On August 2, day two of the summer terror scare, Jenna and Barbara Bush had to go to midtown. They were said to be staying with friends in Battery Park when the First Lady asked them to accompany her to the Citigroup Center tower, which had been identified a day earlier as the site of a possible Al Qaeda attack. It would be the Bush twins’ first public appearance in the city that has been their nocturnal playground for the past few years. They stood there as their mom told a few hundred Citigroup employees that there was nothing to fear. There were more photos as Jenna and Barbara stopped at Cucina, a coffee shop in the seven-story Citigroup atrium. Then they were off to dinner with Laura at Nobu—their favorite restaurant. An hour and a half later, they went off to meet their friends.
This was the day’s real event. At the sleek, dark bar on the first floor of BondSt, a Noho restaurant, they met up with their friend Maggie Betts, the quick-witted African-American daughter of Roland Betts, the developer of Chelsea Piers and President Bush’s closest New York connection. Betts was hanging out with two guys Jenna and Barbara didn’t know but who had famous dads of their own: Chris Miller, the portly, jovial son of the Miller Gallery owners, and Jamie Johnson, director of the documentary Born Rich and an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. Fabian Basabe, the handsome son of an Ecuadoran businessman who made the front page of the Daily News in February dirty-dancing with Barbara at a Chelsea club—and who was subsequently rumored to have been banned from the White House—was on hand, too.
Barbara—friends call her Barbs—text-messaged some other people to come meet them, friends they hadn’t seen since their graduation trips abroad (Barbara experienced the postcollegiate bohemian life in Eastern European cities; Jenna hiked the Pyrénées). The twins once talked about how much they hated doing “political stuff,” how they wished they didn’t have to have a role in their dad’s campaign but felt obligated to do so. “People want us to be political, like Karenna Gore, but we’re not,” a friend reports Jenna as saying.
Later, Miller invited the whole group, about a dozen of them by now, back to his loft farther down Bond Street, where they drank wine that someone had brought from their dad’s wine cellar. The party continued till 3 a.m. or so, which made it kind of an early night for the twins, who have been known to shut down meatpacking-district clubs like the tiny, exclusive Bungalow 8. Once, at that club, Jenna saw Joey co-star Jennifer Coolidge and a few friends in a banquette across the way. “I loved you in Legally Blonde 2,” gushed Jenna (Coolidge played Reese Witherspoon’s hairdresser confidante).
Coolidge didn’t know who she was, and smiled wanly.
“My daddy’s the president,” offered Jenna.
At a party, a Secret Service man knocked and asked if Barbara would be spending the night. “Barbara,”said a guest. “Your dad’sat the door.”
Coolidge and her friends were still confused. One person wondered if she was talking about the president of Bungalow 8.
Tonight Jenna and Barbara decided they needed their beauty rest. They both had buttons on their phones to let the Secret Service know that Twinkle (Jenna) and Turquoise (Barbara) were ready to move. They made their way down to a black SUV with tinted windows, the one with a backseat often strewn with cast-off sweatshirts and comfortable shoes to change into after a night of high heels. Three years after reports that the Bush twins sometimes try to lose their Secret Service escorts for kicks—“You know if anything happens to me, my dad would have your ass” is the taunt Jenna reportedly hurled when they finally caught her—Jenna and Barbara are gracious to their drivers.
“You don’t just ditch Secret Service,” says a friend. “This isn’t Driving Miss Daisy.”
The first thing Jenna and Barbara’s friends will tell you is that they are social girls. They’re both bright, and they’re funny, and they have no idea what they want to do with their lives other than hang out with their friends. (The White House declined to comment on their behalf.) There’s always a wicked gleam of mischief in Jenna’s eyes. Barbara is equally strong-willed, but with a more tranquil side to her character. Many friends say that she’s actually the Dionysian one, not Jenna, although Jenna is the one who gets in more trouble. Jenna is simpler, more crass, less focused and controlled; she says what she thinks, or at least, makes it clear with her tongue.
Clearly, both are W.’s daughters, at least the hard-living, fun-loving frat boy W. used to be.
Jenna and Barbara are really best friends. Barbara calls Jenna “Little Sister,” because Barbara is one minute older. She’s the young urban sophisticate who graduated from Yale; Jenna’s the teenager who never left home, attending the University of Texas at Austin, near the governor’s Greek Revival mansion where she spent her teenage years. “Barbara’s very engaging and open, the first to say hello and meet new people,” says a friend. “Jenna could care less if she meets anyone new. She could sit around with the kids she knows from high school and college in some apartment and be happy.”
