George Bush, born in 1946, 43rd president of the United States (2001- ), who took office after one of the closest and most disputed elections in U.S. history and launched a war against terrorism after a devastating terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Bush was reelected in 2004, defeating Democratic opponent John F. Kerry by sweeping the South and winning the key battleground state of Ohio.
When he took office, George Walker Bush, son of former president George Herbert Walker Bush, became the first son to follow his father into the White House since John Quincy Adams followed John Adams in the early 19th century. Bush, a Republican, was also the first presidential candidate since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to win the electoral vote, and thus the presidency, while losing the nationwide popular vote. Bush lost the popular vote to Democratic candidate Al Gore by more than 500,000 votes out of more than 105 million cast nationwide. However, he secured a 271 to 266 victory in the electoral college when, after five weeks of legal wrangling, Gore failed to overturn election results that gave the state of Florida, with 25 electoral votes, to Bush. See also Disputed Presidential Election of 2000.
As president, Bush faced the challenges of global terrorism. After the September 11 attacks, he declared a war against terrorism, pledging to defeat those who threatened the security of the United States. Bush led a coalition of countries into Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government, which had harbored al-Qaeda, the international terrorist network responsible for the September 11 attacks. In a controversial decision, he also directed a U.S. invasion of Iraq to remove President Saddam Hussein from power. Bush alleged that Hussein was an ally of al-Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction that represented a growing threat to the United States. But after the invasion no weapons of mass destruction were found, and in September 2003 Bush told a group of reporters there was “no evidence” that Hussein was linked to the September 11 attacks. Domestically Bush confronted a slowing economy when he first took office, and he successfully advocated for tax cuts in an effort to stimulate economic growth. The U.S. economy rebounded, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a record high during Bush’s second term.
George Walker Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, the first child of George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a Wall Street financier who was elected to the Senate of the United States from Connecticut in 1952. Although George Herbert Walker Bush began his career in the oil industry, he eventually served as a congressman, head of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and vice president and president of the United States.
At the age of two, Bush moved with his parents from Connecticut to Odessa, Texas, where his father embarked on a career in the petroleum business. After a year in Texas, the family relocated to California for business reasons. A year later, the family moved back to Texas and settled in Midland, a town in western Texas located about 500 km (300 mi) from Fort Worth. Bush lived in Midland from 1950 to 1959. In 1953 his younger sister Robin, the next oldest child in the family, died from leukemia. After her death, Bush grew especially close to his mother. He had four other siblings: brothers Jeb, Neil, and Marvin, and a sister, Dorothy. In 1959, again for business reasons, the family moved to Houston, Texas. In 1961 Bush left Texas and went to Andover, Massachusetts, to attend Phillips Academy, a boarding school that his father had also attended.
At Phillips, Bush played basketball, baseball, and football. He was best known for being head cheerleader and commissioner of an intramural stickball league. In 1964 he enrolled at Yale University in Connecticut; his father and grandfather had also attended Yale. That same year, Bush campaigned for his father in his unsuccessful bid to win a U.S. Senate seat from Texas.
At Yale, Bush was considered an average student, but he was popular with his classmates. He was head of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and a member of the exclusive Skull and Bones, a secret society that his father and grandfather had also joined. During Bush’s time at Yale, college students all over the country began to hold protests about a variety of issues, including protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (1959-1975). Bush was uncomfortable with the growth of the student protest movement, and he generally refrained from participating in campus politics. In 1968 he campaigned on behalf of his father, who was running for reelection for a seat in the House of Representatives that he had won in 1966.
Bush graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1968. Upon completing college, he became eligible for the military draft. To meet his service obligation, Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968. He told the admitting officer that he wanted to become a pilot like his father, who was a highly decorated Navy flier in World War II (1939-1945). He did his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and entered a pilot-training program at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. He received favorable reports from his superiors, attained the rank of second lieutenant, and was certified to fly the F-102 jet fighter during training missions in the South and along the Gulf Coast. After Bush failed to take a required annual physical examination in 1972, however, he lost his certification to fly. Bush remained in the Air National Guard until 1973.
During the early 1970s, Bush worked on U.S. Senate campaigns for Republican candidates in Florida and Alabama. He also worked for a Houston-based firm that specialized in large-scale agricultural operations. In addition, Bush was involved in a mentoring program for children in inner-city Houston. During this time, he flirted with the idea of running for state representative in Texas but decided against it. In 1973 he was admitted to Harvard Business School in Massachusetts.
After earning his M.B.A. from Harvard in 1975, Bush returned to Midland. Like his father, he first entered the oil industry as a “landman,” someone who helps organize oil-drilling ventures by bringing together geologists, property owners, and investors. In this position, Bush searched property records, studied geological reports, and negotiated deals.
In 1977 Bush announced that he was running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Shortly after he declared his candidacy, he met Laura Welch, a Midland native who worked as a librarian and an elementary-school teacher. In November 1977, three months after they met, the couple wed. Bush became the Republican congressional candidate after a tough primary race, but he lost the general election in 1978. His Democratic opponent attacked Bush as an outsider and a newcomer who did not understand the needs of voters in Texas. Bush captured the financial and political support of the oil industry, but his opponent won the support of rural and agricultural voters.
After his loss, Bush resumed his career in the oil industry, starting a series of small, independent oil-exploration companies, including Arbusto Energy Inc. (Arbusto is the Spanish word for “bush.”) In 1980 he again campaigned on behalf of his father, who had been chosen as the vice-presidential running mate of Ronald Reagan. (Reagan won the election, and Bush’s father went on to serve two terms as vice president.) In 1981 Bush and his wife became the parents of twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, who were named for their grandmothers. Although he was raised as an Episcopalian, Bush began worshiping as a Methodist, the denomination of his wife.
Bush’s oil companies never enjoyed great success. He changed the name of Arbusto Energy to Bush Exploration and spent time in New York attracting investors. In 1984, however, his company merged with a larger company, Spectrum 7. Bush became chairman of Spectrum 7, but the company was hurt by falling oil prices. In 1986 it was folded into Harken Energy Corporation, another Texas petroleum company. Bush served as a consultant and a member of Harken’s board of directors.
In 1987 Bush relocated his family to Washington, D.C., to assist his father in his bid to become president. He worked as a campaign adviser at his father’s national campaign headquarters, serving as a liaison to the media and to conservative and Christian leaders. He was a trusted confidant of his father and mother, who sometimes dispatched Bush to measure the loyalty of certain campaign aides and members of the vice president’s staff. He also campaigned across the country, sometimes appearing as a surrogate for his father. After his father won the election, Bush served as an adviser to the president-elect. He helped oversee a group that decided which individuals might be offered posts in the Bush administration.
After the election, Bush moved to Dallas, Texas, and purchased a small interest in the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1989. He became one of the managing general partners of the baseball team and agreed to serve as the public spokesperson for the ownership group. Bush’s affiliation with the team raised his profile in Texas. In 1990 he explored, but then abandoned, the idea of a bid for the Texas governor’s office. During his time with the Rangers, he oversaw the building of a new baseball stadium in Arlington, Texas. Bush, a lifelong baseball fan, was extremely happy during his tenure with the team.
During the early 1990s, Bush repeatedly traveled to Washington, D.C., to confer with his father—the president—and to offer his advice. They discussed various members of the elder Bush’s White House staff. During his father’s time in the White House, Bush was the subject of a Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) inquiry. The SEC investigated whether Bush had engaged in insider trading when he sold Harken Energy stock shortly before Harken announced financial losses. The investigation ended with no proof of wrongdoing. In the 1992 presidential race, Bush again campaigned on behalf of his father; the elder Bush lost the election to Democrat Bill Clinton. After his father’s defeat, Bush turned his attention to his own political ambitions in Texas and began a regular series of meetings with advisers in Dallas to plan a run for the office of governor.
|IV||GOVERNOR OF TEXAS|
In 1994 Bush ran for governor against popular Democratic governor Ann Richards. The gubernatorial race was a hard fought, sometimes bitter, contest. Bush’s campaign focused on four themes: welfare reform, tort reform, crime reduction, and education improvement. Bush worked hard to sell himself as a Texan, vowing not to be defeated by the same outsider perception that had helped derail his 1978 bid for Congress. He crisscrossed the state, accusing his opponent of spending too much time away from Texas. In an upset, he defeated Richards with 53.5 percent of the vote.
Because the Texas constitution limits the authority of the governor’s office, Bush turned his attention to gaining the confidence of powerful Democrats, especially the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house. Bush needed to form alliances with Democrats in order to accomplish his goals. After winning their backing, he successfully pushed plans to cut welfare rosters, lower punitive damages in lawsuits, and return control of schools to local municipalities. Critics said he neglected environmental concerns, children’s health insurance, and rising poverty. Nonetheless, toward the end of his first term, a number of high-ranking elected Democrats in Texas, including several Hispanic politicians, publicly gave their support to Bush.
During his first term, Bush faced glaring national and international exposure when a convicted pick-ax murderer named Karla Faye Tucker was scheduled to be executed in Texas in February 1998. Representatives of the Vatican, evangelist Pat Robertson, and others petitioned Bush to grant Tucker a reprieve. Bush declined, however, and the execution proceeded as scheduled. Tucker was the first woman put to death in Texas since the Civil War (1861-1865). Most studies indicated that voters in Texas supported the death penalty.
Throughout Bush’s first term, national attention increasingly focused on him as a future presidential candidate. He made a well-publicized appearance at an Indianapolis, Indiana, gathering of national Republican leaders in 1997, and speculation about his presidential ambitions began to increase. Bush repeatedly said that his sole focus was being elected to another term as Texas governor. In 1998 the Texas Rangers were sold, and Bush earned an estimated $15 million.
In his 1998 reelection campaign, Bush ran against Texas land commissioner Garry Mauro. Mauro, long affiliated with environmental issues in Texas, continued to focus on those issues while Bush began describing himself as a “compassionate conservative.” Some Texas Democrats felt that Bush was intruding on traditional Democratic turf when he began advocating raising salaries for teachers. Bush aggressively courted the minority vote in Texas, making repeated visits to traditional Hispanic and Democratic strongholds such as the city of El Paso. Bush won his 1998 reelection race with a record 69 percent of the vote, becoming the first governor in Texas history to be elected to two consecutive four-year terms. Bush earned 49 percent of the Hispanic vote and 73 percent of the independent vote, both considered records for a Republican candidate. National speculation about Bush’s presidential possibilities soared after his reelection.
Increasing national and international attention to the death penalty marked Bush’s second term as governor because Texas leads the nation in the number of inmate executions. However, Bush enjoyed high approval ratings among Texas voters, and he presided over the state during a time of general prosperity. During his second term as governor, he talked more about his philosophy of using faith-based organizations to do the work traditionally done by government. He urged more freedom for churches, synagogues, and mosques to provide social services and to perform work that state and federal agencies had previously done. Some analysts said his philosophy was a direct outgrowth of his belief that many of society’s problems could be traced to a moral decline and an over-reliance on government that had begun in the 1960s.
Throughout Bush’s second term, his critics contended that his plans to spur private-sector solutions to society’s problems were destroying the safety net that the government provided for poor people in Texas. His critics also said that, under his watch, Texas continued to rank near the bottom of statistical evaluations of the environment, children’s health insurance, and childhood hunger. Bush’s supporters lauded his efforts to raise teacher salaries, and studies indicated that educational test scores had improved under his administration. Throughout his second term, Bush stressed that one of his primary goals was to ensure that every child in Texas would know how to read.
|V||PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN AND ELECTION|
In the early months of his second term, Bush talked with Republican leaders, consultants, and strategists about the possibility of running for president of the United States. In early 1999, at a highly anticipated appearance in Austin, Texas, Bush announced that he was forming a committee to explore the idea of a presidential campaign. In June Bush announced his candidacy for president.
By the summer of 1999, Bush was actively campaigning for the presidency against a field of fellow Republicans that eventually included businessman Steve Forbes, former Reagan adviser Gary Bauer, Utah senator Orrin Hatch, former vice president Dan Quayle, former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, former ambassador Alan Keyes, former head of the Red Cross Elizabeth Dole, and Arizona senator John McCain. In August 1999 Bush emerged victorious in the Iowa Straw Poll, one of the early, preprimary contests to help determine the party frontrunner.
Through the early phases of his campaign, Bush continued to describe himself as a compassionate conservative. Some of his opponents suggested that he was not committed to true conservative principles and that he was using the slogan to lure independent and Democratic voters. Bush repeatedly said that he would make education a centerpiece of his administration and that he would strengthen the military. He also pledged to aid minorities by combating what he called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” He promised to cut taxes, pointing to the tax cuts in Texas during his administration. By early 2000 the Republican contest increasingly centered on Bush and McCain.
After McCain defeated him in the New Hampshire primary, Bush rebounded with a victory in South Carolina. His win in South Carolina set the stage for an eventual triumph in the final round of primaries. Through the primary season, his mother and father made appearances on his behalf. Critics continued to suggest that he was riding his father’s coattails. Some also contended that he lacked the experience necessary to be president since he had only been in office since 1995. Bush replied that, as governor of Texas, he was overseeing a state whose economy, population, and area were larger than those of many countries. By June the Bush campaign had raised over $85 million, a record-setting amount of money for a presidential race.
In the weeks leading to the Republican National Convention in July, Bush traveled cross-country. Among his travels was a high-profile visit to the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His allies lauded him for reaching out to minorities; his critics said that he had not delivered enough specific solutions to minority concerns. Just prior to the Republican National Convention, Bush picked Dick Cheney as his vice-presidential running mate.
