Richard B. Cheney photo

Interview of the Vice President by Jim Lehrer

February 07, 2006

The Vice President's Ceremonial Office

Newshour with Jim Lehrer

10:13 A.M. EST

Q: Mr. Vice President, welcome.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's good to be on the show, Jim.

Q: Is the President willing to work with Congress to settle some of the legal disputes about the NSA surveillance program?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We believe, Jim, that we have all the legal authority we need. He indicated the other day he's willing to listen to ideas from the Congress, and certainly they have the right and responsibility to suggest whatever they want to suggest. We'd have to make a decision as an administration whether or not we think it would help and it would enhance our capabilities.

But as I say, we believe firmly that based on the Constitution, based on the authorization for the use of force Congress passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that we have all the legal authority we need with respect to the NSA program.

Q: There were two Republican senators at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday who made the strong point -- Senator DeWine of Ohio, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- say it would be in the interest of the country, interest of the President, and everybody involved for Congress and the President to sort this out and get it behind it, get it off the table. You don't agree with that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think it would necessarily be in the interest of the country, especially if we get into a situation where the legislative process leads to the disclosure of sensitive operational matters with respect to this program. If we end up destroying the effectiveness of the program by broadcasting far and wide operational details that would allow our enemies to, in effect, negate it or neutralize its effectiveness, that's not in anybody's interest. It clearly is not in the national interest.

And the concern in the past when we have had discussions with those members of Congress that have been briefed into the program about the possible amendment, if you will, to additional legislation on this issue, there was a consensus that, in fact, proceeding to do that would disclose the program in ways that would potentially be damaging to it. So there was a consensus between those of us in the administration who were involved, as well as the leaders on Capitol Hill who were briefed on the program that legislation would not be helpful.

Q: But there has not been any new conversations about that with Congress, just in the last two or three days once this thing is -- since this thing has really mushroomed into a controversy?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not that I -- not that I've been involved in. But some of the controversy, Jim -- again, let me emphasize here, when we briefed the chairmen and ranking members of the committee on this program which we've done at least a dozen times -- I presided over most of those briefings -- there was no great concern expressed that somehow we needed to come get additional legislative authority.

In fact, the program has operated for four years. Congress has been informed, a few members of Congress, informed throughout that period of time, and everything was fine until there was publicity in The New York Times. Somebody leaked the program to The New York Times, then there was public disclosure of it.

And at that point now, we've had some members head for the hills so to speak; forget, perhaps, that they were at the briefings and fully informed of the program. But in terms of the legal authority, there is a very solid analysis that includes the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, the counsel in the White House, the Attorney General for the United States, and this has been reviewed 30 times now -- more than 30 times because it has had to be renewed every 45 days since we started the program. So the legal issues have been thoroughly exhausted. There may be some disagreements, but, again, I think it's important for us if we're going to proceed legislatively to keep in mind that there's a price to be paid for that, and it might well, in fact, do irreparable damage to our capacity to collect this information.

Q: You don't think it could be done without damaging --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can't say that. We've suggested -- we said, look, if you've got suggestions, we're happy to listen to them. But that is a major concern.

Q: Sure. What do you make of Senator Graham's argument that he made yesterday in public to the Attorney General, which is using the force resolution, which is one of the legal justifications you just cited, has been cited by the administration, he said, you go down that road, the future when the next President, or this President, or the next President comes and asks for a force resolution from Congress, there could be all kinds of exceptions, you can do this, this, this, but you can't wiretap, you can't do this, you can't do that, and if we don't settle -- he said, if we don't settle this issue now, you open up a difficult situation for the future? You don't agree with that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think people are straining here to try to find an issue to some extent. Remember what's happened since the authorization of the use of force was approve in the aftermath of 9/11. We've used it extensively in Afghanistan and so forth. We also had a Supreme Court decision in the Hamdi case, where the Court, in effect, found that there was implicit in the authorization of the use of force the authorization of the President to hold an American citizen. And clearly, that's a more intrusive, if you will, use of power and authority than is surveillance of the enemy. Incident to the authorization of the use of force, military force, clearly I would expect would be a decision; but that implies, as well, the ability to intercept the communications of the enemy. That's an inherent part of warfare. So there's ample precedent, we believe, on the books, based on the Supreme Court decision, based on the statute, based on the President's constitutional authorities for us to do exactly what we're doing.

Now, there may be suggestions from some that we need to have some additional authorization passed. We don't believe it's required, but as the President said the other day, we're perfectly willing to listen to suggestions from the Congress.

Q: You don't think the public disclosure of this, and the controversy that has arisen as a result of it requires that kind of second look at this issue?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It has been looked thoroughly within the administration and with those members of Congress who have been briefed into the program. This is not something that has been kept out of the normal governmental processes. When you have the inspector general of the National Security Agency, who is responsible for ensuring compliance at NSA with the statutes and laws of the land intimately involved in this program from the very beginning; when you had the top elected leadership of the Congress of both parties, and the chairmen and ranking member of the intelligence committees of both houses briefed into this program since the very beginning; when you've got the Attorney General of the United States and the Office of Legal Counsel, there's a lot of work that's gone into this.

Now, there are a number of members of Congress who didn't know about the program until it was leaked. That was intentional in the sense that we were trying to restrict it as much as possible so that the program would retain its effectiveness. The biggest problem we've got right now, frankly, is all the public discussion about it. I think we have, in fact, probably done serious damage to our long-term capabilities in this area because it was printed first in The New York Times, and subsequently because there have been succeeding stories about it.

Q: So you never intended this to ever get out?


Q: This should remain a secret forever -- that was the intention of the administration?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, certainly as long as there was a war on.

Q: Now, what about the points that were made yesterday that all the things you just outlined are all within the executive branch with the exception of the members of Congress, these eight members, four Democrats, four Republicans, one of whom wrote you a letter afterward raising concerns about it, Senator Rockefeller?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Wrote a letter three years ago and never raised any concerns after that, sat through numerous briefings, never had any questions that weren't answered.

Q: And nobody else of those eight -- none of those other eight did either?


Q: Yes, yes. So what's going on here, do you think?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think a lot of people decided after it became public that they wanted to take a different position than they had in private. This process of briefing just a few members of Congress is well established. Jim, I've been involved one way or another in the intelligence operations of our government going back 30 years to the Ford administration, when I was on the intelligence committee myself in the '80s, or when I was Secretary of Defense in the early '90s. The practice of the President deciding to brief only a few members of Congress on really sensitive programs is well established. We've operated that way now for a very long time, and this program was treated in that fashion. It's important we preserve that capability.

If we had briefed all of the members of the intelligence committee, both houses, as some have suggested, we would have had to brief 70 members of Congress into this program because that's how many people have served on those two committees over the intervening four years. That's not a good way --

Q: That was --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's not a good way to keep a secret to brief 70 members of Congress when the practice is well established and has been used in the past to brief just eight -- just the speaker, the majority leader, the minority leaders of both houses, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the committees.

Q: Is there a conflict of priorities here, Mr. Vice President? You say keep things secret -- that's one priority. There's another priority, of course, in our government, which is congressional oversight, and checks and balances within the system. You would fault -- you would go -- the secrecy is more important than the checks and balances?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think you can do both. That's why you do -- that's why you brief the Congress in the first place so that they know what's going on, so that there isn't anything that they're not aware of, but you have to -- you can't take 535 members of Congress and tell them everything and protect the nation's secrets.

And when people take on the responsibility to serve as chairman or ranking member of the intelligence committee, they accept that extra burden, that they're going to know things nobody else knows, and they're going to have to stand up when some issue like this does come up -- as Pat Roberts has, and Peter Hoekstra have, the chairmen of the respective committees in the House and Senate, and said, right, we were briefed into the program. It's a good program. It's an important program, and we need to continue it.

Q: Senator Rockefeller said at a hearing last week that you should assume that the leak on this came from the executive branch. Is he right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We don't know. There's an investigation under way to find out.

Q: You have a hunch that it's probably the executive branch?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It would be inappropriate for me to comment. We just don't know.

Q: You told CNN last week that thousands of lives have been saved by this NSA surveillance program. Are we talking about Americans lives have been saved?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can't go beyond that. I do believe that a great many lives have been saved because of what we've been able to do with this program.

Q: That terrorists -- according to what the President has said, this only involves conversations between people who are believed to have al Qaeda contacts -- international calls, you're saying that those calls by themselves have saved lives, thousands of lives?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm saying this program has produced intelligence for us that has been very valuable in the global war on terror -- both in terms of saving lives and breaking up plots directed at the United States. It has been a very useful source of intelligence for us, and we need to continue the program.

Q: And if we had not had the NSA -- I just want to make sure I understand what you're saying -- if we had not had this program, Americans would have been killed in terrorist attacks by al Qaeda or related organizations?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's my belief.

Q: It's just a belief, or is it --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I think it's -- I think it's based on the facts, Jim. But I cannot talk about operational details. You're going to ask those questions, but we're not going to get into them. This has been one of the most important sources of intelligence we've had during the global war on terror. It's not an accident that we haven't been struck in the last four years. Some people think well, it's just dumb luck.

No, it's not. It's because the President has made some very good decisions, because we've had first-rate military and intelligence capabilities working on this problem. It's because we've aggressively gone after the terrorists wherever we could find them. It's because we have very good intelligence. This program has been an important part of that intelligence capability. And as I say the tragedy is now that it has become the subject of so much discussion in the press and in the public arena, that there's a real danger here that we will lose our capabilities in this area, and will not have the kind of intelligence going forward that we've had in the past that have made it possible for us to successfully defend the nation against terrorist attacks. It doesn't mean there won't be future attacks. There may well be. We're working it every day, but the fact is we have not been struck in over four years, and that's because of a lot of good work by some very able and capable people.

Q: And this NSA surveillance program.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: This is part -- this is part of it.

Q: Conflicting priorities question again. As Vice President of the United States, can you assure any American who is out there, an innocent American who has no connections to al Qaeda, absolutely none, that his and her rights are not being violated by this NSA surveillance program?


Q: In any way whatsoever?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me emphasize again, people call it domestic surveillance -- no, it's not domestic surveillance. The requirements for this authorization to be utilized are that one of end of the communication has to be outside of the United States, and one end of the communication has to involve reason to believe that it's al Qaeda-related, or affiliated, a part of the al Qaeda network.

Now, those are two very important and very clear-cut criteria. And for this presidential authorization to be used in this way, those two conditions have to be met.

Q: Do you understand why average American -- some average Americans might say, wait a minute, when they start -- somebody's -- whose definition is it of an al Qaeda possibility, or whatever, that they would have serious questions and want accountability?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can assure them that the program is operating in a very cautious and prudent manner. As I said, I've been involved off and on for more than 30 years in various aspects of the government's intelligence business as a consumer, as somebody who was responsible for part of the community at one time, I've never seen as much care and caution exercised as there is in this program. It has been done with immaculate concern to guarantee that we protect the civil liberties of the American people but at the same time that we're able to collect intelligence that will allow us to defend the country against further terrorist attacks.

Now, I think, Jim, that -- make a couple of more points. I think the vast majority of the American people support this program. And I also think when ultimately the history is written about this period, the relevant reaction of the Congress will be the reaction of the leadership when we briefed them into the program in years past, and they signed up to it, and they agreed that it was an extraordinarily important program, and they urged us to continue. And that's an independent, outside, separate group, bipartisan -- did not involve just a selective group of Republicans, and that that's the reaction that's important -- not the one that comes after it becomes a political issue and people are trying to score political points.

Q: Well, Senator DeWine and Senator Graham and Senator Specter and Senator Brownback who have raised questions about this are Republicans. They're not attempting to score political points are they?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: None of them have been briefed into the program.

Q: You think if they were briefed, they wouldn't be saying what they're saying?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think they'd be satisfied that, in fact, it's being done in a totally appropriate fashion.

Q: What about Senator Specter's suggestion yesterday, then we'll move on to something else here, but that a special federal court be constituted to review the legal disputes?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't want to get into the business of passing judgment or giving sort of an administration position on the various ideas that have been suggested. The President said, we welcome whatever suggestions they've got. And Senator Specter is a respected member, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he's a good friend and ally. And the other members -- Mike DeWine I've known for 30 years, served with him in the House -- Lindsey Graham, these are competent, capable, reputable people. There are folks like that on the Democratic side, too. They may have ideas that ought to be listened to, and we're having to entertain those ideas.

Q: Mr. Vice President, how dangerous is the situation with Iran right now?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We think it's dangerous. I think the international community believes that. We've seen the situation develop, as they appear to be determined to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. I think everybody also has been -- had their level of concern increase because of the current leadership in Iran. The new President has made some pretty outrageous statements. Now the international community has come together. We had the vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors this past week to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council. We think that's the right step.

Q: Some people have seen some striking parallels between this situation and the build up to military action against Iraq. Should they see parallels?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You've got to be careful to draw analogies where they may not apply. I think you have to look at Iran all by itself, and it has been a problem for a long time. But we've tried very hard to work diplomatically to resolve the matter. We've supported the work of the EU and the British, French and German governments, and their efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution. And we'll continue to support those efforts. But as I say, we finally reached the point now -- not just the United States, but the international community; the world, broadly defined, seems to be on board -- with respect to the concern that all of us share, in the belief that this needs to go before the U.N. Security Council.

Q: With the Iraq parallel, it was believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, turned out they didn't. But in Iran's case, we know they have a program of enrichment that could lead to nuclear weapons. So isn't it a more aggravated situation on the surface now than it was when we took action against Iraq, or not?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, again, I want to be careful not to draw parallels, Jim, where they're not appropriate. But you have stated correctly the situation. In the case of Iran, we know they have a program to develop nuclear power. We know they're trying hard to retain the capacity to enrich uranium, which is the first step, obviously, in terms of developing nuclear weapons.

They've been offered a process by which they could have nuclear power, have the Russians enrich the fuel to the level required for a civilian reactor, and then reclaim the fuel once it's been used, and they've rejected that. That leads everybody to believe that they, obviously, want to have their own enrichment capacity to be able to go all the way to the levels required for a nuclear weapon. So there doesn't seem to be any doubt about what their intentions are.

Q: Senator McCain said over the weekend that the only thing worse than taking military action against Iran would be Iran as a nuclear power. Do you agree with him?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think we're all very, very concerned, as is Senator McCain. And when you think about a government like Iran that has a history of sponsorship of terrorist organizations, is the prime mover behind Hezbollah, a nation that is now governed by a man who has talked repeatedly, for example, about the destruction of Israel, that everybody is concerned that if Iran were equipped with nuclear weapons that would become the major source of instability, if you will, in that part of the world.

And I know others who live in the region, others governments I've talked with, the President has talked with, obviously, are very concerned about what's happening in Iran.

Q: Should the President of Iran be on notice that the military option is not off the table, as far as the United States is concerned?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We have made it clear that no options are off the table. We, obviously, are pursuing a diplomatic road to resolve this matter. We think that's the way to go. But the President has also made it clear that no options are off the table.

Q: So Iraq should not be read by Iran in any particular way -- what we did in Iraq?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think we're dealing with Iran as this actual situation in Iran. You keep trying to pull us back --

Q: Oh, I know, I know.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- to draw a parallel with Iraq.

Q: People are doing that, Mr. Vice President. It isn't just me. It isn't just me.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know, but -- I understand that, Jim, but the President and his advisors obviously have to treat it as a special set of circumstances.

Q: Speaking of Iraq, what's the strength of the insurgency right now?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we're making progress against the insurgency. I think we have been now -- I think we'll look back several years from now and see that 2005 was really a turning point, in the sense the progress we made both in terms of training Iraqi forces, because we've now got a large number of Iraqis taking the lead various places around the country from a security and military standpoint, but also because of the political milestones that were achieved that -- from the elections in January of '05, the writing of the constitution, the ratification of that constitution in October, the national elections in December under the new constitution, I think those political milestones, if you will, every single one of which has been met, are vital in terms of our ultimate success in Iraq of establishing a democratically elected government, and a security situation that the Iraqis themselves can handle.

Q: You drew a lot of heat and ridicule when you said eight months ago, the insurgency is in its last throes. Do you regret having said that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I think the way I think about it is as I just described. I think about when we look back and get some historical perspective on this period, I'll believe that the period we were in through 2005 was, in fact, a turning point; that putting in place a democratic government in Iraq was the -- sort of the cornerstone, if you will, of victory against the insurgents.

Q: But every report -- the inspector general, who is in charge of looking at what the reconstruction program is like, et cetera, was on our program just a few days ago, and said that the insurgency's strength is keeping the reconstruction from happening. They're not even back to power -- electricity and water -- what they had pre-war in large parts of the country. That doesn't concern you about the --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Certainly we're concerned. But I think we'll find that the strategy that we've got in place, both on the security side and on the political side, is what's going to ultimately produce victory there. And the success, for example, at rebuilding the refineries and the infrastructure that relates to the oil industry and the power grid, and so forth, turns very much upon having effective elected leaders in charge of those ministers, having the Iraqis with the kind of security forces that can deal with the insurgency and provide the kind of security that's required for them to go forward and rebuild the basic infrastructure of the country.

Part of the problem wasn't just the military campaign itself. One of the reasons the infrastructure was in such bad shape was because there had been no investment in it for years. And the oil industry was in far worse shape than anybody thought, because Saddam had not invested anything new there. The pipelines are worn out, refineries are worn out. A lot needs to be done to bring them up to power.

Q: Stuart Bowen, the inspector general I was just talking about, said again on our program that the reason the reconstruction has gone so poorly, or hasn't gone any better -- let's put a different kind of phraseology there -- is confronting an insurgent -- we're having to confront an insurgency we didn't anticipate. Is that correct?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that's fair. I don't think anybody thought --

Q: Why didn't we anticipate it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you can't anticipate everything. We did anticipate a lot of things that didn't happen. We anticipated the possibility of a civil war between Sunni and Shia -- that hasn't happened. We anticipated that Saddam would do to his oil fields what he did to the Kuwaiti oil fields 15 years ago, and try to destroy them and set them on fire. We saw him putting explosives out on the wells before the military operation began. That didn't happen.

So there are a number of things that you plan for that didn't happen, but still it's warfare, there are always surprises. And I think it would be fair to say the insurgency has been stronger than anybody anticipated.

Q: Mr. Vice President, do you believe that Muslim anger and violence over these cartoons in Europe is justified?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't, but I, obviously -- we think the violence is not justified, in terms of what's happened there. I think it's been overdone, I guess if I can put it in those terms.

Q: Do you think the newspapers were justified under freedom of the press and freedom of expression concepts to publish those cartoons with Mohammed?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We believe very deeply in freedom of expression. Obviously, we think it's appropriate for people to respect one another's religion. But I don't believe that the printing of those cartoons justifies the violence that we've seen.

