Jenna Bush Hager on Her Family's Inauguration Day Memories: 'My Sister Thought All Grandfathers Had' Them

Claudia Harmata
·4 min read

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Jenna Bush Hager is reflecting on some of her family's fondest memories in politics.

In a new interview for Maria Shriver's The Sunday Paper, the Today show star, 39, shared memories from her late grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush's Inauguration Day in 1989 and said it was like "living in a dream."

"My earliest memory is being at my grandfather's Inauguration. My sister and I were little—we were in first grade—and we didn't quite understand the significance of it. We just saw somebody that we loved being sworn into office," she said. "We loved balloons and the parade. And we're from Texas so even just to be in Washington when it was cold and beautiful and wintery—it was almost like living a dream."

Bush Hager and her twin sister, Barbara, were in the first grade when her late grandfather took the oath of office. Being so young, the girls didn't understand the gravity of the situation, but the Today with Hoda & Jenna co-host also credits her grandfather's humility.

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"My grandpa was such a humble man that when he was with us, he was so present, getting on the ground and playing with us and reading to us. So, when we were young, we never really knew the gravity of what was happening, and I think that was a lot because of him," she explained. "His role as a grandfather, as a father, as a husband—his family came before anything else."

Jenna Bush Hager/Instagram Jenna Bush Hager with her late grandfather, President George H. W. Bush

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"And in fact, when we got back to Texas, my sister thought all grandfathers had inaugurations (we were seven)," Bush Hager said. "She thought it was something our country just did to celebrate grandparents and I think that really speaks to his humility and the fact that he really put us as his family first."

The mother of three also remembered how her late grandfather started an inaugural tradition when he lost his re-election to President Bill Clinton in 1993, and how he set the ultimate example for a peaceful transition of power.

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PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

"Our grandfather had left a note for President Clinton when he lost—and it was my grandfather that actually started that tradition," Bush Hager said.

"We also knew how sad he was that he'd lost. We were sitting there with him on election night and there was a point when all the adults became quieter and there was a shift that even children (we were 11, maybe) could feel. We knew how disappointed he was because he wanted to finish the job that he had started, and he felt crushed. But at the same time, he felt a huge responsibility to help Bill Clinton and his staff transition," she shared.

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JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush

"He felt a huge responsibility and he was such a gracious man that he created this tradition that continued up until this point where the outgoing president leaves a note for the incoming president. We watched our father do that as well," Bush Hager added.

Clinton and Bush went on to become the best of friends, with Bush Hager recalling how Clinton would call himself "the fifth son and the black sheep of the family."

"I think it spoke a lot about the humility of my grandpa that this person who had crushed his political dreams, ended his presidency after only four years, would become somebody who was a close confidant and friend," she said.

Her father George W. Bush succeeded Clinton and was the 43rd president of the United States, from 2001 to 2009.

After the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Bush Hager got emotional on national television as she reflected on the violence that occurred in a place she holds dear in her heart.

"I have had the privilege of standing on those steps, in several inaugurations, not just for family members, but for the first Black president of the United States of America, when I was a teacher, in inner-city D.C., and that meant so much to so many," she said. "I kissed my grandfather goodbye in that rotunda. I have felt the majesty of our country in those walls and nobody can take that from any of us."