Bush, now president-elect, signals will to bridge partisan gaps
Gore concedes 2000 presidential race
President-elect George W. Bush
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush donned the mantle of president-elect in what was, in effect, his presidential victory speech Wednesday night, following Vice President Al Gore's concession of the historic, protracted Election 2000 battle for the White House.
"Our country has been through a long and trying period, with the outcome of the presidential election not finalized for longer than any of us could have ever imagined," Bush said in a nationally televised address from the Texas capital of Austin.
He promised to work to unite the country and said his agenda of improving education, modernizing the military, updating the Medicare system and providing tax relief would move forward in a bipartisan way, founded on a "search for common ground."
Bush's short speech came less than an hour after Gore conceded. "Tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession," a relaxed Gore stated firmly in a speech from his Washington office in the Eisenhower Executive Office building.
"I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines, and that our Constitution affirms and defends," Gore said.
Bush, with his certified win in Florida, can now claim that state's 25 disputed electoral votes, giving him a 271-267 edge over Gore in the Electoral College -- where 270 votes are needed to claim the nation's chief executive office. Their seesaw court battles over recounts in Florida lasted 35 days past Election Day, November 7.
Gore spoke with his running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, and his wife, Tipper, standing nearby. His address took less than 10 minutes.
Gore, at the top of his speech, said he had just placed a call to Bush to "congratulate him for becoming the 43rd president of the United States," and quipped, "I promised him that I wouldn't call him back this time."
Gore, in an unexpected move that was said to have miffed the Texas governor, called Bush in the early hours of November 8 to retract an earlier concession, after aides insisted that election returns in Florida remained fluid, and he may yet have won the state, and with it, the presidency.
"I offered to meet with him as soon as possible so we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest from which we just passed," Gore said Wednesday of his discussion with Bush, and the 35-day legal ordeal that followed Election Night.
Bush acknowledged receiving the telephone call, which aides close by said lasted some two minutes.
"This evening I received a gracious call from the vice president," Bush told his national audience, and a state House chamber filled with spectators, including a number of Texas legislators, friends and well-wishers.
"We agreed to meet early next week in Washington, and we agreed to do our best to heal our country after this hard-fought contest," Bush said in soft, measured tones.
Vice President Gore and I put our hearts and hopes into our campaigns; we both gave it our all. We shared similar emotions," Bush said. "So I understand how difficult this moment must be for Vice President Gore and his family. He has a distinguished record of service to our country as a congressman, a senator and as vice president."
Following his embittered battle against Gore in courtrooms throughout Florida and in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush said he had a great deal for which he needed to give thanks.
I have a lot to be thankful for tonight," he said. "I am thankful for America and thankful that we are able to resolve our electoral differences in a peaceful way."
"And I am thankful to the American people for the great privilege of being
able to serve as your next president," he continued.
The backdrop of the Texas House was intentional, Bush intimated. There, he said, he enjoyed some of his most memorable legislative victories, which he said were made real by his ability to bring two disparate sides together.
Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat, sought to bolster that assessment of the governor's abilities, saying in his introduction of Bush that the governor was "a leader we can trust and respect."
"Here, in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and
Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we
represent," Bush said. "We had spirited disagreements, and in the end, we found constructive consensus. It is an experience I will always carry with me, and an example I will always follow."
That example, Bush continued, would travel with him to Washington.
"The spirit of cooperation I have seen in this hall is what is needed in
Washington. It is the challenge of our moment. After a difficult election,
we must put politics behind us and work together to make the promise of
America available for every one of our citizens," he said.
"I am optimistic that we can change the tone of Washington, D.C.," Bush added, echoing one of the central themes of his 13-month presidential campaign. "I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past."
Gore, in his address, also spoke of the five-week court conflict, saying that he was relieved the situation was resolved peaceably, in a courtroom, rather than in a more unsavory manner.
Gore: "Tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession."
"Neither (Gov. Bush) nor I anticipated this long and difficult road," Gore said. "Certainly, neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended, resolved as it must be through the honored institutions of our democracy."
"While there will be time enough to debate our differences, now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is stronger than that which divides us," Gore said.
Gore, a two-term vice president, is the first presidential contender since 1888 to win the national popular vote but fall short in the Electoral College. He bested Republican rival Bush by slightly more than 330,000 popular votes, but Bush squeaked by Gore in the constitutionally mandated gathering of state electors.
Gore opted to tell the nation he would not continue his fight to succeed President Clinton after he had fully absorbed the ramifications of last night's pivotal Supreme Court ruling, aides said. Early in the day, Gore ordered his ballot recount team in Florida to suspend its operations and bid farewell to his legal team.
"While I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court's opinion, I accept it," Gore said.
Closing his short speech, Gore said he would return to Tennessee to "mend some fences, both literally and figuratively," then poked a bit of fun at himself in a former life, when he first ran for the vice presidency behind President Clinton in 1992, against Bush's father, former President Bush.
"In the words of our great hymn, "America, America," 'let us crown they good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.' Now my great friends, in a phrase I once expressed to others, it is time for me to go."
The work of the Bush transition team must now proceed in overdrive in Washington, as Bush operatives in the capital prepare to receive the keys to the General Services Administration's transition office space, and the $5.3 million set aside by Congress for the next president to set up shop.
Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne watch Gore's speech from a hotel room in McLean, Virginia
Bush running mate and transition director Dick Cheney, went ahead with transition business Wednesday, taking a trip early in the day from the operation's McLean, Virginia, interim office to Capitol Hill, where he met with the Senate's small group of moderate Republicans.
"It has been apparent for some time that the American people are frustrated, sick and tired of the partisan bickering," Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said following the meeting. "We have to support the president," Specter continued, referring to Bush.
"The transition team will have less than half the time available to do its work," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said later after speaking with Cheney. Lott exhorted members on both sides of the aisle to work effectively with the incoming administration.
"We need to be prepared to work very closely with them," Lott said. "I pledge my commitment to George W. Bush while he becomes president elect and then president," Lott said.
Cheney watched the Bush and Gore speeches in a suburban Virginia hotel Wednesday night, opting to stay in the Washington metro area, rather than travel to Austin to appear with Bush.