WASHIGNTON – Vice President Dick Cheney is suggesting that House Democrats who rubber stamp Speaker Nancy Pelosi's wrongheaded agenda are lacking a spine.
Cheney expressed incredulity with the majority leadership during an interview published in The Politico newspaper on Wednesday. The White House later released a full transcript of the interview.
Senior Democrats "march to the tune of Nancy Pelosi to the extent I had not seen, frankly, with any previous speaker. I'm trying to think how to say all of this in a gentlemanly fashion, but [in] the Congress I served in, that wouldn’t have happened," he said.
Cheney represented Wyoming in the House from 1979 to 1989, before becoming defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush. As vice president under the current President Bush, he has served the majority of his time with a Republican-dominated Congress, which during that time, had been accused of rubber-stamping the administration's policies, particularly on the war in Iraq and spending.
Nevertheless, Cheney said the Democrats in Congress — who took over the majority after the 2006 midterm elections — have "produced absolutely nothing that I can see of benefit or consistent with the promises that they made when they went out and ran for election."
He noted specifically that senior Democrats he served with in Congress, namely Reps. Jack Murtha and John Dingell, defense appropriations subcommittee and Energy and Commerce Committee chairmen, respectively, are not driving the train, Pelosi is.
"They're not carrying the big stick I would have expected with the Democrats in the majority," he said.
Top Democratic leaders quickly dismissed Cheney's comments.
"Some of us were surprised that the president didn’t have a bigger stick when he could have stood up to Dick Cheney," rebuked Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., Democratic Caucus Chairman, hinting at a popular charge among Democrats that Bush's strings are being pulled by the elder Cheney.
The interview also included some thoughts from Cheney on Iraq and the recent release of the National Intelligence Estimate, which in effect played down some of the administration's earlier assertions that Iran was engaging in an active nuclear weapons program.
"I don't have any reason to question the — what the community has produced, with respect to the NIE on Iran," Cheney said. However, he added, "there are things they don't know — there's always the possibility that the circumstances will change."
He said there is still a need for strong international pressure to persuade Iran not to enrich uranium.
As for Iraq, Cheney said he is convinced, based on positive developments related to the troop surge, Iraq will be "a major success story" by 2009.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a candidate for president, blasted the vice president for his attacks on Democrats and for his Iraq assessment.
“Vice President Cheney has been consistently wrong about Iraq," Biden said, "from his claim it had reconstituted nuclear weapons before the war to his assertion more than two years ago that the insurgency was in its last throes.”
When asked about Democratic desires to see a reversal or scaling back of some of the post-Sept. 11 anti-terror policies advanced by the Bush administration — whether it be warrantless writetapping or the continued use of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to detain and interrogate terror suspects — Cheney said it has been no coincidence there have been no major attacks in six years.
"I think the polices we put in place in those areas have been directly responsible for our success at defeating all further attacks that have been launched against the United States since 9/11," he said. "Being able to intercept and disrupt the operations of Al Qaeda, as they've attempted them, whether it's launching an aircraft out of England headed for the United States that you're going to blow up over the Atlantic, or over U.S cities. And we've been very sucessful. It's not an accident."
As for Democrats, he said, "I think people who want to change those policies, or want to stop them, have an obligation to explain and deal with the consequences that would flow out of stopping those programs."