FILE PHOTO Vice President Cheney Presents The Gerald Ford Journalism Awards
Matthew Cavanaugh  /  Getty Images file
Vice President Dick Cheney speaks at the National Press Club June 7, 2004 in Washington, DC.
By staff and news service reports
updated 6/25/2004 5:19:08 PM ET 2004-06-25T21:19:08

During the annual Senate class photo-op on Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney allegedly complained to Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy about the senator's criticism of no-bid Iraq contracts to Halliburton, Cheney's former company.

Senator Leahy responded by complaining about alleged administration's smears of Democrats. Cheney then used the “f” word, telling Leahy… "f" yourself.

Leahy confirmed that the confrontation took place and said of Cheney, “I think he was just having a bad day." He added that he was "shocked to hear that kind of language on the floor."

Kevin Kellems, a spokesman for Cheney, confirmed that the the two men traded remarks, but called it a "frank exchange of views."  “That doesn't sound like language that the vice president would use," he said.

The Washington Post, a self-described family newspaper, printed the entire expletive on Friday. Editors said they broke with long-standing policies because the vice-president made the remark on the Senate floor.

Democrats couldn't be happier—when John Kerry used a similar word months ago to describe the administration's Iraq policy in an interview with “Rolling Stone” magazine, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said he was “very disappointed that he would use that kind of language.”

For former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, it isn't all that usual for politicians to curse:  “If I had a dollar for every candidate who's ever used that word, I wouldn't have to raise money.  We would have all the money in the world!”

Four years ago, on the campaign trail, President Bush was caught calling a reporter something unpleasant. President Clinton was notorious for his expletive-filled outbursts. Richard Nixon and his predecessor Lyndon Johnson allegedly used salty language every other day.

But Cheney's outburst comes at a pressure-filled time, and amidst bitter feelings on both sides of the aisle. Federal prosecutors are wrapping up a criminal investigation into allegations that the vice president's office leaked the identity of a CIA operative whose husband had criticized the administration.

“Move On” Democrats are using the no-bid contracts to Halliburton in campaign ads, also Cheney has been caught contradicting himself about his 9/11 claims. Late night comedians are already having a field day.

According to Senate rules, profanity is not permitted in the chamber. Since the "exchange of views" happened at a photo-op, and not while the Senate was not in session, there was technically no foul.

But whether or not the vice president this week was simply blowing off steam, his timing was impeccable: The outburst happened the very day the Senate passed the “Defense of Decency act,” legislation aimed at curbing broadcasters' appetite for bad language.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

'Hardball with Chris Matthews' airs weeknights, 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.

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