Hillary Clinton wore us out, something the current First Lady will never do. As soothing as a warm bath, Laura Bush came into the Diplomatic Room of the White House at 11 a.m. last Wednesday, after being up since 5:30 a.m., when the President brought her coffee and papers in bed, and fresh from hosting a Starlight Children's Foundation event. She was squeezing in 45 minutes with TIME before getting ready for two Christmas receptions (at which she would shake 900 hands in four hours) and prepping for a Meet the Press interview.
Meet the Press? Who'd have thunk it? There she was, the first First Lady to mix it up with Tim Russert, not to mention with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, over whether the President was put on earth to lead us after 9/11 (intermittently Rudy's Catholic view of his mayorship) or whether God is less specific (her modest Methodist take). The least ambitious First Lady in recent memory, save perhaps Mamie Eisenhower, Mrs. Bush recalls the pact she made upon her engagement: she would join her husband on his daily jogs; he would never ask her to give a speech. "We're even now," she says as the President goes off for his midday run--without her. "We've both broken our prenuptial promises."
On 9/11, Mrs. Bush was headed to the Capitol for a Senate education hearing when the second plane struck the World Trade Center. Committee chairman Ted Kennedy recalls seeing her looking "so alone" as she walked down the hall toward him. As she tried to reach her daughters, mother and husband, she was struck by the fact that she was watching, with Senator Kennedy, the worst tragedy since his brother John was assassinated. Together they went to the Caucus Room to calm the press. Kennedy says, "You take the measure of a person at a time like that. She is steady, assured, elegant." That night, she and her husband were finally in their own bed after hours at a secure location when a panting Secret Service agent burst into the room, saying there was an unidentified plane in the airspace. "I couldn't see a thing without my contacts, so I held on to my husband to go down to the basement," she says. "Before they could get the lumpy foldout couch made up, they identified the plane. I got back to sleep, but I can't say the President did."
For the first weeks, Mrs. Bush was happy that there was no "immediate retaliation." Revealing a strain of pacifism, she says, "I knew the President would do the right thing, but like a lot of women, I was hoping that was going to be nothing." A few days before he authorized the bombing of Afghanistan, the President confided his decision to Mrs. Bush. They stuck to their plan to have close Texas friends go to Camp David that weekend (lest the terrorists win), although they would now be joined by the national security team (who helped the President put together a jigsaw puzzle of the White House).