WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 7—Insiders here are mounting what might as well be called a deathwatch over Vice President Dick Cheney. The capital’s biggest gossip concerns who would replace the popular veep with the troublesome heart, should he die or become too ill to serve. Just this week, Cheney underwent a procedure to clear the same blocked artery that late last year triggered his fourth heart attack.
Doctors say Cheney should be able to complete his term, but he is under the constant watch of a physician and Secret Service members armed with a special first-aid and trauma kit. If Cheney goes, then under the constitution President Bush is to name a new vice president, who must be confirmed by a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress.
While no one wants to think of losing Cheney, who is widely liked and often referred to as prime minister, because of the power he wields in the Bush administration, realistic politicians know they must be ready for contingencies. It would be difficult for Republicans to name a member of Congress, because their majority there is so slender. They might also shy away from pressing for the elevation of a cabinet member, lest they disturb the governing structure in place.
Here are a few people Washington insiders speculate could be considered if the veep spot opens up.
Connie Mack: Conservatives are talking about this former Florida senator, who is a friend of both George W. and Jeb Bush, and who reportedly was on Bush’s first shortlist to become VP. Mack is pro-life, pro-tax-cut, and pro-defense, and has been described as a “Cheney clone.”
Donald Rumsfeld: Bush’s secretary of defense has a lengthy record of public service under Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. But Rumsfeld backed the B1 bomber and the MX missile, both duds, and looks like a Cold Warrior past his prime.
John McCain: The maverick is wildly popular with the public, but regarded in the capital as a kook. McCain’s grandstanding could embarrass the president.
Christine Todd Whitman: The former New Jersey governor could give Sunbelt Republicans what they need most: a secure foothold in a big Eastern state. Whitman could also help shore up Bush’s position among women and aid the administration in reaching out to conservative Democrats, not to mention reassuring big business. She’s far more impressive than New York governor George Pataki.
Before Bush picked Cheney, his list of potential VPs included former Missouri senator John Danforth, onetime presidential contender Elizabeth Dole, Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska senator who was among the first in Congress to declare support for Bush’s candidacy, Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, and Pataki. During the campaign, speculation focused on Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.