Interview of the Vice President by Ann Compton, ABC News Radio
Q Mr. Vice President, did Iran blink?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know all the details, obviously, but I'm glad to know that the British sailors are apparently going to be released. I think it was unfortunate that they were ever taken in the first place. There's considerable evidence that they were, in fact, in Iraqi territorial waters when this happened. And so it's one of those events that should not have happened. I think the Iranians were wrong to capture the sailors, and it's good now that they have been released.
Q: Do you think there was any quid pro quo for their release?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't know.
Q: Do you think there should have been?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think there should have been. I think --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's important that if you get into the business where you reward that kind of behavior, there will be more of that kind of behavior. Once people start taking hostages, or kidnaping folks on the high seas, and then are rewarded for it by getting some kind of political concession or some other thing of value, that would be unfortunate.
Q: Let me switch to the war supplemental, which President Bush will be addressing again today. In our system of government -- you've certainly been in the civilian side of defense policymaking in this and other administrations -- in our system, civilians call the shots. They run the military. So why isn't it appropriate that Congress speak out on something -- not only on the amount of money being given to the Iraq effort, but any conditions attached to it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there's an important distinction to be made here. Clearly, Congress has a role to play. They are responsible for appropriating funds. But there's an area, once they cross over a line, that's pretty well drawn in the Constitution that says, under I think it's Article Two of the Constitution, the President is the Commander-in-Chief. He's the one who makes the decisions about the use of military force, how they're deployed, when they're deployed, what purposes they're deployed for.
And when we have the kind of effort that's being made now in the war supplemental, to impose restrictions on -- and set timetables, and so forth, it's not just a question of Congress appropriating funds and either supporting or not supporting the effort, you begin to get in the area where, in fact, they are trying to usurp the ability of the President to make those basic decisions, as well as, I think, to interfere with the activities of our troops on the ground in Iraq.
We charge Dave Petraeus, General Petraeus, with the responsibility of commanding the force in Iraq, with accomplishing the mission of achieving our objectives in Iraq, and then Congress comes along and adds all kinds of bells and whistles to it that makes it doubly difficult for him to do his task -- I think that's inappropriate.
Q: The kind of language that might be attached to that language -- of that supplemental approach, what if it were just listing as a goal eventually getting -- certainly that is something the administration shares, of eventually having the Iraqis take over. Will the President insist that there be no additional language, no middle ground on this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we made it very clear what we want is a clean bill. We've stated very forthrightly what our objectives are. We don't want to stay in Iraq any longer than necessary, but we want to get the job done. And that means we've got to have a government that's stood up, that is able to govern the country effectively. And they've had three national elections now, new constitution, they've got a government in place that has been there less than a year, and they're making progress in that area.
The other thing that needs to happen is the Iraqis need to have adequate security forces so they can handle the threats, if you will, of the instability that exists inside Iraq. That's a fairly straightforward proposition. The problem we're having, I think, is we see some in the Congress trying to make some kind of a political statement by trying to come up with amendments to the supplemental appropriation, I think to achieve a political purpose, rather than to achieve a victory. And we think that's unfortunate.
The President has made it clear that if he gets a bill that's got a lot of restrictions on it, or that has a lot of pork added to it, unnecessary federal spending, he'll veto it.
Q: When does the money run out? July?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, no, you begin to have problems in the latter part of April. You've got money appropriated for various accounts in the Pentagon that do various and sundry things. But the supplemental is to cover the extra added cost over and above what the normal defense budget would be because of the war. And if you're not going to have the funds to pay specifically for the war, then you have to begin to draw down other accounts to do that.
You can go through reprogrammings, you can move money around to some extent, but you quickly begin to shortchange other functions -- for example, repair of equipment, or training for the troops before they deploy, or adequate housing for the families. All of these kinds of things get funded in the defense budget, and you don't want to shortchange them over the long-term in order to deal with the fact that the Democrat Congress has not passed the war supplemental. They need to pass it, and they need to do it soon.
Q: Speaker Pelosi is in Damascus. Will there be -- will there be repercussions, negative repercussions from her visit today?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it's unfortunate. The fact of the matter is, Bashir Assad has been a -- I don't want to say -- a bad actor, in many respects. He was, for example, the conduit for Iranian support to Hezbollah when Hezbollah launched its military efforts against the Israelis last summer. There have been inside Syria, obviously, a flow of jihadists, terrorists, going into Iraq to participate in the conflict inside Iraq.
We have communicated with him in the past. He knows what he needs to do to be accepted internationally. He's been isolated and cut off because of his bad behavior. And the unfortunate thing about the Speaker's visit is it sort of breaks down that barrier. It means without him having done any of those things he should do in order to be acceptable, if you will, from an international standpoint, he gets a visit from a high-ranking American anyway. In other words, his bad behavior is being rewarded, in a sense.
