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Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter reflect on 75 years of marriage, the state of American politics

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter is now 93, and former President Jimmy Carter is 96, making him the longest-living president in American history. This week, on July 7, marks their 75th wedding anniversary, another record among U.S. presidents. They sat down with Judy Woodruff in their hometown of Plains, Ga. to discuss their life together, their legacy and the current state of American politics.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was the first Sunday in July of 1946. World War II had been over for months, and the victorious United States was emerging as a global superpower.

    On that day, 140 miles south of Atlanta, in the small, quiet town of Plains, Georgia, a 21-year-old recent Naval Academy graduate named James Earl Carter Jr. and his 18-year-old fiancee, Eleanor Rosalynn Smith, exchanged wedding vows. They walked down the aisle of a Methodist church and into a partnership that would take them to the height of American power and all over the world.

    Former first lady Rosalynn Carter is now 93, and former President Jimmy Carter is 96, making him the longest-living president in American history.

    This Wednesday, July 7, marks their 75th wedding anniversary, another record among U.S. presidents. And it was for that occasion that I spoke with them last week in Plains, where they still live, about their life together and a few other things.

    President Carter, Mrs. Carter, it is so wonderful to see both of you. Thank you for talking with us.

    Seventy-five years of marriage, that is remarkable. Congratulations.

    Mrs. Carter, what is the secret to this partnership?

  • Rosalynn Carter, Former First Lady:

    Well, I think we give each other space and we try to do things together. We're always looking for things we can do together, like birding and fly-fishing and just anything we can find to do together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, President Carter, I think people look at this long and happy marriage, and I think they'd love to know what — especially couples who have been through what the two of you have been through, what's the secret, when you don't see eye to eye on something, for how you patch it back together?

    Jimmy Carter, Former President of the United States: At the end of the day, we try to become reconciled and overcome all the differences that arose during the day.

    We also make up and give each other a kiss before we go to sleep still in bed. And we always read the Bible every night, which adds a different aspect to life. So, we really try to become completely reconciled each night before we go to sleep.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm asking about that, Mrs. Carter, because the story is, when you were writing your book together, it was difficult for the two of you to work together.

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    It was not easy. It's the worst thing — I mean, it's probably the closest thing to bringing us to a divorce that we ever did.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    It was awful.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you got through it.

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    We got through it. But we had help, and say, Mrs. Carter, you do — you say this, and, President Carter, you say this.

    And — but we got through it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to those Americans who see the both of you and want to know, how are you doing, what would you say, Mrs. Carter?

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    Doing good. We're doing good, both of us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And President Carter?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, we raise (ph) a lot.

    And I swim three times a day and I walk every day.

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    Every day.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    And so we stay in good physical shape, as best we can, with our handicaps.

    And we have had to live a quite restricted life the last year or so with the problem with the virus. But we have succeeded very well. And I think, in general, that handicap in movement has brought us even closer together. So that's one thing for which I'm thankful.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, President Carter, you have now live long enough to see this reevaluation of your presidency. There are two new major biographies out that argue that you didn't get the credit that you deserved for so much of what you did as president, whether it was climate change, energy, human rights, the Camp David accords, the Panama Canal treaties.

    How do you look on what's going on right now with your presidency?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, I'm glad to know that people are now remembering that, during my administration, we tried to keep the peace.

    And we cherished our human rights. So, peace and human rights were the bases for my campaign and also my administration. So, we came out of the White House completely satisfied with the way we had acted in the trials that we made to overcome difficulties. And most of the time, we succeeded. At least we thought we did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mrs. Carter, when you look at this reevaluation, if that's what you want to call it, I mean, how do you see it? Is it about time? Is it — how do you think about it?

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    I think it's about time that people really realize what Jimmy did.

    And the books are helping. And I have been pleased with that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, President Carter, there's so much to ask you both about.

    But, as you think back on your presidency and your time as a former president, what are you most proud of? Is there a big regret you have?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, we're very proud of having been elected and having served as president. That's the epitome of our lives, I think, in totality.

    And I would say that we did what we pledged to do in the campaign. We kept the peace, and we obeyed the law, and we told the truth, and we honored human rights. Those were things that were important to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And during your presidency, there was clearly a big partisan divide in this country.There were disagreements with Republicans, certainly with President Reagan in that campaign of 1980.

    But, today, the partisanship is — just seems to be off the charts. It's hyperpartisan. Do you think you could have done what you did as president if — in this environment?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    No.

    If the Republicans had pledged while I was president not ever to pass any of my bills, I would have been handicapped greatly. And I'm glad they didn't do that.

    But we had a very good batting average with the Congress when I was in office. I think we had the best one since Lyndon Johnson did. So, we had a good administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mrs. Carter, as you think about the partisanship of today and the — certainly, you had — there were difficult moments during your presidency in getting done what you wanted to get done.

