For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
December 19, 2008
Interview of the Vice President by Chris Wallace, FOX News
Vice President's Ceremonial Office
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
11:42 A.M. EST
Q Mr. Vice President, welcome back to FOX News Sunday.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's good to be back, Chris.
Q The President has announced a $13 billion short-term loan to the U.S. automakers without binding conditions on the unions or the bond holders. Haven't you, in effect, kicked this problem down the road to the Obama administration?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I wouldn't describe it quite the way you did, Chris. I think what he's tried to do is manage a difficult problem. And obviously an important consideration is the fact that we're in the middle of a transition, and that it will shortly become a problem that the next administration is going to have to deal with.
But the President's package basically extends a line of credit to the companies for a specified period of time, and also at the same time, tries to encourage the kind of changes and restructuring that we think is going to be essential if the companies are ever going to become viable. So you've got clear references in the announcement that he's made this week about the conditions, for example, that were part of the bill that passed the House of Representatives, but didn't pass the Senate, as well as some other suggestions and recommendations from people like Senator Corker from Tennessee.
Q But some of the specific measures -- for instance, getting the auto workers union to have competitive wages and work rules -- that's a target, that's not a restriction. If the bond holders are taking equity instead of debt, that's a target, not a restriction. When you met with Senate Republicans last week, you were quoted as saying: "If you let the Big Three collapse, the GOP will be remembered for years, again, as the party of Herbert Hoover." Once you made that argument, didn't you in fact give up your leverage to force concessions on the auto workers?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I want to come back to the first part of your question, in terms of those conditions that we talked about with respect to the package. And a key consideration here is this notion of economic viability. And if they have not produced economically viable plans, that is if they haven't put together a program that will take them to viability, then those loans will be withdrawn, or recalled, in effect. So there's a strong incentive here for them to address these issues.
Now, you can only go so far. The Obama administration ultimately is going to be the one who is going to have to resolve this issue. We've got about a month to go here, and then it will be a problem they have to deal with. But what the President tried to do, and I think did successfully, is to make certain that companies are able to stay in business for a period of time here, as well as encourage them to move in the right direction in terms of restructuring.
Q But it isn't just me, there are a lot of top Republicans -- in fact, Republican leaders of the House and the Senate have sent out notes blasting the administration's solution. They say it isn't tough enough, it is too encouraging, and not with enough teeth in it. And they also criticize you for opening up the so-called "TARP money," the $700 billion that was supposed to go simply for financial relief. And they say, look, if you bail out one industry that's in trouble, what happens the time the next industry comes up, the retail industry, and says, we need a bailout?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right, but remember that you're dealing here with the automobile industry. It's a massive industry. It's got millions of jobs connected with it. There are all the suppliers that are affected by whatever happens to the companies. And those same suppliers, frankly, supply a lot of parts to the rest of the automobile industry that's not in trouble. It's a very big, complicated problem. And the President decided specifically that he wanted to try to deal with it, and not preside over the collapse of the automobile industry just as he goes out of office. I don't think that's an unreasonable position for him to take. And I do think we did -- obviously I can't speak for the Obama administration, but we did keep them apprised of what we were doing as we went forward.
So I think the situation is made doubly difficult -- it would be tough enough to have to deal with this question of whether or not the companies can survive under normal circumstances. These aren't normal circumstances. We're in the midst of the worst financial crisis in recent memory. We're on the downside of what looks like a very deep recession, maybe the worst since the end of World War II. And we're in the midst of a presidential transition. And you've got a situation that as of noon on January 20th, it will be President Obama; before that it's President Bush, and trying to manage all that and take care of all those needs and requirements. We believe that this was in fact the best course of action.
I think it's a good package. I think -- you know, we talk about the Congress being critical. They had ample opportunity to deal with this issue, and they failed. The President had no choice but to step in.
Q The Democrats are now talking about as much as a trillion-dollar economic stimulus package over the next two years, once they get in office. Using the same reasoning you've just used about these extraordinary times, do you support a trillion dollar economic stimulus package?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I haven't even seen the package, Chris. And --
Q Does it strike you as --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't have any way of --
Q -- amount of money?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'd want to see what they're going to spend it on. There usually are fairly significant differences between we Republicans and the Democrats on how you stimulate the economy. I'm a big advocate of tax cuts. That's what we did in '03. That's how we recovered from the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
The Democrats usually want to spend a lot more money on government services. So there are probably -- I would guess, without having seen their package -- significant differences. But I do think there's a general concern out there that there does need to be action taken given the situation we find ourselves in economically. But I -- it's impossible for me to pass judgement on a program that hasn't even been announced yet.
Q According to the latest FOX News opinion dynamics poll -- I know how much you like polls -- you now have the lowest approval rating of the last eight years: 29 percent have a favorable opinion, 61 percent unfavorable. I know that you say that politicians shouldn't chase polls. But when people see all that you did as Vice President in a kind of final report card, they'll be right here to say they still disapprove. Does that bother you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. We didn't set out to achieve the highest level of polls that we could during the course of this administration. We set out to do what we thought was necessary and essential for the country. That clearly was the guiding principle with respect to the aftermath of 9/11. I feel very good about a lot of the things we've done in this administration. I think that they will be viewed in a favorable light when it's time to write the history of this era.
I think the fact that we were able to protect the nation against further attacks from al Qaeda for seven-and-a-half years is a remarkable achievement. To do that, we had to adopt some unpopular policies that have been widely criticized by our critics. But I think, in terms of, is 29 percent good enough for me? Well, we fought a tough reelection battle. We won by an adequate margin in 2004. We've been here for eight years now. Eventually, you wear out your welcome in this business. But I've -- I'm very comfortable with where we are and what we achieved substantively. And, frankly, I would not want to be one of those guys who spends all his time reading the polls. I think people like that shouldn't serve in these jobs.
Q During the Vice Presidential debate in October, Joe Biden was asked about your interpretation of the powers of your office as Vice President. And here's what he said: "Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous Vice President we've had probably in American history." Transition officials say that Biden plans to shrink his office; that he is not going to meet with Senate Democrats the way you did every week with Senate Republicans; that he is not going to have his own "shadow government" in the White House. Biden has said that he believes you have dangerously expansive views of executive power.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I just fundamentally disagree with him. He also said that all the powers and responsibilities of the executive branch are laid out in Article I of the Constitution. Well, they're not. Article I of the Constitution is the one on the legislative branch. Joe's been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate for 36 years, teaches constitutional law back in Delaware, and can't keep straight which article of the Constitution provides for the legislature, which provides for the executive.
So I think I'd write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don't take it seriously. And if he wants to diminish the office of Vice President, that's obviously his call. I think that President-Elect Obama will decide what he wants in a Vice President. And apparently, from the way they're talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time.
Q Do you have some advice for your successor?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, he hasn't asked for any, and so I won't go beyond where I've been.
Q What do you think are the powers of the President, relative to Congress and the courts during the war?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think they're very significant. And I think they have to be. And I think there's ample precedent for that. And the fact of the matter is that, especially given the kind of conflict we're faced with today, we find ourselves in a situation where I believe you need strong executive leadership. What we did in this administration is to exert that kind of authority. We did it in a matter that I believe, and the lawyers that we looked to for advice believed, was fully consistent with the Constitution and with the laws of the land. And there is, as I say, ample precedent for them.
If you think about what Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War, what FDR did during World War II. They went far beyond anything we've done in a global war on terror. But we have exercised I think the legitimate authority of the President under Article II of the Constitution as Commander-In-Chief in order to put in place policies and programs that have successfully defended the nation. I think you've --
Q If you could conceptualize it for me, sir, what do you think are the powers of the President relative to Congress and relative to the courts during war?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think in wartime, when you consider his responsibilities as Commander-In-Chief, clearly that means command of the Armed Forces. It also, when you get into use of forces in wartime, means collecting intelligence. And therefore, I think you're fully justified in setting up a terrorist surveillance program to be able to intercept the communications of people who are communicating with terrorists outside the United States. I think you can have a robust interrogation program with respect to high-value detainees.
Now, those are all steps we took that I believe the President was fully authorized in taking, and provided invaluable intelligence, which has been the key to our ability to defeat al Qaeda over these last seven years.
Q This is at the core of the controversy that I'm going to get to with you in a moment. If the President, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In general proposition, I'd say yes. You need to be more specific than that. I mean, but clearly, when you take the oath of office on January 20th of 2001, as we did, you take the oath to support and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. There's no question about what your responsibilities are in that regard.
And, again, I think that there are bound to be debates and arguments from time to time, and wrestling back and forth about what kind of authority is appropriate in any specific circumstance. But I think that what we've done has been totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for.
The President of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody, he doesn't have to call the Congress, he doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in. It's unfortunate, but I think we're perfectly appropriate to take the steps we have.
And go back and look at how eager the country was to have us work in the aftermath of 9/11 to make certain that that never happened again. Now we've had a lot of time pass over it and so we've had -- I think more people are more complacent, perhaps, than was true some time ago. We've also had a lot of our critics who want to score political points who've made what I think are outrageous charges. But in my mind --
Q What rights do the Congress -- what constitutional rights do the Congress and the courts have to limit the power of the President when it comes to these matters of national security?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the Congress has -- clearly has the ability to write statutes and has certain constitutional authorities granted in the Constitution. But I would argue that they do not have the right by statute to alter presidential constitutional power. In other words, you can't override his constitutional authorities and responsibilities with a statute --
Q So if they want to say you can't surveill or he can't detain?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, they have, for example, said -- passed the War Powers Act. The War Powers Act is still in force out there today, that requires him to grant certain notifications to the Congress and give them the authority to supercede those by vote if they want to when it comes to committing troops. No President has ever signed off on the proposition that the War Powers Act is constitutional. I would argue that it is, in fact, a violation of the Constitution; that it's an infringement on the President's authority as the Commander-in-Chief. It's never been resolved, but I think it's a very good example of a way in which Congress has tried to limit the President's authority and, frankly, can't.
Q Mr. Vice President, we have to step aside for a moment, but when we come back I want to continue this conversation with Vice President Cheney about the controversies over surveillance, over interrogation, over detention. Back in a moment.
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Q And we're back now to continue our conversation with Vice President Dick Cheney.
I want to discuss the controversies that we've alluded to over national security over the last eight years. First of all, let's get to the big picture: Was it worth it? Did the decisions that you helped set in place on interrogation, on detention, on surveillance, did they, in fact, save lives that you would maintain would not have been saved under the old rules?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I believe that.
Q Can you be specific?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I guess I'd direct you to the intelligence agencies involved, but I know specifically of attacks that were thwarted -- I think of the airliner attack that was planned out of Heathrow, when they were going to hijack --
Q -- bomb attacks.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- six airliners and blow them up over American cities. There has not been a single attack against the homeland, against the United States, in seven-and-a-half years. There have been attacks in Madrid, Spain; in London, England; in Mumbai and Bali and Mombosa -- all over the globe. And the threat is still out there and still very real. But the actions that we took, based on the President's decisions and based on some outstanding work by the intelligence community and by the military, has produced a safe seven-and-a-half years, and I think the record speaks for itself.
Q Let's drill down into some of the specific measures that you've pushed: First of all, the warrantless surveillance, on a massive scale, without telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from Congress -- why not in the aftermath of 9/11, in the spirit of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches of government?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me tell you a story about the Terror Surveillance Program. We did brief the Congress and we brought in --
Q A few members.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We brought in the Chairman and the Ranking Member, House and Senate, and briefed them a number of times up until -- this would be from late '01 up until '04, when there was additional controversy concerning the program. At that point, we brought what I describe at the "Big 9" -- not only the intel people, but also the Speaker, the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate, and brought them into the Situation Room in the basement of the White House. I presided over the meeting. We briefed them on the program and what we'd achieved and how it worked, and asked them, should we continue the program. They were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike, all agreed, absolutely essential to continue the program.
I then said, do we need to come to the Congress and get additional legislative authorization to continue what we're doing? They said, absolutely not, don't do it, because it will reveal to the enemy how it is we're reading their mail. That happened. I mean, we did consult. We did keep them involved. We ultimately ended up having to go to the Congress after The New York Times decided they were going to make the judge review all their -- make all of this available, obviously, when they -- in reacting to a specific leak.
But it was a program that we briefed on repeatedly. We did these briefings in my office; I presided over them. We went to the key people in the House and Senate Intel Committees, and ultimately the entire leadership, and sought their advice and counsel and they agreed we should not come back to the Congress.
Q You also pushed to strip enemy combatants of any ability to challenge their status in court and also denied them any protection under the Geneva conventions.
Even in the midst of a war on terror, is there something wrong with not allowing even a suspected terrorist to have his "day in court," to have an independent review of the status of his case?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there's several points there, Chris, that you've touched upon. I think the -- first of all, you've got to remember that what we did after 9/11 was make a judgment that the terrorist attacks we were faced with were not a law enforcement problem, they were, in fact, a war. It was a war against the United States -- and therefore, that we were justified in using all the means available to us to fight that war.
And in a war, you capture the enemy and you hold them until the war is over with. You don't capture German prisoners of war and then put them on trial in World War II. That's not what we had to deal with here. But in terms of what kind of rights these folks had, they were not covered by the Geneva Convention. They were unlawful combatants. They were not --
Q -- the Supreme Court --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, okay. But they were not -- this was the decision we made at the time based on the precedent that was available. They were not citizens of a state that was a party to the Geneva Convention. They did not adhere to the laws of war. They spent all their time trying to kill civilians for their -- to achieve their political ends. They didn't wear uniforms. I mean, by any definition that was available to us at the time, the Geneva Convention does not traditionally apply to terrorists.
Q Here's my --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Second -- no, let me finish.
Q Can I just ask you one question, because I think it will bring the point in? In the first big test case, which was against Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, the military jury in the end -- military jury ended up acquitting him of all the major charges against him. The government asked for 30 years to life. The judge ended up deciding that he should be released based on time served. The question basically is this: Even the government can get things wrong sometimes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So?
Q So the question is, therefore, don't Salim Hamdan, whomever, have a right to have some independent person judge and say, this person is being held based on legitimate evidence or not being held based on --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, remember the situation here. We had hundreds of people that were held at Guantanamo. And the majority of them have been released. And they were released based upon reviews of their cases, and determinations that were made that there was no longer a need to hold them because they were no longer a threat, or they no longer had any intelligence value.
They're all guaranteed an annual review of their case at Guantanamo. And when you do get ultimately to trial, they'll be tried by military commissions. They will have representation. And military commissions is exactly the way, in World War II, that we treated those handful of individuals that -- like, for example, the German saboteurs who landed on Long Island, were captured, were tried by military commission, and subsequently executed. And those commissions were upheld in a Supreme Court decision after the war. We follow that same basic fundamental precedent here.
Q Let me ask you about the Supreme Court. In the last few years, I think you'd agree the Supreme Court has sharply undercut the powers of the executive branch. It has said --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that's an overstatement.
Q Well, it has said that all detainees have a right to challenge their status. It said you have to go to Congress to get approval of military commissions. And it said, in fact, even enemy combatants have protections under the Geneva Convention.
Bruce Fein, legal conservative scholar, worked in the Reagan Justice Department -- said the following: "The irony with the Cheney crowd pushing the envelope on presidential power is that the President has now ended up with lesser powers than he would have had if they had made less extravagant, monarchical claims." Did you overreach? Did you end up making the presidency weaker, not stronger?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't believe so. I think, again, I'd come back to the proposition that when we made judgments, for example, about military commissions, we followed precedent. We did exactly what was done by FDR in World War II, subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, in a decision the Court made.
Q Then what do you make of what the court ended up --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The court changed. The court changed its mind, obviously, and evolved over time, and there are a different set of judges now than there was then.
Q Does that mean you were wrong?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think we were wrong. We have to follow whatever the court determines. Sometimes, the court makes bad decisions, or decisions we disagree with.
Q Was that a bad decision?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it was. I think -- we did go and get congressional authorization from the Congress for the military commissions. But I think that, frankly, the basic decision they made was wrong. But it's their authority. The vote was 5-4. It was different than the one that had prevailed after World War II that was available to us at the time that we put all of this together.
But in terms of undermining the presidency, no, I don't think so. I think reasonable people can disagree. You make decisions to the best of your ability. You work with the other branches of government. If the court makes a judgment or a ruling, then we comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court.
Q I want to get into one last area in the couple of minutes remaining in this segment. In Stephen Hayes' biography of you, he says that "if I had had the wit to ask you back in 2007, you would have told me that you strongly disagreed with President Bush's decision to fire Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense." Is that true?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Obviously, I did disagree with the decision. It wasn't my decision to make. The President doesn't always take my advice. I will say that I think Bob Gates has done a good job as Secretary of Defense. I've worked closely with him, I've known him a long time. We worked together many, many times over the years. And so I think Gates has done a fine job. But I was a Rumsfeld man. I'd helped recruit him and I thought he did a good job for us.
Q And just to follow up, when you look at how badly the occupation was handled, and in 2006, what a mess Iraq was, and how much things have improved under Bob Gates and General Petraeus, perhaps, was President Bush right and you wrong?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you'd have to give the President credit for the surge, as well, too. I mean, some good decisions were made. But I'm not one of those who believes nothing good happened in Iraq prior to 2007. I think the fact that we were able to go in as effectively as we did and take down the Saddam regime; that we were able to kill his sons, capture him, bring him to trial; that we had three national elections; that the Iraqis wrote a constitution that's bearing fruit today; that they've got a government that we've just signed a historic agreement with in the Status of Forces Agreement -- all of those things happened, including the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi -- all of those things happened up through the end of '06.
So to do what many people want to do, which is say everything was bad before '07, only good after '07, I don't think that's fair, and I don't think the President would buy that analysis, nor do I think Bob Gates would.
Q Mr. Vice President, we have to take a final break here. But when we come back, I'm going to ask Dick Cheney about Iran, about Osama bin Laden, and about how he and Washington have changed over the last 40 years. Back in a moment.
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Q And we're back now for one final segment with Vice President Dick Cheney.
A little over a year ago, Mr. Vice President, you said the following: "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon." As you and the President leave office in a month, isn't Iran in fact closer than ever to achieving that goal?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, they're clearly continuing to work on it very aggressively, Chris, no doubt about it. We're continuing to work to prevent that from happening. And I would expect that the Obama administration will do the same as soon as they're sworn in.
Q But this was perhaps the centerpiece of the Bush doctrine, that we will not allow the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons. Is it a failure by your administration to be leaving that problem to Barack Obama?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't think so, in the sense that this is a continuing issue, this whole question of proliferation. We did, obviously, take down Saddam Hussein's regime. He'd been one of the proliferaters previously. We stripped Libya of its nuclear aspirations. They turned over all their centrifuges and feedstock and weapons design to us. We took down the A.Q. Khan black market network that was selling nuclear weapons technology to Libya --
Q Iran --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- Iran. They were selling to Libya and to Iran, and to North Korea. So we -- I think we've done a good job of working generally the nuclear proliferation problem. We have not yet been able to stop the Iranian program. We continue to work on it. And we will pass on to President Obama the legacy that exists with respect to the efforts that we've already put in place.
Q You have been very honest in this discussion today. And so I'm going to ask you, in your heart of hearts, do you believe diplomacy can solve this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's the policy of the administration, and I support the policy of the administration.
Q But you're not prepared to say that you believe diplomacy can solve this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I hope it can. That's clearly what we've tried.
Q Over your objections, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, not over my objections. I've supported the efforts to try to put in place sanctions, which I think have had a significant impact on the Iranian economy, to support the efforts going through the U.N. Security Council. We've tried a broad range of possibilities here to try to slow down the Iranian operation.
Q They haven't worked.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not yet.
Q Speaking of disappointments, do you believe that Osama bin Laden is still alive?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I'm guessing he is. We've had certain pieces of evidence become available from time to time -- there will be a photograph released, or something that allows the intelligence community to judge that he is still alive.
Q I know that we have severely damaged al Qaeda, but on a personal level, is it a major disappointment to you that the likelihood is that we will not catch him on your watch?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would prefer to have gotten Osama bin Laden a week after 9/11; so would the President. I think more important, though, is what we've been able to do generally to his organization. Even if you were able to get Osama bin Laden, which clearly we would like to do, you've still got -- have had in the past a strong functioning organization there. He's been holed up in a way where he's not even been communicating. I mean, there are questions about whether or not he's even running the operation. But we have had major success against the organization. We've captured and killed a lot of al Qaeda members and, as I say, we prevented further attacks against the United States.
So that's probably the most important objective. Capturing Osama bin Laden is something we clearly would love to do -- there are 30 days left.
