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The Florida Recount: Bush Camp Won't Speculate on Action it Will Take if Election is Certified

Aired November 17, 2000 - 2:37 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And while we wait to hear from yet another spokesperson, Karen Hughes in Austin -- we'll go to her when she begins talking at the microphone -- first we'll talk with CNN's Frank Sesno because polls suggest Americans have shown a good deal of patience, Frank, with this Florida process.

But the question is, will it last and what do Democrats view as the next critical action that could take place in all of this?

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Democrats are very concerned, Natalie. I've been talking to a number of them here in town -- lawmakers and strategists, pollsters, the like. But the public's patience is not an unlimited commodity, that it certainly would not extend deep into next week.

What they see as most important right now is to keep the recount process on track. According to one aide in the Gore campaign, they expected somewhere between 850 and 1,300 net additional votes for Al Gore in the recounts, ultimately, in Palm Beach and Broward Counties. Now, given the fact that, excluding the overseas absentee ballots, there's only a 300-vote difference, that clearly could spell the difference for Al Gore -- so they say.

That, they say, has to continue to be demonstrated because they expect George W. Bush to start putting on the mantle of president- elect if, in fact, tomorrow Florida's secretary of state certificates the vote for him.

ALLEN: OK, Frank, stand by there.

We're going to take it to Austin, Texas and Karen Hughes.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: ... on the governor's return to Austin. And this afternoon, he and Mrs. Bush will be departing the ranch and coming back to Austin. Their daughters are coming in from college for the Thanksgiving holiday. It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving's almost here. But their daughters are coming in for the Thanksgiving holiday over the weekend. And Secretary and Mrs. Cheney will be joining Governor and Mrs. Bush for dinner this evening at the governor's mansion. He has no other public events scheduled on his -- at this moment for today.

The governor and Mrs. Bush, I think, have very much enjoyed spending some time at the ranch and doing the kind of thing that American families do when they're not out on a presidential campaign, traveling across the country.

They earlier this week met with their architect and the builder who is building their new home at the ranch. They've apparently spent some time reading. They've been in touch with our office and the events in Florida by fax, by phone, by e-mail, and so the governor has been receiving regular updates.

And I know Secretary Baker told you all earlier that he had spoken with both Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney after the court ruling in Florida this morning. So they've been in touch, but I think they've also been enjoying a little opportunity to enjoy the tranquility of the countryside in Crawford, Texas, during what is a very hectic time for everybody, and I know for all of you all as well.

I'd be happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Karen, if the secretary of state tomorrow certifies this election and pronounces Governor Bush the winner of Florida and therefore the winner of the presidency, A, will he consider himself the president-elect; and will he tomorrow make a public statement to that effect and lay out plans for the immediate future?

HUGHES: Well, I think it's premature. I notice that question started with an "if," and so I think it's premature at this time to discuss any of that.

Obviously the results, the votes in Florida have been counted, they've been recounted, the results were certified, but there is still the question of these overseas absentee ballots. And our men and women in uniform, who are sending in ballots, deserve to have their votes counted. And the good news is that by midnight tonight those votes will all be in and tomorrow morning we'll all know and we won't have to ask "if" anymore.

QUESTION: Well, let me just follow up, Karen, because the point is that Secretary Cheney and others have said that if the election is certified and the governor is the winner, that in fact you all would consider the election to be over. I understand all the ballots are not in. You've got a lead, you expect the absentee ballots to go your way. Will the governor come out immediately and declare himself the president-elect while there's still litigation pending or will he hold off a bit?

HUGHES: Well, David, again, I think it's premature to be having that discussion, and we have not had that discussion. It's premature to talk about "what if."

The one good thing about this process is that there is some certainty and some finality rapidly approaching. Those ballots are due at midnight. And tomorrow morning we won't have to say "if" anymore.

We presumably will know -- we will presumably tomorrow morning what those ballots say. And until we know what those ballots say, I think it is speculative to talk about what will do at the time we know when those ballots say whatever it is that they will say.

At this point we do not know who has won the election. We know that the results have been certified. They show Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney have a lead, but we do not know. Until those overseas absentee ballots finally come in tonight by midnight and are counted and are received at the secretary of state's office -- I believe she set a deadline of noon tomorrow -- we will not know.

QUESTION: Informal results are coming in through the evening and you should have a pretty good idea by midnight what the absentee ballots are showing. Will he be watching this on TV? And does he plan any kind of statement -- or do you -- at midnight?

HUGHES: Well, again, Tom, I think what we've learned this week -- if you had asked me at 5:00 on Wednesday -- in fact, some members of the media did ask me whether it was time for shut up and go home for the day -- I probably would have said fine. In fact, I almost did so. And then at 5:30, the vice president had a nationally televised address, and then at 9:15 the governor had a nationally televised address.

So the one constant is that things are changing, minute by minute. And we will be glad, as always, to keep you posted minute by minute.

Thank you all very much.

ALLEN: All right, Karen Hughes from Austin, Texas, saying that the Governor is headed back to Austin from his ranch to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with his daughters in Austin and not touching a question about whether George W. Bush will declare himself the winner of this presidential election tomorrow if the absentee ballots come in and it's announced that Bush won the state.

Back to Frank Sesno in Washington.

If that were to happen, that would have to be a scenario that the Gore camp would just shudder at, pending their legislation -- excuse me, not their legislation, their litigation -- Frank.

SESNO: Right; they don't want to talk about it, but I can tell you, Natalie, a lot of Democrats here in town today are talking about it. They believe that if the secretary of state certifies the election results tomorrow and declares Bush the winner that Governor Bush would then step forward and say he's the president-elect, or at least intimate as much. That there could be pronouncements of a transition team and the partying, as, Gore lawyer David Boies put it, could begin.

One Democrat I spoke to said, look, if we were in their position, that's what we would do. We would try to build a sense of inevitability. The nightmare, according to a top Democratic senator I spoke to today, is that Bush folks get out there and proclaim themselves the victors. The secretary of state of Florida says the state has gone for George W. Bush, but the recounting continues in these contested counties. And after the fact of certification, the vote totals come in and -- another if -- Al Gore then goes up on top. And then you have, according to what this senator said, is a true nightmare scenario, and who knows where it could end up.

No one expects, by the way -- at least no one I've spoken to, suggests that the Supreme Court, the Florida state Supreme Court will intervene in time to bar the secretary of state from Florida from actually certifying the vote tomorrow, if she so chooses. So it's a very complicated situation, and the clock is ticking very loudly.

ALLEN: Absolutely; that's why we take it day by day, hour by hour. Frank Sesno, thanks so much.

And now let's go to CNN's Jeanne Meserve, Frank's usual partner who has been down in Austin, Texas for quite some time.

Reaction to Karen Hughes today, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, you heard reporters trying to press her on exactly what the Bush campaign will do tomorrow if those election results are certified and she said repeatedly, we don't know what the results are. But they fully expected that the overseas ballots will go in their direction. They've said that, historically they break in the Republican's direction and they have no reason to believe they'll do otherwise this time around.

What she didn't want to talk about, of course, and she did not mention, were those ongoing hand recounts. The Bush campaign just not wanting to touch that with a 10-foot pole. They've always said this is a flawed process, it's not valid, and don't want to address the possibility of coming into conflict between certified election results and the possibility of a hand count total that shows Al Gore on top of this election -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Jean Meserve in Austin, Texas.

And, again, just a short while ago the Gore camp in Tallahassee announced it is appealing to the state Supreme Court; a ruling earlier today that said those hand counts cannot be considered, the Gore camp trying to change that. We'll keep you posted on developments.



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