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Laura Bush: ‘I want tobe known for who I am’

A candid first lady opens up about her East Wing plans and discusses recently released tapes of her husband's conversations.
/ Source: TODAY

First lady Laura Bush is stepping out on her own. While her husband meets with European leaders, she traveled to Germany to visit U.S. troops and spoke exclusively to NBC News about those secret Bush tapes, shaking up her East Wing staff and why she rejects being called a “traditional” first lady. NBC's Norah O'Donnell spoke with the first lady in Mainz, Germany.

Norah O'Donnell: We spent the whole day with the first lady in Germany. She was unusually candid and is clearly more comfortable these days, with the election over.  She's got a new agenda for the next four years and is planning to make over the White House.

First lady Laura Bush looks different these days, with a newfound confidence. And of course there's still that same star-power, that on this trip to Germany wowed U.S. troops.

“I'm the one that should be applauding you,” she said to the troops. She also comforted those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it was during a visit with elementary-school students that she opened up about herself.

"What's the most important thing about being first lady?” asked one school child.

“Well, the most important thing about being first lady is being married to the president,” she said, laughing.

For the first time, she spoke to NBC news about Doug Wead, the president's confidante who secretly recorded their conversations.

O'Donnell:  Do you feel betrayed?  Does the president feel betrayed?

Bush:  Well, I mean, I think it's very odd and awkward, to be perfectly frank, to tape someone while you're talking to them on the phone, and they don't know it, and then come out with the tapes later.  So we'll have to see, you know, I don't know if I'd use the word “betrayed,” but I think it's a little bit awkward for sure.

Gone is the guarded Laura Bush. Now she is more self-assured, ready to put her own mark on the White House and making clear that things are changing.

O'Donnell:  There have been some stories that there is an East Wing intrigue, a shake up going on, that Mrs. Bush is cleaning house and getting a whole new staff.  Are you doing that?

Bush: There's not a lot of promotion possibilities in the East Wing, sadly.  I guess you get promoted to the West Wing.

O'Donnell:  There is a pretty big job opening at the White House.

Bush:  There is one big job opening at the White House. White House chef. I'm excited about that too.

O'Donnell:  What are you looking for?

Bush:  Well, I'm looking for a really great cook.  I mean, that's the most important thing, somebody who cooks what people like to eat, and I think that's what everyone wants in a good chef.  But also somebody who is really interested in showcasing American foods.

O'Donnell:  The first lady said she wants more barbecue, more spicy foods.  Also on the menu — more state dinners. She hosted just four in the first term, the same number her mother in-law Barbara Bush hosted in her first six months in office.

Bush:  I think we'll do more entertaining.  We already have at the White House.  What happened on Sept. 11, and of course the war, really made us mindful of not having a lot of lavish entertaining at the White House.  What you didn't see is that my husband hosted more working dinners with heads of state than ever before. Well over a hundred heads of state.

O'Donnell:  I know you don't consider yourself a clotheshorse, but people raved about your outfit on Inauguration Day.  Are you becoming more hip?  Are your daughters helping you with this?

Bush:  I need some help, I'm sure. But, no, I mean, I like clothes and things, really.  But I really enjoyed getting to know a number of American designers.  I certainly didn't know any before.

O'Donnell:  You have rejected the label of "traditional first lady."  How do you want yourself to be seen?

Bush:  I just want to be seen as Laura Bush. I'm not wild about the term “first lady,” I think there's something slightly artificial about the title, the so-called title, or whatever it is. And, you know, I want to be known for who I am and what I work on, and that's in fact what I think most women want to be known for.

O'Donnell:  Do you think you'll have a little more chance to do that in the second term?

Bush: Well, I hope so. I hope so.