|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Laura Bush begins solo European tour
May 14, 2002 Posted: 9:50 AM EDT (1350 GMT)
Laura Bush, a onetime librarian from Texas who married into a politically ambitious family, embarked on her first overseas tour as first lady Monday, heading to Europe to make her mark on the world stage.
The soft-spoken Texan, who has emerged as a poised, low-key and calm presence in the Bush administration, is scheduled to give a speech Tuesday before the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, where she will talk about the importance of education for children.
Traveling with Jenna, one of her college-aged twin daughters, Laura Bush also is scheduled to visit Hungary and the Czech Republic. In Prague, she will participate in a roundtable on Afghanistan before she joins her husband, President Bush, on May 22 in Berlin.
"She's not going to have any trouble at all," predicted Letitia Baldrige, the social secretary and chief of staff for first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Laura Bush, 55, has often said she is not trying to emulate any of her predecessors, including her mother-in-law Barbara Bush and the widely traveled Hillary Clinton, who spoke out often on major policy issues.
Laura Bush's trip, however, sparked a new round of commentary on the airwaves and in newspapers about what kind of first lady now occupies the East Wing.
"Laura Bush is not the traditionalist that I think a lot of people thought she was going to be," said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a presidential historian, who has written a book about first ladies. "She has a graduate degree and a very serious lifelong interest in early childhood development."
As Mrs. Obama and her entourage toured the picturesque southern city of Ronda on Saturday, the blogosphere has been filled with commentary about what many saw as a tone-deaf trip in the same week the United States reported the loss of 131,000 more jobs. “A modern-day Marie Antoinette,” scolded a New York Daily News columnist.
The White House was reluctant to discuss Mrs. Obama’s trip. The only official comment came from Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, at a briefing last week when he said that Mrs. Obama “is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip. And I think I’d leave it at that.”
Privately, officials note that the first lady is paying for her own room, food and transportation, and the friends she brought will pay for theirs as well. The government pays for security, and the Secret Service, not the first lady, determines what is needed.
Officials said some reports of the trip had been exaggerated. Mrs. Obama is not traveling with 40 friends, one official said, but with two friends and four of their daughters, as well as a couple of aides and a couple of advance staff members. The staff is with her because she will pay a courtesy call on King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía on the island of Majorca on Sunday before flying home to Washington.
Every first lady in modern times has flown on government planes with a sizable security detail, and it is hard to pinpoint the cost to taxpayers. The Air Force jet she flew costs $11,351 per hour to operate, according to several reports, meaning a 14-hour round trip would cost nearly $160,000. The first lady would reimburse only the equivalent of first-class commercial tickets for herself and her daughter Sasha, the rest of the seats being occupied mainly by Secret Service. Officials said their friends flew on separate commercial flights.
Laura Bush took vacations without her husband each year of George W. Bush’s presidency, traveling with her Secret Service detail on a government plane to meet friends for camping in national parks. But that never generated as much furor, in part because vacationing in the United States is not as politically delicate for American leaders and their families as doing so in foreign countries.