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Florida Senator Bob Graham Holds a News Conference

Aired November 26, 2000 - 2:53 p.m. ET


ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: We take you live now to Tallahassee, Florida, Senator Bob Graham from Florida speaking right now.

Let's listen in.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: ... I think it is critically important as we go to this final phase that we keep focused on what is at issue here. The fundamental question is will we elect the 43rd president of the United States with the legitimacy to be an effective president for the people of the United States and of the world.

It's ironic that 124 years ago, Florida played exactly the same role that it is doing today. It was the determinative state in the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. That election was decided by overtly, transparently political deals. Rutherford B. Hayes entered the White House with no legitimacy, and therefore suffered one of the most ineffective presidencies in the history of our republic.

We could have afforded a failed presidency in 1877. We cannot -- we, the people of the United States, and of the world, cannot afford a failed presidency in the year 2001.

And so, what we should be focused on in this last period of the election process in Florida, the period that will begin after the certification assumedly this afternoon, is to assure that all of the remaining clouds over this election are resolved, so that whoever puts his hand up at the nation's capital on January 20th and takes the oath will be a fully credible president of the United States.

Now I'd like -- this is my first opportunity to publicly congratulate, and to say how extremely fortunate the people of Florida are to have as their new junior United States Senator, Bill Nelson.

GRAHAM: Bill, congratulations.


Bob and I have both expressed our opinion for some period of time that there ought to be, in order for the greatest degree of confidence of the American people in the outcome of the election, there ought to be the opportunity for recounting as much as possible under the timetable, and if that includes the hand recounting of all counties, then so be it. What we need is to have the confidence that every vote has been counted, particularly with regard to the closeness of an election such as this.

You know, there is entering into this so much shrillness and so much excessive partisanship, and if you take a couple of steps back and look at our character as an American people, the measure of our character is how we treat each other. And we simply ought to be abiding by the underlying fundamental principle of treating others like we want to be treated.

The American people's fundamental sense of fairness is that they don't want to have an election that they feel like has been rigged or has not fully been counted.

And so I stand here with my senior senator to express that particular opinion.

We shouldn't have a rush to judgment. Rather, we should be on a path toward justice, so that when all of this is over, and it looks like that ultimately it's going to be decided by the United States Supreme Court, that the American people will feel like that all of the votes, as nearly practical as possible, have been fairly counted.

QUESTION: Senator Nelson, the state Supreme Court set a deadline. Palm Beach has asked for an extension to that deadline. The secretary of state has subsequently denied that deadline for that recount. Your reaction to that?

NELSON: I think it's a question of are they going to have the chance to count all of the ballots. And if they have not, to impose a deadline -- albeit originally stated by the court, but the court gave leeway there, from five o'clock to nine o'clock -- just is going to put another cloud over the ultimate count, and that's not what the American people need. They need the confidence that the most reasonable and practical, accurate count has been achieved. And this is just another example.

Another example is all of this flurry of activity over the overseas military ballots. Well, the fact is that every lawfully cast ballot should be counted. We've seen a problem that arose on the question of postmarks. I can tell you that in the new Congress, that I'm going to get involved and propose a uniform voting procedure for overseas military ballots.

And I say this in experience as a veteran, I say it in experience out of fairness, and I think that rightly recounts were done with regard to the overseas military ballots, and if they didn't have the postmark that they were looking at the signature and date.

But just the fact that the confusion entered the equation means that we've got to correct that in the future, and I intend to be part of that.

QUESTION: Senator, what do you think of the intervention that the Florida legislature is poised to take? The Republican leaders have hired lawyers. What's your analysis as to what's going on?

GRAHAM: It's 1896 all over again if we end up in a highly politicalized (sic) atmosphere, either in the state legislature or in the U.S. Congress. I believe it's very important for the legitimacy of the president that the president be selected by the rule of law not by political bodies.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... should they cut it out? What do you want? Do you want them to drop...

GRAHAM: I want -- it is my, and I believe the vast majority of Americans' strong preference, that this matter be settled between now and the 12th of December according to the rule of law, and not become a highly charged political issue which will have as its absolutely certain result the denial of legitimacy to whoever eventually becomes president of the United States.

QUESTION: Senator Graham, you were governor of this state for a long time, so you know what the responsibilities of a secretary of state are. I'm wondering about your opinion of this current secretary of state. Has she fulfilled her duties fairly?

GRAHAM: I believe Katherine Harris is a good person who is trying to carry out her responsibility. I think one of the many negative aspects of what's happened throughout this recent political era is the temptation to demonize people if you disagree with them. People can have legitimately held contrary views and not give up their essential goodness of humanity, and I believe Katherine Harris is in that category. She is a good person who has been inappropriately demonized.

Now, as to her specific decisions, starting with the question that was just asked, I think it would have been a gracious thing, given the tremendous amount of effort that's been expended in Palm Beach County, and the fact that the delay was not the result of the good citizens there and the public officials who've worked so hard, but rather almost an avalanche of litigation at every stage, and at one point I think requiring all three members of the canvassing board to go down to appear before a judge and therefore shut down the count for a period of time -- that it would have been gracious to have given them the time between 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. in the morning to complete the count.

GRAHAM: I think also, just from a -- if you want to put it into political mathematics, it does not appear as if there are going to be a sufficient number of votes in Palm Beach County, which added to the other votes that have been counted, to affect the result. But it would have been an act that would have maybe bled off some of the poison that has so infected this process.

QUESTION: Senator, (INAUDIBLE) will be recounted at this point?

GRAHAM: I believe, and so stated several weeks ago, that I thought that if there was going to be a hand count of any votes, that it ought to be done on a statewide basis. Vice President Gore indicated that he supported a statewide hand count; Governor Bush did not. Now I assume the time has passed for that option to be considered. It was a good idea, rejected, probably not subject to resurrection at this stage.

QUESTION: Senator, do you think whoever emerges with the least votes should concede and end this stalemate?

GRAHAM: Do you mean today?

QUESTION: Today or tomorrow, whenever.

GRAHAM: No. If either candidate were to be declared the victor, and electoral votes awarded based the status today, neither candidate would be legitimate. There'd be the questions of the military ballots, there'd be the questions of Seminole County, Palm Beach County, Dade County, and possibly other locales. All those questions, in my judgment, now in the post-certification contest period, need to be settled by an appropriate court of law.

QUESTION: Is there enough time, for this contest period, for the appeals, for all that needs to take place, without running into the December 12 deadline?

GRAHAM: I assume that the Florida Supreme Court took all those factors into account, because the way it seemed to structure its opinion is it started at December 12, which is the date for the submission of electors, and worked back. Today is November 26, some 16 days from December 12. The court must have felt that that was the time period appropriate to complete the contest period, post- certification.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) 22 to 27 days. It sounds like 16 might not be enough, especially (OFF-MIKE).

GRAHAM: If anybody should be an expert in what it's going to take to resolve a Florida electoral contest, it ought to be the Florida Supreme Court. That's the number of days they set.

QUESTION: How should Gore contest this election tomorrow? What steps should he take? Where should he go? Should he do it on a statewide basis? On a county-wide basis?

GRAHAM: That's a legal question. He's got lots of folks who are advising him as to, legally, what they believe are the areas that fall within the Florida law that might be available for a contest, and what would be the most appropriate means by which to pursue that.

QUESTION: Senator Specter said this is putting the presidency and the transition in jeopardy.

GRAHAM: What is putting the presidency in jeopardy is the prospect of illegitimacy. We are now going through a frustrating period, a period of inconvenience and anxiety. But that is nothing compared to what this country would go through if we had an illegitimate president, or a president who had to live with the title of illegitimacy for his full term in office. That is the real threat to the presidency of the United States. QUESTION: Senator, can there be a legitimate president after all this?

GRAHAM: Yes, there can be, if we follow the rule of law, resolve the overhanging black clouds that would currently blemish either candidate's legitimacy, and do so within the time period between now and December 12.

Thank you.

HALL: Finished hearing from Senator Bob Graham of Florida. We also heard from Senator-Elect Bill Nelson from Florida. The two seams kind of echoing there from the both -- both the senators: legitimacy to be an effective president and leader of the free world is what is at stake. Senator Graham actually talked about this period that we're going through as more of a period of inconvenience and anxiety, but that would not compare at all if the American public and indeed the world would not feel comfortable with the legitimacy of this election process.



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