Cheney: We considered bypassing Congress on TARP authorization

Former Vice President Dick Cheney anticipated the conservative uproar over the 2008 Wall Street rescue package, and he writes in his new memoir that the Bush administration “briefly” considered not seeking congressional authorization for the $700 billion bank bailout.

In the book published this week, Cheney details his efforts to persuade reluctant Republican lawmakers to support the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which passed the House only after a failed vote caused the stock market to plummet.

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The former vice president writes that he signed on immediately to the plan devised by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, despite his reservations about the intense government intervention into the financial sector.

“There was no other option,” Cheney writes in the memoir, In My Time. “I knew the Congress would be wary of such a plan. Republicans who were facing tough reelection battles would not be eager to cast a vote that looked like a Wall Street bailout at precisely the moment when so many Main Street businesses were severely hurting. We briefly contemplated not seeking congressional authority.”

Cheney writes that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Act of 1991 allowed for a major injection of federal funds into the banking system, but that Bernanke said he would “feel much more comfortable with congressional approval, so we went to work trying to secure it.” The unpopular votes for the legislation still resonate in congressional politics.

His blunt critique of his former administration colleagues Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell has dominated headlines, but his memoir also contains recollections of his decade in the House and his dealings with Congress as vice president.

He wrote that while Paulson, a Bush appointee, worked well with Democratic congressional leaders, “House Republicans felt so out of the loop and were soon so angry that they were refusing to participate in meetings” with the Treasury chief. House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio), now the Speaker, had to call Cheney to ask him to brief his members on the TARP proposal instead.

Cheney recalled that while the Republicans gave him a standing ovation, they chafed at the administration’s plan. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) “blasted the TARP,” Cheney writes, and told him that only four out of 400 callers to his district office urged him to support the bill. “I left the session thinking that if the vote had been held that day,  we’d have been lucky to have fifty Republicans with us.”

When the bill first came up for a House vote, 65 Republicans supported it, barely one-third of the conference. After minor revisions, and the stock market tumble, 91 GOP lawmakers voted in favor, helping to push it over the top.

Cheney playfully boasted in the book of how he was able to persuade the lone House member in his home state of Wyoming to support the TARP bill, while President George W. Bush failed to win a single vote from the large GOP Texas delegation.

The former vice president also joins widespread criticism of how the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMan acquitted over tweet offering 0 to killing an ICE agent Lessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases MORE (R-Ariz.), responded to the financial crisis. Cheney said McCain’s abrupt decision to suspend his campaign and return to Washington “frankly surprised many of us in the White House.” And he said McCain “added nothing of substance” to a now-famous meeting that the nominee had requested at the White House, which included Bush, then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump keeps Obama immigration program, and Democrats blast him The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Teaching black children to read is an act of social justice MORE, and the bipartisan congressional leadership. Cheney praised Obama’s performance, and he writes: “I left the Cabinet Room when the meeting was over thinking the Republican presidential ticket was in trouble.”

Cheney was more successful in wooing Republicans on the Iraq war. He writes that in 2007, the Bush administration was close to losing the support of GOP senators for the effort, but in part due to Cheney’s involvement, the conference stuck with the president.

Cheney became known for his support of a powerful executive branch, particularly in national security, and he writes that as Defense secretary under President George H. W. Bush, he argued against seeking congressional authorization for the first Iraq war. But he took pride as vice president in the office’s dual responsibilities in the Senate, where he occasionally cast tie-breaking votes. Cheney defended his unusual move in 2008 to join an amicus brief in a landmark gun rights case before the Supreme Court that was in conflict with Bush’s Justice Department. The White House objected, but a top Cheney aide said he was appropriately acting in his role as president of the Senate, and not a member of the executive branch.

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The memoir contains little discussion of Republicans who are now running for president, with the exception of former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), with whom Cheney served in the House. Cheney praises Gingrich’s leadership in winning the House majority for Republicans in 1994, although he noted that the two had different styles when they arrived in Congress in the late 1970s. While Gingrich was a firebrand, urging Republicans to attack Democrats and President Jimmy Carter much more aggressively, Cheney writes that this was “not....my personal cup of tea.”

“My style was more restrained,” Cheney writes, “and I was reluctant to speak unless I had something I really wanted to say.” He notes that one senior Republicans praised his style, telling him that he was the only member of his class “who doesn’t drool when he speaks!” 

Cheney writes that he ended up as a bridge between party leadership and the younger Republicans led by Gingrich. He worked his way into the conference leadership within a few years, rising to the second-ranking GOP post before he left in 1989 to run the Pentagon.

“As much as I loved the House and my time there, it really wasn’t a tough decision,” Cheney writes of the move.