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Running mates head to Capitol Hill as court battles continue

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The No. 2 men on the presidential tickets conferred with party leaders on Capitol Hill on Tuesday as congressional leaders offered shows of support for their standard-bearers.

Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney joined GOP lawmakers to map out plans for a potential George W. Bush administration, assuming the Texas governor holds onto his current lead in the Florida presidential recount. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders pledged to support Vice President Al Gore's ongoing challenge to the Florida results in a session with Gore's running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Cheney, Watts, Hastert
Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney talks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, as Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., left, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., look on.  

Cheney met with House and Senate GOP leaders in hopes of moving Bush transition efforts forward while the Florida contest moves through the courts. Talks between the former defense secretary and members of the House and Senate Republican caucuses were aimed at forging cooperative legislative efforts on education, Medicare and Social Security reform.

"We look forward to meeting with members of the Congress, of both parties, to be able to start the process that the governor outlined in our meetings with the Republican leadership this weekend, in terms of a legislative program and a robust effort to get on with the business of dealing with the nation's problems," Cheney told reporters.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, indicated Republicans were not taking victory for granted in the Florida election.

"I don't think we want to call anything until the courts have their final say," Hastert said.

Cheney said he wanted to reach out to Democrats, too, but decided now was not the time.

"At this point, some Democratic members may feel uncomfortable having those conversations," he said.

Cheney, a former Wyoming congressman, was on familiar turf Tuesday and spent much of his visit trying to reassure conservatives on the Hill. The GOP right applauded Bush's choice of Cheney, one of their own, as his running mate, and Bush courted conservatives during his candidacy -- even as many of their leaders kept a low profile.

But there has been a lingering suspicion among some Republicans that Bush is not with them 100 percent on issues like education and abortion, and some confess uneasiness over Bush's apparent choice for White House chief of staff, the GOP centrist Andrew Card. Conservatives found the old Bush administration a disappointment, and are eyeing a new Bush term with some trepidation.

In addition to Card, two veterans of the 1989-1991 administration of Bush's father are likely to hold posts in a Bush-Cheney administration: retired Gen. Colin Powell and national security aide Condoleezza Rice. But their expected role is in international policy, not domestic social issues, and conservatives say they can live with them.

Democrats reaffirm support for Gore appeal

Good relations between Congress and either a Gore or Bush administration are especially important as both chambers are nearly evenly divided. In the 107th Congress, Republicans will hold an edge of less than 10 seats in the House, and the Senate will be split 50-50. If Gore and Lieberman win, Lieberman would quit the Senate; Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, a Republican, is likely to appoint a Republican to fill that seat, leaving the GOP with a 51-49 majority.

Lieberman, Frost, Menendez, Gephardt
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, second from left, leaves a closed-door Democratic House Caucus on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2000, with Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, left, Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, right, of Missouri.  

The Gore campaign suffered a setback Monday afternoon when Florida Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls rejected its efforts to get some 14,000 disputed ballots counted by hand and the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a ruling that had required some of the hand-counted votes be added to the final tally. Gore has appealed the state ruling to the Florida Supreme Court.

Lieberman toned down the bare-knuckled partisanship that has marked the election contest in recent days, saying: "Every American and both political parties should feel encouraged and proud of the way we've been able to deal with this."

"Of course, Judge Sauls' decision was a disappointment," he said as he emerged from a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus. "But with all respect, we believe and our lawyers believe that the decision was wrong on the law."

Lieberman thanked Democrats for their support and offered assurances that the drawn-out process would perhaps end with the Florida Supreme Court's decision.

"They will be the final arbiter. We favor the rule of law for judgment in this case, which we think will be the final judgment -- which we think will be a favorable judgment for us," he said.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, said House Democrats are "strongly supporting everything that's being done in this contest by the Gore-Lieberman ticket."

"Al Gore and Joe Lieberman enjoy strong support with our caucus for what they are doing to try to get every vote counted in Florida," said Gephardt.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said Tuesday afternoon that Senate Democrats also showed "unanimity" in backing the Gore-Lieberman ticket.

"There is no erosion of that support," Daschle, D-South Dakota, said. "There is extraordinary belief that the vice president and Senator Lieberman have conducted themselves in a way that makes us very proud."

As other Democrats have in recent days, Lieberman predicted that if Democratic efforts to hand count the disputed ballots fail, the chore would likely be taken on by an academic group -- and could reveal that the eventual winner in Florida received fewer votes than the loser.

"It will not be good for whoever is president if the result of that count will justify the seating in office of someone other than the one who is there," he said.

Correspondent Jeanne Meserve and CNN.com Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.


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Tuesday, December 5, 2000

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