Vice President Cheney said in an interview that the proper power of the presidency has finally been restored after being diminished in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and that President Bush contributed to the process by not allowing his narrow victory in the 2000 election to inhibit him during his first term.
"Even after we went through all of that, he never wanted to allow, correctly, the closeness of our election to in any way diminish the power of the presidency, lead him to make a decision that he needed to somehow trim his sails, and be less than a fully authorized, if you will, commander in chief, leader of our government, president of the United States," Cheney said in an interview last month that will be broadcast tomorrow night on "Inside the Presidency," a documentary on the History Channel.
Bush's assertiveness in the early days of his presidency, Cheney said, meant that he was able to respond decisively after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "Faced with a whole new threat, set of challenges, you needed a strong, decisive president, and that's exactly what we had," Cheney said.
The vice president has been at the forefront of an effort by the Bush White House to promote an expansive view of presidential power by frequently invoking constitutional principle in refusing to hand over documents to Congress or allowing administration officials to testify before congressional committees.
The White House, for example, initially refused a request by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks to allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify, on the grounds that it would erode the separation of powers between the executive branch. Eventually the White House relented, and she testified.
Cheney himself has been in the middle of a controversy over shielding the internal workings of the 2001 energy task force he headed. Public interest groups sued to be allowed to examine the task force's records, but the case has been tied up in the courts.
Cheney said that the "low point" of presidential power occurred at the beginning of Gerald R. Ford's presidency and that "over time" it has been restored, despite such challenges as the Iran-contra investigation under President Ronald Reagan, which Cheney characterized as an attempt to "criminalize a policy difference" between the president and Congress.
"I think, in fact, there has been over time a restoration, if you will, of the power and authority of the president," Cheney said.
Cheney was especially critical of anything that would undermine the president's powers as commander in chief. He said he agrees with many who believe the War Powers Act, which was passed in 1973 and attempts to restrict the president's use of military force, is "unconstitutional," though that has not been fully tested in the courts.
"That made a change in the institutional arrangements that I don't think is healthy," the vice president said. "I don't think you should restrict the president's authority to deploy military forces because of the Vietnam experience."
Cheney said that when he served as secretary of defense under President George H.W. Bush, he recommended that the president not go to Congress to seek approval for the use of military force in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
"It was my view that Congress would be with us if we were successful and against us if we weren't successful and it wouldn't matter, even if they had voted for it in advance. I admit that was a somewhat cynical view by a former member of Congress," said Cheney, who served as a member of the House from Wyoming from 1979 to 1989.
The president, however, rejected Cheney's advice and obtained resolutions from the House and Senate approving the use of the military. "It was the right thing to do, and I told him that later," Cheney said.
But the vice president said he believes the former president should have used the U.S. military to eject Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait even if Congress had voted against military action. "I firmly believe to this day even if the Congress had voted no we had no option but to proceed," he said, adding that the Constitution, which makes the president the commander in chief of the armed forces, provides sufficient legal authority to launch a war.