George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is an American politician and businessman who served as the 43rd president of the United States from 2001 to 2009. A member of the Republican Party, he had previously served as the 46th governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000. Born into the Bush family, his father, George H. W. Bush, served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993.
Bush is the eldest son of Barbara and George H. W. Bush. As such he is the second son of a former United States President to himself become the American president, with the first being John Quincy Adams. He flew warplanes in the Texas and Alabama Air National Guard. After graduating from Yale College in 1968 and Harvard Business School in 1975, he worked in the oil industry. Bush married Laura Welch in 1977 and unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives shortly thereafter. He later co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team before defeating Ann Richards in the 1994 Texas gubernatorial election. As governor, Bush successfully sponsored legislation for tort reform, increased education funding, set higher standards for schools, and reformed the criminal justice system. Bush also helped make Texas the leading producer of wind powered electricity in the United States. Bush was elected president of the United States in 2000 when he defeated Democratic incumbent Vice President Al Gore after a narrow and contested win that involved a Supreme Court decision to stop a recount in Florida. He became the fourth person to be elected president without a popular vote victory.
Upon taking office, Bush pushed through a $1.3 trillion tax cut program and the No Child Left Behind Act, a major education bill. He also pushed for socially conservative efforts, such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and faith-based welfare initiatives. In response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, Bush created the United States Department of Homeland Security and launched a “War on Terror” that began with the war in Afghanistan in 2001. He also signed into law the controversial Patriot Act in order to authorize surveillance of suspected terrorists. In 2003, Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq, with the administration arguing that the Saddam Hussein regime possessed an active weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program, and that the Iraqi government posed a threat to the United States. Some administration officials falsely claimed that Hussein had an operational relationship with Al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack. No stockpiles of WMDs or an active WMD program were ever found in Iraq. Bush also passed the Medicare Modernization Act, which created Medicare Part D, and funding for the AIDS relief program known as PEPFAR.
In the 2004 presidential race, Bush defeated Democratic Senator John Kerry in a close election. During his second term, Bush reached multiple free trade agreements and successfully nominated John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. He sought major changes to Social Security and immigration laws, but both efforts failed. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued, and in 2007 he launched a surge of troops in Iraq. Bush received criticism from across the political spectrum for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, and the dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy. Amid this criticism, the Democratic Party regained control of Congress in the 2006 elections. In December 2007, the United States entered the Great Recession, prompting the Bush administration to obtain congressional approval for multiple economic programs intended to preserve the country’s financial system, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to buy toxic assets from financial institutions. Bush was among the most popular, as well as unpopular, U.S. presidents in history; he received the highest recorded approval ratings in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but one of the lowest such ratings during the 2008 financial crisis. Bush finished his second term in office in 2009 and returned to Texas. In 2010, he published his memoir, Decision Points.His presidential library opened in 2013. His presidency has been rated as below-average in historical rankings of U.S. presidents, although his public favorability ratings have improved since leaving office.
Early life and career
Governor of Texas
President of the United States
George Walker Bush was born on July 6, 1946, at Grace-New Haven Hospital (now Yale New Haven Hospital) in New Haven, Connecticut, while his father was a student at Yale. He was the first child of George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Pierce. He was raised in Midland and Houston, Texas, with four siblings, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. Another younger sister, Robin, died from leukemia at the age of three in 1953. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut. His father was Ronald Reagan’s vice president from 1981 to 1989 and the 41st U.S. president from 1989 to 1993. Bush has English and some German ancestry, along with more distant Dutch, Welsh, Irish, French, and Scottish roots.
Bush attended public schools in Midland, Texas until the family moved to Houston after he had completed seventh grade. He then spent two years at The Kinkaid School, a prep school in Piney Point Village, Texas in the Houston area.
Bush attended high school at Phillips Academy, a boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts, where he played baseball and was the head cheerleader during his senior year. He attended Yale University from 1964 to 1968, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. During this time, he was a cheerleader and a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon, serving as the president of the fraternity during his senior year. Bush became a member of the Skull and Bones society as a senior. Bush was a rugby union player and was on Yale’s 1st XV. He characterized himself as an average student. His GPA during his first three years at Yale was 77, and he had a similar average under a nonnumeric rating system in his final year.
After his application to the University of Texas School of Law was rejected, Bush entered Harvard Business School in the fall of 1973. He graduated in 1975 with an MBA degree. He is the only U.S. president to have earned an MBA.
Family and personal life
Bush was engaged to Cathryn Lee Wolfman in 1967, but the engagement did not last. Bush and Wolfman remained on good terms after the end of the relationship. While Bush was at a backyard barbecue in 1977, friends introduced him to Laura Welch, a schoolteacher and librarian. After a three-month courtship, she accepted his marriage proposal and they wed on November 5 of that year. The couple settled in Midland, Texas. Bush left his family’s Episcopal Church to join his wife’s United Methodist Church. On November 25, 1981, Laura Bush gave birth to fraternal twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.
Prior to getting married, Bush struggled with multiple episodes of alcohol abuse. In one instance on September 4, 1976, he was pulled over near his family’s summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was cited for DUI, fined $150 (equivalent to $674 in 2019), and got his Maine driver’s license briefly suspended.
Bush said his wife has had a stabilizing effect on his life, and he attributes her influence to his 1986 decision to give up alcohol. While Governor of Texas, Bush said of his wife, “I saw an elegant, beautiful woman who turned out not only to be elegant and beautiful, but very smart and willing to put up with my rough edges, and I must confess has smoothed them off over time.”
Bush has been an avid reader throughout his adult life, preferring biographies and histories. He read 14 Lincoln biographies, and during the last three years of his presidency, read 186 books. During his presidency, Bush read the Bible daily, though at the end of his second term he said on television that he is “not a literalist” about Bible interpretation. Walt Harrington, a journalist, recalled seeing “books by John Fowles, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Gore Vidal lying about, as well as biographies of Willa Cather and Queen Victoria” in his home when Bush was a Texas oilman. Other activities include cigar smoking and golf. After leaving the White House, Bush took up oil painting.
In May 1968, Bush was commissioned into the Texas Air National Guard. After two years of training in active-duty service, he was assigned to Houston, flying Convair F-102s with the 147th Reconnaissance Wing out of the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base. Critics, including former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, have alleged that Bush was favorably treated due to his father’s political standing as a member of the House of Representatives, citing his selection as a pilot despite his low pilot aptitude test scores and his irregular attendance. In June 2005, the United States Department of Defense released all the records of Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service, which remain in its official archives.
In late 1972 and early 1973, he drilled with the 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama Air National Guard. He had moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to work on the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Winton M. Blount. In 1972, Bush was suspended from flying for failure to take a scheduled physical exam. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force Reserve on November 21, 1974.
In 1977, Bush established Arbusto Energy, a small oil exploration company, although it did not begin operations until the following year. He later changed the name to Bush Exploration. In 1984, his company merged with the larger Spectrum 7, and Bush became chairman. The company was hurt by decreased oil prices, and it folded into HKN, Inc., with Bush becoming a member of HKN’s board of directors. Questions of possible insider trading involving HKN arose, but a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation concluded that the information Bush had at the time of his stock sale was not sufficient to constitute insider trading.
In April 1989, Bush arranged for a group of investors to purchase a controlling interest in the Texas Rangers baseball franchise for $89 million and invested $500,000 himself to start. He then served as managing general partner for five years. He actively led the team’s projects and regularly attended its games, often choosing to sit in the open stands with fans. Bush’s sale of his shares in the Rangers in 1998 brought him over $15 million from his initial $800,000 investment.
Early political involvement
In 1978, Bush ran for the House of Representatives from Texas’s 19th congressional district. The retiring member, George H. Mahon, had held the district for the Democratic Party since 1935. Bush’s opponent, Kent Hance, portrayed him as out of touch with rural Texans, and Bush lost the election with 46.8 percent of the vote to Hance’s 53.2 percent.
Bush and his family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1988 to work on his father’s campaign for the U.S. presidency. He served as a campaign advisor and liaison to the media, and assisted his father by campaigning across the country. In December 1991, Bush was one of seven people named by his father to run his father’s 1992 presidential re-election campaign, as a “campaign advisor”. The previous month, his father had asked him to tell White House chief of staff John H. Sununu to resign.
Governor of Texas (1995–2000)
Bush declared his candidacy for the 1994 Texas gubernatorial election at the same time his brother Jeb sought the governorship of Florida. His campaign focused on four themes: welfare reform, tort reform, crime reduction, and education improvement. Bush’s campaign advisers were Karen Hughes, Joe Allbaugh, and Karl Rove.
After easily winning the Republican primary, Bush faced popular Democratic incumbent Governor Ann Richards. In the course of the campaign, Bush pledged to sign a bill allowing Texans to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons. Richards had vetoed the bill, but Bush signed it into law after he became governor. According to The Atlantic Monthly, the race “featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic’s making it into the public record – when a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for ‘appointing avowed homosexual activists’ to state jobs”.The Atlantic, and others, connected the lesbian rumor to Karl Rove, but Rove denied being involved. Bush won the general election with 53.5 percent against Richards’ 45.9 percent.
Bush used a budget surplus to push through Texas’s largest tax-cut, $2 billion. He extended government funding for organizations providing education of the dangers of alcohol and drug use and abuse, and helping to reduce domestic violence. Critics contended that during his tenure, Texas ranked near the bottom in environmental evaluations. Supporters pointed to his efforts to raise the salaries of teachers and improve educational test scores.
In 1999, Bush signed a law that required electric retailers to buy a certain amount of energy from renewable sources (RPS), which helped Texas eventually become the leading producer of wind powered electricity in the U.S.
In 1998, Bush won re-election with a record 69 percent of the vote. He became the first governor in Texas history to be elected to two consecutive four-year terms. In his second term, Bush promoted faith-based organizations and enjoyed high approval ratings. He proclaimed June 10, 2000, to be Jesus Day in Texas, a day on which he urged all Texans to “answer the call to serve those in need”.
Throughout Bush’s first term, he was the focus of national attention as a potential future presidential candidate. Following his re-election, speculation soared, and within a year he decided to seek the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.
2000 presidential candidacy
Incumbent Democratic president Bill Clinton was in his second and final term, and the field for nomination in both parties was wide open. Bush was the Governor of Texas in June 1999 when he announced his candidacy for president, joining John McCain, Alan Keyes, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch, Elizabeth Dole, Dan Quayle, Pat Buchanan, Lamar Alexander, John Kasich, and Bob Smith.
Bush portrayed himself as a compassionate conservative, implying he was more centrist than other Republicans. He campaigned on a platform that included bringing integrity and honor back to the White House, increasing the size of the military, cutting taxes, improving education, and aiding minorities. By early 2000, the race had centered on Bush and McCain.
Bush won the Iowa caucuses, and although he was heavily favored to win the New Hampshire primary, he trailed McCain by 19 percent and lost that primary. Despite this, Bush regained momentum effectively became the front runner after the South Carolina primary, which—according to The Boston Globe—made history for his campaign’s negativity. The New York Times described it as a smear campaign.
On July 25, 2000, Bush surprised some observers when he selected Dick Cheney—a former White House Chief of Staff, Congressman and Secretary of Defense—to be his running mate. At the time, Cheney was serving as head of Bush’s vice presidential search committee. Soon after at the 2000 Republican National Convention, Bush and Cheney were officially nominated by the Republican Party.
Bush continued to campaign across the country and touted his record as Governor of Texas. During his campaign, Bush criticized his Democratic opponent, incumbent Vice President Al Gore, over gun control and taxation.
When the election returns were tallied on November 7, Bush had won 29 states, including Florida. The closeness of the Florida outcome led to a recount. The initial recount also went to Bush, but the outcome was tied up in lower courts for a month until eventually reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. On December 9, in the controversial Bush v. Gore ruling, the Court reversed a Florida Supreme Court decision that had ordered a third count, and stopped an ordered statewide hand recount based on the argument that the use of different standards among Florida’s counties violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The machine recount showed that Bush had won the Florida vote by a margin of 537 votes out of six million casts. Although he had received 543,895 fewer individual nationwide votes than Gore, Bush won the election, receiving 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266 (Gore had actually been awarded a total of 267 votes by the states pledged to him plus the District of Columbia, but one D.C. elector abstained). Bush was the first person to win an American presidential election with fewer popular votes than another candidate since Benjamin Harrison in 1888.
2004 presidential candidacy
In his 2004 bid for re-election, Bush commanded broad support in the Republican Party and did not encounter a primary challenge. He appointed Ken Mehlman as campaign manager, and Karl Rove devised a political strategy. Bush and the Republican platform emphasized a strong commitment to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support for the USA PATRIOT Act, a renewed shift in policy for constitutional amendments banning abortion and same-sex marriage, reforming Social Security to create private investment accounts, creation of an ownership society, and opposing mandatory carbon emissions controls. Bush also called for the implementation of a guest worker program for immigrants, which was criticized by conservatives.
The Bush campaign advertised across the U.S. against Democratic candidates, including Bush’s emerging opponent, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Kerry and other Democrats attacked Bush on the Iraq War, and accused him of failing to stimulate the economy and job growth. The Bush campaign portrayed Kerry as a staunch liberal who would raise taxes and increase the size of government. The Bush campaign continuously criticized Kerry’s seemingly contradictory statements on the war in Iraq, and argued that Kerry lacked the decisiveness and vision necessary for success in the War on Terror.
Following the resignation of CIA director George Tenet in 2004, Bush nominated Porter Goss to head the agency. The White House ordered Goss to purge agency officers who were disloyal to the administration. After Goss’ appointment, many of the CIA’s senior agents were fired or quit. The CIA has been accused of deliberately leaking classified information to undermine the 2004 election.
In the election, Bush carried 31 of 50 states, receiving a total of 286 electoral votes. He won an absolute majority of the popular vote (50.7 percent to his opponent’s 48.3 percent). Bush’s father George H.W. Bush was the previous president who won an absolute majority of the popular vote; he accomplished that feat in the 1988 election. Additionally, it was the first time since Herbert Hoover’s election in 1928 that a Republican president was elected alongside re-elected Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress.
Bush had originally outlined an ambitious domestic agenda, but his priorities were significantly altered following the September 11 attacks. Wars were waged in Afghanistan and Iraq, and there were significant domestic debates regarding immigration, healthcare, Social Security, economic policy, and treatment of terrorist detainees. Over an eight-year period, Bush’s once-high approval ratings steadily declined, while his disapproval numbers increased significantly. In 2007, the United States entered the longest post-World War II recession.
Bush took office during a period of economic recession in the wake of the bursting of the dot-com bubble. The terrorist attacks also impacted the economy.
His administration increased federal government spending from $1.789 trillion to $2.983 trillion (60 percent), while revenues increased from $2.025 trillion to $2.524 trillion (from 2000 to 2008). Individual income tax revenues increased by 14 percent, corporate tax revenues by 50 percent, and customs and duties by 40 percent. Discretionary defense spending was increased by 107 percent, discretionary domestic spending by 62 percent, Medicare spending by 131 percent, social security by 51 percent, and income security spending by 130 percent. Cyclically adjusted, revenues rose by 35 percent and spending by 65 percent. The increase in spending was more than under any predecessor since Lyndon B. Johnson. The number of economic regulation governmental workers increased by 91,196.
The surplus in fiscal year 2000 was $237 billion—the third consecutive surplus and the largest surplus ever. In 2001, Bush’s budget estimated that there would be a $5.6 trillion surplus over the next ten years. Facing congressional opposition, Bush held townhall style meetings across the U.S. in order to increase public support for his plan for a $1.35 trillion tax cut program—one of the largest tax cuts in U.S. history. Bush argued that unspent government funds should be returned to taxpayers, saying “the surplus is not the government’s money. The surplus is the people’s money.” Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan warned of a recession and Bush stated that a tax cut would stimulate the economy and create jobs. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, opposed some of the tax cuts on the basis that they would contribute to budget deficits and undermine Social Security. O’Neill disputes the claim, made in Bush’s book Decision Points, that he never openly disagreed with him on planned tax cuts. By 2003, the economy showed signs of improvement, though job growth remained stagnant.Another tax cut was passed that year.
