A pair of White House scandals would lead the Fords on a sudden road from top Republican in the House of Representatives to the leadership of the United States, leaving Betty Ford in awe and feeling overwhelmed.
PRESIDENT NIXON: I do solemly swear...
JANE ALEXANDER: The triumph of President Nixon's re-election quickly lost its luster when a burglary in Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate ballooned into televised Senate hearings linking the president's staff and possibly the President himself to the break in.
SEN. HOWARD BAKER: What did the President know and when did he know it.
And while America focused on one scandal another erupted.
JANE ALEXANDER: On October 10th 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had been under investigation for accepting bribes while Governor of Maryland, resigned. He was the first Vice President in American history to do so.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Americans saw their Vice President taking cash and envelopes in his office. They saw their President covering up a burglary and other crimes. These were things that Americans never could have imagined. They felt they were really in unchartered territory.
STEVE FORD: Dad's name was on the list of maybe ten people that might be selected by Nixon as the next vice president. I think we all thought Nixon needed him in Congress to help get legislation passed.
JOHN ROBERT GREENE: Nixon, who has got his own Watergate problems at that time goes in a shrewd move to Capitol Hill. And he says I want someone who is going to guaranteed to be approved. And in every poll Gerald Ford headed the list.
BETTY FORD: I had been in my slacks, usual getting dinner for the family. My husband had come home to have dinner and then he was planning to go back to the White House for that announcement.
JANE ALEXANDER: It was an ordinary night until...
STEVE FORD: The phone rang at the house and dad got on the phone. I think General Alexander Haig was on the other end of that line, letting dad know that President Nixon was calling to ask him to be vice president.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: And it's only then that Mrs. Ford learns in effect that her whole life is about to be turned upside down, and oh by the way in 2 hours you have to be in the east room of the White House to be introduced to the country.
STEVE FORD: I remember my mother saying to dad. She wasn't crazy about him being Vice President. She'd just got him ready to resign and dad said, "Betty, don't worry, vice presidents don't do anything."
PRESIDENT NIXON: My fellow Americans, I proudly present to you the man whose name I will submit to the Congress of the United States for confirmation as Vice President of the United States, Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan.
BETTY FORD: I was very much in awe of the situation. This recognition that he was receiving seemed to just also flow out to me. And I felt, I felt very important.
JOHN ROBERT GREENE: Nixon when it's all over turns to Betty and says congratulations and she looks at him and says, congratulations or condolences.
JANE ALEXANDER: On Dec. 6, 1973, Ford was sworn in as vice president.
Betty is thrust out of the anonymous role of congressional wife onto the public stage while she admitted she was terrified of television interviews, nevertheless she always spoke out candidly.
DOUGLAS KIKER: Mrs. Ford, I'll ask you a political question. How do you stand on the Woman's Liberation Movement?
BETTY FORD: I would say I am for Women's Lib because I feel very strongly that/ a woman should certainly receive equal pay for equal compensation as any man would. I think I'm a feminist really.
JACK FORD: People may think that Mother became an activist when she got to the White House. But anybody who knew her over the years will know that she was always one to speak her mind. She and the rest of the family were very blessed in that Dad was one of those people who encouraged people to think for themselves and he wasn't threatened by it.
JANE ALEXANDER: And the new second family was a big hit with the media.
DICK CAVETT: Hello I'm Dick Cavett you may wonder what I'm doing here. I'm right in front of 514 Crown View Drive and the reason for that is the man living here suddenly became the 40th Vice President of the United States.
JANE ALEXANDER: Cavett was invited in to meet the family.
But the introduction to the Ford family was being drowned out by the drumbeat of Watergate.
PROTESTERS: Impeach Nixon now.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: People were distrustful of the political process, cynicism had taken root, people had been lied to. The country was coming apart at the seams over an unpopular war in Vietnam and a scandal called Watergate.
HOWARD K. SMITH: On Saturday the house judiciary committee recommended that President Nixon be charged with obstructing justice in the Watergate case.
BETTY FORD: We had literally prayed that this whole thing would blow over and President Nixon would continue to serve out his term: It just began to get bigger and bigger.
JANE ALEXANDER: The final blow would come when the Supreme Court ordered President Nixon to turn over white house tape recordings that linked the president to the cover-up.
NEWSCASTER: President Nixon stunned the country today.
NEWSCASTER: The Republican Party today gave up on Richard Nixon.
DAN RATHER: White House aides say privately, quote, "It is over."
JANE ALEXANDER: On August 8th, 1974 a shocked nation watched President Nixon's final broadcast.
PRESIDENT NIXON: I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.
JANE ALEXANDER: It was an historical first. The next day, the Fords accompanied Nixon and his wife Pat, to the helicopter that would take them back home to San Clemente, California.
BETTY FORD: It was in my mind the saddest day of my life. I can't remember when I felt so totally unable to handle something.
JANE ALEXANDER: Minutes after the Nixons departed, Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as President of the United States.
PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: So help me God...
My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. I have not campaigned either for the presidency or the vice presidency. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman -- my dear wife.
JANE ALEXANDER: Seldom had the nation seen a President pay such homage to his wife and partner. But, they both knew the journey ahead would not be easy.
BETTY FORD: I felt that the burden and responsibilities of assuming the role of first lady would be very confining.
JANE ALEXANDER: Nixon's resignation was so sudden Ford had to commute to the White House for the first few weeks of his presidency while the Nixon's belongings were being packed up.
STEVE FORD: I'll just never forget my mom kind of standing over the stove that night and cooking and doing some stuff. And the thought of, you know, Jerry, something's wrong here. You just became President of the United States and I'm still cooking, you know I mean, that was our reality. Dad's president and we're still in Alexandria living in suburbia.