Majority Leader Bill Frist refused on Sunday to criticize Vice President Dick Cheney for cursing on the floor of the Senate in a confrontation with a Democratic senator.
The Tennessee Republican indicated that Cheney’s outburst at Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., can be attributed to political passions aroused by the election year. As vice president, Cheney acts as president of the Senate, although the majority leader has more authority over the body’s operations.
On Tuesday, as Cheney and the senators gathered in the chamber for a photograph, Leahy struck up a conversation. Cheney challenged the senator about his frequent criticism of Halliburton Co., which Cheney formerly headed. In response, Leahy attacked the White House for not interceding when Leahy and other Democrats were portrayed as prejudiced against Roman Catholics for opposing one of President Bush’s judicial nominees.
Cheney shot back an obscenity. He later confirmed to Fox News his use of the obscenity and said he felt better after saying it.
“It’s a political season right now, where partisan feelings and emotions have come to the surface itself,” Frist said when asked on CNN’s “Late Edition” about the comment.
A pat on the back for Senate
Despite that, he said, the Senate is doing its work well, avoiding gridlock that could result from a lineup of 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and an independent. “We’re delivering for the American people,” Frist said.
“With regard to the vice president’s comments, I did not hear the comments, did not witness the comments, but clearly they reflect a lot of that emotion,” he said. “Without taking one side or the other, a lot of personal feelings are being expressed, and that emotion came out by the vice president, and I’ll let the American people judge as to whether or not it was warranted.”
Pressed whether he condones the use of such language in the Senate, Frist pointed out that the chamber was not in session at the time, “so I am not going to condone, I am not going to overly criticize the language that people in the -- the language that people use to express themselves.”
On Saturday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush had no problem with his vice president’s language. “It’s not an issue with the president,” McClellan said.
One Senate Republican, however, said the Cheney contretemps was the kind of thing people do in Congress that has Americans fed up.
“I don’t think anybody is shocked at that kind of language being used, but let’s kind of clean this mess up,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said on CNN.
“We’re bogged down in a morass of nonsense here in Washington, and it’s the politicians doing it to ourselves. If America is frustrated, I understand why they are. This is just further evidence of the silliness that goes on here, and we need to clean this up.”