Tue, May 09, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Possible signs of a spat between Bush and Cheney

AFP , WASHINGTON

Was it a slip of the tongue, a backhanded payback for callous jokes about him, or a sign of a deeper chill in relations between the two most powerful men in the US?

The White House would not give an explanation. But in remarks made on Sunday, US Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to question the political clout of his boss, President George W. Bush.

During an interview with NBC News, Cheney was asked to comment on persistent rumors that he may retire following the November congressional election, allowing the president to appoint his heir apparent.

The reshuffle, privately advocated by some Republican strategists, would aim to give a younger party hopeful the benefit of presidential coattails ahead of the 2008 election campaign.

But the vice president was skeptical.

"Well, I'm not sure it would be an advantage," he said with a coy smile.

He did not elaborate. A White House official reached late on Sunday declined to explain what Cheney meant, referring all questions to the vice presidential press secretary who was unavailable.

It is no secret, however, that with the presidential job approval rating hitting a new low of 32 percent to 33 percent, some Republicans facing tough congressional races are trying to distance themselves from Bush, seeing in him a political liability rather than an asset.

Publicly, the president and the vice president have always professed loyalty to each other and a good working relationship.

But the lion's share of jokes delivered by the president at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner a week ago happened to target Cheney, and some of them could hardly be called lighthearted.

Bush joked he had first learned about Cheney's hunting incident last February, in which the vice president accidentally shot and wounded a companion, from America's Most Wanted, a television program profiling the nation's dangerous criminals.

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