tv Jean Becker The Man I Knew CSPAN August 12, 2021 5:29pm-6:19pm EDT
and they think i was representing four years of angst and anxiety and anger. many of us saw this coming from a mile away and i've represented millions of americans who felt the same way and that moment and the entire country including myself recognize the fragility of our democracy. i have great appreciation for the congress and the quorum and i do not like to violate it but i do not regret it. it was what i was feeling after four years of pent-up anxiety about what was transpiring right before our eyes.
greetings from the national archives building in washington d.c. on the ancestral lands of the people. this is the archivist of the united states and i'd like to welcome you to the the gene baker the author of "the man i knew" the amazing story of george h.w. bush's post-presidency. on wednesday june 9 at 1:00 p.m. we'll present a program in partnership with the u.s. association of former members of congress called can congress or form itself again. library of congress carla hayden and current and former members of congress. on tuesday june 8 at noon the store and michael burlingame will be here with his new book in american marriage based on 30 years of research where he
describes and analyzes the marriage between abraham lincoln and mary todd. there is presidential libraries the national archives preserves the records of their presidents back to herbert herber are the stories told in library cover the president's entire life not just their time in the highest office of the nation. his return to private life and number of them turned to humanitarian causes and advisory roles and you'll find those activities documented in the library as well. after leaving office in 1993 george bush remained engaged in public service and continue to encourage others to make a difference in large and small ways. he shared his decades of experience with his successors and worked for a kinder and gentler america. gene becker was with president bush for nearly all of his postpresidential years and in "the man i knew" she brings into
the room george bush and gives us a close-up look at his work after leaving the oval office. jean becker was president george w. bush's chief of staff for nearly 25 years from 1994 until bush's death in 2018. your chief of staff had a ringside seat to the never boring story of george herbert walker bush's life after presidency including being at his side when he died facing the challenge and a great honor of being in charge of his state funeral. previously jean served as the deputy press secretary for first lady barbara bush from 1989 to 1992 and as a former journalist she was a member of the fulbright foreign scholarship award in the sea change cancer board as close an ad hoc member of the advisory board of the george bush presidential library in the george bush school of government and public service. our moderator for tonight's
discussion is lauren director of the george h.w. presidential library and museum. lauren has more than 30 years of experience at the national archives first to the office of presidential library here in washington d.c. and then for the ronald reagan library in california and now the bush library and museum. she was detailed to the bush white house in 1992 to assist with the move of bush's material records to texas. now let's hear from jean becker and ron finch. thank you for joining us today. >> hello jean. >> good evening. great to see you. >> a. >> at like to shout out to our partners in crime the george and barbara bush foundation and my colleague from l.a. and also to
the dean of the bush school and the library that has been so helpful here during covid and also the staff of the presidents office. it's a great organization we belong to and i've been very lucky to be a part of it and part of the life of george and barbara bush for all these years. my first question, you kind of came to the bush office in a serious way. can you talk a little bit about the work for "usa today" and you did a diary so can you talk a little bit about how that led to barber rushed hiring you to work on her staff? >> it is sort of miniature staying road to the white house. i was a newspaper reporter at
"usa today" in 1988 in the 1988 election and barbara roche -- both agreed to write a column for "usa today." it was called the keynesian diary i think. i was there editor and i was given that assignment and i was kind of grumpy about it. i didn't want to do that but it ended up being a lot of fun. i got to know both of those women very well and after the election i was very surprised when mrs. bush's chief of staff offered me a job in the first lady's press office. i love being a reporter and then it was my dad a farmer in missouri who said what is wrong with you? you've been offered a job by the incoming first lady of the united states and you are thinking about it? i said yes and the rest is history.
i quickly followed them to houston we lost the election in 92 and helped her write her memoirs. i was a researcher and her editor. she wrote it herself. she would want me to say that and then the book was done in president bush said to me will you stay a couple more months? the need to hire chief of staff. he said just stay until labor day. the ni will hire someone. we never talked about it again. i think 25 years later i said to him sir i'm still waiting for you to come into my office and tell me that you've hired a chief of staff and i'm unemployed. c25 years working for president bush and you have written this great look and what i love about the book is it's a book of
stories. tell us a little bit about the book and why you wrote it and why people should read it. >> i first of all wrote the book and the original idea was president bush had so many great stories. of it was like a wild rollercoaster ride with him for 25 years. he was funny. the whole story of the odd couple with he and bill clinton and he will was in iwo jima where he was shot down. he raised hundreds of millions of dollars and then there were just funny stories like when he called -- to ask him if he was dead or alive and that was the day i knew i had to write a book. i started writing the book because i thought the american people need to know the heart
and soul of this man. in the middle of writing the book it occurs to me that there's something a lot more important at work here pouring out of my heart onto my computer talking about him. president wish really left a blueprint on how to live life. when someone dies and they say -- if you want that to be said about you you need to read this book. president was taught us how to live life. >> jumping out at airplanes. i love the story mrs. bush said it was a great way to go one way or the other. >> and she was glad because on his 90th birthday he jumped at the church in kennebunkport maine and she said if it doesn't go well there is -- inside to
they have the funeral. >> that's right. >> today is mrs. bush's birthday. we put a bouquet of roses at her gravesite today. just an amazing love story between the two of them and mrs. bush and her scrapbook, hundreds of scrap looks. i think their 125 or 150 of these scrapbooks. someone at the library said to mrs. bush if she actually did them herself and you can imagine what she said. >> course she did. >> she started these trappers when they first got married. >> i have to explain that photo. i hate to interrupt you. the bushes are pretending that they are wranglers in that photo. i'm sorry i interrupted you.
>> they love the aggie wranglers. for those of you who are not in aggie land at aggie wranglers are a persistent dance team and they look like they are going to knock themselves out and somehow they do it in the bushes love them. today is mrs. whooshes 96th birthday. talk a little bit about, i mean you talk about a lifelong search that was a great partnership. i'm 60 years old now and we were both kids when they got married. although he had been in the war. >> they were 19 when they got married. they were married for 73 years. i'm wearing barbara bush blue in honor of her birthday. i also have a pearl necklace.
whenever i would wear pearls i would play with them and twirl them and she would say jean quit twirling your pearls. in her honor did not wear pearls today. i'd like to read a letter warned that in the book that president bush wrote her on everything you need to know and how we felt about his life. it was the january 6 of 1994 their 49th wedding anniversary. to barber from gh wpri your will you marry me? i forgot you did that 49 years ago today. and i was very happy on that day in 1945 but i'm even happier today. you have given me stories that few men know. you've made our boys into men
and call them out and loving them. you have the greatest out of the whole wide world. i have climbed the highest mountain in the world but even that cannot hold a candle to being barbara's husband. they used to tell me now george don't walk ahead. little did she know i was only trying to keep up, keep up with barbara pearce on the street in new york. i love you. >> a great letter. >> at such a great letter and warren i'm going to jump right in and i promise i will let you talk again. now i'm going to make them laugh. we are going to wipe away the tears quickly so mr. bush was a good sport. president bush tieser
mercilessly and they think she was the target of most of his high school jokes. this is the worst thing he ever did to her. i'm going to read this to you. mrs. bush often told people one of the many reasons she married george bushes that he made her laugh. he was the master of practical jokes that his wife often was targeted. one of the most famous success stories he managed to convince her that she might be going to jail for trafficking shorts. during the summer of 1998, there a lot of surprises in this book and everyone needs to write read the book in the summer of 1998 it came to light that someone in the house was printing off of mrs. bush's computer. several unnamed teenage
grandsons were the immediate suspects and they quickly acknowledge their crimes. leaving photos in the led to their downfall. a few days after the unfortunate incident mrs. bush found in her mail a letter from the office of inspector general of the federal trade commission. it read in part, and doing a routine check it appears you have her recently engaged than downloading pornographic material. we respectfully request that you report to a regional office in portland maine for hearing on august 17, 1998 at 8:30 a.m.. when she was reading through mail she blurted out to him that she might be going to jail. i was not there when all this transpired but i was told that the president managed to keep it together for a few minutes
before resolving into laughter. yes he had written the letter with the help of a staff member. you know warren that was sort of the secret to their wonderful marriage. they knew how to laugh and they knew how to tease each other. >> can you tell the story of president bush's in the hospital and she comes to visit his room and his hair is all messy and you know that story. >> a week before she died and they were both in the hospital. we get word and i met the methodist hospital with him and we get word that she's headed back to the hospital in an ambulance. she had taken a turn for the worse so i told him she was on her way back so they had adjoining rooms at methodist.
i think methodist hospital figured out that if one was in the hospital eventually the other one would be there too. i think it was by design. they get her settled in a room and president bush wanted to go in and see her. she was not in a coma but she was somewhere else. she was pretty much out of it in a very deep sleep and i hate to be critical of the 41st president of the united states but he looks awful. his hair was standing straight up. he was wearing an oxygen max -- mass-produce in the hospital gown and he looked like you and i would if we were in the hospital. they get them in a wheelchair and they take him into her room and he is sitting there holding her hand and all of a sudden her eyes flew open and she looked at him and she said my god george
you are devastatingly good-looking. i hate to see it but he was not at that moment. then she would close her eyes and the love of her life was holding her hand. he looked at me and she said -- shrugged as if to say it is what it is jean. >> she died about a week later and the bushes lived in a three-story townhouse. their bedroom was on the second floor and the power went out that day. he was downstairs when he was told that the time was near and the secret service god love them carry him up the stairs because the elevator wasn't working. he said i have to be there.
she died holding hands. warren up above right now to give a huge shout out to the bushes granddaughter that beautiful wonderful l.a.. she talks about her grandparents love story and wrote a book. the sweet wonderful book and i think you have a story to share with us. >> kellyanne chase who helped with the book, they came to the bush library and did a lot of research and the scrap looks that much is bush -- mrs. bush kept were amazing. when we went to the museum for the 10th anniversary one of the reasons was we had discovered the scrapbooks and the amazing stuff. they were sentimental. we had been through them all but
apparently we hadn't been through them all in great detail. this one from 1945 and kelly is going through the scrapbook and they open a page and there is an envelope sealed up and it's got the names of people who attended the dinner. they open the envelope and inside the envelope is a wishbone from the first thanksgiving turkey george and barbara bush had in 1945 and mrs. bush was always great about this. just lovely. everyone kind of went all at once. as you read "the man i knew." >> ellie did a great job and i love that story. you talk about ellie doing a lot of research at the library.
i would like to point out that the library was closed the entire time i was writing this book because because of the pandemic and working from home he and his team in ahead at -- head archivist there -- i know was hard for you all to help me fact check and research this book and also warren has the best wife ever. she's the audiovisual director of the library. you guys are rock stars so i just want to take a moment to thank you. this would have happened without you and you did it -- you helped me despite the fact he were home and he managed to dig out fact-checking. i did have to e-mail george clooney directly and do a little fact-checking with him.
>> it's a amazing the staff and what they could do working from home. it's just amazing and a great staff here. they did some great work. so let's see, let's talk about this relationship between president bush and president clinton. i heard president bush say one time you know i kind of liked him when he was governor and didn't like them so much when he ran against me but i kind of liked him again after he left office and then of course there's adams and jefferson. they were good friends and not good friends and they were good friends again but president bush and bill clinton have this special relationship and talk about a life well served they did some amazing work.
