WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney celebrated the 100-year history of the West Wing of the White House on Tuesday, reminiscing about a piece of executive territory he knows well.
Speaking informally at a centennial symposium conducted by the White House Historical Association, Cheney said he first saw the president's Oval Office as a 28-year-old congressional fellow peering over the ropes from the corridor outside.
"There was a definite pecking order," he said, noting that at that early point in his career he ranked low on the scale of West Wing importance.
Now 61, Cheney's status has improved. His mornings routinely include an 8 a.m. Oval Office conversation with President Bush. "I want to know what he is concerned about," he said.
Cheney's earlier West Wing experiences include service as White House chief of staff under President Ford and as secretary of Defense under the first President Bush.
The vice president commented in a conversation with former Time magazine White House correspondent Hugh Sidey at the Ronald Reagan federal office building. Sidey is now the White House Historical Association's chairman.
Cheney said that in his former positions, held at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, "I spent a lot of time thinking about the unthinkable."
But he said such thinking was always hypothetical and speculative until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and the terror attacks in New York and Washington.
That was the first time, he said, when he had ever confronted "the real possibility of the White House being attacked."
Bush said last week that he and Cheney agree that if the president decides to run for re-election in 2004, Cheney will be his running mate.
At the symposium, Cheney made clear that he would welcome the opportunity.
"I really like it," he said of his job. "It has been a remarkable couple of years."
The White House West Wing opened for business a century ago this month when Theodore Roosevelt moved the presidential staff from the executive mansion to the new building just next door.