    But, today, you not only have partisanship. You have a president who claims that he won an election that he didn't. You have millions and millions of Americans, including here in Georgia, who say that President Trump won reelection.

    How do you absorb that?

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    It's hard. It's hard for me to know what was happening, and then to hear what was being said about it. And…

  • Jimmy Carter:

    It's known, quite accurately, as the big lie.

    And how he — how Trump gets away with it is hard to comprehend. And this is a time for extreme partnership — partisanship. I think that adds to the environment within which a big lie would be possible to sustain.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe that — what would you say to Georgians, your fellow Georgians, so many of whom believe that President Trump won? And the laws have now been changed in the state of Georgia that might have made it difficult for President Biden or Senator Warnock or Senator Ossoff to win?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, we have a few of those people in Plains, unfortunately.

    But I don't think they — I'm going to change their mind. They're convinced of a lie. And they're going to maintain it until they're gone, perhaps.

    So, we just have to live with that and accommodate other people what they believe, and not be overly critical of them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you ever think, Mrs. Carter, that your own Carter Center would be involved in monitoring elections in Georgia?

    You have monitored elections all over the world, over 100 of them, and you're now involved in monitoring elections in this country.

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    In this state? No, I never thought we would have to monitor elections in Georgia.

    I just assumed elections were accurate. And I trusted our officials. Looking back on it, it's not a very good thing I did, but I did. I trusted the officials.

    And I still do to some extent. I think we know the ones that don't tell the truth and try to — well, I don't call it corrupt — corruption, because I don't think that's a good definition for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And they're monitoring — President Carter, they're monitoring for fraud. They're also monitoring for access to make sure people who should be able to vote can vote.

    How — I mean, how concerned are you with, again, the fact that your own Carter Center is now involved in this?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I think, all over the world, we have always, ever since the Carter Center was founded, tried to promote maximum involvement in — among the people in election itself and make sure that votes were counted accurately.

    And all those things have gone by the board because of a Republican state legislature who take the position that Trump has espoused. So, I think we will just have to grin and bear it until the time comes when it changes, which I hope will be soon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden, you have known him a very long time. He was the first United States senator to endorse you when you ran for president.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    I remember.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How is he doing? We're almost six months in. What are his main challenges now? How's he doing?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, the immigration question still has arisen.

    And I don't think we have still worked out an accommodation with China that's satisfactory for the long term. And the legislative — legislation that he wants to do is still under discussion. We don't know how it's going to turn out.

    But I think that, in general, Joe Biden has done very well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Mrs. Carter, what do you think his main challenges are?

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    I think it's a great relief to have Joe Biden in office, after what we had before, so I'm very pleased about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two things I want to specifically ask both of you, and, Mrs. Carter, to you first.

    Mental health has been a primary interest to you. You have poured a lot of energy into it. And we have seen, with the pandemic, it's underlined how difficult mental and emotional health is for many Americans. What is the one thing you would like to see the federal government do to improve Americans' ability to get the help they need?

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    I think that making a big issue out of it would help, because I worked very hard trying to remove the stigma of mental illness.

    And I think that one thing that has happened is that the situation has changed that a little bit, done away a little bit with the stigma. I have been pleased to see that. I think more people are seeking help than they did in the past.

    And I just hope that people will know that they don't have to suffer from mental illnesses. The treatment — there's treatment now. Everybody can live a good life in their communities working and living a normal life with a mental illness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, President Carter, I want to ask you to look ahead.

    As you think about your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren and their future in this country, are you fearful for the United States, or are you more hopeful?

  • Jimmy Carter:

    Well, sometimes I'm fearful and sometimes I'm hopeful.

    But, overwhelmingly, I'm hopeful. I have confidence in the basic integrity of the American people as — in totality. And I believe that we have overcome even worse and more serious problems in the past than we have to face today.

    And so, in looking at the historical paths of America, I still have ultimate hope in the American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see that, Mrs. Carter?

  • Rosalynn Carter:

    I think that's a good answer.

    I think you have to have hope. Sometimes, it's hard, with the issues and the things that are on the news all the time, to try to figure out what's really — what really to believe. But, in the end, I think everything will be OK.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    We watch the "NewsHour," and your leadership and assessment every night. And that kind of helps to reassure us.

    And I think we don't watch FOX's presentations very much. We watch MSNBC and CNN very rarely. And all the aspects of social media, we don't really become involved in it. So, we have a very good balance of news coverage.

    So I think, with Biden in office and with the inherent qualities of the American people's judgment, I would say I'm fairly optimistic about the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are very grateful to both of you for talking with us today, and on the occasion of your 75th wedding anniversary. Congratulations on that.

    It's really wonderful to see both of you. Thank you very much.

  • Jimmy Carter:

    We appreciate you. Thank you.

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