(WASHINGTON) — You won’t see former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush at the Republican National convention this year. He’s not attending and that’s just fine with his wife, who told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl today the couple is done with politics.
But that doesn’t mean they’re out of public life. Laura Bush outlined key initiatives she and her husband will continue to work on and she made a pitch for the importance of foreign aid, a budget item many recently elected Republicans would like to see cut.
Missing the GOP Convention in Tampa next month won’t be a big deal, according to Laura Bush, who pointed out that she and the former president gave a pep talk to Mitt Romney’s staff in Boston on Tuesday. And she said it’s not hard for her or her husband to stay on the sidelines even as Democrats criticize his legacy.
“We know what politics is like,” she said. “We know that, you know, people love to blame somebody else. That’s just a fact of life in politics…I think George makes an easy target.”
“It doesn’t bother us,” she said.
Her advice to Ann Romney is to enjoy the campaign and getting to travel around the country and meet people. But she said the campaigns should avoid attacks on the spouses of the candidates.
“I’m sorry that first ladies are being attacked. I don’t think they– I don’t think I ever was really, or at least if I was, George didn’t ever tell me about it,” she said.
While Americans can view politics as divisive and full of personal attacks, Laura Bush, 65, said she looks back on politics–what she called “a people business”–fondly.
“Of course when you watch from the sidelines, you think it must be horrible,” she said. ”But it’s not. And politics is a people business. And if you like people, you know, it’s a really fun thing to do. But on the other hand–we can stay involved through the Bush Institute with the policy areas that are the most important to us. And be out of politics. And that’s pretty great too.”
True to her word, the former first lady brushed aside a question about her policy differences with her husband and the Republican Party.
“Well, I don’t know. And I’m not going to get into that political issue. And in fact I can’t believe you asked it,” she said with a laugh.
The focus of their time out of the White House, she said, will be building off the success of the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief) and continuing to work to fight AIDS in Africa and worldwide. President Bush worked to pledge $15 billion in American tax dollars to the program as president and now gets bipartisan kudos for the effort. He and Laura recently completed a trip to Africa where they helped bring attention to the issue and even got in some manual labor, painting a rural health clinic in Zambia.
“George of course still has the convening power of any former president of the U.S. And– that’s why we can– now spend the– rest of our lives with the Bush Institute in Dallas, working on issues that were important to us when he was president. We’re out of politics, but we’re still interested in policy and– and global health, obviously.”
They also plan initiatives through the Bush Institute dealing with education reform, human freedom and economic growth. Laura Bush said they will build off their work on AIDS to help women in developing countries screen for cervical cancer.
It’s hard to imagine Congress today with the long-stagnant economy and the emphasis of the Tea Party – enacting a $15 billion foreign aid bill, but Mrs. Bush said she’s confident that money would still be approved.
“Foreign aid is a very miniscule part of our budget. I don’t think people realize how small it is. I think it’s only 1 percent,” she said, later adding, “I think there’s a very strong coalition in Congress who know that it’s in our moral interest as a country– the wealthiest country in the world and we still are the wealthiest country in the world– to help other people if we can. If we have the capacity to help.”
ABC News played for her its interview with Elton John, where the liberal singer and AIDS activist gave the former Republican president high marks on PEPFAR and working to combat the spread of AIDS.
Laura said her husband should get credit for making the issue a priority. But she said all Americans should be proud.
“It isn’t George. I mean, George did think of it and his administration did work on it for a long time to figure– to see if it really was feasible, to be able to reach that many people in Africa. But– but it’s the American taxpayer who funded it. And Americans should be very, very proud.”
This week Laura Bush is set to address the International AIDS Conference, which is being held in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years.
“The goal is that each of these countries will be able to develop the health infrastructure. So that they’ll be self-sustaining. And so that this– help that comes from the American people and from people around the world, through the global fund, won’t be necessary some day.”
“I think in the United States, about 600,000 people have died of AIDS,” said Laura Bush. “And of course, across Africa, many millions of people. And across the world, the– the new hot spots for AIDS and the pandemic are Asia now and maybe even in the Middle East, They’re much more closed, and there’s much more stigma still associated with it.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio