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The Spin Room: Al Gore and George Bush in Midst of Legal, Political and PR Battles

Aired November 15, 2000 - 11:00 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: The vice president says let's make a deal.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: No dice replies the governor. He isn't buying. Neither is Florida's secretary of state. She won't play the game.

ANNOUNCER: From CNN Washington and all over the United States, THE SPIN ROOM is open.

PRESS: Hey, welcome back. Welcome to THE SPIN ROOM, everybody. I'm Bill Press.

CARLSON: And I'm Tucker Carlson. Jump on into THE SPIN ROOM -- the water's warm -- by calling 1-800-310-4CNN. You can e-mail us at, or you can join our chat at

PRESS: And tonight, with all of you, we're going to be spinning chads. Yes, pregnant chads, dimpled chads, and hanging chads, plus the recusals, the refusals and the accusals.

Tucker, how's your chad hanging?


CARLSON: Oh, you could get arrested for that in some states, Bill.


And most of all, the posturing and reposturing, the preposturing, as the candidates reclaim center stage in the recount standoff.

PRESS: And Tucker, we warned them that we would be back with THE SPIN ROOM, and...

CARLSON: Here we are.

PRESS: And god knows, there's lots to spin about tonight. I mean, it's been going wild, and the e-mails have already started coming in.

CARLSON: It's a feast, a feast of e-mails, Bill.

PRESS: It is a feast. It's a spin feast, and a feast of e- mails.

We said we're going to be spinning chads, OK. This is -- would you believe this? -- a chad limerick.

CARLSON: I would believe it.

PRESS: Unlike most of the limericks I know, I can read this one on television.


And it's not perfect rhyme, but here it is. It's from Craig, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A chad limerick.

"There once was a chad from Palm Beach who was optically scanned from underneath. Neither pregnant nor swinging, her intentions were hinging on to truth, which still seems far out of reach."

Not bad. I give a grade of A+ there.

CARLSON: Fantastic. You know, there once was a man from Nantucket.




CARLSON: You know, there are a lot of frustrated voters out there, the polls tell us, and we got an e-mail from one of them. His name is William. He writes: "I think I have a way to settle the presidential problem. If I remember my history correctly" -- and you do -- "in the early days of this republic, this problem was settled by a duel at 10 paces. I will supply the dueling pistols and the location."

William, the Secret Service will be contacting you soon. Lucky he didn't leave his address on the e-mail.

PRESS: Yes, but if you're like -- I mean, if it happens, unlike Alexander Hamilton, don't fire up into the air, right?

CARLSON: Excellent point.

PRESS: Be like Aaron Burr. Go for the heart.

Now, let's get right to the first big news of the night, which is Al Gore came out with a proposal tonight; 3 1/2 hours later, George Bush finally got off his ranch -- he has a very slow horse, I think, getting from the ranch -- and rejected the proposal.

So let's start things off by listening first to a little bit of Al Gore and a little bit of George Bush. Here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should complete hand counts already begun in Palm Beach County, Dade County and Broward County to determine the true intentions of the voters based on an objective evaluation of their ballots."



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was encouraged tonight that Vice President Gore called for a conclusion to this process. We all agree.

Unfortunately, what the vice president proposed is exactly what he's been proposing all along, continuing with selective hand recounts that are neither fair nor accurate.


PRESS: There he goes.

CARLSON: Well, neither one is going to win the teleprompter reader award.


They both sounded a little like public service announcements. I thought the most telling line of it all was when Gore said we need to determine the true intentions of voters. Now, I think it's admirable, but it's votes, not true intentions, that get people elected. And that's kind of the bottom line.

PRESS: Well, what got me about Bush's response was, No. 1, he said, we want this to be fair. At the same time he's saying, we don't want all the votes counted: these 10,000 votes that haven't been counted because the machines screwed up. We want a fair election as long as they don't count those votes.

And No. 2, you know where I really think he failed tonight is Al Gore said let's get together like right now, like tomorrow, and have a meeting and sit down and show that we're good guys and show the country that there's some good intentions -- back to intentions again -- and Bush said, no, I won't meet with you until it's over. And I think he showed a little bit of a small man here, don't you think?

CARLSON: Yes, maybe. But I also think it was -- look, I don't think -- I think you'll have to admit that meeting with Al Gore does nothing to improve the tone. And keep in mind what happened last time they spoke. Remember, they got (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

PRESS: Well, he doesn't have to be snippy. I mean, he could be -- he could be a gentleman.

CARLSON: I think snippiness is the natural byproduct of any meeting between the two, and it's probably best they keep their distance: 10 paces I recommend. PRESS: I just think it would do them both good, it would do the country good if people saw them sitting down, having lunch or shaking hands or whatever. It would just sort of put everybody at ease that we're going to get through this thing.

George Bush rejected it, so we'll see how the press plays it tomorrow.

Speaking of the press...

CARLSON: Speaking of the press...

PRESS: We've got one of the best joining us tonight. He's been covering the Bush campaign for "TIME" magazine, Jay Carney, joins us now from Austin, Texas.

Jay, good evening. Thanks for staying up late and joining us in THE SPIN ROOM.

JAY CARNEY, "TIME": Hey, thanks for having me.

CARLSON: Now, Jay, the question I had after Gore gave his statement and we waited and waited and waited and continued to wait for Bush is why did it take so long to get a response on the air from the Bush people?

CARNEY: Well, two reasons. One, this has been a reactive operation in the Bush campaign from the beginning, that the PR war, such as it is, is being controlled by the Gore campaign, by and large, since the day after the election. And this was one of the most aggressive moves, probably the most aggressive moves yet in that war by Al Gore: I mean, to time his announcement right at 6:30 so that he broke into the first round of evening news broadcasts and to make this dramatic if perhaps phony offer to meet with the governor and to give up his -- any claims to lawsuits over the Palm Beach problem.

Bush's problem was (a) they had to figure out what to do. They were caught by surprise. There was a big meeting at the campaign headquarters among all the senior staff. They were on the phone with the governor and probably Jim Baker. And then they had -- once they decided what to do they had to get Bush from Crawford, from the ranch, to Austin. And I just want to say right now to Karen Hughes and everyone who participated in that decision, thank you, because none of us here in Austin wanted to have to drive to Crawford to have this mini press briefing or statement from the governor.

But that's why. They had -- they literally needed about three hours to make it happen.

PRESS: Jay, let me ask you this. It seems to me that the underpinning of the Bush response to this whole thing in Florida is we don't want all the votes counted because we know that if all the votes are counted, Al Gore is going to win. I mean, in your private moments down there with the Gore staffers, is there any recognition of the fact that they, in fact, have not won this election yet and they could end up losing? CARNEY: I have not seen any of that recognition even in private moments. I think...

PRESS: Are they -- are they kidding themselves?

CARNEY: No, I think they believe -- and you can test the sincerity of some of Bush's people pretty deeply. And I believe that they do believe that beyond the recount they've had now, there is -- you know, that a manual recount is subject to a great deal of human error and mischief. They're already quite suspicious about how Gore's totals went up so sharply in some of these Democratic counties during the manual recounts.

And they think, you know, by the normally established rules, their guy won. Maybe some seniors voted in Palm Beach not the way they wanted to. Tough luck. That's basically their attitude.

PRESS: I'm just saying a reality check, right? I'm not saying what's going to happen. But it seems to me there's still the possibility that Gore wins or Gore loses. There's the possibility that Bush wins or Bush loses, and that's what I'm asking.

Is there any sense of reality in Austin? I hear you say no.

CARNEY: Oh, I think that they realize -- oh, no, there's a sense of reality that they could lose this in the sense of unfairly lose it in their eyes. They could lose this if they lose the legal battles, the hand counts produce what they believe will be false results, and somehow Gore's totals exceed Bush's totals, including the overseas ballots, and Gore becomes president. I think they're aware of that. That's why they're fighting this. They know that's a possibility.

But they don't believe that it's -- I don't think anyone that I've spoken to in the inner circle of the Gore campaign believes that Gore got more votes, legitimate votes.

CARLSON: Well, when do the Bush people -- I know they keep saying that they want this to end quickly and I believe it when they say that -- when do they think it will end?

CARNEY: I think they're crossing their fingers that somehow they can make it end this weekend. The reality -- the other side of this reality that Bill was talking about is that they know the longer it goes on, as the short history of this episode tells us, the longer it goes on, the more votes Gore gets, and it's getting awfully uncomfortably close.

So, you know, that's why they've got -- they've got Katherine Harris up in Tallahassee doing their bidding essentially, and they've got Jim Baker and his team of lawyers doing everything they can to put a halt to this process.

