Where does a President get away from it all? For the first time, George and Laura Bush have opened the doors of their quarters at Camp David, the presidential retreat outside Washington, D.C., and the answer turns out to be a 1950s cabin that would seem familiar to many Americans. Arriving for PEOPLE’s interview, managing editor Larry Hackett and Washington correspondent Sandra Sobieraj Westfall wiped their feet on a towel spread on the mudroom floor, passed the kitchen sink where an aide was bathing Miss Beazley, one of the Bushes’ Scotties, and sat for a fireside chat.
We’re honored to be at Camp David. Do you come here often?
THE PRESIDENT: Try to. It’s a good way to get out of Washington and to bring your work to a totally different environment. We love it up here. We love to be outside, we like to exercise, we like to bring our friends and family.
MRS. BUSH: We’ve hosted a dozen, probably, world leaders here. It’s very casual, the lodge where we have the meals is cozy and intimate. And so it’s really fun.
When you leave office next year, will you wish you could have stayed? Would you have wanted to do more?
THE PRESIDENT: We will have done a lot. And in the last 12 months we’re going to do a lot. So my mind is not where I’m going to be when I leave office. I’ve got a lot to think about now. Having said that, I do think it is healthy to have turnover in a democracy. I think new people bring new ideas and new energy, which is important for our country.
What can you tell us about Jenna’s wedding plans?
MRS. BUSH: We don’t have any yet. Jenna is just barely off her book tour [for Ana’s Story, Jenna’s book about a young mother with HIV]. But pretty soon we’re going to sit down and really figure out what we’re going to do.
Would you like to have a White House wedding?
MRS. BUSH: Of course, a White House wedding would be a lot of fun. But I also know it wouldn’t be very private. And of course we want to do what Jenna wants to do.
Tell us about your future son-in-law Henry Hager. Did he do right and ask for Jenna’s hand?
THE PRESIDENT: He did. They were up here [at Camp David], I think it was on my birthday …
MRS. BUSH: Fourth of July weekend, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: He kind of sidled up to me and said, “Can I come and see you?” We were sitting outside the presidential cabin here, and he professed his love for Jenna and said would I mind if he married her? And I said, “Got a deal.” [Laughter] And I’m of the school, once you make the sale, move on. But he had some other points he wanted [to make]. He wanted to talk about how he would be financially responsible.
MRS. BUSH: It was very sweet.
What was it like to hear a man say that about your daughter?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I’m thrilled for him because he’s marrying a really wonderful woman. I believe in passages in life. In other words, when the girls left for college, Laura was somewhat morose. I was thrilled for them. And I am thrilled for Henry and Jenna, knowing how great marriage can be.
Did you keep it secret from Jenna?
MRS. BUSH: We did. The other really sweet thing about Henry was he went to Barbara, her twin, first, before he came to us.
THE PRESIDENT: And then he laid out how he was going to ask her, on top of a mountain in Maine.
One of our readers, Rebecca Dominguez of Chipley, Fla., wants to know when you’ll be grandparents.
MRS. BUSH: We hope soon, but Jenna doesn’t act like it will be anytime soon.
Jenna told us that Barbara had been whispering in your ear about increasing funds for global AIDS programs. Is that true?
THE PRESIDENT: I can’t remember the exact moment, but I do know what my answer would have been. It’s that we’re asking Congress to double the amount of money for global AIDS. I mean, [my daughters] recognize that giving back in life is a part of living life. I’m impressed by them.
Teri Perez of Fort Worth asks, “Has the White House been good or bad for your marriage?”
THE PRESIDENT: It has been great. Because strong marriages, under stress, get stronger. The White House has made a good marriage really good.
How has he changed?
MRS. BUSH: He is more serious. He still likes to make us laugh, and I appreciate that very much. That was one of the characteristics I liked most about him when I met him. But there’s certainly a seriousness to him that he didn’t have before.
THE PRESIDENT: This is a complex world. I think about the issues of the day a lot, and that probably comes across to Laura and the girls as more serious.
How has Mrs. Bush changed?
THE PRESIDENT: One of the things that Laura has learned is that, as First Lady, she can have an impact on people’s lives in a positive way. And I suspect that first occurred to her when she gave a Saturday radio address speaking to Afghan women [in 2001]. I’ll never forget she was telling me that she had gotten a lot of response from the address, almost incredulously. From there to literacy, to the Red Dress campaign, to Burma, I have seen someone who is using her talents to affect policy and people’s lives.
What’s on your calendar for 2008?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m looking forward to meeting the Holy Father [Pope Benedict XVI]. One place I’m going is the Beijing Olympics. I’m looking forward to that.
Mrs. Bush, Julie Cregger, from Keymar, Md., writes, “My boyfriend was a Marine at Camp David and always said how nice you smell.”
MRS. BUSH: Oh, really? That was so sweet.
THE PRESIDENT: Obviously he didn’t work in the gym.
Well, last year somebody wrote about shaking the President’s hand at a rally and wanted to know how you kept your hands so soft.
THE PRESIDENT: By not going to the ranch. [Laughter]