Transcription – Richard Cheney Interview

Q: Obviously if we were doing this interview on your vice presidency we’d spend a lot of time on 9/11 and the run up to the war but with our focus on elections, can you move forward a little bit and talk about the role you played in the 2002 mid-term election which turned out to be a very surprisingly good one for the incumbent party — the Republican party.

CHENEY: Well you remember after the — what 37 day recount and so forth — it was a very close presidential election. The other thing that a lot of people forget [00:17:00] is that the Senate was evenly split 50/50. It was a close election all the way up and down the line. I ended up as the president of the Senate. I cast the tie breaking vote even on who got to chair committees which was pretty unusual. And it meant that with the 50/50 balance, there was a great temptation on the part of the Democrats to try to reach across the aisle and find a Republican who would switch and give them the extra advantage. We had agreed — Trent Lott had been involved in the negotiations obviously and I think Tom Daschle at the same time that each party would have the same number of seats on each committee but that the Republicans would chair all the committees because I had the tie breaking vote. They changed that when they got Jim Jeffords of Vermont to switch. [00:18:00] This was partway through ’01 — I want to say late spring, early summer and Jim switched parties. I think they made him chairman of one of the committees. He got a pretty good price for what he did. That put us going in to the ’02 off year election or mid-term election — I thought — always felt that it hurt the Democrats. That it was a little manipulative if you will but they couldn’t do anything once they got there. They didn’t really accomplish anything and in the end I think it set the stage for our victory when we actually gained I think it was about two seats in the Senate and gained some House seats once we got to the midterm. And that almost never happens. Usually the party that controls the White House loses seats mid-term [00:19:00] and we in fact won it and took back control of the Senate in ’02.

Q: Were there any efforts and if so were you involved in it to try to persuade a Democratic Senator to switch parties to the Republican Party?

CHENEY: Not that I’m aware of. There may have been talk in various places but there was no conscious effort. Our problem was hanging on to what we had because there were some Republicans who were relatively liberal. Jim Jeffords I’d known for a long time — I can remember when Trent and I were both in the House and he was the whip and I was the chairman of the Policy Committee. On tough votes occasionally he asked me to go get Jeffords’ vote. We never got it. Jim was always off over in a different part of the universe. But our ability to persuade one of them to switch — we didn’t have that kind of leverage. [00:20:00]

Q: Did you — somebody did a tally of how many campaign appearances you and President Bush made in ’02 and how much money you raised and it was a substantial number and I wonder do you recall the — anything about that.

CHENEY: Yeah, I did a lot1. That’s something vice presidents do. I didn’t object to that. Back — if you went back to my time in Defense — it would have been the ’88 and ’90 campaigns — or the ’90 campaign — ’92, I couldn’t campaign. Politically you stay out of that business when you’re in Defense. But after I left Defense in ’93 then in that coming cycle leading up to the ’94 election, I did 160 campaigns. I was in the private sector then but there was a significant effort under way and that’s when we took back the house and I wanted to be part of all that and was. [00:21:00] So going out and campaigning for candidates was something I was used to doing. It was expected of the vice president. But that stage was in the aftermath of 9/11 so our standing in the polls was pretty good. But I don’t have any specific numbers in terms of how many races I did or how much money we raised but it was considerable.

Q: Looking ahead to 2004 was there any point at which you considered not standing for a second term?

CHENEY: Well, I — in the run up to 2004, I made it clear to the president that I was prepared to step aside if he wanted to get somebody else. I wasn’t opposed to staying on the ticket. I was enjoying what I was doing but I looked back at earlier contests specifically thinking about the ’92 race [00:22:00] where I think if the president had had the opportunity to make a change, it might have helped in that reelection campaign of ’92. And I felt that my job was to support the president and to help him be an effective president — helping government. He had to get reelected to do that and I thought I didn’t want to stand in the way. I didn’t want him to feel that I was an obstacle to getting somebody else if there was somebody out there he’d rather have or somebody that would really help with respect to the election. So I went to him three different times. The first two times I felt he didn’t take me seriously. I would mention to him at one of our lunches, for examples, that he should know that I was perfectly prepared to step aside — no hard feelings and be totally supportive if he wanted to get somebody else for the job. And the first couple of times he sort of brushed it off so I went back a third time and said it again and that time he took it seriously, went away for a few days, thought about it, and came back and said, “No, you’re my guy.” I wanted to make sure he had that option [00:23:00] and that he knew that I would be not at all hostile or in any way object to stepping aside for somebody else.

Q: I guess the one time since FDR’s third term the president has run with a different running mate from the incumbent vice president was when you were in the White House in ’76. But I gather Nelson Rockefeller didn’t go to the president in the same way you went to President Bush and offered to step aside. Is that a fair description?

CHENEY: Again, a different administration now. No, the president asked him to step down. It was always fuzzed up a little bit. It was a delicate matter if I can put it in those terms. There came a time in late ’75 — we’re getting ready to run in the ’76 race [00:24:00] and by then it was pretty clear Reagan was going to challenge us for the nomination and I was, in terms of the White House, the one most heavily involved in the campaign. We made a number of changes in the fall of ’75 that sort of completed the transition when Ford came in. He wanted to keep Kissinger as Secretary of State. No changes in the National Security apparatus in terms of personnel or policy. By late ’75, especially as we were looking at the ’76 campaign ahead of us, we felt it was necessary and he agreed to sort of put his stamp on things. So Kissinger gave up his second job as the National Security Advisor. Jim Schlesinger in Defense was fired, replaced with Rumsfeld and the president brought Rockefeller in and said that he was going to make a change in the ticket in ’76. Rockefeller took it like a man. He wasn’t very happy anyway. [00:25:00] I was told later — I think Richard Norton Smith did a biography on Rockefeller that has a point in there where Rockefeller told Ford the only way he would serve as vice president for a second term is if he could also be White House Chief of Staff. That was the job he wanted. It was my job. It was a — they parted — they maintained a good relationship afterwards. My job as Chief of Staff created a lot of friction for the vice president. That’s what I had to do. He’d come up with big spending ideas. We were in a position where our overall policy was no new starts because of budget considerations. But he’d bring the ideas in — the president would give them to me, I’d staff them out. The answer would always come back no and then it would go back to Nelson Rockefeller and I was looked upon by him as the bad guy and to some extent I was. That was part of my job. [00:26:00] So I don’t think — I think it would be fair to say Rockefeller didn’t offer but he quickly understood what the president wanted. And at the same time he carried through and delivered the New York delegation for us anyway.

Q: Which turned out to be important.

CHENEY: Absolutely.

1The viewer may notice a break in the video at this point. Vice President Cheney received a phone message/text (the sound of which you can hear in the recording). In the edited-out section, the Vice President responded to the previous question of “how many campaign appearances…do you recall the – anything about that” by beginning with “I don’t remember the number, the exact number.” He then took a quick break to respond to the phone message. When he returned, the interviewer picked back up with the same question, and Vice President Cheney responded anew with the phrase included in the transcription, “Yeah, I did a lot. That’s something vice presidents do.”