Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, to Prescott Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Bush postponed his university studies, enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday, and became the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy at the time. He served until the end of the war, then attended Yale University. Graduating in 1948, he moved his family to West Texas and entered the oil business, becoming a millionaire by the age of 40. Bush became involved in politics soon after founding his own oil company, and he won election to the House of Representatives in 1966. In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Bush as Ambassador to the United Nations, and in 1973, Bush became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. The following year, President Gerald Ford appointed Bush as the ambassador to the People's Republic of China, and later reassigned Bush to the position of Director of Central Intelligence. Bush ran for president in 1980 but was defeated in the Republican primary by Ronald Reagan. Reagan chose Bush as his running mate, and Bush became vice president after the Reagan–Bush ticket won the 1980 election. During his eight-year tenure as vice president, Bush headed administration task forces on deregulation and fighting the "War on Drugs".
In 1988, Bush ran a successful campaign to succeed Reagan as President, defeating Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. Foreign policy drove the Bush presidency: military operations were conducted in Panama and the Persian Gulf; the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union dissolved two years later. Though the agreement was not ratified until after he left office, Bush also signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created a trade bloc consisting of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Domestically, Bush reneged on a 1988 campaign promise and, after a struggle with Congress, signed an increase in taxes that Congress had passed. In the wake of a weak recovery from an economic recession, along with continuing budget deficits and the diminution of foreign politics as a major issue in a post-Cold War political climate, he lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
Bush left office in 1993. His presidential library was dedicated in 1997, and he has been active—often alongside Bill Clinton—in various humanitarian activities. With George W. Bush's victory in the 2000 presidential election, Bush and his son became the second father-son combination to serve as president, following John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Another member of the Bush family, Bush's second son Jeb Bush, served as the 43rd Governor of Florida (1999–2007) and sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
George Herbert Walker Bush was born at 173 Adams Street in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924, to Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy (Walker) Bush. The Bush family moved from Milton to Greenwich, Connecticut, shortly after his birth. Growing up, his nickname was "Poppy".
Bush began his formal education at the Greenwich Country Day School in Greenwich. Beginning in 1938, he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he held a number of leadership positions including president of the senior class, secretary of the student council, president of the community fund-raising group, a member of the editorial board of the school newspaper, and captain of both the varsity baseball and soccer teams.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Bush decided to join the US. Navy, so after graduating from Phillips Academy in 1942, he became a naval aviator at the age of 18. After completing the 10-month course, he was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi on June 9, 1943, just three days before his 19th birthday, which made him the youngest naval aviator to that date.
He was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as the photographic officer in September 1943. The following year, his squadron was based on USS San Jacinto as a member of Air Group 51, where his lanky physique earned him the nickname "Skin". During this time, the task force was victorious in one of the largest air battles of World War II: the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
After Bush's promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade) on August 1, 1944, San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. Bush piloted one of four Grumman TBM Avenger aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima. His crew for the mission, which occurred on September 2, 1944, included Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White. During their attack, the Avengers encountered intense anti-aircraft fire; Bush's aircraft was hit by flak and his engine caught on fire. Despite his plane being on fire, Bush completed his attack and released bombs over his target, scoring several damaging hits. With his engine ablaze, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft; the other man's parachute did not open. Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft, while several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine USS Finback. For the next month he remained on Finback, and participated in the rescue of other pilots. Several of those shot down during the attack were executed, their livers eaten by their captors.
Bush subsequently returned to San Jacinto in November 1944 and participated in operations in the Philippines until his squadron was replaced and sent home to the United States. Through 1944, he flew 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to San Jacinto.
Because of his valuable combat experience, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk Navy Base and put in a training wing for new torpedo pilots. He was later assigned as a naval aviator in a new torpedo squadron, VT-153, based at Naval Air Station Grosse Ile, Michigan. Upon the Japanese surrender in 1945, Bush was honorably discharged in September of that year.
George Bush married Barbara Pierce on January 6, 1945, only weeks after his return from the Pacific. The couple's first residence was a small rented apartment in Trenton, Michigan, near Bush's Navy assignment at NAS Grosse Ile. Their marriage produced six children: George Walker Bush (born 1946), Pauline Robinson "Robin" Bush (1949–1953, died of leukemia), John Ellis "Jeb" Bush (born 1953), Neil Mallon Pierce Bush (born 1955), Marvin Pierce Bush (born 1956), and Dorothy Bush Koch (born 1959).
Bush had been accepted to Yale University prior to his enlistment in the military and took up the offer after his discharge and marriage. While at Yale, he was enrolled in an accelerated program that allowed him to graduate in two and a half years, rather than four. He was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and was elected its president. He also captained the Yale baseball team, and as a left-handed first baseman, played in the first two College World Series. As the team captain, Bush met Babe Ruth before a game during his senior year. He was also, like his father, a member of the Yale cheerleading squad. Late in his junior year he was, like his father Prescott Bush (1917), initiated into the Skull and Bones secret society. He graduated as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics.
After graduating from Yale, Bush moved his young family to West Texas. His father's business connections proved useful as he ventured into the oil business, starting as an oil field equipment salesman for Dresser Industries, a subsidiary of Brown Brothers Harriman (where Prescott Bush had served on the board of directors for 22 years). While working for Dresser, Bush lived in various places with his family: Odessa, Texas; Ventura, Bakersfield and Compton, California; and Midland, Texas. (According to eldest son George W. Bush, then age two, the family lived in one of the few duplexes in Odessa with an indoor bathroom, which they "shared with a couple of hookers".) Bush started the Bush-Overbey Oil Development company in 1951 and in 1953 co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation, an oil company that drilled in the Permian Basin in Texas. In 1954 he was named president of the Zapata Offshore Company, a subsidiary which specialized in offshore drilling.
In 1959, shortly after the subsidiary became independent, Bush moved the company and his family from Midland to Houston. He continued serving as president of the company until 1964, and later chairman until 1966, but his ambitions turned political. By that time, Bush had become a millionaire. According to Time.com, Bush had a net worth of $20 million in 2015.
