Shirley Anne Warshaw

 

On her book The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney

Cover Interview of June 22, 2009

A close-up

In the past month or so, we have seen former Vice President Cheney aggressively respond to charges by President Obama that the Bush administration exacerbated America’s friends and foes with its policies of torture, prisoner abuse, and inadequate trials.  In fact, Dick Cheney is the one to be blamed for these.  It was not only Cheney’s policies that became the policies of the Bush administration, but they survived legal tests within the administration because of the legal team that Cheney put in place.

Lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel within the Department of Justice and in the White House Counsel’s Office provided the constitutional justification for Bush to move forward these policies.  They were lawyers that Cheney and his staff placed there.  Each shared Cheney’s view that the president had essentially unlimited authority under Article II of the Constitution to do what he felt was necessary to protect and defend the nation.  Unlimited authority – neither prohibitions by statute nor international treaty could restrict the president’s constitutional authority to protect and defend under this interpretation.  Within the administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his staff, including his legal counsel, William Taft IV, were among the few who objected.  Their views were quickly dismissed by Cheney.  It is questionable whether Bush even heard the full range of their objections.

Clearly, Cheney controlled the debate over whether or not to proceed into Afghanistan and Iraq and he controlled the debate over how the wars were prosecuted.  He controlled the debate by controlling the participants in the debate – nearly all of whom he had placed there.  Bush, to his great fault, never reached out to a larger audience and never sought multiple voices in the policy debate.  His was an administration dominated by the group think of Cheney’s allies.  Had Bush spent the time to seek outside legal, constitutional, and national security voices, surely the national response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th would have been quite different.

But Cheney’s voice in the administration ran far deeper than national security policy.  Upon taking office in 2001, Cheney’s primary goal was to build a pro-business administration which moved toward deregulation.  For Cheney, the financial costs imposed by federal regulation were an unwarranted and unnecessary constraint on business and industry.

During the transition, Cheney staffed the administration with pro-business executives and lobbyists whose only goal was to dismantle the regulatory constraints, particularly environmental constraints on energy producers.  Placing an oil and gas lawyer from Texas as head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission was only the tip of the iceberg of Cheney’s anti-regulatory appointees.

Oil and gas companies successfully permeated the senior halls of government as Cheney appointees and focused on removing environmental regulations that prohibited drilling on federal lands, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska and the coastal shelves off of Southern California and Florida.  Similarly, coal company executives appointed by Cheney dismissed environmental regulations requiring removal of waste materials in mountain coal mining, thus leading to significant pollution of the stream water surrounding the mines.

Cheney shaped the Bush administration’s energy, environmental, pro-business, and national security policies.  Not surprisingly, Cheney’s pick for chairman of the president’s Council of Environmental Quality, housed in the White House, was a lawyer, James Connaughton, who specialized in defending General Electric against paying for Superfund cleanup.  Connaughton then chose as his deputy the chief lobbyist from the American Petroleum Institute, Philip Cooney.  This was a pattern repeated across the administration.  To head the Forest Service, Cheney brought in a logging executive.  To head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget, Cheney brought in a cost-benefit analysis expert who consistently argued that government had to weigh the cost to business of a public policy decision.  A limited health risk did not justify the added costs to business imposed by added regulations, he argued.  And then there were the pro-business efforts to outsource fifty percent of the federal government.  This, of course, had the added benefit of reducing the institutional memory of career employees and of minimizing congressional oversight of administration activities – both of which Cheney championed.