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Special Event

Florida Certifies George W. Bush as Winner of Election; Gore to Contest Vote

Aired November 26, 2000 - 8:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: The certified results in the presidential race in Florida is as follows: Governor George W. Bush 2,912,790; Vice President Al Gore 2,912,253.

Accordingly -- accordingly, on behalf of the state election canvassing commission and in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida, I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes for the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The latest chapter in election 2000 is closed. But Democrats vow the final chapter is still to be written.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vice President Gore and I have no choice but to contest these actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Republicans say enough counting is enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: They're not trying to count every ballot, they're trying to find every ballot they can for Al Gore and discount the votes that have already been passed for Governor Bush. This is not fair, this is not the American way. They've had three...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The unfolding story next in this CNN special report: The Florida Recount.

Good evening from Washington, I'm Wolf Blitzer.

After almost three weeks of legal and political wrangling in the battle over the presidency, Republican George W. Bush is declared the winner of Florida. Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced the new certified result a short time ago, which resulted in a 537 vote lead for Bush over Al Gore. This, by extension, gives Bush the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the White House.

However, whether the results from tonight will hold remains to be seen. The Gore campaign says it has no plans to concede. In fact, it has promised to challenge the recount results in three counties. And on another level, the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear arguments Friday about whether those recounts are legal.

We turn now to CNN's Bill Hemmer in Tallahassee with these dramatic late-breaking developments -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we excepted another wild ride here in Tallahassee, and indeed that was the case throughout the afternoon and into the evening hours here in Tallahassee. Again, the official certification came down about 45 minutes ago inside the administrative building here in the basement where the Cabinet meeting room is located.

As you mentioned, Wolf, the figure, 537, the official mark, the amount of votes that separate George W. Bush and Al Gore. And again, Katherine Harris signifying earlier, about 45 minutes ago, that Bush has won the state of Florida.

Now we saw inside that room tonight -- and many times these signing ceremonies are calm and docile events. And plainly that was the case inside. But one has to wonder what millions and millions of Americans watching that signing ceremony live on CNN and on other networks were thinking and wondering as they watched the pen hit the paper tonight.

Again, we'll take you back, 45 minutes ago. Once again, Katherine Harris, the secretary of state here in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

The certified results in the presidential race in Florida is as follows: Governor George W. Bush 2,912,790; Vice President Al Gore 2,912,253.

Accordingly -- accordingly, on behalf of the state election canvassing commission and in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida, I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes for the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: Again, Katherine Harris, secretary of state, a short time ago here in Tallahassee.

With us live now, Mike Boettcher, the only reporter I know inside that building while the tension was building late this afternoon. Around 5:00, specifically nine minutes until 5:00, when the deadline was about to hit, Palm Beach County, still counting, faxed in two returns. What happened? What was on each one? MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Then everything started happening in there. Lawyers started to gather in the secretary of state's office, there was a lot of activity in the various other offices associated with this, the commissioner of agriculture, the director of elections, and they are trying to figure out, which one of these things should we take? And this debate lasted for about one hour. They finally decided, after a lot of back and forth, that they had to take the only complete result they had from those two faxes, and that was the November 14th machine recount. And the deal was done.

HEMMER: We know that there were lawyers advising Katherine Harris. What was the legal advice they were giving based in law as to why you go back to the 14th and not accept the partial recount of today?

BOETTCHER: Because there's no provision to accept a partial recount, that the only thing the law provides for is a full recount to be used in the final tabulations. And they couldn't find anything for a partial recount. So how do you handle that sort of thing?

HEMMER: Was there an attitude in there that you would describe as tense? Was it stressful in any way?

BOETTCHER: Well I wasn't actually in that room, but I was close by and talking to people who were in the room at the time. Yes, for a while there when they got the two faxes there was a lot of -- there were many tense moments about, OK, how are we going to handle this because we've got the Supreme Court to follow, and they didn't want to violate that Supreme Court order in any way. So that was the talk going back and forth.

