January 11, 2006 – TONY SNOW: Mr. Vice President, it's an honor. Welcome.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello, Tony. How are you?
Q: I'm doing fine. First thing I want to ask you about is Sam Alito. The hearings continue at a torturous pace, and for those who are watching, I pass on my condolences. However, it's been interesting to me — there have been a series of attempts to try to chip away at him, but maybe the most interesting comes from Senator Kennedy, who has one focus and one focus only.
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Q: Is the United States torturing anybody?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, we're not. I hadn't heard that quite presented in that way, Tony. But, no, we're —
Q: — cut out all the irrelevant stuff and get to the -- cut to the chase.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Right, well, the — there's been a debate obviously as to the McCain Amendment that was adopted in the Defense Appropriations Bill. But the United States does not torture. That's not our policy. It never has been.
Q: Do you think Senator Kennedy understands the legal basis for what takes place in U.S. detention facilities?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't know. Sometimes I think people get caught up in the — trying to make a political argument so that they don't spend a lot of time on the facts with respect to any particular situation.
Q: Do you think that applies to the criticism of Judge Alito?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it does. I think if you look at Sam Alito — and I'm — the process we went through to pick, to recommend to the president Judge Alito for the Supreme Court has been an exhaustive one. We really started on this shortly after we got elected. And, of course, a lot of effort has gone into it. We've looked at all of the members currently sitting on the federal bench, and so forth, as well as state courts. Judge Alito, like John Roberts, emerged as really a preeminent jurist of his era, a man who has already got 15 years of experience in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, who has got an outstanding judicial record, who has written extensively, who has written, I guess, thousands of opinions at this point, but a man, who by any standard, including the Bar Association, has been deemed to be highly qualified for the court, probably has as much experience as anybody who has ever had, in modern times, been nominated for that post. So I think you need to look at that broad record and make judgments. And what I see happening now, unfortunately, is some of the groups on the other side trying hard to find some way to shoot him down. And so far I don't think they've been successful at doing that. But in the course of doing it they sometimes distort his record.
Q: Talking today with Senator Mike DeWine, he said, yes, it's over. And that's kind of my view. Judge Alito has comported himself with composure and grace. You would be happy to perhaps hear that yesterday in the conversations, Senator Joe Biden had 78 percent of the words in the interviews with Judge Alito. Judge Alito only got to get in 22 percent just because the Senator was holding forth at great length. But do you see any real bumps here? Do you think Sam Alito is going to get confirmed?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm confident he'll get confirmed. I think — the way he's handled himself in these hearings is evidence for anybody who hadn't been able to look at the case before that this man is eminently qualified for the post he's been appointed to. And I think he'll get a very positive vote. I venture to guess he'll get more than 60 votes.
Q: Do you — I gather also you've just talked about the exhaustive process that went through, that there are others "on the bench"? In other words, should another vacancy arise, there is a series of names already ready to be vetted once again.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it would be safe to say that if there's another vacancy, the president is prepared to do his duty, and to pick an nominee that will be an effective member of the Supreme Court.
Q: In hindsight, how do you assess the Harriet Miers choice?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the — I think — know all the arguments that went into that, and the decision ultimately made for Harriet to step down when she decided to withdraw her nomination, which is too bad. I really — I've known Harriet now and worked closely with her for the last five years. She's a very able, capable woman. I think she would have made a good Justice.
In the end, obviously, it generated a fair amount of controversy, and so she decided to step aside rather than to continue to pursue it. But she's still serving very ably and in a very important position as the President's Counsel here in the White House. And so she's earning her pay.
Q: Mr. Vice President, you have been spending a lot of time in recent days talking about the war on terror and how important it is to take it seriously. The Weekly Standard over the weekend published a long piece by Steve Hayes, who talked about emerging evidence of longstanding ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
You've heard it said many times there's no linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. You've heard Democrats beat you and the President about the head and shoulders with this. Were there links to — between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think Steve Hayes has done an effective job in his article of laying out a lot of those connections. I hark back to testimony by George Tenet when he was Director of the CIA. He went up before the Senate Intel Committee in open session — this is on public record — and said there was a relationship there that went back 10 years. What was never established was that there was — that — a link between Iraq and the attacks of 9/11.
Q: Right, and I've heard you and the president say that many times.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right.
Q: And you correct it any time somebody tries to raise it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right. And so what some people have done is gotten very sloppy and said, well, there was no link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, and then jumped to the conclusion that there was no relationship at all with respect to al Qaeda.
And the Iraqis — the fact is we know that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were heavily involved with terror. They were carried as a terror-sponsoring state by our State Department for many, many years. Abu Nidal operated out of there; Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Saddam Hussein was making payments to families of suicide bombers. All of this is very well established. And Steve Hayes is of the view -- and I think he's correct — that a lot of those documents that were captured over there that have not yet been evaluated offer additional evidence that, in fact, there was a relationship that stretched over many years between Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda organization.
Q: Meanwhile we have the spectacle of Iran, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who continues to poke his thumb in the eye of the West. Mohamed El Baradei, now of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says he's fed up. It appears now that Iran is in the process of starting up nuclear reactors that have been shut for some period of time. He had — he has now vowed to press ahead. He said today, "We think that nuclear energy is our right and is permitted in the framework of law, unfortunately some cruel people want to deprive Iran from achieving this goal." Do you have any doubt that they're trying to build up a nuclear weapons program?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I think it's pretty clear that that's their objective. If what they're really interested in is generating nuclear power, generating electricity from running reactors, they've been offered that opportunity, a guaranteed source of fuel that would be enriched only to the level necessary to run a civilian reactor.
The Russians would then take back the spent fuel so that it couldn't be reprocessed for the plutonium in it. And the Iranians could achieve their objective of having nuclear energy.
They've not been satisfied with that. What they want is the ability to enrich the uranium themselves, and that would allow them to take it up to a much higher level and purity that is required for nuclear weapons. The effort we've made to date through the EU, the European Union, working with the Brits and the French and the Germans has been to reach a diplomatic solution to this problem. But so far they've been unsuccessful. And given the track record there, as well as given some of the more outrageous statements that the new President has made, Ahmadinejad, doesn't inspire confidence, I don't think, in anyone. It obviously is an increasingly significant problem that the world is going to have to address.
Q: Should the world be considering a serious economic embargo of Iran?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the next step will be probably to go before the U.N. Security Council. And that would be probably the number one item on the agenda would be the resolution that could be enforced by sanctions, were they to fail to comply with it.
Now, that's speculative at this point. No decision has been made on that, but that will be next step once the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency meets and concludes that the diplomatic track they've been on isn't going to work, then the next step would be for the Board of Governors to vote to refer the entire matter to the Security Council.
Q: It's pretty well established that the vast majority of Iranians hate their government and like the United States. Would it be fair to say that at least in the abstract we would like a regime change there?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it would be fair to say we'd like the Iranian government to operate in a way that is consistent with the standards that we expect of members of the international community. Not only do they appear to be on the path to develop nuclear weapons, but this also has been one of the prime terror-sponsoring states in world. They've been the prime mover behind Hezbollah. They have got a track record with respect to supporting terror that is a very bad one, if I can put it in those terms.
So this is a nation, whose government I don't believe serves them well at this point. I think you're right that there are a lot of Iranians who would like to see the policies changed. And we'll see what happens. They have — occasionally hold elections, but they're very special kinds of elections. They're really not free and fair elections. The old guard controls who actually gets on the ballot, and so we have not seen, say, them produce what I would think of as a responsible government.
Q: Two quick questions everybody wants me to ask you: number one, would you please reconsider and think about running for president? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Tony, I appreciate the interest, but no when I finish this tour, that's going to be it.
Q: Second, your health: They were beating Scott McClellan to death the other day asking about gout and everything else. How you doing?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm doing fine. I'm back at work, have been for some time. Of course, I've got a history of coronary artery disease that goes back nearly 30 years. But the wonders of modern medicine have kept me going and let me live a full, normal and active life in spite of all that. And I'm fortunate today to have good doctors who take good care of me, so when I do have one of these episodes everything always comes out all right.
Q: Now, did you walk through the doors of the Dick Cheney Center when you went in the other day?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I didn't. (Laughter.) You mean at the hospital over there?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, we went in the regular entrance, the emergency room.
Q: Well, Mr. Vice President, glad to have you in good health. As you know, I'm a big believer in medical technology, as well. And thanks so much for joining us today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, Tony, good to talk to you.