A chummy discussion between Vice President Pence and former vice president Richard B. Cheney quickly turned into a vigorous back-and-forth over President Trump’s foreign policy at a private gathering Saturday, with Cheney comparing the president’s instincts to those of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, according to a transcript obtained by The Washington Post.
At the closed-door retreat hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Sea Island, Ga., Cheney respectfully but repeatedly and firmly pressed Pence on a number of the president’s foreign policy moves. Cheney expressed concerns at such actions as taking a harder line toward U.S. allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and deciding to withdraw troops from Syria during what he fretted was “the middle of a phone call.”
Cheney also worried aloud to Pence that “we’re getting into a situation when our friends and allies around the world that we depend upon are going to lack confidence in us” and then offered a blunt criticism of the current administration’s response to foreign policy challenges.
“I worry that the bottom line of that kind of an approach is we have an administration that looks a lot more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan,” he said.
Cheney’s questions for Pence — which prompted Pence to joke about the lack of “softball” topics — provide a revealing glimpse into the churning and often strained debates inside the Republican Party, where longtime hawks such as Cheney have increasingly balked at Trump’s engagement with autocrats and his noninterventionist approach to U.S. military efforts in the Middle East.
The discussion also underscored Pence’s comfort in acting as Trump’s unwavering ally and spokesman before a crowd of powerful Republican skeptics and donors, with the vice president shrugging off most of Cheney’s anxieties and praising Trump as a candid and transformational leader.
But the cracks between the more isolationist Trump wing and more hawkish Cheney wing of the Republican Party were on full display, unfolding in a conversation that was designed as a vice-presidential chat but became an almost academic exercise as Cheney peppered Pence with questions and Pence responded carefully but forcefully.
The transcript was provided by a person familiar with the meeting who was not authorized to share material from the event. All attendees had agreed to keep the discussions “off the record,” the person said.
A spokesman for Pence confirmed that the discussion took place over the weekend but declined to comment.