What they're especially afraid about, I believe, is that even if -- as these manual recounts continue, the results will be published. We'll know about it. The press will no about it. And if they show large gains for Gore, even if Katherine Harris in Tallahassee ignores them, even if in the end the whole state ignores them and Bush becomes president, the public will know, and they'll be even greater questions about the legitimacy of Bush's win.

PRESS: Well, Jay, they not only have Katherine the Great down in Florida. But I was reading that they've got...

CARLSON: Oh, she is great.

PRESS: They have people out in New Mexico, they've got people -- they've got lawyers in New Mexico, the Bush campaign. They've got lawyers in Iowa, they've got lawyers in Wisconsin, they've got lawyers in Oregon. Again, from your conversations down there, are they ready to break out of Florida and go nationwide with these court challenges?

CARNEY: I think, as a last resort, I really think that's a problem for them. Just like -- I think one major move that Gore made tonight, by making an offer, however much he know the Bush campaign wouldn't accept it, by making an offer to forgo legal challenges over the Palm Beach butterfly ballot, Al Gore basically gave up any hope of any successful legal challenge along those lines.

Nobody I think -- the public and the press will turn on him if he down the road tries that. I think George W. Bush knows and his team knows that if they try to do in Iowa and Wisconsin what they have claimed to abhor in Florida, that they'll lose that PR battle as well.

CARLSON: Well, Gores a tricky guy. Jay Carney, will you stay there on the street in front of the governor's mansion for us and we'll be back in a minute. And please don't forget to submit your pick for spin of the day. If you've heard a good one, just throw the beer bottle at the TV for a moment, send it to us. We'll be right back with THE SPIN ROOM.


PRESS: Welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM. I'm Bill Press here with Tucker Carlson. Don't forget, we want your nominations for "Spin of the Day." Got get them in fast. We only have a half-hour tonight. You can get you nominations for "Spin of the Day." That's the moment where you really think lightning is going to strike that person dead because of what he or she says is so outrageous. You can do it by phone, 1-800-310-4CNN. Or join our chat room at or send your e-mails to Speaking of what we've been talking about, chads. We're hearing from the chad room, Tucker.

Here's number one: "For 'Time's' person of the year. I nominate chad," says Patricia.

CARLSON: More chad humor from N. Murphy, who has perhaps wisely did not include his or her first name. "My chad has fallen and I can't get up."

OK, go Letterman. We also have a phone call from Tom in California. Tom, do you have chad humor for us?

CALLER: No chad humor this evening, I apologize. Thank you for taking my call. I'd like to say I find the position the attorney general has or the state attorney general in Florida has taken reprehensible that she did not recuse herself from the situation, having an obvious conflict of interest and I think that that will cast aspersions on the presidency not just from our country but internationally as well.

PRESS: All right, Tom, thanks for the comment.

CARLSON: Thanks.

PRESS: That is actually the secretary of state of Florida you were talking about, and speaking of her, we have a comment...


CARLSON: That is the poor Katherine Harris.

PRESS: Or Katherine the Great. Katherine the Great.

CARLSON: She's got a three word name as far as I'm concerned.

PRESS: Now she -- we have a comment from the chat room about Katherine Harris.

CARLSON: Please ask, Tucker, what Cabinet post has been assigned to Katherine Harris in the Bush Cabinet.

PRESS: Yes, Tucker. Tell us.

CARLSON: I would assume secretary of voting, but I'm not certain that actually is a Cabinet -- you know, Katherine Harris, I feel such sympathy for her. She is like the NTSB official that becomes a instant celebrity after a plane crash. She does have that sense of, you know, sort of caught-in-the-headlights look, and there's no evidence she did anything wrong. I like her. Free Katherine Harris. That's what I say.

PRESS: I mean, she's trying to rule the world and she's so -- obviously so biased. You know, somebody said...

CARLSON: She's wonderful.

PRESS: Somebody said she's acting like a Soviet commissar, which I think is an insult to Soviet commissars. Soviet commissars were more subtle.

CARLSON: Oh, come on. Oh, Katherine Harris is wonderful.

PRESS: All right, speaking of Katherine the Great, can we see Katherine Harris tonight when she rejected the efforts -- or the requests of all three counties to have hand counts in Florida. Here she is.


KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: I've decide it is my duty under Florida law to exercise my discretion in denying these requested amendments.


PRESS: Tucker, remember Adam Clymer? She's a big time cheerleader. That's what she is. She's a big time cheerleader for George W.

CARLSON: Oh, come on. She is -- you know, when this first started with Katherine Harris, I got a call from a close friend of mine who's a political person who said, you watch, you will see Carville on television slamming this woman. I called him back, and I said, you are so cynical. I can't imagine -- why would they attack poor Katherine Harris? She's the secretary of state for Florida. Nobody has ever heard of her.

PRESS: Let's get an objective source in here to find out what they're saying down in Austin, Texas.

CARLSON: That, of course, would be Jay Carney.

PRESS: Of course.

CARNEY: Tucker, I can't believe that you are so naive to think that Carville wouldn't slam her. She is a prime target.

CARLSON: I can't either. Well, what is the Bush campaign saying? I mean, are they defending -- when you talk to them, when the name Katherine Harris comes up, what do they say?

CARNEY: Well, only good things, Tucker...


CARLSON: That's a bad sign, I guess.

CARNEY: And they attest to -- you know, their Florida state co- chairman of their campaign's total objectivity all the time. You know, she's in an awful position and perhaps she should have recused herself. I mean, she -- obviously, people in these positions are almost always partisan.

You know, she is a step further in the sense that she was so active in Governor Bush's campaign. I think there's nothing she could have done that would have been acceptable to, certainly to the Democratic side short of siding with them, in which case her future in Republican politics would have been over.

CARLSON: But just beginning in Democratic politics.

PRESS: Jay, we want to interrupt you just a second.

CARNEY: Maybe.

PRESS: Jay, hang in there. We want to interrupt you just a second. We've got a call from a Floridian by the name of Esther joining our spin room. Hi, Esther. Welcome to the show. CALLER: Hi.

PRESS: Hi, so what's going on down there? Give us your take, Esther, please.

CALLER: Well, I think we voted in Katherine Harris. She's our secretary of state. Somebody's got to be a Democrat or a Republican. She happened to be a Republican. Somebody's got to decide this. We are sick of this.

PRESS: All right, Esther, I'm glad there's somebody to defend her.

CARLSON: The wrong place at the wrong time. Katherine Harris -- she's going to be a folk hero. You watch this.

PRESS: Jay, let me ask you. I've talked to a lot of the Republican members of Congress on the hill who feel that what the Bush campaign should have done in Florida was go for a recount of all the counties rather than opposing -- a hand count rather, of all the counties, rather than opposing a hand count in just three counties. Was that ever seriously discussed and why was it rejected?

CARNEY: My sense is or my knowledge is there was some discussion of it. But at the time the decision like that had to be made, the decision of whether or not to oppose hand recounts at all or to open it up to the whole state, they were in a situation where they still felt like they had a strong position.

They had won the first tally. They won the machine recount. You know, there was, they figured, a great deal of resistance toward opening up this process to some prolonged recounting. And they thought, you know, that they would prevail. And they still may yet prevail with that position. To go back on that now would certainly be very difficult now that they've so starkly and strongly opposed hand counts.

And you know, it also opens up the process to a real risk for them. They don't want to lose this race. They think they've won it legitimately, you know, and there's a lot at stake. And it's not just, you know, the future of the republic, it's also the future of George W. Bush and the future of Al Gore.


PRESS: And Katherine Harris.

CARNEY: And you know -- certainly Katherine -- and I think to open up the whole state to a recount certainly, you know, puts the governor at risk of losing the presidency and you have to say that he has the upper hand now in terms of who is likely to end up in the White House.

CARLSON: Wise word from Jay Carney. Jay, notice people are honking at you. I hope everything's OK in Austin. But thank you for joining us. PRESS: Thanks, Jay.

CARLSON: Up next: So many spins, so little time. Your top "Spin of the Day" right after this. And, of course, ours.

PRESS: Yours and mine.



CARLSON: Welcome back to THE SPIN ROOM. I'm Tucker Carlson here with, needless to say, Bill Press. And we are getting to your spins of the day. There are many.

PRESS: It's not easy to pick out "The Spin of the Day" because there are so many outrageous things said.

CARLSON: They are pretty outrageous.

PRESS: It's just tough to pick the worst of all.

CARLSON: But I'm sure you had no problem.

PRESS: No, no, no. in fact, let's start out with a phone call, right?

CARLSON: Nelson from Texas. Hit us with it, Nelson.

CALLER: Hello, gentlemen. How are you tonight?


CALLER: I just wanted to ask why we have put the spin on everything anyway. Why can't we just let the court system down there just hack it out? When it's all said and done get on the news and say this is the result? This is what happened. I don't understand why we have to be out there doing that.

CARLSON: Nelson, you're asking a deeper, almost metaphysical question, Nelson. Why do we need to engage in spin?

PRESS: Come on, Nelson. That would make it too easy.

CARLSON: It absolutely would.

PRESS: And besides, judges spin too. Thanks, Nelson.

Here we go, Evan (ph) from Victoria, British Columbia, "Spin of the Day": I nominate Tucker Carlson for his sheer tenacity in repeating the Bush party line that hand counting introduces subjective elements to the count that may work against the Bush campaign.

Shame on you, Tucker.

CARLSON: Now that is not an American voter, thank heaven. But that's OK.

Well, I've got one from David (ph) from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who says: "My 'Spin of the Day' is James Baker saying that the current delay is Al Gore's fault. What a lie, exclamation point. There was a first count, a second count mandated by law. And now we have Al Gore's legal request for a manual recount. Unfortunately, Republicans are the ones trying to block the recount. If they do succeed, I think Al Gore would have a good case saying that his constitutional right of due process has been denied."

I love the visual of Al Gore saying, I know my rights. You have violated my rights. Thank you.

PRESS: People in Minneapolis are so smart. I've always liked those people.

Here's Ken (ph) from Crown Point, Indiana. "My 'Spin of the Day': Today's spin by Vice President Gore," he says, "is not only 'The Spin of the Day,' but the spin of this whole fiasco. In layman's terms, Vice President Gore has said give me exactly what I want and what I've been asking for and I will drop all of my lawsuits."

CARLSON: Fantastic.

PRESS: It's a fair deal.

CARLSON: Bill, I want to prepare you. I want you to buckle your seat belt because I'm about to do something particularly cruel tonight. I don't have a "Spin of the Day," I have a spin of the last two years. If there's one thing, you wonder what unites this story, the current problems we are having, with several of the larger news stories of the past couple of years, take a look at this. I think you'll get a better sense.


REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: No one is suggesting that lying to the American public is anything but wrong. The only question before this Judiciary Committee is whether the president's actions arise to the level of an impeachable offense.



WEXLER: This process has been a sham from the beginning. Wake up America! They are about to impeach our president! They are about to reverse two national elections! They are about to discard your votes!



They care about the welfare of the child. If you suggest that somebody is good or bad for a president because of Elian Gonzalez, you are underselling Floridians.



The idea that a candidate who won the popular vote in the country and who is ahead in the Electoral College count is somehow stealing the election defies logic and defies reality.


CARLSON: I'm sorry, Bill. I feel nauseous just watching this. All of these stories have Robert Wexler in common. This is my new theory: six degrees of Robert Wexler. Every major news story has Robert Wexler at the center and I think it's an American tragedy.

PRESS: And I say, eat your heart out W. If W. talked like Robert Wexler, he would be elected.

All right, here is my "Spin of the Day." I hate to keep beating up on Katherine the Great but she asked for it. Here's secretary of state Katherine Harris today, this evening, in Florida, please.


KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to reassure the public that my decision and this process has been made carefully, consistently, independently and I believe, correctly.


PRESS: And I want to tell you, Tucker. There is not one person in America who believes that baloney. I mean, the only question -- you know she got a call from Governor Bush. The only question is, which Governor Bush called her?

CARLSON: Come on, Bill.

Look, if it comes down to this and it does come down to this: Is it Robert Wexler or is it Katherine Harris?

CARLSON: Katherine Harris wins.

PRESS: On that scale, Robert Wexler all the way.

Hey Tucker, more SPIN ROOM tomorrow night. Thanks everybody. We are out of time for tonight, but, yes, we will be back tomorrow night and again Friday night. Same time, 11:00 Eastern, 8:00 on the West Coast. Be here with us.

CARLSON: Make sure you are here. I'm Tucker Carlson.

PRESS: And I'm Bill Press. We'll see you tomorrow night. Good night, everybody.



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