When Vice President Dick Cheney appeared at the National Press Club to participate in the Gerald Ford Journalism prizes today, he warmly remembered his old boss, the late President Ford, as someone only truly appreciated by history. Ford was, Cheney said, "Unafraid to make the tough calls, even when they carried high political risk."
Although Cheney focused most of remarks on national security issues, it was his very personal answer to a question on gay marriage that broke new ground. "I think freedom means freedom for everyone," Cheney said. "As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay, something that we've lived with for a long time in our family."
Cheney's daughter, Mary Cheney, is gay and gave birth to a son in 2007, whom she is raising with her longtime partner, Heather Poe.
Throughout the Bush administration, the Vice President refrained from directly discussing his daughter's personal life and avoided questions on whether gay couples should be able to marry. In 2007, Cheney bristled when CNN's Wolf Blitzer
asked him to respond to political criticism of his daughter's pregnancy, saying to Blitzer, "Frankly, you're out of line with that question." Today he said gay couples should have "any kind of arrangement they wish."
"I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish," he said, adding that regulations on marriage have traditionally been handled at the state level rather than the federal level, and should remain in states' jurisdictions. "Different states will make different decisions and I don't have problem with that."
Beyond his comments on social issues, Cheney fielded an array of questions from the assembled members of the Press Club, who sent pointed queries to the podium and received equally candid answers in return. Cheney touched on everything from the American prison at Guantanamo Bay ("If you don't have a place where you can hold these people as we do, your only other option is to kill them"), to his opinion on Sonia Sotomayor ("I would have gone with somebody with a little more conservative bent"), to the link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 ("I do not believe, and I have never seen any evidence to confirm, that he was involved in 9/11").
His assured and sometimes chilling responses left no doubt that the attacks on September 11th drastically influenced his thinking during his vice presidency and continue to do so. "The fact is we did exactly what we felt we had to do," Cheney said, "And if I had it to do over again, I would do exactly the same thing."
An abbreviated round-up of the Q&A is below, while the full event can be viewed at the National Press Club's web site.
On the connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda:
"That's not something I made up or something I thought of. It's something the Director of National Intelligence was telling us. We know for a fact that Saddam Hussein was a known sponsor of terror. That's not my judgment, it was the judgment of our State Department."
As to whether Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11th attacks:
"I do not believe, and I have never seen any evidence to confirm, that he was involved in 9/11. We had that reporting for a while and it turned out not to be true. But the fact that he was a state sponsor of terror, provided sanctuary and safe harbor and resources to terrorists is, I think, without question, a fact."
On the case for war with Iraq:
"I do believe that the president made the right call when he made this decision. If you look at it in the aftermath of 9/11, there was the possibility of another 9/11-style attack, only with much deadlier technology -- 9/11with nukes or bio-agents of some kind. That concern drove a lot of our thinking in the months after 9/11. We felt we had to take action and act aggressively, which we did, to reduce the possibility that terrorists could ever get their hands on that kind of capability or that state sponsors might ever share that.
"I think it saved lives and I think we're far better off today because Saddam Hussein is no longer in Iraq."
On the downshift in a fear mentality since 9/11:
"I looked at the world the morning after 9/11 and what I saw were 16 acres of ashes in downtown New York City on the island of Manhattan. I saw a Pentagon that had suffered a severe blow. If you looked closely enough on television, you could see footage of American citizens jumping out of windows on the upper stories of the World Trade Center because it was better than being burned to death... It was the worst attack on the homeland in the history of the republic."
"We would have been absolutely, totally irresponsible if we hadn't taken the view that we had to do everything n our power to prevent that next attack and that's exactly what we did."
On the American prison at Guantanamo Bay:
"We need Guantanamo. If we didn't have it we would have had to invent it."
"If you're going to be engaged in a world conflict such as we are, in terms of the global war on terrorism, if you don't have a place where you can hold these people as we do, your only other option is to kill them. And we don't operate that way."
"The facility we have down there is a fine facility, the people are very well treated. Remember that they are unlawful combatants, they are terrorists, they are being treated in a manner in which you would expect America to treat prisoners from other conflicts."
On closing the prison at Guantanamo:
"There is not a great demand out around the country to have these folks shipped to the nearest facility. I haven't seen members of Congress stand up and say, "Oh yeah, I'll take a dozen." It's not going to happen.
"You've got countries overseas that holler at us to close Guantanamo, but, "Not in my back yard." They don't want any of those nasty terrorists arriving in their capital city to be housed and fed and whatever is going to happen to them."
"The New York Times
, again one of my favorite publications, last week referred to these inmates at Guantanamo as "abductees." It sounded like they were kidnapped on their way to the movies. These are bad actors. These are the worst of the worst . . . If given a chance, they would walk in here today and blow themselves up and take as many Americans as they could with them."
On whether waterboarding is torture:
"We went to the Office of Legal Counsel and said, "What are the guidelines here?" They drew a red line, and that's the guidance we took. I don't believe we engaged in torture. There were three people who were waterboarded, not a large number. In fact, it was done under the overall guidance of the central elements of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Justice and I thought it was well done."
On Osama Bin Laden:
"He is an important figure, obviously. We would have loved to have captured him on on our watch. I think that the link between Obama (sic.) and the people under him is pretty fragile. I don't think he has the capacity to do as much damage as he did at one point, but we ought to still continue to chase him."
On the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor:
"There will be a debate in the Senate and I look forward to the hearings just like I think a lot of other people do. But if it were my decision to make, I would have gone with somebody with a little more conservative bent."
On gay marriage:
"I think freedom means freedom for everyone."
"As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay, something that we've lived with for a long time in our family.
"I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish. The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don't support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. I think that's the way it ought to be handled today, at the state level. Different states will make different decisions and I don't have problem with that."
Were you the most powerful vice president in US history?
"I think we'll leave that judgment to history. I will say that when the president asked me to take the job, my initial reaction was, no.
"He persuaded me that I would have wide-open access to whatever was going on, that I could dig into whatever I wanted to dig into...I would not have had the opportunity to do all that I did if it hadn't been for him, if he hadn't kept his word to me that I could be a significant and important part of his administration, and I'll always be grateful for that."