Cheney Avoids Immigration, Social Issues at CPAC Speech

Vice President Cheney received a standing ovation for his remarks Thursday night at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but those clapping for the veep may have been doing so out of respect for the person rather than for what he had to say.

Cheney’s speech, typical of a stump speech for a friendly audience, left out two major domestic policy issues on the minds of conservatives — illegal immigration and the Federal Marriage Amendment — and avoided any mention of two red-hot foreign news stories — the Muhammad cartoons and Hamas elections.

The conference’s attendees couldn’t avoid discussion of illegal immigration even if they tried Thursday — the morning’s debates and speeches were devoted to the issue — but Cheney chose not to bring up the topic during his speech Thursday evening.

Conservatives in attendance were surprised that not even a message of strong enforcement of immigration laws — as President Bush briefly mentioned in his State of the Union address last week — was included in Cheney’s speech. But given the poor reception the Bush Administration’s so-called guest-worker program has received from the conservative crowd, Cheney chose instead to avoid immigration entirely.

The same was true of the Federal Marriage Amendment — an issue that Bush made an important part of his re-election campaign in 2004 but has done little to advance ever since then.

When conservative House Republicans met in Baltimore in late January, Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) said they decided the Federal Marriage Amendment should be a top priority in 2006. But with little energy from the White House — as is evident from Cheney’s speech — the issue could get little traction on a national scale.

When Cheney turned to foreign policy, he spoke at length about Iraq and the war on terror — repeating many of the same arguments he and Bush have consistently laid out about why the U.S. is winning.

But the biggest foreign news story — Muslim violence in response to cartoons of Muhammad — didn’t come up. Neither did any mention of the Hamas elections and the impact they could have on Israel. Cheney also avoided the troublesome situation in Iran, which has prompted some conservatives, most notably former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to call for immediate action against Iran.

So what did Cheney say?

If you read NewsMax’s account of the event, you’d think everything was peachy-keen. Cheney invoked Ronald Reagan’s name, and drew hearty applause. (“If Ronald Reagan were alive, he would be proud of this country and he would also be proud of the man who lives in the White House,” Cheney remarked.)

When Cheney called Bush the biggest vote-getter of all time, he had the crowd clapping, too. And when he commended Bush for nominating Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the crowd gave him its biggest hand of the night.

More applause came on lines about making the tax cuts permanent, the strong economy and U.S. efforts in terrorist surveillance — the Democrats’ latest hot-button issue.

Cheney aggressively went after Democrats for their so-called “culture of corruption” campaign — the national centerpiece of their midterm-election efforts. Cheney said the White House would be willing to work on an earmark reform plan with “responsible” members of Congress. (Was that a shot at Sen. John McCain or Democrats?)

He also made the case for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — something even Bush wouldn’t mention in his State of the Union. However, the failure to secure passage of drilling in ANWR last year can be blamed on the White House for its failure to win enough votes for passage. (Remember, Republicans hold the House and Senate.)

Each year Cheney has spoken to CPAC, he’s given a boilerplate address. But at least he shows up — something that gives him an edge over President Bush.