Q: Moving to the Middle East and Hamas. Would the administration have pushed so hard for those elections to have gone ahead if you had known Hamas was going to win in such an overwhelming way?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the elections really flowed out of the Oslo process. They were scheduled a long, long time ago. The elections that have been held, I think more than anything else, was a referendum on the inadequacy of the old Fatah organization. I think that the Palestinian people had grown so fed up, if you will, with the old Arafat operation. Somebody suggested this was the last election of the Arafat era -- the corruption, the incompetence, if you will -- that they voted for anybody else, and, in effect, they elected Hamas to a majority position now in the Palestinian parliament. In many respects, that's unfortunate.

On the other hand, perhaps not surprising given the inadequacy, if you will, of a government that had been provided by the Palestinian Authority to the people of Palestine. I think they reacted and responded by voting for Hamas.

Q: Why was everybody in the U.S. government and elsewhere so surprised by this end result, then? Everybody knew that the unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories was over 50 percent. All these things that you just mentioned were very well-known, so why was the result such a shock?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I don't know, Jim. Did you guys ever miss-call an election here in the United States?

Q: Never. Never happened. Never happened. (Laughter.)

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Most of the forecasts that I had seen were that the -- Abu Mazen and the Fatah organization would win by a narrow margin. Obviously, what happened was Hamas won bigger than anybody thought. But it's an election.

Q: Not an -- you don't see this as another intelligence failure by the U.S. intelligence community?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: No. And when it comes to calling elections, I'd --

Q: Okay.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: -- approach that with a good, little humility.

Q: Darfur -- the killing, the raping, the terrible, terrible treatment of the people in the Darfur region of Sudan continues as we sit here. It has been going on now for months, for years. Why doesn't the United States take a leadership role and stop it?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we've played an active in terms of urging the folks that are involved in it, try to end it. We've supported the work of the African Union and the insertion of peace-keeping forces in there. The President, of course, early on in terms of the basic conflict between the north and south in Sudan, sent former Senator Danforth in there, put a lot of personal time in as an envoy --

Q: But that was the earlier thing, not the Darfur --

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: That was the earlier conflict before the problem developed in Darfur. It's a huge area. It's difficult to get at. But we have been actively involved. Secretary Powell was over there towards the end of his tour as Secretary of State.

Q: It's still happening. There are now 2 million people homeless.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: It's still happening, right.

Q: Hundreds of thousands of people have died. And -- but you're satisfied the U.S. is doing everything it can do?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I am satisfied we're doing everything we can do.

Q: On the budget that the President announced yesterday -- $2.7 trillion, critics are calling it mostly fiction because there's no way in the world the Congress, in an election year, Republicans, as well as Democrats, are going to cut all these domestic programs that it's going to take to support the increases that the President is asking in defense and homeland security. Do you disagree with the critics?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I do. I think the President has got to establish priorities. He's done that. He's made some tough decisions with respect of, I think, about 140 programs that are proposed to be reduced or eliminated. He gets paid to make these decisions and recommendations. Congress is going to have to respond to that, and I'm sure they will.

But I would, by no means, think that we're not going to have some success there. I think we will. I think the Congress of the United States is under a lot of pressure in terms of their performance. I think they're going to find that the public does, in fact, support a lot of what the President has recommended.

And, as I say, the decisions he's made are reflected in his budget priorities. That's a strong focus on fighting the war on terror, on defense, on homeland security. And that's as it should be, as well as we look for programs that aren't working or aren't performing in accordance to what our national priorities are, and reduce or eliminate it.

Q: I assume, Mr. Vice President, you agree with the President that the United States is addicted to oil and that's a bad thing?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we clearly depend very heavily on it. We burn about 20 million barrels a day. And the President suggested in his State of the Union speech, I think wisely so, that we need to invest more money in developing alternatives. The notion, for example, of expanding our R&D spending, with respect to the develop of ethanol from competing sources I think is a good one.

And the exercise that's underway will, over time, we believe, reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. That's been an administration goal not only for this administration, but for many of our predecessors.

Q: As you know, Mr. Vice President, it's common knowledge, or conventional wisdom -- let's put it that way -- that if you really want to stop the addiction, that you could do it quickly one of two ways -- or a combination. First of all, raise the mileage standards dramatically on cars. And the other, just to slap a federal -- increase the federal gasoline tax. That would put people out of their cars or reduce the addiction. But the administration is against both of those ideas, right?


Q: Now why?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we've -- we have raised the mileage standard in the past. It was part of the last energy bill. We also believe -- I believe that the -- from the standpoint of efficiency -- that we have, over time, gotten to be much more efficient users, if you will, of energy.

If you look back to 1980 -- 25 years ago, roughly -- we used twice as much energy as we do today per unit of output on our economy. We've gotten twice as efficient. That's, in part, response to market forces, to the cost of energy, to the fact that prices have gone up and people have adjusted accordingly.

We're generally not enthusiastic about big tax increases. Big tax increases impose burdens on the economy, ends up money being taken out of the hands of private citizens and spent by government, and government oftentimes doesn't spend it nearly as efficiently or as effectively from the standpoint of long-term economic growth and the creation of jobs, and so forth, as will a private sector.

So we have generally resisted, and I think will continue to resist, the notion that a solution or gasoline problem, for example -- a big tax on gasoline.

Q: So it's an ideology problem, right?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: No, it's a philosophy problem.

Q: That's what I meant.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: We believe the economy works best when it has as lowest possible burden -- tax burden placed on it. We think the 4.7 million new jobs that have been created in the last three years are a direct result of what we did with tax policy when we reduced rates -- when we cut the rate on capital gains and on dividends, provided other benefits by way of reducing the total tax burden on the American people. We think that's why we have a strong, healthy economy. And when you start to get into the business of slapping taxes back on, we think that will simply slow down the economy and distort what otherwise is, we believe, the most successful economy on the face of the Earth.

Q: Finally, Mr. Vice President, some of things we've gone over, some of the things we haven't. There's an increasing thing here, again, among Republicans, as well as others, that have suggested that there may be a "competence problem" in the Bush administration, having to do -- misjudging the insurgency, the Katrina thing, which we haven't even discussed, the prescription -- Medicare prescription drug program not functioning properly at its launch -- the long list of things -- Harriet Miers -- there's a long list of things. How do you react when you hear that? It's about managing the government now -- not philosophy, not ideology, not politics. It's managing the government on a day-to-day basis. Are you comfortable with the way you all are doing it?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I am, and I do have a slightly difference perspective than the one you just laid out. Jim, I look at our economy and see that we inherited a recession, that was then hammered by the effects of 9/11, and we've come through that in great shape. The resilience of the American economy has been phenomenal, but a lot of that was -- got some good, sound policy by this President, this administration -- 4.7 million new jobs in less than three years isn't to be sneezed at. We've liberated 50 million people from two of the worst regimes in modern history in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have successfully defended the nation against further terrorist attacks now for more than four years. We have reformed Medicare and put in place for the first time ever a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens, which needed to be there. In this day and age, how can you have an effective medical program that doesn't include prescription drugs. That's the biggest change --

Q: There was management there --

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: It's a minor problem.

Q: Minor problem okay.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: The program is underway, and some 24 million Americans are going to have benefits as a result of that and live longer and be healthier while they do it.

The education reform the President put in place -- the No Child Left Behind, a huge change in the way we do business in this country with respect to education.

The Supreme Court nominees of John Roberts and Sam Alito are outstanding, and they will have an impact on the Supreme Court for the next 30 years. We've also done great work with respect to the district courts and the federal appellate courts. The -- I think the success of this administration is very, very significant.

Q: Through good managers?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I think we are good managers. We don't always get it right. But we've got plenty of critics out there to make sure that when we get it wrong, they let us know about it.

And, no, I've been involved in this business off and on over the years, and I think we've got a great President who's doing a fine job, and I'm delighted to be part of his administration.

Q: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.


END 10:50 A.M. EST

Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by Jim Lehrer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives