is the question of PEPFAR. It’s the question that confronts every administration in every Congress on a regular basis, do we care about the human condition elsewhere? On 9-11, we learned that the human condition elsewhere can jeopardize the security of the United States, and therefore the isolationist tendencies have got huge national security implications at home. Secondly, people need to read history and remember like Sudetenland, the failure to stand up to the bully, and now’s the time to stand up to the bully. I hear it all to and you’re gonna hear more and more from Congress, people gonna say you know, my bridge is falling down, forget Zelensky. Just so you know, if the United States turned their back on Zelensky the whole world will, and we got to hang in there. And I applaud the Biden administration for doing so. And I admire the man. I told him, I said, you’re the Winston Churchill of the modern era. And he is he’s willing a country through, facing a bully. And, you know, the question is, can the bully leave office? At some point? The answer is when Ukraine wins.

Liz Schrayer: So, Mr. President, I look around this room, and it’s pretty united. But you and I, and everybody in this room knows we’re living in very polarized time.

President Bush: What makes you say that?

Liz Schrayer: I don’t know. Just a feeling I have. But you know the last time we had this event in person, we were honoring Speaker Pelosi. And you were kind enough to surprise the room with a video congratulating her. She just showed up around a half an hour ago to say hello to you to congratulate you.

President Bush: She didn’t hang around for the speech.

Liz Schrayer: She was she was running off to that other event…that black tie, but I have to say, hosting you and Mrs. Bush tonight. Is the best of America.

President Bush: Yeah, we’re thrilled to be here.

Liz Schrayer: This is a great gives us great hope. So, I thought maybe we could end by you sharing a story of maybe someone you met in your travels that gives you great hope.

President Bush: Okay, so probably not, but anyway. So, I’m in Romania, and we’re welcoming Romania into NATO. Most Americans don’t focus on that, you know, it’s but it’s a big deal if you’re Romanian and you got the U.S. on your side. And it was a gray cloudy day. And there was a lit balcony, that that really stood in contrast to the to the dismal day. And I said what is it thing? He said that’s where Ceaușescu gave his last speech. We were in what’s called Liberty Square or something like that. And I’ve said wow and stood up to speak in a full rainbow appeared right behind the place where Ceaușescu had given his last speech, where the Ukrainian people demanded freedom. He got killed shortly thereafter and the country changed significantly for the better. And so oftentimes, you’d hear people say, did you ever hear from God when you were president and answered, I quit drinking when I was 40. But I heard then that freedom is beautiful, and freedom is universal. And I want to thank you for having Laura and me. Thank you for your good work. God bless.

Liz Schrayer: You’re amazing. Ladies and gentlemen, thank the President.