A third woman has come forward with allegations that former president George H.W. Bush groped her during a photo op, telling a story that’s strikingly similar to those of actresses Heather Lind and Jordana Grolnick. Writing in Slate, novelist Christina Baker Kline recounts the time she was invited to attend a Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy fundraiser back in 2014. After a luncheon, Kline and her husband were waiting to take a group photo with Barbara and George H.W. Bush when, she says, George “beckoned me close.” She recalls:
“Hello,” I said. “It’s truly an honor to meet you.”
He cocked his head at me for a moment, then said, “You’re beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re a writer.”
“You wanna know my favorite book?” he whispered. I had to lean close to hear him.
“Yes, what is it?”
By now the photographer was readying the shot. My husband stood on one side of the wheelchair, and I stood on the other. President Bush put his arm around me, low on my back. His comic timing was impeccable. “David Cop-a-feel,” he said, and squeezed my butt, hard, just as the photographer snapped the photo. Instinctively, I swiped his hand away.
It’s right there in the official photograph. President Bush laughing at his joke (like a mischievous boy, I thought at the time); me, struggling to keep the smile on my face. My husband, David, on the other side of President Bush’s wheelchair, is smiling broadly. He doesn’t know what just happened.
Same terrible, hacky joke and everything. After the luncheon, Kline says she told her husband about what happened, only to be interrupted by their driver, who asked her to keep the incident “discreet.” And she did, for a while, out of fear of being scrutinized and accused of exploiting “a harmless, aging former president” for publicity. (Although, as she points out, “who wants this kind of publicity?”) Now she says she’s moved on, but she’s sharing the story in hopes that adding her voice to the many that have spoken out about harassment and assault will help affect real change.
Bush has apologized to the first two women who accused him of groping them, and we’ll see if he apologizes a third time to Kline. Bush’s spokespeople have released a statement, basically saying that he routinely pulls out the old “Cop-A-Feel” line in order to “put people at ease” and he’s sorry that some people found it offensive.