VICE-PRESIDENT Dick Cheney was back in a Washington hospital last night after a recurrence of his heart trouble.
His specialist, Jonathan Reiner, said Mr Cheney had undergone a second angioplasty to dilate an artery that had narrowed again after an operation performed in November. He stressed the procedure was a matter of "urgency" rather than "emergency" and that Mr Cheney was likely to be discharged today.
According to the hospital, Mr Cheney admitted himself yesterday afternoon after suffering four brief bouts of chest pain in the previous 24 hours. Mr Cheney's spokeswoman had earlier said he had gone into hospital as "a precautionary measure". The White House said Mr Cheney had spoken to President George Bush after the operation to say he was "feeling fine".
Mr Cheney, 60, has a history of heart problems going back to his thirties. His most recent heart attack, in November, was his first since a bypass operation in 1988.
While the White House was intent on minimising the seriousness of Mr Cheney's condition, there was no disguising the depth of concern. Medical reports supplied by doctors after his nomination had given him a clean bill of health and in effect taken the issue of his heart problems off the agenda.
Even if the latest bout is not serious, it casts doubt on Mr Cheney's capacity to fulfil his duties in the longer term. Already, he is regarded as the linchpin of President Bush's administration. He brings immense experience to the job, and his responsibilities go far beyond those of most vice-presidents.
Mr Bush, whose experience of public office amounts to just six years as Texas Governor, is reported to rely on Mr Cheney's competence and judgement, and their unspoken rapport at cabinet meetings has been widely noted.
Mr Bush has placed the Vice-President in overall charge of energy policy, as well as entrusting him with smoothing the way for the legislation he wants to get through Congress, first and foremost his tax-cutting budget. …