Vice President Dick Cheney arrived at the White House early Wednesday in usual fashion even as objections continue over his delay in informing the Washington press corps that he accidentally shot a fellow hunter over the weekend.
The vice president attended a meeting with President Bush and congressional leaders, after which House and Senate Democratic leaders said Cheney should address the accident. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid stressed that Cheney had not given a press conference since 2002.
"I believe the vice president should hold a press conference to talk about the incident in Texas and the other things," Reid, D-Nev., said of the accident on Saturday in which Austin attorney Harry Whittington was shot.
"I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned. I think he hasn't had a press conference in three-and-a-half years ... it's time to have one. It's not just the hunting incident, it's — I think you folks have a lot of questions you'd like to ask him."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi drove home the theme of a closed government being bad for democracy.
"Open government would demand that the vice president come clean on what happened there. Our hearts and our prayers, every night, go out to the gentleman who was hurt in this incident, and it is probably a very simple answer to it. But we have to break this habit of the administration of closed government without the openness that is healthy for a democracy," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
Asked whether she had brought up her views on the hunting incident with the vice president, Pelosi she said she brought up Hurricane Katrina instead "because it is very big issue for our country, and its one that needs immediate attention and has an impact on so many lives in the country."
Officials in the White House are discussing whether Cheney should make a public statement, but no decisions have been made, nor has a time, place, manner or remarks been chosen.
Whittington was hit with more than 200 birdshot pellets during that fateful quail hunting trip in south Texas Saturday. On Tuesday, hospital representatives in Corpus Christi reported that one of the pellets had migrated to Whittington's heart, causing a "minor" heart attack.
"He has not had a heart attack in the traditional sense. As I said before, he was asymptomatic," said Corpus Spohn Hospital Memorial administrator Peter Banko.
"He will have a full life the Lord intended to have, and this shouldn't affect him one way or the other," he added.
Dr. David Blanchard, director of emergency services at the hospital, said Whittington, 78, suffered a "silent heart attack," meaning he did not exhibit any signs of a heart attack, the sweating, shoulder pain or crushing chest pain, but an EKG showed that he suffered an atrial fibrillation. The event occurred around 6:30 a.m. CST, the doctor said, and Whittington was immediately moved to the cardiac catheterization lab in the intensive care unit where a blockage in blood flow was discovered.
"The BB basically has lodged in a certain area that has caused inflammatory changes. When that occurs, there is irritability to the heart muscle ... it is basically like an electrical short circuit," Blanchard said, adding that it is "easily treated with medications" and is a nonsurgical condition.
Whittington was accidentally shot by Cheney, an experienced hunter, at Armstrong Ranch, a 50,000-acre property that is known as one of the best quail hunting sites in the state. Not aware that his hunting partner had returned from retrieving a bird he had shot, Cheney turned right to shoot a covey of quail and sprayed his hunting partner with shotgun pellets instead. Whittington was shot in the face, neck and chest but never lost consciousness, Katharine Armstrong, the owner of the ranch, reported.
Commenting publicly on the incident for the first time Tuesday, the vice president's office issued a statement saying Cheney had called Whittington around 1:30 p.m. EST to check up on him.
"The vice president wished Mr. Whittington well and asked if there was anything he needed. The vice president said that he stood ready to assist. Mr. Whittington's spirits were good, but obviously his situation deserves the careful monitoring that his doctors are providing. The vice president said that his thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family," the statement reads.
Blanchard said that one birdshot pellet is the focus of concern, and other birdshot pellets have not endangered Whittington. Banko said that cardiologists tending to the Austin attorney do not want to perform any surgery on him, particularly as the birdshot has not entered any chambers of the heart or coronary arteries.
"It's not moving and ... the cardiologists do not feel it's going to move. ... If it were in a position where it's going to move they would have gone in and done surgery immediately. It's not in a position where they think it's going to move any further to endanger his health," Banko said, adding that Whittington's heart is as healthy or healthier than that of a much younger man.
Blanchard added that doctors were taking a "conservative" approach in treating Whittington and that he and other cardiologists at the hospital had the "concurrence" of the White House medical team.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not mention the medical report during his daily briefing Tuesday, though Blanchard said the White House had been informed around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. EST. McClellan said later that he was not asked about Whittington's health nor did he volunteer the information. He said he did not think it was his place to reveal the development out of respect for doctor-patient confidentiality.
On Monday, the state gave Cheney and Whittington warning citations for breaking Texas hunting law by failing to buy a $7 stamp allowing them to shoot upland game birds. A spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said warnings are being issued in most cases because the stamp requirement only went into effect five months ago and many hunters weren't aware of it.