Bush served as Chairman of the Republican Party for Harris County, Texas in 1964, but wanted to be more involved in policy making, so he set his sights high: he aimed for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas. After winning the Republican primary, Bush faced his opponent, incumbent Democrat Ralph W. Yarborough, who attacked Bush as a right-wing extremist. Bush was a strong supporter of Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, who headed the Republican ticket as the presidential candidate. Like Goldwater, Bush strongly opposed civil rights legislation in the name of states rights. Yarborough, a leading Texas liberal, supported the civil rights legislation and was reelected by 56% - 44%. The Republican candidate for governor, Jack Crichton of Dallas, who often campaigned alongside Bush before the election, lost by a much wider margin to Governor John B. Connally Jr. Bush and the Harris County Republicans played a role in the development of the new Republican Party of the late 20th century. First, Bush worked to absorb the John Birch Society members, who were trying to take over the Republican Party. Second, during and after the Civil Rights Movement, Democrats in the South who were committed to segregation left their party, and although the "country club Republicans" had differing ideological beliefs, they found common ground in hoping to expel the Democrats from power.
Bush was elected in 1966 to a House of Representatives seat from the 7th District of Texas, defeating with 57 percent of the ballots cast the Democrat Frank Briscoe, the district attorney of Harris County known for his law and order credentials and a cousin of later Governor Dolph Briscoe. Bush was the first Republican to represent Houston in the U.S. House. Bush's representative district included Tanglewood, the Houston neighborhood that was his residence; his family had moved into Tanglewood in the 1960s. His voting record in the House was generally conservative: Bush voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968, although it was generally unpopular in his district. He supported the Nixon administration's Vietnam policies, but broke with Republicans on the issue of birth control, which he supported. Despite being a first-term congressman, Bush was appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he voted to abolish the military draft. He was elected to a second term in 1968.
In 1970 Nixon convinced Bush to relinquish his House seat to run for the Senate against Ralph Yarborough, a fierce Nixon critic. In the Republican primary, Bush easily defeated conservative Robert J. Morris, by a margin of 87.6% to 12.4%. Nixon came to Texas to campaign in Longview for Bush and gubernatorial candidate Paul Eggers, a Dallas lawyer who was a close friend of U.S. Senator John G. Tower. Former Congressman Lloyd Bentsen, a more moderate Democrat and native of Mission in south Texas, defeated Yarborough in the Democratic primary. Yarborough endorsed Bentsen, who defeated Bush, 53.4 to 46.6%. As Bush's political career waned, he moved out of Houston and sold his first Tanglewood house, but for periods of time continued to reside in Tanglewood.
Following his 1970 loss, Bush was well known as a prominent Republican businessman from the "Sun Belt", a group of states in the Southern part of the country. Nixon noticed and appreciated the sacrifice Bush had made of his Congressional position, so he appointed him Ambassador to the United Nations. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and served for two years, beginning in 1971.
Amidst the Watergate scandal, Nixon asked Bush to become chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973. Bush accepted, and held this position when the popularity of both Nixon and the Republican Party plummeted. He defended Nixon steadfastly, but later as Nixon's complicity became clear, Bush focused more on defending the Republican Party, while still maintaining loyalty to Nixon. As chairman, Bush formally requested that Nixon eventually resign for the good of the Republican party. Nixon did this on August 9, 1974; Bush noted in his diary that "There was an aura of sadness, like somebody died.... The [resignation] speech was vintage Nixon—a kick or two at the press—enormous strains. One couldn't help but look at the family and the whole thing and think of his accomplishments and then think of the shame.... [President Gerald Ford's swearing-in offered] indeed a new spirit, a new lift."
Gerald Ford, Nixon's successor, appointed Bush to be Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China. Since the United States at the time maintained official relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan and not the People's Republic of China, the Liaison Office did not have the official status of an embassy and Bush did not formally hold the position of "ambassador", though he unofficially acted as one. The 14 months that he spent in China were largely seen as beneficial for U.S.-China relations.
After Ford's accession to the presidency, Bush was under serious consideration for being nominated as Vice President. Ford eventually narrowed his list to Nelson Rockefeller and Bush. White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld reportedly preferred Rockefeller over Bush. Rockefeller was finally named and confirmed.
Bush was again passed over for the vice presidency by Ford when the president chose Bush's future presidential rival, Senator Bob Dole, to replace Rockefeller on the 1976 presidential ticket.
In 1976 Ford brought Bush back to Washington to become Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), replacing William Colby. He served in this role for 357 days, from January 30, 1976, to January 20, 1977. The CIA had been rocked by a series of revelations, including those based on investigations by the Church Committee regarding illegal and unauthorized activities by the CIA, and Bush was credited with helping to restore the agency's morale. In his capacity as DCI, Bush gave national security briefings to Jimmy Carter both as a Presidential candidate and as President-elect, and discussed the possibility of remaining in that position in a Carter administration, but did not do so. He was succeeded by Deputy Director of Central Intelligence E. Henry Knoche, who served as acting Director of Central Intelligence until Stansfield Turner was confirmed.
After a Democratic administration took power in 1977, Bush became chairman on the Executive Committee of the First International Bank in Houston. He later spent a year as a part-time professor of Administrative Science at Rice University's Jones School of Business beginning in 1978, the year it opened; Bush said of his time there, "I loved my brief time in the world of academia." Between 1977 and 1979, he was a director of the Council on Foreign Relations foreign policy organization.
Bush had decided in the late 1970s that he was going to run for president in 1980; in 1979, he attended 850 political events and traveled more than 250,000 miles (400,000 km) to campaign for the nation's highest office. In the contest for the Republican Party nomination, Bush stressed his wide range of government experience, while competing against rivals Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, Congressman John Anderson of Illinois (who would later run as an independent), Congressman Phil Crane, also of Illinois, former Governor John Connally of Texas, former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen, and the front-runner Ronald Reagan, former actor, and Governor of California.
In the primary election, Bush focused almost entirely on the Iowa caucuses, while Reagan ran a more traditional campaign. Bush represented the centrist wing in the GOP, whereas Reagan represented conservatives. Bush famously labeled Reagan's supply side-influenced plans for massive tax cuts "voodoo economics". His strategy proved useful, to some degree, as he won in Iowa with 31.5% to Reagan's 29.4%. After the win, Bush stated that his campaign was full of momentum, or "Big Mo". As a result of the loss, Reagan replaced his campaign manager, reorganized his staff, and concentrated on the New Hampshire primary. The two men agreed to a debate in the state, organized by the Nashua Telegraph, but paid for by the Reagan campaign. Reagan invited the other four candidates as well, but Bush refused to debate them, and eventually they left. The debate proved to be a pivotal moment in the campaign; when the moderator, John Breen, ordered Reagan's microphone turned off, his angry response, "I am paying for this microphone," struck a chord with the public. Bush ended up losing New Hampshire's primary with 23% to Reagan's 50%. Bush lost most of the remaining primaries as well, and formally dropped out of the race in May of that year.
With his political future seeming dismal, Bush sold his house in Houston and bought his grandfather's estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, known as "Walker's Point". At the Republican Convention, Reagan selected Bush as his Vice Presidential nominee, placing him on the winning Republican presidential ticket of 1980.
As Vice President, Bush generally took on a low profile while recognizing the constitutional limits of the office; he avoided decision-making or criticizing Reagan in any way. As had become customary, he and his wife moved into the Vice President's residence at Number One Observatory Circle, about two miles from the White House. After selling the house in Tanglewood, the Bushes declared a room in The Houstonian Hotel in Houston as their official voting address. The Bushes attended a large number of public and ceremonial events in their positions, including many state funerals, which became a common joke for comedians. Mrs. Bush found the funerals largely beneficial, saying, "George met with many current or future heads of state at the funerals he attended, enabling him to forge personal relationships that were important to President Reagan." As the President of the Senate, Bush stayed in contact with members of Congress, and kept the president informed on occurrences on Capitol Hill.
On March 30, 1981, early into the administration, Reagan was shot and seriously wounded by John Hinckley, Jr. in Washington, D.C. Bush, second in command by the presidential line of succession, was in Fort Worth, Texas, and flew back to Washington immediately. Reagan's cabinet convened in the White House Situation Room, where they discussed various issues, including the availability of the Nuclear Football. When Bush's plane landed, his aides advised him to proceed directly to the White House by helicopter, as an image of the government still functioning despite the attack. Bush rejected the idea, responding, "Only the President lands on the South Lawn." This made a positive impression on Reagan, who recovered and returned to work within two weeks. From then on, the two men would have regular Thursday lunches in the Oval Office.
In December 1983 Bush flew to El Salvador and warned that country's military leaders to end their death squads and hold fully free elections or face the loss of U.S. aid. Bush's aides feared for his safety and thought about calling the meeting off when they discovered apparent blood stains on the floor of the presidential palace of Álvaro Magaña. Bush was never told of the aides' concerns and a tense meeting was held in which some of Magaña's personnel brandished semiautomatic weapons and refused requests to take them outside.
Bush was assigned by Reagan to chair two special task forces, on deregulation and international drug smuggling. The deregulation task force reviewed hundreds of rules, making specific recommendations on which ones to amend or revise, in order to curb the size of the federal government. The drug smuggling task force coordinated federal efforts to reduce the quantity of drugs entering the United States. Both were popular issues with conservatives, and Bush, largely a moderate, began courting them through his work.
Reagan and Bush ran for reelection in 1984. The Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, made history by choosing a woman as his running mate, New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro. She and Bush squared off in a single televised Vice Presidential debate. Serving as a contrast to the Ivy-League educated Bush, Ferraro represented a "blue-collar" district in Queens, New York; this, coupled with her popularity among female journalists, left Bush at a disadvantage. Regardless, the Reagan-Bush ticket won in a landslide against the Mondale-Ferraro ticket. Early into his second term as Vice President, Bush and his aides were planning a run for the presidency in 1988. By the end of 1985, a committee had been established and over two million dollars raised for Bush.
In mid-March 1985, Bush attended the funeral of Konstantin Chernenko, telling reporters in Geneva, Switzerland that he had "brought a message with me to Moscow from President Reagan. It is a message of peace." During this trip, Bush pledged the US would planned military pullout from Grenada during a rally, met with President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega for discussions on the four-point plan for peace of the Sandinista government in Brazil, and stated America would be committed in combatting the Sandinista regime within Nicaragua during an address in Honduras.
Bush became the first Vice President to serve as Acting President when, on July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove polyps from his colon, making Bush acting president for approximately eight hours.
The Reagan administration was shaken by a scandal in 1986, when it was revealed that administration officials had secretly arranged weapon sales to Iran, and had used the proceeds to fund the anticommunist Contras in Nicaragua, a direct violation of the law. When the Iran-Contra Affair, as it became known, broke to the media, Bush, like Reagan, stated that he had been "out of the loop" and unaware of the diversion of funds, although this was later questioned. His diaries from that time stated "I'm one of the few people that know fully the details" and as a result of six pardons by Bush, the independent counsel's final report on the Iran-Contra Affair pointedly noted: "The criminal investigation of Bush was regrettably incomplete."
Bush's campaign director Roger Ailes and others were concerned that Bush was seen as a "wimp", an image put to rest by his evident fury in an interview with Dan Rather.
As Vice President, Bush officially opened the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis.
In 1988 the guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes accidentally shot down Iran Air Flight 655 killing 290 passengers. Bush said that he would "never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don't care what the facts are."
In the January 26, 1987, issue of Time magazine, in an article entitled "Where Is the Real George Bush?" journalist Robert Ajemian reported that a friend of Bush's had urged him to spend several days at Camp David thinking through his plans for his prospective presidency, to which Bush is said to have responded in exasperation, "Oh, the vision thing." This oft-cited quote became a shorthand for the charge that Bush failed to contemplate or articulate important policy positions in a compelling and coherent manner. The phrase has since become a metonym for any politician's failure to incorporate a greater vision in a campaign, and has often been applied in the media to other politicians or public figures.
Bush had been planning a presidential run since as early as 1985, and entered the Republican primary for President of the United States in October 1987. His challengers for the Republican presidential nomination included U.S. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, U.S. Representative Jack Kemp of New York, former Governor Pete DuPont of Delaware, and conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson.
Though considered the early frontrunner for the nomination, Bush came in third in the Iowa caucus, behind winner Dole and runner-up Robertson. Much as Reagan did in 1980, Bush reorganized his staff and concentrated on the New Hampshire primary. With Dole ahead in New Hampshire, Bush ran television commercials portraying the senator as a tax raiser; he rebounded to win the state's primary. Following the primary, Bush and Dole had a joint media appearance, when the interviewer asked Dole if he had anything to say to Bush, Dole said, in response to the ads, "yeah, stop lying about my record" in an angry tone. This is thought to have hurt Dole's campaign to Bush's benefit. Bush continued seeing victory, winning many Southern primaries as well. Once the multiple-state primaries such as Super Tuesday began, Bush's organizational strength and fundraising lead were impossible for the other candidates to match, and the nomination was his.
Leading up to the 1988 Republican National Convention, there was much speculation as to Bush's choice of running mate. Bush chose little-known U.S. Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, favored by conservatives. Despite Reagan's popularity, Bush trailed Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, then Governor of Massachusetts, in most polls.
Bush, occasionally criticized for his lack of eloquence when compared to Reagan, delivered a well-received speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Known as the "thousand points of light" speech, it described Bush's vision of America: he endorsed the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer in schools, capital punishment, gun rights, and opposed abortion. The speech at the convention included Bush's famous pledge: "Read my lips: no new taxes."
The general election campaign between the two men was described in 2008 as one of the dirtiest in modern times. Bush blamed Dukakis for polluting the Boston Harbor as the Massachusetts governor. Bush also pointed out that Dukakis was opposed to a law that would require all students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, a topic well covered in Bush's nomination acceptance speech.
Dukakis's unconditional opposition to capital punishment led to a pointed question being asked during the presidential debates. Moderator Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis if Dukakis would hypothetically support the death penalty if his wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered. Dukakis's response of no, as well as a provocative ad about convicted felon Willie Horton, contributed toward Bush's characterization of Dukakis as "soft on crime".
Bush defeated Dukakis and his running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, in the Electoral College, by 426 to 111 (Bentsen received one vote from a faithless elector). In the nationwide popular vote, Bush took 53.4% of the ballots cast while Dukakis received 45.6%. Bush became the first serving Vice President to be elected President since Martin Van Buren in 1836 as well as the first person to succeed someone from his own party to the Presidency via election to the office in his own right since Herbert Hoover in 1929.
Bush was inaugurated on January 20, 1989, succeeding Ronald Reagan. He entered office at a period of change in the world; the fall of the Berlin Wall came early in his presidency, the collapse of Soviet Union came in 1991. He ordered military operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf, and, at one point, was recorded as having a record-high approval rating of 89%.
In his Inaugural Address, Bush said:
I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn; for in man's heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. A new breeze is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands ready to push on. There is new ground to be broken, and new action to be taken.
Early in his term, Bush faced the problem of what to do with leftover deficits spawned by the Reagan years. At $220 billion in 1990, the deficit had grown to three times its size since 1980. Bush was dedicated to curbing the deficit, believing that America could not continue to be a leader in the world without doing so. He began an effort to persuade the Democratic controlled Congress to act on the budget; with Republicans believing that the best way was to cut government spending, and Democrats convinced that the only way would be to raise taxes, Bush faced problems when it came to consensus building.
In the wake of a struggle with Congress, Bush was forced by the Democratic majority to raise tax revenues; as a result, many Republicans felt betrayed because Bush had promised "no new taxes" in his 1988 campaign. Perceiving a means of revenge, Republican congressmen defeated Bush's proposal which would enact spending cuts and tax increases that would reduce the deficit by $500 billion over five years. Scrambling, Bush accepted the Democrats' demands for higher taxes and more spending, which alienated him from Republicans and gave way to a sharp decrease in popularity. Bush would later say that he wished he had never signed the bill. Near the end of the 101st Congress, the president and congressional members reached a compromise on a budget package that increased the marginal tax rate and phased out exemptions for high-income taxpayers. Although he originally demanded a reduction in the capital gains tax, Bush relented on this issue as well. This agreement with the Democratic leadership in Congress proved to be a turning point in the Bush presidency; his popularity among Republicans never fully recovered.
Coming at around the same time as the budget deal, America entered into a mild recession, lasting for six months. Many government programs, such as welfare, increased. As the unemployment rate edged upward in 1991, Bush signed a bill providing additional benefits for unemployed workers. The year 1991 was marked by many corporate reorganizations, which laid off a substantial number of workers. Many now unemployed were Republicans and independents, who had believed that their jobs were secure.
By his second year in office, Bush was told by his economic advisors to stop dealing with the economy, as they believed that he had done everything necessary to ensure his reelection. By 1992, interest and inflation rates were the lowest in years, but by midyear the unemployment rate reached 7.8%, the highest since 1984. In September 1992, the Census Bureau reported that 14.2% of all Americans lived in poverty. At a press conference in 1990, Bush told reporters that he found foreign policy more enjoyable.
During a speech to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Bush announced a vision to complete Space Station Freedom, resume exploration of the Moon and begin exploration of Mars. Although a space station was eventually constructed–work on the International Space Station began in 1998–other work has been confounded by NASA budgetary issues. In 1998, Bush received the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement's National Space Trophy for his pioneering leadership of the U.S. space program.
Bush signed a number of major laws in his presidency, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; this was one of the most pro-civil rights bills in decades. He is also the only President to successfully veto a civil rights act, having vetoed the job-discrimination protection Civil Rights Act of 1990. Bush feared racial quotas would be imposed, but later approved watered-down Civil Rights Act of 1991. He worked to increase federal spending for education, childcare, and advanced technology research. He also signed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act which provides monetary compensation of people who had contracted cancer and a number of other specified diseases as a direct result of their exposure to atmospheric nuclear testing undertaken by the United States during the Cold War, or their exposure to high levels of radon while doing uranium mining. In dealing with the environment, Bush reauthorized the Clean Air Act, requiring cleaner burning fuels. He quarreled with Congress over an eventually signed bill to aid police in capturing criminals, and signed into law a measure to improve the nation's highway system. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which led to a 40 percent increase in legal immigration to the United States.
Bush became a life member of the National Rifle Association early in 1988 and had campaigned as a "pro-gun" candidate with the NRA's endorsement. In March 1989, he placed a temporary ban on the import of certain semiautomatic rifles. This action cost him endorsement from the NRA in 1992. Bush publicly resigned his life membership in the organization after receiving a form letter from NRA depicting agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as "jack-booted thugs." He called the NRA letter a "vicious slander on good people."
President Bush devoted attention to voluntary service as a means of solving some of America's most serious social problems. He often used the "thousand points of light" theme to describe the power of citizens to solve community problems. In his 1989 inaugural address, President Bush said, "I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good."
Four years later, in his report to the nation on The Points of Light Movement, President Bush said, "Points of Light are the soul of America. They are ordinary people who reach beyond themselves to touch the lives of those in need, bringing hope and opportunity, care and friendship. By giving so generously of themselves, these remarkable individuals show us not only what is best in our heritage but what all of us are called to become."
