Thursday, December 29, 2005

Vice President Dick Cheney has grown closer to President Bush as the two men prepare for their sixth year in office, according to White House officials who scoff at press speculation of a rift.

“I don’t think the relationship is strained at all,” said a senior administration official in the vice president’s office on the condition of anonymity. “Every once in a while, I see stuff written to that effect, but … I think it’s closer than it has ever been.”

Senior officials in the offices of both men said Mr. Cheney remains valuable to the president because he has no presidential ambitions of his own. Most vice presidents, by this point in the term, are more interested in succeeding their boss than in helping him.

Moreover, in a White House that prizes loyalty and discretion, the vice president has demonstrated both to Mr. Bush.

“The good thing about Dick Cheney is when he discusses a topic with me and he gives me his advice, I never read about it in the newspaper the next day,” the president told Fox News this month while shrugging off press reports that he no longer relies on Mr. Cheney’s insight.

“And that’s why our relationship is so close, and his advice is so valued.”

Mr. Bush often lunches in private with Mr. Cheney, who has no compunction about disagreeing with his boss. The president welcomes such dissent, although he does not always follow it.

For example, Mr. Cheney was thought to be less than enthusiastic about the president’s nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court earlier this year. Miss Miers withdrew her nomination after Republicans complained that she was not demonstrably conservative enough for the bench.

Secondly, throughout 2005, Mr. Cheney appeared more interested in democratizing Iraq than in reforming Social Security, an issue that the president spent much of the year promoting. After failing to persuade Congress to enact the reform, Mr. Bush belatedly returned to aggressively defending his Iraq policy.

At the same time, Mr. Bush was displeased that the vice president’s top adviser, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted in the CIA leak probe on Oct. 28. Mr. Libby resigned to fight the charges, prompting the vice president to promote two aides to take over Mr. Libby’s duties.

David Addington, who had been Mr. Cheney’s general counsel, was elevated to chief of staff. John Hannah, who had served as Mr. Libby’s national security deputy, was promoted to Mr. Cheney’s national security adviser.

“It’s different in the sense that we had both responsibilities vested in one person before, and now we’re back to a more conventional arrangement where Dave does the chief of staff’s role, and John does the national security adviser role,” said the senior official in the vice president’s office.

“But they’re old, established relationships. There’s nothing new or dramatically different about it.”

Mr. Cheney had already been dealing extensively with Mr. Addington in his role as the vice president’s lawyer. The two men got to know each other 20 years ago, when Mr. Cheney was a congressman and Mr. Addington worked for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Later, when Mr. Cheney became secretary of defense to the elder President Bush, he hired Mr. Addington as his special assistant.

Mr. Hannah has not known the vice president as long, although he had been Mr. Libby’s principal deputy for national security since the beginning of the administration.

“He’s been number two in that shop for the last five years,” said the senior official. “So I think the thing is working fine.”

Both Mr. Hannah and Mr. Addington accompanied the vice president earlier this month on a Middle East trip that included stops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Oman.

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