Rush was born on November 23, 1946 in Albany, Georgia. After his mother and father separated when he was 7, Rush, his siblings and their mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. In 1963 after dropping out of high school, Rush joined the U.S. Army. While stationed in Chicago in 1966, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1968, he went AWOL from the Army and co-founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. He later received an honorable discharge from the Army. Rush, is also a member of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.
Throughout the 1960s, Rush was involved in the civil-rights movement and worked in civil-disobedience campaigns in the Southern United States. After co-founding the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers in 1968, he served as its defense minister. After witnessing fellow Black Panther Fred Hampton being killed in a police raid, Rush made statements saying "We needed to arm ourselves" and referring to the police as "pigs". Earlier that same year Rush stated the philosophy behind his membership in the Black Panthers saying, "Black people have been on the defensive for all these years. The trend now is not to wait to be attacked. We advocate offensive violence against the power structure." Despite the group's engagement in violence, Rush nonetheless worked on several non-violent projects that built support for the Black Panthers in African-American communities, such as coordinating a medical clinic which offered sickle-cell anemia testing on an unprecedented scale.
Rush's own apartment was raided in December 1969, where police discovered an unregistered pistol, rifle, shotgun, pistol ammunition, training manuals on explosives, booby traps, an assortment of communist literature, and a small amount of marijuana. Rush was imprisoned for six months in 1972 on a weapons charge, after carrying a pistol into a police station. In 1974 Rush left the Panthers, who were already in decline. "We started glorifying thuggery and drugs," he told People. Rush, a deeply religious born-again Christian, went on to say that "I don't repudiate any of my involvement in the Panther party—it was part of my maturing."
In 1973, Rush earned his Bachelor of General Studies with honors from Roosevelt University, and went on to earn his Master's degree in political science from University of Illinois at Chicago in 1974, and in theological studies from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1978.
Rush ran for a seat on the Chicago City Council in 1974, the first of several black militants who later sought political office, and was defeated. In the early 1980s however, Chicago's political life was transformed by the ascendancy of U.S. Representative Harold Washington, a noted orator and a charismatic figure who helped unite the city's African-American community. Washington was elected Mayor of Chicago in 1983, the first African-American to ever hold the office. That same year, Rush was elected alderman from the Second Ward on Chicago's South Side. He was a part of the pro-Harold Washington faction on the Council during the "Council Wars" that began in 1983 following Washington's election as Mayor in a racially-polarized contest.
In 1999, Rush ran for Mayor of Chicago, but lost in the Democratic primary to incumbent Richard M. Daley.
In 2013, Rush drew criticism for his own criticism of a plan set out by Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) who proposed 18,000 members of Chicago gang "Gangster Disciples" be arrested. Rush called Kirk's approach "headline grabbing," and referred to it as an "upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about." In response, a spokesman for Kirk referred to the decades of experience Kirk had with it.
In 2015, Rush endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Emanuel's run-off reelection campaign against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
After redistricting, Rush decided to run in the newly redrawn Illinois' 1st congressional district. He defeated incumbent U.S. Congressman Charles Hayes and six other candidates in the Democratic primary election in 1992. He won the general election with 83% of the vote.
In the 2000 Democratic primary for the Illinois' 1st congressional district, Rush was challenged by then-State Senator, Barack Obama. During the primary, Rush said, "Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it." Rush claimed that Obama was not sufficiently rooted in Chicago's black neighborhoods to represent constituents' concerns. For his part, Obama said Rush was a part of "a politics that is rooted in the past" and said he himself could build bridges with whites to get things done. But while Obama did well in his own Hyde Park base, he didn't get enough support from the surrounding black neighborhoods. Starting with just 10% name recognition, Obama went on to get only 30% of the vote, losing by a more than 2-to-1 margin despite winning among white voters; and Rush winning 61% overall. Rush went on to win the general election with 88% of the vote.
Rush has consistently won with high margins, winning above 80% in every election, with the exception being his first bid for re-election in 1994 and in 2012 after redistricting, with him still winning above 70% of the vote.
Bobby Rush has been considered a loyal Democrat during his tenure, in the 110th Congress, he voted with his party 97.8% of the time. Rush is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.Fiscal
Rush initiated the Chicago Partnership for the Earned Income Tax Credit, an ongoing program designed to help low-income working Chicago resident to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal income tax credits.Healthcare
Rush sponsored the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act passed in 1999. The law temporarily addressed the nursing shortage by providing non-immigrant visas for qualified foreign nurses in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago and was reauthorized in 2005.
Rush sponsored the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act, named for Melanie Blocker-Stokes, a Chicago native who jumped to her death from a 12th story window due to postpartum depression. The bill would provide for research on postpartum depression and psychosis and services for individuals suffering from these disorders.
The Children's Health Act, passed in 2000 incorporated Rush's Urban Asthma Reduction Act of 1999, amending the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant program and includes an integrated approach to asthma management.Energy
Rush was very outspoken against the GOP No More Solyndras Bill that would override a guarantee by the Energy Department. The Energy Department guaranteed a federal loan contract with the Solyndras company to help with research and development. Rush made the comment that the No More Solyndras Bill would be better named as the "No More Innovation Bill".Firearms
Rush introduced the "Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009" on January 6, 2009. The bill would require all owners of handguns and semiautomatic firearms to register for a federal firearms license. All sales of the subject firearms would have to go through a licensed dealer. It would also make it a criminal act not to register as an owner of a firearm.Darfur genocide
On July 15, 2004, Rush became the second sitting member of Congress, following Charles Rangel and preceding Joe Hoeffel, to be arrested for trespassing while protesting the genocide in Darfur and other violations of human rights in Sudan in front of the Sudanese Embassy.Armed forces
On February 13, 2007, Rush opposed President George W. Bush's proposed 20,000 serviceman troop surge in Iraq. He said the presence of the troops in Iraq is the greatest catalyst of violence in Iraq, and advocated a political resolution of the Iraq situation. Towards the close of his speech, Rush stated that the troop surge would only serve to make the Iraqi situation more volatile.Trayvon Martin
On March 28, 2012, Rush addressed the House while wearing a hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was shot in Florida, and spoke against racial profiling. As the House forbids its members from wearing hats, Rush was called out of order and escorted from the chamber.Committee on Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade
Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Subcommittee on Energy and Power (Ranking Member)
Together Rush and his wife Carolyn have had 6 children. One of their sons, Huey, named after Black Panther leader Huey Newton, was murdered in Chicago at the age of 29.
In 2008, Rush had a rare type of malignant tumor removed from his salivary gland. Rush is a member of Iota Phi Theta. According to a DNA analysis, he is descended mainly, from people of Ghana.
Though a very close friend to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Rush announced early on in the 2008 Democratic primaries that he would support Barack Obama. After Obama won the Presidency and vacated his Senate seat, Rush proposed that an African-American should be appointed to fill his seat. During a press conference, Rush said, "With the resignation of President-elect Obama, we now have no African-Americans in the United States Senate, and we believe it will be a national disgrace to not have this seat filled by one of the many capable African-American Illinois politicians." Rush said he did not support any one individual in particular for Senate, and was not interested in being appointed himself. On December 30, 2008, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced his appointment of Roland Burris, the former Attorney General of Illinois; Rush was present at the press conference and spoke in support of Burris.