Bush: 'I will work to earn your respect'
AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush addressed the United States as president-elect for the first time Wednesday night, urging the nation to close ranks behind a new Republican administration after a hard-fought election and a five-week recount battle in Florida.
President-elect George W. Bush
"I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation," Bush said about an hour after Vice President Al Gore, his Democratic rival in the race for the White House, announced he was withdrawing from the presidential race.
"The president of the United States is the president of every single American, of every race and every background," he said. "Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests, and I will work to earn your respect."
Gore's concession, 36 days after the November 7 election, leaves Bush poised to take office as the nation's 43rd president on January 20, 2001. Bush's address came after more than a year of campaigning, an election that came down to a statistical tie and five weeks of legal and political turmoil in that state's electoral recount.
"I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans want
progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver," he said. "Together, guided by a spirit of common sense, common courtesy and common goals, we can unite and inspire the American citizens."
His election is historic for at least two reasons. As the son of former President Bush, who served from 1989 to 1993, his rise makes the Bushes the first father-son team to hold the White House since John and John Quincy Adams in the early days of the republic. And he will become first chief executive since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to claim the office in the Electoral College while trailing in the popular vote nationwide.
Bush said he would meet with Gore early next week "to heal our country after this hard-fought contest."
Gore led the nationwide popular vote by more than 330,000 votes. But with a Supreme Court decision Tuesday night that halted his push for a manual recount of the votes in Florida, Gore fell three votes short of a majority in the Electoral College.
"I understand how difficult this moment must be for Vice President Gore and
his family," Bush said Wednesday night. "He has a distinguished record of service to our country as a congressman, a senator and as vice president."
Bush campaigned as a unifying force after years of bitter partisanship that culminated in 1998's GOP-led impeachment of President Clinton. He now faces the task of leading a country that has been split almost down the middle by the campaign and its aftermath.
Republicans hold a bare majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate will be split 50-50 and even the Supreme Court was unable to speak unanimously in its final ruling Tuesday night.
An olive branch to a divided capital
Much of Bush's speech was aimed at Democrats as a way of offering an olive branch after the rough months of campaigning. In his 23-minute address, Bush promised to work with Democrats in a closely divided Congress to improve schools, bolster Social Security and Medicare and offer tax relief -- all issues he addressed in his campaign. He also promised a bipartisan international policy based on a strong military.
Vice President Al Gore announced his withdrawal from the race earlier Wednesday evening
"Together, we will address some of society's deepest problems one person at a
time, by encouraging and empowering the good hearts and good works of the
American people," he said. "This is the essence of compassionate conservatism, and it will be a foundation of my administration."
Bush's choice of the Texas legislative chamber as the scene of his address was symbolic because of the spirit of cooperation it represents, Bush said. He called that "an example I will always follow."
For their part, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, pledged to give the Republican leaders a fair hearing when the new administration takes office.
"We will make every effort to work in a bipartisan way with the Bush
administration and Republicans in Congress to pass policies that lift up the
hopes and dreams of the people we serve," Daschle and Gephardt said in a joint statement Wednesday.
Sen. John Breaux, a moderate Democrat from Louisiana, said the speeches by Gore and Bush illustrated "a great American tradition of burying the hatchet after an election -- and not burying it in each other, but rather burying it for the sake of the future of this country."
But Breaux, who has been mentioned as a possible crossover appointee in a Bush administration, told CNN that tempers need to cool a bit before any work can be done.
"This election has divided the country a great deal, and the next few days are going to be about healing before we can start talking about legislating," he said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called both speeches "very gracious," and said Bush would eventually win over Democrats in Washington.
"I can't imagine any Republican or Democrat who would not want to work with him if he's going to embrace both sides and try to make things work," Hatch said.
Transition plans already in motion
Bush is expected to resign as governor of Texas within days, handing the state's reins over to a fellow Republican, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry.
He already has begun the task of assembling a government, naming his running mate, Dick Cheney, to lead his transition team and Andrew Card as his designated White House chief of staff. Both men are veterans of his father's administration: Cheney served as secretary of defense, and Card was secretary of transportation.
And the General Services Administration, the federal agency that oversees logistics for the government, approved the Bush transition team to receive $5.3 million and office space to plan a new government. The agency had withheld that aid until the outcome of the Florida recount became clear.
The last election which resulted in the Republican Party controlling the House, the Senate, and White House was 1952, when they seized all three from the Democrats. The two-year period covered by the 83rd Congress in 1953 and 1954 represents the only time in the last half-century in which the Republicans have controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government.
The GOP subsequently lost control of both houses of Congress in the 1954 midterm election.