Bush had originally chosen Cheney to oversee the selection process for a vice-presidential candidate. Cheney had a lengthy record in elected and appointed offices and had served as chief of staff for President Gerald Ford and as secretary of defense for Bush’s father, President George Bush. Bush’s supporters saw the selection of Cheney as a way to offset accusations that Bush did not have the necessary experience to serve in the White House. Critics of the choice said that Bush was relying on his father’s old advisers and that Cheney’s conservative voting record in Congress would displease minorities and Democrats.
On the final night of the convention, Bush delivered one of the most important speeches of his life, as he formally accepted the Republican nomination for president. Before thousands of supporters, he outlined his basic political philosophy of compassionate conservatism. In his speech he also chided the Clinton-Gore administration, saying it had not lived up to its potential. While supporters applauded Bush’s speech as a call for renewed moral leadership, critics focused on its failure to set forth specific policy proposals. Immediately following the convention Bush and Cheney began a series of train trips across the country to promote their candidacy.
During the campaign, Bush’s main opponents were Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic Party nominee; consumer activist Ralph Nader, the Green Party nominee; and political commentator Pat Buchanan, who ran on the Reform Party ticket. Bush focused on issues such as providing tax cuts and improving education. He also expressed a desire to change social security by letting people invest a portion of their funds in the stock market. Bush participated in three debates with Gore. He also spent time campaigning in states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Oregon, which were very closely divided between the two candidates.
On November 7, as election returns came in, Bush won 29 states, primarily in the West and South, including Wyoming, Utah, Georgia, and Alabama. He also won some traditionally Democratic states such as West Virginia and Gore’s home state of Tennessee. However, as the night wore on, it became clear that the presidential race would be extremely close. Both candidates needed to win Florida to receive the 270 electoral votes necessary to become president. When Florida’s vote was counted, Bush had more votes than Gore, but the candidates were separated by less than one-half of one percent of the tally. Florida law dictates that an automatic recount be performed if the candidates are separated by only one-half of one percent.
The next day, Florida began recounting its votes while Bush waited to learn if he would become the president of the United States. The state was also waiting to receive and count overseas absentee ballots. After Florida finished its recount, Bush was still ahead in Florida, but only by about 300 votes.
With the vote so close, Democrats pressed for a manual recount in four heavily Democratic counties, arguing that machine tallies had failed to accurately record all of the votes cast for president. The Bush team went to court to prevent the manual recount, charging that the votes had already been recounted once and that a manual count introduced the possibility of human error. Florida’s secretary of state set a deadline of November 14 for submitting the recounted votes for certification. However, some counties could not finish their manual recounts by the deadline. Gore went to court to seek to have all the manual recounts included in the final tally. The Florida Supreme Court then ordered the secretary of state to delay the certification of votes until it could hear the case.
On November 21 the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the manual recounts should be included and had to be submitted to the secretary of state by November 26. Bush disagreed with the decision and appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. On November 26 Florida certified its election results, including its overseas ballots, and Bush won the state by just over 500 votes. Gore, however, still felt that some votes had been excluded, and he contested the certified results in court.
On December 4, after considering arguments from both sides, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify its ruling. The same day, a Florida circuit court judge ruled against Gore’s request for additional recounts. The ruling was a victory for Bush. However, Gore appealed that case to the Florida Supreme Court.
On December 8 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the additional recounts should be allowed to proceed. Bush then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also asked the Court to stop the recounts from proceeding until the Court had a chance to hear the case. On December 9 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, stopping all the recounts until after it heard the case, which it did on December 11. On December 12 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Florida recounts were unconstitutional because the recounts violated the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. The Court argued that not all votes were being treated equally because there was no clear standard for how to do manual recounts. The decision was a huge victory for Bush. On December 13, five weeks after the election, Gore officially conceded the race to Bush, and Bush became the president-elect of the United States. See also Disputed Presidential Election of 2000.
|VI||PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES|
Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd president of the United States on January 20, 2001. In his inaugural address, he repeatedly touched on the theme of compassion and emphasized a need for civility in modern society. He promised to reform social security and Medicare, to reduce taxes, and to “confront weapons of mass destruction.” He spoke, in broad terms, of addressing poverty and encouraging personal responsibility.
When Bush assembled his Cabinet, he sought a mixture of Washington veterans, academics, businesspeople, and officials from state government. He appointed Colin Powell, the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as secretary of state; Condoleezza Rice, a Stanford University political science professor, as national security adviser; and Rod Paige, superintendent of the Houston, Texas, school district, as secretary of education. He also named Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense; Rumsfeld had served previously as secretary of defense under President Gerald Ford. Bush nominated one Democrat to his Cabinet, Norman Mineta, as secretary of transportation. Bush’s Cabinet reflected much of the diversity of the country, including three African Americans, two Asians, five women, and one Hispanic.
Bush suffered one setback when Linda Chavez, his nominee for secretary of labor, withdrew her name from consideration after questions emerged over whether she had employed an illegal immigrant. Bush replaced her with Elaine Chao, who had extensive experience in the nonprofit sector including being director of the Peace Corps. Bush’s nominee for attorney general, John Ashcroft, a former senator from Missouri, faced tough questioning about his conservative positions by Democrats in the Senate before he was confirmed. Some environmental advocates expressed concern with Bush’s choice for secretary of the interior, Gale Norton, because of some of her positions, including her support for opening some public lands for development. Some proponents of welfare reform were pleased when Bush selected Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson as secretary of health and human services; Thompson had led sweeping reforms of the welfare system in his state.
In the first weeks of his administration, Bush was at times overshadowed by media coverage and congressional inquiries into the last-minute presidential pardons that Bill Clinton had granted before leaving office. However, Bush focused on his program, including making education his first legislative priority. In his first days in office, Bush announced his education plan, which included initiatives to give states more control over federal education spending and annual testing of students to measure performance. This plan came to fruition in January 2002, when Bush signed into law an education bill that increased federal spending on education and established a system for annual testing.
Bush also created an Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the White House. This office was designed to work with government agencies to provide funds to faith-based organizations so that these organizations could assume more responsibility for addressing the nation’s social problems, such as poverty, hunger, and homelessness. The creation of the office followed through on one of Bush’s campaign pledges.
In February 2001 Bush introduced a $1.96 trillion federal budget that included tax relief and increased funding for education and the military. Amid debate on how best to utilize the federal surplus, Bush advocated a $1.6 trillion tax cut over ten years, arguing that “the surplus is not the government’s money. The surplus is the people’s money.” As he began pushing his economic agenda forward, Bush was faced with mounting evidence that the U.S. economy was slowing down. He argued that Congress should approve his tax cut to help stimulate the economy.
Democratic leaders immediately assailed Bush’s budget proposals as fiscally irresponsible. They suggested that the government surplus should be used for government programs such as social security and that the tax cut would benefit only wealthy Americans. Critics of Bush’s plan also faulted him for proposed cuts in several federal departments and agencies, including the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Labor, Interior, Energy, and Justice. Congressional Democrats vowed to battle both the scope of Bush’s tax cuts and the cutbacks at the federal level.
Bush achieved a major success in June 2001 when he signed a $1.35-trillion tax-cut bill. The bill, which takes effect over a ten-year period, lowers income tax rates for all taxpayers and doubles the child tax credit. It also lowers the tax penalty on married couples and phases out the estate tax in its final year, although the abolition is not permanent. Bush pointed to the success of the tax-cut bill as an example of congressional bipartisanship. The previous month, however, Bush suffered a setback when Senator James Jeffords of Vermont announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. Jeffords’s move shifted control of the Senate from the Republican Party to the Democrats.
The Republicans regained control of the Senate in the midterm elections of 2002. Bush campaigned energetically for Republicans, and his efforts, along with his high approval rating, helped them gain seats in the Senate and increase their majority in the House of Representatives.
With control of Congress, the Bush administration decided to press on with its tax cut proposals. In May 2003 Bush achieved a major victory when Congress passed one of the biggest tax cuts in history, some $330 billion through the next decade. His supporters said the tax cuts would further stimulate the economy; critics said the tax cuts would lead to huge deficits that could cause economic hardship in the future.
|B2||The Economy and the 2004 Presidential Election Campaign|
By the fall of 2003, the U.S. economy began showing signs of improvement, and Bush's supporters said those new positive reports were a result of Bush's aggressive stance on tax cuts. Stock market indexes were rising, and some consumers and manufacturers expressed more optimism about the future. Still, job growth in the nation remained stagnant, and some critics said the Bush administration needed to do more to reduce unemployment. Meanwhile, the federal deficit continued to surge to the highest levels in history. That fact fueled partisan criticism against Bush that began to well up as several Democrats began actively vying for a chance to run against the president in the 2004 presidential election.
Through the end of 2003, the Bush reelection campaign began to coalesce and to raise record-setting amounts of money—more than $100 million. By April 2004 Bush had collected more than $180 million for his reelection effort.
In late October 2003 Bush announced his opposition to gay marriage, indicating in remarks at the White House that he believed marriage to be between a man and a woman. He followed up on this position in early 2004 by proposing a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In November 2003 Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which aimed to set limits on certain abortions. Critics of the Bush administration said they believed the act could lead to attempts to ban all abortions. His stances on gay marriage and abortion, said some observers, indicated that Bush was increasingly aligned with Christian conservative supporters. Some political analysts said the Bush administration had decided that Christian conservative voters were going to be key to the Bush campaign in the 2004 presidential race.
In early December 2003 Bush signed a sweeping law to overhaul the Medicare program and introduce prescription drug benefits for senior citizens. Critics said the $400 billion act would benefit insurance and drug companies and might lead to the eventual end of the Medicare system. Many Republicans, however, observed that for the first time the Republican Party could take credit for extending benefits under a popular social service program.
In February 2001 Bush approved limited air strikes against Iraq in the first military action of his presidency. American and British warplanes bombed Iraqi military command sites south of the capital of Baghdād in a joint effort to warn Iraq that the no-fly zones established in Iraq after the Persian Gulf War (1991) were still in effect.
In April Bush encountered his first foreign policy test when a U.S. Navy plane conducting surveillance was forced to land in China after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet. Each side blamed the other for the incident. After 11 days of tense negotiations, the Bush administration was able to secure the release of the American crew.
In June Bush made his first trip to Europe as U.S. president. He met with European leaders and officials of the European Union. Bush encountered some protests in Europe relating to his environmental policies. Earlier in the year Bush announced that he would not support the Kyōto Protocol, a proposed international treaty that called for industrialized countries to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases. Bush renounced the treaty because it did not apply to developing nations, and he believed it would hurt the U.S. economy.
|C1||September 11 Attacks|
Bush’s presidency faced its biggest challenge on September 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked airplanes and used them to attack landmarks in New York City and Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. In a single morning, hijackers seized four commercial jets. Two jets crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, causing the collapse and destruction of both towers. A third jet crashed into a section of the Pentagon, which houses the U.S. Department of Defense. The final jet crashed in a field southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after passengers tried to overtake the hijackers. About 3,000 people were reported dead or missing after the attacks. See September 11 Attacks.
The Bush administration attributed the attacks to Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian living in Afghanistan who was suspected of terrorist activity. The United States believed that bin Laden and his organization, al-Qaeda, had been involved in other terrorist attacks against the United States, including the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. Bin Laden had been living in Afghanistan with the support of the country’s ruling Taliban movement.
|C2||War on Terrorism|
In an address to Congress on September 20, Bush vowed to “direct every resource at our command … to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.” He announced the creation of a new cabinet-level position, the Office of Homeland Security, in order to coordinate efforts across various federal departments and agencies and create domestic policy to protect against and respond to terrorist attacks. Bush appointed Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge to head the new office.
Bush worked with Congress to pass an emergency fund package to provide financial assistance and services to those affected by the attacks. His administration also worked to build a coalition with countries around the world to fight terrorism and target bin Laden and his organization. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Pakistan, pledged their support. Following the terrorist attacks and Bush’s response to them, his approval rating soared to 90 percent.
The United States and Britain began launching air attacks on Afghanistan in early October. These attacks sought to cripple the al-Qaeda network and the Taliban government by targeting terrorist training camps and Taliban military installations. In late November hundreds of U.S. marines landed near Kandahār, a city in southern Afghanistan, in the first major infusion of American ground troops into Afghanistan. By early December the Taliban surrendered Kandahār, its last remaining stronghold. The U.S.-led offensive then worked on rounding up al-Qaeda forces. However, bin Laden still remained at large.
As part of the effort to fight terrorism, Bush signed a law in 2002 that created a new executive department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This department’s mission was to protect the United States against terrorist attacks, to reduce the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, and to minimize damage and aid recovery in case of attack. Bush nominated Tom Ridge, who previously had been the director of the Office of Homeland Security, as secretary of the department. The DHS combined dozens of federal agencies into one department, constituting the largest reorganization in the federal government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947.
After the offensive in Afghanistan ended, Bush turned his attention to Iraq. In 1991 a U.S.-led coalition had defeated Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, but Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, remained in power. After that war ended, the United Nations (UN) ordered Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, and weapons inspectors were sent to Iraq to monitor its disarmament. In 1998 Iraq announced that it would no longer cooperate with UN weapons inspections.
|C2a||Invasion of Iraq|
In 2002 Bush identified Iraq as a threat to global security and sought proof that Iraq had destroyed its banned weapons. The administration feared that these weapons could land in the hands of terrorist groups. In October the U.S. Congress passed a resolution authorizing Bush to use force to enforce all relevant UN resolutions regarding Iraq. The following month the UN Security Council passed a resolution ordering weapons inspectors to return to Iraq and threatening “serious consequences” if Iraq did not disarm. Iraq agreed to comply with the resolution, and weapons inspections started that same month.
