By Russell Berman - 04/30/14 03:41 PM EDT
Former Vice President Cheney (R) spoke to a large group of House conservatives at the Capitol on Wednesday, denouncing President Obama’s foreign policy and urging them to resist a rising tide of isolationism.
Cheney attended the weekly meeting of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservatives on which he served as a member of the House in the 1980s.
“The Obama administration is taking a lot of steps to diminish our influence and ability to affect the course of affairs,” Cheney said in a brief interview with The Hill after the meeting. “The cuts to the defense budget are outrageous. The treatment of our friends in the Middle East have convinced a lot of them we are no longer trustworthy as an ally. It’s a bad situation.”
Cheney, who wore a dark suit and his customary ten-gallon hat, also sought to rally conservatives ahead of the midterm elections. Asked to summarize his political message, he was succinct: “Win votes. Win elections.”
But the man who served as Defense secretary to one President Bush and vice president to another would not weigh in on the potential of a third, Jeb Bush. “I haven’t endorsed anybody,” Cheney replied with a smile when asked about a possible presidential run by the former Florida governor in 2016.
Lawmakers in the meeting said Cheney served up some “red meat” and criticized the current administration on a range of foreign policy fronts, warning in particular about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. The message was a familiar one from Cheney, who, unlike former President George W. Bush, has been an outspoken critic of Obama since shortly after he took office.
“He said we are sending a message of weakness and that we’re going to be in a sad condition two and a half years from now when another commander in chief emerges,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said.
The chairman of the RSC, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), invited Cheney to address the group. Scalise said the meeting focused on hotspots around the world, including the Middle East and Russia.
“He’s got a lot of credibility when it comes to talking about foreign policy and the needs we need to meet to maintain a strong national defense, and to be the leader of the free world,” Scalise said. “There’s a tremendous void right now, and it’s hurting our allies.”
Cheney’s talk to conservatives comes amid an intense debate within the Republican Party about national security policies and the degree to which the U.S. should be engaged overseas. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a likely presidential candidate in 2016, has risen to prominence by promoting an anti-interventionist U.S. foreign policy, and in an NBC/Wall Street Journal released this week, nearly half of all respondents, 47 percent, said the U.S. should be “less active” in world affairs.
“It’s kind of a broad message of making sure we maintain a strong national defense,” Scalise said of Cheney’s push. “There’s a temptation by some to move toward isolationism, but our country has always been, since World War II, the leader of the free world. We’ve been a beacon, not just for our country but for others, and it’s helped keep the world a lot safer.”