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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Cheney Breaks With the Boss

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 25, 2004; 12:04 PM

What is Vice President Cheney trying to do, get himself dumped off the Republican ticket?

Virtually on the eve of the Republican National Convention, Cheney for the first time ever publicly breaks with the president -- and on a key plank of his party's draft platform at that.

Responding to a woman in the audience who asked what he thought, in his heart, about "homosexual marriages," this is what Cheney said:

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with. We have two daughters, and we have enormous pride in both of them. They're both fine young women. They do a superb job, frankly, of supporting us. And we are blessed with both our daughters.

"With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be able to free -- ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.

"The question that comes up with respect to the issue of marriage is what kind of official sanction, or approval is going to be granted by government, if you will, to particular relationships. . . .

"I made clear four years ago when I ran and this question came up in the debate I had with Joe Lieberman that my view was that that's appropriately a matter for the states to decide, that that's how it ought to best be handled. . . .

"[A]t this point, say, my own preference is as I've stated. But the President makes basic policy for the administration. And he's made it clear that he does, in fact, support a constitutional amendment on this issue."

Didn't someone tell him how these sessions are supposed to work? Softball questions, folksy answers, no news?

The very next question after the one on gay marriage came from a tearful woman whose husband's job had been outsourced. Cheney's wife had to come to his rescue on that one.

Here's the text of the town meeting in Davenport, Iowa.

So what to make of this? Was it a huge tactical mistake for Cheney? A calculated attempt to reach beyond his base? A genuine, damn-the-consequences display of human tenderness?

Coverage and Reaction

Marc Kaufman and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "The remarks were the furthest Cheney has gone in laying out his differences with Bush's position, and they took leaders of the GOP conservative base by surprise. Although Bush has rarely discussed his support for the amendment, conservatives viewed his stance as one of the most important social statements of his term."

But, Kaufman and Allen write: "Bush officials said Cheney has such deep and longtime goodwill among conservatives that the White House is not worried about the political fallout from the exchange."

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Cheney's comments were remarkable on several fronts. He acknowledged his daughter's homosexuality in a more direct way than ever before. While he said in the vice presidential debate in 2000 that the issue of gay marriage should be left to the states, he had not publicly reiterated that view since Bush's decision in February to embrace a federal constitutional ban.

"In fact, administration observers were hard-pressed to think of any other issue on which Cheney has publicly disagreed with Bush after a decision had been made."

But, Page writes: "Some analysts suggested the vice president's words were smart politics. They could be reassuring to moderates and independent-minded suburban voters concerned that the administration was intolerant in its attitudes toward gays. Lynne Cheney made similar comments in an interview on CNN last month."

Robin Toner writes in the New York Times: "He spoke on the same day that a draft version of the Republican platform was distributed to convention delegates that declared, 'We strongly support President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage.'"

Also in the Times, David D. Kirkpatrick has more on the draft platform, which calls heterosexual marriage "the most fundamental institution of civilization."

Kenneth R. Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News: "Vice President Cheney, the father of a lesbian, infuriated social conservatives yesterday by making clear he's no fan of a national gay marriage ban. . . .

"Activists for and against President Bush's proposal to ban gay marriage were shocked by Cheney's frank talk."

Richard Simon writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Cheney's remarks were his first this year on the gay marriage issue while campaigning. . . .

"Asked later about the difference between Bush's and Cheney's positions on the constitutional amendment, Anne Womack, a spokeswoman for the vice president, responded: 'The vice president respects the president's right to make that decision.'"

Bill Plante, on CBS News's Early Show, says Cheney showed "unusual candor," so "don't expect to hear any more about the vice president's opinions on the issue at the Republican convention."

Watch Plante's video to see examples of Cheney's gripping delivery, even as he makes big news. (He stares at the floor.)

Plante also shows shots of Cheney's lesbian daughter Mary in the audience. She works for the Bush-Cheney campaign as director of vice presidential operations, responsible for her father's political travel and appearances.

John Harwoodrty of the Wall Street Journal tells Aaron Brown on CNN: "Not a lot happens in Bush-Cheney campaign events right now that's by accident. This is useful for the Republican ticket as a way of saying to a lot of Americans out there, 'Hey we understand your lives too.' . . . And the convention uniquely is a time when the tickets are able to communicate broadly with people. . . . [I]t is the time where they can appeal beyond their base and talk to people in the middle. That's one of the reasons why we saw Dick Cheney do what he did today."

The Other Questions

Jim Angle of Fox News points out how Cheney "got some straightforward questions on everything from gay marriage to plant closings."

He shows footage of a woman starting to sob as she explains to Cheney that her husband lost his job when the pump factory where he worked closed and most of its jobs went abroad.

Cheney talked about how U.S. companies would be in better shape if Congress passed tort reform and made the Bush tax cuts permanent. After he was done, his wife Lynne chimed in with the much-needed applause line: That "what the President says, and I've heard Dick echo it, is, we will not rest, we will not be content until every America who wants a job can get a job."

Another questioner, while lobbing a softball about engaging more minorities in the Republican party, noted that "as we look around in this very large body, there's an obvious lack of color."

So are the vice president's events not as carefully stage-managed as his boss'? Or does Cheney just lack Bush's knack with the format? So many questions today.

Today's Calendar

The president doesn't leave his Texas ranch until tomorrow. But the Cheneys are still on the road, barnstorming Pennslyvania today.

Both Cheneys do another town hall meeting this morning in Wilkes-Barre. Then the vice president headlines rallies in Pottsville and Bloomsburg.

Brett Marcy of the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader predicts "a relatively controversy-free visit to the city today when he arrives in town for a campaign speech at Wilkes University."

Not so in Pottsville, where the News Item of Shamokin warns that local Democrats are preparing a protest.

"'I can't believe Dick Cheney is coming into Schuylkill County. It's like coming into the eye of Hurricane George Bush,' said William J. Mackey, co-chairman of the Democratic 124th Legislative District Committee."

Valerie Plame Watch

Speaking of the vice president, his chief of staff sure has been the focus of a lot of attention from special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald lately.

Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "A federal judge yesterday canceled a contempt-of-court order against Time magazine and one of its reporters, Matthew Cooper, after Cooper was interviewed by Justice Department prosecutors investigating who leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to journalists.

"Officials at Time said Cooper, who had been threatened with jail time for refusing to respond to a grand jury subpoena, gave a deposition Monday about his conversations with a single anonymous source -- I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Cheney -- after Libby waived Cooper's responsibility to keep their conversations on the topic confidential. Time officials said Libby was the only source of Cooper's that special counsel prosecutors asked about."

Obviously, there's one person who knows for sure who the leaker is, and that's columnist Robert D. Novak, who first published it.

Leonnig adds: "Novak and his attorney James Hamilton have refused to say whether the columnist has been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, and declined again yesterday."

Leonnig's story also contains this tantalizing paragraph: "Lawyers and journalists involved in the case say Fitzgerald is going through a methodical process of elimination for all contacts between reporters and senior administration officials last summer, and is waiting until the end to question Novak."

As I wrote in my Aug. 10 column, the prosecutors investigating the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative have been asking a lot of questions about Libby. But the two previous reporters who spoke to prosecutors told them that Libby did not discuss Plame with them.

Yesterday, Cooper's lawyer, Floyd Abrams, told James Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times: "There was nothing said which pointed fingers at other people." He added: "That does not mean what was said pointed fingers at Mr. Libby."

Jacques Steinberg notes in the New York Times that Libby isn't exactly going public with his side of the story.

"A lawyer representing Mr. Libby, Joseph A. Tate, did not respond to two phone messages seeking comment on the case. Asked for a comment from Mr. Libby, a spokesman for Mr. Cheney, Kevin Kellems, referred a reporter's question to Mr. Fitzgerald. A spokesman for Mr. Fitzgerald, Randall Samborn, said the prosecutor had no comment on the investigation."

Halliburton Watch

Robert O'Harrow Jr. writes in The Washington Post: "A Defense Department auditor last week criticized Army managers responsible for overseeing a giant logistical contract with Halliburton Co., saying in a memo they have not been firm enough in seeking justification for $1.8 billion in expenses for work in Iraq and Kuwait. . . .

"Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), one of the company's leading critics in Congress, released the memo yesterday. In an accompanying letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Waxman cited earlier audits, saying the memo raises new questions about 'whether Halliburton will continue to receive special treatment from the Defense Department.'"

Here's the memo, and here's Waxman's letter.

Ticking Off the Neighbors

It seems like Cheney just can't get a break, even on his down time.

E.A. Torriero writes in the Chicago Tribune from Jackson Hole, Wyo., that the locals who live near Cheney's Snake River getaway are getting increasingly angry about all the noisy flyovers.

"Sometimes residents are awakened in the middle of the night by the drone of an AWACS plane, they say, and sometimes helicopters drown out residents' voices when the choppers fly above. . . .

"Still, nothing quite prepared people for the brazen invasion earlier this month atop the normally bucolic Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. In full view of rafters, tourists and residents, two Black Hawk helicopters skimmed the river.

"Angry river users shook their fists. Wildlife tumbled over from the choppers' downdraft, witnesses said. Plants were rippling in the high winds, they said.

"'They were at tree-top levels,' said Martin Hagen, a captain who navigates the river for a rafting company. 'Here you go out for a quiet day along the river and suddenly comes this great noise. It was a big, big disturbance.'

"Another boat captain, Reed Finley, had just dropped passengers ashore when the choppers buzzed three times.

"'They sent an osprey into a tailspin, flipping it over,' he said. 'It was obnoxious.'"

Will Roberts writes in the Jackson Hole News & Guide: "Derek Horejs, an employee with Barker-Ewing Whitewater, said he saw the Blackhawks while at Dead Man's Bar on the Snake. He said the helicopters were close enough that he could see the face of one of the passengers in the cargo space.

