Cheney's Duties Reaganesque in Bush Presidency

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- In the brief time that George W. Bush has been president-elect, the presence and performance of his No. 2 man, Dick Cheney, has prompted a debate over the scope of Cheney's power within the new administration.

Over the last week, Cheney seemed to be everywhere, speaking out on economic and foreign policy and serving as Bush's point man in Congress. Also, the president-elect's Cabinet selections, especially the naming of Cheney friend Paul O'Neill as Treasury secretary, bore the vice president-elect's unmistakable imprint.

On Bush's first foray into Washington after his election, the vice president-elect arranged much of the trip, including Bush's interviews with candidates for the Cabinet. His sure and steady hand have helped guide Bush through some difficult early days.

Cheney's activities have led some to wonder if he would be the real power behind the throne in a Bush presidency, serving as a kind of chief executive officer while Bush is a more aloof chairman of the board, delegating to his vice president.

Such a model of governing is more reminiscent of the first term of President Ronald Reagan, who set the broad course of his administration while letting Chief of Staff James A. Baker essentially run things.

Early signals often don't materialize, but some see potential pitfalls in such a possible arrangement.

"The hypothetical bad part is that he ends up outshining the guy he works for," said Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican retiring this year from Congress. "But Cheney knows how to do his job without outshining his boss. I don't think that's a real danger."

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., director of the Woodrow Wilson Center and a candidate for U.N. ambassador in the Bush administration, said it could be a "formidable handicap" if Bush allowed the perception to persist that Cheney is running the government.

But Cheney's experience as a congressman, White House chief of staff and defense secretary gives comfort to many Republicans who otherwise might be concerned about such an expanded role for a vice president, a largely ceremonial job in many administrations.

"If it were anybody but Cheney, it would be worrisome," said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., "No one can really question his ability, but more importantly, no one can question his good political instincts. That's what Cheney brings to the table more than anything else, particularly as it relates to Washington, D.C., and as it relates to politics."

Indeed, analysts said, Cheney could play a useful role in teaching Bush about the ways of Washington and even about the powers of the presidency. Though Bush's father was president, the president-elect has not had wide experience in the political intricacies of the city, Sanford noted. …