Vice President Dick Cheney joins President Bush in taking the oath of office for a second term January 20. White House correspondent Scott Stearns reports on Mr. Cheney’s role in the Bush administration.
President Bush says Dick Cheney is the finest vice president the nation has ever seen. During the campaign, Mr. Bush said he heard all about how Democrats chose a younger, more charismatic running mate as an alternative to Mr. Cheney, but the president said it is not a beauty contest.
The president said, "I'm running with a good man. It's called the Bush-Cheney ticket. I'm proud to be running with Dick Cheney. Now listen, I admit to you, he's not the prettiest one in the race. I didn't pick him for his looks. I picked him for his judgment and experience. I picked him because he can get the job done," he said.
Richard Bruce Cheney has been getting the job done in Washington for more than 40 years. He rose from a junior aide in the Nixon administration to become the youngest White House chief of staff in history at the age of 34 for President Gerald Ford. Mr. Cheney spent 10 years in Congress representing the state of Wyoming as one of the Republican Party’s most reliable social conservatives.
He was Defense Secretary for President George Herbert Walker Bush during the 1990 Gulf War, helping to build a coalition that he said at the time not only drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait but saved Saudi Arabia as well. “Having come this far, with the great success that we have enjoyed to date in this exercise, it is absolutely essential that we see the task through to its final conclusion, and that in the final analysis that Saddam Hussein go back to Baghdad with his tail between his legs,” he said.
Ten years later, Mr. Cheney's experience with the Iraqi leader put him at the forefront of the administration's campaign to topple Saddam Hussein and link him to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Mr. Cheney said, "Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction poses a grave danger not only to his neighbors but also to the United States. His regime aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida."
But since the fall of Baghdad, no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found. When that became an issue in the 2004 campaign, Vice President Cheney took the offensive, saying Democrats criticizing the president looked at the same information and came to the same conclusion about Iraqi weapons. Some Democrats say the vice president has too much influence in the Bush White House, especially with a president who came to office with little foreign policy experience.
But analyst John Fortier with the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington D.C. says the 9/11 terror attacks and the war on terrorism that followed have put to rest visions of a puppet presidency with Mr. Cheney pulling the strings. Mr. Fortier says, "That was the talk we heard in 2000, that Cheney had so much experience in Washington foreign policy. I think 9/11 really cemented the idea that Bush is a strong leader."
Mr. Fortier continued, "Cheney is certainly a very important person, probably the most important adviser to the president and one who even if it were politically helpful to George Bush, he wouldn't want to get rid of because of his help in everyday matters of advising and then the war on terror. So I think Cheney is a key person, but he doesn't overshadow Bush."
Before joining the Bush team, Mr. Cheney earned more than $44 million as chief of the oil and gas services company Halliburton. That firm won up to $18 billion worth of contracts in Iraq, some of which are under investigation by Pentagon auditors for more than $16 million in over-billing for feeding troops. The vice president says he has nothing to do with Halliburton's military contracting. "Nobody has produced one single shred of evidence that there is anything wrong or inappropriate here," he said.
Mr. Cheney plays to the conservative side of the president’s compassionate conservative agenda from abortion to school prayer to gun control. But the famously loyal vice president disagrees with his boss on at least one social issue: gay marriage.
Mr. Cheney said, “Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it’s an issue that our family is very familiar with.” The Cheney's daughter, Mary, helped run his campaign. Mr. Cheney adds, "With respect to question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone."
Mr. Cheney believes that gay marriage is an issue for states to decide.
He said, "At this point, say, my own preference is as I've already stated, but the president makes basic policy for the administration."
In a second term, the vice president is expected to help drive the administration's energy policy, including drilling for oil in an Alaskan wildlife reserve.