Published December 21, 2008
Vice President Cheney mocked Vice President-elect Joe Biden's grasp of the Constitution, defended former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said President Bush "doesn't have to check with anybody" before launching a nuclear attack.
In a blunt, unapologetic interview on "FOX News Sunday," Cheney fired back at Biden for declaring in October that "Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history."
"He also said that all the powers and responsibilities of the executive branch are laid out in Article I of the Constitution," Cheney said in a interview that was conducted on Friday. "Well, they're not. Article I of the Constitution is the one on the legislative branch."
"Joe's been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate for 36 years, teaches constitutional law back in Delaware, and can't keep straight which article of the Constitution provides for the legislature and which provides for the executive. So I think I'd write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don't take it seriously."
Cheney, who is often called the most powerful vice president in history, also challenged Biden's claim that the Bush administration has amassed too much executive authority, a trend Biden reportedly plans to reverse.
"If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that's obviously his call," Cheney shrugged. "President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and apparently, from the way they're talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time."
Biden bit back, however, in a dueling Sunday morning interview that aired on ABC's "This Week" in which he said he stood by his statements.
"His notion of a unitary executive, meaning that, in time of war, essentially all power, you know, goes to the executive, I think is dead wrong. I think it was mistaken. I think it caused this administration, in adopting that notion, to overstep its constitutional bounds, but, at a minimum, to weaken our standing in the world and weaken our security. I stand by that -- that judgment," Biden said..
Cheney defended the administration's aggressive prosecution of the War on Terror, which he said was a major reason the nation hasn't been attacked in seven years. He said the 1973 War Powers Act is a violation of the Constitution because Congress does not have the right by statute to alter presidential constitutional power.
"That it is an infringement on the president's authority as the commander-in-chief," Cheney said. "It has never been resolved, but I think it's a very good example of a way in which Congress has tried to limit the president's authority and, frankly, can't.
"The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States," Cheney said. "He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen.
"He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in."
Cheney also made clear that he had tried, in vain, to convince Bush not to fire Rumsfeld in 2006.
"I did disagree with the decision," Cheney said. "The president doesn't always take my advice."
Cheney said he supports Rumsfeld's successor, Robert Gates, "but I was a Rumsfeld man. I'd helped recruit him and I thought he did a good job for us."
Cheney also was unapologetic about using an expletive in 2004 to tell Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy what to do to himself. The incident occurred after Cheney heard that Leahy had suggested the vice president used his position in the White House to get contracts for his former firm, Halliburton.
"I thought he merited it at the time, and we've since, I think, patched over that wound and we're civil to one another now," Cheney said in the interview.
Cheney, who has low approval ratings, predicted that history would vindicate him and Bush.
"We've been here for eight years now, eventually you wear out your welcome in this business but I'm very comfortable with where we are and what we've achieved substantively," he said. "And frankly I would not want to be one of those guys who spends all his times reading the polls. I think people like that shouldn't serve in these jobs."