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Cheney Possibly to Receive Pacemaker

Aired June 29, 2001 - 11:51   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We will go to the White House any minute now once that press briefing gets under way. In the meantime, we are joined now by our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno who has been also following our coverage this morning of this developing story about the vice president going back to the hospital tomorrow for another heart procedure.

Frank, your thoughts on exactly the way the White House is handling this whole issue?

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well the White House has been very surgical, if you will pardon the pun there, Leon, about this whole thing, and very deliberately so. They studied a little bit of history and they have seen whether its previous presidents and more particularly, in the case of the Vice President Dick Cheney, if they aren't out in front of this thing then they are well behind.

That's when the speculation digs in, that's when there's all kinds of people wondering about the seriousness of what the procedure may be or what the implications may be for serving. So in this particular case with zero fanfare and zero notice whatever, it was the vice president himself who came out into the briefing room at the White House and said, in a very matter of fact tone, looking quite healthy, actually, this is what I am going to be doing. My doctors are quite optimistic about it. They say that I am going to be coming back to work. I fully intend to do be doing this job.

The American people, Leon, are well aware of the vice president's heart conditions. We've seen him in the hospital before and they've been asked around that time whether they think that he is up for doing the job, and whether they're confident that he's got the stamina and the health to continue doing the job.

And the last time that we asked that question back in March when he'd been in the hospital, 59 percent of the American people said that we're not concerned, we think that it's fine. And so that's exactly the kind of tone and optimism and confidence this vice president was trying to convey earlier today.

I suspect that we're going to hear that echoed in no small measure from the White House podium in just a few minutes when Ari Fleischer steps out there for his daily briefing.

HARRIS: You know, Frank, the last time we talked to you, you mentioned the polling information that you'd come up with and the numbers that you found showed that the positive numbers on Dick Cheney were higher than they were for the president, George W. Bush. And you have to wonder that now if there's another heart episode now with the vice president -- and relatively soon after the last time around -- if those numbers will change and if what that actually imparts for the president?

SESNO: Well, that's -- that's a very good question, Leon. I think clearly, and there's no one in this town, no political adviser, no spin meister who wouldn't be aware of this, the more that the vice president has to talk about his health, the more that he has to go back to the hospital, the more he reinforces the sense that this is serious enough to be undergoing these kinds of procedures, the more people will be driven to ask the question, has got stamina for the long hall here?

It's specifically significant because this vice president is so central to this presidency. He is, as we talked about earlier, and as is commonly remarked here in Washington, the chief operating operator, the COO through whom all details really travel on their way to the CEO, President George W. Bush.

So whether these kinds of hospitalizations and the constant news conferences and the array of doctors, that kind of thing, erodes this sense of confidence in the vice president's stamina is a very good question. But one does get the feeling that, you know, as he's standing there in his, sort of avuncular, reassuring style which is what he has cultivated in this town and what he does rather well and has over the years, that does serve to offset some of this. But I don't think we can tell at this stage.

He is supposed to go in, come out tomorrow. We'll see how that goes.

HARRIS: That's what is supposed to happen, and I am sure that's what he wishes is going to happen.

SESNO: That's right.

HARRIS: But if it turns out, Frank, that if he does have to stay in for a prolonged procedure, for instance, the implantation of this ICD, I think it was called, which is the pacemaker plus device that we've heard so much about -- and no doubt we'll hear much more about it in days to come -- if he is going to be in there for some time and out of the office, what do you think -- this means actually for the fact that he's actually in charge of, or is overseeing at least three major -- or the White House -- I guess oversight of three different main issues -- I am getting this from a note that we got from our White House correspondent John King -- energy, global warming, and domestic terrorism, he is the point man on those particular issues.

Are we to be concerned at all about any problem there?

SESNO: Well, you know, Leon, I might -- I might suggest that we think of this in a slightly different context and that is going back to previous experience when it was the president himself who has had very serious medical conditions.

In the end, the American people will judge or seem to judge not based on you know, what the doctors say and how long someone stays in the hospital, but how robust they are in the job. Think back to Ronald Reagan. Here was a man who was in his 70s. He was both shot during his presidency and spent serious time in the hospital.

He had cancer, I remember that because I covered it. I remember when the doctor walked out into the auditorium packed with reporters, he said the president has cancer. In both cases he snapped back. Those were both potentially life-threatening situations and as a much older man than Dick Cheney, came back and did the job.

And in the end the American people, through polling and every other piece of anecdotal evidence we gathered, judged him rather favorably and very much in charge. So, as we think about where Dick Cheney is at this particular moment, what is more significant over the longer hall is how he is doing the job and how he projects in that job.

HARRIS: All, right, well we can sit here and flap our gums forever, but we need to hear what the White House has to say and they have not gotten under way with that press conference as yet. They are just about 10 minutes or so late. Frank Sesno there in Washington. Thanks and stick around. We are going to no doubt need your insight after this. We will have coverage of this White House press conference once it does get underway, so don't go away.

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