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Vice President Checks Himself Into Hospital After Experiencing Chest Pains

Aired March 5, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Vice President Dick Cheney is hospitalized with chest discomfort. Tonight: The latest from the White House.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Vice President Dick Cheney checked himself into a Washington hospital this afternoon after experiencing chest pains. Cheney, who has suffered four heart attacks, underwent a procedure related to his latest heart episode in November.

For more, we go to CNN's White House correspondent Major Garret. Major, how is the vice president?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's reported to be doing somewhat well. He is described as groggy, but he was well enough and awake enough to take call from the president of the United States. He called him at the George Washington University Hospital Center. The two talked for about five minutes. The vice president reported he was doing fine and eager to return to work, all part of a rather concerted White House effort to put the best face on this situation.

The vice president showed up at that hospital about 3:30 this afternoon after having four sets of heart discomfort episodes, the first Saturday at the vice president's resident. Incidentally, he just moved into that residence the day before, on Friday.

After a bit of exercise, the president felt -- vice president, rather felt some discomfort, dismissed it as flu-like symptoms and went on about his business, but felt another episode on Sunday and two upon arriving here at work Monday morning, this morning, at the White House. He then informed the president that he was feeling some chest discomfort, he was going to have it checked out.

Upon his arrival at the hospital, the doctors had discovered a narrowing of the artery where they had placed a stent, a device meant to expand a clogged artery. That was put in place in late November after discovering that narrowing. They put a balloon in there, filled it back up. It is a procedure that requires a local anesthetic and the vice president was sedated for that procedure and was asleep while it was performed. Doctors described it as an urgent procedure, not an emergency one, but one the nevertheless had to be done rather quickly to deal with the situation that they were presented with. They said this is consistent with someone who has had a stent in place in a clogged artery and also consistent with someone who suffers, as the vice president does, from chronic cardiac disease -- Bill.

PRESS: Major, you were there at the White House following both the president and the vice president and their busy schedules. Is there any indication looking at the vice president's activities over the last week or that so this is man who had any health problems?

GARRETT: Well, the vice president's health problems are well- known, not only all of the White House staff, but all of us here who cover the White House and this is a very active vice president. He holds a very wide and broad portfolio for this president.

He is the point man for the president on Capitol Hill. For example, he not only the typical ceremonial office that every vice president has in the Senate, but he also has a special office in the House of Representatives. From those two offices, he lobbies and deals with members of Congress almost continuously.

He also participates in all administration debates on international policy and national security policy and within the last couple of weeks, he was tabbed by President Bush to lead his energy management team. Energy is a very important topic here at the White House. The president and all of his aides are concerned about energy shortages on the West Coast and the ripple effect it could have not only in the economies throughout the West Coast, but the possibility of high energy prices and shortages in the Midwest and the Eastern part of the United States as the year wears on.

As they were trying to grapple with that issue, the president tabbed his vice president to deal with all Cabinet secretaries and all relevant agencies as the administration attempts to formulate policy to deal with that potential crisis. So in matters legislative and all matters that are deemed a crisis coming from the outside, Vice President Cheney is often the first person, rather, President Bush turns to for guidance and help -- Bill.

PRESS: Major Garrett, thank you very much for joining us from the White House tonight. Let me introduce now tonight's guests, frequents guests on CROSSFIRE. Good to have you back, Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and Peter Fenn, Democratic strategist based here in Washington.

Haley, let me pick up on what Major said there. We have seen all this responsibility that the vice president has been given, one of the busiest vice president that we have seen and handling the most jobs and the most tasks given him by the president and yet he had his fourth heart attack last November. He had an EKG just last week. He's in the hospital again today. Is there any concern that perhaps his responsibilities are too much for him to handle?

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Not with me. PRESS: Should there be?

BARBOUR: No, I don't think so, and I think that this that happened today was a relatively routine thing where they put in a stent, a device to keep an artery open. It was failing. It wasn't quite working like it was supposed to. They had to reopen it.

When Dick Cheney was selected by then-Governor Bush, I said, and I think a whole lot of other people recognized that Bush picked him to be a partner in governing much more than as a political running mate and there were great reasons why, and he's proven himself.

He's somebody who's got a broad portfolio because he's got tremendous experience: A former White House chief of staff himself, a congressional leader for the Republicans in the House, secretary of defense, run a very large international corporation, his experience in running large organizations and understanding foreign policy, international policy. The guy has got a lot that George Bush recognized this will be a great partner in running the government if he got elected as he did.

PRESS: Well, there's no doubt that he has taken on a great deal of work there at the White House, and the vice president was here on CNN yesterday on "EARLY EDITION" -- I'm sorry, "LATE EDITION" Sunday. And here is what -- he was asked by Wolf Blitzer, how are you feeling? Here is what he had to say. Please listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I feel great. I am well-behaved. They've taken control of my food supply. So, I'm trying to do all those things you need do to be a responsible individual with a history of coronary artery disease and somebody who's 60 years old. So far, so good.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "LATE EDITION": No pizza at midnight?

CHENEY: No pizza at midnight. I'm not a big pizza-eater anyway, but lots of fruits and vegetables.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Now, that was Sunday. We now know from Major Garrett that he felt his first discomfort the day before on Saturday. He had two of them again, one Sunday and then two this morning. I mean, again, should we be concerned that he's not taking care of himself?

BARBOUR: I don't think so. I think just the opposite is true. He showed an abundance of caution today, and said to the press and those around him, hey, I've had some little chest pains. I'm going to go see about it before it amounts to anything.

And in fact, he went and he got it attended to before it amounted to anything. I think that's good. Dick Cheney is a mature, bright guy who's got hugely good judgment and, thank goodness, we're able to use that good judgment for the benefit of the country. CARLSON: Peter Fenn, you listened to Major Garrett's report and in it, I think we learned everything we could ever want to know about the state of Dick Cheney's health. Even before that, we heard a briefing from physician who gave information that was so detailed that I don't think non-doctors could follow it. All through the day, the White House has been releasing information about the state of his health. It's impossible to imagine the Clinton administration doing anything like that, One, isn't this a delightful change and two, could we ask for more?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You might have thought that it would have been nice for some of our folks to have heart trouble in the Clinton administration.

CARLSON: I'm not going to rise to that, Peter Fenn.

FENN: No, I'm just joking with you. But look, I mean, I think the country is looking at this situation very closely. They are very concerned about it. Their prayers go out. They want that make sure that the vice president is healthy.

And you know, one of the points I think to be made here is that transparency and openness is absolutely critical in this kind of juncture. You know, if he had problems on Saturday and Sunday, probably CNN may not have been the pace to announce those, but you know, you've to be very careful in this kind of thing. You've got to be out front. You don't want people to think that you're hiding anything when it comes to health problems.

But I think the other situation here is that you basically have almost a CEO in Dick Cheney, and a bit of a chairman of the board. Some would say sometimes a ceremonial chairman of the board in President Bush at times, and this man has probably more power, more authority, more going on than even Al Gore did as vice president. So it's even more important that he be in good health and that people know what is going on.

CARLSON: Well, tell, that's interesting you brought that up, because there does seem to be this conflicted view the Democrats have of Dick Cheney. You'll remember that during the campaign, many Democrats believed that he was this terrible drag on George W. Bush. Remember, James Carville told me that the single dumbest things that Bush had ever done was pick Dick Cheney.

All of a sudden, he becomes vice president and the executive branch can't function without him. I mean, which is it? Is he valuable or is he a drag?

FENN: Well, heck, Tucker, he brought Wyoming in. You know, what a big deal.

(LAUGHTER)

BARBOUR: Three electoral votes was all it took, too.

FENN: Yeah, that's a very important state. That's why you got to count. You got to count.

No, I mean, I think, you have someone here who has given a new meaning to the term power lunch. I mean, he's got -- he's up there on Tuesdays -- every Tuesday with the Senate leadership, Republican leadership, determining what legislative priorities are. On Wednesday, he has lunch every week with the secretary of state, secretary of defense and national security adviser helming the foreign policy. Thursday, he goes in with one-on-one lunch to tell George Bush exactly what he has been doing to establish priorities for the country.

I mean, you have got a guy here who is clearly very involved. You know -- so, if he is going to be involved, he's got to be healthy.

BARBOUR: Well, wait a minute. He is very involved, he is very influential. George Bush takes him seriously and gives him some serious responsibilities. There's no question who's president, and Dick Cheney is the first person to say there is no question who's president. George Bush makes the final decision, as he should, but to have a vice president that can contribute like this -- I think Peter or any Democrat, Republican or mugwump will say, hey, it's good for the country.

PRESS: All right. We wish the vice president well, we are glad he's doing better. We are going to move on now to some of the other political news of day, which we will get into after we take a break.

I want to tell you the good news that both of our guests tonight, Haley and Peter, are going to be in our CNN chat -- CROSSFIRE chat room right after the show. They will be there take questions at cnn.com/crossfire. Again, when come back come back, some of the other day's political news, like what is Al Gore doing meeting with big donors? We're going to get into that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. While the entire nation waits for more good news from George Washington hospital University -- University hospital, I'm sorry -- Washington's political battles go on, including word that one Democrat may already have set his sights on the White House in 2004.

So, is Al Gore meeting with donors just to say thank you, or to say get on board? Debating today's political news with Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Peter, we will get to Al Gore in a minute, but first -- simply because we can't resist -- let's go to Bill Clinton now. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia gave what is now a fairly famous interview to "Fox News Sunday" on Sunday, but one of the things that didn't get a lot of coverage is what he said about Bill Clinton. Listen to what he did say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I didn't care for him. His lifestyle didn't match mine. I'm not saying that I'm an icon of perfection, but I didn't care for him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: So, I guess my response is: get in line, Robert Byrd. I mean, all the Democrats have come out to say this recently -- Ed Rendell, Jimmy Carter -- Terry McAuliffe has even expressed doubts, if you can imagine -- and I guess my question is: it's easier to make a list of Democrats who don't like Bill Clinton than it is to make one of those who like him. Why now? Isn't it sort of cowardly to wait until there are no more elections to admit that he's loathsome?

FENN: No, no, no, listen. Some of us have criticized Bill Clinton all the way along, some of us have had problems with things that he's done. We've been very upfront about that. I would have to say that Robert C. Byrd, who had never went to, I believe, one of his State of the Union addresses -- or if he did, it was one of the early ones. He did not like Clinton from the beginning, and that happens. I mean, that's fine.

But listen, what you have to do with somebody like Clinton is you have look at what he did for the country over eight years, you have to look at where we are now versus where we were when he came into power. We -- you know the litany, I mean, we can go through them, we are not...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... but the Democratic party is in, of course, much worse shape than it was when he came in, and that's my second question. My second question is: according to "US News" this week, only desperate -- I'm quoting now -- "only desperate Democratic candidates want Clinton to campaign for them, to raise money for them." Isn't time to get a new head of your party?

FENN: I think -- there is no question we are going to have a new head of our party, we are going to have a lot of heads of our party. We have strong people out there, like Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, and up-and-comers like John Edwards of North Carolina.

Listen, any time a president leaves office -- be it Republican or Democratic -- and we have to say "he" now, because we don't have any "shes" -- but they do other things. They are no longer the heads of the party. Jimmy Carter wasn't, Ronald Reagan wasn't, George Bush Sr. wasn't the head of the party. New people come on the political scene.

It is time for you, Tucker, to move on, get over it, and talk about the new leadership in the Democratic party.

PRESS: I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the times that people have said Bill Clinton is through.

FENN: You don't think he is going to run for the Senate?

(CROSSTALK)

BARBOUR: When I was chairman of the Republican Party, I got elected just when President Bush went out, and President Bush was through -- I mean, he completely went away. He did not want to in the news. I sort of wonder how Terry is going to handle it when an ex- president doesn't want to get out.

You know, George Bush told me -- he said, I will not do one fund raiser, I would not do one political event for at least a year, because I think that the outgoing president should get off the stage.

PRESS: Terry McAuliffe, the new chairman of the DNC has a good plan, you just watch.

But I want to ask you about something else. Yesterday down in Newport News, Virginia, there was a very moving ceremony -- for those of us, all of our viewers that didn't see it, I think we have some footage here of former first lady Nancy Reagan smashing a bottle of champagne against the bow of the USS Ronald Reagan, new aircraft carrier named in honor of the former president. But my question to you, Haley Barbour, is -- now we have an airport named after Ronald Reagan, now we have a new aircraft carrier, isn't that, like, enough? Can we stop right here?

BARBOUR: You know, Bill, I remember when the Reagan building here...

PRESS: Oh, we have building too? All right, I forgot the building -- three!

BARBOUR: The Reagan building was finished and, Tucker, it was the most expensive building ever built in Washington, and some of President Reagan's friends and admirers said, oh, it was just terrible that they would name that building for Ronald Reagan. I was kind of like Paul Laxalt, he thought every building ought to be named for Ronald Reagan. Well, that sort of expresses my sentiment on this point.

PRESS: Well, but, you laugh about it, but there is, in fact, an organization, Phyllis Schlafly is one the leaders of it, called The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project. They say they are not going to stop until there's a public monument to Ronald Reagan in every one of the 3,067 counties in the United States of America. Haley, come on, even you have got to admit that this is just ludicrous!

BARBOUR: For me -- well, I worked for President Reagan. I admire him and I care about him. I think he was one of the two great presidents of the 20th century in the United States. But you know, am I going to try to get into what counties in California are named for somebody? I'll leave -- Yazoo County, Mississippi I think should have some Reagan monument. But other than that, I'm going to hold my peace.

PRESS: Talk to Phyllis. Talk to Phyllis.

(LAUGHTER) CARLSON: Now, Peter, I know you could not have missed "The New York Times" story that revealed that Al Gore is running around New York, taking a break from his duties as a journalism professor...

FENN: Professor...

CARLSON: ... at Columbia -- that's right -- and holding dinners for supporters. In other words, running for president again.

Now, when is -- seriously, when is a Democratic wise man or a couple of them going to go to Al Gore and say, please don't do this to us?

FENN: Well, I'll tell you, here's a guy who won the election by 550,000 votes. So I think he's entitled to...

CARLSON: Peter...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: ... not in the White House.

FENN: He had a little problem with the electoral votes, those three that you were talking about.

But look, I think there are a lot of rising stars in the Democratic Party. I don't think by any stretch that, to be honest, that Al Gore is entitled to the nomination despite how well he did in this election.

I think there are a lot of people who are saying, look, let's take a really good hard look at this. First of all, though, let's do something about education, let's do something about this crazy tax bill that George W. Bush has put forth before the American people. Let's fight on the issues that we care about. And you'll see then...

CARLSON: Yeah, but who's going to fight it? There's nobody left.

FENN: Oh, no, no, no. Oh...

CARLSON: Mrs. Clinton, who's got to be considered the rising star, a new Zogby poll said 58 percent of likely New York voters -- those who are paying attention -- think less of her now that she's been elected. Her start is just crashing to the earth...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Listen, listen, listen. I think that's nonsense. I think you had, you know -- if you had the Clinton watch going on for six weeks, as we have, you're going -- you're going -- a little of this is going to be rub off.

She's going to be absolutely fine. She's buckled down. She's working hard. She's got a great staff. She's going to be a terrific senator.

But she's one of a lot of people out there. We have great group of senators and congressmen who are going -- who are going to fight for these issues that they care about. And you know, I think you're going to have -- you're going to have talk of a lot of different folks for president of the United States on the Democratic side. And it's a good bench, and -- and you'll hear about it.

PRESS: Haley, a quick question, about 30 seconds left. It's clear that the Bush administration has said, we're going to go, we're going to go fast, we're going to go hell-bent for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to get our tax cut through as fast as we can. House Ways and Means Committee has already passed it. The full House is supposed to pass it. George Bush is out there campaigning in every wobbling senator's district, Republican and Democrat. They're putting all their money on this -- on this tax cut. Good strategy -- it's all or nothing getting this whole tax cut intact?

BARBOUR: Of course, it's not all or nothing. At the same time they're doing this education bill. But the budget is hugely important, and part of the budget, the most important part of the budget actually, is to have an opportunity to cut taxes so that the American people can keep more of what they earn.

PRESS: But if they fail, don't they just show that they're...

BARBOUR: They're not -- they're not going to rush this through that fast. The House has cut the bill in half. They're going to have to have two separate votes on it. The Senate, they'll have to vote on it after the budget resolution.

So yes, they're off to a fast start and should be, but they're not trying to ram this through. They couldn't if they wanted to.

CARLSON: Haley Barbour and Peter Fenn, as exciting as tax cuts are, we're going to have to save it for a future CROSSFIRE. Thank you. Bill Press and I will be back in just a moment with our closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Haley Barbour and Peter Fenn are sticking around to take your questions in the chatroom. So make sure to join them at cnn.com/crossfire.

Bill, I love this complete turnaround with Dick Cheney. He was, you know, this kind of buffoonlike character in the characterizations of Democrats, and now, all of the sudden, nothing would run in Washington without him if you listen to Democrats.

PRESS: I don't think anybody ever referred to him as a buffoon. But I think the reason you see a little change, Tucker, is because nobody realized to what extent George W. was going to check out.

I mean, you know, it's surprising he came back from Camp David or he's back from Camp Crawford. (LAUGHTER)

I mean, the fact of it is Dick Cheney is running this country. And the guy that's doing all the heavy lifting is now in the hospital. So I say it's important for the nation that the guy get better.

CARLSON: Because the president is emotionally secure and normal enough to delegate normal duties to a capable deputy, that makes him checked-out?

PRESS: Well, as Major told us, Dick Cheney is in charge of energy, relations with the Congress, foreign policy, defense and the environment.

CARLSON: You're not -- that doesn't bother me.

PRESS: What's left for George W. Bush?

CARLSON: I don't know: Be president. Put Dick Cheney in charge of those things. That's prima facie evidence of his...

PRESS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that's it.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. Because of breaking news, no "SPIN ROOM" tonight.

CARLSON: But CROSSFIRE will be back tomorrow night.

From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Good night.

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