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NBC's Guthrie Grills Cheney on Tea Party; Cheney Calls Obama 'Most Radical' in D.C.

In an interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie proclaimed a "civil war" in the Republican Party and persistently urged him to blame it on the Tea Party. Instead, Cheney began the exchange by explaining: "I think the most radical operator in Washington today is the President. I think he's trying to take the country in a direction that is fundamentally different than anything we've seen before." [Listen to the audio]

Guthrie was undeterred and continued to stoke GOP division: "And you would think that might be a unifying moment for the party but instead you have Senator Lindsey Graham this weekend calling the shutdown 'a political gift to Democrats'....Mitch McConnell said, 'I think we fully acquainted our new members with what a losing strategy is.' That suggests there is a real rift."

Cheney countered: "I don't see so much as a real rift. I look back over my own experience and there are times when there's a new wave, if you will, a new generation of political leaders coming along. The year I got elected, 1978, we had a guy named Newt Gingrich who kept telling everybody we can become the majority, and he was right."

Guthrie pressed: "You've said in the past that you thought the Tea Party was a positive influence. Do you still feel that way?" Cheney replied: "I do, because I think they've raised issues that an awful lot of Americans care about. That we've got a terrible track record with respect to federal spending. Nobody seems to be able to solve the problem."

Later in the interview, Guthrie tried to get Cheney to reverse his support of the conservative movement: "...you say the Tea Party is actually a positive influence in terms of its focus on federal spending, that kind of thing. This shutdown, I mean according to Standard & Poor's, cost $24 billion in terms of growth. Isn't that totally antithetical to what – what the goal of the Tea Party is?"

Cheney described the real problem: "What's the cost of not dealing with our long-term debt? It's a heck of a lot more than that. We're passing on to my 3-year-old granddaughter the burden for our profligacy in terms of how we spend money. And we're sending that bill to the future. It's outrageous that we are not dealing with the debt problem..."

In a news brief at the top of the 8 a.m. ET hour, anchor Natalie Morales incredulously noted: "This morning on Today, former Vice President Dick Cheney defended Tea Party Republicans who held up a spending bill while trying to force changes in the health care law. Mr. Cheney said he didn't see the Tea Party's actions as negative, even though they contributed to the shutting down of the government."

Here is a full transcript of the October 21 interview:

7:11AM ET SEGMENT:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Former Vice President Dick Cheney is with us now. He's out with a new book called Heart and we're gonna talk a bit more about that later. But in the meantime, Vice President Cheney, good morning to you.

DICK CHENEY: Good morning, Savannah.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Dick Cheney One-on-One; On Shutdown, DC Dysfunction & Future of GOP]

GUTHRIE: Lots to talk about in this book, but lots to talk about in politics too. I have to ask you, a lot of people see this current time as a moment when the Republican Party is almost in a civil war with itself. Do you think the shutdown strategy was a smart strategy?

DICK CHENEY: Well, I look at it with a different perspective, Savannah. I think, you know, we had a lot of talk about conflict inside the party. What intrigues me is, I think the most radical operator in Washington today is the President. I think he's trying to take the country in a direction that is fundamentally different than anything we've seen before.

GUTHRIE: And you would think that might be a unifying moment for the party...

CHENEY: I would hope so.

GUTHRIE: ...but instead you have Senator Lindsey Graham this weekend calling the shutdown "a political gift to Democrats." Jeb Bush said Republicans "should have shown a little restraint," let the health care plan play out, and let people find out that it is flawed. And Mitch McConnell said, "I think we fully acquainted our new members with what a losing strategy is." That suggests there is a real rift.

CHENEY: Well, I don't see so much as a real rift. I look back over my own experience and there are times when there's a new wave, if you will, a new generation of political leaders coming along. The year I got elected, 1978, we had a guy named Newt Gingrich who kept telling everybody we can become the majority, and he was right.

GUTHRIE: You've said in the past that you thought the Tea Party was a positive influence. Do you still feel that way?

CHENEY: I do, because I think they've raised issues that an awful lot of Americans care about. That we've got a terrible track record with respect to federal spending. Nobody seems to be able to solve the problem. And it's an uprising, in part, and the good thing is it's taken place within the Republican Party. I don't see it as a negative. I think it's much better to have that kind of ferment and turmoil and change in the Republican Party, than it would be to have it outside.

GUTHRIE: Would you call yourself a Tea Partier? Are you a member of that wing of party?

CHENEY: Well, I'm not a card-carrying member, I don't know that there is a card, but I've got a lot of respect for what the people are doing. These are Americans, they're loyal, they're patriotic, their taxpayers, and they're fed up with what they see happening in Washington. I think it's a normal healthy reaction, and the fact that the party's having to adjust to it is positive. I'd much rather see them in the party than out of the party.

GUTHRIE: Do you think Ted Cruz is a positive influence?

CHENEY: Well, I think he represents the thinking of an awful lot of people, obviously in Texas. But my own daughter is running for the U.S. Senate from Wyoming, partly motivated by the concern that Washington's not working, that the system is breaking down, and that it's time for a new leadership.

GUTHRIE: She's challenging a long-time incumbent...

CHENEY: She is indeed.

GUTHRIE: ...and that has made angry many old friends of yours, frankly, in Wyoming, including Alan Simpson. Will you get out there and campaign for her?

CHENEY: Well, I'll do all I can. Probably the best thing I can do is stay out of the way. I'm part of that generation, my time's up. I had a great time, but we really do need new talent. Here we've got a woman who's got five children, has got the drive and the energy to represent that next generation. And we need to be passing on leadership in the party to that next generation. So I think it's a very healthy development.

GUTHRIE: As part of that campaign, your daughter, Liz Cheney, said she was not pro-gay marriage. Your other daughter, Mary Cheney, of course is pro-gay marriage. Is this causing tension in the family?

CHENEY: Well if it did, I wouldn't talk about it. That's a family matter. My views on the subject are well-known. I laid them out in a debate in 2000, when I debated Joe Lieberman.

GUTHRIE: When you – going back to the shutdown for a moment, you say the Tea Party is actually a positive influence in terms of its focus on federal spending, that kind of thing. This shutdown, I mean according to Standard & Poor's, cost $24 billion in terms of growth. Isn't that totally antithetical to what – what the goal of the Tea Party is?

CHENEY: What's the cost of not dealing with our long-term debt? It's a heck of a lot more than that. We're passing on to my 3-year-old granddaughter the burden for our profligacy in terms of how we spend money. And we're sending that bill to the future. It's outrageous that we are not dealing with the debt problem and I think that's what we need to be doing. And the problem isn't the short-term moment, the debate over the shutdown or not the shutdown, the real thing is, what are we gonna do long-term to solve our debt?

GUTHRIE: Peter Baker of the New York Times has a new book called Days of Fire, it's about the Bush-Cheney years, and he wrote that by the end of the second term you and President Bush "disagreed on North Korea, gun rights, same-sex marriage, tax cuts, Guantanamo Bay, interrogation practices, surveillance policy,  the Lebanon war, Harriet Miers, Donald Rumsfeld, Middle East peace, Syria, Russia, and federal spending." If you agree with that, that suggests that President Bush almost totally rejected your view of the world by the end.

CHENEY: I was an independent thinker. Obviously we had differences. He promised me, when he made me part of his administration, I'd have the opportunity to present my views and I did. I was more influential in the first term, partly because he was new then and he needed my advice more than he did in the second term. But I don't find it surprising that we had differences. He was the president, I was the vice president. I got to offer my advice. Sometimes he took it, sometimes he didn't.

GUTHRIE: Well, we're going to talk a lot more to you about your own personal battle, this odyssey with your heart, including your heart transplant. So we look forward to talking to you a little bit later on.

CHENEY: Thanks.

GUTHRIE: Thank you.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.