- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

They both have white hair, a tendency to curse and more years of experience than the presidents for whom they serve - but the few similarities shared by Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Dick Cheney are far outshined by their stark differences.

Mr. Biden, most notably, gets in trouble for talking - and talking - while Mr. Cheney has a reputation for being tight-lipped.

“I can’t offhand think of any similarities,” said University of Iowa law professor Nicholas Johnson.

“Most people, other than Vice President Cheney’s strongest supporters, believe that in important respects, he and senior people working for him overreached to the point where they came close to being an independent center in the White House,” said William A. Galston, a senior fellow at liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.

“I do not expect Vice President Biden to be playing that role,” he added.

The Cheney comparisons and the word “gravitas” surfaced frequently when Barack Obama selected the Delaware senator in August to be his running mate.

Mr. Cheney’s career in Washington spans two branches of government and three decades, while Mr. Biden has served six terms in the Senate and boasts that he has worked with seven presidents.

Mr. Biden has spent most of his days at Mr. Obama’s side since they won overwhelmingly on Election Day, attending economic meetings and calling world leaders. However, the president-elect has spoken little about the role he envisions for Mr. Biden.

‘An expansion’

Mr. Biden, who turned 66 on Thursday, and Mr. Cheney, who turns 68 in January, have been on opposite sides of foreign policy battles for eight years.

They also have drastically different interpretations of the vice-presidential duties.

Mr. Cheney began his job as vice president with a thorough knowledge of how the executive branch works, having served as a White House chief of staff and a secretary of defense. He also was a congressman from Wyoming for 10 years.

Observers credit his previous White House experience as a primary reason he was able to wield so much power behind the scenes over the past eight years. He knew where key levers of power were and when and how to pull them.

Corrected paragraph: Mr. Cheney said in March that the vice president’s job is what one makes of it.

“There’s no contract, job description, being vice president,” he said in an interview with a group of White House-based reporters in Jerusalem, one of 10 interviews he has done this year.

From the beginning of the Bush administration, Mr. Cheney focused on the issues that he thought were important: economics, energy and the environment, and national security. He had a major role in Mr. Bush’s war policy and the 2005 energy bill.

Mr. Cheney has acknowledged that he wielded more influence than most vice presidents and has hinted he does not believe his performance will be replicated.

“You can conceive of a situation in the future where, for various reasons, we’ll end up with a more conventional kind of arrangement,” he said during the March interview.

Mr. Cheney also said the power of the office has been growing for the past three decades.

“Since the [Walter] Mondale era, when he was Carter’s vice president, there’s been an expansion of the role of the vice president,” Mr. Cheney said.

“It wasn’t until, really, I guess Richard Nixon was vice president that [the vice president] even had an office downtown. Harry Truman’s office was on Capitol Hill. Mondale was the first one to have an office in the West Wing. That helped, that sort of helps integrate you with the operation.”

Supporting role

This fall, Mr. Biden said he views the vice president’s primary role as “to support the president” and, when asked, “give that president his or her best judgment.”

He accused Mr. Cheney of inventing his role “to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive.”

Still, Mr. Biden, who will remain a senator until inauguration, told New Yorker magazine that he doesn’t plan to sit back in the wings.

He told the magazine that he said to Mr. Obama when he was selected as the running mate, “I don’t want to be a vice president who is not part of the major decisions you make.”

Mr. Galston of Brookings considered Mr. Obama’s reputation for pulling in strong-minded people to help him make decisions and said he thinks Mr. Biden will serve the role of senior adviser.

Mr. Biden also can be a Senate liaison because of his long relationship with members from both parties. He has served as both chairman and ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and has been lauded by his Republican counterparts. He also has been chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee.

By contrast, Mr. Cheney has waning influence on congressional Republicans and once cursed at senior Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont on the Senate floor.

“Having someone right down the hall who really knows the players in the Senate will be of enormous value to the president,” Mr. Galston said.

Mr. Johnson from the University of Iowa said Mr. Cheney “was kind of running a co-presidency of his own, which often dominated what Bush did.”

He said Mr. Obama would be wise to follow President Clinton’s model and include his vice president in much of what is happening.

Former Vice President Al Gore talked about Mr. Cheney’s unprecedented influence on CNN in an interview that aired Sunday.

“I think it’s good to have an active, powerful vice president who can help the president carry a lot of the burden, [but] I think that the nature of the delegations in this present administration were unhealthy for the country,” he said.

On the Hill

Mr. Cheney was well-known in Washington, but Mr. Biden is “an institution” in the U.S. Senate, said Michael Franc, vice president for government relations at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation.

“They are similar in the sense that they entered that position as veterans of Washington,” Mr. Franc said, and Mr. Biden will assume the role with an extensive network of friends and former staffers.

He added that if the Republicans had won the election, “imagine Governor [Sarah] Palin in this role: She’d have to spend a lot of her time on the get-to-know-you circuit, establishing relationships.”

Mr. Cheney arrived in the nation’s capital three years before Mr. Biden did, in 1969. However, while Mr. Cheney came as a congressional intern, Mr. Biden entered the scene as a U.S. senator.

Mr. Biden was victorious in his first Senate campaign against a Republican incumbent. He won as an anti-Vietnam War candidate at the age of 29, too young to take the oath of office until his birthday a few weeks later.

Mr. Cheney also was a young upstart, becoming White House chief of staff to President Ford at age 34.

Mr. Cheney then served in Congress, representing Wyo-ming, for a decade and then as secretary of defense to President George H.W. Bush before going into the private sector during the Clinton years as an executive for Halliburton.

Mr. Cheney never sought the presidency, but Mr. Biden ran two unsuccessful White House bids.

It is unlikely that Mr. Biden would choose to run for president again at the age of 74 in 2016 if Mr. Obama wins re-election in 2012.

At odds

During the talk about who the running mates would be over the summer, Mr. Biden told The Washington Times that he aimed to have Mr. Obama tell him directly that if he passed vetting, he would get the job.

“If you can’t look me in the eye and tell me that, then … don’t put me through the audition,” he said he told Mr. Obama.

Mr. Cheney headed the team tasked with finding Mr. Bush a running mate, then recommended himself.

He has been a reclusive figure; a Secret Service agent assigned to the vice president told another agent during the Biden family visit to the U.S. Naval Observatory this month that it was a rare sight to see reporters on the property.

The two men exchanged niceties earlier this month when Mr. Biden and his wife toured the vice-presidential residence.

Aides reported a friendly meeting between Mr. Biden and the man who he said this fall was “shredding the Constitution” and is quite possibly “the most dangerous vice president” in the nation’s history.

Mr. Biden, in fact, has had few kind words for his predecessor, calling Mr. Cheney a “neoisolationist” in his 2007 autobiography, “Promises to Keep.”

“Cheney’s relationship with Bush was interesting to watch,” he wrote.

“You’re in the room with the two of them, there’s no doubt who’s in charge - and that’s George W. Bush. The president treats Cheney much in the same way he treats his Cabinet, his staff and everybody in his orbit,” Mr. Biden wrote. “When I was in meetings with the two of them, Cheney rarely spoke. He just sat like a bullfrog on a log, listening. But when everybody else left, Cheney stayed behind. I always assumed he gave the last words of advice.”

Recounting a private meeting with the two men in spring 2004, Mr. Biden wrote that he told Mr. Cheney that if it were possible, he would fire him for giving bad advice about the Iraq war.

“Cheney just sat there, rocking, not saying a word,” Mr. Biden wrote.

When admitting he made a “mistake” supporting the Iraq invasion in 2002, Mr. Biden noted in the book that he had “vastly underestimated [the] disingenuousness and incompetence” of Mr. Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

He told CBS’ Katie Couric this year that he thought Mr. Cheney had condoned torture and “pushed torture as a policy.”

“I don’t have any animus toward Dick Cheney, but I really do think his attitude about the Constitution and the prosecution of this war has been absolutely wrong,” Mr. Biden said.

The Democrat also mocked the vice president in his book.

“Apparently the White House had leaned too heavily on the diplomatic skills of Vice President Cheney,” he wrote. “When the White House heard that [ex-Sen. James M.] Jeffords was thinking about switching parties, Cheney was shipped over to Capitol Hill to talk him out of it. Jeffords emerged from his meeting with Cheney as a former Republican.”

But the current and future vice presidents do have one thing in common their selection as running mates had little to do with their home states.

Mr. Cheney often jokes that Mr. Bush chose him to lock up red state Wyoming for the Republicans; Mr. Biden easily could make the same quip about solid Democratic blue Delaware, which also carries just three electoral votes.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide