By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008
Vice President Cheney and his successor, Joseph R. Biden Jr., exchanged insults yesterday in a pair of unusually critical television interviews, laying bare apparent animosity between the two as Cheney prepares to hand over power next month.
Cheney, offering no regrets or apologies for his aggressive role in guiding national security policies over the past eight years, openly mocked Biden for citing the wrong part of the Constitution during a campaign debate and for pledging to pursue a less expansive agenda than Cheney has.
"If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that's obviously his call," Cheney said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." He added: "President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and, apparently, from the way they're talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time."
Biden said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" that Cheney was "dead wrong" in his views about unfettered presidential powers during wartime and that the approach "has been not healthy for our foreign policy, not healthy for our national security, and it has not been consistent with our Constitution." He said he intended to "restore the balance" in power between the presidency and the vice presidency.
The sparring revealed lingering tensions between Cheney and Biden, who said during the election campaign that Cheney was probably the "most dangerous" vice president in U.S. history. The sharp rhetoric was particularly striking given the warm public relations between President-elect Barack Obama and President Bush, who has praised Obama's well-run campaign and has repeatedly said he wishes him well.
With less than a month left in office, Cheney was blunt and unapologetic about his central role in some of the most controversial issues of the past eight years, including the invasion of Iraq, warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens and harsh interrogation tactics. Cheney acknowledged that he had disagreed with Bush's decision to remove embattled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in late 2006, saying that "the president doesn't always take my advice."
"I was a Rumsfeld man," Cheney said. "I'd helped recruit him, and I thought he did a good job for us."
Cheney even owned up to an incident in 2004 in which he directed an obscenity at Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) during a heated exchange on the Senate floor. "I thought he merited it at the time," Cheney said yesterday.
The interview was the second in less than a week for the normally reclusive vice president, and it comes as part of a broad effort by Bush and his aides to focus attention on what they consider to be their administration's major accomplishments.
In an interview with ABC News last week, Cheney suggested that the administration would have gone to war with Iraq even without erroneous intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction. Cheney also said in that interview that he approved of the administration's use of coercive interrogation tactics, including a type of simulated drowning known as waterboarding.
Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First, said in a statement yesterday that Cheney "persists in defending these disgraceful policies of abuse which have been rejected by senior retired military leaders and experienced interrogators as ineffective and counterproductive." Obama has criticized the Bush administration for condoning torture and has pledged to end interrogation practices barred under international law.
But Cheney expressed few regrets in yesterday's interview and said he was untroubled by opinion polls showing that he and Bush are among the most unpopular White House occupants in modern times. "Eventually you wear out your welcome in this business, but I'm very comfortable with where we are and what we've achieved substantively," he said.
In discussing his views of broad executive power, Cheney noted that the president is accompanied at all times by a military aide carrying a "football" that contains launch codes for nuclear weapons.
"He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen," Cheney said. "He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress; he doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in. It's unfortunate, but I think we're perfectly appropriate to take the steps we have."
Echoing remarks by Bush in recent weeks, Cheney said the lack of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, "is a remarkable achievement." He also said the U.S. Supreme Court made a "bad decision" in 2006 when it struck down the administration's military commissions.
Cheney conceded he is disappointed that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden remains at large. "Capturing Osama bin Laden is something we clearly would love to do," he said. "There are 30 days left."
In his ABC interview, which was taped ahead of broadcast yesterday, Biden said Cheney was "mistaken" in his view of "a unitary executive, meaning that, in time of war, essentially all power goes to the executive." Biden said the view served "at a minimum to weaken our standing in the world and weaken our security. I stand by that judgment."