Do Living US Presidents Actually Get Along?

The U.S. "President's Club" — the group of living presidents at any given moment — is an exclusive group. Currently it's larger than normal, with six living presidents including Joe Biden. They share an experience that no one else can understand, and that brings together even the unlikeliest of people. Bill Clinton used to regularly contact Richard Nixon to discuss relations with China. Dwight D. Eisenhower was pictured supporting John F. Kennedy after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (via Governing).

But what about that current group? Are they friendly with each other? In an era of increasing division between the left and right, harmony between ex-presidents seems nearly impossible, but the truth is more nuanced. The six current, living presidents, as well as George H.W. Bush, the last one to die, have had changing relationships with each other, and each pair interacts differently. Here's a look at some of the dynamics between presidents in the recent past and present.

Trump and other past presidents

The immediate past president, Donald Trump, has a complicated relationship with his predecessors. In his inaugural speech, he managed to insult all of them by suggesting they'd failed in their duties (via Politico). After that, he interacted very little with them, except at George H.W. Bush's funeral, according to CNN.

Other past presidents trod carefully during the Trump administration, rarely criticizing him outright, but making their displeasure clear. Barack Obama and George W. Bush both opposed Trump's travel ban from Muslim-majority countries. Bush stated, "I am for an immigration policy that's welcoming and upholds the law" (via Politco). He also defended the media against attacks by Trump, while Obama defended himself against Trump's wiretapping allegations and criticism of the Affordable Care Act.

Jimmy Carter expressed a feeling of hopelessness regarding Trump's racial and gender-equality stances, but worked with the administration on foreign policy (via Politico and CNN). Bill Clinton, of course, opposed Trump while supporting Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016. According to Politico, Bill commented that Trump didn't know much about politics, but "One thing he does know is how to get angry white men to vote for him."

George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton

Though George H.W. Bush is no longer living, before his death he had an extraordinary 14-year-long friendship with his former opponent, Clinton. The younger Bush, George W., helped it along by asking them to work together on relief efforts after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Clinton and the elder Bush, George H.W., traveled to the region together for a four-day tour, then helped raise money for continued efforts after coming back to the U.S. (via Time).

That wasn't the very beginning, though: a month earlier, the elder Bush had spoken at the opening of Clinton's Presidential Library, and the two had talked extensively. Before their bitter rivalry, established by the 1992 election, they had actually been political allies. The Clintons had even visited the Bushes in Kennebunkport, Maine, in the early 1980s.

Working together on tsunami relief, they had to set aside any lingering hard feelings for the sake of a bigger cause. After that, they remained surprisingly close. George W. Bush even joked that his own father was among Clinton's "loved ones" (via Time).

George W. Bush and the Obamas

George W. Bush has been kept in the loop both by Obama and Biden about the status of the wars started during his administration (via CNN). Bush told Jimmy Kimmel (posted on YouTube) that in 2011 Obama called him to let him know about the death of Osama bin Laden before announcing it publicly.

He also talked to Kimmel about his friendship with Michelle Obama. He joked that sitting together at so many funerals started the relationship. She's apparently a fan of the quiet jokes he tells during long eulogies.

After they publicly hugged at the 2016 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, his daughters told him he was trending. The nation was surprised to see the friendship between the two. He told "CBS Sunday Morning" (also via YouTube) he thinks that's a problem. "Americans are so polarized in their thinking that they can't imagine a George W. Bush and a Michelle Obama being friends."

The Biden-Obama relationship

The relationship between Biden and Obama got off to a rough start, according to The Washington Post. The fact that they campaigned against each other for president in 2008 didn't help. However, they later developed a functional partnership and friendship. Their first agreement was that Biden would always be "the last guy in the room" with Obama during major decision-making processes (via People).

During Obama's presidency, he supported Biden on a personal level during the illness and death of Biden's son Beau, including offering money to help pay for medical bills and delivering the eulogy at Beau's funeral. During the same time period, Biden helped push Obama forward on the question of marriage equality. At the tail end of his presidency, Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in an emotional ceremony (via People).

Obama supported Biden on the campaign trail in 2020 and since then has offered him advice privately. According to CNN, Biden consulted him about personnel choices and, before that, his choice of vice president. They've also discussed things like maintaining the Affordable Care Act and what the relationship is like between Congress and the president. However, they hope to avoid giving Obama too big a role in the new administration, making sure it's clear who's in charge. Biden hopes his administration will ultimately be more progressive than Obama's.

Biden and other past presidents

Despite their bitter campaigns against each other in 2020, Biden and Trump have had some positive interactions since then. Though Trump broke a long tradition by not attending Biden's inauguration, he did write Biden a lengthy letter of encouragement when he took office. He was also supportive of Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan (via CNN).

Biden spoke to George W. Bush ahead of that decision, and though Bush was unsure it was a good idea, the conversation was "warm," according to CNN. Biden also discussed these plans with Obama before making his announcement.

Biden has also consulted with former vice presidents, namely Walter Mondale, just before Mondale's death. The two had a long-standing relationship, as do Biden and Jimmy Carter. The Bidens visited Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at their Georgia home in April 2021, because the Carters weren't able to attend the inauguration (via CNN). For Biden, the advice and support of past presidents is "grounding" and indispensable.