WASHINGTON — First lady Laura Bush says she expects her influence will be felt as the new administration tackles matters dear to her, like education. And while she and her husband disagree on "a lot of issues," she's keeping their differences private.
"I would never do anything to undermine my husband's point of view," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Mrs. Bush is a confidant for the president on the events of the day, and she makes her views known to him, she said.
She was careful to emphasize that she is not directly involved in developing federal policy, saying, "I'm not one who was elected."
"I'm not privy to the policy disputes," she said. "I'm not over there at the table where everyone is actually formulating specific policy."
But, she said, "I certainly talk to everyone who's involved in it." For instance, she speaks regularly to Margaret LaMontagne, the president's domestic policy chief. "She knows what I think," Mrs. Bush said.
"I would say that I will take an active interest in the policies that formulate those (education) goals," she said.
As examples, the former teacher and librarian cited a litany of specifics on education: federal funding for a program that lures ex-military personnel into teaching; reading curriculum; Head Start; teacher training.
The president sometimes seeks Mrs. Bush's counsel on the issues, she said, though mostly they discuss the personalities of those working in and with the administration.
She declined to discuss their areas of disagreement.
"We have differences on a lot of issues," she said, interrupting a question on abortion.
When a reporter asked to revisit the subject a short time later, she said with a laugh, "no," and offered areas where they agree: teaching abstinence to teen-agers, promoting adoption, studying cultural factors that lead young people to have sex "before I think they should."
Mrs. Bush spoke Monday in the Vermeil Room, on the ground floor of the White House, sharing a couch with dog Spot. Above her hung a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy. Nancy Reagan watched over the room from another wall.
She displayed a deep appreciation for White House history, and made plain she already was leaving her mark on the building.
The first family has repainted walls, moved in a new collection of furnishings, ordered new drapes and shifted paintings around.
"I like to fool with houses and furniture, I'm interested in furniture and gardens," she said.
They have revamped the Treaty Room, which once served as a chamber for Cabinet gatherings and is now a presidential office. It got fresh taupe-gold paint and "new" furniture that was once used by President Ulysses Grant, including a Victorian settee and two chairs.
"I actually was not that wild about the furniture," she said. "But he said, 'Oh, no, I want furniture like this in my office."'
The Bushes brought in a portrait of the 18th president to complement his furniture. It is the second painting portraying Grant in the room, which retains "The Peacemakers." That famous portrait shows President Abraham Lincoln — a rainbow arching behind him — with military advisers, including Grant.
Mrs. Bush brought back from storage a French desk acquired by Mrs. Kennedy in 1962, and placed it in the Center Hall, a drawing room for the first family and presidential guests.
Mrs. Bush repainted and redecorated two bedrooms that will be occupied by their daughters. "I just picked out a pretty fabric that they didn't give me an OK or a thumbs-down on," she said.
Gone is Hillary Rodham Clinton's outdoor collection of modern sculpture. The grant that financed the large, colorful pieces ran out, Mrs. Bush said.
A pet project for Mrs. Bush, who holds a master's degree in library science, is updating the collection in the White House library. It is one of the few public rooms not redone in recent years, and curators want to add books on presidents, she said.
What is President Bush's level of interest in all this redecorating?
The question prompted a long, hearty laugh. "None," Mrs. Bush said.
Actually, she added, "He's very interested in his Treaty Room — he's impatient about it and he wants it to be done so he can use it as his office."
Currently the president uses a sitting room as an office. For a desk, he has employed a card table — an antique, she is quick to add.
On the Net:
White House Web site: http://www.whitehouse.gov
— Arizona Daily Sun