MSNBC host Joe Scarborough devoted an entire segment of Scarborough Country to purported housekeeping differences between First Lady Laura Bush and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), asking whether Clinton neglected housekeeping because she was "too busy trying to play assistant president."
On April 3, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough devoted an entire segment of Scarborough Country to purported housekeeping differences between First Lady Laura Bush and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), asking whether Clinton neglected housekeeping because she was "too busy trying to play assistant president." The segment was prompted by revelations in a book by Ronald Kessler titled Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of a First Lady (Doubleday Books, April 2006). Joining Scarborough on the program, NBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell reported that the "juiciest bit" of Kessler's book was that Laura Bush was " 'quietly dismayed' by the decor that the Clintons left behind in the White House." The remainder of the segment was devoted to a discussion among Scarborough; Antonia Felix, author of Laura: America's First Lady, First Mother (Adams Media Corp., 2002); and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus about the importance of domestic concerns in the role of a first lady. Jacobus stated that "taking care of the White House and the decor and keeping it in order is basically what the first lady does," adding that when Clinton was first lady, she "didn't care" about the job and "didn't want the job" because she "wanted her husband's [former President Bill Clinton] job." Jacobus later said that Sen. Clinton "accomplished about as much as first lady as she has as senator, which is basically nothing."
From the April 3 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
SCARBOROUGH: And next here, Hillary Clinton is used to hearing Republican criticism from -- for her political work, but what about her housekeeping skills? Tonight, first lady wars -- straight ahead.
SCARBOROUGH: Did Hillary Clinton leave the White House in shambles? Well, according to a new book, first lady Laura Bush found worn and outdated furniture, frayed carpeting, and just absolutely tasteless decorations, from the Oval Office to the East Wing. Was Hillary too busy trying to play assistant president? Or is Laura too concerned with style, instead of substance?
We begin with somebody who has spent a fair share of time in the White House, MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell.
Norah, what you got?
O'DONNELL: Good evening, Joe.
Well, Laura Bush is very influential and immensely popular with the American public. But, unlike Hillary Clinton, she has always remained very quiet about the advice and power she wields in the White House. Well, this new book out by Ronald Kessler says that Laura Bush plays a much greater role in shaping White House policy and personnel than previously known.
But you mentioned it. The juiciest tidbit of all is that she was, quote, "quietly dismayed" by the decor that the Clintons left behind in the White House. This book reveals that Laura Bush thought that not only -- not only were the carpets and furnishings fraying and in disrepair, but that the Oval Office was done in loud colors, red, blue, and gold, also that the Lincoln Bedroom was outdated and needed updating.
But, despite her opinion of the decor, Laura Bush never said anything critical of Hillary Clinton. Still, the White House did get a huge makeover when the Bushes moved in.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thanks a lot, Norah.
And here to talk about it are Antonia Felix. She's the author of Laura: America's First Lady. We also have Cheri Jacobus, a Republican strategist.
So, Antonia, what's going on here? Laura Bush, never critical, publicly, of anybody that I know of, and, yet, some of these sort of snarky attacks behind the scenes about Hillary Clinton's taste in decor.
FELIX: Yeah. It's interesting. It sounds like a rather petty remark to make about a first lady who had broken so many molds and really, I think, was on her way to transforming this whole role of first lady to bring it into the 21st century, to -- to modernize it, and to raise the bar very high for all first ladies to come.
So, if Hillary was -- was very busy trying to write some policy and really tackle head-on, trying to get health care for all Americans, as she was doing, maybe she was a little bit too busy to be supervising the dusting, and, you know, watching the fraying on the carpets.
I -- I don't think that a lot of people would argue with -- those priorities aren't -- are not real awful.
SCARBOROUGH: Cheri Jacobus, is this an example of Laura Bush choosing style over substance?
JACOBUS: Look, she knows what the job is. And Hillary Clinton probably knew and just didn't care. This is not a life-or-death situation. But the American people do care about this. And taking care of the White House and the decor and keeping it in order is basically what the first lady does.
Laura Bush wanted the job. Hillary Clinton didn't want the job. She wanted her husband's job. So, consequently, I don't think that the excuse that she was trying to do health care policy, when she was not elected to anything at that point to do that is really just sort of weak.
It just shows us a little bit more of the difference between the two first ladies. I also doubt very much that Laura Bush specifically sat down and made the criticism on Hillary about this. She merely was relaying, when she did a walk-through, what she noticed. She didn't hold a press conference --
SCARBOROUGH: But --
JACOBUS: -- or send out a press release on this. So, we might be making a mountain out of a molehill.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I know, but Cheri, you know, the thing is, we have -- we have seen the presidents become closer as the years go by, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But, at the same time, it -- it seems like Laura Bush's friends have made it known to anybody that wants to listen that she didn't think Hillary Clinton was a first lady the way a first lady was supposed to be.
JACOBUS: Well, yeah, and Laura Bush would know. She's first lady herself. And she, obviously, very well knows the predecessors to the Clintons, because it was her father-in-law and her mother-in-law. And, then, also, when her father-in-law was vice president, she saw the example that Nancy Reagan set. So, she pretty much is an expert, I would say, more than anybody.
She knows what a first lady goes through. She knows what the American people expect of a first lady. And she willingly and joyfully takes on that role. Hillary Clinton didn't. And I don't -- I don't think Hillary Clinton -- I -- I think she accomplished about as much as first lady as she has as senator, which is basically nothing. She has yet really to prove herself to the American people with anything, really.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Antonia, when I look at these pictures of Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush, it's striking.
FELIX: When we talk about the role of first lady, and that, you know, "Hillary didn't want the job and Laura did," there's no official job description. There's nothing written down that says the first lady has to be the top hostess in Washington, who does so many dinners a year, or she has to commit herself to this particular facet of the Washington scene 20 percent at a time.
And, you know, there's -- there's nothing laid out by -- about that.
JACOBUS: There is, there is a tradition. And there's no arguing about that. There's an American tradition. And most first ladies know that. And, again, it's not a life-or-death thing.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
JACOBUS: It's just gives us some insight into Hillary Clinton --
SCARBOROUGH: We're going to --
JACOBUS: -- which is what we will be doing for a while.
SCARBOROUGH: We are going to have to leave it there.