They’re both free spirits and, like lots of women their age, want to live hard, be constantly surrounded by a pack of popular friends, and embark on adventures with handsome guys they hardly know—kind of like the night they went back to Ashton Kutcher’s house after partying at a club and, according to Kutcher in Rolling Stone, let a friend of his smoke them out on his hookah. Manhattan being Manhattan, it’s a perfect place for such behavior, especially for two 22-year-olds who are currently boyfriend-less. Barbara weekended in New York regularly during the four years she was at Yale. Jenna’s sojourns here have been more intermittent. While many New York publicists and nightclubbers would like to claim them as part of their circle, the truth is that neither one has made much of an effort to become a social-scene fixture. They’ve left that to Lauren Bush, the regal, much-photographed daughter of Neil and Sharon Bush and an Elite model, who conveniently chose to take a semester abroad in Australia last month, the better to avoid the publicity surrounding her parents’ vicious divorce. Recently, she became a spokesperson for the World Food Program.
That’s the kind of thing Jenna and Barbara would like everybody to think they’re doing. Both Jenna and Barbara announced earlier in the summer that they intended to work on humanitarian pursuits after graduation—Jenna as a fourth-grade assistant teacher at the Harlem Day Charter School, where 90 percent of the students live under the poverty level, and Barbara as an assistant on a pediatric AIDS program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston—but they’ve put those plans on hold. The official word from the First Lady’s office is that they decided to participate in the campaign instead, but it’s just as possible they simply changed their minds. (In Jenna’s case, it’s not clear that her plans were ever firm; Harlem Day chairman Ben Lambert says that she did not complete an application.)
A more likely scenario is that the Bush twins will move here after the election and secure comfortable jobs in the industries in which they’ve already made inroads. Like Lauren and cousin Billy Bush, the hyper Access Hollywood anchor, Jenna and Barbara have been drawn to glittery pursuits (Ashley, Lauren’s 15-year-old sister, recently completed a summer acting program at Lee Strasberg). Jenna worked as an intern at Harrison & Shriftman, a fashion-and-beauty public-relations firm, where she worked the door at events like a Mercedes Maybach party and made many photocopies. The canny principals also reportedly invited her to movie premieres and events like Bridgehampton Polo as a VIP guest, even though other interns were banned (Jenna never took them up on the offer). “She talked to her mom on the phone all day long,” says one co-worker. Though Jenna now has an apartment in Manhattan, during that working summer, she lived in the NYU dorms with a handful of UT friends—she thought it would be fun, kind of like the dorm she lived in the first year at UT, the all-girls dorm that has two pools and maid service twice a week. But it was so not like that. At least you could have guys over at the NYU dorm, unlike UT. “Frat guys try to break in once or twice year and get arrested,” says a former resident.Jenna’s main responsibility at H&S was working on the Charles Worthington account. They wanted to get an ice-cream truck to drive around the Hamptons and hand out sample shampoos and conditioners, and Jenna was in charge of the permits. Jenna being Jenna, though, the whole thing fell through.
Is it going to be fun for the twins during the convention? You betcha. They vigorously disagreed with their dad’s decision to run for president, but now that they’re used to it, things are cool. They got to pose in Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein gowns for a recent Vogue spread, and went to the Olympics, too. Directly after President Bush’s acceptance speech at Madison Square Garden, they’ll be guests of honor at Emma Bloomberg and Emily Pataki’s “Next Generation of Leaders” party at Gotham Hall.
In any case, the convention might be like a reunion of all their Texas pals, like Betts or Powhatan “Powie” French. He’s the sandy-haired oil heir who introduced Basabe to Barbara (he and Basabe went to Pepperdine University together), and who lived in New York for a few years. When Barbara would come in to visit the city from New Haven, sometimes she’d stay in a suite at the Pierre alongside the sprawling, chintz-heavy two-bedroom owned by French’s family. Barbara went from benefits at Capitale to Soho House to Bungalow 8, with tequila shots—no salt or lime, Mister, she’d say—as a favorite libation. “We all thought it was so funny that when Barbara came to New York, the Bushes would entrust her to Powie,” says a friend. “He’s one of those guys parents love, and now he’s married and calm, but back then you never saw him in daylight.”
Barbara always loved fashion, so she welcomed the invitations that people who knew Powie from Lotus would shower her with, to front-row seats at shows like Wink or Zac Posen or Jeremy Scott. P. Diddy, however, is said to have rescinded her invitation to his show after the invasion of Iraq (Diddy’s office denies this). Barbara even interned at Über-hip clothiers Proenza Schouler last summer. She’s a pretty girl, but she’s far from a model, and knows it. “Barbara loves fashion, but she can laugh at what she looks like in it,” says a friend. “Someone will send her a dress to wear, and she’ll put it on and say, ‘Oh, this dress does not work! It’s pulling in all the wrong places!’ Then she’ll make fun of herself all night.”
One of those nights was when Barbara was photographed dancing with Basabe at Sette. They’d come from a Proenza Schouler party to the Fashion Week party for Jennifer Nicholson, Jack’s daughter. Basabe, who has become a kind of gentleman walker for the young-socialite set, is an amazing dancer, which makes him a useful extra man. Before he took Barbara out on the dance floor, she was sharing a cigarette with a friend under the table as Lady Bunny D.J.’d (it was not the most exclusive party). Barbara was falling out of her slip dress, which she wore over jeans and high heels, but no one wanted to tell her. She started singing songs from Aladdin.“I liked her so much,” says a recent Princeton grad who was seated next to her. “I wanted to be friends with her.”
Barbara doesn’t mind Daddy being president as much as Jenna does. Jenna really hates it. The second time that she was busted for underage drinking, she started crying and complained to the cop that it wasn’t fair she didn’t get to do what other kids her age do. Then she complained again when photographers were taking her picture in the courtroom. Once she even insisted that the Secret Service guys hold garment bags in front of her when she was getting off a plane, so the media couldn’t take pictures of her.
Jenna and Barbara’s parents were far from strict, though their father was more of a disciplinarian. Both are close to their mother. Born five weeks early by C-section because of complications during Laura’s pregnancy, the twins had peripatetic childhoods, moving from Texas, where W. ran the failing Arbusto oil-drilling company, to D.C., where their father worked on his dad’s 1988 presidential bid, then back to Dallas in third grade, when their dad marshaled a group of investors to buy the Texas Rangers. Laura and the twins often accompanied him to the Rangers’ new ballpark—Laura estimates that she attended 60 or so games a year. When George and Barbara Bush (Gampy and Gammy) bequeathed one of their dog Millie’s pups to the twins, Jenna and Barbara named him Spot Fletcher, after the Rangers shortstop Scott Fletcher.
They liked sports in high school, too—Barbara played soccer and Jenna ran cross-country. Barbara was also homecoming queen, on the National Honor Society, and was voted “Most Likely to Appear in Vogue.” Jenna made a passable effort to involve herself in student government and the school newspaper. She was voted “Most Likely to Trip on Prom Night.”
But Barbara has changed since high school. At Yale, she was determined to hang out with the cool kids, and didn’t maintain her high-school schedule of extracurriculars. “Barbara came to every class and did all her homework, though she never said much,” says one of her Yale teaching assistants. “She was a B student—completely average.”
Barbara was reportedly tapped for Skull & Bones, the secret society that every Bush at Yale had been part of since Prescott Bush famously stole Geronimo’s skull from the tomb; she declined. The group she really wanted to be part of was the Pundits, the folks who throw the school’s famous “naked parties” and streak through the library during finals week, but they didn’t tap her. She also joined Kappa Alpha Theta, Yale’s oldest, highest-tier sorority (Jenna was in the UT chapter), full of girls from Dalton and Horace Mann. “Barbara tended to go through female friends rather quickly,” says a classmate. “There would be two or three girls who would be attached to her hip and then she’d ditch them. Then a few weeks later there would be another set.” Her male friends were “slacker prep-school druggie types,” says a classmate. “There was an air of ill repute with them. Some might call it mysterious. I call it sketchy.”
Barbara dated a gawky cutup named Jay Blount and an actor, Nick Tucci. She hung out a bit with guys from a sketch-comedy group called Suite Thirteen, which performed a few times a year and once fooled a bunch of would-be actors by holding mock auditions for “Un Certain Type de Col Roulé” (A Certain Type of Turtleneck): “In this dark comedy set in Paris in 1943, lovers Jacques and Bruce, fighters for La Resistance, struggle to define what it is to be human,” read the audition poster. Tucci, who played Don Juan in Much Ado About Nothing and Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, was in this group. He also reportedly liked to carry around knives and throw them at walls, sometimes.
On certain Manhattan evenings, the girls can almost forget who their father is and live like any other 22-year-olds … almost. “Barbara came back to my boyfriend’s house once,” says a model and fashion publicist. Barbara was with a big group of girlfriends, including a friend from Texas who was an intern at Vogue. It was the middle of the night when a Secret Service guy knocked on the door. One of the other guests opened it, and the agent asked, “We’re checking on Barbara. Do you know if she will be spending the night?” The guest came back in the living room and asked, “Is there someone named Barbara here? Your dad’s at the door.”
The publicist sighs. “It was very nostalgic for me watching them, actually,” she says. “Everyone in New York is so jaded and impressed with someone who’s somebody and always looking at who’s around. But Barbara had this great group of girlfriends and they were just having fun, so oblivious to what was going on around them—just confident, cheerful, and strong.”
In July, Jenna invited about ten friends from UT to the White House for the weekend. Friday was movie night. One friend joked: “Fahrenheit 9/11?” Jenna didn’t think that was so funny. George W. and Laura showed up to play horseshoes the next day on the lawn, and then there was a costume party. The twins love dressing up—their 21st birthday at the Crawford ranch was a cowboys-and-Indians costume party—and Jenna even had a bunch of getups for their guests. The last person to arrive, a male friend, got the outfit no one else wanted. He had to dress up as a monk.
With reporting by Deborah Schoeneman