The Man Behind The Curtain
Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president in history. Is that good?
Cheney isn't waiting. "We need a strategy that puts us on offense," he says, " . . . a strategy that allows us to destroy the terrorists before they launch another attack on the United States."
Ideology. Such rhetoric worries even former advisers to Bush's father, who served with Cheney when he was defense secretary and desperately want the second Bush administration to succeed. "I love Dick Cheney as a person, but one of the problems for George W. Bush is that Dick is his vice president," says a former senior official in George H. W. Bush's administration. "When hard-line advice is filtered through Dick to the president, it always seems to make sense. When he explains it to you, everything seems reasonable and authoritative. But Cheney has an ideological side. Look at his voting record in Congress."
That record is more conservative than most Americans might realize. As U.S. representative from Wyoming from 1979-89, he voted against a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases, reauthorization of the 1972 Clean Water Act, and a bill to ban the production of binary chemical weapons. In 1986, he voted against imposing economic sanctions on the then racist regime in South Africa. He opposed requiring employers to give workers 60 days' notice of any plant shutdown or significant layoff, and he voted in 1987 to cut discretionary federal spending by 21 percent across the board.
Some Cheney loyalists say the vice president's influence is "overhyped." They say the vice president has little influence over many parts of Bush's agenda, such as education reform and his "faith-based" initiative to encourage religious groups to do charitable works. And White House officials argue that the sniping at Cheney won't last. "Criticism of people in the administration ebbs and flows," says a senior Bush adviser.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told U.S. News: "The president has such tremendous confidence in the vice president. . . . He knows that the vice president understands the role of the president and is never trying to be the president. So it's not a situation where the vice president comes in with a big foot and somebody has to step on it."
On most days, Cheney talks to the president at least once, and often numerous times, as Bush's ubercounselor. They have lunch every Thursday; no one attends except the two of them--and both are pleased as can be that not a single one of their discussions has ever leaked to the media. Says former Cheney aide Dave Gribben: "There is no one who is more discreet on the planet than Dick Cheney." White House officials say that's because Cheney isn't interested in running for president himself and has no interest in self-promotion--a rarity among vice presidents.
Odd couple. Another area where Bush values Cheney is in congressional relations. House Speaker Dennis Hastert says Bush often sends Cheney to Capitol Hill as a "troubleshooter," to bridge differences between Republicans in the House and Senate.
Why does Bush trust Cheney so completely? Because of his deep loyalty. "Vice President Cheney's only client is the president," a senior White House official says. And since he doesn't want to be president himself, Cheney is "not competing" with anyone and can focus completely on Bush's agenda. "If the president and the vice president come to disparate conclusions on any given issue, Cheney salutes smartly and moves on," says Cheney confidant Mary Matalin. Just as important, Bush and Cheney share a corporate approach to leadership. They delegate. They don't agonize over decisions. They value secrecy. And they aren't interested in impossible dreams or lost causes. Says Gribben, who attended high school with Cheney in Casper, Wyo., and served as his adviser both in government and the private sector: "He doesn't waste time on things that can't get done." Bush admires Cheney's no-nonsense ways.