On his first day in office, Bush moved to block federal aid to foreign groups that offered counseling or any other assistance to women in obtaining abortions. Days later, he announced his commitment to channeling more federal aid to faith-based service organizations. At the time, critics feared this would dissolve the traditional separation of church and state. Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to assist faith-based service organizations. In a televised address on August 9 2001, Bush would announce a national policy on stem cell research that authorized funding and research work, with federal restrictions over the use of human embryos.
Bush would also successfully push for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, enacted in 2003 with bi-partisan support but criticized by pro-choice groups as incursive on legalized abortion rights. Following a national furor over the recognition of same-sex marriages in San Francisco and Massachusetts, Bush announced his opposition to the recognition of same-sex marriage but supported allowing states to provide civil unions. He endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution which would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
On euthanasia, Bush remains staunchly opposed to the procedure, and supported Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to file suit against the voter-approved Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which was ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court in favor of the Oregon law. However, as governor of Texas, Bush signed a law which gave hospitals the authority to take terminally ill patients off of life support against the wishes of their spouse or parents, if the doctors deemed it medically appropriate. This became an issue in 2005, when the president signed controversial legislation forwarded and voted on by only three members of the United States Senate to initiate federal intervention in the court battle of Terri Schiavo, a comatose Florida woman who ultimately died.
In the State of the Union message in January 2003, Bush outlined a five-year strategy for global emergency AIDS relief, the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. Bush announced $15 billion for this effort, $3 billion a year for five years, but has requested less in annual budgets, though some members of Congress have added amendments to increase the requested amounts. The emergency relief effort is led by U.S. Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, former CEO of Eli Lilly and Company and Global AIDS Coordinator at the Department of State. $9 billion is allocated for new programs in AIDS relief for 15 countries most affected by HIV/AIDS. Another $5 billion will go to continuing support of AIDS relief in 100 countries where the U.S. already has bilateral programs established. An additional $1 billion will go to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Almost one quarter of the $15 billion has gone to religious groups that tend to emphasize abstinence over condom use. This budget represents more money contributed to fight AIDS globally than all other donor countries combined.
On August 1 2005, in response to a press question about the teaching of intelligent design versus evolution in public schools, Bush answered, "Both sides ought to be properly taught... so people can understand what the debate is about.... I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought." Bush did not elaborate his personal view on intelligent design.
Facing opposition in Congress, Bush held town hall-style public meetings across the nation to increase public support for his plan for a $1.3 trillion tax cut. Bush and his economic advisors argued that unspent government funds should be returned to taxpayers, and with reports of the threat of recession from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Bush argued that such a tax cut would stimulate the economy and create jobs. In the end, five Senate Democrats crossed party lines to join Republicans in approving Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut program - one of the largest in U.S. history. This was regarded as a major political victory given Bush's controversial election.
During his first term, Bush sought and obtained Congressional approval for three major tax cuts in 2001, 2002, and 2003. These cuts reduced taxes for almost every taxpayer, including reducing the lowest tax bracket, increasing the child tax credit, and eliminating the so-called "marriage penalty". Arguably, cuts were distributed disproportionately to higher income taxpayers through a decrease in marginal rates, but the change in marginal rates was greater for those of lower income, resulting in an income tax structure that was more progressive overall. However, complexity was increased with new categories of income taxed at different rates and new deductions and credits; at the same time, the number of individuals subject to the alternative minimum tax increased since the AMT remained unchanged.
Federal spending in constant dollars increased under Bush by 26% in his first four and one-half years. The tax cuts, a recession, and significant increases in military and domestic outlays all contributed to record budget deficits during the Bush administration. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate based on the Household Survey started at 4.7% in January 2001, peaked at 6.2% in June 2003, and retreated to 4.6% in May 2006. During Bush's presidency the New York Stock Exchange traded for a record 61 consecutive trading sessions at above 11,000.
Bush's imposition of a tariff on imported steel and on Canadian softwood lumber was controversial in light of his advocacy of free market policies in other areas, and attracted criticism both from his fellow conservatives and from nations affected. The steel tariff was later rescinded under pressure from the World Trade Organization. A negotiated settlement to the softwood lumber dispute was reached in April 2006, and the seven-year deal was finalized on July 1 2006.
In wake of the Columbia space shuttle disaster, on January 14 2004 Bush announced a major re-direction for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Known as the Vision for Space Exploration, it calls for the completion of the International Space Station by 2010 and the retirement of the space shuttle while developing a new spacecraft called the Crew Exploration Vehicle under the title Project Constellation. The CEV would be used to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2018.
Bush emphasized a "hands-off" approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in wake of rising violence and the failure of the Clinton administration's efforts to negotiate. Bush specifically disowned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his support of the violence and militant groups, but following urgings from European leaders, became the first American president to embrace a two-state solution envisaging an independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel. Bush sponsored dialogue between Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, but continued his administration's boycott of Arafat. Bush would also support Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan, and lauded the democratic elections held in the Palestinian National Authority following Arafat's death.
In President Bush's first eight months in office before 9/11, the administration's focus was largely on matters concerning the economy, relations with North Korea and their nuclear efforts, stem cell research, and the job of uniting a nation still bitter over the controversy that surrounded the 2000 presidential election. In that election, Bush actually lost the nationwide popular vote to Vice President Al Gore, yet narrowly defeated Gore in the Electoral College (by a narrow 271-267 margin). The five-week battle over the extremely close results in Florida ended when the U.S. Supreme Court abruptly terminated the state's month-long recounts on December 13, 2000. As a result, Bush won the state by a mere 537 votes, confirming the results of a November 27 recount that was certified by Florida's Secretary of State, Katharine Harris. This judicial resolution was disputed by the Gore campaign and many other Democrats. Various recounts done following the November 27 certification by Harris showed Bush's lead had narrowed to just 125 votes until the U.S. Supreme Court declared Bush the winner in their December 13th ruling.
Bush's first eight months were dominated by public disenchantment with his controversial and unusual election, something reflected in his rainy inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., where 10,000 protesters rallied against the president. Much talk circulated over how to deal with North Korea during Bush's first eight months as well how to handle the stem-cell research debate. On August 8, 2001, in a televised address to the nation from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush announced that the federal government would fund the research, yet only use human embryos which had already been destroyed. From the start of his first term, economic indicators were predicting a recession, thus Bush enacted massive tax cuts in July 2001 which changed the way federal taxes were paid and introduced changes to retirement and pension plans of senior citizens. The most public aspect of this act was that most Americans received a check from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as "reconciliation" for paying more tax than was necessary.
After the 2000 election, the U.S. Senate was split between 50 Democrat-held seats and 50 Republican-held seats while the Republicans still had an extremely slim majority in the House of Representatives. The Vice President, however, is given the constitutional authority in his role as presiding officer of the Senate to break 50-50 ties in the Senate, which meant the 50-50 split was actually a majority for Republicans since Republican Vice President Dick Cheney would cast the deciding vote. However, this situation changed on May 24, 2001, when liberal Republican Senator Jim Jeffords switched his party affiliation to become the only Independent senator in the U.S. Senate and announced that he would caucus with the Democrats. This gave the Democrats a narrow one-seat majority in the Senate until the November 2002 midterm elections in which Republicans easily won back Senate control.
On February 9, 2001, A US submarine, the USS Greenville, collided with a Japanese fishing ship and killed 9 people on board the boat. Bush soon apologized to the Japanese for the incident.
In April 2001, a U.S. military spy plane was forced to land at a Chinese military airport. The U.S.-China spy plane incident or Hainan Island incident was one of the first major international challenges that the new administration faced. President Bush also heavily promoted his No Child Left Behind education program, visiting schools across the country. His program was surprisingly endorsed by longtime liberal Democrat, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. During this time period Bush's approval ratings fluctuated from 48 percent to 63 percent.
Just eight months after Bush had taken office, came the sole day that defined his first term: September 11, 2001. On that day, terrorists hijacked airliners and flew them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, destroying both 110-story skyscrapers, and into The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. On the evening of the day of the attacks, the President declared a war on terror. Soon afterwards, President Bush's approval rating rose to 90%, the highest approval rating recorded for any president by the Gallup Organization, which began the poll during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Bush's first policy-related response to 9/11 came on October 8 2001, when, during a speech to Congress, he announced the creation of the Office of Homeland Security and appointed Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, as its director. This was the first executive-level office to be created since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan appointed a head to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The stated goal of the Homeland Security office was "to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy" and "to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks." The department's most public accomplishment came on March 12 2002 with the unveiling of the Homeland Security Advisory System, a system of color-coded alerts designed to warn the populace of the assessed level of threat, based on the evaluation of credible intelligence reports, currently posed by terrorists. The "terror alert" level was and continues to be posted on a daily basis.
Bush's military response to the terrorist attacks began in October 2001, with the deployment of 11,000 troops to invade Afghanistan. The invasion was supported by many countries, but especially by troops from The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany and also by The Afghan Northern Alliance, a large group of allied Afghan tribes that had been waging a civil war against the Taliban for many years. The mission was supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as well. The stated goal of the invasion was to overthrow the Taliban government, an Islamic fundamentalist regime thought to be harboring Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that was blamed (and which later claimed responsibility) for the 9/11 attacks.
The Taliban described Bin Laden as their guest and refused to place him in United States custody. Some contemplators of the issue currently believe, however, that Bin Laden was hiding out of the reach of the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan. The Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan and a US-approved government was installed, but the majority of Al-Qaeda members, including Osama Bin Laden, escaped and some are still active to this day. Bush has been criticized for sending an insufficient number of troops into Afghanistan to successfully achieve all of the mission's objectives, although during this time the Bush administration was successful in freezing Al-Qaeda funds and shutting down many training camps for new members. The US has also captured many Al-Qaeda leaders and members in the ensuing months, but Osama Bin Laden remains at large.
In 2002, Bush began a cross-country barnstorming effort on behalf of the hand-picked Republican Senatorial candidates from states considered potential toss-ups, such as New Hampshire, Missouri, Georgia, Minnesota and South Dakota. Defying the conventional wisdom that the party in power loses seats in off-year elections, Bush (according to conservative pundit John Podhoretz) helped to revert Senate control back to the Republicans, albeit only by a two seat majority, which would grow by more two years later. Of the states mentioned above, only South Dakota retained its incumbent Democrat Senator Tim Johnson, but only by some five-hundred or so hotly contested votes in an election that Republicans claimed was rigged. Bush helped install such reliable conservative stalwarts as Norm Coleman, Saxby Chambliss, John E. Sununu and Jim Talent, defeating, respectively, former Vice-President Walter Mondale, incumbent Max Cleland, Governor Jeanne Shaheen and incumbent Jean Carnahan.
Thursday, Aug. 15 "More and more people understand that being a patriot is more than just putting your hand over your heart and saying the Pledge of Allegiance to a nation under God. They're saying... more and more people understand that serving something greater than yourself in life is a part of being a complete American," said the President in his remarks.
In 2002, during his State of the Union Address, Bush set forth what has come to be known as the Bush Doctrine. Although the doctrine was technically used for justifying the invasion of Afghanistan, it was not clearly stated until the address. Simply put, because of the "new world" Americans were now living in and the reality of massive terrorist attacks orchestrated by organizations that exist in multiple places all over the world, the United States no longer had the luxury of thinking of the world as exclusively made up of sovereign nations. Due to this, the United States would now implement a policy of using a preemptive strike against any nation known to harbor or aid any terrorist organization. President Bush also outlined what he called the Axis of Evil, consisting of three nations that he stated posed a threat to world peace, namely Iraq, North Korea and Iran.
The Bush administration began announcing that officials had supposedly discovered weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. The description of these weapons ranged from chemical to nuclear weapons. The administration supported their claim with intelligence documents as well as aerial photographs. Saddam Hussein, then-President of Iraq, was described as being a threat to the world and his own people as long as he remained in power - especially if his regime had access to WMDs. Changes in the political arena, especially since Saddam had been supplied with some conventional weapons and other assistance during the Iran–Iraq War by the United States in the 1980s, were largely due to an increasingly hardline stance that Saddam had imposed on Iraq and his subjects, and his arbitrary invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The armed forces of the United States and several other countries, dubbed the "Coalition of the Willing", invaded Iraq in 2003. The operation was known in the United States as Operation Iraqi Freedom. Though the American government, with encouragement from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, had attempted to gain a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to remove Hussein from power, they were unsuccessful. Proponents of the use of force cited current and previous violations of resolutions and sanctions by the United Nations (UN) and the UN Security Council as substantive enough to justify the military intervention in Iraq by Coalition forces. Bush drew criticism for preemptively attacking a country that had never attacked the United States or threatened to, as well as for disregarding the opinion of the UN and diverting attention away from capturing Osama Bin Laden and others responsible for the 9/11 attacks. When asked during a press conference in March 2002 about what he was doing to capture Osama Bin Laden, the president remarked, "you know, I just don't spend that much time on him"
On May 2, from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, in front of a huge banner that read "Mission Accomplished", Bush declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." This move drew criticism of being premature, as many Coalition forces were still fighting in Iraq. Others counter that the banner, representing a completed military operation, was supposed to be removed before the speech and was not the work of the president.
The group charged with finding the WMDs in post-Hussein was the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) made up of 1,200 members of British and American experts. In October 3 they released their Interim report, which stated that they had found numerous "WMD related materials" but no actual WMDs.
On November 27 the president made a surprise visit to Iraq to share Thanksgiving dinner with the troops in an effort to raise low morale. He spent two hours eating with troops in Baghdad International Airport before returning to the US. The visit was kept top secret, and even the troops had no idea he was coming. Some saw it as a patriotic moment of history; others saw this as a potentially dangerous political stunt. Accompanied by U.S. National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the trip went over without incident.
A few weeks later on December 13, Saddam Hussein, the now deposed President of Iraq, was found and captured by US forces. Pictures of the now bearded former leader, looking severely dazed, being poked and prodded by medical examiners circulated in newspapers and on the Internet around the world. This was a definite boost to the Bush presidency and most Americans were glad that Hussein had been found and captured.
On January 23 2004, the head of the ISG, David Kay, resigned his position, stating that he believed WMDs would not be found in Iraq. "I don't think they existed," commented Dr. Kay. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production programme in the '90s." Kay criticised the intelligence that led to the war in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying, "we were all wrong and that is most disturbing". Kay's successor, named by CIA director George Tenet, is the former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer. In May, Bush's approval rating had fallen to 46%. Then on September 30, the ISG released the Duelfer Report, its final report, confirming David Kay's assertion that there were no WMDs in Iraq. Some said that the WMDs were a lie to get access to oil reserves in Iraq and that Bush had committed young Americans lives for financial gain. Furthermore, many people believe Bush continued to lie, even after the invasion, with the May 29th, 2003 statement:
"We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." – White HouseIt is now known that the Bush administration had full knowledge from their team of independent experts on May 27th, 2003, that these labs were used for nothing more than filling weather balloons with hydrogen. Others felt that the President had had adequate reason to attack and that he truly believed there were WMDs there and thus was acting in the best interest of the United States. In January 2005 the ISG announced the conclusion of its search, that they had failed to find WMDs.
During the three presidential debates, reactions to Bush's performance were mixed. He was said to have scowled during the first debate several times, which he later made light of. Most media sources agree that he lost the first two debates. But by the third debate, which media sources saw as a tie, Bush had noticeably straightened up and appeared as firm and confident as he had during past performances. Highly speculative claims that the President might have worn a wire or an earpiece of some kind during the last debate were suggested, based on pictures of Bush's back, taken during the debate, which show an apparent "bulge" clearly visible running down his back. No investigation was ever conducted of the claims and most agree that if the president had been coached through an electronic device his performances would probably have been better. Some technical problems with this scenario have been brought up as well.
On the eve of Election Day, most polls and mass media outlets predicted that John Kerry would win the presidency. Exit polls also reflected this projection. However, as polling centers closed and remaining votes were being counted, it became clear that Bush and Kerry were winning the same states that were won by their parties in 2000. Bush managed to win the swing states of Florida (by 400,000 as opposed to the 537 margin of 2000) and Ohio (by 119,000). He won his re-election bid by 34 electoral votes (the end total being: Bush-286, Kerry-252). The next afternoon John Kerry conceded his candidacy. During a speech that same day, Bush outlined what he hoped to do in his second term and stated that he interpreted the results of the election as a "mandate" from the American people. The passion for this election and its campaign resulted in a record voter turnout and something of a resurgence in the common American's interest in politics. It was often said that for Bush to have a successful second term, he must bridge the growing gap between Americans and win over his opponent's supporters. However, with a majority in both houses of Congress and the prospect of appointing three new Supreme Court Justices, getting his policies passed swiftly will not be likely to require bi-partisan cooperation.
As part of the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, Congress had planned to pass a major intelligence reform bill in the summer of 2004. However, the bill was slowed down mainly by disagreements between the Republicans in Congress. Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter from California didn't like the bill because it supposedly moved too much control over intelligence operations and budgets from the military to a new national intelligence director. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin wanted the bill changed to stop states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. The Bush administration, however, continues to push for the intelligence reform bill as part of its "war on terror" initiative. At the end of the congressional year, Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert pulled the bill from the floor on November 20, after running into opposition. The bill could have passed solely with Democratic votes, but the Republican supporters of the bill did not want to give Democrats the victory of such an important bill.
On December 10 an agreement was finally reached on the language of the bill and it was approved by the senate in an 89-2 vote. The bill forced intelligence and law enforcement agencies to share information. It calls for a minimum federal standard for state drivers licenses and for Homeland Security to set a standard for identification used to board airplanes. The bill created a new federal counter-terrorism center and a new, controversial, United States Director of National Intelligence, who will have strong budgetary control. However, the complexity of the bill's language could lead to confusion over the director's exact powers. Bush, who passed the bill into law on December 17, was credited with pressuring Congress to pass the bill before the end of the year. Some considered it to be the largest legislation overhaul in 50 years.
The Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcasters and journalists, "to encourage the producers to periodically address" No Child Left Behind. Williams also persuaded Steve Harvey to have Paige appear twice on his syndicated radio show. The department already paid Ketchum $700,000 (USD) to rate journalists on how positively or negatively they report on No Child Left Behind. It is questionable whether or not this agreement was legal since congress prohibited the use of propaganda. The Education Department stated that the contract was "permissible use of taxpayer funds under legal government contracting procedures" and it was an attempt to educate poor and minority communities about the benefits of the law. Williams claims that he felt the contract was a way for him to promote something that he truly believed in, although he regretted his decision to participate.
He is one of the leading African-American conservative commentators in the United States and a former aide to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It has been suggested that the department chose Armstrong, rather than another conservative commentator, (such as Rush Limbaugh), because of his minority-based audiences. Since the story has been uncovered Williams's newspaper syndicate, Tribune Media Services, has canceled his column and one television network has dropped his program pending an investigation. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has already twice ruled that the Bush administration's use of prepackaged videos to promote Medicare and drug policy is "covert propaganda" because their videos do not state that they are creations funded by the United States government.
The president was beginning his post-Christmas vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch when he was informed of the devastating tsunami. The first estimates of casualties by the event were 22,000 people killed, of whom, six were Americans. Bush said the earthquake was a "terrible loss of life and suffering". A $15 million aid package was put together to help the Asian countries suffering from the devastation. Immediately after, the US and other Western nations were criticised first by the UN and then by The New York Times for not giving enough and being "stingy". They also claimed that this was half as much as Republicans were planning to spend on inauguration festivities; however, that money would all come from private donors. The New York Times also criticised Bush for waiting three days to express his condolences to the countries hit by the disaster.
Further criticism pointed to undelivered relief funds for the 2003 Earthquake in Iran and also that foreign aid money makes up less than one quarter of one percent of the United States budget. As further details of the devastation were revealed, Bush stepped up US relief efforts to $35 million in response and sent his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to Asia to assess the damage. After Japan announced they were pledging US$500 million, the largest amount of any country so far and the death count was firmly stated as around 150,000, Bush again increased the United States aid package to $350 million, the second largest contribution. On February 9, as relief efforts continued to unfold, Bush asked Congress for a total of $950 million.
It is notable that these financial pledges do not include costs associated with use of U.S. military personnel in the relief effort. As of January 12, 15,000 troops had been committed, including 25 ships and nearly 100 aircraft. Duties included logistical support, delivery of emergency supplies, and search and rescue.
Private relief funding was also substantial. On January 3 2005, the president named his two immediate predecessors, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, to head up a major campaign to gather private funding to assist the tsunami victims. By January 11, only eight days later, $360 million had already been raised; the total was expected to eventually reach $700 million.
Although many bills passed during Bush's first term, there are several initiatives that he not only spearheaded, but tend to shape his first term whilst representing his general ideology. Here is a list of these bills and the dates they were passed: