Cheney upholds the right without political rancor

Social programs, regulations opposed in relaxed manner

July 27, 2000|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - If George W. Bush had set out to choose a running mate with the most conservative voting record possible, he could hardly have done better than Dick Cheney.

As a Republican member of the House from Wyoming during the 1980s, Cheney almost never wavered from a stance that was tight-fisted, hawkish, pro-business, anti-regulatory - particularly environmental regulations - and staunchly opposed to federal funding for abortion and even the most modest forms of gun control.

"I'd say he was about 98 percent perfect," quipped Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, who served with Cheney in the House GOP leadership. Lott was among the chorus of conservatives who cheered loudly when the Texas governor announced Tuesday that he had asked the former congressman and one-time defense secretary to join his presidential ticket.

Yet Cheney's strong views were often overlooked by colleagues who disagreed with him because he was never confrontational and didn't wear his philosophy on his sleeve.

"He has an easy style that makes his hard right views go down easier," said Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who has known Cheney for three decades and also served with him in the House.

Like the cowboy boots he often wore to House sessions, Cheney's conservatism seemed the mark of his upbringing in a small city in the West. But then, as now, he's been willing to put that philosophy aside when necessary to be a team player.

"He's not an academic, hothouse conservative, he's more practical," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which gave Cheney a 90 percent rating for his 10 years in Congress. "About the only time we graded him down was when he supported some compromise negotiated by President Reagan that we didn't agree with."

Cheney went to Congress in 1979 after serving as White House chief of staff to President Gerald Ford. He kept his seat until 1989, when newly elected President George Bush named him to run the Pentagon.

So far his legislative voting record has been the top target for Democrats seeking a way to criticize Bush's choice.

While describing Cheney as "generally well-liked" and "a man who clearly has a lot of experience," Senate Democratic Leader Thomas A. Daschle said he is "probably as far right as anybody in the Republican party today."

Daschle referred specifically to Cheney's votes against measures that would have banned so-called "cop-killer" armor piercing bullets and plastic firearms that can evade metal detectors - two limited steps toward gun control proposed in the mid-1980's.

The Democratic leader also recalled Cheney's votes against paying for Medicaid abortions for poor women even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother was endangered by continuing the pregnancy.

Democrats also were quick to point out that Cheney was among a handful of members to vote against popular social initiatives, such as the pre-school program Head Start, and a proposal to expand child immunization.

"It was in the '80s," he said of those votes yesterday during an appearance with Bush in Cheney's boyhood home of Casper, Wyoming. "We had major budget deficits."

Cheney told reporters he was "generally proud" of his House voting record. But he said in an interview Tuesday night with CNN's Larry King that he looks at some issues differently in the current era of budget surpluses.

"I voted, I'm sure, a great many times, against various and sometimes worthy programs," he said. "I would not vote against Head Start today."

The newly-minted GOP vice presidential candidate said he is also willing to accept Bush's more moderate position on abortion and gun control, though his own views on those issues haven't changed.

Cheney said he remains opposed to abortion in all circumstances, unlike Bush, who would allow the procedure in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

On gun control, Cheney told King: "I have consistently supported the Second Amendment of the Constitution [and] believe in the right to keep and bear arms." But he said he would support availability and voluntary use of trigger safety locks, which Bush has said should be mandatory.

Cheney's record on civil rights also appears to put him to the right of his running mate.

He voted in Congress against the Equal Rights Amendment, against imposing the economic sanctions on South Africa, action since credited with helping to end apartheid. He also voted against a 1986 nonbinding congressional resolution urging the South African government to release Nelson Mandela from prison.

In addition, he opposed the 1987 Civil Rights Restoration Act affecting women, individuals with disabilities, older Americans and racial minorities.

Bush recently told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that he regretted the GOP has not lived up its legacy as the party of Lincoln because of opposition to such proposals.

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