Chattering About Cheney

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is shown in this 1992 file photo with black border AP / CBS

A possible Bush-Cheney ticket for the White House got a thorough vetting on CBS News' Face The Nation.

George W. Bush, the Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate, is expected to decide on his running mate this weekend. Dick Cheney, the former Defense Secretary in charge of the selection process for a Bush running mate, is now a top contender for the job himself. So what was the weekend take on Cheney?

Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, was mum about whether Cheney - a former Wyoming congressman - was indeed the choice for the GOP's No. 2 slot.

"Governor Bush has a list of names of people he thinks will be potential choices of vice president," Rove told Face The Nation.

"I don't know who is on that list. Governor Bush is the only person who does. He'll make a decision and we'll know here shortly."

Still, Rove had no trouble touting Cheney the man, anticipating Democrat Al Gore's likely lines of attack against a Republican who, even now, receives bipartisan respect.

"I've read so many nice comments about him from Democrat colleagues who served with him" in Congress, said Rove of Cheney. "Maybe the Gore campaign will try to distort his record and attack him. I don't think it will pay off very well. After all, Al Gore would have to answer for all the votes he cast (in Congress) in the 70's and 80's. He seems to be particularly disinterested in being held accountable for those votes."

What about Cheney's history of heart problems?

Rove said Cheney's "heart attacks occurred in the 70's and 80's. He then served as Secretary of Defense Â… and presided over (Operation) Desert Storm. I don't know of a more stressful situation than being Secretary of Defense during an armed combat. He seemed do just fine."

But wouldn't Cheney bring too much Big Oil to the political mix for Bush? Cheney is the CEO of Halliburton, the Dallas-based engineering and construction firm for oil companies. After all, Gore has slammed Bush's own oil ties in the political flap over high gasoline prices.

"I don't see Dick Cheney's leadership in running a construction and oil service company to be a problem at all when compared to this (Clinton-Gore) administration's failure to have a comprehensive energy policy," said Rove.

Early reaction to Cheney from GOP heavyweights on Face The Nation was overwhelmingly positive.

"It's a great choice Â… We have a much better bench than the Democrats" for a vice presidential nominee, said former Education Secretary William Bennett.

Such a choice would not move the electoral map, Bennett said. Wyoming has only two electoral votes and it's a state that Bush would likely carry anyway. But Bennett added Cheney would be a solid choice that shows Bush's confidence, because Cheney "is a true conservative, but not a conservative that the Democrats can caricature or make fun of or suggest is off center.">

So, Bush is running against the Beltway, yet he may pick a Washington insider from his father's administration?

"He is running as the outsider in terms of the perspective of the issues," said Bennett of Bush. "Once you get here, you need to know the byways and inside paths" of Washington, D.C. - and that's where Cheney would be an asset, Bennett argued.

Scott Reed, campaign manager for Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole in 1996, told Face The Nation that Cheney would be an impressive "governing pick."

Cheney - who also served as Gerald Ford's White House chief of staff - would probably bring "more knowledge of how the vice presidency and the modern presidency works than anybody else," Reed said.

In that sense, a Vice President Cheney would be "almost like a prime minister to help with setting up the White House, setting an agenda and dealing with Congress - an important part of running the White House," Reed added.

Conservative pundit Bill Kristol sounded one note of caution about choosing Cheney over Sen. John McCain, Bush's GOP primary rival, for the Republicans' No. 2 slot.

Kristol said in a tight race against Gore, McCain's crossover appeal with independent and Democratic voters could boost Bush despite their testy relationship. In this election, "the independents are in play - McCain was the way to reach them," Kristol told Face The Nation.

Cheney would not be "not the strongest pick" to attract independent voters, he added, but a "respectable" one that is "impressive and confident."

Still, Kristol said of Bush, "Republicans all over the country are hoping he is not too confident."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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