Cheney Resignation Would Present Advantages, Problems, for Both Sides

Some 27 years ago Dick Cheney and I started our careers in elective politics together — he as a freshman congressman from Wyoming and I as a freshman congressman from Texas.

Though the vice president and I often don’t agree on policy matters, I have a high regard for his intelligence and political abilities. However, the unfortunate hunting accident in Texas this past weekend and the clumsy way in which Cheney disclosed news of the incident to the media are just the latest in a mounting list of controversies surrounding him.

While the shooting of a member of his hunting party has been declared an accident, the verdict is still out on his role in the leaking of classified intelligence information by his former chief of staff.

With Republicans as well as Democrats criticizing and questioning the vice president’s actions, I think the question of whether Mr. Cheney will complete his full term in office is an appropriate and legitimate line of inquiry. Certainly, people are starting to whisper; television pundits and newspaper columnists have raised the issue. It is not unreasonable to consider the political consequences of a Cheney resignation.

There are at least three reasons why Cheney might step down before the end of his term in January of 2009:

(1) He is 65 years-old and has well-documented health problems

(2) While the administration currently is embarrassed over the way he has handled his most recent problem stemming from the shooting incident, the real embarrassment could come if he is called as a witness in the trial of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby Jr.

(3) Republican leaders may become so worried about holding on to the presidency in 2008 that they will prevail on Cheney to resign in order to position a strong candidate for the nomination by making that person the incumbent vice president.

The 25th Amendment, adopted after the Kennedy assassination left our country without a vice president for more than a year, authorizes the president to nominate a new vice president when there is a vacancy in the office. This amendment has been invoked twice — when President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford following Spiro Agnew’s resignation, and when President Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller following Ford’s elevation to the presidency on Nixon’s resignation.

Any vice presidential nomination must be approved by both the Senate and the House.

Let’s look at this first from the Republican point of view and then from the Democratic perspective.

Appointing Sen. John McCain to fill Cheney’s unexpired term would position the Republicans with their strongest possible nominee for 2008. It would clear the field for McCain and avoid a messy, divisive fight inside the Republican Party over the nomination. Also, it would give McCain the opportunity to demonstrate that he is a loyal, team player and quiet some dissent within Republican ranks over his past differences with President Bush.

However, if Bush were to go out on a limb and make history by elevating Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the vice presidency, this could be both a problem and a potential blessing for Democrats.

It would be a problem for Democrats in that she could be a real asset for beleaguered Republican House and Senate candidates in 2006 in districts and states with significant black populations. But, her elevation could also benefit Democrats in 2008 if it led to a messy fight within the Republican Party over the nomination with her ultimately being denied the top position.

There is no guarantee that the Republican Party would nominate Rice for president in 2008 even if she were already vice president.

Democrats could also be helped if President Bush were to pick another of Sen. McCain’s 2008 rivals — Sen. George Allen of Virginia or Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee. I would not expect McCain to go quietly into the night under this scenario, thus insuring a messy Republican fight for the nomination.

Interesting: McCain, Allen and Frist all come from states with Democratic governors, so appointing any one of them would cost the Republicans a Senate seat, since the governor would appoint their replacement.

Dick Cheney certainly could serve out his remaining three years in office and make this entire discussion moot. However, stranger things have happened.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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