Presidential transition of George W. Bush
President Bill Clinton and President-Elect George W. Bush shake hands during their meeting in the Oval Office (1).jpg
Outgoing President Bill Clinton (right) and President-elect George W. Bush (left) meet in the Oval Office of the White House as part of the Presidential transition on December 19, 2000
FormationDecember 12, 2000
DissolvedJanuary 20, 2001
PurposePresidential transition
HeadquartersMcLean, Virginia
Dick Cheney

The presidential transition of George W. Bush took place following the 2000 United States presidential election. It started after George W. Bush was declared the victor of the election on December 12, 2000, when the Bush v. Gore decision by the Supreme Court halted the election recount in Florida, making Bush the victor in that state. The decision delivered him the state's 25 electoral votes, thus giving him a total of 271 electoral votes. This was one more vote than the 270 needed to win the presidency outright, making him president-elect.

Due to the recount effort and litigation between Bush and his presidential opponent Al Gore leaving the election undecided until December 12, 2000, Bush's official transition was the abbreviated, at just 39 days.

The transition was chaired by vice president-elect Dick Cheney.

Bush's victory was formally certified on January 6, 2001, when a joint session of congress certified the electoral college count.[1][2] Bush was inaugurated at noon EST on January 20, 2001.

This was the first presidential transition to be held after the passage of the Presidential Transition Act of 2000.[3]

Abbreviated nature of official transition period

Due to the recount effort and litigation between Bush and his presidential opponent Al Gore leaving the election undecided until December 12, 2000, Bush's official transition was abbreviated to just 39 days.[4] The last instance in United States history in which disputes over the election had delayed an individual becoming president-elect of the United States was the after the 1876 United States presidential election, when Rutherford B. Hayes would not become president-elect until after the Electoral Commission's decision.[5]

The official transition's abbreviated length gave the Bush team less time to prepare.[6]

The shortened transition was also seen as having a potential impact on Bush's ability to readily make appointments to offices. The shortened transition meant that there was only a 5-week period before Bush would take office as president for requisite FBI background checks to be performed on many of his prospective appointees for offices which required one.[7] Despite having such a short transition, in his first year as president, Bush managed to appoint more people than any other modern president had in the same timeframe.[4] The 9/11 Commission Report argued that the abbreviated transition had resultantly left many national security positions unfilled by the time of the September 11 attacks, and that slow transitions such as that of Bush's can imperil the nation's national security.[8]

Transition team

Transition team[9]
Position Holder Date publicly named to position Previous experience
Chairman Dick Cheney November 26, 2000 Vice-presidential running-mate of Bush; former United States Secretary of Defense
Executive Director Clay Johnson III November 27, 2000 Gubernatorial chief of staff to George W. Bush since June 1999
Spokesperson Ari Fleischer November 27, 2000 Spokesman for Bush campaign since November 1999
Deputy Spokesperson Juleanna Glover Weiss November 27, 2000 Press secretary to Dick Cheney during campaign
Legal Counsel Michael E. Toner November 29, 2000 General counsel for the Bush campaign since March 1999
Director of Congressional Relations David Gribben November 29, 2000 Vice president for corporate affairs at Halliburton

The transition Bush team also announced policy coordination groups on December 15, which included such members Joshua Bolten, Gary Edson, John Bridgeland.[9] The same day it also announced advisory teams, of which Bill Paxon was chair and Maria Cino was executive director.[9]

Fred F. Fielding headed the transition's vetting and clearance process for prospective appointees.[10]

The transition team also had a clearance counsel, confirmation teams, and various coordinator positions.[9]

Pre-election activities

Some planning for Bush's potential presidential transition began as early as the spring of 1999.[11] Per the later recounting of Clay Johnson III, Bush had asked him in June 1999 to help prepare a plan for a potential presidential transition.[12] Johnson would agree, and would lead Bush's pre-election transition planning.[5] Formal planning for a prospective transition began in August of 2000.[13] Throughout the pre-election planning efforts, Johnson would hold occasional meetings with Bush.[14] While Johnson would continue to head pre-election planning, shortly after the Republican National Convention, it was decided that Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney would be the post-election transition chairman if the ticket were elected.[15] The work Johnson oversaw was almost entirely done out of the public-eye, with little media coverage paid to the pre-election transition work until shortly before the day of the election.[5]

Jonson communicated with Martha Joynt Kumar, head of the nonpartisan "White House Transition Project" group founded in 1999, who were researching presidential transitions. Johnson would later talk about receiving helpful insight from their research, and Bush would also credit them with having aided his transition effort.[16][17]

A decision the Bush had privately decided upon two weeks before the election was that, if elected, he would name Andrew Card his White House chief of staff.[5] This decision was made early due to Johnson's belief that it would be beneficial to have an individual in place for this role early.[18]

Initial post-election day activities

While the election took place on November 7, its winner was unclear due to the unsettled result in Florida.

