Cheney Tempers Comments on Powell
By Dan Eggen
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney unleashed another round of attacks on the Obama administration today, taking the new president to task for his economic policies and criticizing a former colleague, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for supporting cuts in missile defense programs.
But in an interview with CNBC's Larry Kudlow, Cheney also sought to bury the hatchet with another former Bush administration colleague, Colin Powell, after opining that he wasn't sure that the former secretary of state was still a Republican.
"We're happy to have General Powell in the Republican Party," Cheney said. "...I meant no offense to my former colleague. I wasn't seeking to rearrange his political identity."
Cheney has taken to the airwaves in recent weeks to forcefully criticize the new president on a range of issues, including accusing Obama of endangering Americans' safety by banning harsh interrogation tactics and moving to close the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The appearances have prompted a sharp debate among Republicans over the direction of the party, while the White House has largely dismissed the remarks as unbecoming and irrelevant.
In the new CNBC interview, Cheney accused Obama of presiding over a "vast expansion" of the federal government that will do "fundamental, long-term damage to the country," while playing down the Bush administration's role in kicking off federal bailouts with a massive Wall Street rescue plan and other steps. He also suggested that he favored letting U.S. carmakers slide into bankruptcy while he was in the government, even though he defended Bush's decision to grant loans to the auto companies at the time.
"He's already talking about a set of policies that I think grossly undermine the notion that the way you grow the economy is to stimulate the private sector, to minimize government's role in the private sector, to cut taxes as much as possible, to minimize the regulatory burden that the government imposes on the private sector," Cheney said of Obama. "All of those principles that I think a lot of us believe in are now pretty much being ignored in favor of a much larger government, a much greater involvement in the society."
Cheney also took on Gates, who served as Pentagon chief under Bush and was retained in that position by Obama, saying his plan to cut $1.4 billion in missile programs is "a wrong thing to do" in light of belligerent weapons tests by North Korea.
"I thought it was a good thing that he did continue in office, but, obviously, somebody made the decision and he's supporting it to reduce the amount of money that we devote to missile defense," Cheney said. "...We need to do a lot more work in order..to deploy a system that'll defend the United States against those kinds of limited strikes that might be possible by a nuclear armed North Korea or Iran."
While stepping up the rhetoric against the Obama administration, Cheney sought to soften his recent criticism of Powell. Responding to Powell's suggestion that the GOP needed to move to the political center to attract broader support, Cheney said on CBS: "I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican." Powell fired back last weekend, saying he was still a Republican.
Cheney said today that the remarks were based only on Powell's support for Obama during last year's presidential race. "We're in the mode where we welcome everybody to the party," Cheney said. But he added: "What I don't want to do, in the course of trying to expand the overall size of the Republican Party and expand our base, is to [walk] away from basic fundamental principles."
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