The Bush Twins Graduate From College, and Private Life
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004; Page C01
NEW HAVEN, Conn., May 23 -- The kidgloves are coming off.
With their graduation from college over the weekend and the announcement that they will work on their father's reelection campaign, President Bush's twin daughters are leaving the zone of privacy the White House imposed and the press accepted, at least when the two were not getting in trouble with the law.
Heading off on their modern version of a Grand Tour this summer, the 22-year-old Jenna and Barbara will also do an interview and photo spread for Vogue and then work for Bush-Cheney 2004 -- likely in the Arlington headquarters but perhaps also making speeches to rally support for their old man.
Already this weekend, the president focused national attention on his daughters as they graduated from the University of Texas and Yale College. On Saturday night, Jenna Bush skipped her graduation ceremony in Austin so she could attend a dinner party with her parents at an Austin restaurant called Moonshine. And on Sunday Bush took the White House press corps to New Haven, where he had similar parties with daughter Barbara before her Monday graduation.
Over the weekend, the White House still tried to keep the daughters out of public view. Both were secreted on and off Air Force One away from the view of the White House press corps. But it was no use: The sisters were captured on film, and their graduations have inspired broad coverage. The Bush twins are featured this week in both People and Time.
Time's verdict: "They're hot!"
Bush aides realize the weekendmarked a change for the twins and their public lives. "With their graduation from college and joining the campaign, there's certainly going to be more coverage of them, and that's understandable," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for first lady Laura Bush. "However, they are not public officials. When they engage in campaign activities, certainly there will be media interest. But when they're going about their own work, we hope the media will respect that."
That's quite a change from the spring of 2001, when the Austin Police Department charged both daughters with misdemeanors after the two were caught at Chuy's Tex-Mex restaurant, Jenna with a false ID and Barbara with alcohol. Barbara was sentenced toperform community service and attend an alcohol awareness class, while Jenna, a repeat offender, was fined $600 and lost her driver's license for 30 days in addition to the other punishments. A New York tabloid went with the headline "Jenna and Tonic," and Jay Leno referred to "Jenna 'Anheuser' Bush."
"I would urge all of you to very carefully think through how much you want to pursue this," then-press secretary Ari Fleischer warned menacingly. After a Houston Chronicle reporter asked Fleischer if the president had talked to his daughters about substance abuse, Fleischer later called the reporter to say, ominously, that his question had been "noted in the building."
But the protection is now easing. The twins have begun to appear more often at their parents' sides on presidential trips. The Bush family cooperated with a People report on the twins; no fewer than five People correspondents devoted themselves to the story in the magazine's new issue, interviewing a hairdresser, a bartender and anybody else they could find who knows the twins. Among other things, the celebrity publication reports that Jenna will eventually move to New York, live in an apartment with friends and do volunteer work related to education, while Barbara will be an intern for a pediatric AIDS program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, traveling to clinics in Africa and Eastern Europe.
Jenna, whose degree is in English, will be following more in the footsteps of her librarian mother than her father, who often has trouble with the language in which his daughter majored. Barbara, whose degree is in the humanities, was inspired to take her job after a trip to Africa.
People also reports the two "are unattached" -- a subject likely to draw considerably more scrutiny than their career endeavors.
Johndroe added it's likely that both will eventually go to graduate school. In the meantime they will be unpaid as volunteers on their father's campaign. Though he's not a campaign official, Johndroe said he personally "wouldn't expect" the twins to appear in ads for their father, though public appearances are a possibility. Back in 2000, the twins appeared only at major events such as the party convention, and then only in non-speaking roles.
The president and first lady decided not to attend either daughter's graduation. Laura Bush said "it would just be a hassle" for other parents and students because of the security. Still, that did not stop Bush from attending a Yale graduation at the start of his term, nor has it prevented Bush from attending a trio of graduation ceremonies each year, most recently Friday's appearance at Louisiana State University. As it happened, Jenna skipped her own graduation to attend the Moonshine party with her parents, where guests consumed $12 entrees at the mid-priced downtown restaurant.
Daughter Barbara did not have to choose between her parents and her graduation. Yale's ceremony is Monday, so Barbara was free to join her parents at two receptions, at the Yale president's mansion -- just steps from the house her grandparents occupied around the time her father was born -- and around the corner at the Yale dean's residence.Armored vehicles and heavily armed men hovered outside; other Yale students gaped from behind barricades.
And Air Force One was standing by to carry college belongings home. That's quite a bit of attention for just another member of the Class of 2004 -- but it's the sort of thing the next generation of Bushes, now come of age, can expect.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company