>> they really did and you and i talked about this a couple of days ago. it was hosted by the national archives. we did want to talk about that relationship that happened between former presidents. they really are -- there's a great book written by the great michael duffy about the presidents club and they really do have a special relationship with each other. here's a picture of all the former presidents at that time. i confess that i am photobombing backstage at texas a&m about ready to did do a huge fund-raiser for hurricane harvey victims. she and i photobomb for president. they were just telling stories and catching up with each other
after hurricane harvey devastated houston and of course the two george bushes rolled up their sleeves and went to work. i just sort of told the other three former presidents and the staff just sort of fyi we are going to be doing this and here they are. they all showed up and it is just a really special relationship. president bush and he became great friends and there's a whole chapter about the disaster relief work and the odd couple and that was the title of the chapter. they raise hundreds of millions of dollars for hurricane katrina, hurricane rita hurricane ike and in south asia where it all began. i'm going to ask everyone to read the book. the stories are terrific and you will love the funeral story but i thought tonight i would tell a
few stories that might surprise people that are well-known and one involves former vice president al gore and it demonstrates the men and hopefully one day soon the women who occupy the highest offices in the land they do have a connection. no matter their politics no matter their background they had a shared experience that not many of us can really understand. so i'll tell you two quick stories. >> december 2000 supreme court has ruled that george w. bush did win the election. the recount is over and vice president gore gives his concession speech to the nation. and president bush called me before the speech and he says gene as soon as the speech is
done i would like to call al gore and talk to him. it was in the evening and i was at home and as respectfully as i could i said sir i'm not sure that you are that person vice president gore needs to hear from tonight. if he wanted to hear from anyone named bush is the father of a man who just defeated him i said are you sure you want to call him and he said jane i have been where al gore is and i know what he's about ready to do and i know what he is feeling so i would like to call and talk to him when he is done. so i told them i said well the operators the best way to reach the person at the white house switchboard and that made him very happy. he said i will call the operator when the speech is done.
and you don't have to worry about it. i watched the vice president's speech and it was very gracious and i'm watching him come out of the eisenhower office building in the white house complex and get in the car watching this live on tv and sure enough i see them pick up the phone. i'm thinking no, no, no that can't possibly be my boss. five minutes later my phone rings and it's president bush. jean i just got off the phone with al gore. i think he was thrilled when i called and we had a great conversation. i told him his speech was wonderful and perfect and they think he understood why i called understood that i was for he was so i did the right thing. and warren i know that he did. i was wrong and he was right. fast-forward to 2008.
it's a wide-open election year and it's the morning after the first democratic debate. president bush comes into the office and he says jean it -- on the phone. i don't like how they were treated at the debate last night and i said what are you talking about andy said look they were standing on and in can hardly got any questions. they gave all the questions to hillary clinton and barack obama and they got all the questions. joe biden and chris dodd are upstanding u.s. citizens and they deserve to be treated better. this is how i was treated in 1980. so once again warren i said don't you think senator biden and senator dodd will think it's odd that you are calling a
republican president is calling them and he said get them on the phone. so i did any of the great conversation with them. i only tell those two stories because they are in the book and it gives people a little insight to the comradery that happens behind the scenes between people who have a shared experience and -- ahead. >> andy operated well on the phone -- the cell phone. his letters were amazing. it's funny you know he's not always agree great speechmaker but you get them in a room with young people and i think it's why he likes the dinner so much. with 10 people he was amazing. >> that's a great point. i'm sorry, he was very
personable. i do want to go back to when all the presents for onstage -- backstage after hurricane harvey. i have to tell a funny story about that night. this was on a saturday evening and we didn't invite the other president. i just told them fyi if you want to come to this event president obama president clinton and president carter and when i told the bushes they were all coming i'll never forget this. mrs. bush said oh dear we need to get them dinner. we are going to have to feed them and i thought that's just a normal reaction. any wife in america would react to what her husband comes home and says honey i've invited some people over for dinner tonight. the funny thing is i'm going to
tell you the tale of two people who i love. i get a call from secretary baker james baker and he says jean i'm coming to the target and an understand of the presidents are coming and i hear there's a dinner beforehand. so i get into that. president bush said i had to call you and i'm like like i'm going to tell secretary baker know you can't come to dinner and i said of course. they would love to see you. he calls me back and he says jean dick cheney is coming. he says everyone wants to be at this dinner and i said that u.n. call and invite the cheneys? you cannot invite anybody else as the table is now full. you may not call one more time. and say that anyone else is
