Fernando de la Rúa is the son of Eleonora Bruno and Antonio De la Rúa; he was born in the city of Córdoba and attended the local Military Lyceum before entering the National University of Córdoba, from which he graduated with a law degree at the age of 21. He married a Buenos Aires socialite, Inés Pertiné, in 1970; they had three children, including Antonio de la Rúa. De la Rúa became involved in politics at a young age; he entered public Service in 1963 as an advisor to President Arturo Illia's minister Juan Palmero.
He was elected senator in the March 1973 general elections, defeating the Peronist Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. He was the only Politician from the Radical Civic Union (UCR) who could defeat the Peronist candidate in his administrative division. The elected President Héctor José Cámpora and his vice President resigned a few months later, leading to the call to new elections. Ricardo Balbín ran for President in the September general elections, with De la Rúa as his running mate for the post of vice President. The UCR was defeated by Juan Perón by a landslide. De la Rúa was removed from the Congress during the 1976 Argentine coup d'état. He left politics and worked as a Lawyer for the firm Bunge y Born.
The National Reorganization Process ended in 1983. De la Rúa intended to run for President but lost in the primary elections of the UCR to Raúl Alfonsín, who was elected in the general election. De la Rúa ran for the post of senator instead, defeating the Peronist Carlos Ruckauf. He ran for re-election as senator in 1989 but, despite of his electoral victory, the electoral college voted for the Peronist Eduardo Vaca. De la Rúa was elected deputy in 1991 and returned to the senate in 1993. President Carlos Menem, elected in 1989, wanted to amend the constitution to allow him to run for re-election in 1995, which was opposed by the UCR. Alfonsín signed the Pact of Olivos with Menem, negotiating terms to support the proposal. De la Rúa led the opposition to the pact within the UCR, but Alfonsín prevailed in the internal dispute. This damaged the relationship between both Leaders, but helped the party to retain a number of radicals who were against the pact. De la Rúa could not prevent the 1994 amendment of the Argentine Constitution. As a result, Menem was re-elected in 1995. The UCR finished third in the elections for the first time, being surpassed by the Frepaso, a new party composed by former Peronists.
The Pact of Olivos diminished the electoral strength of the UCR, leading to the rise of the Frepaso. Both parties united in a political coalition, the Alliance, which defeated the PJ in the 1997 midterm elections. It was the PJ's first national defeat since 1985. The parties held open primary elections for the 1999 presidential elections. De la Rúa stood for the UCR; the whole party, including Alfonsín, supported him. The Frepaso candidate was Graciela Fernández Meijide, who had defeated Peronism in the populous Buenos Aires province. De la Rúa won the primary elections by a wide margin. In the primaries, De la Rúa was voted for by more people than those who voted for the UCR in 1995. Despite his victory, Alfonsín was still the President of the UCR. They disagreed on the vice President for De la Rúa's ticket; he thought that it should be Meijide because she took part in the primary elections and came from a different district than him. Alfonsín preferred the popular Carlos Álvarez, leader of the Frepaso, saying he could attract more voters and had more political expertise. It was also a result of the internal politics of the Alliance: except for Meijide, the Frepaso did not have a political figure who may run with good chances for governor of the Buenos Aires province. Had she run for vicepresident, Frepaso would have had to resign that candidacy to a radical candidate.
De la Rúa started to work in politics from a very young age. He was nicknamed "Chupete" (Spanish: "Pacifier") because of this; the nickname was still used when he grew up. During Carlos Menem's administration he was perceived as a serious and formal Politician, in stark contrast with Menem's style. De la Rúa took advantage of this perception during the electoral campaign of 1999. When he became President and the economic crisis worsened, he was perceived as a weak and tired man who was unable to react to the crisis. He was perceived as a man without leadership who could not make use of his presidential authority. De la Rúa considers that the parody of the television Comedian Freddy Villarreal helped to establish that image. He sought to change his image by appearing on the television comedy show El show de Videomatch, but it backfired. He confused the names of the show and that of the host Marcelo Tinelli's wife. After De la Rúa's participation ended, Tinelli began to close the program; De la Rúa could be seen seeking an exit from the set in the background. The popular image was further strengthened when he was hospitalized for peripheral artery disease caused by high blood cholesterol. Although it is a standard, simple medical intervention, the medic told the press De la Rúa suffered from arteriosclerosis, which is usually linked with a lack of speed and reflexes.
The first year of De la Rúa's presidency coincided with the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency of the United States. Ricardo Lopez Murphy, Minister of Defense at the time, met william Cohen, U.S. Secretary of Defense, in a summit of ministers that took place in Brazil in 2000. Both countries agreed to share Classified information and to hold joint operations against terrorism.
There was increased looting on December 20, both in Buenos Aires and the Conurbano. The cacerolazos continued; large groups of people started demonstrations calling for the government's resignation. The unions—first the CTA and then the CGT—began general strikes against the state of emergency. Most of the UCR withdrew their support to De la Rúa, so he asked the PJ to create a government coalition. The PJ refused, and De la Rúa resigned from government. His last administrative action was to lift the state of emergency. He gave his resignation to the Congress at 19:45 local time on December 20, 2001, and left the Casa Rosada in a helicopter. He had ruled for two years, half of his term of office.
De la Rúa retired from political life after his resignation. The scandal over the labor flexibility law was renewed in 2003 when a former Senate worker, Mario Pontaquarto, claimed to be a witness of the case who delivered $5,000,000 to the legislators. De la Rúa was indicted alongside seven politicians from both the UCR and the PJ. In 2013, they were all cleared of charges by a unanimous resolution, and Pontaquarto was removed from the witness protection program.
De la Rúa was also indicted for the police repression that took place during the crisis; he was tried by judge Claudio Bonadio, who declared him innocent in 2009. The Supreme Court overturned Bonadio's ruling and ordered him to further investigate the matter. De la Rúa and Cavallo were indicted for illegally benefiting the banks that took part in the Megacanje. They were declared innocent on October 6, 2014.