Big Time Punches In

As Dick Cheney works the levers of power, a look at the Veep's schedule shows why he's a major league asset to President Bush

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Cheney's biggest role may come in the sphere he mastered as Defense Secretary to the first President Bush--foreign policy. Last Wednesday the Vice President crossed the Potomac to the Pentagon for the first of another regular lunch session--this one with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Though all four are friends, and Rice and Powell worked with Cheney in the first Bush Administration, it has already become a Washington parlor game to guess who will prevail in the inevitable infighting. Both Cheney and Rumsfeld, who was Cheney's mentor in the Ford Administration, are far more hawkish than Powell. Cheney watchers believe Cheney installed Rumsfeld as a counterweight to the charismatic Powell.

For all his responsibilities, Cheney, like his boss, knocks off from work earlier than the crowd that preceded him. The first weeks of the Clinton-Gore Administration were marked by frequent all-nighters. Not so Bush-Cheney. By 7 o'clock most nights, the Vice President is on his way home. Last Friday most of his senior staff members were gone by 6. "He is feeling wonderful because everything is working so well," says an aide. But that's the Cheney way. On the first night of the Gulf War, Secretary of Defense Cheney ordered Chinese food and kicked back on his office sofa. Cheney's calm "comes from riding the range genetically for several generations," says his chief of staff, referring to the Vice President's Western heritage. It is a disposition that should serve Bush well, especially when the days get longer.

--With reporting by Karen Tumulty and Douglas Waller/Washington

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