Between 2001 and 2008, GDP grew at an average annual rate of 2.125 percent, less than for past business cycles. Bush entered office with the Dow Jones Industrial Average at 10,587, and the average peaked in October 2007 at over 14,000. When Bush left office, the average was at 7,949, one of the lowest levels of his presidency. Only four other U.S. presidents have left office with the stock market lower than when they began.
Unemployment originally rose from 4.2 percent in January 2001 to 6.3 percent in June 2003, but subsequently dropped to 4.5 percent in July 2007. Adjusted for inflation, median household income dropped by $1,175 between 2000 and 2007, while Professor Ken Homa of Georgetown University has noted that “Median real after-tax household income went up two percent”. The poverty rate increased from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.3 percent in 2006 after peaking at 12.7 percent in 2004. By October 2008, due to increases in spending, the national debt had risen to $11.3 trillion, an increase of over 100 percent from 2000 when the debt was only $5.6 trillion. Most debt was accumulated as a result of what became known as the “Bush tax cuts” and increased national security spending. In March 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama said when he voted against raising the debt ceiling: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.” By the end of Bush’s presidency, unemployment climbed to 7.2 percent.
In December 2007, the United States entered the longest post–World War II recession, caused by a housing market correction, a subprime mortgage crisis, soaring oil prices, and a declining dollar value. In February 2008, 63,000 jobs were lost, a five-year record, and in November, over 500,000 jobs were lost, which marked the largest loss of jobs in the United States in 34 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in the last four months of 2008, 1.9 million jobs were lost. By the end of 2008, the U.S. had lost a total of 2.6 million jobs.
To aid with the situation, Bush signed a $170 billion economic stimulus package which was intended to improve the economic situation by sending tax rebate checks to many Americans and providing tax breaks for struggling businesses. The Bush administration pushed for significantly increased regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2003, and after two years, the regulations passed the House but died in the Senate. Many Republican senators, as well as influential members of the Bush Administration, feared that the agency created by these regulations would merely be mimicking the private sector’s risky practices. In September 2008, the crisis became much more serious beginning with the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac followed by the collapse of Lehman Brothers and a federal bailout of American International Group for $85 billion.
Many economists and world governments determined that the situation had become the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Additional regulation over the housing market would have been beneficial, according to former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. Bush, meanwhile, proposed a financial rescue plan to buy back a large portion of the U.S. mortgage market. Vince Reinhardt, a former Federal Reserve economist now at the American Enterprise Institute, said “it would have helped for the Bush administration to empower the folks at Treasury and the Federal Reserve and the comptroller of the currency and the FDIC to look at these issues more closely”, and additionally, that it would have helped “for Congress to have held hearings”.
Education and public health
Bush undertook a number of educational agendas, such as increasing the funding for the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health in his first years of office and creating education programs to strengthen the grounding in science and mathematics for American high school students. Funding for the NIH was cut in 2006, the first such cut in 36 years, due to rising inflation.
One of the administration’s early major initiatives was the No Child Left Behind Act, which aimed to measure and close the gap between rich and poor student performance, provide options to parents with students in low-performing schools, and target more federal funding to low-income schools. This landmark education initiative passed with broad bipartisan support, including that of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. It was signed into law by Bush in early 2002. Many contend that the initiative has been successful, as cited by the fact that students in the U.S. have performed significantly better on state reading and math tests since Bush signed “No Child Left Behind” into law. Critics argue that it is underfunded and that NCLBA’s focus on “high-stakes testing” and quantitative outcomes is counterproductive.
In 2005, he announced a National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza to prepare the United States for a flu pandemic, which culminated in an implementation plan published by the Homeland Security Council in 2006.
After being re-elected, Bush signed into law a Medicare drug benefit program that, according to Jan Crawford, resulted in “the greatest expansion in America’s welfare state in forty years” – the bill’s costs approached $7 trillion. In 2007, Bush opposed and vetoed State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation, which was added by the Democrats onto a war funding bill and passed by Congress. The SCHIP legislation would have significantly expanded federally funded health care benefits and plans to children of some low-income families from about six million to ten million children. It was to be funded by an increase in the cigarette tax. Bush viewed the legislation as a move toward socialized health care, and asserted that the program could benefit families making as much as $83,000 per year who did not need the help.
On May 21, 2008, Bush signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The bill aimed to protect Americans against health insurance and employment discrimination based on a person’s genetic information. The issue had been debated for 13 years before it finally became law. The measure is designed to protect citizens without hindering genetic research.
Social services and Social Security
Following Republican efforts to pass the Medicare Act of 2003, Bush signed the bill, which included major changes to the Medicare program by providing beneficiaries with some assistance in paying for prescription drugs, while relying on private insurance for the delivery of benefits. The retired persons lobby group AARP worked with the Bush Administration on the program and gave their endorsement. Bush said the law, estimated to cost $400 billion over the first ten years, would give the elderly “better choices and more control over their health care”.
Bush began his second term by outlining a major initiative to “reform” Social Security, which was facing record deficit projections beginning in 2005. Bush made it the centerpiece of his domestic agenda despite opposition from some in the U.S. Congress. In his 2005 State of the Union Address, Bush discussed the potential impending bankruptcy of the program and outlined his new program, which included partial privatization of the system, personal Social Security accounts, and options to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into secured investments. Democrats opposed the proposal to partially privatize the system.
