The electoral campaign for the presidential elections in November 2004 focused largely on the developments of the Iraqi war, which had seen, in the last months of 2003, a decline in support for the government. Bush, who presented himself flanked by Vice President Cheney, centered his electoral platform on engaging in the war on terrorism, which included the invasion of Iraq, while the Democratic competitor, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, flanked by John Edwards of the North Carolina, replied by pointing out the limitations of planning and managing the conflict, to which Bush had sacrificed domestic priorities. Internally, sensitive issues of the electoral confrontation were the issues of legislation on abortion and gay unions. As a head-to-head loomed, the public debates between the two candidates were not decisive. Bush won re-election with 51% of the popular vote, while 48% went to Kerry and 1% went to independent candidate Ralph Nader. In the constituency, Bush won 286 votes to Kerry’s 252, and in the new Congress the Republicans increased their majority in both the House and Senate.
The start of the second term was marked by major changes in the federal government: Secretary of State Colin Powell, who resigned, was replaced by Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman to head the important department, while head of the Department of Justice, in place of the outgoing John Ashcroft, was appointed Alberto Gonzales, a judge of Hispanic origin and former general counsel of Bush during the governorship in Texas. Among the political initiatives, particular commitment was dedicated by Bush to the reform of the social system. Alarmed by forecasts of a record deficit for 2005, the president outlined his program, which included a partial privatization of social security, in the first speech on the State of the Nation of the new mandate.. Faced with opposition from the Democrats, Bush turned directly to public opinion for support, undertaking a series of tours across the country; the poor consensus achieved convinced the Republican Party to postpone the issue, but the arrival of other priorities first and then the loss of the majority in Congress after the mid-term elections marked the fate of the project. In the context of welfare policies, a measure concerning the health system, the Medicare act, came into force in 2006, consisting of a program of prescription of medicines with subsidies to the pharmaceutical industries.
On environmental policies Bush continued to move in the belief that economic development is achievable without too much damage to the environment and that limits to development, when necessary, should be achieved through industry cooperation rather than through government regulations. Recognizing the seriousness of the global warming alarm, the Bush administration proposed measures to contain air pollution. Considered largely insufficient, those measures, contained in the Clear skies act, however, fell under consideration by the Senate in 2005. More generally, it was sectors of the world of scientific research that criticized the Bush administration, accused of political interference. In July 2006, Bush exercised veto power for the first time in his presidency to block a law that authorized the use of federal funds in embryonic stem cell research.
In the name of the fight against terrorism, Bush signed the Military Commission Act in October 2006, a law that allowed the government to prosecute enemy fighters through military courts and not according to normal procedures; it also suspended access to habeas corpus against them and, while forbidding the torture of detainees, left it to the president to determine which practices constitute torture. As late as March 2008, Bush allegedly vetoed a law intended to expand the Senate’s power of control over intelligence activities and to ban illegal interrogation practices, such as so-called waterboarding. (technique consisting in pouring water on the face of the interviewee, in order to cause him the feeling of drowning), arguing that such a measure would have eliminated one of the most effective tools in the fight against terrorism.
Although the success obtained in December 2005 with the first free elections of the Iraqi Assembly played to his advantage, the protracted war increased the disaffection of the American electorate, which manifested itself in the mid-term elections of November 2006: the Democrats took control of both branches of Congress, obtaining a majority of 30 seats in the House of Representatives and winning by size – 51 to 49 – in the Senate. In addition to the Iraqi conflict, a series of corruption scandals involving leading representatives of the Republican Party and, internally, the inefficiencies and delays attributed to the Bush administration in managing the disaster caused in August were weighing on the electoral result. 2005 from Hurricane Katrina which struck New Orleans and neighboring regions.
A heated debate in the last phase of the Bush presidency was the problem of illegal immigration. Faced with the dramatic situation in which 12 million illegal immigrants lived, Bush argued the need for a reform of the existing legislation to allow a good part of those who had entered illegally to remain temporarily as ‘guest workers’ with the prospect of being able to obtain citizenship later. In May 2007, the president gave his support to a bill that moved in that direction, the result of bipartisan work of a group of senators with the active participation of the administration, and which obtained the support of some authoritative exponents of the Democratic Party, including Senator Edward Kennedy. While on the liberal side there were those who warned against the creation of an army of working poor without rights, critics on the conservative side denounced the measure as a kind of de facto amnesty that would have encouraged new waves of illegal immigration. At the final test, the project was rejected in the Senate on June 28, 2007.
The final year of the Bush presidency found the United States facing enormous problems. The difficulties of exiting Iraq were accompanied by those of the resumption of the Taliban threat in Afghanistan. In terms of public accounts, surpluses are now far away budget of the years 2000 and 2001, starting from 2003 the federal budget had registered a series of increasingly marked deficits, due to the combined effect of the increase in military spending, tax cuts and the slowdown in economic growth. In the last months of 2008, the explosion of a financial crisis comparable only to that of 1929 produced cascading effects on a global level, causing the loss of nearly 2 million jobs in the United States alone. The emergency prompted Congress to launch a controversial bailout plan for the financial economy, presented by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, for which the administration allocated a $ 700 billion fund. The signing of the Emergency economic stabilization act, soon after final approval by Congress on October 3, 2008, it was one of the last acts of the Bush presidency.