Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cheney's office backpedals from claim that Vice President isn't a part of the executive branch

From the Washington Post:

Vice President Cheney's office offered its first public written explanation yesterday for its refusal to comply with an executive order regulating the handling of classified material, arguing that the order makes clear that the vice president is not subject to the oversight system it creates for federal agencies.

In a letter to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Cheney Chief of Staff David S. Addington wrote that the order treats the vice president the same as the president and distinguishes them both from "agencies" subject to the oversight provisions of the executive order.

Addington did not cite specific language in the executive order supporting this view, and a Cheney spokeswoman could not point to such language last night. But spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride said the intent of the order, as expressed by White House officials in recent days, was "not for the VP to be separated from the president on this reporting requirement."

Dick Cheney's office is furiously backpedaling away from the whole "Vice President isn't enough a part of the executive branch to have to comply with executive branch regulations" argument:

Addington did not repeat a separate argument that has been previously advanced by Cheney's office: that it is not strictly an executive branch agency but also shares legislative functions because the vice president presides over the Senate. That argument has drawn ridicule in recent days from Democrats and on late-night television.

Addington suggested in his letter that it was not necessary to rehash that dispute. "Given that the executive order treats the Vice President like the President rather than like an 'agency,' " he wrote, "it is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and the legislative functions of the vice presidency. . . ."

I'm not going to get into the latest implausible excuse offered by Cheney's office. Instead, I'd like to draw your attention to this sentence:
That argument has drawn ridicule in recent days from Democrats and on late-night television.
Those are weasel words. The whole "Republicans says this, and Democrats say that" formulation is a lazy substitute for truly balanced coverage. What about the merits of the argument? Cheney's claim is presented as just another debatable issue. The fact that it has been roundly rejected by just about everyone as patently absurd is not mentioned. It's not just Democrats and the Daily Show saying that. Take Jonah Goldberg, about as true-blue a conservative as you can get, and his editorial in the LA Times:
The vice president is famously concerned with two things: restoring the prerogatives of the executive branch, lost in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and defeating our enemies in the war on terror. Both are admirable goals. But seemingly countless sources inside the Bush administration tell the Post that he has a contempt for bureaucratic and legislative consensus-building that rivals his contempt for cultivating public support through the media. As a result, he often succeeds in bulldozing policies — on enemy interrogations, etc. — all the way to the president's desk. But he's isolated when it comes time to defend these policies in Congress and the public.

Take the current argument over Cheney's self-exemption from the rules on how classified documents should be handled. Instead of getting a waiver from the president, Cheney argued that he's immune to executive orders because he's also the president of the Senate and hence a member of the legislative branch too. Not only is this a goofy argument on its face, it does nothing to restore executive authority. It's not like the vice presidency was an outpost of the legislative branch before Watergate. Cheney's argument amounts to a convenient rationalization for his own secretive style.
Read the whole thing. It's not just "Democrats and late-night television" criticizing Cheney.

UPDATE: I don't mean to pick on the Washington Post here; our whole media establishment falls into this trap with depressing regularity. The WP's recent Dick Cheney series (here, here, here, and here) is a textbook example of what good journalism should be.

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