Transcription – Richard Cheney Interview

Q: I wonder — do you think it made a difference in both 2000 and 2004 that you had really ruled yourself out as a future candidate for president, which is very different from, say, George W. Bush’s father or Al Gore or the typical vice president. You, unlike probably Joe Lieberman and certainly unlike John Edwards, had pretty much said vice president is going to be the summa of my public service — my own ambitions here for future office are not a factor. Does that make a difference in –

CHENEY: It made the — it’s an interesting question partly because it was — I think it’s one of the reasons [00:55:00] Bush turned to me in 2000 — back in 2000. I had looked at running myself after I left the Defense Department in ’93 — actually that ’94 election cycle when I did 160 campaigns. I’d set up my own PAC to finance my travels and contribute to some candidates and so forth. That was a very conscious effort on my part to assess whether or not I wanted to run for president. So I went through that whole process testing the waters, got through with it, went out to Jackson Hole which is where we spent the holidays always, and talked about the proposition with the family and so forth. In the end I concluded not to do it. I thought I had the experience to be president, thought I would enjoy being president. I didn’t want to do what I would have to do in order to run and win the campaign and it was a long shot. [00:56:00]

In a sense it’s always a long shot. But I concluded then that I’d had 25 years — great years in public life in the Congress, the White House, Defense and that I was still young enough to have another career in the private sector which is what I did. I went off and joined several boards and eventually took over Halliburton and was enjoying life in the private sector. That was the track I’d laid out for myself. So I’d already given a lot of thoughts back in the early ’90s to running myself. I decided not to do it and I also was convinced based on past experience that usually when bad relations develop between presidents and vice presidents — and most of the time they do — a lot of it starts at the staff level and a lot of it has to do with the vice president having a separate agenda. A separate agenda — not necessarily a difference in policy so much as [00:57:00] he makes decisions or offers advice based on how it’s going to affect his prospects in Iowa eight years hence. And I didn’t want to do that. And I also thought that it would be much easier to be effective as vice president if when I spoke everybody thought I was speaking for the president. It’s not just Cheney worried about his political future. And I think that worked very well in our administration.

Things happened — well, for example, shortly after I got elected and sworn in, Denny Hastert, the speaker, and Bill Thomas, who was then the new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, came to me and said, “Look, Dick, we know you’re going to have an office on the Senate side. You’re the president of the Senate but we think of you as a man of the House. We think you ought to have an office on the House side of the Capitol.” Never before happened in our history but they did it [00:58:00] partly because we were good friends. I served with them in the House. Bill Thomas was just taking over as chairman of the Ways and Means and the chairman of the Ways and Means has two really great offices. One is on the floor below the main floor of the Capitol but it looks up the mall all the way to the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a huge, big office down there. And then he also has a nice office that’s just off the Democratic cloak room on the main floor. They came to me and Bill said that he and I were classmates. We got elected together, I’d campaigned for him, we knew each other, and so forth. He said, “You take your pick. I’ll take which ever one you don’t want.” I said, “Well, I’d like that one over there next to the Democratic cloak room” — drive them nuts and it did. I had it for six years so I was able to — I did a lot of work on the Hill on key issues when we’d get in a bind [00:59:00] on tax policy and defense issues and going to war in Iraq and the TARP later on when we’re having financial problems in ’08 but a lot of that was because I had that set of relationships because I was looked upon as somebody who wasn’t running for office himself. I wasn’t up there trying to feather my own nest but I spoke with credibility on behalf of the administration and I think it helped a lot inside the White House too.

Things weren’t always smooth and (inaudible) between the VP operation and the presidential operation. There were moments of strain. There were moments I disagreed with the president but it was a lot smoother than it had been in other administrations I’ve been associated with. I know how miserable Nelson Rockefeller was and the extent at which he was unable really to speak for Ford. Ford always told me it was the worst eight months of his life being vice president. [01:00:00] After I got to be vice president, he could never resist the temptation to say, “Dick, I don’t know why you took that damn job.” So it was — we started out doing things in some cases dual hatting. Key people — Scooter Libby who worked for me as my chief of staff, assistant to the vice president, Commission job. He also carried the title of assistant to the president. Mary Matalin who was dual hatted. John McConnell, my speech writer, was a crucial part of the president’s speech operations. One time they asked him to run the shop and he turned them down. He wanted to keep working for both of us. So it was — in the congressional relations area — a couple of the people that ended up running the White House congressional shop started doing my congressional shop and then moved over to and took the other job when it became available. It was part of the fact that I wasn’t running for president [01:01:00] was part of an overall strategy to keep that thing tied together as much as possible.

I think it was instrumental in me being a consequential vice president that there was never — I’m sure there were a few doubts in various places but for the most part, the people that counted knew that I wasn’t there to feather my own nest. I was there to help the president and to carry out his wishes and that there was only one agenda in the West Wing and that was his agenda. And that all bore down directly on the question in ’04 — I’m not out there getting ready to run in Iowa. I was out there doing my darnedest to defend the administration and support the president to defeat John Kerry.