Q: The White House relations with Speaker Pelosi, are they promising so far, or are you discouraged? You smile.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's -- it is what it is. I think, like a lot of people, as somebody -- I served in the House for 10 years; I have great respect for the institution of the House of Representatives. I'm also the proud parent of two daughters, and to see the first woman speaker has been a historic moment. I think -- I remember being there that day when she and I first presided over a joint session of Congress, when the President came up and addressed the State of the Union speech. It was a sincere, heartfelt sort of welcome, if you will, for the new speaker, and that's appropriate -- from an institutional standpoint and a political standpoint.
On the other hand, when you get into the policy debates, obviously, there are fundamental differences. Nancy Pelosi is basically a -- what Jeane Kirkpatrick used to call a "San Francisco Democrat." She's a liberal, those are her views, nothing wrong with that. I think it's wrong, but that's her world view. And we're bound to have major disagreements, and we do.
Q: So I'm putting you down as not -- not finding it promising so far.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, she's the Speaker and I'm the Vice President, the President is George W. Bush, and we've all got responsibilities. It doesn't mean that we're necessarily going to agree on much of anything. But we do have to govern. She has her role, we have ours, and I'm sure we'll all fulfill those obligations.
Q: The position of Pundit-in-Chief is available, I understand. Three quick one-liner questions. Actually, I'm going to hold that one, because I don't want to run out of time here. Alan Simpson is your good and dear friend, many, many years.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He is.
Q: And former senator from Wyoming, wrote about two weeks ago in The Washington Post that he has changed his mind on "don't ask, don't tell." He wrote, "My God, we'd better start talking sense before it's too late." Has your thought on "don't ask, don't tell" evolved and changed at all?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not really. My view of it is, more than anything else, determined by what our senior military leadership thinks is required, that the task of the military specifically is to fight and win wars. And the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is one that was devised with the leadership of the Pentagon some years ago. It's worked reasonably well, and I have not advocated changing it.
Q: You are about to have a grandchild born next month, I think --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am.
Q: -- into a family that won't necessarily have the same legal standing in every state, in every legal respect. Do you think there will be changes or that, or should there be changes, legal changes in some of the laws around the country to better provide for a family?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think traditionally these have been issues that have been managed or regulated by the states, and that's the way I think it ought to be. I think each state ought to have the capacity to decide how they want to handle those issues. Obviously we love our daughters, both of them, Liz and Mary, very much. I'm delighted I'm about to be a grandparent for the sixth time. I'm looking forward to the arrival of a new grandson. And I obviously think it's important for us as a society to be tolerant and respectful of whatever arrangements people enter into.
Q: How's your health? The deep vein thrombosis under control?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Appears to be. (Laughter.)
Q: Appears to be. Does your leg hurt this morning?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. No, it -- I was fortunate to catch it early, and I've gotten great medical care, a lot of docs who want to make sure nothing happens to me on their watch. And so it's been -- it's been dealt with.
Q: So, after the White House, you have a chance to start a whole new career. What will you do after your years in the White House? Will you live a public life, and where will you live?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- first of all, I haven't decided, Ann, what to do --
Q: Oh, come on, you've got to have talked about it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Lynne and I have talked about it a bit. But I imagine we'll have a continued presence here in Washington, partly because this is where the family is located. And we enjoy it. We've spent most of the last 40 years here. We also have a home in Wyoming, and still think of Wyoming as home. And so we'll spend a fair amount of time out there.
Q: But in the public spotlight?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not aiming to do anything in the public spotlight. I will have been, by the time we finish this tour, January of '09, it will have been more than 40 years since I arrived in Washington in 1968 to stay 12 months. And it lasted a good deal longer than that. And I've loved it, it's been a great career. But I do expect that the public aspect of it will end with my term as Vice President.
Q: Well, I thank you. I did have three very short ones on politics, if you would indulge me.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q: Number one: Is John McCain too old to be President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
Q: Number two: Has Rudy Giuliani been married too often to be President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
Q: Number three: Is religion going to be an impediment for Mitt Romney?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
Q: Who's going to win? Who's going to get the nomination?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm, at this point, scrupulously neutral in the competition.
Q: Will you stay that way until there's a nominee?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, for now, certainly.
Q: For now, but not necessarily --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: For now, certainly.
Q: Anybody asked you to campaign for him -- or against him, as Bob Dole, used to say? "I'll campaign for you or against you, whichever helps."
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Whichever helps. I'm spending my time these days, in terms of campaign activities, helping reelect members of Congress. I did a fundraiser this week in Alabama for Jeff Sessions. I've got a number of appearances coming up, focused on the congressional races in '08. I doubt very much that I will get involved in the presidential race, probably until at least after the convention.
Q: Mr. Vice President, I'm grateful for the time with you.
Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by Ann Compton, ABC News Radio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/284676