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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Dedication of Official Clinton Portraits

Aired June 14, 2004 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Show you a live picture of the White House. Standing by, some -- an interesting event is about to take place there. It's going to be the unveiling of President Clinton's official portrait. President Clinton, Mrs. -- Senator Clinton will be there as well as President Bush and Mrs. Bush. So when that happens, we will take that event live.
Meanwhile, a check of the headlines "At This Hour."

The U.S. is helping the Saudis in their search for a kidnapped American. A group believed to be linked to al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Paul Johnson and for the killing of another American, Kenneth Scroggs. The group has threatened to treat Johnson as Iraqi prisoners were treated at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

A car bombing in central Baghdad during morning rush hour has killed at least 13 people and wounded at least 60 others. The attack targeted a convoy of Western contractors. Two British workers, Frenchman and an American were among the dead. Today's attack was the second car bombing in Baghdad in two days.

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops today begin a week-long retreat in Colorado. It is aimed at reaching agreement on two critical issues. The bishops will discuss whether Catholic politicians who are at odds with church teaching should receive communion. The bishops could also authorize a second set of reviews on clergy sex abuse.

And perhaps you have noticed this: prices at the pumps are down, an average of more than 6 cents a gallon over the past three weeks. Analysts say that lower crude oil prices and busier refineries are the reason. But they say no more significant price drops are expected over the summer.

A Democratic president returns to the White House, but only in oil -- and canvas. This hour, Bill Clinton's presidential portrait will be unveiled with a historical footnote.

And there you see former president Clinton walking in alongside President Bush. Also there Senator Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, and the current first lady, Laura Bush.

While we wait for the ceremony to get under way, and we do expect a number of speeches, before we get to the unveiling, let's go ahead and bring in our Elaine Quijano.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

Well this was something that President Bush did not have to do. That is, invite the former first couple to the White House in a public unveiling of the ceremony that you see is getting under way right now. We expect shortly to hear from President Bush. We are expecting that to take place in just a moment here.

But the president is actually acting on precedent. Back in 1995, it was Bill Clinton who actually hosted a similar unveiling for the portrait of George Bush Sr., of course, President Bush's father. Now this unveiling is taking place notably just about a week before Bill Clinton's memoir is set to be released.

As a historic note, you mention the artist who was commissioned to paint these two portraits, one of former President Clinton, the other of former first lady, will be the first African-American artist to do so. His name is Simmie Knox, born in Aliceville, Alabama in 1935 to a family of share croppers.

Now Knox says that he felt a connection to Bill Clinton who also grew up in the South, in Arkansas. And says that even though he was commissioned to paint these portraits that he would have done so for free.

Now, Knox, who lives in Maryland, is best known for his portraits of baseball legend Hank Aaron, also comedian Bill Cosby as well as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

He is self-taught. And as part of the process, he took dozens of photographs. (AUDIO GAP)

KAGAN: Let's go ahead and listen in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. Thank you, Henry. Laura and I appreciate you all coming.

President Clinton and Senator Clinton, welcome home.

(APPLAUSE)

All who live here are temporary residents. The portraits that are presented today will be held permanently in the White House collection, for all the ages.

And so, beginning today, the likenesses of President William Jefferson Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will take their place in a line that began with George and Martha Washington.

(APPLAUSE)

Laura and I are pleased to welcome members of the Clinton and Rodham families.

Thank you all for coming.

It's great to see Chelsea. The fact that you survived your teenage years in the White House...

(LAUGHTER)

... speaks to the fact you had a great mom and dad.

(APPLAUSE)

We are pleased that Mrs. Dorothy Rodham is here.

Welcome. We're glad you're here.

(APPLAUSE)

And those two boys you're still trying to raise...

(LAUGHTER)

... Hugh and Tony. Thank you for coming. We're glad you're here.

(APPLAUSE)

It's good to see so many who served our nation so ably in the Clinton administration.

Thank you all for coming back. Thanks for your service to the country. And welcome back to the White House. We're really glad you're here. And I know the president is, as well.

As you might know, my father and I have decided to call each other by numbers.

(LAUGHTER)

He's 41, I'm 43. It's a great pleasure to honor number 42.

We're glad you're here, 42.

(APPLAUSE)

The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man. As a candidate for any office, whether it be the state attorney general or the president, Bill Clinton showed incredible energy and great personal appeal. As chief executive, he showed a deep and far- ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president.

Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer.

Over eight years it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy. He's a man of enthusiasm and warmth, who could make a compelling case and effectively advance the causes that drew him to public service.

People saw those gifts very early in Bill Clinton. He's remembered in Hope, Arkansas, and other places along the way as an eager, good-hearted boy who seemed destined for big things.

I was particularly struck by the story of a nun at St. John's School in Hot Springs who decided that Billy Clinton should get a C in deportment. That was a rare grade for the future Rhodes Scholar and president, so Bill's mother gave the nun a call to see what was wrong. The sister replied, "Oh, nothing much. But let me tell you, this boy knows the answer to every question and he just leaps to his feet before anyone else can."