In 1990, the Points of Light Foundation was created as a nonprofit organization in Washington to promote this spirit of volunteerism. In 2007, the Points of Light Foundation merged with the Hands On Network with the goal of strengthening volunteerism, streamlining costs and services and deepening impact. Points of Light, the organization created through this merger, has approximately 250 affiliates in 22 countries and partnerships with thousands of nonprofits and companies dedicated to volunteer service around the world. In 2012, Points of Light mobilized 4 million volunteers in 30 million hours of service worth $635 million.
On October 16, 2009, President Barack Obama held a Presidential Forum on Service hosted by former President George H. W. Bush and Points of Light at the George Bush Presidential Library Center on the campus of Texas A&M University. The event celebrated the contributions of more than 4,500 Daily Point of Light award winners and honored President Bush's legacy of service and civic engagement.
In 2011, Points of Light paid tribute to President George H. W. Bush and volunteer service at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center. President Bush was joined by Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush to highlight the role volunteer service plays in people's lives.
President Bush created the Daily Point of Light Award in 1989 to recognize ordinary Americans from all walks of life taking direct and consequential voluntary action in their communities to solve serious social problems. The President focused great attention on these individuals and organizations, both to honor them for their tremendous work and to call the nation to join them and multiply their efforts. By the end of his administration, President Bush had recognized 1,020 Daily Points of Light representing all 50 states and addressing issues ranging from care for infants and teenagers with AIDS to adult illiteracy and from gang violence to job training for the homeless. The Daily Point of Light continues to be awarded by Points of Light and President Bush continues to sign all of the awards.
On July 15, 2013, President Barack Obama welcomed President Bush to the White House to celebrate the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award. They bestowed the award on Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton of Union, Iowa, for their work founding Outreach, a nonprofit that delivers free meals to hungry children in 15 countries.
Bush appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:David Souter – 1990
Clarence Thomas – 1991
In addition to his two Supreme Court appointments, Bush appointed 42 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 148 judges to the United States district courts. Among these appointments was Vaughn R. Walker, who would later be revealed to be the earliest known gay federal judge. Bush also experienced a number of judicial appointment controversies, as 11 nominees for 10 federal appellate judgeships were not processed by the Democratically-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the 1980s, Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, a once U.S.-supportive leader who was later accused of spying for Fidel Castro and using Panama to traffic drugs into the United States, was one of the most recognizable names in America and was constantly in the press. The struggle to remove him from power began in the Reagan administration, when economic sanctions were imposed on the country; this included prohibiting American companies and government from making payments to Panama and freezing $56 million in Panamanian funds in American banks. Reagan sent more than 2,000 American troops to Panama as well. Unlike Reagan, Bush was able to remove Noriega from power, but his administration's unsuccessful post-invasion planning hindered the needs of Panama during the establishment of the young democratic government.
In May 1989, Panama held democratic elections, in which Guillermo Endara was elected president; the results were then annulled by Noriega's government. In response, Bush sent 2,000 more troops to the country, where they began conducting regular military exercises in Panamanian territory (in violation of prior treaties). Bush then removed an embassy and ambassador from the country, and dispatched additional troops to Panama to prepare the way for an upcoming invasion. Noriega suppressed an October military coup attempt and massive protests in Panama against him, but after a U.S. serviceman was shot by Panamanian forces in December 1989, Bush ordered 24,000 troops into the country with an objective of removing Noriega from power; "Operation Just Cause" was a large-scale American military operation, and the first in more than 40 years that was not related to the Cold War.
The mission was controversial, but American forces achieved control of the country and Endara assumed the Presidency. Noriega surrendered to the United States and was convicted and imprisoned on racketeering and drug trafficking charges in April 1992. President Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush visited Panama in June 1992, to give support to the first post-invasion Panamanian government.
In 1989, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bush met with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in a conference on the Mediterranean island of Malta. The administration had been under intense pressure to meet with the Soviets, but not all initially found the Malta Summit to be a step in the right direction; General Brent Scowcroft, among others, was apprehensive about the meeting, saying that it might be "premature" due to concerns where, according to Condoleezza Rice, "expectations [would be] set that something was going to happen, where the Soviets might grandstand and force [the U.S.] into agreements that would ultimately not be good for the United States." But European leaders, including François Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher, encouraged Bush to meet with Gorbachev, something that he did December 2 and 3, 1989. Though no agreements were signed, the meeting was viewed largely as being an important one; when asked about nuclear war, Gorbachev responded, "I assured the President of the United States that the Soviet Union would never start a hot war against the United States of America. And we would like our relations to develop in such a way that they would open greater possibilities for cooperation.... This is just the beginning. We are just at the very beginning of our road, long road to a long-lasting, peaceful period." The meeting was received as a very important step to the end of the Cold War.
Another summit was held in July 1991, where the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) was signed by Bush and Gorbachev in Moscow. The treaty took nine years in the making and was the first major arms agreement since the signing of the Intermediate Ranged Nuclear Forces Treaty by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987. The contentions in START would reduce the strategic nuclear weapons of the United States and the USSR by about 35% over seven years, and the Soviet Union's land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles would be cut by 50%. Bush described START as "a significant step forward in dispelling half a century of mistrust". After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, President Bush and Gorbachev declared a U.S.-Russian strategic partnership, marking the end of the Cold War.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded its oil-rich neighbor to the south, Kuwait; Bush condemned the invasion and began rallying opposition to Iraq in the US and among European, Asian, and Middle Eastern allies. Secretary of Defense Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Fahd; Fahd requested US military aid in the matter, fearing a possible invasion of his country as well. The request was met initially with Air Force fighter jets. Iraq made attempts to negotiate a deal that would allow the country to take control of half of Kuwait. Bush rejected this proposal and insisted on a complete withdrawal of Iraqi forces. The planning of a ground operation by US-led coalition forces began forming in September 1990, headed by General Norman Schwarzkopf. Bush spoke before a joint session of the U.S. Congress regarding the authorization of air and land attacks, laying out four immediate objectives: "Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait completely, immediately, and without condition. Kuwait's legitimate government must be restored. The security and stability of the Persian Gulf must be assured. And American citizens abroad must be protected." He then outlined a fifth, long-term objective: "Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective – a new world order – can emerge: a new era – freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony.... A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak." With the United Nations Security Council opposed to Iraq's violence, Congress authorized the use of military force with a set goal of returning control of Kuwait to the Kuwaiti government, and protecting America's interests abroad.
