Former Vice President Dick Cheney says Romney’s tax returns are a distraction

Spinners and Winners

Dick Cheney has heart -- specifically, a new heart. And with it comes a fiery and defiant Cheney that had been absent in recent years.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News and Yahoo News, Cheney says he feels "excellent," and reflects on how far he has come since 2010 -- when he was in end stage heart failure and had undergone a grueling operation to have a pump installed in his heart.

"Two years ago this time I was on a respirator, heavily sedated. Just had a pump… installed on my heart because my heart had gotten so weak after six heart attacks and 30-some years of heart disease that it was, you know, it was at the end." he said.

Cheney, 71, weighed in on the 2012 presidential race, wading into an issue that has been plaguing presumptive nominee Mitt Romney: tax returns. Back in 2000, as a potential vice-presidential pick, Cheney released ten years of tax returns. Then Governor Bush at the time also released ten years. Romney has released just two, though Cheney says he has "great confidence" in what has been released.

"If he had two years out, they'd want four. If he had four years out, they'd want six. If he had six years out, they'd want ten," said Cheney.

"It's a distraction," he added. "I'd say do what he feels like doing. If this is his decision, fine. Let's get on with it."

The former vice president was also defended his stance on gay marriage. During the vice presidential debate in 2000, Cheney broke from party ranks and became the most prominent Republican to endorse gay marriage.

"People should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into," Cheney said at the time. "It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard." Cheney's daughter is openly gay, and married her longtime partner Heather Poe earlier this year. The father-of-the bride did not go.

"We wished them well. She wanted to avoid having it be a media circus or having it become part of the political debate," said Cheney.

Asked if he wished he would have pushed harder on the legalization of gay marriage while in office, Cheney gave a defiant no.

"Why?" asked the former vice president, adding "I was out there 12 years ago in the first campaign in 2000, in the debate with Joe Lieberman in front of millions of Americans on live television and I laid out my position then and it hasn't changed. No. I've addressed it and moved on."

Cheney's also moved on from Republican conventions to more leisurely activities. You won't find the former Republican heavyweight in Tampa later this month, though you may catch a glimpse of him up in Canada.

"I've got a fishing trip planned."

ABC News' Avery Miller contributed to this report.