TERENCE SMITH: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Gentlemen, welcome.
Mark, we've heard about the medical implications of this from Dr. Tracy. What are the political implications of Vice President Cheney's latest heart trouble?
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Terry, first of all it's far better time for the administration than it would have been four months ago. Then Dick Cheney was the savvy, gray beard, the guy who knew where the key to the executive washroom was at the White House and George W. Bush was the green horn, the rookie, untested. Since then the President has had a couple of victories, big victories on Capitol Hill, he has had a European trip. And Dick Cheney quite bluntly has had his own star just a little bit tarnished since then.
He has taken a couple of hits because of his leadership on the energy policy. So I think politically it comes at-- at a better time than it would have four months ago. The biggest problem is that on the 10th of July, the administration is going to bring up the energy bill in the House of Representatives. This was Dick Cheney's -- this was his baby. They were counting on him to be the lead man, to dominate the debate. And I think anything that raises questions about that raises questions about the political process.
TERENCE SMITH: Even though it obviously remains to be seen. He may well proceed.
MARK SHIELDS: He may very well.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul, what do you think the politics of this is?
PAUL GIGOT: If he couldn't participate in the debate it would matter, but there is no evidence based on this that he won't. In fact, there is no evidence that I can find in my reporting that's suggested he's pared back his schedule at all -- to be able to go to the hospital for this kind of procedure, which obviously takes two or three days to do. He is going to meetings, he is in on a wide variety of subjects. There is no doubt in my mind that his credibility with George Bush hasn't been damaged at all by this. The most interesting thing is the way the Cheney staff in the White House responded this time as opposed to earlier because they basically sent Dick Cheney out to be his own best witness.
TERENCE SMITH: On the notion he is the most credible?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he has that -- he has a capacity as a public person to project serenity and confidence anyway. And then when you see him talking about his own health, who seems to be in command of the details on fibrillators and defibrillators and all that, I think it gives people a sense of reassurance.
TERENCE SMITH: But you know, Mark, he did have to confront questions, open questions -
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he did.
TERENCE SMITH: -- on whether he can continue in the job.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And while not disagreeing with Paul, I think it was an antidote in part politically to the charges of having been in secrecy his energy task force and whether that had been under wraps. I think it was a calculated political move to be open, to come out rather than have it announced in the White House tomorrow that the [Vice] President had entered the hospital for a procedure and then to play catch-up ball.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul, how important would it be in your view if worse came to worse and Vice President Cheney did have to step aside? How significant for this administration at this point?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it would be very significant.
TERENCE SMITH: Still?
PAUL GIGOT: I do. I think that he is-- would I say he is probably-- after the President, he is the most important person in this administration. If you think about all the senior advisors from Colin Powell to Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney seems to me to be the first of all of those in terms of the breadth of his issue base.
I mean it's not just foreign policy but he is also-- not just energy policy - he's in the whole domestic area. He does a lot of work on Capitol Hill, particularly in the Senate for Bush. I think Bush does trust his instincts. He has a very good team, Cheney does. It would be a real blow to this administration if he weren't able to continue.
TERENCE SMITH: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I agree. I think that George W. Bush is very dependent upon Dick Cheney, upon his judgment. He is very comfortable with him. And I cannot remember a Vice President in my lifetime who had as wide ranging portfolio as Cheney has had with Bush.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. The two of you stay right where you are. We want to go to another subject: Today's Senate action on a patients' bill of rights. Kwame Holman has that story.