She went on, "You know, I know he'll not tolerate this C, but it'll be good for him. And I promise you if he wants to be, he will be president some day."

People in Bill Clinton's life have always expected him to succeed. And more than that, they wanted him to succeed.

And meeting those expectations took more than charm and intellect. It took hard work and drive and determination and optimism. I mean, after all, you've got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

He won his first statewide office at age 30, sworn in as governor at 32. He's five-time governor of Arkansas; the first man from that state to become the president. He's also the first man in his party since Franklin Roosevelt to win a second term in the White House.

I mean, I can tell you more of the story, but it's coming out in fine bookstores all over America.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

At every stage in the extraordinary rise of Bill Clinton, from the little ranch house on Scully Street to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he and Roger had a wonderful, loving mother. And I am certain that Virginia Kelly would be filled with incredible pride this morning.

(APPLAUSE)

And so would Hugh Rodham Sr. Mr. Rodham did have the joy of seeing his only daughter become America's first lady. And I know he would not be surprised to see her as she is today, an elected United States senator, and a woman greatly admired in our country.

From the earliest days of her youth in Park Ridge, Illinois, Hillary Rodham impressed her family and friends as a person of great ability and serious purpose. At Main (ph) Township High School South, at Wellesley College and at Yale Law School, classmates saw her just not as an achiever, but as a role model and as a leader.

She inspires respect and loyalty from those who know her, and it was a good day in both their lives when they met at the library at Yale Law School.

(LAUGHTER)

Hillary's commitment to public service continued when she left this house.

Listen, New York politics is serious business.

(LAUGHTER)

It's rough business. It takes an extraordinary person to campaign and win the United States Senate. She has proven herself more equal to the challenge.

And she takes an interesting spot in American history today, for she is the only sitting senator whose portrait hangs in the White House.

(APPLAUSE)

The paintings of the Clintons are the work of a fine American artist, Simmie Knox. Mr. Knox has rendered portraits of a Supreme Court justice, a Cabinet minister, a mayor and members of Congress, and today we thank him for putting his skilled hand to the portraits that are about to be unveiled.

More than 40 years have passed since a boy of 16 came here to the White House with a group from the American Legion Boys Nation. On that day in the summer of 1963, Bill Clinton of Arkansas looked into the face of John F. Kennedy and left the Rose Garden feeling very proud that he had shaken the hand of a president.

Today, he can be even prouder of decades of service and effort and perseverance that brought him back to this place as the 42nd president of the United States.

My congratulations to you both. And now will you join me on the stage for the presentation?

(APPLAUSE)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Bush, Mrs. Bush, Mr. Dudley (ph), Mr. Horsman (ph), ladies and gentlemen, it's a great honor for Hillary and Chelsea and my family and our friends to be back here today in this wonderful place we called home for eight years.

I'd like to thank all the people who were part of our administrations for joining us today.

And, Mr. President, if you'll permit me a indulgence about Texas, I want to especially thank your former senator, Lloyd Benson and Mrs. Benson for being here.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Mr. President, I had mixed feelings coming here today, and they were only confirmed by all those kind and generous things you said. Made me feel like I was a pickle stepping into history.

I used to walk through this house day in and day out looking at those pictures. I loved to go in the Blue Room and look at the wonderful portrait of Thomas Jefferson in there and his successors, and John Adams. And it reminded me of something that happened along toward my second term; maybe this will happen to you.

I was in Cleveland in a grade school looking at a reading program, and this 6-year-old kid came up to me, he said, "Are you really president?" And I said, "Yes, I am." He said, "But you're not dead yet."

(LAUGHTER)

And I realized that he thought the president was people commemorated in this house, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. He'd seen their pictures. He knew that presidents were people that used to be.

And we were joking on the way in, I got three letters in 1992 from plastic surgeons offering to do free work on my face so I would look better.

(LAUGHTER)

One earnest man from Philadelphia wrote a three page, single- spaced typed letter saying, "If you would just let me straighten your nose and take the bags out from under your eyes, you would be the best-looking person ever to run for president." It's like, "If you only had a different face you'd be handsome."

(LAUGHTER)

So I wrote the man a letter back and told him I worked hard for this face and I thought I would live in it a little while longer.

(LAUGHTER)

But I say this because the president, by his generous words to Hillary and me today, has proved once again that in the end, we are held together by this grand system of ours that permits us to debate and struggle and fight for what we believe is right.

And because it's free, because it is a system of majority rule and minority rights, we're still around here after over 200 years. And most of the time, we get it right. And I'm honored to be a small part of it. I was thinking of, President and Mrs. Bush, on the way over here today, which ones of these pictures I liked the most, and in the darkest days, which ones helped me the most.

I like John Singer Sargent's portrait of Theodore Roosevelt over there. But there's one over in the Cabinet Room by a man named Laszlo of Theodore Roosevelt. I used to look at it all the time when I felt bad and I worried, "Was the war in Bosnia going to come out all right? Would the Kosovar refugees ever be able to go home?"

Because if you look at that picture, Theodore Roosevelt, who was known as our most macho, bully, self-confident president, you look at that picture and you see here's a human being who's scared to death and not sure it's going to come out all right. And he does the right thing, anyway. That's what I saw in that picture.

So I thank Simmie Knox for giving Hillary and me the chance to be part of history.

You know, most of the time, until you get your picture hung like this, the only artist to draw you are cartoonists.

(LAUGHTER)

When I started out, they drew me in a baby carriage in Arkansas. Then I graduated to a tricycle, then a bicycle. And when I finally got elected president, the guy that had started me out in the baby carriage actually put Hillary and me in a pick-up truck with a hunting dog to come to Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

Then I got nominated and one guy, when I became the nominee, did a cartoon showing me as the victim of a chainsaw massacre with all my various parts all over the cartoon. So to have this wonderful picture is moving.

Simmie Knox came to us when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recommended him to Hillary. And I looked at his work and was profoundly moved.

He too is a great American story. Born in 1935, in Aliceville, Alabama, to a sharecropping family, he wound up painting the portraits of the president, the first lady, former Justice Marshall, my friend Hank Aaron, Justice Ginsburg and many others, because he's good at what he does.

And that, too, is a part of America's promise, that people should rise as far as they can and do whatever their dreams indicate if they're good enough to do it.

So, Simmie, we're grateful to you and I thank you. And I'm glad you and your family are here today.

(APPLAUSE) Mr. President, thank you again for having us. It was an honor to join you for the third time in a few days. At President Reagan's funeral, at the World War II memorial. I also want to congratulate you on your father's successful parachute jump yesterday.

(LAUGHTER)

I didn't want him to do it, because the last time he jumped out of an airplane, I fell off a nine-inch step and nearly tore my leg off.

(LAUGHTER)

I took baby steps all around the house yesterday. I knew something was going to happen.

(LAUGHTER)

But it worked out all right.

This is a great country. Politics is noble work. I've just been doing some interviews in connection with my book, and I told Mr. Ryder (ph) yesterday, I said, "You know, Most the people I've known in this business, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, were good people, honest people, and they did what they thought was right. And I hope that I'll live long enough to see American politics return to vigorous debates where we argue who's right and wrong, not who's good and bad."

My experience is, most the people I've known in this work are good people who love their country desperately. And I am profoundly grateful that for a brief period I had a chance to be one of them.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Thank you so much, President and Mrs. Bush, for not only arranging this wonderful unveiling and, in effect, a reunion for many of the people who served in this house and in the Old and New Executive Office Buildings, and in the Cabinets, and in so many other capacities, but for your very warm and generous words of welcome and tribute.

I also want to thank Simmie Knox for not only his wonderful work, but his extraordinarily calm and gentle manner.

One thing that has never been said about either my husband or I -- nearly everything else has been...

(LAUGHTER)

... but one thing that hasn't is that we are patient people. Those of you who know us, know that's not at all descriptive.

And to sit for a portrait and to be available to the artist as he tries to get it just right is a very time-taking enterprise. And Simmie was more than understanding as he worked with us over the last several years. And I'm very grateful to him, not only for his artistry, but for his humanity.

I also wish to thank Kathy Fenton (ph), the social secretary, and her staff. I know a little bit about how difficult it is to put these events together. And I'm very grateful to her for just a wonderful occasion for all of us.

Finally, it is a somewhat daunting experience to have your portrait hung in the White House. It is something that really does, more than any other act, sort of, puts your place in history in this building for all the ages and all the people who come through here to see and reflect upon.

As with Bill and his description of the portraits that meant so much to him, I took also great solace from many of the portraits of the former first ladies, because it is a very difficult role and it is one that you do not seek, but you support the person you love who is seeking the presidency.

So I would go and I'd look at that fabulous portrait of Mrs. Roosevelt that just showed her intent and purpose-driven life. I'd look at the lovely portrait of Mrs. Johnson, the elegant portraits of both Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Reagan -- all of the women who have lived in and tried to make this house a home over the past centuries.

And so, I'm very honored to join them as part of that history. It is an extraordinary experience.

And I thank the White House Historical Association, Mr. Dudley (ph) and Neil (ph), of course, for making it possible.

Being part of history in our nation is, I think, a heavy responsibility that we carry with us and we care deeply about. But it's also a challenge for those of us still around to think about what more we can do for our country and for what this extraordinary house stands for.

So I thank you for helping us during those eight years, those of you who were our friends and our supporters, our colleagues.

And I thank you, Mr. President, for welcoming us here and for your place in history as well. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: President Clinton and Senator Clinton, these portraits are lovely. President Bush and I are proud to share them with the many visitors that come to the White House. Your portraits, like you said, are in very good company. They join a collection of portraits of extraordinary men and women who've defined America and shaped our history.

And your portraits, like Simmie Knox, convey warmth and vitality. All who see them will be reminded of your dedication and all that you've done to strengthen our nation.

Congratulations. And we're so thrilled to install these beautiful portraits here.

Now I want to invite everyone to lunch in the State Dining Room.

(APPLAUSE)

KAGAN: We've been listening in to a very interesting event at the White House, as the official portraits of former President Clinton and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were unveiled. A lot of effusive, warm praise from President Bush.

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