Richard B. Cheney photo

Interview of the Vice President via Telephone by Rush Limbaugh, the Rush Limbaugh Show

December 15, 2008

1:30 P.M. EST

Q: Thank you. As always, it's an honor and a delight to have you here with us.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Rush, it's great to talk to you again.

Q: Tell me how you are. You've got 30 some odd days left in office. What is this like?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, 35 days, to be exact. Well, I guess the way to describe it is it's not my first rodeo. This is the fourth time I've transitioned out from the public sector to the private life. And I'm looking forward, obviously, to having a little quieter time in my life, and time with family and so forth. But I'll also miss it. It's really been a remarkable experience, these last eight years, and I'm, in some respects, sad to see it end.

Q: What are you most proud of? I mean, everybody is focusing right now on negative things. We find ourselves in the midst of an economic circumstance that has people unsettled because they don't know yet where it's going in terms of where it's going to bottom out. In times like this, though, when you get reflective -- I have a theory that people, when they look back on times in their past, that they tend to remember the good things. What are those for you?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think probably the most significant thing during our time here, Rush, has been the fact that we've been able to stop or disrupt all further al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. homeland. That doesn't mean there won't be some in the future, but I think the extent to which we've kept the country safe and secure now for the last seven-and-a-half years has been probably the achievement that I'm proudest of. I think it required some very tough decisions by the President, and some remarkable work by some very capable military and intelligence folks that worked with us.

Q: Does it bother you that that achievement is largely missing in present-day historical reflection, that, in fact, maybe it's mischaracterized as not the way you just said it? Does that bother you? Are you confident and content to let history handle things like this?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you have to let history handle things like that. You know, we're -- we didn't do it because we thought we were going to be loved; we did it because we believed very deeply in our obligations to protect the country. And after 9/11, that next morning --

Q: -- loved for doing it. I would expect to be appreciated for saving my country from evil like we face.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, but it's hard to get credit for things that don't happen. And in a sense, that's what we had here. I think -- I hark back to that day. I was sitting at the same desk I'm at now here in the West Wing of the White House when we got word that there was a plane headed at 500 miles an hour toward the airspace here over the city, after the two buildings had already been hit in New York. And you never forget those moments.

But I think the response is -- speaks for itself. The Terrorist Surveillance Program, the Patriot Act, the interrogation program of high-value detainees -- all has made it possible for us to defend the nation.

Q: Let's talk about the incoming administration for just a second in one regard. One of the unfair, to me -- maybe I'm wrong about this -- one of the unfair criticisms is that you and the President have spent an inordinate amount of time beefing up, in a separation of powers sense, the power of the executive branch. You have strengthened it based on some weakening that you felt that it had experienced in previous administrations. Now, do you think the incoming administration will benefit from the strengthening you have engaged in with the executive branch? Do you expect them to cede some of their power back to the legislative branch?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, my guess is, once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, that they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place. We did not exceed our constitutional authority, as some have suggested, but we -- the President believes, I believe very deeply, in a strong executive, and I think that's essential in this day and age. And I think the Obama administration is not likely to cede that authority back to the Congress. I think they'll find that given a challenge they face, they'll need all the authority they can muster.

Q: I saw a story in the paper a couple of weeks ago -- it was either The Washington Post or The New York Times -- that got -- made me laugh; yet if I were you it would have frustrated me. I was able to laugh at it. But this story was in a newspaper that had continually been critical of the interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay, and had been supportive of Democrats who had wanted to shut the place down and perhaps bring the prisoners home and give them access to the U.S. court system, as though they were U.S. citizens.

This story happened to say that perhaps President-Elect Obama will not close Guantanamo and will not have to do too much, just maybe write a new -- ought to give him authority to keep the place open, because he wants the flexibility and needs the flexibility in order to deal with the problems presented by the prisoners there.

Now, I just -- sir, I had to laugh because the thing that you and President Bush have been tarred and feathered over for the last five or six years, they're now claiming, oh, this is good for us; this is -- is that an example of things that you've put in place to help defend the country, and they're going to be appreciative of once they get there and see it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think so. I think Guantanamo has been very well run. I think if you look at it from the perspective of the requirements we had, once you go out and capture a bunch of terrorists, as we did in Afghanistan and elsewhere, then you've got to have some place to put them. If you bring them here to the U.S. and put them in our local court system, then they are entitled to all kinds of rights that we extend only to American citizens.

Remember, these are unlawful combatants. These are people who don't belong to any recognized military force. They don't obey the rules of warfare. They're unlawful combatants. And you can't -- if you're not going to have a place to locate them like Guantanamo, then you either have to bring them here to the continental United States -- and I don't know any member of Congress who's volunteering to have al Qaeda terrorists deposited in his district -- or you've got to turn them over to some foreign government. And we found lots of times when you do that that a number of them have gone back into the -- on to the battlefield and tried to kill Americans again.

So Guantanamo has been very, very valuable. And I think they'll discover that trying to close it is a very hard proposition.

Q: Let me ask you about the economy and the future, where we're headed here. There's, as I mentioned earlier, there's a great deal of fear and uncertainty, because it appears to just the average American that all these institutions that had a lot of money, including the government, don't really have it. And many people alive today, Mr. Vice President, have never lived through something like this, which is why the press can get away with comparing what's happening now to the Great Depression, when it isn't.

But still, everything is relative, and it's -- these are frightful times. People don't understand where we're getting the money to bail out all of these entities that don't have the money that everybody thought that they had. What would you say to them?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the financial situation, in particular, has been especially difficult because of what happened on a global basis, really. It's not just a U.S. problem. But we ended up with a crisis in which the financial system came close to just freezing up -- nobody was able to borrow any money, and the wheels of commerce started to screech to a stop. And obviously we're in a serious recession now, in part as a result of that financial crisis.

I think the approach we've taken -- that is, to provide liquidity to the banking system going -- working through Treasury and a program authorized by the Congress, as well as the work that the Federal Reserve has been doing -- is taking us in the right direction. I think we're beginning to see signs that it's had a positive effect and that a lot of these problems will pass. But obviously there's still -- still a lot of work to be done out there, and we're still faced with the aftermath of a lot of this for the next several months. It's a problem the Obama administration is going to have to deal with.

Q: Well, similarly, the automobile bailout -- there are a lot of people who do not -- simply do not understand why it is their responsibility as taxpayers to bail out the auto industry -- or any other industry, for that matter -- which has been troubled for the -- for the longest time. And people are beginning to ask, all this money being spent by the federal government for -- even if its purposes are admirable and well intentioned -- where is it coming from? Where do we -- where are we getting all this money? How do you grow an economy with a deficit that's going to end up to be over a trillion dollars -- an annual deficit, perhaps, next year?

And so they are -- they're very much concerned. And everybody is afraid -- we see this scandal on Wall Street, the Ponzi scheme -- it just makes more and people fearful they're going to lose what they have.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the Ponzi scheme on Wall Street, obviously, is very disturbing. Unfortunately, we've always had some bad apples on the -- at the scene who just involve themselves in out-and-out theft, which I think is probably what happened here.

On the auto thing, it comes at an especially bad time, because it's -- say it's on the heels of the financial crisis. We're on the downside of a recession that may be the worst since World War II. And if the automobile industry goes belly up now, there's a deep concern that that would be a major shock to the system. It might be different under different economic circumstances.

It's also important to remember that in most cases what we're talking about are loans. That is, there's the expectation that eventually the taxpayers will be paid back; that these entities, including the banks, as well as the automobile industry, will be responsible for repaying the funds that are being advanced at this point. But it's, in effect, the full faith and credit of the United States government that's going into these programs, no question about it.

Q: Over the years when I've spoken to you, you have purposely avoided any partisanship, because I know that this has been a policy of the administration. But I have to say when it comes, for example, to the housing crisis, the sub-prime mortgage business blowing up, Mr. Vice President, this is largely a Democrat Party scandal. Your administration tried numbers of different times early on in the early part of this decade to get new regulators in there, because the warning signs were all over the place. And the very people whose fingerprints are on the destruction -- that is Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- are now being allowed to sit there and ostensibly act like they were just innocent bystanders, and they're now the white knights running in to fix it when they broke it.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I agree, Rush. I think the -- we did see fairly early on that there was a potential crisis in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I can remember Alan Greenspan, when he was chairman of the Federal Reserve, voicing concerns to us that this is a potential major problem if there was systemic failure here. So we put together a reform package, but Congress simply wouldn't touch it. And the banking committees, chaired by the Democrats on both the House and the Senate side, obviously, have not been willing until we've had this major crisis to talk about fundamental reform.

And that's -- one of the reasons that we've been so concerned about this particular development is because indeed those financial securities, securitized instruments that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issue are held by firms all over the world. So it's -- it has global consequences if we don't get it right.

Q: Well, we hope that it all works out. We have faith in -- as Americans in our country, that it will. But in some quarters that faith is somewhat shaken right now.

Mr. Vice President, I want to thank you so much for your time today, and for each and every time that you've called the program. It's been an honor to be able to ask you these questions and talk to you about things as they happen. And I was going to ask you about legacy, but I think you answered that in terms -- if you even care about it -- the thing that you -- you're most proud of is the -- protecting the country in the face of a never-ending threat by al Qaeda and like-minded people -- correct?


Q: Yes. All right, so thank you, thanks for your time. I appreciate it and I look forward to the next time I see you in person, sir.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, Rush. It's great to talk to you again.

Q: Thank you.

END 1:46 P.M. EST

Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President via Telephone by Rush Limbaugh, the Rush Limbaugh Show Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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