Dick Cheney – American Vice President

The role of the Vice president is currently evolving. Until recently, the position of Vice president was seen as ceremonial and as a whole useless. The Founding Fathers saw the position of Vice president mainly as the President of the Senate. The Vice presidency does not have a place; it is part of the legislative and executive branch. The Vice president may or may not have much influence. Judging by history, most have not been vital in the president’s administration. Harry Truman, while serving as Vice president, only saw Roosevelt eight times during his presidency (Kengor 2000, 175). But this situation is not common anymore, because the Vice president’s role is expanding.

The Vice president is mentioned but a few times in the Constitution and only once does it define his/her job. Article 1, Section 3 addresses the Vice president’s role as president of the Senate and his duty to vote only where there is a tie. Other parts of the Constitution mention the vice president’s role as successor to the President and the positions requirement to be separately elected from the President. So overall, except for the Vice presidents role in the Senate, nothing is truly defined. In the past this has limited the Vice president; but now, in the times of the modern presidency, it has enabled the office to cross between the executive and legislative branch and take on more responsibilities.

The increased role of the Vice president started when Truman took office and was unprepared, and this was during World War II. Nixon saw a larger role under Eisenhower because he was the first vice president to preside over NSC and Cabinet meetings in the president’s absence. Real change started during Carter’s term and his Vice president Walter Mondale. Mondale became the first vice president with an office in the West Wing. This was a big step because every vice president up until Kennedy’s presidency did not even have an office in the executive building (Kengor 177). Now in George W. Bush’s second term, Dick Cheney’s role and influence is greater than vice presidents before him. Cheney’s role should be compared to vice presidents of recent history like: Rockefeller, Mondale, Bush, Quayle, and Gore.

Nelson Rockefeller was promised a lot of domestic influence but that proved to be wishful thinking. After a few months, Ford’s staff pushed Rockefeller away from the inner circle (Light 1983-1984, 623). Light states that Rockefeller fell behind from his lengthy confirmation process, his rejection of an office in the executive building, and was not there to form relationships within the White House (623). Ford appointed Rockefeller as chairman of the Commission on Central Intelligence Agency and vice-chairmanship of the Domestic Council. These were nice titles, but consumed a lot of Rockefeller’s time and took away from his influence (Light 624). He also faced competition from Chief of Staff, Rumsfeld. On top of that, Rockefeller was open with his opinion so people saw when President Ford took other directions, and thus showed him as a loser in gaining influence (Light 626). Though Ford had a good personal relationship with Rockefeller, Ford’s staff kept Rockefeller from gaining influence, and Ford and Rockefeller also differed in what policy to attack (Light 628). But he did meet with Ford at least once a week. Rockefeller also did ceremonial foreign travel to Saudi Arabia and other countries. Rockefeller was dropped from the ticket in the next election from his unsuccessful time as a vice president.

Walter Mondale had a different time as vice president than Rockefeller. From the start Mondale was not four months late like Rockefeller and he also refused appointments on commissions unlike Rockefeller. Carter allowed Mondale to help him in picking the Cabinet. Unlike Rockefeller, Mondale liked to keep a low profile to hide his influence (Light 628). Mondale and his staff had experience in Washington which helped them gain influence with a President who was a governor from Georgia. Mondale helped gain support for Carter’s legislative agenda (Light 634). No one in the Carter staff knew how to handle Congress so they looked to Mondale’s staff (Light 636). Mondale also set priorities in his policy he tried to push. He picked and chose times so he could be successful (Light 637). Mondale’s big victories were setting electoral reform and the Department of Education as priorities. Concerning foreign policy, Mondale had little or no influence. His adviser was a deputy to the national security adviser. Overall, Mondale was better prepared to be vice president by coming in with a strategy, staying hidden, and knowing when to push his policies.

Dan Quayle had a different experience as vice president than those before and after him. He was the chairman of the National Space Council and the Council on Competitiveness. The latter was a council on limiting regulation on the environment and businesses. This was the main issue Quayle worked on. As far as foreign policy is concerned, Quayle served a role much like traditional vice presidents. During the Gulf crisis he acted as a spokesman, took tips abroad, and attacked critics of the President’s strategy in the Gulf (Kengor 2000, 175). Vice president Quayle did experience some success in lobbying Venezuela to increase oil production and getting Brazil and Argentina to stop giving missile technology to Iraq (Kengor 176). But a major problem of Quayle’s in foreign policy was George Bush. Bush’s strength and of his staff was foreign policy. It was hard to fill in a gap in the administration. Quayle did not have much influence on policy and thus his time as vice president looked much like Rockefeller’s.

Al Gore completely evolved the job of vice president. He became very involved in foreign policy. For one, Gore met with Secretary of State Warren Christopher every Friday to discuss foreign policy (Kengor 177). Gore was able to influence foreign policy decisions with access to NSA meetings. He became an important spokesman with Russia because he established a solid relationship with Russia’s Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Gore also met with Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Nursultan Nazabayev to discuss arms control and non-proliferation (Kengor 178). Gore also had a lot of influence in acting against Slobodan Milosevic. Gore was a strong supporter of the Kyoto Treaty as well as other environmental programs that died in Congress. Gore also broke a tie in the Senate to pass economic reform proposed by Clinton in 1993. In a debate on NAFTA verse Ross Perot, Gore helped win public and Congressional support of the issue. Gore served as chair of the Crime Prevention Council. And Gore also had to show support of President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Overall, Al Gore had influence in foreign and domestic policy matters incomparable to any other vice president before him.

Dick Cheney became the 46th vice president of the United States after Al Gore. Dick Cheney came into this position with a lot of political experience. He was Chief of Staff for Ford, Defense Secretary for Bush 41, and served in the House of Representatives including time as the Minority Whip. He has seen the government from different angles.

Foreign policy is an area where Cheney has experienced great influence. Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at the University of New Orleans says, “He [Cheney] is the vortex in the White House in foreign policymaking. Everything comes through him,” (Slavin 2002, USA Today). Some say that his influence exceeds that of Henry Kissinger (Rothkopf 2006, Washington Post). Cheney has an ally in Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, because their relationship dates back to when they served under Ford and they possess similar ideals on foreign policy. Cheney is the main influence on Bush and his actions in Iraq and the war on terrorism. He was one of the main supporters to attack Iraq without support from allies like France and Germany. Unlike most Vice presidents, Cheney doesn’t do much foreign travel as a spokesman for the president or ceremonial visits. By the end of 2003, Cheney had only been overseas to do a tour of Iraq before the war (Hitt 2003, WSJ). As a whole, Cheney’s influence rivals and exceeds the influence of Secretaries of State Powell [former] and Rice.

A strong source of Cheney’s influence comes from his relationship with Congress. He is seen as a whip or lobbyist for the President. He was seen as a central player on tax cuts, a new Medicare prescription-drug benefit and a pending national energy bill. Cheney’s support was crucial in eliminating the estate tax and reducing taxes on dividends (Nather 2004, CQ Weekly). Not only does Cheney have an office in the White House, Executive Building, and Senate, but one in the House as well. This gives him greater access to all members of Congress. Members of Congress trust him because of his time as a Representative from Wyoming. Republican senators saw Cheney as their 51st member when party lines were 50-50 in the Senate (Carney 2001, Time). He has broken ties in Senate six times so far. On top of that, some Republicans do not consider him the President of the Senate, but as a line to the president to make lasting deals (Cochran 2003, CQ Weekly). Cheney has pulled power from the legislative branch to the executive branch (Hitt 2003, WSJ).

Access to the president largely affects a vice president’s role in the White House. Rockefeller had little access to Ford, but Gore did not have as hard of a time. “Gore had to ask for his lunch and fight to keep it on Clinton’s schedule,” says James Carney of Time (2001 Time). Cheney spends two-thirds of his workday with Bush discussing all types of policies, which is a huge increase over all past vice-presidents access (Carney 2001, Time). “Even Cheney’s staff has had access. Cheney’s chief of staff and national security adviser, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, enjoyed the same protocol rank as the president’s national security adviser,” (Rothkopf 2006, Washington Post). Libby also held the title as special assistant to the president, which began with Clinton and Gore. Cheney’s staff is integrated into policymaking which is unique in history (Hitt, 2003 WSJ). Carney says that not only does Cheney not leave “the loop” but he even was allowed to put allies as head of the Treasury and Defense departments (2001, Time). Cheney has access not equaled by other vice presidents.

Another strategy Cheney uses, which Mondale took advantage of as well, is staying behind the scenes. “Cheney listens more than he talks,” states Cochran (2003, CQ Weekly). He likes to be involved but does not want the public to see this. This helps keep him in “the loop” and also does not undermine the president’s image towards the public. He has been seen slipping out of a room before photographers have shown up (Hitt, 2003 WSJ). Cheney likes to save his advice and comments for private meetings with President Bush (Slavin, 2002 USA Today). By staying out of the limelight Cheney can privately meet with the president and have a lot more access which let his ideas or concerns have less competition with other advisers.

Cheney has had battles over his role in the White House. He was appointed to lead an energy policy task force in 2001 named the National Energy Policy Development Group. The General Accounting Office sued him because they wanted to look at documents on the commission, but Cheney said no by stating executive privilege. It was seen as a struggle of power between the legislative and executive branches. The GAO wanted to know who was involved in the task force, who was consulted, and how much did the work of the group cost (Palmer, 2001 CQ Weekly). Cheney claimed that the ability of the executive branch to govern depends on confidentiality. Clinton lost conflicts similar to this regarding his Secret Service agents testifying and his wife Hillary’s commission on health-care. Congress won in both cases. Cheney’s case went to the Supreme Court but the respondents were Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and not GAO. Specifically, these groups were concerned over non-federal employees like special interest lobbyists were attending and participating in meetings of the task force (Supreme Court Cases). According to the respondents, Cheney was in violation of the procedural and disclosure requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Cheney lost the case and the group had to open up their documents to Congress. Cheney may have lost, but by trying to invoke executive privilege Cheney has shown the power he can wield.

Cheney has encountered controversy unlike other recent vice presidents. His chief of staff I. Lewis Libby has been indicted for perjury, obstruction, and false statements. Some see this as targeting Cheney himself along with Libby (Fineman 2005, Newsweek). Craig Crawford of CQ Weekly says that Cheney, as a right-hand man, is losing his right-hand man (2005 CQ Weekly). As a result of this problem Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has gained influence in foreign policy (Fineman 2005, Newsweek). Because of the Libby indictment, Susan Page of USA Today says that Cheney is not as effective with Congress as he once was (USA Today 2005). The indictment has hurt Cheney’s image with the public and with others in government.

Dick Cheney has and does perform tasks of traditional vice presidents. He acts as a spokesman for the administration and their policy and this is a role that is not new to past vice presidents. Since Cheney states he will not pursue the presidency after his time as vice president, it enables him to be more useful to President Bush. Page believes his lack of political ambition has allowed him to be more loyal and thus allowed President Bush to trust him more. He cannot be a future rival. “In the past few weeks, Cheney has taken on his office’s traditional attack-dog role: denouncing the administrations critics in language more strident than anything the president uses,” Page goes on to say (USA Today 2005). He can also help the president by keeping some of the criticism away from President Bush states Republican Strategist Charlie Black (Page 2005, USA Today). He attracts criticism and thus shields the president from it. The President trusts Cheney and it improves their relationship while moving towards goals. Cheney’s retirement after this term also enhanced his ability to act more like a traditional vice president.

A senior White House official says that Dick Cheney is enabled because he does not have a constituency within the bureaucracy (Slavin 2002, USA Today). This is provided by the vagueness of the job description in the Constitution. The vice president can now fill roles not specified by the Constitution, but certainly not prohibited by it. The level of influence though in the end is decided by the president because he chooses the role of the vice president. Carter gave a larger role to Mondale just by giving him an office in the West Wing. Clinton allowed access to Gore and thus Gore gained a larger role. President Bush has needed Cheney’s expertise from his time serving in Washington and his knowledge on Iraq from his time as Secretary of Defense. The president chose Cheney to help him and Cheney as a result has been called an “adviser-in-chief” (Grier 2001, Christian Science Monitor). Joel Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University, says that Cheney has lapped Gore in involvement. Cheney’s experience, trust from President Bush, and knowledge on a range of policies has provided him influence in the White House. Cheney has seen a role unlike any other vice president in history, so it will be interesting to see how the controversy around him affects the rest of his time in office.

Works Cited

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Cochran, John. “GOP Turns to Cheney To Get Job Done” CQ Weekly, May 31, 2003, 1306.

Constitution of the United States

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