Q The Republican Party has suffered stinging defeats the last two elections and now the Democrats are going to have overwhelming control of this town for at least the next two years. Where has the GOP gone wrong, and what does it need to do to recapture its hold on the American people?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've been through these kinds of cycles before, Chris. I figured out the other day this is my fourth transition from government to private life. It's not my first rodeo, so to speak. And I remember other periods -- the late '70s, when we Republicans lost the White House in '76 and the Democrats had overwhelming control of the House and Senate. And of course, right around the corner was 1980, the election of Ronald Reagan. We recaptured the Senate and so forth.
So the pendulum swings back and forth. Right now we're in a down period I think from the standpoint of the Republicans, but I think we'll be back. You go through these cycles and eliminate some of the old underbrush that was there and recruit new talent. We've got some very bright, capable people out there coming along. And I think we will regroup and I think we're very competitive politically. And so I'm not as pessimistic as some are.
Q From what you saw in this campaign, is Sarah Palin a serious candidate for 2012 and beyond?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, that's up to Sarah Palin whether or not she wants to pursue higher office again. I don't think she has any kind of lock on that. She'll have to go out and earn it just as anybody else would have to.
Q As we've mentioned, you are ending 40 years on and off in public service here in Washington, and we'd like to do a lightning round of quick questions and quick answers, if we could, with you.
Washington -- better or worse over these four decades?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there's some of both. I mean, I -- when I arrived here in 1968, we'd had the Martin Luther King assassination, the Bobby Kennedy assassination, riots in the city of Washington. There were machine guns deployed on the steps of the Capitol in order to make certain that the rioters didn't get close to the center of the city.
This time is much better than that, when you think about it. We're about to have an inaugural ceremony down here that will inaugurate the first African American as President of the United States. Millions of people will come to the city for a tremendous celebration. That's major progress. So to say that it's worse now than it used to be, I guess I wouldn't buy that.
Q It's a very good answer. I must say you're not quite observing the rules of the lighting round. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: These are important questions.
Q I understand that. Highest moment in the last eight years?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Highest moment in the last eight years? Well, I think the most important, the most compelling, was 9/11 itself, and what that entailed, what we had to deal with, the way in which that changed the nation and set the agenda for what we've had to deal with as an administration.
Q And I assume that's also your lowest moment.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure, yes.
Q Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to pass on that.
Q What about the criticism that in the Blagojevich case, as in the Libby case, he doesn't just stay within the four corners of the indictment, but he makes political comments?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to pass on that.
Q Did you really tell Senator Leahy, "bleep" yourself?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I did.
Q Any qualms, or second thoughts, or embarrassment?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I thought he merited it at the time. (Laughter.) And we've since, I think, patched over that wound and we're civil to one another now.
Q Favorite President over the four decades?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Boy, I've got more than one and I wouldn't want to single out any one particular one. Obviously --
Q -- your favorite was Jerry Ford?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I loved working for Jerry Ford. I was there at a very special time. But I couldn't say anything with respect to my time in office that didn't focus very much on the current President and on this administration -- I mean, these eight years, in terms of my involvement and in terms of the tough decisions the President had to make. He's been, in my mind, a very consequential President, a guy who made very tough decisions and never looked back.
And to some extent there are similarities between the two. They've both been willing to make very tough decisions that they thought were right for the country and let history judge down the road whether or not they made good decisions.
Q Finally -- and we have about -- less than two minutes left -- in July of 2007, when the President was having a medical procedure and was under anesthesia, you became the acting President for I think a couple of hours. And you wrote a letter to each of your grandchildren in which you said the following: "My principal focus as Vice President has been to protect the American people and our way of life. I ask of you as my grandchildren that you always strive in your lives to do what is right." And you signed it, Grandpa Cheney.
Why did you write that letter, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I thought it was important for the family and for the grandkids to have a sense of the importance of the moment. I felt I wanted to mark it in some fashion and I couldn't think of a better way to do it than the letter that I wrote to my grandchildren.
Q But what does it say about your motivation these 40 years, and especially these last eight?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't know that it says anything special about my motivation. Obviously at the time I was focused and I've continued to be focused upon the importance of doing everything we could to defend the nation. I think that's the -- sort of the first and highest priority for any administration.
Q Mr. Vice President, we want to thank you for today, and always, over these last years, taking our questions, sometimes friendly, sometimes not. And I also want to thank you, sir, for your service --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Chris.
Q -- over these four decades.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've enjoyed it.
END 12:20 P.M. EST