WHEN: Wednesday, November 13th
WHERE: CNBC's "The Kudlow Report"
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report." All references must be sourced to CNBC.
LARRY KUDLOW: We're honored to be joined now by former Vice President Dick Cheney. He's out with a new book, as you know, it's called Heart: An American Medical Odyssey. It's the incredible story of a patient, a doctor, and 35 years of medical innovation and heart disease. Mr. Vice President, as always, sir, welcome back to The Kudlow Report. Before I get into all this stuff and it's--
DICK CHENEY: Yes, sir.
LARRY KUDLOW: --a wonderful book-- I wanna talk to you about your own health. You last joined us on the show, we were in New York, it was the summer of 2011, so you were right in between-- some significant operations. Please take a listen.
LARRY KUDLOW: All right, great stuff. So I wanna go through this. We were right-- you were-- you were at death's door.
DICK CHENEY: Right.
LARRY KUDLOW: And-- and at least twice, I mean, maybe other times. But-- so we spoke in August, 2011. Your first big operation was in March, 2010, as I recall. That's where the batteries came through--
DICK CHENEY: July.
LARRY KUDLOW: July? Oh, okay--
DICK CHENEY: July, 2010.
LARRY KUDLOW: All right. That was the ventricular-assistance device.
DICK CHENEY: Right--
LARRY KUDLOW: --and the batteries. In between, now I-- I wanna ask you, you didn't say it at the time, but you were waiting for a heart transplant.
DICK CHENEY: Uh-huh
LARRY KUDLOW: Is that the basic thrust of the battery story and you weren't sure and your doctors weren't sure if the batteries would carry you through this?
DICK CHENEY: Well-- we were fairly confident that they would. The-- I was-- near death when they put the batteries in. If they hadn't put the batteries in that night, I was toast. And that was the toughest surgery and operation. But that was July of 2010. And by the time we did that spot, I'd been on the pump, as I called it, for-- better than a year.
By then, I'd recovered, I was-- a very sick fellow when they put the pump in. I had 35 weeks of rehab, I was in the hospital for five weeks, a lot of them on a respirator, I had pneumonia. So getting out of that, recovering from that-- was-- a tough task. And that was the toughest thing I'd had to go through.
The transplant was a piece of cake, as a matter of surgery from the standpoint of the-- patient. But what the pump did was it bought me-- 20 months. Some people live on them, choose to stay on the pump. I knew pretty much from the beginning that the reason to do the pump was because I wanted to get to the transplant if I could. That offered the best-- prospects for longevity.
LARRY KUDLOW: That was the piece I didn't know. That was the piece we didn't talk about-- during that interview in the middle. You know, let me just ask you sir-- and I've known you a good long while. And-- it's no secret to viewers how much I respect you. So you had this 35-year struggle with heart disease, more or less, okay? And age 37 to now-- been through bloody hell.
But all during this period, you had some big jobs, huge jobs, you were senior member of Congress, the-- secretary of defense, and of course-- vice president. Look, what is it like-- I don't know how to say this exactly, but you know you got a problem, you know it's not gonna go away. Do you pray, is it a matter of faith?
I know at one point you were with your family and they thought it was last rites, and you were telling them how and where to bury you. How do you get through a period like that knowing that the clock is ticking and that the ticking may run out?
DICK CHENEY: Well, I'd had a long time to think about it. The first heart attack, when I was-- 37 years old, middle of my first campaign for Congress-- was a mild heart attack, but it was obviously a stunner. You don't expect that when you're 37. In the immediate aftermath of that, I felt very fragile. It was all as though, you know, if I get up out of the chair too quick, maybe this sucker's going to quit.
It was that kind of mindset. You get over that-- in the period of months and you get back to doing a normal sort of schedule and activity. And I-- I've lived with it. It's part of the story of the book, Larry, was the technology always stayed ahead of my disease, the way my doctor described it, he said it's like you get up in the morning to go to work and you hop in your car and you're late and every stoplight ahead of you is red. But he said, "Cheney, when you get to them, they all turn green." And they did.
LARRY KUDLOW: It's amazing. I mean, I-- you know, reading through the book and some other stuff, the technology hadn't really changed from Eisenhower's heart attacks. Pretty close to this-- to yours in the '70s.
DICK CHENEY: To what I had in '78.
LARRY KUDLOW: And then all of a sudden, it starts exploding. And as you say, it was a little-- it was one step ahead. The technology breakthroughs kept you alive, and still are.
DICK CHENEY: Exactly--
LARRY KUDLOW: Is that fair?
DICK CHENEY: Well, it is. And-- that's a fair statement. Yeah.
LARRY KUDLOW: And what do you say to people, there's roughly 80 million people out there who have some sort of heart disease. What do you say to them based on your own experience?
DICK CHENEY: Well, one of the reasons we've wanted to write this book was the fact that we've gotten so good now at-- dealing with heart disease and innovated so many different ways to manage it and so forth-- and to survive it-- that-- we wanted to write that in the book. The purpose of the book is to convey to people, especially heart patients, there's hope.
You know, you can go out-- obviously I don't give medical advice. I'm not qualified to do that. But everybody's case is a little bit different. But the fact is and my experience shows that you can survive heart disease, you can live with it, it's a chronic disease. But that we've gotten very good, we've reduced the incidence of death from heart disease in the last 40, 50 years by over 40%.
And-- things that save me and kept me alive didn't even exist when I had that first heart attack in '78. But the-- it also says something about our healthcare system. And in this day and age, when everybody's trying to, I think, do serious damage to the healthcare system, it's the best in the world and it's phenomenal what we've been able to do, not only in the area of heart disease, but other areas as well too. And-- so partly the story-- that I hope people will take away from the book is one of hope.
LARRY KUDLOW: I want to get back to the healthcare system in a minute. But I don't know if you saw the paper today. It's all about changing the-- prescriptions for heart disease. The current strategy, this is from The Wall Street Journal. "The current strategy of reducing a person's heart attack risk by lowing co-- lowering cholesterol to specific targets is now being jettisoned over new clinical guidelines."
And it goes on to say, "The guidelines recommend abandoning the familiar and easy-to-understand guidance-- to bad cholesterol." Okay, abandoning approach. "Instead, doctors are being urged to assess a patient's risk more broadly and to pres-- prescribe statins-- to those falling into one of four risk categories." So you must've gone through the cholesterol test, I assume, but you also used statins. Now they're really emphasizing statins. Is this the right thing, just from your experience?
DICK CHENEY: I haven't read that particular piece. But-- I would say the statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs was one of the single-most important things that happened. And summer of 1998, I had my third heart attack, underwent-- quadruple coronary bypass surgery, and that was about the same time they started me on cholesterol-lowering drugs, which had just been on the market a few months.
That had a bigger impact, I think, because-- previous ten years, I'd had three heart attacks, six hospitalizations, et cetera. In the 12 years after that, I didn't have a single incident affecting my heart. That also happened to coincide with when George Bush Senior asked me to be secretary of defense. And-- my doctors could legitimately write the Senate Armed Services Committee and say, "There's absolutely no health reason why he can't take on the--"
LARRY KUDLOW: So the statins approach is probably right?
DICK CHENEY: It's pry l-- it sounds like they were--
LARRY KUDLOW: It worked for you.
DICK CHENEY: --they were finding the conditions under which they recommend it. But-- without question-- I-- if it hadn't been for the statins, I'd been dead a long time ago. That was my biggest problem, in a sense, was my cholesterol levels. And it cut it in half in a matter of months.
LARRY KUDLOW: Hmm. All right, part of the miracle. Faith in science. What kind of insurance did you have?
DICK CHENEY: Blue Cross--
LARRY KUDLOW: Was it adequate during this period?
DICK CHENEY: It was adequate. When I first gone to work for the government, back-- when I was-- 27-- in 1968, I-- got the Blue Cross Blue Shield policy, standard government policy. And-- when I was out of the government, I kept that same policy. I paid the whole cost then.
The government didn't pay any of it. But-- Blue Cross Blue Shield basically carried me up through the time I left the White House. And then I went on at that point I was-- 70 years old and-- and-- Medicare picked it up. But I still carry Blue Cross as a backup.
LARRY KUDLOW: As a backup. Now, that really gets me right into today's debate about ObamaCare. I want to get your view on it. I mean, will the Affordable Care Act work? Is it gonna change our system? I mean, you have been through that system almost, you know, step by step, from bottom to top. Is it gonna work?
DICK CHENEY: I have grave doubts. I-- it looks to me like just-- you know, if you can't even set up the website, what else is there that's flawed in the system? The-- well, just-- medical devices played an important part in my life-- implantable defibrillator, it saved my life when I went into sudden cardiac arrest.
The LVAD that kept me alive long enough to get to the transplant. Those kinds of stents-- all of these devices have been developed-- through innovation, entrepreneurs, guys willing to take a chance, make investments, and so forth. And that all happened in the last four years. But now, Obama wants to tax 'em. So there's a device tax built into the legislation that I think is a terrible idea. The worst people thing we could do.
Those people pay taxes on their income and corporations and so forth just like everybody else. But they wanna tax the income from those devices from the very first dollar of the income. It's a stupid idea, both houses have agreed with that. And will take it out. I think it's one of the few things they agree on. But--
LARRY KUDLOW: The president won't take a vote, he doesn't wanna vote--
LARRY KUDLOW: --Harry Reid, I mean, he's said he doesn't want a vote on it.
DICK CHENEY: Well, he's--
LARRY KUDLOW: He won't give up on it.
DICK CHENEY: It's got to--
LARRY KUDLOW: $25 billion tax, more or less, for ten years, that blocks innovation for exactly the sorts of--
LARRY KUDLOW: --technology breakthroughs that saved your life.
DICK CHENEY: Exactly. The stents, for example, stents now, George W. Bush who got one-- just a few months ago. In lieu of quadruple coronary bypass, open heart surgery, the kind of thing I went through in '88-- later on I had a stent-- at least three stents-- that it's a much easier proposition to go with a stent. It was safe, it was secure, it was cheap. And it now is sort of the standard of care for an awful lot of people out there.
LARRY KUDLOW: My dad's surviving on stents. He's close to 90 years old. And he's basically--
DICK CHENEY: Exactly.
LARRY KUDLOW: --surviving on stents.
DICK CHENEY: And that came about, we tell the story in the book about how stents came to be. And two guys who had a great idea but no money went and got-- an investor, a guy named Phil Romano happened-- I just happened to-- you know...Dallas-- but he invested-- a quarter of a million dollars to get them up and running, they got the patent, they sold it to Johnson & Johnson. And-- it's been enormously valuable, to save thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives in this country. Why would you want to go add a tax on that? And-- inhibit that system that's produced those kinds of results?
LARRY KUDLOW: So-- yesterday Bill Clinton really took a whack at Obama and said that Obama should really abide by his commitments and promises to let people take-- continue their insurance and their doctor-- if they want to and then put in that, even if-- we have to change the law. What's your feeling? Does Clinton have that right? Every once in a while, he just unleashes. And-- he did that yesterday. Is he right?
DICK CHENEY: I don't always agree with Bill Clinton--
LARRY KUDLOW: Right.
DICK CHENEY: --but I think he is right. I'd like to see the darn thing repealed-- and start fresh. I think they're doing--
LARRY KUDLOW: The whole Obama-- the whole program--
DICK CHENEY: Whole program. And I think it was pushed through in a hurry. They-- did everything except read the legislation, as best I can tell. It's been-- it-- it's got serious, serious flaws built into it. We've got millions of people, now their policies are being lifted, they were told they could keep their policy, it turns out they can't. They knew that. They had to know that when they wrote the darn law. So I think-- Bill Clinton-- this is one of the ideas I agree with. It's a halfway measure and it's gonna be very hard to do. I'm not sure how you could actually do it from--
LARRY KUDLOW: Does this chill the president's credibility, President Obama, things like this? I mean, people are saying that on the campaign trail and to get this-- ObamaCare passed, he had to -- essentially create a falsehood--
DICK CHENEY: He lied.
LARRY KUDLOW: --gener-- all right, you said it. And now you see his polls collapsing. I saw it today. Republican-- House-- elections in general have now moved even, I think it's an eight or nine point gain, they're now running even with the Democrats for the first time--
DICK CHENEY: Right.
LARRY KUDLOW: --quite some time. There could be-- who knows, a big change in the Senate. I mean, has this really damaged Obama's credibility?
DICK CHENEY: Well, it sure has with me. But I didn't give him a lot of credibility before that. But I-- I think it's devastating to have a president go back and not just once-- not just-- an "I-- I misspoke," but time after time after time it was a centerpiece of his speech on ObamaCare for-- five years now. And-- and it's a lie. It is not true. And he knew it was not true.
LARRY KUDLOW: All right, let me go-- Republicans have their political problems too and I want to get your take on some of them. There's-- some kind of civil war going on between the Tea Party and the so-called establishment. I don't know who the establishment-- maybe you're the establishment. I'm not sure of that. But anyway, there is a battle going on.
Tea Party candidates want to challenge incumbents, or people in the establishment, visa versa. Business is getting involved now. They don't want anything to do with the Tea Party. But guys like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, they agree with you. ObamaCare should be completely repealed. What's gonna happen? How can these-- divisions get healed in the G.O.P.--
DICK CHENEY: Well, first of all it's not new. You know, we go back in history-- I was heavily involved in the Ford/Reagan fight in '76 and I'm old enough to remember Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller dukin' it out in '64. What the Tea Party represents in my mind, and-- we-- and we've got active Tea Party members in my home state of Wyoming, where I spend most of my time now-- basically conservatives, mostly Republican-- totally fed up with the current state of affairs, legitimately angry and worried about the state of the country. And-- I'm for one, am glad that battle is taking place inside the Republican party.
LARRY KUDLOW: You like the Tea Party?
DICK CHENEY: Well, I like a lot of what they're involved with and their concerns. And I also think it's very important to have that debate occur inside the party. If you-- if you take away that drive and the dynamism that they represent-- I think we'd lose a lot as a party. I like having them inside. I don't want to see a third party develop on the outside that basically represents-- a Republican party.
I think they're welcome to the party, they ought to be included-- they ought to be free to run candidates just like everybody else. And they're there because they care, because they're concerned, and because they've gotten frustrated with this current state of affairs--
LARRY KUDLOW: So, okay. Another question on this political ta-- let's go from the Tea Parties to the G.O.P. giving up blue states all across the country and losing the popular vote, I think five out of the last six popular votes. A guy like Chris Christie comes along in -- New Jersey, says to people, "All right," he goes to the Hispanic groups, he goes to the women's groups, he goes to the African American groups, he's out and about.
He says he's a conservative, he's a low-taxer, he certainly took on the public unions. Now can the Republican party win unless it gets into these blue states? I don't see-- at some point, the party becomes extinct if they're giving up a third of the country.
DICK CHENEY: Yeah, we can't-- we cannot afford to do that. And-- I haven't embraced anybody for the next time out, I like Chris Christie, I think he's a good man. We don't agree on everything. I think though that from our perspective, I-- go back to 2004-- George Bush and I carried 44% of the Hispanic vote. We've gotta be able to do that again. That's a constituency that-- I think ought to be Republican, they're primarily conservative, family-oriented, solid values, good work ethic. You know--
LARRY KUDLOW: But the big tent, the big tent has shrunk--
DICK CHENEY: The big tent has--
LARRY KUDLOW: --and I think that's where you see those defeats in the blue states.
DICK CHENEY: Correct. That's part of it. And-- and I-- our Democratic friends are always eager to say, "Gee, if you guys would just...more like us Democrats, you'd win more elections." Well, I don't buy that. I think we've got values and fundamental principles we believe in and we ought to stick with those. But I think we need to be able to go out and do as good a job as-- Obama and the Democrats did last time of mobilizing our vote.
LARRY KUDLOW: All right, so last one on this-- I'm not endorsing Christie either. It's way too early--
LARRY KUDLOW: --for any of that. But I'm just saying using Christie as a...Christie argues that you can work in state legislatures, with state legislatures, and that Washington should be able to work-- president and the Congress. You do that, deals can be made, compromises can be made without giving up conservative principles. And as somebody who worked for Reagan, I saw President Reagan make deals.
He didn't like all the deal, none of us did, but he took the deal. Is it so polarized in Washington now, is that just not going to happen again? We got tax reform, budgets-- entitlements, healthcare may be done over. How-- the public wants some governance in Washington D.C.--
DICK CHENEY: Right, right.
LARRY KUDLOW: Why don't we get any?
DICK CHENEY: Well, I think the problem lies with the administration. And we've got the most radical president we've ever had in our history. I think what Barack Obama stands for and represents, I fundamentally disagree with just about everything.
LARRY KUDLOW: But you don't give any blame to the Republicans?
DICK CHENEY: No, I'm sure that's part of it. But my goal wouldn't be compromise. My goal would be to prevail in supporting those policies and values that are essential to the future of the nation. If somebody's giving you-- a radical proposal to nationalize the healthcare system-- are we only gonna nationalize just partway?
If you're gonna pursue a policy of withdrawing-- the U.S. presence from the Middle East or cutting the heck out of the defense department, is compromise the answer? I don't think so. I think this guy has-- is trying to take us so far to the left that-- in-- you know, at the end of the day, we're not gonna recognize the country that you and I grew up in if we go with him all the way. It's hard for me to say, "Well, we're just going to go halfway to disaster. Not all the way." And-- it's hard to compromise with somebody like that.
LARRY KUDLOW: All right. We'll leave it there. Former Vice President Dick Cheney.
DICK CHENEY: It's great to see you again, Larry.
LARRY KUDLOW: God bless.
DICK CHENEY: All right, sir--
LARRY KUDLOW: I'll say. Thank you very much--
DICK CHENEY: Thank you.
LARRY KUDLOW: --good luck.
DICK CHENEY: Enjoy the show.
LARRY KUDLOW: That's it, folks. We'll be right back. This is The Kudlow Report.
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