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Bushes swap friendly jibes as they join to push literacy

SHARE Bushes swap friendly jibes as they join to push literacy

HOUSTON — President Bush went to Houston Thursday to promote reading and support his mother's campaign for literacy, but he had to endure ribbing from his father about his tendency to jumble his words.

Bush and his wife, Laura, joined 2,000 people at the seventh annual Celebration of Reading, which raised more than $2 million for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and the Barbara Bush Texas Fund for literacy.

It was a family affair that kicked off with a video starring the president's parents, who lament changes in their lives since their son moved into the White House.

In the video, comedian Dana Carvey calls the president's father to ask if he can do an impersonation of his son. The former president feels left out. "Listen, I've jumbled more than my fair share of sentences, too," he tells Carvey.

It was the first time the two presidents in the Bush family made a public appearance since the inauguration, although the two have been photographed together at private events. "Lately my dad has been calling me 43. I called him 41," Bush said about their numerical positions in presidential history. "We have a nickname for Mother as well. We call her No. 1."

Bush used the occasion to promote reading. Back in Washington, lawmakers haggled over how much money to spend on schools, and the conservative flank of his party was threatening to delay the president's education plan in the Senate.

There was a hint of irony at the event.

Barbara Bush is on the national advisory council of Reading Is Fundamental, a program that distributes millions of books to children but is slated to lose all of its federal money in 2002. Bush's education budget cuts all funding for "inexpensive book distribution," consolidating the funding into state-level reading grants.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer defended Bush's reading plan at a news conference Thursday in Crawford, Texas, where Bush is visiting his ranch through Friday.

The president's budget triples the federal budget for reading initiatives, and it creates a consolidated block grant program, Fleischer said. "The school district will have plenty of funds under the president's program for reading initiatives," he said.