WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney swore at a senior Democrat on the Senate floor this week while members assembled for their annual group picture, Senate aides said Thursday, in the latest indication of how partisan tensions have eroded standards of civility in the Capitol.
According to sources familiar with the encounter, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) approached Cheney, who as vice president is the Senate's presiding officer and was at the chamber Tuesday for the annual photo.
After an exchange, the vice president uttered an obscenity at Leahy, the sources said.
They said Leahy, a liberal Democrat, had greeted Cheney in a lighthearted way and that the vice president criticized him for Democrats' attacks on Cheney regarding ethics matters, such as alleged improprieties in Iraq military contracts awarded to Halliburton, a company the vice president once headed.
Leahy responded by objecting to Republican accusations that Democrats were anti-Catholic because they opposed a Bush judicial nominee who was Roman Catholic.
At that, sources said, Cheney responded, "Go ... yourself."
Leahy refused to provide details Thursday but said: "I think he was having a bad day. I was kind of shocked to hear that kind of language on the floor."
Kevin Kellums, a spokesman for Cheney, said, "That doesn't sound like language that the vice president would use, but there's no doubt there was a frank exchange of views."