Carla Marinucci & John Wildermuth, SF Chronicle,
After months out of the spotlight, Vice President Dick Cheney, in two California appearances Wednesday, spoke strongly about the possibility of war with Iraq and reassured supporters about his health while sidestepping questions about his actions as former CEO at Halliburton Co. Calling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's renewed efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction a 'growing threat,' Cheney said President Bush is 'looking at all the options' with regard to using military force in the region.
'The president has not made a decision, at this point, to go to war,' Cheney told 500 members of the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco. 'We're looking at all of our options.' Cheney cautioned that even if Iraq allows weapons inspections again, it may not be enough to satisfy the administration's concerns. The president is highly skeptical of the value of the inspections because Hussein has had years to hide evidence of the extent of his weapons stockpiles and 'has gotten very good at denial and deception,' Cheney said. Bush, speaking at a fund-raiser in Jackson, Miss., also renewed his strong rhetoric against Iraq. Although Bush didn't mention Iraq by name, there was no mistaking the meaning as he spoke of countries run by men 'who poison their own people,' as Hussein did in gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds. Speaking in Fresno at a GOP fund-raiser after leaving San Francisco, Cheney said the country must consider the possibility of 'pre-emptive action' against those who endanger the United States. 'The only path to safety is the path of action.' The vice president's San Francisco speech was his first major public appearance in several months. Dogged by a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into accounting practices at Halliburton while he ran the oil firm, Cheney has stayed out of public view while remaining an influential adviser inside the White House and a popular fund-raiser among Republican candidates. The Fresno event for state Sen. Richard Monteith, R- Modesto, running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, was just such a fund-raiser. More than 600 people attended the event, which raised an estimated $200,000 for Monteith in his campaign against Democratic Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza. Cheney also appeared Wednesday night at a state GOP fund-raiser in Burlingame. Bill Simon, the party's candidate for governor, attended, but in the wake of his flagging campaign and a jury's verdict last week finding his family firm liable for fraud and ordering it to pay $78 million in damages, the event was closed to the media. An estimated 500 protesters accosted Cheney in front of the Fairmont Hotel for his morning speech, which was briefly interrupted inside the ballroom by five hecklers seated in the audience. They chanted 'Cheney is a corporate crook, no war in Iraq' before being hustled away by security, and Cheney -- who briefly halted his talk -- laughed and said 'thank you' to audience applause before he continued. Outside the Fairmont, a summer festival atmosphere prevailed as the demonstrators massed behind police barricades protesting causes including possible war in Iraq, corporate malfeasance, governmental AIDS policy and federal prosecution of medical marijuana growers.
The vice president, in a wide-ranging address and in questions afterward, touched on Halliburton, corporate responsibility and the economy, the Mideast and Iraq, his health and whether he would run again for vice president. Reporters were not allowed to question the vice president directly but were invited with members of the Commonwealth Club to submit written questions. In response to an audience question, Cheney defended his role as former CEO at Halliburton, saying 'it's a fine company,' and 'I have great affection and respect' for the firm. Cheney said he couldn't expand on his work at Halliburton because of the SEC probe. Asked if his health problems would affect whether he would remain on the ticket with Bush in 2004, Cheney said, 'Two people will figure very prominently in that decision: One is the president, and the other is my wife.' Cheney has a history of heart trouble, has suffered four heart attacks, and has had a pacemaker implanted. He said his health 'has been good. . . . I don't have any complaints. . . . I've got the doctor following me around every place I go. Literally when I get on the elevator there's a guy there with a black bag.' The former congressman, presidential chief of staff and secretary of defense called his vice presidency 'the high point of my professional life.' On the economy, Cheney said, 'There is no doubt of our nation's strength' and predicted steady 3 percent economic growth for the remainder of this year. 'We will not be satisfied until every sector of the economy, from agriculture to high tech, is vigorous and growing,' he said. Cheney said the administration's efforts to ensure 'corporate officials will be held to high standards of accountability' will increase consumer confidence -- and investment. 'All of us recognize the vast majority of men and women in the business community are honest and aboveboard,' he said. But 'when there is corporate fraud, the government will fully investigate and prosecute those responsible.'