HEMMER: And the other consideration now, as we enter this contest period into Monday, tomorrow morning, 9:00 a.m., we expect members of the Gore campaign to be over here at circuit court in Leon County filing the initial papers there. Was there much consideration given to the ramifications as we enter that period now?

BOETTCHER: Well, really, the only thing was people really didn't think it would end tonight, that it was going to go on. But at least from their standpoint, that part of it, the final certification, they got that over with.

HEMMER: All right, Mike Boettcher, thanks a lot here in Tallahassee tonight.

Again, we talked about the contest period. David Boies, the attorney for the Gore campaign a few hours ago said again they will contest Nassau and Miami-Dade for certain, and they're also going to work on Palm Beach. The two briefs for Miami-Dade and Nassau expected again to be filed possibly at 9:00 a.m. local time here in Tallahassee. It may slide to 10:00 a.m., but again they anticipate being in court tomorrow morning.

Palm Beach, they say, because of the late ballot figures and the late counting that was under way there in southeastern Florida, they say they're still working on that brief. But quite likely, again, Palm Beach will be included come tomorrow morning here in Leon County.

Once give, Wolf, another crazy day here in Tallahassee. Back with more shortly here in Florida's capital, but for now to Washington and you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, before you go, the fact that Katherine Harris's remarks were relatively brief, largely symbolic -- she declared the winner as far as she was concerned -- the political statement was really left to Bob Crawford. He's the agriculture commissioner, as you know. He's a Democrat, although he's a close ally of Governor Jeb Bush, a strong supporter of Governor George Bush as well in the presidential campaign.

What was the political significance of that decision for her to take a low-key approach and for Bob Crawford to speak out much more vociferously?

HEMMER: You know, Wolf, I think Bob Crawford was quoting Yogi Berra, saying, when it's over, it's over. And in his words, it was over at this point now that certification has gone through.

But more to your point about Katherine Harris, the secretary of state, it has been said through state officials throughout this entire ordeal that she wanted to downplay the fact that she was a Republican, that she was the co-chairwoman of the Bush for President campaign here in the state of Florida. That was intentional.

I think also, Wolf, you can surmise that the brief comments she offered tonight also very intentional to try and distance herself from this whole affair. Now in Florida, it is quite clear and quite well known that Katherine Harris is a Republican, a well-connected Republican. However, for her point and for her intention, she wanted to make it clear that again she was interpreting the law that was given to her as an elected official, enforcing the constitution of this state and to remove herself from politics.

So I think your comment is well taken about short words and a short speech, but again I think the intention on her part was to subtract herself or remove herself a little bit from the political atmosphere here in Florida.

BLITZER: Bill Hemmer and Mike Boettcher, thanks to both of you for joining us once again from Tallahassee.

Didn't take very long for the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Senator Joe Lieberman, to respond to all of this. He went to a Washington hotel near the White House to make this statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good evening.

From the beginning of this extraordinary period of time, Vice President Gore and I have asked only that the votes that were cast on Election Day be counted. This evening, the secretary of state of Florida has decided to certify what by any reasonable standard is an incomplete and inaccurate count of the votes cast in the state of Florida.

The secretary of state has even refused to accept the results of the count in Palm Beach County, which means that hundreds of votes that have already been identified for Governor Bush or Vice President Gore are being discarded.

In thousands of hours of work by hundreds of citizens of Florida, Republicans and Democrats and independents alike are being ignored. What is at issue here is nothing less than every American's simple, sacred right to vote.

How can we teach our children that every vote counts if we are not willing to make a good-faith effort to count every vote?

Because of our belief in the importance of these fundamental American principles, Vice President Gore and I have no choice but to contest these actions, as provided under Florida law and in accord with the decision of the Florida Supreme Court.

It is in our nation's interest that the winner in Florida is truly the person got the most votes.

As we have said all along, we do not know who will prevail, after a full and fair count of every legally cast ballot. But the integrity our self-government is too important to cast into doubt because votes that have been counted, or others that have not yet been counted and clearly should be, have unjustifiably been cast aside. That is why we seek the most complete and accurate count possible.