Bush proceeded with transition efforts while the election result was yet to be formally determined.[19] In contrast to Bush, for some time after election day, Al Gore suspended his transition team's operations.[20] Dick Cheney, conducted some transition work out of a private residence he owned in McLean, Virginia.[20]

Throughout the post-election recount and litigation, as prospective president and vice president, Bush and Cheney retained United States Secret Service protection they had already been receiving before the election, as did Gore's vice presidential runningmate Joe Lieberman (Gore, as the incumbent vice president, was entitled to Secret Service protection at the time, regardless of the presidential election).[21]

Gore had paused his transition efforts, and had involved himself with his team's efforts in addressing the recount in Florida. Contrarily, Bush would largely remain personally removed from his team's operations in Florida, and would instead busy himself with both transition planning tasks and actions related to his job as governor of Texas.[22]

Bush began to conduct his transition in a manner strongly mimicking a president-elect after Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified her state's results on November 26 (an act that did not settle the result of the election, as Gore launched the Gore v. Harris lawsuit that would later evolve into Bush v. Gore).[20] Operating his transition effort in a public manner was seen to be, in part, a part of the Bush team's strategy to turn public opinion against Al Gore's contesting of the Florida election results, and to pressure Gore into dropping his legal challenge.[19][23] Bush hoped to establish a perception that his victory was imminent, and would leak word of his national security team, and allow news cameras access to some of his transition meetings.[24] Bush received criticism, particularly from Democrats, for operating such a full-fledged transition before the election outcome was officially determined.[19][25] However, many Democrats conceded that it was a necessity for Bush to plan a transition so that he would be prepared to take office if he were to be determined the election's victor.[19] Bush held meetings with many prospective appointees.[25] Bush held some of these meetings at his ranch in Texas.[23]

On November 26, Bush announced that Dick Cheney would be officially heading the transition.[20] Cheney took on this work, despite having suffered a heart attack earlier that month.[20] It was reported around this time that Bush had delegated to Cheney significant authority over deciding the composition and management style of the potential Bush administration.[19] The choice to have the vice presidential running mate head the transition team, an unusual move, ultimately foreshadowed the central role Cheney would make in policy decisions during Bush's presidency.[20] Cheney formed a transition team that primarily consisted of individuals that he had preexisting relationships with and many who had been on Cheney's own staff when he was United States Secretary of Defense.[20][19] In addition to this, Cheney named Clay Johnson III (Bush's gubernatorial chief of staff) as the executive director of the transition.[4][26][27] Cheney also named Ari Fleischer, who had been a spokesman for the campaign, as the transition's press spokesman.[27] On November 29, it was announced that Michael E. Toner would be joining the transition team as legal counsel, and that David Gribben would serve as director of congressional relations.[19] By the time the election outcome would be decided, Bush's transition team already consisted of 75 employees and 20 volunteers.[13]

On November 27, the General Services Administration (GSA), led by David J. Barram, stated they would not give the Bush transition team access to government-provided transition office space or $5.3 million in earmarked funding for a transition, "until a final winner" was determined in the presidential election, citing the Presidential Transition Act of 1963's provision requiring the outcome of an election to be clear prior to the government providing any taxpayer funding to aid in a transition.[26][27] On November 28, Barram announced to staffers of the GSA that he would postpone his planned resignation by two weeks, from November 29 to December 15, so that he could be in office when the office ceded these to an incoming president.[28]

In response to the GSA's decision not to give the Bush transition team access to government office space and funding, Cheney announced on December 27 that the transition team would open a privately-funded office in Washington, D.C., and would, to fund their transition effort, establish a nonprofit organization that would accept direct and in-kind, contributions from individuals of up to a maximum of $5,000 per individual, which was the maximum contribution allowed under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. The Bush transition effort opted to refuse corporate and PAC donations.[26][27][23][29][30] The Bush camp targeted raising $3.5 million for their transition effort.[23][29] The Bush transition effort would ultimately raise $1.5 million in funding through contributions by the time the election outcome was determined.[7] It was not unprecedented for a presidential transition to raise private funds, as the previous 1992–93 Clinton transition had raised $5.3 million to supplement the $3.5 million the federal government had provided it.[29] The Bush team also pledged to voluntarily disclose contributions.[29] However, the choice to raise private funds attracted some criticism, with the group Common Cause urging the Bush team not to continue with their plans to do so. While each saying it was problematic for them to raise private contributions, both OpenSecrets director Larry Makinson and political scientist Larry Sabato conceded that the lack of federal funding for the transition had left the Bush team with little other choice.[29]

On November 29, Cheney publicly announced the transition team's acquisition of office space near Washington, D.C. in suburban McLean, Virginia.[19] The Bush transition moved into the 2,100 square feet of office space the following day.[31] At this time, the transition effort began expanding its staff.[21]

Incumbent president Bill Clinton denied any involvement in the GSA's decision to withhold funding from the Bush transition effort.[26][27][28] Some sources, however, alleged that, despite Clinton's denial, he was involved to some degree in the refusal of the GSA to not give the Bush team access to office space and funding, arguing that Clinton may have be acting on grudges stemming from his own transition, where his own team felt that the outgoing president, Bush's father George H. W. Bush, was not helpful to them.[28] Clinton publicly declared that he would prefer that the government, instead, provide funding both to the Bush and Gore transition efforts.[26][28] The United States Department of Justice investigated whether the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 could be interpreted as allowing this.[26][28] However, on November 28, the Department of Justice reached the conclusion that the law did not allow the funds to be used to aid "multiple transition teams".[32] The Clinton administration would, ultimately, attempt to act as though two different presidential transitions were taking place.[20] At the same time that Bush was ramping up his transition efforts in late November, Gore began going forth with a transition effort of his own, headed by Roy Neel.[20][21] A number of moves were announced by the White House on November 28.[33] Clinton had the CIA begin giving classified daily intelligence briefings to Bush and Cheney (Al Gore was already a recipient of such briefings, as he was the incumbent Vice President), with the White House announcing it November 28.[21][34][33][35] The White House also announced on November 28 that it was offering to meet with both Bush's and Gore's transition directors, which the Bush team quickly accepted.[33] The White House also announced on November 28 that they had requested for the Department of Justice to investigate whether the FBI could begin conducting background checks for each team's prospective nominees.[33] This wound up receiving clearance later that week, and the FBI would begin conducting background check's for each team's prospective nominees.[20][33] The White House asked Clinton's appointees to tender their resignations at the end of Clinton's term, to make room for a new administration's appointees, sending letters requesting resignations to roughly 3,000 Clinton appointees.[20][33] John Podesta, Clinton's White House Chief of Staff, ordered each executive branch department to create briefing books for the incoming cabinet secretaries, and to set-aside workspaces for the president-elect, once determined, to have their team utilize during their official transition.[26] The GSA began consulting with the transition about how they preferred to see them outfit the taxpayer-funded office space, but continued to hold-off on providing such space to either transition effort while the election litigation was still pending.[21][36]

Not only were federal agencies' normal handling for a transition of planning thrown-off by their being two potential contenders for the presidency so far after an election, but so were those responsible with planning aspects of the presidential inauguration.[21] With the election being in limbo, neither Bush nor Gore had formed an inaugural committee to plan for their prospective inaugurations.[37] Organizations such as the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee were forced to create contingency plans to help the eventual president-elect plan their inauguration at a faster-than-typical pace.[21]

Prior to the election outcome being determined, the Bush transition team had already received 18,000 resumes for positions which Bush would have had the authority to make appointments to if he became president.[7] Some resumes had been submitted through the internet.[7] The next president would have 1,125 Senate confirmable posts and 5,000 other posts to fill.[7] Some designees were named for certain positions. For example, on November 22, Bush announced that Andrew Card was his choice to serve as White House Chief of Staff.[30] Others announced in this period included the selection of Colin Powell as Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice as National Security Advisor.[13][25] However, many potential nominees Bush's team had been courting the strongest had proven reluctant to submit themselves to the level of scrutiny of federal background checks before Bush was declared president-elect.[13]

In late November, Bush and his top associates began making phone calls to Republican congressional leaders, and indirect communication with Democratic leadership, in hopes of laying the ground for bipartisan cooperation on legislation if he became president.[23]

By early December, a number of congressional Republicans, such as Fred Thompson, Steve Horn, and Jim Kolbe, had written to GSA head Barram to urge him to release funding and grant access to office space to the Bush transition team.[38] Soon after, Horn, as chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, began holding congressional hearings on the matter, and Republican congressman Spencer Bachus introduced a bill that would require the GSA to provide support to the Bush transition team.[39]

Official transition

President-elect Bush walking with President Clinton during their December 19 meeting
President-elect Bush walking with President Clinton during their December 19 meeting

Bush became President-elect of the United States on December 12. Gore formally conceded on December 13.[30] On December 14, Bush's transition team was given access by the GSA to three floors of workspace (totaling 90,000 square feet) in downtown Washington, D.C. and $5.2 million in presidential transition funds.[7][27][30][40] GSA funding had also been allotted to aid the Clinton White House in their role in the transition with their role in the transition.[3] The Bush effort continued to raise millions in private contributions even after receiving GSA funding.[41]

The day after the Supreme Court decision, Vice President-elect Cheney held meetings with five politically moderate Republican U.S. Senators, and held meetings with other Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C.[42]

Bush met with numerous prospective Cabinet nominees throughout the month of December.[43] He proceeded quickly, after becoming president-elect, to announce Cabinet selections.[20] By December 24, he had already named 6 out of 14 Cabinet secretaries, and was poised to announce more.[44] By January 2, the Bush transition had named a designee for every Cabinet position.[5] This was only a week later than the date by which Clinton had announced a full Cabinet in the previous presidential transition.[5] Bush had announced all of his Cabinet picks over a three-week period, compared to the eight to ten weeks over which these had been rolled out during the previous four presidential transitions.[45]

On December 19, Bush met in the White House with Clinton.[43][46] That same day, Bush also met at Number One Observatory Circle with Gore, who was not just his defeated opponent, but was also the outgoing vice president.[43][46]

Bush pledged that he would establish an "office of faith-based action" in his administration to search for ways that religious groups would be able to give such services as drug treatment and welfare-to-work programs that had been traditionally provided by the federal government.[43] On December 20, Bush held a meeting in Austin, Texas with roughly 20 religious leaders from around the country, to discuss his plan for "faith-based" solutions to social issues.[43] A third of the religious leaders were black.[43] The number of black religious leaders included in this meeting was viewed to be part of an effort for Bush to reach out to black people, after the Bush–Cheney ticket was reported to have received the lowest share of the black vote by a Republican ticket since the share president Ronald Reagan and his vice president George H. W. Bush (Bush's father) had received when they won reelection in 1984.[43]

The progress Bush made by Christmas lagged behind the progress that the previous, Clinton, transition had made by that point. However, Clinton did not experience the delay in starting his transition that Bush had faced.[44] The pace that Bush's transition had been able to proceed at after its delayed start earned praise from political experts such as Fred Greenstein.[44] Bush felt so comfortable with the progress made by his transition effort, that he took a several-day "non-working" Christmas vacation, traveling both to his Texas ranch and to Florida.[44] At the same time, many others in the transition effort took a break, causing the effort to decrease from the pace it had been accelerating at up to that point following Bush becoming president-elect.[44]

President Clinton and President–elect Bush depart the White House for the inaugural ceremony at the United States Capitol on January 20, 2001.
President Clinton and President–elect Bush depart the White House for the inaugural ceremony at the United States Capitol on January 20, 2001.

The transition experienced some controversy when Bush's selection for Secretary of Labor, Linda Chavez, withdrew her nomination on January 9 after the media reported that she had previously employed an undocumented immigrant.[20][47][48]

The transition was also marred by accusations of "damage, theft, vandalism and pranks" by members of the outgoing Clinton administration. Initially, a 2001 audit by the General Accounting Office (GAO) found little truth to the allegations of vandalism and pranks.[49] However, after pressure from Republican congressman Bob Barr, the GAO launched a deeper investigation, producing a 2002 report which estimated that there had been between $13,000 to $14,000 worth of damage.[49][50] This included graffiti in the men's bathroom at the White House, glue smeared on desk drawers, and missing doorknobs, medallions, and office signs.[49][50] However, it is noted that similar pranks were reported in prior transitions, including the one from Bush's father to Clinton in 1993.[50] Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer followed up the GAO report with a White House-produced list of alleged vandalism including removal of the 'W' key from keyboards.[51] The Clintons were also accused of keeping for themselves gifts meant for the White House.[52] The Clintons denied these accusations, but agreed to pay more than $85,000 for gifts given to the first family "to eliminate even the slightest question" of impropriety.[53]

Selection of appointees

See also: Cabinet of George W. Bush

Domestic policy

Economic policy

Environment and energy

Foreign affairs and national security


First Lady's staff

Second Lady's staff


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Sources cited

Further reading