Behind the curtain of the Bush-Cheney White House: Who was really calling the shots?

Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

The Fine Print

Was Vice President Dick Cheney pulling the strings in the President George W. Bush's White House?

Bush has often been characterized as a puppet to Cheney, but a new book by Peter Baker, “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House,” debunks that narrative.

Baker told “The Fine Print” that the two were actually on “opposite sides” on a host of issues, a rift he said began well before Bush refused to pardon Cheney adviser Scooter Libby in the closing days of their second term.

“What I'm surprised by was just how far apart President Bush and Vice President Cheney had drifted by the end of the administration,” Baker said. “They were on opposite ends by the end on so many things: Iran, North Korea, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, federal spending, the auto bailout, climate change, gun rights, [and] gay rights.”

The two had such strong differences, Baker said, that Cheney offered to step down as vice president on three separate occasions.

“He didn't think President Bush took him seriously the first two times, so we went back,” said Baker, who interviewed Cheney for the book.

Before Bush decided against dumping Cheney, Baker said, he seriously considered the alternative, and even selected then-Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to possibly replace Cheney.

“What was really interesting to me was what he said about why he decided to think about it, because among other reasons, it would show who was really in charge,” Baker said. “Clearly, it rankled him to suggest that he wasn't.”

But Cheney did take advantage of Bush’s limited national security experience early on in the Bush presidency, Baker said.

“He did see a place for himself as a first among equals kind of adviser to really shape the direction of the administration,” Baker said. “He managed to outmaneuver rivals like Condi Rice, Colin Powell and so on in the beginning … but eventually, Bush really began, even in Cheney's account of this, feeling more confident in his own judgments, less reliant on advisers around him.”

For more of the interview with Baker, and to find out why Cheney’s hunting accident was a touchstone moment in the souring of the Bush-Cheney relationship, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Melissa Young and David Girard contributed to this episode.