HUGHES: Rush, let me concede right from the start, you are the expert. And I tell you, I am so honored that you would have me on your show, because you and your listeners are such a force in our democracy and our political system; and you’ve really helped energize and revitalize the grassroots, and that is just critical. And you’re someone who, like me, cares about our political system, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote this new book I did, because I wanted to show that those of us in it, most of us by and large, are genuinely committed to trying to serve the country and do the right thing.
RUSH: What does Ten Minutes From Normal mean? I know it’s a sort of biographical book, but what’s the title mean?
HUGHES: Well, it really describes what it feels like to be a normal person whose boss and friend suddenly runs for the president, and then becomes the president. It’s actually based on something that happened on the campaign trail. It was right after the Republican National Convention, and you know those are chaos parties with balloons and people in weird hats and —
RUSH: I wouldn’t know anything about the parties.
HUGHES: Well, we left all that and got on a train, and all of a sudden after this chaos we’re suddenly rolling across rural America seeing cows outside the window. And the second day we’re coming into a little town in Illinois and the conductor came over the loudspeaker and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are ten minutes from Normal,” and I remember turning to a friend and saying, “If I ever right a book that’s going to be the title,” because that’s how I felt. You know, a normal person who had a pretty normal life an upbringing. A daughter of an Army officer and a stay-at-home mom; and I have a normal family, a teenaged son who thinks I’m totally annoying, but I have a boss and friend who also ran for the president, became president.
RUSH: You are normal!
HUGHES: I am normal! And my teenager doesn’t want to talk to me either, especially what I ask intrusive questions like, “How was your day?”
RUSH: Yeah. “Leave me alone, mom.”
RUSH: Well, Karen, look, I asked this question of everybody. When you grew up, and I don’t know how old you were when you began to think that something was changing about your life that was going to make it different or unique; but I know growing up you never imagined anything like this, but now look where you are and look what you’ve done. What has this been like versus your expectations as a young girl and you’re growing up and obviously you’re trying to get the most out of life, you never thought you’d get here, I’m sure, what’s it like —
HUGHES: I never dreamed I would one day work at it White House. In fact, my mom always told me because I was the daughter of an Army officer born overseas in Paris, France, that under the Constitution she believed that I could never run for president. And so I was brought up to believe I could be anything else I wanted to. As a young girl I think I wanted to be a horse woman. I loved horses. I read all the Walter Farley books and Bonfire and, you know, The Horse Masters. And when I started college, I think I was good at two things: arguing and asking questions. And so my mom was convinced I was going to become a lawyer. But along the way I fell in love with journalism and started my career as a reporter. And, you know, I tell young people today that I’ve never vested in a single retirement plan any place I’ve ever worked. So your investment advisor would not recommend my career, but I wouldn’t trade it. It’s been a thrill and a privilege and, of course, the ultimate is to serve in the White House and to serve the president.
RUSH: Now, I want to ask you a question about your life as a reporter, and I understand the position you’re in now, you work for the president and you’re still advising, be it from Texas or in the White House, wherever you happen to be. But you were a reporter. To those of us who hear that, Karen, doesn’t sound like you would fit in.
HUGHES: Fit in the White House?
RUSH: No, fit in with reporters, fit in with journalists, where they are today.
HUGHES: I think that I was much more conservative than most of my colleagues in the media. Although Rush, I think there’s big difference between local reporters and the national media, which tends to get caught up in covering events the way the New York Times or the network does. I found there’s a lot more independence at the local level and, frankly, you know, local television reporters and newspaper reporters tend to live and work among the people of America, so I think they have a better grip on the reality of American life than often many of their colleagues in the national media do.
RUSH: Well, I could argue with you about that where I live, but I don’t want to talk about me. So let me ask you this question, Karen. Let’s move forward to the first term. You were in the White House, and we got stories about there were battles between you and Karl Rove for the influence of the president. The implication of all this was that this was a man that couldn’t make up his own mind, this was a man that needed advisors to tell him what to say, to rehearse him for press conferences and so forth. I know this man. This man is firm in his convictions. These stories obviously were designed to create the impression he wasn’t his own man. How did you deal with that?
HUGHES: Well, absolutely these are the stories, they’re myths, frankly, made up by his detractors who started off when he first ran for governor of Texas implying that he couldn’t be anything because his father had once been the president. It’s ridiculous, Rush, and know that. I mean look at the kind of people he’s surrounded himself with, Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, one of the most brilliant women I know, Karl Rove, Andy Card, Karen Hughes, none of us are shrinking violets. I can assure you we are all strong-willed, forceful personalities and the president encourages vigorous debate. He wants to hear the different perspectives and different opinions of his advisors. I mean, in the case of Karl and I my specialty is the message, the sort of big picture overall communications strategy and public message. Karl is among many other roles because he’s also got a great policy mind, but one of his roles is stitch together all the constituencies required to enact legislation and make the president successful or help reelect the president, and those sometimes bring different perspectives and the president listens to all that, he asks great questions of his staff. I’ve seen him time and time again send us back to the drawing board to come up with a different plan or a better idea or to challenge something we’re saying. He’s surrounds himself with competent people because he himself is a very commanding presence and I think a great chief executive. And I’ve worked for him for ten years.
RUSH: What was the thinking in the first term on the domestic agenda with the extending of friendship to Ted Kennedy and letting him have such a large role in writing education, inviting the Kennedy up to the White House to watch the Kevin Costner movie, signing campaign finance reform; basically was this part of new tone just show Democrats, “hey it’s a new day we don’t hate you we don’t dislike you we want to work with you and get along with you for the best of the country.”
HUGHES: Well, Rush, the president wanted to reach out just as he had done here in Texas. And, you know, I watched him in Texas where he stood on his principle but he also reached out to members of the other party to try to work with them, to try to forge agreement where he could in keeping with his conservative principles to make Texas a better place. And he hoped to bring that same spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship to Washington and that’s why, yes, he reached out to people like Ted Kennedy. Unfortunately, you know, working in a spirit of cooperation and respect requires someone else to reach back, and I don’t think that’s happened and it’s been disappointing because the debate in our country has become so rancorous. I’m asked all the time why it is that liberal Democrats so dislike the president, and the only thing I can think of is because he’s effective.
You know, it’s okay to be for tax cuts as long as you don’t really mean it and don’t pass two of them as President Bush has done. It’s okay to be for education reform as long as you don’t really mean it and don’t really require accountability and high standards in the public schools. It’s okay for prescription drugs and Medicare as long as you just talk about it and you don’t really get it done. This president has delivered on his promises, and is doing in office what he said he would do, and I think many liberals are just shocked by that. And that’s one of the reasons they’re so vitriolic. I mean, I think it’s very fortunate. You mentioned Senator Kennedy, the remarks he’s been making recently about the war and trying to compare it to Vietnam are, frankly, unconscionable. They send the wrong signal to our men and women in uniform and their families who are sacrificing so much, and they send the wrong signal to our enemies who want us to show weakness and lack of resolve.
RUSH: When Senator Kennedy says those things, we who are not in the White House are outraged. What’s the reaction, the human reaction inside the White House?
HUGHES: I think a lot of head shaking. And I talked with a friend of mine at the White House the other day who said when she heard Senator Kerry’s recent remarks echoing Senator Kennedy, criticizing our policies in Iraq, that she cringed, that for the first time she thought, “I can’t stand the thought for men and women who are out there risking their lives for our country, to hear those kind of things.” And you have to remember, again, you know, this is Senator Kerry who is queasy, “uncomfortable,” is what he said, about calling the war against terror a “war”. Well, you know, I’m sorry, but I don’t think Al-Qaeda shares those sensibilities. They’ve declared war on us and we better have a commander-in-chief who understands that and who supports our troops and then makes it clear to our enemy that we are resolved and dedicated and we are going to win. And, of course, as you know, Senator Kerry voted to go into the war but then wouldn’t vote to pay for it. So if he’d had his way we’d be out of money, we’d no longer be in Iraq because we wouldn’t have the money to fund our operations there.
RUSH: That perfectly explains, or defines your explanation a moment ago. It’s okay to be for these things but don’t actually do it.
RUSH: It’s okay to be for Iraqi freedom, but by God, don’t do it.
RUSH: Don’t make us pay for it.
HUGHES: Vote for the war but don’t have it really happen. And then don’t pay for it because it might get you criticism in the Democratic primary. He said the same thing on many of his campaign promises. You know, today is income tax day, as so many Americans are painfully aware, we wrote a check this morning. And Senator Kerry has gone around making promises that he can’t pay for, and 1.9 trillion more dollars and that’s only adding up independent accounts of about half of his campaign promises.
RUSH: I have to take a break and I want to ask you about the campaign. And in the middle of this 9/11 commission, the hearings that are going on, seems like the campaign has taken a back seat, and it’s got to maybe change some strategies that existed on what you think the strengths of the campaign are going to be. I want to ask you about that when we come back. We’re talking with Karen Hughes of the Bush White House whose new book is Ten Minutes From Normal.
RUSH: Welcome back, folks. We’re talking with Karen Hughes, who’s in Texas, senior White House advisor, confidante of George W. Bush for many, many years. Karen, the president’s in Des Moines right now once again talking about the economy, which leads me to my campaign question. So many people think that the reelection will turn on what the status of operations in Iraq happen to be in the weeks, maybe the month leading up to it and yet the president keeps hammering the economy. What do you think this campaign is really going to end up focusing on?
HUGHES: Rush, I think two big issues. First of all the economy. Presidential elections are always about the economy and I noticed you made the point and I think you were exactly right. Notice the big question that was missing from the president’s press conference the other night, no one asked about the economy, surprise surprise. That’s because there’s such good news. The president’s policies are working. We’ve seen, you know, the retail spending up, jobs up, 308,000 last month alone, factory jobs on the rise, new housing starts at record high levels, interest rates and inflation remaining low. And so the economic news is very good despite the recession that President Bush inherited and despite the attacks of September 11th.
RUSH: Yeah, despite that.
HUGHES: Those were a huge blow to a big sector of our economy. The travel and tourism industry, it’s just a huge part of our economy. And so I think it’s proof positive that the president’s plan is working and it’s interesting to note that no one asked about that the other night because it is good news. No, what they wanted to focus on was Iraq and the 9/11 commission. I also think obviously the issue of national security is going to be key. And I personally believe that when it comes time to walk into the voting booth that the moms and dads of America are going to vote based on the national security of their children and their families; and they’re going to want a president who is committed to waging and winning this war against terror who understands its stakes. You know, I don’t think we’ve ever had an election in my lifetime where the choice is clearer or the stakes are higher. The stakes are huge and that’s why I’ve agreed to go back and help and travel with the president for the last several months of the campaign this fall.
RUSH: Help me to understand something. After Pearl Harbor, we didn’t do the Pearl Harbor committee investigation until after the war was over.
HUGHES: And no one suggested that the president should apologize for the Japanese attack on our country.
RUSH: Exactly. But it was not just Democrats, you had Denny Hastert and a bunch of other Republicans on Capitol Hill demanding that the president participate in this and do it now in an election year. Now, the White House obviously could have said no, but as is the case in many such instances, when there is pressure from Congress, Democrats or Republicans, the White House appears to acquiesce again in a spirit of cooperation. I know you people up there are not stupid, you must be very confident that you can withstand whatever comes out because you have the truth on your side, that’s what I’m hoping and thinking. As I listen Jamie Gorelick and all this mess that she’s in now. She really shouldn’t be on this commission, but it just seems to me that the opponents of the president don’t have the truth on their side, flailing away and trying to make the American people believe anything they can; and yet I see the president’s press conference; he’s confident as he can be, expresses a sense of commitment and purpose that was unmistakable and so the impression I get is you’re not afraid, the president is not afraid of whatever this thing turns up because there’s nothing to be afraid of; is that right?
HUGHES: Well, absolutely. The facts are on our side. We felt the commission was important. The president has legitimate questions about it. As you know, one of the things the White House has to worry about, and I’ve been there and heard the competing interests. We have to worry about protecting the Constitution. I remember standing in the East Room that day with my hand up swearing to protect and defend just as the president did, just as Condoleezza Rice did. So I was pleased that they were able to find a way to protect the constitutional principle of the separation of the three branches of government, executive and legislative and judicial, that’s an important principle, by acknowledging that this was an extraordinary circumstance, September 11th, and the commission agreed in writing. That allowed Condoleezza Rice to go before the commission and testify publicly and under oath. And I’m glad the American people were able to hear from her themselves.
Now, I do think, Rush, and I know you talked about this and you notice this, it appeared that several members of those commissions were more trying to make their point or tried to twist her words or shrink her answers in order to support their predetermined conclusion rather than what they’ve said, which was to try to get all the facts out to the people. And I was very proud that Condoleezza Rice stood her ground and didn’t let them put words into her mouth or cut her short.
RUSH: Well, I think a lot of witnesses that have come since have managed to accomplish the same thing. There’s an increasing amount of speechifying that’s coming. Karen, let me throw this one at you. I’m not one really that favors the type of question that says, okay, your critics are saying X, but I’d like to get you a chance to answer this. Some are saying that the only reason you’re coming back is the White House knows it’s in trouble and that they cannot do without you, that without you there’s no chance. Again this whole thing the president can’t run his own life and run his own career. I mean, you left Washington for personal family reasons. What is it getting you back?
HUGHES: Well, the stakes in this election. I promised the president, actually, Rush, on the day I left the White House that I would travel with him if he wanted me to coming down the stretch at the election as a friend and advisor and someone who– I’ve been with him at every major campaign, his first race for governor, his reelection, his first race for president and I promised him I would do so again. It’s mainly to be at his side to support him and, frankly, it’s because it’s important for my family and for every family in America that we’ll reelect the president. My family’s home in Texas. We’re very happy to be here, but I’m also a citizen of this country, and I understand the stakes in the world right now, and I think it’s absolutely vital. So if I can help in some small way with debate preparation or communication strategy coming down the stretch I want to be there and help; because I think, as the president made so clear the other night, the stakes are absolutely vital in the world. And this is an historic moment that we’ll really have an opportunity to either spread freedom or sow seeds of terror that our children and grandchildren will deal with for generations to come.
RUSH: And it’s a clear choice, by the way, that people have in the two candidates on that very issue.
RUSH: Which is why I don’t think it’s going to be that close. Karen, I really appreciate your time. You came by when the president visited my mother, and when everybody left, it was you my mother talked about.
HUGHES: Well, she was an extraordinary woman, I enjoyed it so much. I can understand where you got to be where you are because you have an incredible mom.
RUSH: Thank you, Karen, very much. I’m sorry we ran out of time, but there it is, Karen Hughes, Ten Minutes From Normal.