Interview of the Vice President by Mark Knoller, CBS Radio
West Wing Office
11:04 A.M. EST
Q: Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for inviting us into your office. First off, the big story of the day here in the White House today is the meeting President Bush is having with all of the former Presidents. Do you feel left out of the big lunch today with President-Elect Obama?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. I'd love to be there, but the Vice Presidents weren't invited; this is just for the big dogs.
Q: Have you got any advice for President-Elect Obama?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I guess the thing that I feel most strongly about is this question of how we've managed to keep the nation safe from further terrorist attacks for the last seven and a half years. And he was rather critical during the campaign of some of the policies we pursued, for example, in terms of terrorist surveillance or interrogation of terrorist prisoners. Those were programs that have been absolutely essential to maintaining our capacity to interfere with and defeat all further attacks against the United States.
If I had advice to give it would be, before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it, because it is going to be vital to keeping the nation safe and secure in the years ahead. And it would be a tragedy if they threw over those policies simply because they had campaigned against them. I think they need to proceed very cautiously before they begin to change the policies that are in place. They need to know what they're doing.
Q: Do you think it is easier to run for President than to be President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do.
Q: In what ways? What is he facing that he doesn't realize?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've been through a lot of campaigns myself -- two national campaigns, obviously, running for Vice President -- and the situation changes once you sit down in the Oval Office and begin to receive on a daily basis the President's daily brief -- intelligence briefing that the intelligence community pulls together and the CIA presents every morning about what's going on in the world, and about threats, threats to the homeland, problems we face overseas. And it is a tough, dangerous, complex world that we live in. And my experience has been, having been through 40 years in the business, that there's nothing like sitting down at the desk and having to deal with those problems to have a sobering effect on somebody's outlook and expectations.
Q: Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden have spent their political careers in legislatures. Now they're moving into the executive. Is that going to be a shock to their systems?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's different. I've done both. I spent five terms in the House of Representatives, worked up there as a staffer briefly, and then, of course, spent a lot of time now in the executive branch as Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Chief of Staff, and so forth. And they are different jobs, different responsibilities.
Legislators cast votes; they represent their constituents in legislative bodies like the U.S. Senate or the Illinois state legislature. But when you're the President of the United States, it's all on your platter. You are the ultimate decision-making authority. You're the one who is going to make those decisions about defending the nation, about committing troops, sending young men and women in harm's way. And you always hope that no President faces those choices, but our -- certainly our experience has been you do.
You can't get into that chair for four years without sooner or later having to address those basic fundamental decisions about -- life and death decisions, if you will -- about the fate of the nation. And it's different than being a member of a legislative body where you're one of a 100 in the Senate, or one of 435 in the House.
Q: Were you surprised yesterday that Joe Biden took the oath of office to spend just two more weeks in the U.S. Senate? Did that surprise you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, that was his call. He won the election. There's no reason why he shouldn't come get sworn in that seventh time. I'm proud of the fact that I ran and won six times in Wyoming, although I only actually served about five terms because I was -- after the election and after I'd been sworn in that I became Secretary of Defense.
So I think it's a personal choice, and I thought it was appropriate.
Q: Have you had any more transition chats with Senator Biden since the one at your home after the election?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No more meetings. We just -- we went through the swearing-in ceremony twice yesterday, the official one out on the floor, and then the one with family and so forth that's more -- it's done for ceremonial purposes and to take pictures in the old Senate chamber. But we haven't had any subsequent discussions.
Q: Have you told him about the undisclosed location where he may be taken some day?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm sure that he'll find out about it. I haven't briefed him on it, but the Secret Service will make certain that he and his people are up to speed on that.
Q: Sir, are you relieved or regretful that your eight years in the vice presidency are coming to an end?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to miss it. It's been an amazing experience, something I never thought I'd have a chance to do. I served 25 years in government and then went off to the private sector, and I've loved being Vice President. It's been a great job, a fascinating time to be here. So I can look forward to private life and a return to private life. I enjoyed it the last time I was in private life. But there are a lot of things that I'll miss about it.
Q: Do you regard it as the best part of your life coming to an end?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well -- the best part? Certainly an important part of my career. But I also, for other reasons, enjoyed immensely my time as Secretary of Defense back during 41's day, and the time I spent with President Ford. And each one of those segments in my career stands out for one reason or another. And I would put the vice presidency right up there close to the top, but I'd also -- I think I'd add to a very short list being Secretary of Defense and being White House Chief of Staff.
Q: You said recently that many of your predecessors have been frustrated by the office of the Vice President. Have you ever been frustrated?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I really haven't. I always remember what Jerry Ford told me about the job. He said it was the worst nine months of his life. I watched Nelson Rockefeller do it; he was never happy as Vice President. So it's often been a job that was frustrating for the incumbent. That hasn't been my experience, and that's primarily due to the President. He said he wanted me to be a major part of his team when he asked me to do the job, and he's kept his word. And so I've been actively engaged for a full eight years.
Q: As you leave office, are there any people that you feel you owe an apology to, or are there people you feel owe you an apology?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, not really. There are moments of tension, shall we say, that occur over time. I occasionally expressed myself rather forcefully toward some of my compatriots, like Pat Leahy from Vermont. I'm sure others did the same where I was concerned. I wouldn't worry about those. I don't think they define your time in office. Everybody occasionally feels a need to verbalize their sentiments, and I did, and I thought I was pretty effective at it.
Q: Let's talk about the bailouts. Do you feel that you had to put aside any of your principles about the economy, about capitalism in America, in order to support the massive amounts of bailout money that's going out now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm basically a conservative. I worked in the wage price control during the Nixon era and thought that was a serious mistake, having government get that involved. I think what we're faced with here, though, was a combination of things that happened all at the same time. We had the financial system, in effect, freeze up, and that's central to the functioning of the economy. If banks don't have adequate liquidity, the economy is going to crater in relatively short order. And what we've had to do with the TARP program I think was essential in light of the importance of keeping the finance system functioning.
We were also simultaneously in the middle of a recession, one of the worst since World War II, and having to undergo a transition. So in a matter of days, the Obama administration takes over and we'll be gone. So all of those things have affected how we've had to address these issues. But I think the government bears major responsibilities for our financial institutions -- the Federal Reserve, the Treasury -- the creation of currency, maintaining the value of that currency and regulating the banking system, and all these financial institutions. So this is not an area where the government can walk away and say, well, that's a farm problem, or it's a problem for the automobile industry, and not play an active role in trying to solve that problem. If we don't have a properly functioning financial set of institutions, then the economy itself is incapable of functioning.
Q: You know that many Republicans think the bailout is a bad idea. Some of the men running for chairman of the GOP see the bailout as one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush-Cheney administration.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it depends on what you're talking about. Are you talking about what we did with respect to financial institutions, TARP, or --
Q: Yes, they are.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that was essential, frankly, from my standpoint, and I've got as conservative a voting record as you'll find in the House during the time I served there. I think the automobile industry is different. But I also think that what we've done with respect to the automobile industry is basically a stopgap. They need to find a way to become a viable industry once again, and that's going to require some very difficult things for them to do. But we simply aren't going to be here long enough to see those programs through to fruition. That's going to happen on the next watch.
Q: Did Republicans become big spenders on your watch? You've run up a debt, a national debt now that's in excess of $10.6 trillion, nearly $5 trillion of which was run up on your watch.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. I think we'd rather have not added significantly to the debt, but frankly, we were faced from September 11th, 2001 onward with a very, very difficult challenge. We had to spend money on the military; we had to spend money on homeland security. The one exception that we've almost always said we would recognize to trying to run a tight fiscal ship was if we had a national emergency, in particular, wartime. And we've had that. We've had two wars and the global war on terror, and it was necessary and I think the right thing to do, to spend whatever was required in order to be able to prosecute those strategies.
Q: So fiscal discipline took a backseat to these other, more important issues?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In my mind, yes. Fiscal discipline is important, but in a crisis, in an emergency, I think national security comes first. And that's consistent with the decisions we made.
Q: Are you worried about the future of the Republican Party?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not. I think we're in a period here where obviously we're in a troff, if you will -- Democrats have taken the House and the Senate by substantial numbers and won back the White House. But my experience has been over the years that the pendulum swings back and forth. I can remember the '74 election, when we lost the Congress immediately after Watergate; '76, when we lost the presidency; '78, I got elected to Congress; and 1980, of course, Ronald Reagan took the White House and we began the Reagan Revolution.
So over a period of time, clearly we're going to have periods when we're in the majority, periods when we're in the minority. Right now we're the minority, but we've got some very talented folks coming along, and I'm optimistic that the party will rebuild and reenergize and acquire new leadership, and we'll again have a period when they are, in fact, dominant in public affairs and the nation.
Q: On the issue of your records from eight years in office, do you think you're the one that gets to decide which records go to the Archives?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We're following the law and the rules and regulations that are there. Virtually all my materials are going to the Archives.
Q: What materials will not be?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, if I find a grocery list mixed in among the official papers I'd probably put the grocery list in the trash can. I don't think that needs to go. But virtually everything else in this office is going to the Archives.
Q: What is the biggest mis-impression people have about you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) That I'm actually a warm, lovable sort. No, I'd have to give that some thought. I think the job I've had to do as Vice President -- which essentially is a matter of offering advice, I don't run anything -- has meant that I've had to be a very private person during these last eight years, that I could not sit down, for example, with CBS Radio and tell you what I just advised the President that day. If I'd operated that way I wouldn't have been asked much longer for my advice.
So I've had to be a, as I say, fairly private person in order to be consistent with the duties and responsibilities I've had. I haven't talked to the press a lot. That's been a deliberate decision on my part. And that probably results to some extent in the image that's been created that I don't like the press, or that I'm a private, Darth Vader type personality. I think all of that's been pretty dramatically overdone, but it does relate specifically to my responsibilities in terms of my job here.
Q: You must know that there are people who just don't disagree with you, they hate you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I'm aware of that. (Laughter.)
Q: Are you troubled by it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. It goes with the turf. No, we got elected in one of the closest elections in American history in 2000. Some people never got over that. And then I've had to, in my capacity as Vice President, be actively involved in some very tough decisions that some people find controversial. I think we made good decisions. I think we knew what we were doing, and I think that's why the nation has been safe for the last seven and a half years. And as I say, some political opponents will never adjust or acquiesce in the view that we did the right thing. But I think we did, and I think history will regard the Bush administration in a favorable light.
Q: Do you believe there are those that misunderstand the nature of your relationship with the President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: In what way?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the notion that somehow I was pulling strings or making presidential-level decisions. I was not. There was never any question about who was in charge. It was George Bush. And that's the way we operated. This whole notion that somehow I exceeded my authority here, was usurping his authority, is simply not true. It's an urban legend, never happened.
Q: Sir, do you plan to leave the public stage totally, once you leave office in two weeks?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, that's my expectation. It's been over 40 years since I came to Washington to stay 12 months. And I think that's long enough. I think it's time for somebody like me to step aside and make room for others. And I've got things I want to do and ways I can spend my time. I'm giving serious thought to writing a book, and spend time with the family. I've got a lot of rivers to fish. So I don't think anybody will feel sorry for me. They shouldn't.
Q: Are you going back to Wyoming on January 20th?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am. We will spend -- still spend time here, as well, too. We've got a home here in Northern Virginia, so we'll split our time. But on the 20th of January, we are going back to Casper, to our home town.
Q: Mr. Vice President, thanks very much. I'm most grateful. Best of luck to you, sir, and thanks again.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Mark. Good luck.
Q: Thank you.
END 11:26 A.M. EST
Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by Mark Knoller, CBS Radio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/286033