Presidential Priorities: • Tax cuts • Faith-based initiatives • Education reform
George W. Bush was still struggling with questions of legitimacy when he came into office in 2001. Just a few weeks after the presidential recount concluded, 38 percent of respondents in a Jan. 19 Gallup survey maintained that Bush's opponent, Al Gore, actually won the election. In addition, Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, was loath to give up the spotlight, and lingering controversy over several late-term pardons -- particularly of fugitive financier Marc Rich -- threatened to overshadow the new administration's agenda.
Bush set to work trying to project a "uniter" image by inviting a number of Democratic lawmakers to meet with him at the White House and becoming the first Republican president to attend a Democratic congressional retreat. Talk of bipartisanship in Washington faded, however, when many in the opposition party quickly grew frustrated by what they saw as Bush's inflexible approach on his legislative agenda.
As a self-styled CEO president, Bush changed protocol at the White House, requiring business attire in the West Wing even on weekends and setting a strict schedule -- a stark contrast to Clinton, who was notoriously late. Bush also gained a reputation for delegating decisions to a close inner circle of advisers; Dick Cheney became known as one of the most powerful vice presidents in history.
Domestically, Bush pushed Congress to pass a $1.96 trillion budget, including the largest tax cuts put forth in nearly two decades. He also proposed comprehensive education reform legislation -- the No Child Left Behind Act -- based on bipartisan legislation written by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H, and Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Some of the president's bigger tests, however, came in the realm of international affairs. Bush's national security team got a quick lesson in diplomacy in April, when a U.S. Navy surveillance plane was forced to make an emergency landing in China after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet sent to intercept it. Instead of releasing the plane and, more importantly, its 24 crew members, Beijing detained them, sparking an 11-day standoff. The administration eventually secured the release of the crew and got high marks from the American public for its handling of the flare-up. On the other hand, his decision not to seek ratification of an international climate change agreement -- the Kyoto Protocol -- earned him the nickname "the toxic Texan" from environmental groups and a unilateralist reputation from European allies. Bush maintained that he supported Kyoto's principles, but that the agreement would put undue strain on the U.S. economy and did not make enough demands of developing nations, particularly China.
It didn't take long for Bush to charm some and exasperate others with his unique way with words, prompting late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien to quip: "According to the latest poll in the Washington Post, 63 percent of Americans said that so far they approve of President Bush. Not surprisingly, the other 37 percent are English teachers." Tallying "Bushisms" become a cottage industry.