Cheney has experience with government's biggest bureaucracy

Dick Cheney may occasionally be aloof on the campaign trail, and not exactly at ease kissing babies or working a crowd, but in the White House he will very likely feel immediately at home. And he is almost certain to become an instant power center in the executive branch.

Helping Cheney will be the warm and secure relationship he enjoys with George W. Bush, a bond that has only been strengthened during the strains of the campaign. And in a town famous for its egos and headline grabbers, Cheney's reputation for loyalty and discretion will serve him well as the No. 2.

The Bush clan values loyalty, and they have found this trait runs deep in Dick Cheney. "I remember talking to Cheney two years ago, because I respected his judgment of horseflesh, and I wanted to know whether Governor Bush was ready for a run at the White House," said David Gergen, a longtime presidential adviser who worked with Cheney in the Ford White House. "Even then Cheney did the best job of articulating why Bush would make a good President as anyone I have heard."

Bush will also be able to rely heavily on Cheney's experience in the White House, in Congress, and as the former head of the government's largest bureaucracy, the Defense Department. In the first 100 tumultuous days of a Bush Administration-a period when many presidential honeymoons end with amateurish mistakes-Cheney's Washington know-how, cool demeanor, and penchant for careful deliberation could bolster his boss.

"Cheney brings the one thing Bush doesn't have: the knowledge of how to make Washington work," said Brent Scowcroft, a retired general and former national security adviser for the elder Bush.

Cheney's role as a trusted adviser makes it more likely that a President George W. Bush would follow the Clinton-Gore model, giving his Vice President a very activist and substantive part to play in the Administration. Just as Gore helped to manage Russian relations through a joint governmental commission he headed for five years with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, experts predict that Cheney would receive some foreign policy responsibilities as part of his portfolio. Cheney's close personal relationships with potential members of a Bush Cabinet-including Colin Powell, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who is mentioned as a potential Secretary of State, and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a possible Defense Secretary-would likely increase his influence.

A quarter-century ago, as a 34-year-old chief of staff to President Ford, Cheney earned a name in Washington for his organizational and team-building skills. "I first heard Cheney's name in 1975, when I was told about this amazing young guy who was White House chief of staff, and who had a genius for putting together agendas in his head with clearly ordered priorities and a great sense of organization," said Wolfowitz, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. "Cheney has a highly developed sense of when to delegate responsibility, and when to step up and make the tough call himself."

Former aides who have worked closely with Cheney fully expect him to bring the same quiet but hard-headed style of leadership to the Vice President's office that he displayed in the Pentagon. Despite having suffered three heart attacks, Cheney is said to be a relentless worker whose long days are sometimes extended with power naps. Cheney encourages open discussion and well-articulated differences of opinion among his subordinates, and does not suffer "yes men" well.

"Cheney once told a friend of mine that he liked me because when I disagreed with a decision, I consistently kept saying so," Wolfowitz said. "Not many people can appreciate that quality, but Cheney can handle people who aren't 'yes men' because in the end, he knows who is boss."

In selecting a personal staff, Cheney would probably turn to trusted aides who have followed him to prominent jobs before, including David Addington, a former general counsel in the Pentagon, whom is now a general counsel for the American Truckers Association; Sean O'Keefe, who Cheney elevated from Pentagon comptroller to Navy Secretary, and who now directs national security studies at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs; Nancy Dorn, a foreign policy adviser to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and formerly an assistant secretary of defense under Cheney; Pete Williams, a former Pentagon spokesman and reporter who followed Cheney to Washington from Wyoming, and who now reports nationally for NBC News; and David Gribbon, Cheney's former congressional administrative assistant who followed him to the Pentagon and to Halliburton, where he is a vice president of governmental affairs. Dick VandeBeek, Cheney's spokesman at Halliburton, has already joined him on the campaign trail.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec