Republicans Back Cheney Despite Health Problems

Whether Vice President Dick Cheney is suffering from problems with his foot, his heart or his knees, leading Republicans across the country say they are confident he is fit for office.

GOP faithful say they've known since Cheney joined President Bush's ticket that he had his share of ailments. His recent hospitalizations have not caused them to doubt whether the 64-year-old vice president should finish his second term.

"I haven't heard a soul say anything along the lines of Dick Cheney stepping aside," said Patrick Anderson, an economist who ran for statewide office in Michigan as a Republican. "You have to remember, Cheney's job is to back up the president and be ready if something happens to him. He doesn't need to be Jack LaLanne Jr."

Although Cheney is well liked by Republicans, he is unpopular among Democrats and independents. Overall, recent polling has found the public more likely to disapprove of Cheney's job performance than approve, but Bush has been fiercely loyal toward his vice president.

Cheney's latest ailment flared up early Monday morning, when he went to the hospital suffering from shortness of breath — his third sudden trip to the hospital since becoming vice president. He stayed just a few hours while doctors determined that the problem was caused by fluid retention that was a side effect of medicine he was taking for a foot ailment.

That ailment had forced him to use a cane Friday during a trip to Missouri.

Despite the public glimpses of his private medical concerns — he has refused to release his medical records — more than a dozen Republicans interviewed said they don't see his problems as being severe.

"I've had three separate coronary bypasses myself and I'm healthy as I can be," said Laird Stabler Jr., who resigned last year after 20 years as GOP committeeman in Delaware. "I do not believe it would be a good idea to change horses midstream."

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett said Cheney's hospitalizations show that doctors probably "err on the side of caution" when it comes to treating the vice president.

"I think any time the president or the vice president has a sniffle, someone is going to make something of it," Bennett said.

Cheney has been diagnosed with tendinitis that causes pain in his left heel, and he has inflammation in the joint of the big toe of his left foot. Some doctors who have examined him say he has gout, while others say he has osteoarthritis, Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said.

The foot condition was not related to surgery Cheney had last September to repair aneurysms behind both of his knees, McBride said.

Cheney also has a long history of mostly heart-related health problems — four heart attacks, though none since he became vice president; quadruple bypass surgery to clear clogged arteries; two artery-clearing angioplasties; and an operation to implant a pacemaker.

Al Cardenas, who co-chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida and used to chair the state Republican Party, said despite Cheney's problems with health and public opinion, GOP activists like to see Cheney working at Bush's side. He said they see him as a steady and mature influence in the White House.

"I've yet to hear from a prominent fundraiser, member of Congress or opinion maker from our side of the fence about him stepping down for health-related reasons," Cardenas said. "He uniformly has the confidence and support of just about every Republican who is active in the process."