WASHINGTON – West Virginia officials reacted angrily to a joke about families in the state made by Vice President Dick Cheney at the National Press Club Monday.
While discussing his heritage, including ancestral ties to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the vice president made a quip about how he has Cheneys on both sides of his family.
"We'd always known about the Cheney family line on my father's side of the family, back to Massachusetts in the 1630s. My grandmother was named Tyler but it turned out she was descended from a Richard Cheney, same last name, who landed in Maryland in the 1650s."
"So I had Cheneys on both sides of the family — and we don't even live in West Virginia," Cheney joked. "You can say those things when you're not running for re-election."
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, quickly asked Cheney to apologize.
"I truly cannot believe that any vice president of the United States, regardless of their political affiliation, would make such a derogatory statement about my state or any state for that matter," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Cheney's comment was denounced by both Democrats and Republicans.
"This is exactly the type of stereotyping that we don't need from our elected officials," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. "It's disrespectful, and it's certainly not funny. ... As a proud state, I can say we are disappointed."
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who was hospitalized shortly after releasing a statement, blasted Cheney, saying that for a vice president to openly display "such contempt and astounding ignorance toward his own countrymen" was an insult to all Americans.
"Now that he or the administration he represents no longer needs their vote, Mr. Cheney apparently feels that he is now free to mock and belittle the people of West Virginia," Byrd said.
In a question-and-answer session after giving a speech at the National Press Club, Cheney also joked that he wouldn't object to a family reunion with Obama, but said he didn't think the candidate would be up for one — "at least not before November."
"He'd probably be fearful I might whisper in his ear and change his whole view of the Middle East," Cheney said.
He said that when his wife, Lynne, was doing research on a book, she discovered that his grandmother was descended from a man named Richard Cheney. "So I had Cheneys on both sides of the family," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.