Jan. 18, 2011— -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney said today that he is undecided on whether to have a heart transplant but called the heart pump he had implanted last summer "a miracle of modern technology."
"I haven't made a decision yet," Cheney said of the transplant. "I'll have to make a decision at some point, whether or not I want to go for a transplant. But we haven't addressed that yet."
In an interview with NBC News, his first since undergoing the heart surgery, Cheney demonstrated that while he has lost weight, he has not lost his trademark edge and propensity for sharp partisan commentary. He spoke candidly about how his relationship with former President George W. Bush was "a bit" strained by the end of their time in the White House, but he declined to weigh in on Sarah Palin's qualifications to be president.
Cheney reiterated his statement that President Obama will be a one-term president and questioned his commitment to preventing a terrorist attack.
"I think his overall approach to expanding the size of government, expanding the deficit, and giving more and more authority and power to the government over the private sector is a lack of -- sort of a feel for the role of the private sector in -- in creating jobs, in creating wealth and getting our economy back on track," he said. "Those are all weaknesses, as I look at Barack Obama. And I think he'll be a one-term president."
Asked if he still believed that Obama has made America less safe, Cheney said his previous comments were in reference to concerns that Obama would roll back counterterrorism policies the Bush Administration had put in place, such as enhanced interrogation techniques and the terror surveillance program.
"I think he's found it necessary to be more sympathetic to the kinds of things we did," Cheney said, noting that it was "all well and good" that the Obama administration has "gotten active" with the drone program against terrorists.
But, Cheney said, he still worries that Obama does not have the same absolute commitment to preventing a terror attack that he and George W. Bush had simply because Obama has yet to go through a day like 9/11, as they did.
Political Combat 'Heart and Soul' of U.S. Political System
"[Sept. 11] certainly stimulated in me and I think the president I worked for an absolute commitment that that's never going to happen again on our watch. And that we'll do whatever we have to do in order to prevent it," he said.
"And I hope President Obama is to that point now where he has that same basic attitude. But we might never find out until there's actually another attack."
Asked about whether the political rhetoric in the United States has "gotten out of control," Cheney first urged caution when looking at the shootings in Tucson.
"I think we need to be a little careful about assuming that somehow the rest of society or the political class bears the responsibility for what happened here when it was the act of a deranged, crazed individual that committed a crime," he said.
But Cheney, who famously told Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to "go f--- yourself" on the Senate floor, noted that U.S. politics "can get pretty rough at times."
"A good, tough political fight is one of the great strengths of our democracy," he said. "And so I think we have to be cautious, I guess, about jumping to conclusions here about the extent to which the sort of the political environment contributed to or caused this event."
The former vice president said he did not think that it will be easy to take a political system that was "designed for political combat … between the parties, between ideas, between principles and set that aside.
"I wouldn't want to do that. That's the heart and soul of our political system. And that's basically a good thing," he said.
Cheney had positive words for Obama's handling of the Tucson shooting. "I'm not an Obama supporter by nature but I thought this was one of his better efforts," he said.
Cheney would not weigh in on Palin's qualifications to be president but did say he enjoys her reality show about life in Alaska.
"I'm interested in Gov Palin like a lot of people are. I've met her. I thought she's got an interesting political career established," he said. "She's clearly a factor within the Republican Party, has a strong following, also has a lot of critics"
But when asked if Palin was qualified to be president, Cheney demurred.
"I'm not going to get in the business…of saying this one is, this one isn't," he told NBC. "There'll be ample time for that in the months ahead and I'll be happy to participate in that process when the time's right."
Asked if he was settling scores in his upcoming memoir, Cheney said that he has a sense that he will get in the last word. The former vice president said he will address his relationship with President George W. Bush in the book that comes out in September. "We had some policy differences and I'll be forthright with my comments on those," he said.
Cheney told NBC that his push to get Bush to pardon his friend and former chief of staff Scooter Libby strained his relationship with the president "a bit," but said that he thinks their relationship now is "pretty good."
Cheney reiterated that he went to Bush three times in the lead up to the 2004 election and offered to drop off the ticket. "The reason I did it was I thought he needed to have the ability to do whatever was necessary -- to make sure he won," he said.
But he said that after the third time, Bush thought about it for several weeks and came back to him and said "No Dick, you're my guy."
After a lengthy recovery period following the heart surgery last summer, Cheney began to quietly and slowly reemerge in public. He attended several holiday cocktail parties last month and later this week will attend an event marking the 20th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War.
Cheney had a heart pump implanted in his chest. He underwent the procedure in July after it became clear, he said at the time, that he was "entering a new phase of the disease" when he began to "experience increasing congestive heart failure."
The LVAD is implanted next to the heart to help its main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, pump blood through the body. Such devices are used mainly for short periods, to buy potential transplant candidates time as they await a donor organ.
Cardiologists said that in Cheney's case, the pump was likely a bridge that would keep him alive until he could receive a heart transplant. Many cardiac experts said at the time of his surgery that Cheney may be only one step away from a transplant but could find himself on a wait list for "months or years."
Cheney has a long history of heart problems. He has had five heart attacks, the first in 1978 when he was 37, and the fourth in November 2000, after he and Bush were elected to the White House.
In 2001, Cheney had a pacemaker installed in his chest, and in September 2009, he underwent elective back surgery to treat lumbar spinal stenosis.
Cheney was admitted to the George Washington Hospital Feb. 22, 2010, after experiencing chest pains. His doctors later said it was a mild heart attack; his fifth. He was released two days later.
That hospital stay forced the former vice president to miss a breakfast with his former boss and hundreds of former White House and campaign staffers. The event, sponsored by the Bush-Cheney Alumni Association, was to be the first time the two met in person since they left office in January 2009.
Instead, Bush dropped by to visit Cheney at his home in Virginia Feb. 25. Cheney and Bush, both sporting dark suits, shook hands and exchanged grins on the steps of Cheney's residence in McLean, Va., before turning to wave to the ABC News camera.
"Mr. President, welcome," Cheney began.
"Looking good," Bush replied.
"Holding up," Cheney said.
"Looking good," Bush said again.
"Could be worse," the often dry-witted Cheney said.
Cheney said he now uses a Blackberry and a Kindle and drives himself around – a change from his days at the White House where he didn't even have a cell phone.
But he admitted that he is still not "totally modern" and relies on his grandchildren for tutorials in the latest gadgets.
"I'm still writing longhand and don't use a computer for that sort of thing. My grandchildren still laugh at me," he said. "My 3-year-old grandson was showing me the other day how to use the iPad to play games – angry birds or something like that. I'm gradually adjusting."