Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Vice President Cheney: Unapologetic to Critics

While we reflect on the departure of the president in January, few are taking time to reflect on Vice President Cheney. This past Sunday FOX News had a candid interview with the outgoing vice president:

Vice President Cheney mocked Vice President-elect Joe Biden's grasp of the Constitution, defended former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said President Bush "doesn't have to check with anybody" before launching a nuclear attack.In a blunt, unapologetic interview on "FOX News Sunday," Cheney fired back at Biden for declaring in October that "Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history."

"He also said that all the powers and responsibilities of the executive branch are laid out in Article I of the Constitution," Cheney said in a interview that was conducted on Friday. "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 and which provides for the executive. So I think I'd write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don't take it seriously."

Vice President Cheney is quite correct in mocking the incoming vice president. Joe Biden is a lawyer, and has taught Constitutional Law, and yet he makes a critical mistake in identifying the difference in powers between Article I and Article II. Vice President Cheney may be right that it was merely campaign rhetoric at the time, but it is a telling gaffe. Joe Biden fired back:

"His notion of a unitary executive, meaning that, in time of war, essentially all power, you know, goes to the executive, I think is dead wrong. I think it was mistaken. I think it caused this administration, in adopting that notion, to overstep its constitutional bounds, but, at a minimum, to weaken our standing in the world and weaken our security. I stand by that -- that judgment," Biden said..

Some please get Mr. Biden a copy of the Constitution, and have him read Article II, Section 2 which lays out the case that the president is the commander in chief of the Army and Navy. In the event of a declaration of war, which we had for both Afghanistan and Iraq under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in 2001 and 2002, respectively, the president is the only person who can command our forces. Congress has no say in the matter, save funding and defunding operations.

Mr. Biden is entitled to lower the level of power his office will wield. President Bush wanted a tough, powerful vice president helping him out and advising him. Vice President Cheney said this much in the interview. He corrects Mr. Biden on his notions that the president is not the sole source of power in a time of war:

Cheney defended the administration's aggressive prosecution of the War on Terror, which he said was a major reason the nation hasn't been attacked in seven years. He said the 1973 War Powers Act is a violation of the Constitution because Congress does not have the right by statute to alter presidential constitutional power.

"That it is an infringement on the president's authority as the commander-in-chief," Cheney said. "It has 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.

"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," Cheney said. "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."

He has that authority because of his powers enumerated in the Constitution. Congress cannot limit the president's power outside of amending the constitution itself. The Supreme Court, in numerous detainee cases they have adjudicated, have stated that the president has the sole powers to prosecute this war. Congress must defer to him when it comes to anything other than the funding of the war. If he chooses to launch strikes into the tribal regions of Pakistan to take out Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters crossing the border then he may do just that, and he does not need to seek congressional approval on the matter.

Mr. Biden might want to take a hint from the outgoing vice president. It is obvious that Mr. Biden believes he will basically be a "yes man" to President-elect Obama, and that he will help push the president's agenda through the Senate. If that is all he wishes to do then kudos to him. The nation will miss a vice president as hands-on as Vice President Cheney was.



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