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Dick Cheney's Bust Unveiled At The Capitol, As He's Lightly Roasted

Dec 3, 2015
Originally published on December 4, 2015 3:01 pm

There's a new addition to the statue-lined hallways of the U.S. Capitol — a marble bust in the likeness of Dick Cheney.

It's a tradition — and a perk — afforded vice presidents since the late 1800s.

On Thursday morning, former President George W. Bush, Vice President Biden and other dignitaries offered effusive praise — and polite jokes as the sculpture was unveiled.

"Nobody could accuse Dick Cheney of living an inconsequential life," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said of the nation's 46th vice president, who played a strong role in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

He noted Cheney was in the White House on Sept. 11, that he'd been secretary of defense during the first Gulf War and that he was Gerald Ford's chief of staff after Watergate.

Bush made a rare Washington appearance to attend — and cracked, "He assured me that Dick's bust would be prominently displayed in an undisclosed location."

The "he" was Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

There were jokes about Cheney as Darth Vader and about him once cursing at a Democratic U.S. senator on the Senate floor.

In a recent biography of George H.W. Bush, Bush criticizes Cheney — and his role in his son's White House. That was fodder for the younger Bush.

"I told Mother and Dad I was coming here for the bust unveiling," Bush began before delivering the punchline. "Dad perked up, and he said, 'Send my best regards to old iron ass.' "

"Iron ass" was the name the elder Bush used to describe Cheney in that biography.

The only Democrat onstage was Biden. He and Cheney have been political combatants for decades, but not on Thursday.

"I actually like Dick Cheney," he said to chuckles from the crowd.

This was not an event for Cheney critics — on the war or torture or related topics.

Biden instead pointed to the kindness Cheney and his family showed him after the death of Biden's son Beau earlier this year.

"I can say without fear of contradiction, there's never one single time been a harsh word," Biden said, "not one single time in our entire relationship."

Finally, came time for the unveiling. The likeness, if not uncanny, is very good. The marble Cheney delivers a cold stare. And the sculpture also reveals just a hint of that thin, dry smile Cheney became so well known for.

Cheney has never been the sentimental type, nor was he Thursday.

"I reminded Lynne this morning that if the Cheney family had not moved to Casper, Wyo., in the early '50s, we never, never would have met," he said as his family and wife, Lynne, looked on from the front row. "And she said, 'Right, and today, we'd be dedicating his marble bust.' "

Then, Cheney did some reflection, imagining what he'd want a future visitor to the Capitol looking at his likeness to think.

"I would want them to know this much at least — here, was a believer in America," he said, "so fortunate in his life experiences, so blessed in his friends, so grateful in all his days to have served as vice president of the United States of America."

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There's a new addition to the statue-lined hallways of the U.S. Capitol, a marble bust in the likeness of Dick Cheney. It's a tradition and a perk afforded vice presidents since the late 1800s. This morning, the sitting vice president joined former President George W. Bush and other dignitaries offering effusive praise and polite jokes as the sculpture was unveiled. NPR's Don Gonyea has this from the ceremony.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Cheney was the nation's 45th vice president. Joining the tribute today was newly minted House Speaker Paul Ryan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL RYAN: Nobody could accuse Dick Cheney of living an inconsequential life.

GONYEA: He noted that Cheney was in the White House on 9/11, that he'd been Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War and that he was Gerald Ford's chief of staff after Watergate. President George W. Bush made a rare Washington appearance to attend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE W. BUSH: He assured me that Dick's bust would be prominently displayed in an undisclosed location.

GONYEA: There were Cheney as Darth Vader jokes, and about Cheney cursing at a Democratic U.S. Senator on the Senate floor. In a recent biography of George H.W. Bush, the former president criticized Cheney's hardline views as VP. That, too, was fodder for the younger Bush.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: Last week, I told Mother and Dad I was coming here for the bust unveiling. Dad perked up and he said, send my best regards to old iron ass.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: The only Democrat on stage was Vice President Joe Biden. He and Cheney have often been political combatants. But today...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: ... I actually like Dick Cheney.

GONYEA: This was not an event for Cheney critics on the war, or torture, or related topics. Biden pointed to the kindness Cheney showed him after the death of Biden's son, Beau, earlier this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I can say without fear of contradiction, there's never one single time been a harsh word - not one single time in our entire relationship.

GONYEA: Finally, the unveiling.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: The likeness, if not uncanny, is very good. The marble Cheney delivers a cold stare as the real Cheney looks on. And the sculpture also reveals just a hint of that thin, dry smile that Cheney became so well-known for. Cheney has never been sentimental, nor was he today. His family looked on from the front row, including his wife, Lynne.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DICK CHENEY: I reminded Lynne this morning that if the Cheney family had not moved to Casper, Wyo., in the early '50s, we never would've met and she would've married someone else. And Lynne responded, right, and today, we'd be dedicating his marble bust.

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Then he did reflect for a moment, wondering what some future visitor might see in this bust of Dick Cheney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: I would want them to know this much at least - here was a believer in America, so fortunate in his life experiences, so blessed in his friends and so grateful all his days to have served as vice president of the United States of America. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio of this story, as did a previous Web version, incorrectly states Dick Cheney was the nation's 45th vice president. He was the 46th.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.