coming. he thought it was funny it was just a great evening and a great example of the comradery and these guys and we need a woman to be part of this club. >> that was a great evening. it was a fantastic evening and there's this comradery between these men and maybe a woman one day but so far just men who have been former president and have the shared experience of running for office and one in lost and president bush was able to do so much good in and so much good after he left office. >> they are such a great resource for the country. i know on january 20 this past year when they were all in washington for the inauguration
and they did work on getting people vaccinated. they have all agreed to be honorary charges. in september honoring george bush with the george bush award. some nice of them to do that. they really do come together when the country needs them and it's just a great resource. i'm a big fan of the presidents club and the do more -- i think we have picture of the funeral. president wish used to laugh and say we come together at funerals and library openings. that's not exactly true. they did a lot more than that but there they all are at the funeral the state funeral at the national cathedral president bush and i might add of course
we don't see there is the 43rd president. he's sitting on the other side of the aisle with his family. before the service began president george w. bush came over and shook their hands and thank them all for coming and he did give michelle obama a mint. that started during john mccain's funeral. >> oath of them were cracking up. they think they were sitting next to each other. >> they are misbehaving. they have a great friendship which is wonderful. >> it is nice. if you've got a question you can type it into the chat and at the end of our program there is time for questions and i'll be happy to ask jane questions. one more thing, we have got this
big 41 locomotive union pacific that was given to us by union pacific 10 or 15 years ago. just briefly tell the story, president bush thought it would be a grand idea that after the funeral of houston that everyone could write up on the train. talk about how you had to explain to him that maybe he wouldn't be having a sandwich. >> it was a funny moment. we would plan the funeral off and on over the years and every once in a while we get out the folder in particular after president ford died in after president reagan died we made changes to the funeral plans. he said to me i would like to take a train from houston and have a church service in houston
and the burial at the library. he said gene lets take the train it will really be perfect because we will all be on the train and we'll have fun. it will be very relaxed and everyone can put their feet up and laughed before the burial. he's talking about in the first person and i didn't want to be disrespectful but i looked at him and i said sir i think that's a great idea and i will work on that train. he was always right and i should have learned he was always right he said zero code yes i will. and of course he was. >> he might not be eating assam was that he'd be on the train. i was trying to go to college station to beat the train so i
could meet them there along with the officials. it was amazing. the highway parallels that the rover tracks and there were people all along the route were tracks saying god bless you mr. president think you and america loves you. and the rifle at college station was just amazing. it was a rainy somber day and everyone was down and suddenly the aggie band played the hymnal and everyone gave a cheer. everyone began to cheer. >> here's a question. let's go to questions if you don't mind. maybe we will veer off after questions. someone wanted to know mrs. bush referred to president bush as george bush and in my experience
she oftentimes used his nickname so people that knew george bush when he was young he had the nickname. i've heard mrs. bush offered this. >> she called them pop or poppy. she usually called them pop. president bush's name was george herbert walker wish. he was named for his grandfather whose name was george herbert walker. that was his maternal grandfather. when he was growing up it was george herbert walker's children all called their dad pop. when george herbert walker bush comes along the neck named him poppy and started a playoff to
what they called their father so president bush was called poppy and they think almost until he went to the navy. and after pearl harbor. he wrote somewhere and of course it predates this book he wrote when he went off to the navy he found out that poppy was not really a good name for a young man in the navy who wanted to be a pilot, navy pilot and he really tried to drop the name. i think he was writing about no one in texas is called poppy but they called an poppy to the very end. it was very very sweet. and this was a problem for me to. president bush was george herbert walker bush and he went by george bush. he did not like having four
names. it sounded a little stuffy and then a man named george walker bush was elected president of the united states in 2000 all of a sudden you had to president george bush's. and this was a big problem because there was a lot of confusion about who you are talking about the huge recommendation to my boss number 41 was that he started using his initials. the 43rd president already went by george w. bush to distinguish himself from his father. my boss was urged to go by george h.w. bush and a really are tainted him. thank heavens for the brilliant man and i cannot remember who it is but it's in the book.
