WASHINGTON – President Bush suggested Thursday that he will seek the middle of the road on nominations to the federal bench. "I don't particularly want a big fight in the Senate," he said.
Taking questions from newspaper editors, Bush also discussed his personal e-mail habits and indicated that environmental regulations might be eased to alleviate flight delays at the nation's largest airports.
"One thing we need to do is expand the number of runways all around America. And as you know, there's a lot of environmental regulations -- some of them meaningful, some of them not -- that prohibit the expansion of runways," the president said.
Soon after taking office, Bush weathered a Senate battle over the confirmation of conservative former Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general. But he wasn't promising more nominees that controversial on Thursday.
He pledged to choose judges who share his philosophy of strictly interpreting the Constitution, as do Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. But, the president added:
"We'll be gathering intelligence as to whether or not a person can be confirmed or not. I may decide to send somebody up that will create a tough fight, I don't know. I haven't gotten there yet. But of course, if I pick somebody, I want them to get confirmed, so we'll be mindful of that."
Given the Senate's 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats, Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec called the president's remarks "rational prudence and rational politics."
"I am certain that there will be concern among the president's allies as to whether he means that people of conservative principle will be passed over," Kmiec said.
"But I have enough faith in this White House and its emergent process that someone won't be disqualified easily on political grounds."
On free-press matters, Bush promised the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors that the administration would cooperate fully with requests for government documents through the Freedom of Information Act -- as long as they don't jeopardize national security or personal privacy.
Bush said that since taking over the White House, he has struggled with the question of what's personal and has grown cautious in using e-mail.
"I used to be an avid e-mailer, and I e-mailed to my daughters or e-mailed to my father, for example, and I don't want those e-mails to be in the public domain," Bush said.
"So I don't e-mail anymore out of a concern for the freedom of information laws, but also concern for my privacy."