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CAMPAIGN 2000

Cheney Assails Cabinet Chiefs' Public Efforts in Gore Campaign

Politics: Bush running mate's complaints are familiar ones from the challenging political party during presidential election years.

October 26, 2000|MEGAN GARVEY and MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ROSWELL, N.M. — Dick Cheney on Wednesday sharply criticized Clinton Cabinet members for speaking on behalf of Vice President Al Gore, claiming that high officials like them "traditionally . . . stay out of partisan politics."

The Republican vice presidential nominee singled out President Clinton's Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers, who said this week that George W. Bush's Social Security plan shows "a fundamental misunderstanding" of how the federal retirement system works.

On the courthouse steps in Roswell, a mecca for space alien enthusiasts, Cheney defended Bush's plan and said the secretaries of State, Defense and Treasury have previously stayed out of the political fray. "Not in this administration," Cheney said.

His complaint is a perennial from the challenging political party and from government watchdogs concerned that public officials are playing partisan politics on taxpayers' time.

In fact, officials who served with Cheney in former President Bush's Cabinet hit the hustings for their boss in 1992. And as Bush's Defense secretary, Cheney himself made several appearances where he was mildly critical of Bill Clinton's candidacy.

And in this election, 28 Republican governors were dispatched across the country this week to campaign for Cheney's running mate, Texas Gov. Bush. Like Cabinet secretaries, their salaries are paid by taxpayers, but their travel is funded by the campaign.

So far in this tight election year, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen have weighed in with criticism of statements made by Bush. Albright said last weekend that Bush's call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the Balkans could threaten the NATO alliance there and Cohen rebutted the Republican ticket's poor assessment of the military shortly after the Republican National Convention in August.

Albright displayed a sensitivity to political appearances last month when she told members of Congress, "I had my political instincts removed" when she went to the State Department in 1997. Recently, she suggested, "Maybe I have to see the surgeon again."

In 1992, as Defense secretary under his running mate's father, Cheney made subtle criticisms of then-Democratic nominee Clinton's plans for the military. At a speech at the Economics Club of Indianapolis in the heat of Bush's reelection campaign, Cheney warned that "some critics are calling for deeper cuts in our armed forces that would surely destroy our military capabilities."

Other Bush Cabinet members were more overt. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin and Energy Secretary James Watkins were so dogged in their city-to-city pursuit of Clinton in the fall of 1992 that their jet was nicknamed Surrogate One.

This go-round, Republican criticism of outspoken Clinton officials is "the pot calling the kettle black," said Peter Eisner, managing director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group.

"I'm not sure what the difference is between Cabinet officers doing the bidding of the party and governors doing the bidding of the party," Eisner said. "In both cases, they're government officials whose job descriptions don't include politicking."

Speaking Wednesday in a town made famous by a supposed alien landing 53 years ago, Cheney focused on the Treasury secretary's comments in an interview earlier this week with the Washington Post.

Summers, who also serves as the trustee of the Social Security account, questioned the viability of Bush's proposal to allow individual workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes--about 15%--in private accounts. Summers argued that such private stock market accounts would drain the trust of money it needs to pay benefits to retirees.

"Summers has jumped right in with both feet in the partisan debate," said Cheney. And he suggested Summers was hypocritical on the issue because it was "something he wanted to do a year ago himself only he wanted Uncle Sam to control it."

He praised the Bush plan saying it would give individuals more control over their future.

En route to the packed outdoor rally in Roswell, Cheney's motorcade passed the UFO Museum and Research Center--testimony to the town's out-of-this-world reputation.

Cheney aides lightheartedly pointed out to reporters that Al Gore's birth date--March 31, 1948--came about nine months after the supposed alien landing and government cover-up on July 8, 1947.

Bush aides joked that the coincidence apparently didn't help Gore this year since Bush won the traditional space alien presidential endorsement that is reported each election year by the tabloid Weekly World News.

"It's no surprise that aliens are disavowing one of their own," said Cheney spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss. "We expect the Democrats to do the same at the polls."

*

Garvey reported from Roswell, Ritsch from Los Angeles. Times researcher John Tyrrell contributed to this story.

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