COPENHAGEN, Denmark – President Bush, shadowed in Europe by a pressing concern from home, said Wednesday he will not select a Supreme Court nominee based on a "litmus test" on sensitive issues like abortion. He urged senators to act in "in a dignified way" in the battle over confirming his candidate.
Visiting this Scandinavian nation to thank Danes for sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush also strongly defended his decisions on Iraq, climate change, imprisoning terrorism suspects and aid to Africa — all things that have made him unpopular in Europe.
"I understand that people aren”t going to agree with decisions I make," Bush said as he stood alongside Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen with the Danish leader”s official summer residence in the background. "I truly believe we”re laying the foundation for peace."
Bush made his fourth trip to Europe this year just days after Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O”Connor announced her retirement. The president said that as he reviews candidates to replace her he will "try to assess their character, their interests."
"I”ll pick people who, one, can do the job, and people who are honest, people who are bright and people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench to legislate from," Bush said.
Some have said Bush might hold up a decision on a nominee in order to give liberal groups less time to criticize it before Senate confirmation hearings can be held. All the president would say — again — is that he wants to have a new justice named and confirmed before the court begins its new term in October.
He has said he will spend a few weeks looking at candidates.
"I will take my time. I will be thorough in my investigation," Bush said.
Bush bristled at criticism from conservatives of longtime friend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is often mentioned as a potential nominee for the high court.
"I don”t like it when a friend gets criticized," Bush said. "I”m loyal to my friends.
"And all the sudden this fella, who is a good public servant and a really fine person, is under fire," Bush said. "And so do I like it? No, I don”t like it. At all."
Bush spent his 59th birthday here to thank Denmark for the several hundred troops the Scandinavian nation has contributed to the U.S.-led fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After spending the night at Fredensborg Palace, his motorcade took him to breakfast and meetings with Fogh Rasmussen at his official summer residence.
Speaking of the mission in Iraq, Bush said, "I know many miss their loved ones and I know how hard it is for families in times of deployment." He spoke at the prime minister”s side, the white mansion on the outskirts of Copenhagen filling the background behind them.
Fogh Rasmussen said the Danes were glad to help with both missions.
"We share the belief that freedom is universal and we share the belief that in the struggle between democracy and dictatorship you cannot stay neutral," the prime minister said.
After lunch with Queen Margrethe, Bush was heading for a summit of rich nations in Scotland where the world”s changing climate and aid to Africa top the agenda. Those issues also were key topics in the discussions between Bush and Fogh Rasmussen.
Bush said he is proud of his administration”s tripling of U.S. aid to Africa, and his decision to double aid again by 2010. But his pledge still falls short of the commitment sought by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the summit host.
On climate change, Bush said warming temperatures are partly caused by manmade emissions. But he renewed his objection to an international treaty that mandates certain reductions. Instead, he said he was going to the Scotland summit to talk about "the post-Kyoto era."
Bush said that "a better way forward" is to share technology around the globe that would control greenhouse gases "as best as possible."
During his flight to Denmark, Bush spent a few hours perusing material on more than a half dozen potential replacements for O”Connor.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president over the next few weeks would focus "on a handful of nominees."
"Then he would look forward to sitting down with those potential nominees at that point," the spokesman said.
Not all Danes were happy he was here — or that several hundred Danish troops remain in Iraq. Just hours before Bush”s arrival, hundreds of people demonstrated across Denmark, including Copenhagen, where about 200 protesters marched to the U.S. Embassy, chanting anti-American slogans and burning Danish and U.S. flags.