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Frank Sesno: Washington fascinated, frazzled as court ponders decision

December 12, 2000
Web posted at: 3:41 p.m. EST (2041 GMT)

Frank Sesno
CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno  

CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno describes the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision and the mood in the nationís capital.

Q: How do you think history will look back upon this widely anticipated United States Supreme Court decision?

SESNO: I think the U.S. Supreme Court decision won't merely be a chapter in U.S. history, but an installment. The complicated installments between the branches of government, how close elections are resolved, how this particular dispute is resolved, will provide precedent and guidance for years to come.

This is huge.

What we donít know is whether the court's decision will be seen as authoritative and nonpartisan, or tainted and political. We won't know that until they rule until we see the guts of their decision and how people react.

Q: How important is it for the high court to reach a unanimous opinion, so as not to appear politically partisan?

SESNO: Courts have tackled very complicated and very decisive issues in the past without being unanimous, and the republic has survived. Some of the most difficult decisions on abortion, race or the balance of power have been less-than-unanimous decisions.

The sense I get from talking to very partisan players in Washington and beyond is that they feel it would be easier if the court were unanimous or near unanimous, but that the country will endure regardless.

Q: In Florida the state legislature is moving ahead with a special session to decide a slate of electors. Could such a move undermine the credibility of a possible Bush presidency?

SESNO: The role of the Florida Legislature is probably the most troubling aspect of this to the constitutional scholars and political leaders I've spoken with, because it is a potential challenge and confrontation between the branches of the government - that is, legislative and judicial -- in Florida.

And what political leaders worry about is a potential conflict with the "will of the people." If the Florida legislature acts and certifies a slate of electors for Bush before a court recount resumes and then the recount showed Gore the winner, the legislature and its findings would then be at odds with the court-ordered recount. That would be a serious collision.

Q: Under what scenarios could the election end up before the U.S. Congress?

SESNO: If we end up with multiple slates of electors or contested electors, there's a very good likelihood - in fact, there's a very good probability - that the United States Congress will grapple with this.

Then we end up in the truly uncharted territory of a sitting vice president presiding over a divided U.S. Senate where he is the disputed candidate for president of the United States. It could happen if it ends up in the U.S. Congress, or if members of Congress successfully challenge slates of electors and the chambers have to vote as provided under the Constitution.

What Democrats and Republicans both know is that the most likely scenario, if that happens, is that Bush will prevail, because the ultimate arbiter is the House of Representatives -- and 28 of the 50 state delegations are Republican-dominated.

Q: What's the general sense on Capitol Hill among Republicans and Democrats?

SESNO: I would describe Capitol Hill this way: Nerves are raw; people are weary; they are suspicious. But they are also aware that they are under enormous scrutiny - that people are watching.

And there is a fair bit of sentiment that would suggest a substantial effort will be made to reach across the aisle (set aside political differences) when the time comes. That's not universal.

Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, who in many ways is the most powerful Republican in the House, has said publicly that if Bush becomes president, then as far as he is concerned, the Republicans will control the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Heís talked about the partyís unfettered ability to push a Republican conservative agenda; numbers suggest it will be less than unfettered.

I think official Washington has been fascinated by this constitutional moment, and fascinated to see the various branches go through their various contortions to try to accommodate what was essentially an electoral tie.

They are people, too. They have vacations they want to take, families they want to be with. I would say there is a growing sense that it is time for this to end.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2000

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