Bush embarked on a 60-day national tour, campaigning for his initiative in media events known as “Conversations on Social Security” in an attempt to gain public support. Nevertheless, public support for the proposal declined, and the House Republican leadership decided not to put Social Security reform on the priority list for the remainder of their 2005 legislative agenda. The proposal’s legislative prospects were further diminished by autumn 2005 due to political fallout from the response to Hurricane Katrina. After the Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, there was no prospect of further congressional action on the Bush proposal for the remainder of his term in office.
Upon taking office in 2001, Bush stated his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which seeks to impose mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, citing that the treaty exempted 80 percent of the world’s population and would have cost tens of billions of dollars per year. He also cited that the Senate had voted 95–0 in 1997 on a resolution expressing its disapproval of the protocol.
In May 2001, Bush signed an executive order to create an interagency task force to streamline energy projects, and later signed two other executive orders to tackle environmental issues.
In 2002, Bush announced the Clear Skies Act of 2003, which aimed at amending the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution through the use of emissions trading programs. Many experts argued that this legislation would have weakened the original legislation by allowing higher emission rates of pollutants than were previously legal. The initiative was introduced to Congress, but failed to make it out of committee.
Later in 2006, Bush declared the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, creating the largest marine reserve to date. The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument comprises 84 million acres (340,000 km2) and is home to 7,000 species of fish, birds, and other marine animals, many of which are specific to only those islands. The move was hailed by conservationists for “its foresight and leadership in protecting this incredible area”.
Bush has said he believes that global warming is real and has noted that it is a serious problem, but he asserted there is a “debate over whether it’s man-made or naturally caused”. The Bush Administration’s stance on global warming remained controversial in the scientific and environmental communities. Critics have alleged that the administration misinformed the public and did not do enough to reduce carbon emissions and deter global warming.
In his 2006 State of the Union Address, Bush declared, “America is addicted to oil” and announced his Advanced Energy Initiative to increase energy development research.
In his 2007 State of the Union Address, Bush renewed his pledge to work toward diminished reliance on foreign oil by reducing fossil fuel consumption and increasing alternative fuel production. Amid high gasoline prices in 2008, Bush lifted a ban on offshore drilling. However, the move was largely symbolic because there was still a federal law banning offshore drilling. Bush said, “This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil reserves is action from the U.S. Congress.” Bush had said in June 2008, “In the long run, the solution is to reduce demand for oil by promoting alternative energy technologies. My administration has worked with Congress to invest in gas-saving technologies like advanced batteries and hydrogen fuel cells … In the short run, the American economy will continue to rely largely on oil. And that means we need to increase supply, especially here at home. So my administration has repeatedly called on Congress to expand domestic oil production.”
In his 2008 State of the Union Address, Bush announced that the U.S. would commit $2 billion over the next three years to a new international fund to promote clean energy technologies and fight climate change, saying, “Along with contributions from other countries, this fund will increase and accelerate the deployment of all forms of cleaner, more efficient technologies in developing nations like India and China, and help leverage substantial private-sector capital by making clean energy projects more financially attractive.” He also announced plans to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to work with major economies, and, through the UN, to complete an international agreement that will slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases; he stated, “This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride.”
Stem cell research and first veto
Federal funding for medical research involving the creation or destruction of human embryos through the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health has been forbidden by law since the passage of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment in 1995. Bush has said he supports adult stem cell research and has supported federal legislation that finances adult stem cell research. However, Bush did not support embryonic stem cell research. On August 9, 2001, Bush signed an executive order lifting the ban on federal funding for the 71 existing “lines” of stem cells, but the ability of these existing lines to provide an adequate medium for testing has been questioned. Testing can be done on only 12 of the original lines, and all approved lines have been cultured in contact with mouse cells, which creates safety issues that complicate development and approval of therapies from these lines. On July 19, 2006, Bush used his veto power for the first time in his presidency to veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. The bill would have repealed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, thereby permitting federal money to be used for research where stem cells are derived from the destruction of an embryo.
Nearly 8 million immigrants came to the United States from 2000 to 2005, more than in any other five-year period in the nation’s history. Almost half entered illegally. In 2006, Bush urged Congress to allow more than 12 million illegal immigrants to work in the United States with the creation of a “temporary guest-worker program”. Bush also urged Congress to provide additional funds for border security and committed to deploying 6,000 National Guard troops to the Mexico–United States border. From May to June 2007, Bush strongly supported the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which was written by a bipartisan group of Senators with the active participation of the Bush administration. The bill envisioned a legalization program for illegal immigrants, with an eventual path to citizenship; establishing a guest worker program; a series of border and work site enforcement measures; a reform of the green card application process and the introduction of a point-based “merit” system for green cards; elimination of “chain migration” and of the Diversity Immigrant Visa; and other measures. Bush argued that the lack of legal status denies the protections of U.S. laws to millions of people who face dangers of poverty and exploitation, and penalizes employers despite a demand for immigrant labor. Bush contended that the proposed bill did not amount to amnesty.
A heated public debate followed, which resulted in a substantial rift within the Republican Party, most conservatives opposed it because of its legalization or amnesty provisions. The bill was eventually defeated in the Senate on June 28, 2007, when a cloture motion failed on a 46–53 vote. Bush expressed disappointment upon the defeat of one of his signature domestic initiatives. The Bush administration later proposed a series of immigration enforcement measures that do not require a change in law.
