RALEIGH, N.C. – President Bush on Wednesday curtly dismissed Democratic Sen. John Edwards' (search) political skills and experience as a rival to his vice president, telling reporters "Dick Cheney can be president."
Bush, campaigning in Edwards' home state of North Carolina, said he was unconcerned about the potential of Edwards to help carry states in the South — the backbone of Bush's political support.
"When they go to the polls to vote for president, they'll understand the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values," Bush said. "I'm going to carry the South because the people understand that they share — we share values."
When a reporter noted that Edwards was being described as "charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist and even sexy" and then asked "How does he stack up against Dick Cheney?" the president immediately responded, "Dick Cheney (search) can be president. Next?"
After Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) selected Edwards as his running mate Tuesday, the Bush campaign and the Republican Party immediately began criticizing Edwards' level of experience. He is serving his first term as a North Carolina senator, his only elective office after a 20-year career as a trial lawyer.
Bush said earlier that Edwards and other Senate Democrats are obstructing the work of the federal judiciary by refusing to fill judgeships around the country, resulting in backlogs of unresolved cases that languish for years in the federal courts.
"You're being hung out by a handful of United States senators," Bush said he told three of his judicial nominees in a private meeting in North Carolina, where polls show the ticket of Bush and Cheney even with Kerry and Edwards.
Edwards refused to allow two of the three nominees the president met with to have confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the president told reporters after the meeting.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Edwards is a key player on judicial nominations, a frequent subject of dispute between Republicans and Democrats that dates to Bill Clinton's presidency.
Democrats say former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., routinely blocked Clinton's nominees for federal judgeships in the circuit that covers North Carolina. The Democrats say Edwards has accommodated the Bush White House on some of its choices.
Seeking to both reassure his conservative base and challenge a rival, President Bush is making a public push for congressional action on his judicial nominees one day after Edwards joined the Democratic presidential ticket.
Bush also spent part of the day raising money for the Republican Party, pulling in $2.35 million at a fund-raising luncheon at the estate of Raleigh, N.C., investor Cliff Benson.
With Edwards joining Kerry on the Democratic presidential ticket, Bush is expected to pay more attention to a state he won easily four years ago.
Planned weeks ago, Bush's trip turned out to be timed perfectly, considering Edwards' selection. After North Carolina, the president heads to Michigan to meet other federal court appointees whose nominations have been blocked by Senate Democrats. Bush will also raise money for the Republican Party in each state.
In a feud with Republicans that dates to the Clinton administration, Senate Democrats are refusing to allow votes on many of Bush's judicial nominees.
Conservatives are unhappy with a deal Bush struck with Senate Democrats, in which he agreed to abstain from installing his most contentious federal court nominees while Congress is in recess. The deal guaranteed Bush that 25 of his least controversial nominees would be seated, but does not help get his most conservative nominees through the Senate, which must confirm all appointments to the U.S. courts.
Liberals are happy because they don't have to worry about nominees they most dislike getting one- or two-year appointments to federal trial or appeals courts this year.
Edwards has blocked Bush's nomination of Terrence Boyle, chief judge of the federal district court for eastern North Carolina, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Bush nominated Boyle in 2001. Democrats say his decisions as a federal judge have been reversed more than 100 times on appeal.
Under Senate traditions and rules, senators can hold up judicial nominees from their home state by blocking a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Edwards sits on the committee.
Edwards also has delayed confirmation hearings on a federal judgeship for Robert Conrad, a former U.S. attorney in North Carolina. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Conrad urged Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, lied about his knowledge of fund-raising activities in the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign. Reno declined.
Democrats say Edwards — after eight years in which Helms, the former Republican senator, blocked every North Carolina nominee to the federal appeals court — broke the logjam and worked with Bush last year to win confirmation for Allyson Duncan, a Republican and the first black woman on the 4th Circuit.