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Cheney – Most Powerful US Vice President Ever?

Vice President Dick Cheney is widely considered to be the most powerful vice president in American history. He was a key architect on the war on terror and the Iraq war and -- according to recent news reports – has played a significant role in shaping domestic policy. More from VOA's Bill Rodgers.

As President Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney has brought a wealth of experience to the job. A former White House chief of staff, a former congressman, and defense secretary under the first President Bush, Cheney knows how Washington works. And this may be why, when he ran for president in 2000, Mr. Bush chose Cheney to be his running mate.

Stephen Hess is an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution.

"George W. Bush, who had no national experience, his experience was entirely as a governor of a state, chose Dick Cheney very specifically because of his very deep national experience – both as a chief of staff to a president, President Ford, as secretary of defense, and as a powerful congressman in the House of Representatives. So he chose him because he knew how to run things in Washington."

The American Constitution assigns no specific role for the vice president, except to preside over the Senate and cast a vote when there is a tie. Past vice presidents have tended to travel a lot, representing the president overseas.

Former Vice President Al Gore carved out specific areas of interest, such as the environment, to work on.

But Cheney is especially influential and powerful. A recent series in The Washington Post newspaper described the extent of his power.

Norman Ornstein is with the American Enterprise Institute. He says, "A couple of things that emerge about Dick Cheney. The first is that he is an extraordinarily savvy and tough-minded bureaucratic infighter. He knows through decades of experience, how the buttons are pushed, how to make things happen and how to keep things from happening. What we've got is somebody with experience and savvy who has strong views, who has decided to assert those views across the widest range of areas."

Areas such as the Iraq war, the interrogation and treatment of terrorist suspects, and picking potential nominees to the Supreme Court.

The Washington Post articles also described Cheney's impact on domestic issues, including intervening in a dispute over water use in Oregon that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of salmon.

The personal relationship between President Bush and his vice president is unknown. But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino recently described it this way: "I think that the president thinks of the vice president as a very close and trusted advisor – somebody who has nothing but the country's best interests at heart."

But the Post series and a widely-publicized attempt by Cheney to ignore an executive order on handling classified information have prompted criticism. His reputation also suffered following the conviction of his top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby on perjury charges in the CIA leak case.

Political scientist Norman Ornstein adds, "Having a vice president in the loop, having a vice president act as a trusted confidante of the president, as a strong political adviser, even as somebody with a delegated, substantive role, is a perfectly good and appropriate thing. Having a vice president who has a kind of a free rein to roam over the landscape, and who has such an expansive view of his own power and imperviousness to checks and balances, is pretty alarming frankly."

But as long as he retains the trust of the president, Dick Cheney seems likely to continue to work the levers of power in Washington.