After the bitter 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton and George Bush surprisingly became friends after their presidency. There were signs that their relationship was thawing when they weren’t running against each other, as Bush famously wrote a letter to Clinton on January 20, 1993, offering the then-new president some words of advice.
Bush and Clinton famously worked together on relief efforts after the 2004 Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. From 2010 to 2012, Clinton teamed up with Bush’s son, former President George W. Bush on a Haiti fund after the devastating earthquake there. Here’s a look at the relationship between the two presidents.
1. Bush Wrote in a Letter to Clinton: ‘Your Success Now Is Our Country’s Success’
During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton shared the above letter Bush left for her husband on the first day of his presidency. “This is what leadership looks like,” Clinton wrote.
The letter shows that, although Clinton was critical of Bush throughout the 1992 campaign, Bush still set that aside and wished his former rival luck. “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting for you,” Bush wrote to Clinton.
Bush also had a few words of advice, even if that’s not what he’s best at. “There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice, but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course,” Bush wrote.
2. A Flight on Air Force One to the Funeral of Jordan’s King Hussein Was a Key Moment in Developing Their Friendship
In 2013, Bush published All The Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings. As CNN notes, the book includes a letter that recounts a key moment in his relationship with Clinton. In February 1999, they flew on Air Force One to Jordan for the funeral of King Hussein.
In the letter to his children, Bush wrote that he saw in Clinton “a great grasp of facts, apparently an in-depth knowledge on the issues. I disagree with many of the administration’s positions that he outlined for us.”
Jimmy Carter and the late Gerald R. Ford were also on that trip to Jordan.
Bush and Clinton also worked together on relief efforts for the 2005 Asian tsunami. After traveling with Clinton in February 2005, Bush wrote in a letter to journalist Hugh Sidney, “I thought I knew him; but until this trip I did not really know him.”
“You cannot get mad at the guy. I admit to wondering why he can’t stay on time, but when I see him interacting with folks my wonder turns to understanding, with a dollop of angst thrown in,” Bush wrote about Clinton in a letter. “Clinton is a fascinating character. He has opinions on everything -no matter what. He seems to have a great grasp of history’s events and people.”
3. After Working Together for Asian Tsunami Relief, They Joined Forces Again for the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund
The success Bush and Clinton had with raising funds for the 2004 Asian tsunami inspired them to team up again to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief. They created the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. The New York Times reported in September 2005, a few weeks after the hurricane, that Clinton said their fund raised between $90 million and $100 million for victims.
In October 2006, Bush and Clinton were presented with the Liberty Medal from the Constitution Center for their work with hurricane relief.
“A lot of people were surprised, to put it mildly, when President Clinton and I teamed up last year—twice,” Bush said in his acceptance speech. “First on the tsunami relief as we have seen, and then on hurricane rebuilding along the gulf coast. I’ve told this story a million times of how Barbara had taken to calling us the political odd couple. And how the president—the president—joked, that after Bill awoke following his heart surgery, all of his loved ones were there: Hillary, Chelsea, and yours truly.”
In 2010, after the devastating Haiti earthquake, Clinton again started a fund with a member of the Bush family. This time, he worked with President George W. Bush.
4. Bush Had a ‘Personal Distaste’ For Clinton’s Relationship With Monica Lewinsky
Lanny Davis, a Washington lawyer who has been friends with the Clinton and Bush families for decades, told the New York Times in 2006 that Bush had a “personal distatse for Bill Clinton’s private behavior,” referring to the Monica Lewinsky affair.
“But President Bush would be the first to say that he went through a period of his life where his personal conduct was not something to be proud of,” Davis told the Times. “And so both of them have been through hard times, learned humility and learned to differentiate politics from the personal.”
There are rumors that Bush himself had an affair with Jennifer Fitzgerald, a former aide who began working with Bush during his time as ambassador to China. As USA today noted in its review of Jon Meacham’s Bush biography, Bush and Fitzgerald have both denied ever having an affair.
As Politico notes, Hillary Clinton referenced the rumors in a 1992 Vanity Fair piece during the campaign.
“They’ve got this secret handshake that nobody else knows about,” Rahm Emanuel told the Times in 2006. “Friends of both men say the current President Bush and Mr. Clinton have grown to like each other in Bush’s time in office, even after Mr. Bush had disdained Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky.”
5. Barbara Bush Said Bill Clinton Looked Up to Bush Like the ‘Father He Never Had’
In an interview with Parade Magazine, former First Lady Barbara Bush said that Clinton has become like a member of the Bush family.
“‘[My] brother by another mother,’ the boys call him,” Barbara Bush said. “But he’s very nice—I think he thinks of George as the father he never had. Truthfully. I mean that as a compliment.He’s been very thoughtful about calling and he’s a good fellow.”
“Well, he knows a lot about everything. He’s a very knowledgeable, bright man,” Bush said of Clinton in the Parade interview. “He sat out here one time, and we talked about every possible [subject]—one after another.”