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May 1st, 2014
01:09 PM ET

Biking with Bush: Former president opens up about veterans, Jeb 2016

By Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper, Eric Marrapodi, Sherisse Pham

Crawford, Texas (CNN) - It is not an easy ride.

The rugged 100-kilometer mountain bike ride cuts through the Texas hill country and was designed to keep a fitness freak on his toes.

Former President George W. Bush spent the morning putting to shame men and women half his age as he powered through the course.

This is his personal bike trail through his sprawling 1,600-acre Crawford ranch.

When Bush pushed off for the first leg of the journey with 16 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he wanted you to notice something. Despite their missing limbs, these wounded warriors were once again kicking butt and taking names.

The stone stairs, ravines, and gullies pushed the riders and they pushed back. But the former President says this "is not a macho contest, this is a celebration honoring people who fought for their country."

"This is a festival, and it is a moment for others to see people who have been severely wounded say 'I'm overcoming the consequence of my decision to volunteer,'" Bush said in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

Some of the scars are visible and some are not – several veterans on the ride suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. But Bush insists on dropping the "D."

"PTS is an injury, which means it's fixable over time," said Bush. "A lot of the experts don't view PTS as a disorder. It's an injury, and that's really important ... to eliminate stigma."

Employers, said the former President, are much more likely to hire someone with an injury than a disorder.

The veterans came to Crawford for the fourth annual W100K ride, where Bush invites veterans to join him for three days of mountain bike riding. He uses the ride to help draw attention to veterans, and the organizations that support them.

If the riders stopped for a moment to enjoy the view, they may have seen the limestone cross and altar Bush erected for his daughter Jenna's weddings across the pond from their residence. Or if they looked down along one of the ravines, they could have seen one of the trails where Bush famously cut brush through the hillside to relieve stress when he was President.

Over the course of the three days, the veterans have a chance to spend private time with the commander-in-chief who sent them to war.

Bush is quick to highlight these men and women who joined voluntarily after the United States was attacked on 9/11, stressing that the veterans who come back are not damaged goods, stressing his view on post-traumatic stress.

"As a result of the decisions that I made, people said, 'I'll follow you Mr. President,'” an emotional Bush said. “And to see somebody who is struggling with getting mental balance is hard, and it should be hard for all of us."

George W. Bush to Jeb Bush: ‘Give me a call’

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has often said he is considering running for president. And if he does decide, he'll have plenty of family support from his big brother.

"Hey Jeb, if you need some advice, give me a call," Bush said, noting that he doesn’t believe any decision from his brother would be made for about a year.

While it's hard for people to believe, the former President says he hasn't really talked to his brother about the job.

"I hope Jeb runs. I think he would be a great president. I have no clue what’s on his mind and we will talk when he’s ready. I noticed he’s moving around the country quite a bit," Bush said.

The most recent national polls in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination put Bush at the top or near the top of the list of potential White House contenders. And a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed 27% of Florida Republicans say they'd support Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination. That puts him far ahead of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, at 14%, and first-term Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, at 11%.

But the former President says he "can guarantee" Jeb Bush is not looking at polls to decide whether or not to run.

"He’s checking his core, and as he said publicly, 'I’m thinking about my family.' And of course, he knows full well what a run for the presidency can do on family," said Bush.

Did Putin change?

During his first term in office, Bush was optimistic about relations with Russia.

"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue," Bush said of President Vladimir Putin back in 2001. "I was able to get a sense of his soul."

"I think he changed," Bush says today.

"It looked like he wanted to work with the West. I mean my first conversation I had with him, we were discussing Soviet-era debt that saddled the Russian federation. And he was kind of opening dialogue," said Bush.

Then the price of oil went up and "it changed his attitude, and I think it emboldened him to follow an instinct that is pretty much zero-sum. You know, I win, you lose," said Bush.

Donald Sterling's 'despicable' comments

Bush was previously a co-owner of the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball. He watched the story of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling with interest.

"Basketball's going to have to sort through this and the commissioner's already made his decision, and, you know, I'd be interested to see how this plays out.

"Obviously his comments were despicable," Bush said.

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