We have an obligation, not just to the 50 million Americans who cast their votes for Vice President Gore and me, but to every American who voted in this election. They all deserve a fair and just outcome that respects their participation and does not diminish the value of their votes.

And we have an obligation to uphold the Constitution we are sworn to uphold. The idea of "one person, one vote" is central to our system of government and must never be compromised.

LIEBERMAN: We are now going through an unprecedented time in American history. The campaign is over. But what we do now will be as important to the future of our country as anything any of us did during the campaign.

We must proceed responsibly in a way that honors the rule of law and strengthens the institutions of our free society. We must show the world and teach our children that, even in this unparalleled time, America can and will fulfill its democratic values by demonstrating the patience to cast every vote -- to count every vote that was cast.

We have an opportunity here and we have a responsibility to ensure that this election lifts up our democracy and respects every voter and every vote, no matter what the outcome. And that is precisely what Vice President Gore and I will seek to do in the days ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman speaking within the past hour, reacting to the announce from the secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris, to certify that George W. Bush has won that state's decisive 25 electoral votes.

CNN's senior White House correspondent John King is standing by.

John, we know that the Republican presidential candidate, Governor George W. Bush is scheduled to speak in about a little more than an hour or so from now. Why didn't we hear from Vice President Gore this evening? Instead, we heard from the vice presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the plan, the Democrats' plan, is to have the vice president himself come out tomorrow, Monday, and explain his rationale for contesting this election a little bit longer. They wanted Senator Lieberman to take the lead tonight immediately after the certification.

Still up in the air whether the Democrats will feel compelled to react again once we hear from Governor Bush. But listen closely to Senator Lieberman, and you see what they're trying to do in this next, very critical stage of the public relations battle that goes along with the legal fight. This is very complicated, very messy, about to get even more complicated and perhaps even more controversial now that the Florida results have been certified. So the Democrats are trying to make the case that, A, this is a Republican rush to judgment by the secretary of state in Florida, that she didn't even consider votes still being counted in Palm Beach County.

And you don't hear the words recount out of the Democrats anymore. They're trying to make the case now, because they know the Republicans will say the votes have been counted and recounted and recounted, the Democrats trying to make the case now that there are roughly 15,000 or so votes, 10,700 of them in Miami-Dade County, that have never been counted, or at least never manually inspected, to see if there's a presidential vote cast on those ballots. They're trying to make this now about that, about those uncounted votes. Their public argument, as you heard Senator Lieberman, we will not give up until we believe every vote has been counted.

BLITZER: All right, John King, stand by.

Shortly after the vice presidential candidate for the Democrats, Joe Lieberman, spoke, the chief pointman for Governor Bush in Tallahassee, Florida, the former secretary of state James Baker met with reporters, and he made this statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES BAKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Shortly after I arrived here some 19 days ago, I said in this very room that the election process in Florida and the country as a whole needed to conclude with fairness and with finality.

I suggested that everyone step back and pause and think about what was at stake. I warned that there might be no reasonable end to the process of counts and challenges and contests if it slipped away from us. So here is the account of the past three weeks.

Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney had more votes on election night. They had more votes after the automatic recount.

They had more votes in the election returns submitted by all of the counties on November 14, following additional recounts.

They had more votes after the overseas absentee ballots were counted.

They had more votes under the standards first applied in selective manual recounts in predominantly Democratic counties by Democratic election boards that were oftentimes divining the intentions of the voters.

And now, once again, they have more votes, even after the application of a very loose standard for manual recounts of dimpled ballots.

The Florida Supreme Court provided 12 additional days for these manual recounts, almost tripling the statutory time period mandated by Florida's legislature.

So here's where we stand tonight. The Florida State Elections Commission has certified Governor Bush as the winner of the presidential election here in Florida. Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney have won this election under rules established by both Florida statutes and Florida's judiciary, including both procedures in place before the election and different ones in place after the election.