Early on the morning of January 17, 1991, allied forces launched the first attack, which included more than 4,000 bombing runs by coalition aircraft. This pace would continue for the next four weeks, until a ground invasion was launched on February 24, 1991. Allied forces penetrated Iraqi lines and pushed toward Kuwait City while on the west side of the country, forces were intercepting the retreating Iraqi army. Bush made the decision to stop the offensive after a mere 100 hours. Critics labeled this decision premature, as hundreds of Iraqi forces were able to escape; Bush responded by saying that he wanted to minimize U.S. casualties. Opponents further charged that Bush should have continued the attack, pushing Hussein's army back to Baghdad, then removing him from power. Bush explained that he did not give the order to overthrow the Iraqi government because it would have "incurred incalculable human and political costs.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."
Bush's approval ratings skyrocketed after the successful offensive. Additionally, President Bush and Secretary of State Baker felt the coalition victory had increased U.S. prestige abroad and believed there was a window of opportunity to use the political capital generated by the coalition victory to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process. The administration immediately returned to Arab-Israeli peacemaking following the end of the Gulf War; this resulted in the Madrid Conference, later in 1991.
Faced with a humanitarian disaster in Somalia, exacerbated by a complete breakdown in civil order, the United Nations had created the UNOSOM I mission in April 1992 to aid the situation through humanitarian efforts, though the mission failed. The Bush administration proposed American aid to the region by assisting in creating a secure environment for humanitarian efforts and UN Resolution 794 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council on December 3, 1992. A lame duck president, Bush launched Operation Restore Hope the following day under which the United States would assume command in accordance with Resolution 794. Fighting would escalate and continue into the Clinton administration.
Bush's administration, along with the Progressive Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, spearheaded the negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would eliminate the majority of tariffs on products traded among the United States, Canada, and Mexico, to encourage trade amongst the countries. The treaty also restricts patents, copyrights, and trademarks, and outlines the removal of investment restrictions among the three countries.
The agreement came under heavy scrutiny amongst mainly Democrats, who charged that NAFTA resulted in a loss of American jobs. NAFTA also contained no provisions for labor rights; according to the Bush administration, the trade agreement would generate economic resources necessary to enable Mexico's government to overcome problems of funding and enforcement of its labor laws. Bush needed a renewal of negotiating authority to move forward with the NAFTA trade talks. Such authority would enable the president to negotiate a trade accord that would be submitted to Congress for a vote, thereby avoiding a situation in which the president would be required to renegotiate with trading partners those parts of an agreement that Congress wished to change. While initial signing was possible during his term, negotiations made slow, but steady, progress. President Clinton would go on to make the passage of NAFTA a priority for his administration, despite its conservative and Republican roots—with the addition of two side agreements—to achieve its passage in 1993.
The treaty has since been defended as well as criticized further. The American economy has grown 54% since the adoption of NAFTA in 1993, with 25 million new jobs created; this was seen by some as evidence of NAFTA being beneficial to the United States. With talk in early 2008 regarding a possible American withdrawal from the treaty, Carlos M. Gutierrez, current United States Secretary of Commerce, writes, "Quitting NAFTA would send economic shock waves throughout the world, and the damage would start here at home." But John J. Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, wrote in The Boston Globe that "the U.S. trade deficit with Canada and Mexico ballooned to 12 times its pre-NAFTA size, reaching $111 billion in 2004."
On January 8, 1992, Bush fainted after vomiting at a banquet hosted by the then Prime Minister of Japan, Kiichi Miyazawa. Bush was suffering from gastroenteritis.
As other presidents have done, Bush issued a series of pardons during his last days in office. On December 24, 1992, he granted executive clemency to six former government employees implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s, most prominently former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Bush described Weinberger, who was scheduled to stand trial on January 5, 1993, for criminal charges related to Iran-Contra, as a "true American patriot".
In addition to Weinberger, Bush pardoned Duane R. Clarridge, Clair E. George, Robert C. McFarlane, Elliott Abrams, and Alan G. Fiers Jr., all of whom had been indicted and/or convicted of criminal charges by an Independent Counsel headed by Lawrence Walsh.Texas A&M University
Sacred Heart University
Dartmouth College, awarded a Doctor of Laws
Harvard University awarded a Doctor of Laws degree on May 29, 2014.
National Intelligence University awarded a Doctor of Strategic Intelligence degree on March 8, 2016.
In 1990, Time magazine named him the Man of the Year. In 1991, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation awarded Bush its Lone Sailor award for his naval service and his subsequent government service. In 1993, he was made an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2009, he received the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bush announced his reelection bid in early 1992; with a coalition victory in the Persian Gulf War and high approval ratings, reelection initially looked likely. As a result, many leading Democrats declined to seek their party's presidential nomination. But an economic recession, and doubts of whether Bush ended the Gulf War properly, reduced his popularity.
Conservative political columnist Pat Buchanan challenged Bush for the Republican nomination, and shocked political pundits by finishing second, with 37% of the vote, in the New Hampshire primary. Bush responded by adopting more conservative positions on issues, in an attempt to undermine Buchanan's base. Once he had secured the nomination, Bush faced his challenger, Democrat and Governor of Arkansas William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton. Clinton attacked Bush as not doing enough to assist the working middle-class and being "out of touch" with the common man, a notion reinforced by reporter Andrew Rosenthal's false report that Bush was "astonished" to see a demonstration of a supermarket scanner.
In early 1992, the race took an unexpected twist when Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot launched a third party bid, claiming that neither Republicans nor Democrats could eliminate the deficit and make government more efficient. His message appealed to voters across the political spectrum disappointed with both parties' perceived fiscal irresponsibility. Perot later bowed out of the race for a short time, then reentered.
Clinton had originally been in the lead, until Perot reentered, tightening the race significantly. Nearing election day, polls suggested that the race was a dead-heat, but Clinton pulled out on top, defeating Bush in a 43% to 38% popular vote margin. Perot won 19% of the popular vote, one of the highest totals for a third party candidate in U.S. history, drawing equally from both major candidates, according to exit polls. Bush received 168 electoral votes to Clinton's 370.