In his January 2003 State of the Union address, Bush made several statements regarding Iraq that would later prove controversial. He asserted that Iraq possessed potentially large stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, including mobile laboratories containing ingredients for biological weapons. He asserted that Iraq was trying to build nuclear weapons and pointed to its purchase of aluminum tubes used in centrifuges for uranium enrichment and a British government claim that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium in Africa. Later disclosures would show that Department of Energy experts had disputed the claim that the aluminum tubes could be used in centrifuges, and that several agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency, had cast doubt on the British government report.
Despite the resumption of inspections, the Bush administration argued that Iraq was not fully cooperating with inspectors and was continuing to hide banned weapons. Bush, with the support of Britain and several other countries, sought UN authorization of force against Iraq. However, some countries, such as France, Germany, Russia, and China, wanted to give the weapons inspections more time to proceed and opposed military action. After the UN Security Council was unable to reach agreement about whether to authorize force against Iraq, Bush decided to forgo UN approval and pursue military action in a coalition with other willing countries.
In March 2003 U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq. By mid-April they had captured the capital city of Baghdād and other major population centers and overthrown the regime of Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration and its allies then began the process of establishing an interim Iraqi government. See also U.S.-Iraq War.
In May Bush announced that major combat had ceased in Iraq. He claimed that “an ally of al-Qaeda” had been defeated. But the weeks and months following the overthrow of the Hussein regime proved to be challenging for his administration, as hundreds of U.S. soldiers were killed in isolated attacks or accidents. The increase in casualties corresponded with some criticism, in the United States and abroad, about the Bush administration's long-range plans for Iraq. Some critics suggested that the costs in lives and money from the continued U.S. presence in Iraq were too high. Through the summer and fall of 2003, both Hussein and bin Laden continued to elude capture.
On December 13 Bush was informed that U.S. forces in Iraq had captured Hussein as he was hiding in a small underground shelter. The next day, Bush addressed the nation and said that Hussein's capture did not mean the end of violence in Iraq. As 2004 unfolded, American soldiers were still under fire in Iraq.
In January 2004 David Kay, the head of a U.S.-led team of weapons inspectors, resigned his position, saying that “we were all wrong, probably” about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Kay urged the creation of an independent panel to study why the claims by U.S. intelligence agencies that Iraq possessed such weapons were inaccurate. The Bush administration defended its actions, however, saying the world was better off with Hussein out of power.
|C2b||Reevaluating the War on Terrorism|
Criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terrorism came in March 2004 when its former counterterrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, testified before the bipartisan, independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks. Clarke maintained that the Bush administration gave low priority to warnings about a terrorist threat from al-Qaeda, failing to heed his call for a high-level meeting until a week before the attacks occurred. Clarke charged that the U.S. invasion of Iraq played into the hands of al-Qaeda, which had been telling Muslims that the United States intended to occupy an oil-rich Middle Eastern country.
The Bush administration vigorously countered Clarke’s charges, saying he lacked credibility because he had earlier praised the administration for its antiterrorism efforts. Republican senator Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, said Clarke was merely promoting a book he had written.
In July 2004 the commission issued its final report and found that neither the administration of President Bill Clinton nor the Bush administration, prior to September 11, had made terrorism an “overriding national security concern.” The commission said the biggest failure of U.S. leadership was in understanding the gravity of the threat from al-Qaeda. The commission issued a number of recommendations to improve U.S. counterterrorist efforts, including the creation of a national counterterrorism center and a Cabinet-level post of national intelligence director to oversee the foreign and domestic activity of the various intelligence agencies. In August Bush said he would urge Congress to adopt those recommendations, although the post of national intelligence director would not be a Cabinet position.
|C2c||The Reelection Campaign of 2004|
Bush ran unopposed for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and officially secured the nomination on September 2 at the party’s convention in New York City. The Bush campaign immediately went on the attack against Democratic opponent John F. Kerry, portraying the senator as a flip-flopper in a television ad that used video clips from a Kerry campaign appearance. The ads showed Kerry saying that he had actually voted for an appropriations bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq before deciding to vote against it. Strategists for the Bush campaign later gave much of the credit for the Bush victory to the effectiveness of this ad.
Bush also appeared to benefit from a series of television ads run by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an advocacy group that challenged Kerry’s war record in Vietnam, saying he did not deserve the medals he received as the commander of a patrol boat known as a swift boat. Bush’s campaign counsel, Benjamin Ginsberg, resigned from the campaign after acknowledging that he had also served as a legal adviser for the Swift Boat Veterans. Bush later distanced himself from the ads, saying Kerry had served “admirably” in Vietnam.
Questions surrounding Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War (1959-1975) also surfaced during the campaign. Records of his service showed that in 1972, four years after joining the Guard, he failed to take a required annual physical examination and was suspended from flying. A memorandum reported by CBS News anchor Dan Rather purporting to show that Bush’s commanding officer accused Bush of receiving favorable treatment fell into question, however, and Rather later apologized for airing the report.
In late September the first of three presidential debates was held. Many political observers said Kerry won the first debate and that Bush left a negative impression at times by scowling and grimacing. But observers also said that Bush held his own in the following two debates. Bush campaigned vigorously, especially in key battleground states such as Ohio and Florida where the polls indicated the outcome was undecided. On the eve of the election, the polls showed that the race nationally was too close to call.
|D||Bush’s Second Term|
On Election Day, Bush soundly defeated Kerry and was elected to a second term. Unlike 2000, when he lost the popular vote to Gore, Bush won the popular vote in 2004, increasing his vote tally by more than 3.5 million. Bush won more than 60 million votes or 51 percent of the total cast in the largest turnout in a presidential contest since 1968. Bush won the decisive electoral college vote by carrying 31 states, including the South and nearly all of the Great Plains states, and claiming 285 electoral votes. Nevertheless, it was not an overwhelming victory compared with previous Republican presidential wins. Ronald Reagan’s margin of victory in the 1984 election was 512 electoral votes and an 18 percentage point spread in the popular vote, while Richard Nixon in 1972 had a 503 electoral vote lead and a 23 percentage point lead in the popular vote.
Bush increased his support among a variety of demographic groups normally identified with the Democratic Party, such as Hispanic Americans and senior citizens. He won 48 percent of the women’s vote, a 5 percentage point gain from 2000. Bush retained his loyalty among male voters, winning 55 percent of the male vote and 62 percent of the white male vote. Bush’s campaign strategist, Karl Rove, said Bush won 81 percent of the nation’s 3,141 counties, underscoring his popularity in rural, suburban, and exurban areas. Bush won 56 percent of the vote among households earning more than $50,000 annually and 63 percent of the vote among households earning more than $200,000 a year.
On the issues, 22 percent of voters interviewed in the national exit pool— a survey conducted after people voted—said the issue that mattered the most for them was “moral values,” followed by the economy (20 percent), terrorism (19 percent), and Iraq (15 percent). However, another poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, which phrased its questions in an open-ended way rather than asking people to choose from a predetermined list, found that Iraq was the top issue (27 percent), followed by the economy (14 percent), terrorism (9 percent), and moral values (9 percent).