Now the Gore campaign lawyers want to shift from recounts to contesting the election outcome. And they propose to do this notwithstanding the fact that America has never had a presidential election decided by an election contest in court. And they propose to do this notwithstanding the fact that there also has never even been a statewide election contested in court in the state of Florida. Make no mistake, this approach is extraordinary. It cannot be justified simply as business as usual.

I hope that the arguments of the Gore campaign's lawyers are not the last word of guidance from the vice president and the Democratic Party. I have heard other views.

On November 15, when Vice President Gore was stating his case for a manual recount, he told the nation that if its results were added -- quote -- "I will abide the result. I will take no legal" -- challenge -- "to contest" -- "no legal action to contest the result." Close quote. Senator Lieberman said four days later that if the Florida Supreme Court allowed a hand count to go forward -- quote -- "It is much more likely that we will accept the results as the last word." Close quote.

Ladies and gentlemen, at some point, at some point, there must be closure. At some point, the law must prevail and the lawyers must go home. We have reached that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Former Secretary of State James Baker speaking a little while ago in Tallahassee, representing, of course, Governor George W. Bush.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is standing by in Austin.

Normally, Candy, as you know, the presidential winner does not declare victory until the loser in the race concedes. There's no indication Vice President Gore is about to concede. Is there any indication that Governor Bush is about to declare victory?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No indication of that, Wolf. I have, you know, knocked on doors and rung a lot of phones at this point trying to find out exactly what it is that the governor is going to be saying at 9:30 Eastern Time. Nobody wants to talk about it. You know, the staff isn't going to comment. The people who helped write what the governor is going to say, no previews from them.

It's obviously a possibility, but it's a very fine line he has to walk here.

As you know, sort of throughout this campaign, one of the things that the Gore campaign over the last year and a half and indeed in the public, there has been some thought that George Bush is arrogant. When he came out after November 7th and after the election and was seen in a sort of Oval Office-like setting, saying, well, we're -- you know, we're thinking about transition, because we have to start now, the Gore campaign seized upon that and said, you know, it's arrogant of him to, you know, be out there be planning a transition when this is so up in the air. Now, things have changed, and now the Gore camp is going public with its transition.

So -- but there's still a fine line here. This is not a man who at this point can say I'm going to walk in to the, you know, the transition offices tomorrow. So I'm not sure we'll get a straight declarative, but I can't get any hints from anybody at this point about what he will say.

BLITZER: All right, Candy Crowley, in Austin, stand by. Of course, CNN will carry Governor Bush's remarks a little less than an hour or so from now, scheduled at 9:0 Eastern Time.

We have to take a quick break, a lot more coverage of the Florida recount, the certification of the winner by the secretary of state. When we come back, Greta Van Susteren and Bill Schneider will also be looking ahead at the Supreme Court, which meets in Washington later this week. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Jefferson Memorial here in Washington on this day that the state of Florida has certified a winner in the Florida election. Welcome back to our continuing coverage.

Palm Beach County is at the center of several legal challenges that lie ahead. The Gore team plans to challenge that county's results because the canvassing board did not follow guidelines in considering so-called "dimpled ballots," and several voters angry over the butterfly ballot, which they say was confusing, are also seeking a revote.

CNN's Bill Delaney is following these developments from West Palm Beach. Bill, a pretty dramatic night over there.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much so, Wolf. You know, I think of all the scenarios that have been painted in the 16 days they counted votes here, the one no one really expected was that all of this hand counting would come to naught, and that's what's happened here.

The secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris, decided that the days and nights of work here that went into assembling a manual hand count didn't count because they didn't make that 5:00 p.m. deadline on Sunday afternoon, just about three or four hours ago.

Now, less than an hour ago, the canvassing board chairman, Judge Charles Burton, came out and spoke to the press. He's a very popular guy around here. He's made a very good impression with the press and the public. He kept this thing very lighthearted throughout despite the tremendous tension and pressure they were under. At the same time, he missed that deadline. He was disappointed, he said. He was weary. He said that he was disappointed that an experience he called democracy at its finest had come to naught. And he said he regretted that they hadn't been able to finish their work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: I'll tell you, this was really an amazing operation here. I mean, all of the folks in Palm Beach County and all the people who came down here to work and to count. I mean, I can think of a lot more exciting things to do than sit here counting ballots all week.

QUESTION: Judge...

BURTON: And I think in some sense, you know, it's a slap in the face to all these people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DELANEY: Yes, a bit of bitterness there around the edges that people had put so much into this and it didn't come too much.

Now, as for the numbers, well, we don't have very good numbers, but the judge when he came out said he thought that when the manual recount was finally all added up -- and they're still doing it; they're finished with it, but they're still finalizing it -- he thought that Go, Vice President Al Gore would probably have a net gain of about 200 votes in Palm Beach County. Now, that would not have been enough to put him over in Florida.

So this very long, strenuous, extraordinary experience here now ends quietly this Sunday night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Delaney in Palm Beach County, thanks for joining us.

Even with tonight's certification, there's still a long legal road ahead concerning the recounts. The Gore campaign says it will go to court to challenge the results in three counties. In Miami-Dade County, the results will be contested because the hand recount was stopped.

For more on that, we now go to CNN's Frank Buckley. He's been covering all of this in Miami -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this evening, Bob Crawford quoted the baseball great Yogi Berra, saying that it ain't over until it's over and now it's over.

Well, the Democrats would probably use another baseball expression, and that is play ball. From their point of view, the law has cut a path for them to contest the results, and that's exactly what they plan to do tomorrow morning. They're going to be in Leon County in circuit court filing a contest to this election, contesting the results. Their position is that many votes were not properly counted here. Specifically, they're talking about 388 vote that were identified, these 388 votes identified for one presidential candidate or another, and in the case of Vice President Al Gore, he had a net gain of 157 votes going into the -- after that count was stopped. That was after 20 percent of 614 precincts were completed, he had a net gain of 157 votes.

So it's particularly painful for the Democrats in light of the fact that only 20 percent of the precincts had been counted -- they feel they could have picked up several hundred votes here in Miami- Dade County.

Now, the legal position of the canvassing board, according to Murray Greenberg (ph), the county attorney who will be defending the canvassing board if in fact it is named as a party to this lawsuit, is that it was within the discretion of the canvassing board to make this decision about a recount. It felt that it had to stop because the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court wouldn't make it possible to complete the count, and they didn't want to put forward a partial recount -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Frank Buckley in Miami, thanks for joining us. David Cardwell is a former Florida state elections director. He's been helping us try to understand the intricacies of Florida election law, and he joins us now once again.

Walk us through, Mr. Cardwell, what happens next. David Boies, the chief lawyer for Al Gore, says they're going to contest this election in three counties. Specifically, what does that mean?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN FLORIDA ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, to contest an election in Florida you bring an action in circuit court. Since there are three counties that they are challenging and that this an election for statewide office, the presidential elector, by statute it must be brought in the circuit court in Leon County, which is where Tallahassee is located, even though the three counties that are most affected are somewhat distant from Tallahassee.

Now, the -- part of the contest complaint that's filed in circuit court is going to have to assert grounds that shows to the court that there's reason to proceed with the collection of evidence, which could be in the form of either testimony or putting into evidence the actions of the canvassing board. They've got to show that there was either mishandling of ballots or that there was something that was done that caused the results that were reported to be different from what the actual results would be.

They could show, for example, that there was a large number of votes that were not counted, which is the undervote issue in Miami- Dade County. Palm Beach County they're going to have to show that there also again were not votes counted that should have been because of the dimple issue. And in Nassau County, it's a dispute as to whether the election night count should be the one that's relied upon or the results of the recount where the canvassing board found that 200 ballots had not been included.

BLITZER: David Cardwell, there's also another issue that still has to be adjudicated, and I believe there's going to be a court hearing on Wednesday in Seminole County, where some local Democrats say there are several thousand absentee ballots that were improperly received. The application forms were not held to the strict letter of the law.

How important, if at all, do you think that -- that issue could be in this overall race?

CARDWELL: Well, the Seminole County case is not included in the contest that the Gore campaign announced tonight that they'd be bringing in three counties. So they're not directly involved as far as the contest is concerned with Seminole County.

The issue with Seminole County is whether or not there was information added to the absentee ballot request forms, which were done well in advance of the election, which would invalidate those requests. And so far, the court has been collecting evidence, and it remains to be seen in the course of the hearing on Wednesday, when that evidence is submitted to the court, whether or not there would be grounds for disallowing some or all of the absentee ballots. BLITZER: And Mr. Cardwell, we're taking a look at a live picture of Governor George W. Bush. He's leaving the residence, the mansion in Austin. He's going to be driving over to the state capitol, and in about 35 minutes or so he's scheduled to make a statement to explain where he stands right now. He'll be addressing, in effect, the nation and indeed the world on this important evening where the state of Florida has certified that he has in fact won this state of Florida, the 25 electoral votes, and indeed the presidency: presumably.

We are watching him leaving the governor's residence, heading to the motorcade, will be driving over to the state capitol to make that speech. And of course, once he does do that, we'll be bringing it to you live at around 9:30, about 35 minutes or so from now.

We're going to take another quick break. When we come back, we'll be joined by Greta Van Susteren and Bill Schneider, who have some thoughts on what's going on tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the Florida recount. This note, we are standing by: In about 40 minutes or so from now we're told the Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, will be addressing the nation from Austin, Texas. We will bring that to you live when he begins his remarks.

Meanwhile, lawsuits over election 2000 reach all the way to hear, the nation's capital. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in an appeal filed by the Bush campaign.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer covers the Supreme Court. Charles, give us a little flavor of how extraordinary this hearing, these oral arguments are going to be on Friday.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Supreme Court is acting under an expedited procedure in the first place. They know the limited deadlines which they are dealing with, both for choosing electors, holding the electoral college vote, and bringing a new president here to Washington.

What the court has been asked to do by the Bush campaign is to find that the Florida state Supreme Court acted out of line when it extended the deadlines for counting ballots and recounting them by hand. In essence, what the Bush campaign has said is that the court here should fine that the Constitution and electoral statutes require the laws to be observed as they were in place on election day, not to be rewritten after election day. And that's what they contend the Florida state Supreme Court did.

The court here also is very mindful of what kind of a quagmire it could be wading into...

BLITZER: Charles, let me interrupt for a second, I just want to point out to our audience that President Clinton and his family have just returned to the south lawn of the White House aboard Marine One. He spent the weekend, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Camp David there. And now back inside the White House. Sorry I interrupted, but go ahead with your explanation of this Friday's Supreme Court arguments.

BIERBAUER: Well, I think the point that the justices added on to the petition as it was presented to them was for both camps to come here and explain, and explain first when they deliver briefs on Tuesday and then again on Friday what the consequences would be if this court overruled the Florida Supreme Court.

They are very careful about narrowing the options before them. They are not going to decide who the next president is going to be, but they are going to decide whether the Florida Supreme Court was within its rights to do as it has done -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Charles Bierbauer at the Supreme Court here in Washington, thank you very much.

CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren covers the legal world. She joins us now.

Greta, the fact that the secretary of state has now certified, it's a done deal, George W. Bush has carried Florida. What is going to be the impact of that on the Supreme Court justices, the nine of them, when they hear these arguments, if in fact it gets down to that, on Friday?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm really curious whether they'll continue to hear it, because it might seem to be over. Now, the Supreme Court may decide that they want to pursue it, keep going with this, because it may a lesson to us in the future, because the matter that's at hand -- whether or not the certification should have been November 14 or November 26 -- really has become a dead issue.

What's sort of curious to me is sort of the legal strategy in the Bush camp at this time. Do they want to pull the plug, which sort of takes the momentum out of this case and really says to the Gore campaign it's over, we're pulling out of the Supreme Court? Or do they want to continue with it and so that they can sort of rehabilitate if anyone thinks that they were perhaps being too pushy in using the court? Maybe they want a vindication from the United States Supreme Court.

That's the strategy...

BLITZER: But on that point, Greta, why would they pull the plug and leave it to the Florida Supreme Court, which has proven to be not all that sympathetic to the arguments of the Bush lawyers?

VAN SUSTEREN: Because they won. They got the certification tonight. Why...

BLITZER: So are you saying that the contest -- the contest that the vice president, Al Gore, is going to level in these coming days is not going to go anywhere? VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think that it's any relationship to this matter. This matter was what time do you certify the vote, and it didn't -- from what the numbers are saying, I'm not so sure it makes a big difference to the Bush people at this time whether it's certified on November 14th or tonight. They won, period.

The Supreme Court, though, may think that this is an important matter and they need to rule on it so they can tell other state legislatures and maybe slap down the Florida Supreme Court if they thought that it had gone too far. They may want to do that. Or the Supreme Court may even think, phew, we got out of that one. You know, if the Bush people withdraw the matter, maybe they'll be happy to let the case go away.

But the Bush -- the Bush team can't just say, we're out of it, we don't want to play anymore. They would have to get permission from the United States Supreme Court to withdrawal the matter. So it's not even clear what would happen.

But certainly tonight's decision -- tonight's certification certainly takes the steam, the importance out of the Supreme Court hearing for the Bush people. And it may be -- it may be even sort of a strategic thing to sort of pull the plug on it to sort of be a signal to the Gore people it's over, you know, we're not even -- we're not even going to talk about anymore.

BLITZER: All right, Greta Van Susteren, our legal analyst, thanks again for joining us. Stand by. This is going to be presumably a long evening for a lot of people.

We're going to take another quick break. Bill Schneider has some thoughts on the politics of this remarkable day. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us now.

Bill, the certification that there's a winner in Florida by the secretary of state of Florida, politically what does that mean for both Al Gore and George W. Bush?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the Republicans certainly intended this to have the ceremonious occasion of finality. This was supposed to convey to the American people it's over. In fact, that is exactly what the Board of Canvassers in Florida said.

But you notice that Joe Lieberman came out within minutes after that announcement and said it's not over, because, he said, only one county, Broward County, has properly counted the votes, and he pointed out that there are 10,000 more uncounted ballots. Now, those ballots were counted by the machine but thrown out, because they weren't properly marked. So he's arguing they should be counted by hand.

So it's really a spin contest between the canvassing board that said it's over and the Democrats who are saying it's not over because ballots are still out there uncounted at all.

BLITZER: What impact will it have on some Democrats who maybe wobbling right now in terms of their determination to keep on fighting?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there were some wobbly Democrats going into this, but I think over the last week they've been rallied by the Gore campaign, mostly because of some outrage over what they saw as unfair Bush tactics. The argument that Gore was trying to steal the election irritated Democrats, and then that scene in Miami-Dade where protesters apparently intimidated the canvassing board into stopping the recounts. I think Democrats were very angry to see that, and that helped Gore rally them to support the vice president.

BLITZER: And conversely, it's emboldened Republicans.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. I mean, right now, Republicans say, look, we have won. I don't know what Bush is going to say tonight, but he's got to be very careful. I don't think he wants to give this as a defiant speech. He probably wants to offer an olive branch and say it's time to bring the country together.

Remember, one more thing: The Gore and Lieberman campaign have exactly 16 days left to contest this election and to get whatever recounts they think are necessary done, because on December 12 the electors then have to be certified finally.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, thanks for joining us.

These programming notes: "LARRY KING LIVE" is next, a special live edition. Among Larry's guests tonight, Bob Dole and Mario Cuomo. At 9:30, Governor Bush will be addressing the nation. CNN of course will be bringing that to you live. At 11 o'clock tonight, "THE SPIN ROOM" with Tucker Carlson and Bill Press. At 10 o'clock tonight Eastern, in about an hour or so from now, Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield will be back with another special report on the Florida recount.

For now thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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