Cheney Rejects Idea Of Iraq Withdrawal

Vice President Cheney told a group of conservative lawyers that he does not expect the GOP's election losses to affect the president when it comes to judicial nominations.
Vice President Cheney told a group of conservative lawyers that he does not expect the GOP's election losses to affect the president when it comes to judicial nominations. (Manuel Balce Ceneta - AP)
By Michael Abramowitz and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 18, 2006

In his first public statements since the midterm elections, Vice President Cheney yesterday rejected calls for a military withdrawal from Iraq, telling a group of conservative lawyers that retreat would disappoint America's allies and embolden terrorists.

"To get out before the job is done would convince the terrorists once again that free nations will change our policies, forsake our friends and abandon our interests whenever we are confronted with violence and blackmail," Cheney told members of the Federalist Society, gathered in Washington for their national convention.

The Nov. 7 elections returned Democrats to power in Congress, in part on a platform of gradually drawing down the more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Yet Cheney indicated that, from his perspective, little has changed.

He drew applause when he denounced a federal court in Michigan for striking down the Bush administration's program of monitoring terrorism suspects' phone calls without a warrant. Cheney called the ruling, which has been stayed and is under appeal, "an indefensible act of judicial overreaching," and he said the court was "tying the hands" of the president in the conduct of war.

"This is a matter entirely outside the competence of the judiciary," Cheney said. Although courts do have a say on matters that touch on foreign affairs, the vice president said, the surveillance program deserves deference from the judicial branch.

Cheney suggested that President Bush will continue to nominate for judgeships the kind of conservatives represented by his Supreme Court picks.

"I assure you," Cheney said, "nothing that has happened in the last two weeks will change his commitment to nominating first-rate talent like John Roberts and Sam Alito."

Cheney's comments drew a standing ovation. "It was a great speech by a great leader," said J. Michael Wiggins, the former No. 2 lawyer in the Department of Homeland Security. "That's what's great about the vice president, having the courage to do what's right and what we're obligated to do, regardless of whether it's politically popular."

The conference also drew speeches from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's next Republican leader.

Chertoff exhorted conservative legal thinkers to train their fire overseas, citing "an increasingly activist, left-wing and even elitist philosophy of law that is flourishing . . . in foreign courts and in various international courts and bodies." He assailed "the U.N. and similar bodies" for increasingly promoting views of international law to "second-guess the Patriot Act, or to accord illegal immigrants in the United States equal rights with those who are here legally."

Chertoff singled out the work of British international-law professor Philippe Sands, calling it a "chilling vision" that would limit the power of the United States to protect itself through measures such as gathering information about passengers flying from Europe to the United States.

He called such views "legal activism that exceeds even the kind of legal activism we saw discussed in the academy here in the United States in the '60s."

McConnell told conferees that if Democrats want the cooperation of Republicans in the next Congress, "they'll give the president's judicial nominees an up-or-down vote" in this one.

Bush renominated six previously blocked appeals-court candidates Wednesday, to the consternation of Democratic senators.

"You can't expect easy cooperation on issues of importance to them unless they respect issues of importance to us, including the principle that judges deserve an up-or-down vote," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told the Associated Press yesterday.

Staff writer David Montgomery contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company