On September 19, 2010, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Bush offered to accept 100,000 Palestinian refugees as American citizens if a permanent settlement had been reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Hurricane Katrina struck early in Bush’s second term and was one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. Katrina formed in late August during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and devastated much of the north-central Gulf Coast of the United States, particularly New Orleans.
Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on August 27 and in Mississippi and Alabama the following day. He authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to manage the disaster, but his announcement failed to spur these agencies to action. The eye of the hurricane made landfall on August 29, and New Orleans began to flood due to levee breaches; later that day, Bush declared a major disaster in Louisiana, officially authorizing FEMA to start using federal funds to assist in the recovery effort.
On August 30, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff declared it “an incident of national significance”, triggering the first use of the newly created National Response Plan. Three days later, on September 2, National Guard troops first entered the city of New Orleans. The same day, Bush toured parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and declared that the success of the recovery effort up to that point was “not enough”.
As the disaster in New Orleans intensified, critics charged that Bush was misrepresenting his administration’s role in what they saw as a flawed response. Leaders attacked Bush for having appointed apparently incompetent leaders to positions of power at FEMA, notably Michael D. Brown; it was also argued that the federal response was limited as a result of the Iraq War and Bush himself did not act upon warnings of floods. Bush responded to mounting criticism by accepting full responsibility for the federal government’s failures in its handling of the emergency. It has been argued that with Katrina, Bush passed a political tipping point from which he would not recover.
Midterm dismissal of U.S. attorneys
During Bush’s second term, a controversy arose over the Justice Department’s midterm dismissal of seven United States Attorneys. The White House maintained that the U.S. attorneys were fired for poor performance. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later resigned over the issue, along with other senior members of the Justice Department. The House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for advisers Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten to testify regarding this matter, but Bush directed Miers and Bolten to not comply with those subpoenas, invoking his right of executive privilege. Bush maintained that all his advisers were protected under a broad executive privilege protection to receive candid advice. The Justice Department determined that the President’s order was legal.
Although Congressional investigations focused on whether the Justice Department and the White House were using the U.S. Attorney positions for political advantage, no official findings have been released. On March 10, 2008, the Congress filed a federal lawsuit to enforce their issued subpoenas. On July 31, 2008, a United States district court judge ruled that Bush’s top advisers were not immune from Congressional subpoenas.
In all, twelve Justice Department officials resigned rather than testify under oath before Congress. They included Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his chief of staff Kyle Sampson, Gonzales’ liaison to the White House Monica Goodling, aide to the president Karl Rove and his senior aide Sara Taylor. In addition, legal counsel to the president Harriet Miers and deputy chief of staff to the president Joshua Bolten were both found in contempt of Congress.
In 2010, the Justice Department investigator concluded that though political considerations did play a part in as many as four of the attorney firings, the firings were “inappropriately political”, but not criminal. According to the prosecutors, there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecution for any criminal offense.
During his presidential campaign, Bush’s foreign policy platform included support for stronger economic and political relationship with Latin America, especially Mexico, and a reduction of involvement in “nation-building” and other small-scale military engagements. The administration pursued a national missile defense. Bush was an advocate of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.
After the September 11 attacks on New York, Bush launched the War on Terror, in which the United States military and a small international coalition invaded Afghanistan. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush referred to an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. In 2003, Bush then launched the invasion of Iraq, searching for weapons of mass destruction, which he described as being part of the War on Terrorism. Those invasions led to the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
Bush began his second term with an emphasis on improving strained relations with European nations. He appointed long-time adviser Karen Hughes to oversee a global public relations campaign. Bush lauded the pro-democracy struggles in Georgia and Ukraine.
In March 2006, Bush reversed decades of U.S. policy when he visited the Republic of India in a trip focused particularly on areas of nuclear energy, counter-terrorism co-operation; and discussions that would eventually lead to the India–United States Civil Nuclear Agreement. This was in stark contrast to the stance taken by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, whose approach and response to India after the 1998 nuclear tests has been characterized as “sanctions and hectoring”.
Midway through Bush’s second term, questions arose whether Bush was retreating from his freedom and democracy agenda, which was highlighted in policy changes toward some oil-rich former Soviet republics in central Asia.
In an address before both Houses of Congress on September 20, 2001, Bush thanked the nations of the world for their support following the September 11 attacks. He specifically thanked UK Prime Minister Tony Blair for traveling to Washington to show “unity of purpose with America”, and said “America has no truer friend than Great Britain.”
September 11 attacks
The September 11 terrorist attacks were a major turning point in Bush’s presidency. That evening, he addressed the nation from the Oval Office, promising a strong response to the attacks. He also emphasized the need for the nation to come together and comfort the families of the victims. Three days after the attacks, Bush visited Ground Zero and met with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, firefighters, police officers, and volunteers. To much applause, Bush addressed the gathering via a megaphone while standing in a heap of rubble: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
President Bush Declares ‘Freedom at War with Fear’, September 20, 2001
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In a September 20 speech, Bush condemned Osama bin Laden and his organization Al-Qaeda, and issued an ultimatum to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, where bin Laden was operating, to “hand over the terrorists, or … share in their fate”.
War on Terrorism
After September 11, Bush announced a global War on Terror. The Afghan Taliban regime was not forthcoming with Osama bin Laden, so Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime. In his January 29, 2002 State of the Union Address, he asserted that an “axis of evil” consisting of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq was “arming to threaten the peace of the world” and “pose[d] a grave and growing danger”. The Bush Administration asserted both a right and the intention to wage preemptive war, or preventive war. This became the basis for the Bush Doctrine which weakened the unprecedented levels of international and domestic support for the United States which had followed the September 11 attacks.
Dissent and criticism of Bush’s leadership in the War on Terror increased as the war in Iraq continued. In 2006, a National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the Iraq War had become the “cause célèbre for jihadists”.
On October 7, 2001, U.S. and British forces initiated bombing campaigns that led to the arrival of Northern Alliance troops in Kabul on November 13. The main goals of the war were to defeat the Taliban, drive al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and capture key al-Qaeda leaders. In December 2001, the Pentagon reported that the Taliban had been defeated, but cautioned that the war would go on to continue weakening Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. Later that month the UN had installed the Afghan Transitional Administration chaired by Hamid Karzai.
Efforts to kill or capture al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden failed as he escaped a battle in December 2001 in the mountainous region of Tora Bora, which the Bush Administration later acknowledged to have resulted from a failure to commit enough U.S. ground troops. It was not until May 2011, two years after Bush left office, that bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces under the Obama administration. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains at large.
Despite the initial success in driving the Taliban from power in Kabul, by early 2003 the Taliban was regrouping, amassing new funds and recruits. The 2005 failure of Operation Red Wings showed that the Taliban had returned. In 2006, the Taliban insurgency appeared larger, fiercer and better organized than expected, with large-scale allied offensives such as Operation Mountain Thrust attaining limited success. As a result, Bush commissioned 3,500 additional troops to the country in March 2007.
Beginning with his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address, Bush began publicly focusing attention on Iraq, which he labeled as part of an “axis of evil” allied with terrorists and posing “a grave and growing danger” to U.S. interests through possession of weapons of mass destruction.
In the latter half of 2002, CIA reports contained assertions of Saddam Hussein’s intent of reconstituting nuclear weapons programs, not properly accounting for Iraqi biological and chemical weapons, and that some Iraqi missiles had a range greater than allowed by the UN sanctions. Contentions that the Bush Administration manipulated or exaggerated the threat and evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities would eventually become a major point of criticism for the president.
In late 2002 and early 2003, Bush urged the United Nations to enforce Iraqi disarmament mandates, precipitating a diplomatic crisis. In November 2002, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei led UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, but were advised by the U.S. to depart the country four days prior to the U.S. invasion, despite their requests for more time to complete their tasks. The U.S. initially sought a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force but dropped the bid for UN approval due to vigorous opposition from several countries. The Bush administration’s claim that the Iraq War was part of the War on Terror had been questioned and contested by political analysts.
More than 20 nations (most notably the United Kingdom), designated the “coalition of the willing” joined the United States in invading Iraq. They launched the invasion on March 20, 2003. The Iraqi military was quickly defeated. The capital, Baghdad, fell on April 9, 2003. On May 1, Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq. The initial success of U.S. operations increased his popularity, but the U.S. and allied forces faced a growing insurgency led by sectarian groups; Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech was later criticized as premature. From 2004 until 2007, the situation in Iraq deteriorated further, with some observers arguing that there was a full-scale civil war in Iraq. Bush’s policies met with criticism, including demands domestically to set a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq. The 2006 report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker, concluded that the situation in Iraq was “grave and deteriorating”. While Bush admitted there were strategic mistakes made in regards to the stability of Iraq, he maintained he would not change the overall Iraq strategy. According to Iraq Body Count, some 251,000 Iraqis have been killed in the civil war following the U.S.-led invasion, including at least 163,841 civilians.
In January 2005, free, democratic elections were held in Iraq for the first time in 50 years. According to Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie, “This is the greatest day in the history of this country.” Bush praised the event as well, saying that the Iraqis “have taken rightful control of their country’s destiny”. This led to the election of Jalal Talabani as president and Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq. A referendum to approve a constitution in Iraq was held in October 2005, supported by most Shiites and many Kurds.
On January 10, 2007, Bush announced a surge of 21,500 more troops for Iraq, as well as a job program for Iraqis, more reconstruction proposals, and $1.2 billion (equivalent to $1.5 billion in 2019) for these programs. On May 1, 2007, Bush used his second-ever veto to reject a bill setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, saying the debate over the conflict was “understandable” but insisting that a continued U.S. presence there was crucial.
In January 2010, at President Obama’s request, Bush and Bill Clinton established the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund to raise contributions for relief and recovery efforts following the 2010 Haiti earthquake earlier that month.
On May 2, 2011, President Obama called Bush, who was at a restaurant with his wife, to inform him that Osama bin Laden had been killed. The Bushes joined the Obamas in New York City to mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At the Ground Zero memorial, Bush read a letter that President Abraham Lincoln wrote to a widow who had lost five sons during the Civil War.
On September 7, 2017, Bush partnered with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama to work with One America Appeal to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in the Gulf Coast and Texas communities.
Over the years, President Bush has had a good-natured friendship with Michelle Obama. “President Bush and I, we are forever seatmates because of protocol, and that’s how we sit at all the official functions,” Mrs. Obama told the Today Show. “He’s my partner in crime at every major thing where all the ‘formers’ gather. So we’re together all the time.” She later added, “I love him to death. He’s a wonderful man, he’s a funny man.” Bush and Obama have sat next to each other at many events including the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma (2015), the interfaith memorial service for the victims in Dallas (2016), the opening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (2016), and at the funerals for Nancy Reagan (2016), and John McCain (2018). Bush famously passed mints to Mrs. Obama during the McCain funeral in September 2018 and gave them to her again during the funeral of his father in December 2018.