"'He was smiling, waving to us,' Horejs said. 'We were obviously upset and weren't waving back.'"

Conspiracy theorists take note: Roberts writes that "According to a spokeswoman with Fort Carson in Colorado where the helicopters are based, the pilots were undergoing a medical evacuation training procedure."

Here's a story by Bill Curran of the Jackson Hole paper last year about the time when Cheney's Blackhawks landed on the Puzzleface Ranch in an area protected by a conservation easement, home to nesting osprey and trumpeter swans.

Seems there was also a time that Secret Service agents on horseback clomped through a closed bald eagle nesting area in Grand Teton while Cheney fished the Snake.

The Buck Stops Short

Bradley Graham and Josh White write in The Washington Post that a panel appointed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has faulted top Pentagon leaders for the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib.

"The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline," the report said. "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels."

The panel blames Rumsfeld for contributing to confusion over what techniques were permissible for interrogating prisoners in Iraq, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for underestimating the need for detention-facility personnel.

But the finger-pointing stops just shy of the White House.

Graham and White note: "Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) appealed for another independent investigation, saying the Schlesinger panel lacked sufficient authority to investigate senior administration officials."

I bet I know what Cheney would have to say to Leahy about that.

Live Online

I'm Live Online today at 1 p.m. E.T., so send me your questions and comments -- or your answers to my questions.

Vietnam Redux

Dana Milbank and Thomas B. Edsall write in The Washington Post: "A top lawyer in President Bush's reelection campaign acknowledged Tuesday that he has been advising the veterans group seeking to discredit Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry's military record, an admission the Kerry campaign said is evidence the president's campaign is orchestrating a 'smear' by the private group."

(The lawyer quit this morning.)

Dan Balz writes in a Washington Post news analysis: "The controversy over John F. Kerry's service in Vietnam and his days as an antiwar protester entered its third week yesterday with both Kerry and President Bush vulnerable to the political fallout from an episode that has unexpectedly come to dominate the coverage of the presidential campaign."

Adam Entous of Reuters reports: "Democrat John Kerry will dispatch two fellow Vietnam veterans to U.S. President George W. Bush's secluded Texas ranch to press him to condemn television advertisements accusing Kerry of lying about his wartime service."

North Korea Watch

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post that the epithets being hurled at Bush lately by the North Korean government "strongly suggested the communist nation is seeking to disrupt further talks on its nuclear programs before the U.S. presidential election, some U.S. officials said."

The Bush Presidency

Copley newspapers is in the midst of a three-part examination of the Bush presidency.

On Monday, George E. Condon Jr. described how the candidate who promised a "humble" foreign policy became a president who established a strategy of pre-emptive wars.

Today, Otto Kreisher asks: Has President Bush made the country safer from terrorists today than before 9/11?

Maybe He Should Have Asked Dad (Or Read His Book)

George Gedda writes for the Associated Press: "Not many people foresaw the postwar difficulties the administration has endured in Iraq. Of the few who did, two stand out, both lions of the Republican Party.

"One was President George H.W. Bush. The other was his secretary of state, James A. Baker.

"'Incalculable human and political costs' would have been the result, the senior Bush has said, if his administration had pushed all the way to Baghdad and sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Iraqi army from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf war in 1991."

That's from Bush 41's book, "A World Transformed," right there on page 489. (Amazon.com account required.)

Drilling for Oil

Alan C. Miller, Tom Hamburger and Julie Cart write in the Los Angeles Times: "Placing a heavy emphasis on energy production in the American West, the Bush administration has moved aggressively to open up broad areas of largely unspoiled federal land to oil and gas exploration."

The reporters take a close look at the White House's Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining, "a little-known task force that acts as a complaint desk for industry, passing energy company concerns directly to federal land management employees in the field. . . .

"White House documents show dozens of cases in which the task force was contacted by oil and gas companies with specific complaints. Each time, [task force director Robert W.] Middleton or other members responded by asking Interior officials about the corporate concerns, requesting 'an expedited response' and often making telephone calls requesting greater efficiency, records show."

Here is the task force's Web site.

Juliet Eilperin writes in the Washington Post that "federal government has leased 229 million acres in 12 western states for energy development since 1982, an area equal to the combined acreage of Montana, Utah and Wyoming, according to a report issued yesterday by an environmental group."

Here's that report.

Twins Watch

Who actually wrote the Bush campaign e-mail ostensibly written by the twins, that I mentioned in yesterday's column?

Lloyd Grove writes in the New York Daily News that "the daughters' spokeswoman, Susan Whitson, told me 'the language is largely their own.'"

And Helen Kennedy writes in the New York Daily News: "A dishy profile in the upcoming edition of New York magazine tells how the President's rambunctious twin daughters have been carousing all over Manhattan in recent months -- knocking back tequila shots and closing down clubs with some of the city's richest kids."


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