- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Talk of prayers, patriotism, good books, stress reduction and one invitation to a July Fourth barbecue: The world was treated to a gracious half hour yesterday. Laura Bush was online.

The first lady answered 15 questions posed by a curious and admiring public as part of “Ask the White House,” an Internet-based forum that has put top Bush officials in “chat” mode over the last three months.

There were endearing moments.

“Dear Mr. President and Mrs. President, my name is William,” wrote one 8-year-old from Ohio. “My dad says you will be in Dayton July Fourth. We are having a cookout and you are invited … Can you come?”



Mrs. Bush gently declined, but advised the boy, “I’ll be at the White House so I can surprise President Bush when he gets home with his birthday party. I’ve invited friends for his party and to watch the fireworks from the Truman Balcony. It is a surprise, shhhhhhhhh.”

The first lady was straightforward about her husband as well, offering a telling response to a woman who wrote to say she has prayed for the president.

“I love your nice note and yes, President Bush and I are both comforted by the knowledge that so many people pray for us. Thank you for your prayers,” Mrs. Bush said.

She continued, “I am so proud of my husband. He’s not only shouldered the burdens of the last couple years with a lot of strength but he has also remained a wonderful husband and a great father to our girls.”

Mrs. Bush was also clear about her own role in the White House.

“I have no official duties as outlined in the Constitution. But I want to be as constructive as I possibly can be for our country. And because I was a teacher and a school librarian I talk to people a lot and work on the issues that have to do with education,” the first lady said.

“How would you feel if your daughters were serving in Iraq right now?” queried a woman from West Virginia.

“I would be proud and anxious,” Mrs. Bush replied.

Her most memorable day in the White House was September 11, Mrs. Bush told one participant, particularly lauding the American instinct to help one another.

“The Sunday after September 11, the Psalm that was read at the Camp David chapel, Psalm 27:8 and 27:13, ‘Thy face Lord do I seek, I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ expresses what I saw in America,” Mrs. Bush added.

But the genteel first lady was down-to-earth as well, confiding her secrets for handling stress.

“I am very careful with my health. I do exercise as does the President. We both like to be outside and take walks together,” Mrs. Bush said. “We go to bed early and get up early. All of these things help us relieve stress, but our favorite stress-reduction technique is playing with our animals — Barney, Spot and Willie [the cat], who seldom makes public appearances.”

The forum has been hosted by 22 administration officials since April, including Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and even White House chef Walter Scheib. (Transcripts can be read at www.whitehouse.gov/ask).

Yesterday’s exchange was a chance for some people to send their own greetings.

“May God bless the President and the American people for making the world a safer place,” a British man wrote. A Florida woman said, “My friends and family are so proud to have George W. Bush as our President, because he is a man of honor, courage and integrity.”

Mrs. Bush advised her visitors about an upcoming trip to Africa with Mr. Bush, children’s reading, the White House library and a program that encourages retiring military to take up teaching. She also said she would recommend that Mr. Bush take his turn in the online forum and that her favorite president besides her husband was President George Herbert W. Bush.

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