Several factors were key in Bush's defeat. The ailing economy which arose from recession may have been the main factor in Bush's loss, as 7 in 10 voters said on election day that the economy was either "not so good" or "poor". On the eve of the 1992 election, after unemployment reports of 7.8% appeared (the highest since 1984), Economic recession had contributed to a sharp decline in his approval rating – to just 37%.
Conservative Republicans point to Bush's 1990 agreement to raise taxes in contradiction of his famous "Read my lips: no new taxes" pledge. In doing so, Bush alienated many members of his conservative base, losing their support for his re-election. According to one survey, of the voters who cited Bush's broken "No New Taxes" pledge as "very important", two thirds voted for Bill Clinton. Bush had raised taxes in an attempt to address an increasing budget deficit, which has largely been attributed to the Reagan tax cuts and military spending of the 1980s. The tax revenue increase had not hurt his approval ratings to the extent that it prevented it from reaching 89% during the Gulf War, four months after the tax vote. By February 1991 his approval rating rose to its highest level—89%.
George Bush was widely seen as a "pragmatic caretaker" president who lacked a unified and compelling long-term theme in his efforts. Indeed, Bush's sound bite where he refers to the issue of overarching purpose as "the vision thing" has become a metonym applied to other political figures accused of similar difficulties. "He does not say why he wants to be there", wrote columnist George Will, "so the public does not know why it should care if he gets his way".
His Ivy League and prep school education led to warnings by advisors that his image was too "preppy" in 1980, which resulted in deliberate efforts in his 1988 campaign to shed the image, including meeting voters at factories and shopping malls, abandoning set speeches.
His ability to gain broad international support for the Gulf War and the war's result were seen as both a diplomatic and military triumph, rousing bipartisan approval, though his decision to withdraw without removing Saddam Hussein left mixed feelings, and attention returned to the domestic front and a souring economy. A New York Times article mistakenly depicted Bush as being surprised to see a supermarket barcode reader; the report of his reaction exacerbated the notion that he was "out of touch". Amid the early 1990s recession, his image shifted from "conquering hero" to "politician befuddled by economic matters".
Although Bush became the first elected Republican president since Hoover in 1932 to lose a reelection bid (facing a 34% approval rating leading up to the 1992 election), the mood did not last. Despite his defeat, Bush climbed back from election day approval levels to leave office in 1993 with a 56% job approval rating. By December 2008, 60% of Americans gave Bush's presidency a positive rating.
Upon leaving office, Bush retired with his wife, Barbara, and temporarily moved into a friend's house near the Tanglewood community of Houston as they prepared to build a permanent retirement house nearby. Ultimately they built their retirement house in the community of West Oaks, near Tanglewood. They had a presidential office within the Park Laureate Building on Memorial Drive. Mimi Swartz of National Geographic wrote that "The Bushes are too studiously sedate to live in River Oaks". They spend the summer at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. On January 10, 1999, the Bushes became the longest-married Presidential couple in history, outlasting John and Abigail Adams, who were married for 54 years and 3 days. At 70 years as of January 2015, they still hold the record, by a year and a half, over Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Bush co-founded an annual fishing tournament in Islamorada, an island in the Florida Keys, which was held annually for 10 years.
In 1993, Bush was awarded an honorary knighthood (GCB) by Queen Elizabeth II. He was the third American president to receive the honor, the others being Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
In 1993, Bush visited Kuwait to commemorate the coalition's victory over Iraq in the Gulf War, where he was targeted in an assassination plot. Kuwaiti authorities arrested 17 people allegedly involved in using a car bomb to kill Bush. Through interviews with the suspects and examinations of the bomb's circuitry and wiring, the FBI established that the plot had been directed by the Iraqi Intelligence Service. A Kuwaiti court later convicted all but one of the defendants. Two months later, in retaliation, Clinton ordered the firing of 23 cruise missiles at Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters in Baghdad. The day before the strike, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright went before the Security Council to present evidence of the Iraqi plot. After the missiles were fired, Vice President Al Gore said the attack "was intended to be a proportionate response at the place where this plot" to assassinate Bush "was hatched and implemented".
In September 1993, Bush was invited back to the White House along with other living former presidents for an Arab-Israeli peace accord as well as make the case to Clinton for a repeal of NAFTA.
In the 1994 elections, his sons George W. and Jeb concurrently ran for Governor of Texas and Governor of Florida. The elder Bush frequently telephoned their headquarters for updates on the race.
From 1993 to 1999 he served as the chairman to the board of trustees for Eisenhower Fellowships, and from 2007 to 2009 was chairman of the National Constitution Center.
In September 1995, Bush met with President of Vietnam Lê Đức Anh and party secretary Đỗ Mười in Vietnam.
In 1997, the same year as the opening of his Presidential Library, Houston Intercontinental Airport was renamed George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
President Bush is Honorary Chairman of Points of Light, an international nonprofit dedicated to engaging more people and resources in solving serious social problems through voluntary service.
In May 1999, Bush and his wife Barbara honored six senior citizens during the annual Ageless Heroes honors in Chicago, Illinois.
His eldest son, George W. Bush, was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States on January 20, 2001, and re-elected in 2004. Through previous administrations, the elder Bush had ubiquitously been known as "George Bush" or "President Bush", but following his son's election the need to distinguish between them has made retronymic forms such as "George H. W. Bush" and "George Bush senior" and colloquialisms such as "Bush 41" and "Bush the Elder" much more common. Bush was traveling to Minnesota for a speaking engagement on the day of the September 11 attacks, George W. making multiple calls to get in contact with his father ahead of the two reconnecting after the elder Bush was situated in a Brookfield, Wisconsin motel. Bush told biographer Jon Meacham that his son's vice president, Dick Cheney, underwent a change following the September 11 attacks: "His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East.”
In December 2002, George W. sought counsel from the elder Bush regarding Iraq and informed him of "my efforts to rally the Saudis, Jordanians, Turks, and others in the Middle East".
In April 2003, following the fall of Baghdad, Bush praised George W. in an email to the incumbent president.
The George Bush Presidential Library is the presidential library named for Bush. This tenth presidential library was built between 1995 and 1997 and contains the presidential and vice-presidential papers of Bush and the vice-presidential papers of Dan Quayle. It was dedicated on November 6, 1997, and opened to the public shortly thereafter; the architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum designed the complex.
The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is located on a 90-acre (360,000 m2) site on the west campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, on a plaza adjoining the Presidential Conference Center and the Texas A&M Academic Center. The Library operates under NARA's administration and the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955's provisions.
The Bush School of Government and Public Service is a graduate public policy school at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The graduate school is part of the presidential library complex, and offers four programs: two master's degree programs (Public Service and Administration, and International Affairs) and three certificate programs (Advanced International Affairs, Nonprofit Management, and Homeland Security). The Master in International Affairs (MIA) degree program offers concentrations in either National Security and Diplomacy or International Development and Economic Policy.
Bush continues to make many public appearances. He and Mrs. Bush attended the state funeral of Ronald Reagan in June 2004, and of Gerald Ford in January 2007. One month later, he was awarded the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in Beverly Hills, California, by former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Despite his political differences with Bill Clinton, it has been acknowledged that the two former presidents have become friends. He and Clinton appeared together in television ads in 2005, encouraging aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
In October 2006, Bush was honored by the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) with the NIAF One America Award for fundraising, with Bill Clinton, for the victims of the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
On December 4, 2006, Bush delivered a speech on leadership during a leadership forum by his son Jeb in Tallahassee, Florida. Later that month, upon the death of Gerald Ford, Bush became the oldest living (former) president, 111 days older than Jimmy Carter.
On February 18, 2008, Bush formally endorsed Senator John McCain for the presidency of the United States. The endorsement offered a boost to McCain's campaign, as the Arizona Senator had been facing criticism among many conservatives.
On May 17, 2008, Bush delivered the commencement address at Bryant University.
On January 10, 2009, both George H. W. and George W. Bush were present at the commissioning of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), the tenth and last Nimitz-class supercarrier of the United States Navy. Bush paid a visit to the carrier again on May 26, 2009.
In October 2009, Bush criticized the rampant criticism of the current times, reflecting that he did not receive such "day in and day out" during his presidency and named Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC as examples; he called the two "sick puppies." Also during that month, on October 16, Bush joined President Barack Obama onstage at Texas A&M University for a promotion of volunteering.
In 2011, he was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
On February 15, 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian honor in the United States—by President Barack Obama.
On March 29, 2012, Bush endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2012 Presidential election, NBC News reporting that Bush had chosen to support Romney three months prior.
In July 2013, Bush had his head shaved in a show of support for the two-year-old son of a member of his security detail, who had leukemia.
On December 10, 2013, coinciding with a memorial service held at Johannesburg's FNB Stadium for Nelson Mandela, Bush tweeted, "Barbara and I wish we could have joined the U.S. delegation honoring President Mandela today. He, and his countrymen, are in our prayers."
In April 2014, Frederick D. McClure, chief executive of the Bush library foundation, organized a three-day gathering in College Park, Texas, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bush administration. Also in early 2014, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented the Profile in Courage Award to Bush and Mount Vernon awarded him its first Cyrus A. Ansary Prize. The Kennedy foundation award was presented by Jack Schlossberg, the late president's grandson, to Lauren Bush Lauren, who accepted on her grandfather's behalf. The Ansary prize was presented in Houston with Ansary, Barbara Lucas, Ryan C. Crocker, dean of the Bush school since January 2010, Barbara Bush, and Curt Viebranz in attendance with the former president. Bush directed $50,000 of the prize to the Bush school at Texas A&M, and $25,000 will fund an animation about the Siege of Yorktown for Mt. Vernon. Viebranz and Lucas represented Mount Vernon at the presentation.
On June 12, 2014, Bush fulfilled a long-standing promise by skydiving on his 90th birthday. He made the parachute jump from a helicopter near his home at 11:15 a.m. in Kennebunkport, Maine. The jump marked the eighth time the former president had skydived, including jumps on his 80th and 85th birthday as well. He had tweeted about the incident prior to the jump, saying "It's a wonderful day in Maine — in fact, nice enough for a parachute jump."
In November 2014, George W. confirmed that his father wanted Jeb to launch a presidential bid in 2016. After Jeb's withdrawal from the Republican primary, a Bush spokesman confirmed he would not endorse any other candidates: "At age 91, President Bush is retired from politics. He came out of retirement to do a few things for Jeb, but those were the exceptions that proved the rule.” After the 2016 Presidential election took place, Bush tweeted a congratulatory message to President-elect Trump.
On December 7, 2016, Bush and former Senator Bob Dole commemorated the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by appearing at the Bush Center of Texas A&M University.
On February 5, 2017, George and Barbara Bush participated in the coin toss for Super Bowl LI.
On May 18, 2017, after the death of Roger Ailes, Bush tweeted, "He wasn't perfect, but Roger Ailes was my friend & I loved him. Not sure I would have been President w/o his great talent, loyal help. RIP."
In July 2017, following Senator McCain's cancer diagnosis announcement, Bush released a statement: "The Hanoi Hilton couldn’t break John McCain’s spirit many years ago, so Barbara and I know — with confidence — he and his family will meet this latest battle in his singular life of service with courage and determination."
On August 16, 2017, Bush and his son George W. released a joint statement condemning the violence at the Unite the Right rally.
On August 28, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey struck Dallas, Bush expressed his condolences in a statement.
On September 7, 2017, Bush partnered with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to work with One America Appeal to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in the Gulf Coast and Texas communities.
On February 24, 2000, Bush checked into a hospital while having an irregular heartbeat and following becoming ill while attending a reception and standing for 90 minutes. Bush was released three days later, his doctors saying he had retained the irregularity in his heart beat upon his dismissal.
Bush suffers from vascular parkinsonism, a form of Parkinson's disease which has forced him to use a motorized scooter or wheelchair since at least 2012.
In July 2015, Bush suffered a severe neck injury. Wearing a neck brace in October in his first public engagement since the accident, he threw the ceremonial first pitch for the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, at the age of 91.
Bush sent a letter to president-elect Donald Trump in January 2017, to inform him of his own poor health, that he would not be able to attend Trump's inauguration on January 20, and give his best wishes. On January 18, he was admitted to the intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital, where he was sedated for a procedure to treat an acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia. He was later discharged on 30 January, after surgery successfully removed a blockage from his lungs.
On April 14, 2017, Bush was admitted to the hospital in Houston with a recurrence of pneumonia.
Bush turned 93 years old on June 12, 2017. If he lives to November 25, 2017, he will become the longest lived President in United States history at 93 years, 166 days, surpassing Gerald Ford who holds the current record at 93 years, and 165 days when he died on December 26, 2006.