Cheney has been ridiculed and criticized in recent days because of what has been interpreted as a claim that he does not have to comply with an executive order on classified information because he is not in the executive branch. The White House has asserted that the issue is moot, saying the way the order is written makes clear that the president did not intend it to apply to the vice president.
White House officials this week have repeatedly declined to declare Cheney a member of the executive branch, instead characterizing debate over his role as an intriguing constitutional question.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino noted that Cheney receives his paycheck from the Senate, over which he officially presides. But she refused to offer an opinion on which branch of government holds the vice president, saying instead that he has "legislative and executive functions."
But the vice president himself has not always been so fuzzy on the matter.
Cheney did once note he is "a product of the United States Senate" and that he has no "official duties" in the executive branch. But the statement was made as an amusing entree to a political speech. He has on more serious occasions clearly indicated that he considers himself a part of the executive branch.
Speaking on April 9, 2003, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Cheney placed himself squarely in the executive branch as he lauded a judicial ruling against efforts to obtain information about the energy task force he headed.
"I think it restored some of the legitimate authority of the executive branch, the president and the vice president, to be able to conduct their business," Cheney said.
Speaking to students in China on April 14, 2004, he explained that it was President Dwight Eisenhower who first gave the vice president an office "in the executive branch," adding "since then the responsibilities have gradually increased."
Before a meeting with congressional leaders just days after assuming the presidency, President Bush suggested the matter was, as many others believe, Civics 101.
"We're going to have a frank dialogue about a lot of issues, and I'm going to start by reminding that we know the difference between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, but I do believe the President and the Vice President can play a part, a strong part, in helping advance an American agenda," he said.
The White House Web site itself notes: "To learn more about the executive branch please visit the president's Cabinet page on the White House web site." A click on the "Cabinet page" reveals Cheney to be a member of the Cabinet.
And the Senate Web page suggests that the world's foremost deliberative body won't have him anymore, at least for the most part.
"During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the vice president's role has evolved into more of an executive branch position, and is usually seen as an integral part of a president's administration," the page site states. "He presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed."
The statement that appeared to take Cheney out of the executive branch was made by Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride to the Chicago Tribune for an article published in April 2006.
McBride was defending the refusal by the office of the vice president to comply with a requirement under Executive Order 12958 that agencies report to the National Archive's Information Security Oversight Office data concerning their security classification programs.
"This has been thoroughly reviewed and it's been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the Office of the Vice President], which has both legislative and executive functions," McBride said at the time.
McBride's words came to light recently when a lawmaker released correspondence detailing the ongoing squabble.
ISOO Director J. William Leonard wrote to vice presidential aide David Addington on June 8, 2006, and August 23, 2006, stating that the vice president's office should comply with the order.
Leonard wrote in his initial missive that he had received a report that the vice president's office was "willfully violating" the order by failing to report information about its security classification program. He received no reply.
The White House maintains that the president, in the order, separates himself and Cheney from the "agencies" that are covered by it. But "agency" is defined in the order as "any 'executive agency'" and "any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information."
Leonard indicated he believed McBride's statement amounted to an attempt to exclude Cheney from the order by not only declaring him not to be an "agency" but taking him out of the executive branch altogether.
In an interview, Perino pointed to section 1.3 of the order, which states that "The authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by: the president and, in the performance of executive duties, the vice president; agency heads and officials designated by the president in the Federal Register . . ."
She said this linkage of the president to the vice president separates the vice president from the agencies. And the president, she said, is not covered by the order because he is its author and "supervisor" of the agencies.
Leonard wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January, requesting a determination about whether the order applies to the vice president.
In his letter, he notes that at one point the order exempts the office of vice president from a provision of the order. This, he writes "supports an interpretation" that the rest of the order does apply to the vice president, since "otherwise there would be no need for an exemption."
A request for comment from McBride was answered by an e-mail from Cheney spokeswoman Megan McGinn. "Given that the executive order's intent is to treat the vice president like the president rather than like an agency, it isn't necessary to go through the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency," she wrote.