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Saturday, June 26, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Cheney says remarks to Democrat were "long overdue"
WASHINGTON Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday defended his vulgarity directed at a prominent Democratic senator this week in the Senate chamber.
Cheney said he "probably" used an obscenity in an argument Tuesday on the Senate floor with Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and added that he had no regrets.
"I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it," Cheney told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. The vice president said those who heard the putdown agreed with him. "I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue."
The forceful defense by Cheney came as much of Washington was discussing his outburst on the Senate floor. Cheney, serving in his role as president of the Senate, appeared in the chamber for a photo session Tuesday. A chance meeting with Leahy became an argument about Cheney's ties to oil-services giant Halliburton and President Bush's judicial nominees. The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice: "Go (expletive) yourself."
Days earlier, Senate Judiciary Committee Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, had referred to a proposal by Leahy to subpoena Justice Department memos on prisoner interrogation as a "dumb-ass" idea.
The obscenities in a body where "my good friend" is the usual form of address lay bare what has become a poisonous atmosphere in Congress. Tempers have been shortened by the war in Iraq and a contentious election campaign.
"It's as bad as I've seen it in my 10 years in Congress," said Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois, a moderate Republican who has led efforts to make the House a more civil place. LaHood has helped organize a bipartisan retreat at the start of each session so lawmakers can get to know each other better, but he has concluded that "the will of the membership is not there to do it next year."
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland dated the lack of comity to 1978, when Republican Newt Gingrich came to Congress with his confrontational agenda. Hoyer said things have worsened because of unfair treatment by the Republican majority.
Bush made his vow to "change the tone in Washington" a central part of his 2000 campaign, calling bipartisan cooperation "the challenge of our moment."
"Our nation must rise above a house divided," he said in his victory speech in December 2000. "I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want progress. And we will seize this moment and deliver."
"I didn't like the fact that after he had done so, then he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream," Cheney said. "And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms. And as I say, I felt better afterward."
The vice president referred to the incident as "a little floor debate in the United States Senate," although the Senate was not in session at the time. According to Leahy's staff, the Vermont senator answered Cheney's complaint about Halliburton with Democrats' complaints that the White House sanctioned a smear of Catholic Democratic senators over their objections to Bush's judicial nominees.
"Ordinarily I don't express myself in strong terms, but I thought it was appropriate here," Cheney said on Fox.
David Carle, Leahy's spokesman, said: "It appears the vice president's previous calls for civility are now inoperative."
As news spread Thursday of the exchange, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., appealed to colleagues of both parties to rise above "partisan retaliation" and find a "common ground" for lawmaking.
Daschle outlined what he called "fundamental commitments" that would undergird his efforts: to "deal in good faith with the executive branch"; to exert the "historical role of the Senate" on budget, oversight and nomination matters; to respect minority-party rights; and to "end the cycle of partisan retaliation."
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