Some political analysts believed that antigay marriage initiatives in 11 states increased the conservative turnout for Bush and explained why so many voters cited “moral values” as the most important issue (see Gay Rights Movement). Other analysts said the decisive issue was terrorism, noting that 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush to fight terrorism while only 31 percent trusted Kerry. For voters who thought terrorism was the most important issue, 86 percent voted for Bush. About 55 percent of voters also agreed with Bush’s argument that the war in Iraq was part of the war against terrorism.
Bush became the first incumbent president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win reelection while his party also increased its majorities in both houses of Congress. He became the first Republican president since Calvin Coolidge in 1924 to win reelection with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.
With control of Congress and with a popular mandate seemingly behind him, Bush quickly outlined an ambitious legislative program for his second term. He announced that his first priority would be to reform social security by reducing the amount taken from payroll taxes and enabling younger workers to reinvest that money in private accounts that could yield greater returns. Bush also called for simplifying the tax code.
Bush reshaped his Cabinet in his second term. Immediately after the election Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his plans to retire. Bush nominated Condoleezza Rice to replace him. Other resignations included Attorney General John Ashcroft, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, Education Secretary Rod Paige, and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge. With the exception of Powell, who was known to be at odds with Bush over his handling of Iraq, none of the resignations reflected policy differences with Bush. After Ashcroft’s resignation, Bush nominated his longtime friend and White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to replace him. Gonzales became the first Hispanic American attorney general of the United States.
In his inaugural address to the nation in January 2005, Bush said that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.” He added that “my most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people from further attacks and emerging threats.” Some political observers believed that Bush was attempting to blunt, at the outset of his second term as president, any broadening resistance around the nation to the ongoing U.S. military efforts in Iraq.
In early February 2005 his State of the Union address outlined specific aspects of his domestic policy. Bush said it was necessary to restructure the tax system and the social security system, which he said was headed “to bankruptcy.” Bush's recommendations for overhauling social security included the possible creation of so-called “personal accounts” in which workers would be permitted to invest their payroll taxes in the stock market. That plan proved to be one of the most controversial, and ultimately unsuccessful, domestic initiatives in either of his two terms as president. It was almost immediately attacked by many of his Democratic foes and by some Republicans normally prone to supporting the president. As Bush traveled around the country to drum up support for the plan, polls showed a largely negative public reaction.
Bush also urged lawmakers to pass his energy proposals, including opening up areas of the American wilderness, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil exploration and development. Extending on themes he had introduced in his inaugural address, Bush also talked specifically about the conflict in Iraq, saying that the United States needed to stay the course in that country. As well, he suggested that Syria and Iran were countries that continued to either support or sponsor terrorists.
Immediately on the heels of his State of the Union address, Bush announced a $2.57-trillion federal budget that included some of the biggest cuts in domestic spending in the last 20 years. The deeper cuts for domestic programs, including ones aimed at Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were assailed by Democrats and other Bush administration critics. In particular, Bush critics noted that the budget included increases for the military while cutting programs to aid police departments and children from low-income households. Bush supporters inside and outside the White House said the new budget balanced U.S. security needs with a strong sense of fiscal responsibility. They added that the budget was designed to ultimately steer the nation toward Bush's goal of drastically reducing the national deficit.
As Bush openly pushed his domestic proposals, including his desire to overhaul social security, increasing attention centered on a possible opening on the Supreme Court of the United States. When Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced plans to retire from the highest court in the land, Bush was faced with the opportunity to name the first new Supreme Court justice since 1994. After much speculation about his choice, including some thought that he would name Attorney General Gonzales, he nominated federal appellate judge John G. Roberts, Jr., in July. Following the September 2005 death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Bush asked that Roberts’s nomination be expedited and that he be named the new chief justice.
As the Roberts nomination was being reviewed in August 2005, Bush faced one of the most serious challenges of his presidency. Hurricane Katrina, one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history, devastated enormous portions of the Gulf Coast region. The large loss of life, the billions of dollars in damage, and television coverage showing tens of thousands of stranded flood refugees in New Orleans led to stiff accusations from Bush critics. They alleged that the president had not put the right people in charge of the hurricane response team and that the federal government had responded either too slowly or too ineffectively. Bush made several visits to the hurricane zone, as did other key members of his administration. Accepting responsibility, he vowed to provide the resources necessary to aid and rebuild the ravaged region. Following widespread criticism, Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown was eventually replaced. Bush quickly signed a bill that provided billions in aid to the Gulf Coast areas hit by the hurricane.
In October, in the wake of Roberts successfully becoming the new chief justice of the Supreme Court, Bush nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to the seat to be vacated by O’Connor. Miers, unlike Roberts, was immediately met with strong resistance. Critics, including many conservative Republicans, said that Bush had selected someone on the basis of friendship and that Miers had no lengthy track record that would outline her judicial experience and philosophy. At the end of October, amid growing opposition, Miers asked Bush to withdraw her nomination. In early November, in what some political observers said was an attempt to rally his conservative base, Bush nominated federal appellate justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., to the Supreme Court vacancy. That nomination came as some political polls showed Bush’s approval ratings slipping to lows of about 40 percent from previous highs of more than 60 percent. The year ended with some of the key proposals outlined by Bush in his 2005 State of the Union address, notably his attempts to push for tax code and social security restructuring, having gone unapproved.
In January 2006 Alito’s nomination was approved by the Senate. Analysts said that Bush’s ability to name two conservatives to the Supreme Court, and possibly a third before his term expired, might represent his most important legacy. As the year began, Bush was also looking for ways to further stimulate the U.S. economy, which showed signs of health in January with the lowest unemployment rate since July 2001.
In his January 2006 State of the Union address, Bush put forward a limited, modest agenda. Saying the country was “addicted to oil,” he called for reducing Middle East oil imports by 75 percent by 2025 by developing ethanol and other alternative fuels. He called attention to increasing competition in high-tech fields from China and India and urged greater financing for basic science research and for recruiting 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in the nation’s schools. Bush also defended a previously secret electronic eavesdropping program that critics said broke the law by avoiding judicial review. Bush defended the program, saying it was an effective tool against terrorism and that it was constitutional under his authority as commander in chief. See also Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; Electronic Surveillance.
In June 2006 Bush established the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, which became the world’s largest marine conservation area. The new national monument encompasses nearly 362,600 sq km (140,000 sq mi) of tropical ocean with coral reefs and uninhabited islands, and is home to thousands of species, including the endangered monk seal. The move was widely applauded by conservationists and environmentalists, who often have been critics of Bush administration policies.
On July 19, 2006, Bush cast the first veto of his presidency, rejecting congressional legislation that would have lifted some of the limits on the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Bush cited moral grounds for his opposition to the bill. However, polls showed that a majority of Americans supported the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research. Some Republicans in Congress broke with Bush on the issue, including former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senator John McCain, who both voted for the vetoed legislation.
President Bush characterized the 2006 midterm elections as a “thumping” for the Republican Party. The Democrats regained control of both houses of Congress and a majority of state houses. Bush said he took some responsibility for the defeat, and he accepted the resignation of his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, the day after the elections. Polls showed that the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq was a major issue for voters, a majority of whom, according to several polls, clearly disapproved of Bush’s handling of the war. As the chief Iraq war planner, Rumsfeld had been a lightning rod for criticism, particularly from retired generals and other sources close to the U.S. military. Bush appointed former CIA director Robert M. Gates as Rumsfeld’s replacement.
As a lame-duck president facing a Democratic majority in Congress, Bush was conciliatory in his first meeting with House and Senate leaders, promising “to find common ground” on the Iraq war and domestic issues. With a Democratic majority in the Senate, Bush was expected to have to moderate some of his political and judicial appointments. In January 2007 Bush withdrew five nominations for federal judgeships in the face of opposition from the Democrats. Among the nominees was William Haynes, who drew criticism as a Defense Department attorney for memos that established a legal framework for harsh interrogations of suspected terrorist detainees. See also Abu Ghraib Scandal; Guantánamo Bay; Torture.
|D4||The Continuing War in Iraq|
In December 2006 Bush received a long-awaited report from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission established by Congress to provide an assessment of the ongoing war in Iraq. The report made about 70 recommendations and concluded that the current U.S. strategy in Iraq was failing. Bush said he was studying the report and gathering opinions from other sources, including the U.S. military. In January, Bush replaced his two top military commanders in Iraq, one of them General John Abizaid, who had earlier testified before Congress in opposition to sending more troops to Iraq. In a nationally televised speech on January 10, Bush seemingly rejected the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and said he was deploying an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq in an attempt to bring order to the capital, Baghdād, and to Anbar province, where foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda had a presence.
The Bush administration characterized the new troop deployment not as an escalation but as a temporary surge, or “augmentation,” of U.S. forces that would be accompanied by more training of the Iraqi army. Bush also called for more spending on reconstruction projects in Iraq to help alleviate damage to Iraq’s infrastructure and to provide jobs in a country where unemployment was estimated at between 30 and 60 percent. Repudiating a recommendation by the Iraq Study Group to negotiate with Iran and Syria, Bush instead sharply challenged the two neighboring countries of Iraq, accusing them of providing material support to the insurgency in Iraq. Bush said he was adding another aircraft-carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf and that U.S. forces would attempt “to interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.”
The speech met immediately with a negative rejoinder from most Democrats, who called the additional troops an escalation that had no likelihood of succeeding. But a number of leading Republican senators also criticized the speech, including several likely presidential contenders and representatives of the conservative wing of the Republican Party such as Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. Perhaps the harshest Republican attack came from Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who voiced concern that the threats against Iran signaled the possibility of an even wider escalation of the war. Hagel said Bush’s speech represented “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it.” Senator John McCain, a likely Republican presidential candidate, and Democratic senator Joseph Lieberman, however, threw their support to Bush’s plan.
A dramatic confrontation between Bush and Congress rolled forward, with some lawmakers pushing hard for the reduction of troops in Iraq and Bush insisting that he would veto any such attempts. The battle between Bush and Congress became the defining policy issue dominating the Bush administration during the early part of 2007. Analysts also said it was building toward one of the most intense battles inside Washington in many years.
In March the Democrat-controlled House narrowly voted for legislation that would lead to troops coming home in by the end of August 2008. A week later, the Democrat-controlled Senate also narrowly passed a bill that called for the end of combat operations, this time to be concluded by March 2008. The House approved a binding resolution, meaning that troops would have to depart Iraq, but the Senate resolution was nonbinding, meaning that it was largely symbolic.
Bush continued to strongly reiterate that he had no intention of signing the bills. The votes by Congress, conducted along mostly partisan lines, put Bush in the position of a showdown with lawmakers and with possibly having to invoke his veto power for only the second time in his administration.
|D5||U.S. Attorney Firings and Other Issues|
While the debate rolled forward, Bush was confronted with a personnel matter that also dominated headlines and was arguably, along with the Iraq troop withdrawal debate, a crisis moment for the Bush administration in early 2007. Through March, there were increasingly insistent calls by some lawmakers for his beleaguered attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, to step down.
Gonzales, a long-time friend of Bush’s from Texas, was overseeing a Justice Department that was being assailed for its handling of the firings of eight federal prosecutors in 2006. Gonzales denied that he was involved in the firings but the release of e-mails and the testimony of his former chief of staff contradicted these claims.
Bush, who had brought Gonzales to Washington to serve as his White House counsel and then appointed Gonzales as the first Latino to be attorney general, indicated in March that he was still supporting Gonzales despite the growing criticism and the demands for Gonzales’s resignation. Observers said that Bush would be increasingly mired in a politically difficult situation if he continued to support his attorney general.
The growing tempest over the U.S. attorney firings led Congress in March to rescind a Patriot Act provision that allowed new federal attorneys to be put in office, without Senate approval, for an undetermined level of time. The Bush White House did not oppose the changing of the provision, even though it appeared to diminish some of the administration’s power. Political observers said it was a concession on Bush’s part to the welling realities in Washington as battle lines were being drawn between the president and Congress. The firings angered Democrats when it became apparent that some of the fired U.S. attorneys had refused to become involved in electoral contests in which Democrats either won or closely contested the elections. Another of the fired U.S. attorneys had conducted an investigation that led to the prosecution and conviction of a prominent Republican member of Congress.
In early 2007 several polls indicated that Bush’s approval ratings were hovering in the 35 percent range. Political analysts wondered what the fallout for the remaining months of the Bush White House would be from both Bush’s steadfast assurances that he would reject the congressional attempts to set a timeline for troop withdrawals, as well as from the inquiries and questions surrounding his attorney general. Analysts wondered if Bush would have the political muscle to push forward any remaining policy agendas he hoped to accomplish before he left the Oval Office.
Speculation as to the first question appeared to be answered in early May after Bush vetoed a war spending bill approved in Congress that set a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Four days later a Newsweek magazine poll showed that Bush had his lowest approval rating ever at 28 percent, the lowest for any U.S. president since Jimmy Carter in 1979. According to the poll, more than 60 percent of respondents believed that Bush’s actions in regard to the Iraq war showed that he was “stubborn and unwilling to admit mistakes.”
Bush called for allowing more time for his “surge” strategy in Iraq to make headway, promising a possible reevaluation of the strategy in September when General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, was scheduled to submit a report on the occupation’s progress. But in the meantime Bush continued to lose support among leading Republican senators. In anticipation of an interim report on the surge strategy in mid-July, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the surge was not working and called for a change in policy. He was backed by Senator John Warner of Virginia. Senator George Voinovich of Ohio endorsed a call for withdrawing troops, and Pete Domenici of New Mexico said he could no longer support the administration’s Iraq strategy. By mid-July Democrats had secured the votes of seven Republican senators behind a proposal to restrict troop deployments. Among the Republicans were Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Bush was encouraged when the interim report was released on July 12, showing that progress had been made on 8 of 18 benchmarks. He argued that the proper role of Congress was to fund the troops and not to try to conduct a war, a statement that angered both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. As he had done before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush again linked the al-Qaeda terrorist attack of September 11 with Iraq, saying in a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, that “the same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September 11th.” Critics seized on the statement as a misrepresentation, noting that the group in Iraq calling itself al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist before September 11, 2001, and that in any event the group is only a minor player in the largely secular and Sunni-dominated insurgency in Iraq. The Democrat’s Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said the key political benchmarks set for the Iraqi government had not been met. On July 12, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 223 to 201, largely along partisan lines, for the United States to withdraw most of its combat troops from Iraq by April 1, 2008.
Bush also met with criticism in July when he commuted the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair. However, the move was warmly welcomed by many conservatives in the Republican Party who had advocated a pardon. Bush said he found Libby’s 30-month prison sentence “excessive” and said he would not rule out a pardon. Critics said the sentence was well within judicial guidelines for the offense and argued that the president’s actions could be construed as a further attempt at obstruction of justice. Bush had previously said that if any person in his administration was found responsible for leaking the identity of Plame Wilson, who was a covert agent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), that person would be “taken care of.” Testimony during Libby’s trial showed that he had leaked Plame’s identity to two reporters, though he was not the first or only administration official to do so.
|D6||Approaching the 2008 Presidential Elections|
In August 2007 under increasing calls for his resignation, Attorney General Gonzales informed Bush that he would be stepping down. Some critics suggested that his resignation, which took effect in September, was designed to stem any further political embarrassment for the president, and to ward off any attempts to investigate and impeach Gonzales. Bush accepted Gonzales’s resignation, praised his long-time friend, and said that Gonzales had been besmirched for political reasons.
That same month, Bush named Michael Mukasey as the nominee to fill the attorney general slot. A former federal district judge from New York, Mukasey was subject to intense scrutiny and debate, particularly about his views on torture and the use of the controversial interrogation practice known as waterboarding. Mukasey said that he abhorred the practice but would not flatly state that he considered it illegal and a form of torture. Many senators coalesced in opposition to his nomination, but Mukasey was confirmed by a vote of 53-40 in November. Bush would later veto legislation that specifically outlawed waterboarding.
In fall 2007, Bush’s approval ratings continued to slide. One study, the Reuters-Zogby poll, indicated that the president’s job approval rating had fallen to a new low of 24 percent. Bush told reporters at a news conference that he was “sprinting” toward the end of his presidency and that he had many things he wanted to accomplish. Meanwhile, through the end of the year there were increasing signs that the national economy was weakening and that one of the biggest fiscal challenges of his administration was welling up. For the next several months, the economy and the situation in Iraq were at the forefront of Bush’s concerns.
Bush and administration officials suggested that the U.S.-Iraq War had turned a page and that the additional 30,000 U.S. soldiers sent to Iraq as part of a “troop surge” in 2007 had led to increased stability and a shoring up of the ability of Iraqi forces to defend their own country. Administration critics continued to argue that Bush had no exit strategy for the war and had remained fixed on an ill-advised refusal to set a clear timetable for the return of American troops.
As the future of the war effort became one of the hotly debated issues in the 2008 presidential race, political observers wondered who would seek Bush’s support for their candidacy, and which candidate Bush would endorse. Some political observers wondered if Bush’s low approval ratings would lead any Republican candidates to steer away from the president.
Toward the end of 2007 there were clear signs that the economy was on shaky ground. Housing prices began to slump, foreclosures began to rise, and the financial uncertainty began to reverberate on Wall Street. The unease bled into 2008 as the stock market continued to dip, and economic forecasters began to debate whether or not the U.S. economy was headed into a full-blown recession. Against the backdrop of economic uncertainty and questions from critics about how long the United States intended to keep troops in Iraq, Bush embarked on a January trip to several countries in the Middle East. It marked his first visit as a president to Israel. During his trip, Bush reiterated his belief that more countries needed to work harder to help stabilize the situation in Iraq and throughout the region.
Later in January 2008 Bush touched on the economy and the persisting tensions in Iraq during his final State of the Union address. He said that “our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty” and that “jobs are now growing at a smaller pace” and that “the housing market has declined.” He said that to help the economy, he would push for tax rebates, combat any tax increases, and cut or eliminate 151 wasteful government programs. He predicted that there would be a federal budget surplus by 2012. Turning to the situation in Iraq, Bush said that the troop surge had proved successful.
Although Bush critics and Democratic presidential candidates continued to call for specific troop withdrawal timetables, Bush did not offer any in his State of the Union address. “Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders,” said Bush. Rebuffing critics who had suggested that Bush had not done enough to broker internal political settlements in Iraq, Bush also said that there was “progress” in terms of “political reconciliation” among warring factions. Bush repeatedly underscored his belief that the United States should remain committed to its effort in Iraq, in part because U.S. actions there sent a message to the rest of the world.
In February Bush signed a $170-billion economic stimulus package that promised to send tax rebate checks to many Americans and to provide tax breaks for certain businesses. That same month he said “no question, we are in a slowdown” in reference to the economy, and he said that he hoped his tax rebate package—which would, in part, send rebates of $600 or more to individual taxpayers in 2008—could stimulate national economic growth.
That same month, Bush embarked on a multi-country trip to Africa where he was warmly received by some supporters who expressed admiration for U.S. efforts to combat poverty and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). In fact, many independent health experts and even critics of President Bush credited Bush with having done more to help treat AIDS than any previous U.S. leader. Under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, about 1.4 million people suffering from AIDS in Africa received lifesaving drugs paid for by the U.S. fund, an increase from the 50,000 patients who were receiving drugs before the initiative began.
In early March, as the United States approached the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion and the U.S. death toll in Iraq neared 4,000, Senator John McCain won primaries that secured his bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency. The day after McCain’s key victories, Bush publicly endorsed the Arizona senator. McCain indicated that he would be glad to have the president campaign with him.
Some political observers suggested McCain needed to treat the president’s endorsement gingerly, because it might steer away moderate or independent voters who were opposed to Bush. Other observers suggested that Bush’s endorsement would help shore up some portion of the Republican Party’s conservative base for McCain’s election and that Bush would be very instrumental in helping to raise money for McCain’s candidacy.
With the clock winding down on the Bush presidency, political observers wondered how engaged Bush would be in any political campaigns, and to what extent he would use his remaining days in office to advance his policy agendas through a so-called “bully pulpit.” As throughout his presidency, the question of whether Bush might have a chance to nominate another justice to the U.S. Supreme Court also lingered in 2008.