they came up with 41 and 43 and oh my gosh the president liked being called 41 it was perfect. >> there's a great portrait of george h.w. bush and his son george w. bush and it was confusing for george w. bush. george bush finally said i'm 41 and he's 43. brenly got so confusing they just said 41 and 43 as a way to distinguish them are. his chief of staff told me i think it was 43 who called president clinton 42 once and president clinton had made his day. he told the staff oh my gosh.
i'm pretty sure was 43 who called in that. he said now i'm a member of the family. >> president bush was reagan's vice president for eight years and there's a question here about they were adversaries and i'm not sure president bush ever thought he would be picked for vp but talk about how that relationship grew between the two of them. >> i should point out and i apologize it predates my book and it predates when i was in president bush's inner circle so i know the answer, i do just from being around for 25 years. president reagan wanted george bush to be his veep p. candidate in the 11th hour at the
republican convention. historians among you will remember it was former president ford to encourage a man that did not work out. george bush from texas and the two men became best friends. the question is really perfect because i had lunch the other day with secretary baker and susan baker and a lot of you might remember secretary baker actually president baker's -- president bush's first white house chief of staff and considering the fact that george james baker ran george bush's campaign. i estimate about a relationship. he said ronald reagan was one of the nicest most genuine people you'd ever want to meet and he
and george bush were on the campaign trail but they were about to put aside their differences. turned out they had a lot more in common than not and they had an amazing relationship for eight years. >> years a question. why did mrs. bush let her husband jump out of an airplane? >> it's a great letter in the book that president bush wrote to his five children about his first pursuit -- parachute jump and in the letter he says i haven't told barbour yet but i will be telling her after ad maker her favorite drink, and manhattan. i think she thought it was really crazy.
one of the things that made their marriage work is she knew she couldn't talk him out of it. she could tell this was important to him so she went along with it and she was very unhappy when he jumped on his 90th birthday. i had to be the go-between of the two of them. they thought the weather was going to call it off and it turned out the weather didn't call it off. i called both sons the 43rd president i asked him to intervene and he said jean i'll talk to mom. if dad wants to jump we need to let them jump. she was a very good sport but she said if this goes wrong we will just carry him to the church and have the funeral. i told him i would not assist them in any way and he said
don't worry about it i can figure it out all by myself. >> i was on a train between new york city and albany i believe and i was doing a podcast for a political show and the guy says he no president jump is bush -- president bush's jumping and i said no and he said he's going to jump right now and i said would just tell me when he lands on the ground? >> sorry warren, should have called you. it was a secret and this was why. they wanted him to have the opportunity so we didn't tell anyone until the day of. we wanted him to have the chance to say maybe i should not jump on my 90th birthday. >> apparently it's a hobby and
my understanding is jenna bush is going to jump out of a perfectly good plane also. >> they love to jump, they do. >> that's all the questions we have got right now. it was lovely having you and everyone should get the book it's a great book and there are some great stories in here and there are george clooney stories in here that are just great and there are stories about how president bush -- is dead or alive which is a true george bush fan. anyway it's a great look. love having you and when i get down to college station we have got to have lunch. >> i would love to have lunch with you warren. you are the biggest fan of thank you so much and thank you for the national archives for hosting us tonight and read the book. it will help you lead a better
life, i really do think that andy will laugh. >> i'm nonbiased that he was a great man just a wonderful, wonderful life and presidency. he could have gone home to houston and do nothing that he did all kinds of good things. they will both from the remember to remember her for letters and him for the point to life. thank you jean. >> thanks warren. goodnight everybody.