First Lady Says President Reads Papers Regularly

Times Staff Writer

Making what has become a compulsory stop on the campaign trail of the 21st century, First Lady Laura Bush appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in Burbank on Wednesday, and surprised the comedian when she told him that reading newspapers was a daily ritual in the White House.

In response to a question about what her typical day was like, Bush said, “We get up really early ... about 5:30. He goes in and gets the coffee and we drink coffee and read the newspapers. That’s been our ritual our whole married life.”

When pressed, she said they read the papers in bed.

Leno, looking dubious, told her he’d made a lot of jokes about the fact that the president once said he didn’t read newspapers.


“He really does read the newspaper,” the first lady said. “Just not the reporters that follow him. He says he doesn’t want to be mad at them the next day. Also, because he was there at the event -- so he doesn’t need to really read their coverage of it.”

Leno mostly steered clear of such serious topical issues as the war in Iraq and the turmoil over the detainee abuse scandal. Instead, he teased the first lady about “partying until dawn” during a campaign swing through Las Vegas on Tuesday.

“Did you gamble while you were there? Did you pull a slot machine? Did you go to a Chippendale’s show?”

Bush smiled and, borrowing the city’s advertising tag line, replied, “Jay, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

When he asked her if she’d ever criticized her husband for using “strident” phrases such as “axis of evil” and “evildoers,” Bush parried his question.

“Jay,” she said, “what happens in the White House stays in the White House.”

She did allow that when Bush ran for Congress in 1978 -- his first campaign and one that he lost -- her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, took her aside and told her never to criticize his speeches.


“So I really took her advice to heart,” Laura Bush said. “Until one night when we were driving into our driveway and he said, ‘Tell me the truth: How was my speech?’ And I said, ‘Well, it wasn’t that good.’ And with that ... he drove into the garage wall.”

Bush, who wore a white pantsuit with gold buttons, drew applause from the studio audience when she showed off her biceps. She said she worked out with a trainer several times a week, schedule permitting. “I lift weights,” she said. “I’m getting quite buff.”

Leno then asked her, referring to Democratic challenger John F. Kerry’s wife, “You think in a fight you could take Teresa Heinz?”

“Very funny,” she replied.

The first lady has had a busy week. On Tuesday, she campaigned for a Republican congressional candidate in South Dakota and gave a speech at a campaign rally for her husband in Las Vegas.

She spent Wednesday morning visiting with schoolchildren and holding a round-table discussion about education reform in Portland, Ore. Today, she is scheduled to make a couple of appearances in Albuquerque.

Teresa Heinz Kerry has also campaigned extensively for her husband, a Massachusetts senator. She has taken a couple of weeks off to rest up at her vacation home in Ketchum, Idaho, before the last grueling six months of the campaign.


The images projected by Laura Bush and Heinz Kerry are quite different, but both women are “tremendous vote-getters,” said Letitia Baldrige, a seasoned political observer who served as chief of staff for Jacqueline Kennedy and has advised other first ladies.

“Laura is a wonderful hostess and mother figure -- so poised and such a pro and so smooth at deterring questions about her husband,” Baldrige said.

“Teresa is a sophisticated international woman, used to being around people talking about billions of dollars. Laura is more used to talking about families and education, and she is vocal and articulate about them.”

Although President Bush has not been a guest on the show since he took office in 2001, the first lady appeared on “The Tonight Show” once before.

In February 2002, she joked about her husband’s unfortunate encounter with a pretzel the previous month. She promised that the president, who fainted after choking on a pretzel while watching a televised football game, would henceforth practice “safe snacks.”