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Cheney says U.S. military is underfunded, overtaxed

Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney accused the Clinton-Gore White House on Monday of spreading America's armed forces thin across the globe while equipping them with ill-maintained equipment. Sounding a familiar refrain, Cheney also suggested Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has a hard time sticking to the facts.

Cheney appeared Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live." The following is a transcript of his appearance.

KING: We now welcome Dick Cheney to LARRY KING LIVE, the Republican vice-presidential candidate. He was on this show the day it was announced that he was the nominee.

I would gather, Dick, that you hadn't debated in a long time. What was that like?

RICHARD B. CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is true, Larry. I guess the last real debate I had been involved in, in an electoral sense, was probably running for Congress from Wyoming.

Well, it was a very comfortable set. It was a lot like doing your show. It -- Joe Lieberman and I, I think, both enjoyed it. I know Bernie Shaw, I think, did a great job as the moderator. So it was -- it was a very enjoyable experience for both of us. Time flew. It went very fast.

KING: All right, the thing most pressing: the Middle East. You are a veteran of these sort of things. What do we do if conflict breaks out - - in a large scale?

CHENEY: Sure, it really is worrisome, because it is clear that the situation has gotten very tense there. There had been a real sense of progress after the Gulf War that the situation was teed up so that we could make major progress. The -- a lot of Arab states had fought alongside the U.S. The Israeli main enemy - Iraq - had been defeated. You had strong leadership in Israel, as we do today with Mr. Barak.

But -- and there has been progress: progress clearly with Jordan, progress in terms of interim agreements with the Palestinians. But now it appears that it is at risk. And I'm not sure what the answer is, Larry. And I'm not confident, at this point, how it is going to sort out. I assume there is a lot of behind-the- scenes activity underway. President Mubarak oftentimes is very helpful at a time like this. The Saudis, lots of times, will weigh and can be very influential as well, too.

I hope they can end the violence and return to the negotiating table.

KING: Do you agree that we play a big role -- we, the United States?

CHENEY: We do play big role. We cannot dictate a settlement. It is very important to understand that the only settlement that will survive has to be one that the parties of the dispute can agree to. But we clearly are in a position, given our relationships on both sides of the dispute -- our historic ties to Israel, as well as our great relationships with many of the Arab states involved -- that we do have a special role to play, as we have for years, for example, in the Sinai, where we still have U.S. troops deployed now for well over 20 years.

KING: Yes.

CHENEY: There is a major role for the U.S. here. And we are about the only ones who can perform it.

KING: Military preparedness has come up in this campaign. In the debate, Joe Lieberman criticized that it -- that should be off the boards for awhile, because it deals with national security. Is it -- is it -- do you think we are militarily unprepared? And is it fair game?

CHENEY: I think -- I think we have to talk about it during the course of a national campaign, Larry. I can't think of a more appropriate time for us to discuss the state of the U.S. military. And I must say, there is a big disagreement between my view of what kind of shape our military is in today and the view we are getting from Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.

I just had the experience today, for example -- I just spoke, before I came here, in Bend, Oregon. I had a man stand up in audience when I got through and say that his son is a pilot in United States Air Force. A third of the planes in their squadron are grounded for lack of maintenance, lack of spare parts. The pilots are getting four or five hours flying time a month, instead of the 25 or so that are really optimum.

I met a woman on a rope line in Yakima, Washington, this morning. Her son, a Naval Academy graduate, a Marine captain, is getting ready to get out of the service because of his dissatisfaction with the level of support they are receiving -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before Congress just two weeks ago, testifying they have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, in terms of trying to support and sustain the force in the field.

There is a problem. It is serious. This is an all- volunteer force. We have an obligation to provide the troops with everything they need to do the job we ask them to do for us. And I don't think this administration has been doing that. I think they have overcommitted the force and not provided sufficient resources.

KING: And you think the examples you heard today are widespread?

CHENEY: I run into it every place I go. And I can -- I can look at the data generated by the Defense Department itself: some 40 percent of our Army helicopters not combat ready, the fact that money is now being drained out of the procurement budget to support a lot of the deployments overseas, the fact that the force has gotten as small as it has.

Clearly, some reductions were justified with the end of the Cold War. But we have gone way beyond that now.

KING: And why, Dick, is it fair game, since one could say: People could look at this and profit from it?

CHENEY: Well, the -- I think the fact of the matter is that the national election is a time you hold people accountable for their performance in office, and as well as talk about what your priorities are for the future. Al Gore has been vice president for eight years. He wants to run on the basis of his service in the Clinton administration as vice president.

And the post that is being contested here, in terms of the contest between Al Gore and Governor Bush is, as president, is to be the commander in chief of our armed forces. It's maybe the single most important responsibility that a president undertakes, is to serve as commander in chief, to make life-and-death decisions about when we commit forces and when we don't -- and has a very special obligation under those circumstances, I think, to make certain that the American people understand the state of the force and that he provides the leadership and the resources they need to do the job for us.

If he -- if there's a problem and he refuses to recognize it or misrepresents it, that's a very significant difficulty.

KING: Senator Lieberman is making a sweep through Texas to hit the Bush record. What do you make of that?

CHENEY: Well, I think he's wasting his time, but certainly if he wants to do it, that's probably as good a place as any from our standpoint to have him.

The fact is, of course, the people of Texas re-elected Governor Bush overwhelmingly with 68 percent of the vote last time out, just two years ago. He has been one of the most successful governors that we've ever had in Texas. He received nearly half of the Hispanic vote, over a fourth of the African-American vote when he ran for re- election.

He's got a great track record in Texas in tort reform, in taxes, in education. He's done a superb job down there. The people of Texas recognize it, and I think they will probably not take kindly to Joe Lieberman coming down to mess with Texas, so to speak. But it's a free country, and if he wants to campaign through Texas, more power to him.

KING: We'll be back with some more questions for Dick Cheney. We expect to have him on quite a bit in the next month, as we head toward the wire.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Dick Cheney, the other night, John McCain was here. He was very angry. He says the Republicans in the Senate are holding up a bill that passed through his committee unanimously that would make it tougher on the tire companies, force them to report, keep statistics better. He was alarmed that over 100 Americans have died on the roads due to defective tires. Should you call on your fellow Republicans to let this out of the Senate and into a vote?

CHENEY: Well, I don't know who put the hold on the bill, Larry. I've got a lot of respect for John McCain. We're good friends. We served together in the House many years ago. And I'm sure he's got legitimate concerns, but that strikes me as an internal Senate matter that they'll work out. I would hope, certainly, that it will get resolved. I don't see any reason to believe it won't.

KING: Do you generally support the fact that the government should be involved if defective tires are being produced?

CHENEY: Absolutely, I think -- I think there's no question but what there is a legitimate government role there, that it is appropriate certainly for the Congress to be looking at it, holding hearings, trying to find out what happened. And there is an obligation there to try to protect people against defective products.

KING: Also, some statements are being made about the vice president with regard to statements he's made in the debates and other kinds of things. Are you, in a sense, to be blunt, calling him a liar?

CHENEY: Well, I've been very careful in my choices of words, Larry. I think the question of credibility is extraordinarily important in a president. It's the coin of the realm. When a president looks the American people in the eye and asks them to undertake a difficult task or accept difficult decisions, they have to know he's telling them the truth.

But I've always in the course of this debate tried to avoid words like the one you used, specifically because it is emotion laden. I try to be precise and accurate in what I'm saying. And what I've said is that I do think there's an unfortunate problem here in the sense that the vice president seems to have a tendency to want to embellish the facts, to make up facts to try to make a point. And that's especially worrisome when you think about how important credibility is from a president.

KING: So credibility is an issue, certainly.

CHENEY: I think it is. I think it's legitimate to ask -- ask questions about that, especially if somebody has a track record, where in -- on so many different occasions over the years he has, in fact, embellished his resume or embellished the facts in ways that aren't warranted.

KING: One of the news magazines is calling Madeleine Albright a winner today over the results in Yugoslavia. Do you share that view?

CHENEY: I'm certainly pleased, like I think everybody is, with what's happening in Yugoslavia, and she's been heavily involved there. I expect she does deserve some of the credit for the successes there and the departure of Mr. Milosevic.

KING: All right, how goes the next four weeks, Dick? Are you going to key certain states? Give me a little strategy here.

CHENEY: We are. We're focusing very much on the swing states. I was in Oregon and Washington today, I'm in Nevada tonight, New Mexico tomorrow, on to Missouri and Illinois later this week. We'll be focused on the battleground states. I think it's going to be a very close election that will be determined in the end by what happens in those handful of states. And that's where Governor Bush and I will spend the bulk of our time over the next four weeks.

Do you think we'll be up very late the night of November 7th?

CHENEY: Well, I hope we know early on that evening that it's been a great Bush-Cheney victory. But I won't count on it. I've been involved in other races that went all night, so we're prepared if that's what it takes.

KING: And, frankly, should we have another vice presidential debate, do you think?

CHENEY: Well, we originally...

KING: It was exhilarating to hear issues discussed well.

CHENEY: Sure, it was. No, we really enjoyed it. And I know my brief conversation with Joe Lieberman on the stage afterwards, I think we both felt very good about it. And that's certainly the response I've gotten around the country as I travel and talk to people.

We originally suggested two debates. In the end, when the campaigns got together with the commission and negotiated it, we ended up going with the original commission schedule. And so, you know, if there were opportunity for another, that's fine. But I -- I think the focus now will be on the two remaining presidential debates, and that's probably as it should be.

KING: And your health is OK?

CHENEY: It's great. I'm thriving out here on the campaign trail, eating good food, working hard...

KING: That's the way to do it.

CHENEY: ... getting up early in the morning, going to bed late at night. So it's been -- it's really been fascinating, Larry. It's been an amazing process to go through these last few months. It's an immersion, really, in America. You see the enormous sweep and diversity of the country. It's a great privilege.

KING: Thanks, Dick, always good seeing you.

CHENEY: OK, Larry.

KING: Dick Cheney.

Tomorrow night, George Mitchell, Jack Kemp, Bob Woodward and Michael Beschloss.

I'm Larry King in Washington. We're out of time. Good night.

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Monday, October 9, 2000


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