'Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency'

Article excerpt

When George W. Bush wrapped up the presidential nomination in 2000, he asked Dick Cheney to manage the search for a running mate. Cheney asked several candidates to give him an enormous amount of financial, medical, personal data and history.

But then there was a "Courtship of Miles Standish" moment, and Bush said, in effect, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Dick?" He did, and became the most influential vice president in history.

In his meticulously researched, highly readable new biography, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, Barton Gellman tells the story of a man who has left a powerful imprint on American government.

There is plenty of drama throughout. For example, on Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney stepped into the chain of command and ordered an airliner to be shot down if it continued toward Washington. He said he had been in touch with Bush, who gave him authority. Gellman's reporting suggests that that is not true.

(Interestingly, in 1989, Vice President Dan Quayle sought access to the chain of command when the president was out of town, and Secretary of Defense Cheney told him that was not "lawful.")

Cheney's influence was in part due to Bush's lack of interest in some executive responsibilities. And Bush respected Cheney's CV - chief of staff for Gerald Ford, member of George H.W. Bush's cabinet, Republican whip in the House of Representatives, chief executive of a large corporation.

One of George W. Bush's first acts as president was to create a budget review board with Cheney as its chair. Cabinet members did not go over his head.

Cheney even killed some things favored by Bush. For instance, in 2000 Bush campaigned saying he would take steps to fight global warming; he promised to require all power plants to meet clean air standards. He selected former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a moderate Republican, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Cheney got the president to reverse himself and Whitman resigned.

Cheney also took on members of the cabinet. He liked to point out that he was a constitutional officer and the president couldn't fire him. Several of his antagonists were disposed of (including Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, and Attorney General John Ashcroft), even as Cheney worked hard to keep Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the job. …