Chicago Tribune Editorial - Cheney's loopy excuses
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 28, 2007
Perhaps you learned in grade school that the president and vice president are in the executive branch of the federal government. But what do teachers know? Vice President Dick Cheney's underlings recently tried to argue that his office actually is in two branches at once.
How so? Well, since the Constitution provides that the vice president serves as president of the Senate and may vote to break ties in that chamber, Cheney's office contended that it is not an "entity within the executive branch."
Credit this creative reading of the Constitution to Cheney's four-year fight to resist oversight of his office's handling of classified documents. The veep's staff was looking for a way to exempt him from President Bush's executive order that requires agencies in the executive branch to report information to National Archives officials who keep records on those documents.
The notion that the vice president isn't a plain-as-your-nose member of the executive branch brought well-deserved hoots of derision from congressional Democrats. Constitutional duties do not make vice presidents members of the Senate any more than one famous duet with Mick Jagger made Tina Turner a member of the Rolling Stones. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois shrewdly proposed stripping $4.8 million in executive-branch funding from Cheney's office until the vice president agreed to stay in what Emanuel feels is his proper place.
The subtext to this squabble is that the vice president's penchant for secrecy appears to know no bounds. He successfully fought all the way to the Supreme Court to protect the confidentiality of industry officials who advised his national energy policy task force in 2001. He has passed up few chances to expand the rights of executive officials to keep mum.
Now he is stretching a dispute over bureaucratic paperwork far enough to exempt himself from one of his own president's executive orders. Cheney once suggested that the National Archives unit be abolished, according to documents released by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight committee. And Cheney's office in 2004 allegedly blocked an on-site inspection of its records.
On Tuesday, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington appeared to back away from the two-branch argument in favor of a new contention: that the executive order exempts both Bush and Cheney from oversight provisions that apply to "agencies." The Washington Post noted Wednesday that neither Addington nor Cheney's spokeswoman could cite specific language in the executive order supporting this view.
Here's how our scorecard now reads:
Having distanced itself from one loopy excuse, the office of the vice president now has settled on ... another loopy excuse.
If We-Won't Version 2.0 has more to prop it up than Cheneyesque brusqueness, we'd like to hear it.
Otherwise, Cheney has two options. He can persuade President Bush to rewrite his order. Or, better yet, Cheney can obey it.