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Cheney's Debate Fib: He "Never Met" John Edwards Until They Debated

WASHINGTON — It was perhaps the most surprising tidbit of new information during the debate — that Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) had never met Sen. John Edwards (news - web sites) until Tuesday night.
Except it wasn't true.

"I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session," Cheney said to Edwards. "The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."

It seems, however, the vice president's memory was a little off. Or maybe Edwards didn't leave much of an impression.

Less than two hours after the debate ended, aides to Edwards and Sen. John F. Kerry (news, bio, voting record) distributed a photograph from the Feb. 1, 2001, National Prayer Breakfast showing Edwards and Cheney standing side by side.

"Congressman Watts, Sen. Edwards, friends from across America and distinguished visitors to our country from all over the world, Lynne and I are honored to be with you all this morning," Cheney said, according to a transcript.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt described the prayer breakfast photo as evidence of an "inconsequential meeting."

Kerry-Edwards aides also pointed to news articles from January 2003, when Edwards escorted the newly elected senator from North Carolina, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, onto the Senate floor for her swearing-in by Cheney.

Although Cheney is the Senate's presiding officer, he actually sits in the chamber only on rare occasions, such as to break a tie vote and to swear in new senators.

He does attend the GOP senators' weekly luncheons to discuss party strategy. But only Republicans attend, and Cheney usually breezes into the building, goes to the meeting, then leaves without hobnobbing with Democrats.

In fact, Cheney was teased by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (news, bio, voting record) (D-Vt.) for only associating with Republicans when, in an encounter on the Senate floor, Cheney cursed at Leahy.

A Cheney aide said after the debate that the vice president simply didn't remember meeting Edwards prior to Tuesday night — and that he certainly had never seen the North Carolinian on the Senate floor.

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Times staff writer Janet Hook contributed to this report.

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