After serving as president, Bush began painting as a hobby after reading Winston Churchill’s essay “Painting as a Pastime.” Subjects have included people, dogs, and still life. He has also painted self-portraits and portraits of world leaders, including Vladimir Putin and Tony Blair. In February 2017, Bush released a book of portraits of veterans, Portraits of Courage. The net proceeds from his book are donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Center. In May 2019, on the 10th anniversary of former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun’s passing, George Bush drew a portrait of Roh to give to his family.
In mass culture
- Saturday Night Live (2000–2009) – Comedian Will Ferrell played a satirical caricature of George W. Bush on the show for many years.
- W. (2008) – a biographical drama film directed by Oliver Stone, in which George W. Bush is portrayed by Josh Brolin.
- Vice (2018) – a biographical comedy-drama film written and directed by Adam McKay, in which George W. Bush is portrayed by Sam Rockwell, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
President Bush’s legacy continues to develop today. Supporters credit Bush’s counterterrorism policies with preventing another major terrorist attack from occurring in the U.S. after 9/11 and also praise individual policies such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit and the AIDS relief program known as PEPFAR. Critics often point to his handling of the Iraq War, specifically the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, that were the main rationale behind the initial invasion—as well as his handling of tax policy, Hurricane Katrina, climate change and the 2008 financial crisis—as proof that George W. Bush was unfit to be president.
Several historians and commentators hold that Bush was one of the most consequential presidents in American history. Princeton University scholar Julian Zelizer described Bush’s presidency as a “transformative” one, and said that “some people hate him, some people love him, but I do think he’ll have a much more substantive perception as time goes on”. Bryon Williams of The Huffington Post referred to Bush as “the most noteworthy president since FDR” and said the Patriot Act “increased authority of the executive branch at the expense of judicial opinions about when searches and seizures are reasonable” as evidence. Bush’s administration presided over the largest tax cuts since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and his homeland security reforms proved to be the most significant expansion of the federal government since the Great Society. Much of these policies have endured in the administrations of his two immediate successors, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
The George W. Bush presidency has been ranked among the worst in surveys of presidential scholars published in the late 2000s and 2010s.
A 2010 Siena Research Institute survey of the opinions of historians, political scientists, and presidential scholars ranked him 39th out of 43 presidents. The survey respondents gave President Bush low ratings on his handling of the U.S. economy, communication, ability to compromise, foreign policy accomplishments, and intelligence. Bush said in 2013, “Ultimately history will judge the decisions I made, and I won’t be around because it will take time for the objective historians to show up. So I am pretty comfortable with it. I did what I did.”
Among the public, his reputation has improved since his presidency ended in 2009. In February 2012, Gallup reported that “Americans still rate George W. Bush among the worst presidents, though their views have become more positive in the three years since he left office.” Gallup had earlier noted that Bush’s favorability ratings in public opinion surveys had begun to rise a year after he had left office, from 40 percent in January 2009 and 35 percent in March 2009, to 45 percent in July 2010, a period during which he had remained largely out of the news. A poll conducted in June 2013 marked the first time recorded by Gallup where his ratings have been more positive than negative, with 49 percent viewing him favorably compared to 46 percent unfavorably. Other pollsters have noted similar trends of slight improvement in Bush’s personal favorability since the end of his presidency. In April 2013, Bush’s approval rating stood at 47 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval in a poll jointly conducted for The Washington Post and ABC, his highest approval rating since December 2005. Bush had achieved notable gains among seniors, non-college whites, and moderate and conservative Democrats since leaving office, although majorities disapproved of his handling of the economy (53 percent) and the Iraq War (57 percent). His 47 percent approval rating was equal to that of President Obama’s in the same polling period. A CNN poll conducted that same month found that 55 percent of Americans said Bush’s presidency had been a failure, with opinions divided along party lines, and 43 percent of independents calling it a success. Bush’s public image saw greater improvement in 2017, with a YouGov survey showing 51 percent of favorability from Democrats. A 2018 CNN poll subsequently found that 61 percent of respondents held of a favorable view of Bush, an increase of 9 points from 2015. The improvement has been interpreted as Democrats viewing him more favorably in response to Donald Trump’s presidency, an assessment that has also been expressed by Bush himself.
- A Charge to Keep (1999)
- Decision Points (2010)
- 41: A Portrait of My Father (2014)
- Portraits of Courage (2017)
- Electoral history of George W. Bush
- Fictionalized portrayals of George W. Bush
- Political positions of George W. Bush
- List of George W. Bush legislation and programs
- List of multilingual presidents of the United States
- List of nicknames for George W. Bush
- List of nicknames used by George W. Bush
- List of Presidents of the United States
- List of Presidents of the United States by previous experience
- Bibliography of George W. Bush
- George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
- White House biography
- Full audio of a number of Bush speeches Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- “George W. Bush collected news and commentary”. The New York Times.
- Essays on Bush, each member of his cabinet and the First Lady the Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Archived White House website from January 20, 2009—National Archives and Records Administration
- Collection of George W. Bush’s works on the Troubled Asset Relief Program
- George W. Bush at Curlie
- George W. Bush on IMDb
- Works by George W. Bush at Project Gutenberg