Cheney is a long-time creature of the Washington establishment


WASHINGTON - Although Dick Cheney switched his voter registration last week from Texas, where he has been CEO of a giant international energy and construction company, to his home state of Wyoming, where he indulges his passion for the outdoors, the Republican vice presidential pick is, more than anything else, a creature of Washington.

A former White House chief of staff, six-term congressman and Cabinet secretary, the quietly authoritative, cool and unflappable Cheney spent 22 years here, earning respect as a Washington establishment figure who knew how to work the system.

He mastered each institution he worked within, forged lasting relationships with those at the center of power and always veiled his own ambition with unwavering loyalty to superiors.

"He is an unsung operative in this town," says Washington lobbyist Tom Korologos, who worked with Cheney in the Ford administration.

He is, in fact, the essence of the inveterate Washington figure - equipped with a home in McLean, Va., and a high-powered political spouse - with whom soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush often contrasts himself.

And there is no escaping that Cheney's connections with the Texas governor's father, former President Bush, who reportedly had a hand in bringing his former defense secretary onto his son's presidential ticket, run deep.

"Cheney is very loyal to the Bush family," says political science professor Bill Connelly, who worked in Cheney's congressional office in the mid-1980s.

Cheney, 59, and Bush senior, whose bond developed during their management of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, went on a hunting trip together earlier this year.

Some of Cheney's closest associates and friends are from the Ford-Reagan-Bush orbit, such as James Baker, President Bush's secretary of state, with whom Cheney often takes wilderness trips; and Brent Scowcroft, the former president's national security adviser.

Although his straightforward, almost aggressively sober manner has earned him fans in both parties, Cheney is solidly conservative.

He voted in Congress against the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights, busing and the least restrictive gun control measures. He once voted against appropriations for the National Endowment for the Humanities even though his wife, Lynne, chaired it at the time.

Lynne Cheney, Dick's high school sweetheart from Casper, Wyo., has been an outspoken conservative in her own right, railing against "political correctness" for seven years as NEH chairwoman and serving as co-host "from the right" of CNN's "Crossfire Sunday" three years ago.

But Cheney's fiercely conservative record is often missed beneath the low-key and likable, moderate persona.

"It's a style thing," says former Reagan Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, who has known Cheney since he brought him into the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Nixon administration in 1969.

"He's a good listener. He'd say, 'Your point may be well taken, Frank, but here's how I look at it.' He looks and acts likes he's thinking it through."

And his businesslike manner is tinged with political acumen. Visiting U.S. troops in Germany on a NATO trip in the early 1990s, he was invited to climb into the gunner's seat of a tank. "No, thank you," he said with a big smile. "Remember Dukakis."

After a college career at Yale, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Wyoming - interrupted in his early years by work as a power lineman in the West - Cheney arrived in Washington in 1968 as a congressional fellow in the office of then-Wisconsin Republican Rep. William Steiger.

Catching the eye of Donald H. Rumsfeld, director of Richard Nixon's Office of Economic Opportunity, Cheney was recruited to the executive branch, where he became a protege to Rumsfeld for much of the next decade.

When Rumsfeld, a former Illinois congressman, was named Gerald Ford's chief of staff, he made Cheney his deputy. And when Rumsfeld was tapped by Ford to become secretary of defense, his loyal deputy, though only 34, replaced him in the West Wing of the White House.

"He came into a situation, a presidency created out of whole cloth, and organized a White House and made it function," said Korologos. "We didn't lose a step."

After Ford's defeat in 1976, Cheney moved back to his home state. He worked briefly in the banking business before deciding to run for Wyoming's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During the primary - at age 37 - Cheney suffered a mild heart attack, the first of three he would suffer in the next 10 years before undergoing quadruple bypass surgery in 1988.

After briefly considering dropping out of the race, he quit smoking, hit the campaign trail again within six weeks and won.

In Congress, he amassed a hawkish, socially and fiscally conservative record, supporting Ronald Reagan's economic plan, increased military spending and aid to the Nicaraguan contras.

He quickly rose within Republican ranks. By 1988, Cheney had become Republican whip, the No. 2 GOP leadership position in the House.

"He loved the legislative game," says Connelly, now a congressional scholar at Washington & Lee University. "And he was good at it. He understood the way the House operates as very few legislative leaders had in decades."

Cheney was viewed by many as on his way to becoming the next Republican leader or House Speaker when he was tapped by President Bush to become defense secretary after the administration's first choice, John G. Tower, was rejected by the Senate.

Cheney was unanimously confirmed, but not before facing questions about his health and his lack of service in the Vietnam War.

Cheney received five draft deferments during the conflict- four for his student status, the fifth because he had become the father of two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.

"I had other priorities in the '60s than military service," he said at the time when asked about the deferments.

His four years at the Pentagon, generally viewed as successful, were marked by two major challenges - and accomplishments: cutting back the post-Cold War military budget and presiding over the gulf war. While some had called for continued sanctions against Iraq, Cheney reinforced Bush's hard-line position favoring military intervention.

He was similarly hawkish in his overall approach to his job. "While the Bush administration did a lot of arms control, Cheney gave priority to having a strong military and sound national security strategy over arms control," says Stephen J. Hadley, an assistant secretary in Cheney's Defense Department.

Leaving government in 1993, Cheney took up residence at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, before heading to Dallas to become CEO of Halliburton Co., the world's largest oil field service company, where he pulls in a $1.2 million salary and owns stock valued at $46 million.

Cheney considered running for president in 1996, going so far as to form an exploratory committee. He backed out, citing personal issues.

But his admirers always thought it was the logical next step for a man who has seen Washington from many angles.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad