The second most powerful office in the White House changed hands yesterday and no one noticed any difference.
That’s because Richard Bruce Cheney, who officially replaced Donald Rumsfeld as the No. 1 White House staff member, has been preparing for his new job for a long time. As Rumsfeld’s assistant, and alter ego, he was totally trusted by his boss and frequently substituted for Rumsfeld in chairing senior staff meetings and briefing the President.
Ever since Rumsfeld reorganized the White House staff in 1974 the word has been clear to those dealing with Mr. Ford: Cheney speaks for Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld speaks for the President.
Unlike Rumsfeld, a former congressman who has long been suspected of having presidential ambitions, Cheney is not considered politically ambitious. He is both an academic and a businessman, but his chief flair is thorough and unremitting staff work which has earned him a reputation for competence within the White House and on Capitol Hill.
It was no secret that Cheney admired Rumsfeld’s hard-driving competence. And it was no secret either that Rumsfeld, who can be abrasive, highly valued Cheney’s ability to mollify bureaucrats or reporters who may have been put off by Rumsfeld’s bluntness.
But Cheney turned down a chance to go to Brussels when Rumsfeld went there as NATO asmbassador [sic]. Instead, he went into a small brokerage partnership with friends in Washington and New York.
The night that President Nixon resigned, Rumsfeld called Cheney and asked him to meet at the airport. The next week Cheney took a 10 days’ leave to help Rumsfeld reorganize the White House. Six weeks later, at Rumsfeld’s request, Cheney divested his business interests and went to the White House full time.
Cheney said yesterday that he expects to be less visible than Rumsfeld, who was a political figure in his own right.
“I really do believe that a staff man should be anonymous,” Cheney said.
The new White House chief of staff calls his responsibility “a very heavy one” by believes he is up to it. The word at the White House is that his biggest problem is likely to be filling the No. 2 staff job with a “Dick Cheney” of his own.