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Inside Politics

Dick Cheney Discusses the Seattle Earthquake, Iraq and the Career of Bernie Shaw

Aired February 28, 2001 - 5:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Bernard Shaw in Washington. Our live coverage of the strong earthquake in the Seattle area continues.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Judy Woodruff. We had planned to bring you a special "INSIDE POLITICS" and a tribute to Bernie, which is today his last day at our anchor desk. We still can't believe it. But as you've always said, Bernie, the news comes first here at CNN. So we have delayed the tribute. It will be this Friday.

SHAW: Do you promise?

WOODRUFF: I promise.

SHAW: OK.

WOODRUFF: Now, here is the latest on that earthquake. The residents of the Seattle area still are assessing the damage three hours after the jolt. The latest assessment of the magnitude: a powerful 6.8. More than 20 people are injured, at least four of them seriously.

There are numerous reports of building facades cracked or crumbling, but the mayor of Seattle says, so far, nothing catastrophic.

The ground shook for about 30 seconds, as seen in this videotape from a speech by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. But many frightened residents say it felt as though it lasted forever. Tremors were felt more than 100 miles away in Portland, Oregon. Seismologists say the epicenter of the quake was 11 miles northeast of the Washington state capital, Olympia.

Now, the area is on alert for aftershocks, which, experts say, could go on for weeks.

President Bush says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is "on top" of the situation in Seattle, and he says he hopes the earthquake did not -- quote -- "create much damage or take anybody's life." Mr. Bush says he has been in touch with FEMA director Joe Allbaugh.

The president commented on the quake during a stop in Iowa to promote the budget plan he outlined in his speech to Congress last night.

SHAW: Before this earthquake struck, we had scheduled an interview on the budget and other political matters with Vice President Dick Cheney. He joins us here now in the Washington bureau.

Mr. Vice President, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. But first and foremost, what can you tell us about this earthquake and the handling of the aftermath?

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the federal role, of course, is through FEMA, and as you indicated on your news segment, the president has been in touch with Joe Allbaugh, our newly confirmed head of FEMA.

What has to happen first is a request from the state for federal assistance, and as of now we've not yet received a request for federal assistance in this particular case. But they are standing by if any action is needed. I'm sure they'll marshal the resources and do whatever is required.

SHAW: There is an irony in terms of bureaucracy, and I don't know if you're aware of this and this is not meant to be an ambush question. But the Associated Press is reporting that President Bush is proposing to kill the federal program designed to help communities protect themselves against the effects of natural disasters. The proposed budget by the president recommends saving $25 million by ending the Project Impact Disaster Preparedness Program administered by FEMA.

Bush's budget book states -- quote -- "The program has not proven effective."

If you're not aware of this and you want to pass on responding, please do. I just don't want you to feel that I'm ambushing you with a question, but I found this development very ironic.

CHENEY: Well, I'm not aware of that particular program. But I would venture to guess that perhaps it has not been effective in the past, and lots of programs that make lots of sense or that have nice titles to them nonetheless don't work. And it's important from time to time that we go through and make judgments and establish priorities. And in this particular case, my guess is that the reason it's been recommended to be terminated is because in fact it has not -- not succeeded.

SHAW: On the budget...

CHENEY: Yes, sir.

SHAW: ... precisely, where are you going to cut where it hurts most?

CHENEY: Well, I think if you look at the budget overall, a couple of important things to remember. There's about $100 billion increase for next year over this year. That's with the entitlement programs as well as the increase in discretionary spending, which is about a third of the budget. Discretionary budget goes up about 4 percent. That's more than the rate of inflation. That's not going up as fast as it did last year, but we've really been on a spending spree. And in fact, we've been, over the last three years, once the surplus arrived, Congress and the president together have interacted in such a way that we had about a 6 percent increase the first year, 8 percent increase last year in discretionary spending, far beyond anything that we think would be justified.

So we've gone through and we've taken out, for example, some 6,000 separate line items, specific projects that were approved last year, one-time expenditures. We've taken all those out of the budget, and made some other difficult choices in terms of trying to establish some priorities. But again, we insist that things be -- be handled in a manner that is efficient and that produces a return.

Not everything works. Lots of times you need to try a new approach on something.

SHAW: You're a former defense secretary. How much do you guess the people in the Pentagon, the admirals and the generals, are very upset with the president and you because of what you're proposing? How much?

CHENEY: Well, they certainly haven't said anything to us, Bernie, about being upset.

SHAW: You wouldn't expect them to either?

CHENEY: No, I wouldn't. But I also think they understand that those of us who've spent a lot of time over there that it's very important we have the resources we need for defense. But by the same token, I think there's no question there are some things that need to be done to make it more efficient.

We need another round of base closings, for example. We've still got a base structure that's geared to the Cold War, almost World War II force structure. And we've shrunk the force structure, but we haven't really reduced enough bases. That adds enormously to the cost. We keep facilities open. We have to pay to maintain them. So there are things like that that need to be done.

And I think also probably the generals understand better than anybody else that in this period, 10 years after the end of the Cold War, we really do need to sit down and have a strategic review, look at our force structure, look at what our requirements are going to be over the next 20 or 30 years, look at the new technologies that are coming available. And after we've done that, after we've decided the direction we want to go in, then we'll commit whatever funds we believe are appropriate.

So I think they've got confidence in the president. I know they've got confidence in Don Rumsfeld, I hope in me, that we will in fact do right by them. But it's not simply a matter of writing a check. We want to make certain that we have in fact adjusted to the post-Cold War world and that we're buying capability that we're going to need in the future. SHAW: Let's go to the Oval Office. Has Bill Clinton damaged the institution of the presidency?

CHENEY: I think he hurt it. I think that -- that to some extent the problems he encountered as president demeaned the presidency in the eyes of many people. I think that's unfortunate.

SHAW: You said, "in the eyes of many people." What does Dick Cheney think?

CHENEY: Well, I think that's a judgment I share. I think -- I hearken back to the presidents I've worked for. This is my fifth tour in national government. And I worked for Jerry Ford. And I worked closely with the White House when Ronald Reagan was there, and watched Jimmy Carter and George Bush. These are men who revered the office of the presidency and who treated it with that kind of respect. And I think the standards that we have every right to expect in terms of presidential conduct were not always met in the Clinton administration, if I can state it in somewhat delicate terms.

SHAW: For the good of the people, how far should Congress investigate these Clinton pardons?

CHENEY: Congress has got to make that decision. The president has made it clear and the White House we're off and running on the future, focused on putting our program in place, and the Congress is clearly going to have to decide how far they want to go with their investigations.

SHAW: The other day, Muhammad al-Sahhaf, Iraq's foreign minister, denigrated the remarks of Secretary of State Colin Powell, indicating that there might be an easing of the sanctions. He accused the secretary of state of making stupid statements. That's the preface to this question.

What kind of regime are you dealing with in Iraq whose foreign minister would say the U.S. secretary of state was making stupid statements about such a controversial and sensitive issue?

CHENEY: Well, the -- I've never put a lot of credence, for a long time now, in statements by Iraqi officials. I'm not familiar with this particular one, but clearly Iraq continues to be a problem in that part of the world. They're still, I think, a potential threat to their neighbors. And Colin Powell has just been out there working to begin to pull the coalition back together.

We've inherited a situation, frankly, that's not very attractive. The Mideast policy, Gulf policy, I think, has seriously eroded in recent years, and we've got the task now to put the coalition back together, to establish some red lines in terms of making certain that the Iraqis don't become a military threat to their neighbors again and that we can in fact rebuild the coalition that did exist there in years past.

SHAW: There's lots of analysis and speculation about your influence on President Bush, and the fact that you have such broad and deep experience, government experience. Yesterday, President Bush had the network anchors and weekend talk-show hosts at the White House for lunch. You sat across the table from the president. I was sitting at the president's left elbow. And I noticed something about you.

I noticed your body language, your facial expressions and your eyes, and I noticed that the president kept looking at you. And you were indicating your attitude, your feelings about questions being asked. And it was clear that you two gentleman have a way, a silent way of communicating with each other. Explain that.

CHENEY: Well, first of all, I wasn't aware of it. We're -- we're both Westerners. I know he's from Texas, I'm from Wyoming. There be some connection there.

But clearly, we've worked closely together now for many months, going back to the campaign, and the -- I think we, you know, we've dealt with so many different issues as with me as part of his team, I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't respond in similar ways to the same kinds of questions.

But when you're sitting there with all of the distinguished anchors of the networks, including you, Bernie and Judy, around the table, we probably were thinking thoughts about our guests.

(LAUGHTER)

Friendly thoughts.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Mr. Vice President, I normally don't horn in on Bernie's interviews, but I can't resist taking this opportunity with you here, doubleback to the subject we mentioned at the top of the program, and that is Bernie's last day anchoring on CNN. And I just -- I know you have some special memories of him from the Gulf War and perhaps other times. And I just wanted to give you an opportunity to remember that.

CHENEY: Well, in this business, of course, we're -- I mean, in many, many ways we work together, although you represent the press, and I've always been on the other side of the street. But you quickly become, at least from my perspective, a critic, if you will, of folks that you deal with. And I wanted to say tonight, Bernie, one of the reasons I wanted to be here is how much I've enjoyed working with you over the years.

SHAW: Thank you.

CHENEY: You were always a thoroughgoing professional at all times, scrupulously fair and honest and objective. I remember everything from sitting with Colin Powell in my office at the Pentagon the night the Gulf War began when you were broadcasting from Baghdad to, well, to the vice presidential debates last fall in Kentucky during the course of the campaign, when you were the moderator for what I thought was a superb debate, opportunity for myself and Joe Lieberman. So you've played a major role certainly in American politics and journalism and the news business over the last many, many years. And I know for many of us on my side of the aisle, we really appreciate the way you've approached it, and we've enjoyed very much working with you and want to wish you well in the future.

SHAW: Thank you, sir. It also has been an honor to cover public servants as committed as you and certainly Senator Lieberman. I think I said on the air in Danville, Kentucky and I've said it here on INSIDE POLITICS I think that Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman constitute two of the finest public servants our great nation could ever have, and I thank you for your compliments.

CHENEY: Well, thank you, sir, and good luck.

SHAW: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And by the way, we share your views inside the company as well. Mr. Vice President, thank you.

CHENEY: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right.

When we return, more of our coverage of the earthquake in Seattle, Washington.

SHAW: I'm still so touched by this. I was supposed to read that page. My apology to the people in the control room. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: That was very -- thank you.

CHENEY: Good luck.

(PRE-EMPTED FOR BREAKING NEWS)

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