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Chris Black: Lawmakers maneuver backstage as election plays out

Chris Black  

CNN Congressional Correspondent Chris Black is on Capitol Hill, monitoring the swirling political scene there.

Q: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, met on Thursday. What will they be discussing?

BLACK: The two leaders met Thursday for the first negotiation session on how resources and power should be allocated in the next Senate. It would be the first time in 120 years the Senate has been split evenly between the parties. That will happen if George W. Bush becomes president, and Gore's running mate Joseph Lieberman stays in the Senate. And it means Dick Cheney as vice president will be the tie-breaker for the Republicans.

Q: What kind of power-sharing struggles might we see?

BLACK: On the Senate side, the conservative Republicans do not want to give up control of the committees, control of the agenda, control of the resources of the committees. But the reality is that a single senator, never mind 50 Democrats, can prevent the Senate from getting anything accomplished.

That's why Mr. Lott and Mr. Daschle are meeting. They have to work out some sort of accommodation. There's a lot of guessing about what that will entail. My own guess is that the Republicans will retain the chairmanships because of the fact that they have the one extra vote from the vice president if Bush is president. But I also think they will allocate staff resources pretty evenly, and on at least some committees they will have an even split in terms of membership. I don't think that necessarily will be true of the more partisan committees, such as the banking and judiciary committees.

Q: Democrats are still showing a united front publicly in support of Gore. Is that the case behind the scenes?

BLACK: Yes, there is pretty much solidarity. The conservative Democrats and Democrats who represent areas in the South do feel a certain amount of pressure from their constituents who supported George W. Bush. But with that said, they are still Democrats and they are standing by the nominee. None of them think that waiting a few more days for the legal process to play out will hurt them in any great way.

I think it's clear that once the final court ruling comes down in Florida, if it is adverse for Vice President Gore, then he could lose some support up here on Capitol Hill.

Q: Have any Democrats broken ranks and urged Gore to concede?

BLACK: Not really. There are a couple very conservative Democrats, particularly from Texas, who have said that if it comes to the House of Representatives, they would feel compelled to support George W. Bush because their constituents voted for him. But apart from that, the Democrats are holding fast.

Q: Is there any word on what job Gore might take on next if he were to lose?

BLACK: I don't think even Al Gore knows what he's going to do next if he loses this election. He has been completely focused on getting ready to be president, on getting the votes counted in Florida. In my all talks with people close to the vice president, I don't have any sense that he has begun to even think about what he may do next.

But the vice president has a very long record of accomplishment. He is a published author, he has held public office for almost 25 years and he's at a position where he could do many, many things. He may decide to run again.

He may do what other politicians who have lost presidential elections have done -- I'm thinking of Richard Nixon in particular after he lost the 1960 campaign. He kept his profile high and prepared for another campaign. It's really up in the air.

Q: What else is on the agenda on Capitol Hill?

BLACK: The budget is still not done. We're still operating on the 17th temporary spending bill.

Q: Is it possible we could see a government shutdown?

BLACK: It's remote, very remote. Tom DeLay, the House whip, made that threat, but the Democrats are saying, 'Go ahead, make my day.' It won't happen.


Thursday, December 7, 2000



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