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Special Event

Sen. Daschle, Rep. Gephardt Hold News Conference on Presidential Vote in Florida

Aired November 27, 2000 - 1:10 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Democrats are down in Tallahassee. They're spreading the gospel according to Al gore. Richard Gephardt, the House minority leader, now speaking before reporters in Tallahassee. Let's check in with him, see what he has to say.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: Let's remember, as Tom said, that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman won the popular vote by over 300,000 votes in the country, and they have a lead. They are three votes shy of a majority of the Electoral College. We believe that a full, fair and accurate count will show that they won more votes in Florida as well.

We are a nation that is governed by laws. The cost of having every vote counted will be measured by our patience, not just as a political party, but as a nation.

We all must continue to be patient so the voice of every voter here in Florida can be heard. Both sides have made clear that this process would continue beyond Sunday's deadline for certification.

Since the Bush campaign brought a case in the United States Supreme Court and filed lawsuits in a number of counties, it is fair and reasonable...

WATERS: All right, this is Richard Gephardt.

We're going to play you a videotape made from the vice president's residence to Gephardt and Daschle down in Tallahassee. Here's the vice president speaking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, thank you, Tom. And Dick?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: You may have seen this conversation earlier. This was the other side of it on videotape when Gephardt and Daschle were speaking from Tallahassee to the vice president and Joe Lieberman, expressing their support for the Gore effort in Florida. Richard Gephardt then stepped away from that conversation. He's now taking questions from reporters in Tallahassee.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

GEPHARDT: I'm not an expert on all the facts. My understanding is that when the last votes came into the secretary of state from Nassau, they simply disregarded 50 or 52 votes that had been in their original recount -- I take it, machinery count -- in that county. It's inexplicable.

No one can seem to explain why this happened. It goes to our point, we want to see every vote counted that was counted, and not subtraction from votes for no apparent reason.

QUESTION: Don't you think the benefit should go to the voter? I mean, if there're 50 people whose votes aren't going to be counted, who were originally counted, the benefit should go to the voter if there was a mistake. No?

GEPHARDT: No, our understanding was they simply did a recount, I think by machine, I may be wrong, and that showed 52 more votes for Gore-Lieberman. And then when they certified the numbers, sent the numbers to the secretary yesterday, they simply took out the 52 votes for no apparent reason.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Can I ask one general question and one specific question. General question is this: If the Democrats are as united as you say they are, why did you feel the need today to come down here and stage this conference call to then make it appear that you're so united?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Well, that's easy. We just have felt all along that it was important for us to find ways which to demonstrate our support for the vice president and to his effort. We've done it in other ways before. I have not been done here up until now.

We think this is a critical stage; we think this is a critical moment in the effort. This is not over with until the votes are counted. This is not over with until the courts have decided. And we wanted to say as unequivocally and as strongly as we can that we recognize that it is not over. We couldn't find a better day to say that than right now.

QUESTION: The specific question is this: You mentioned the figure that might have Al Gore up by nine votes. In order to come up with that number, you would have to disregard several hundred absentee ballots from overseas, which add a net of 122 votes for Governor Bush. Vice presidential running mate Lieberman has said that those votes ought to count, the Democratic attorney general of Florida has said that those votes ought to count. Is now the Gore team and the Democrats saying, "No, those votes ought not count." DASCHLE: Well, your question I think is symptomatic of the situation we're facing right now. You have votes coming in from all directions. And I don't think anybody has an absolute count.

We do know this: We know that the secretary last night avoided counting 537 ballots. We know that in Miami-Dade, the vice president picked up 157. We know that in Palm Beach, he picked up 215 that were not in the certified account. We know that in various counties, including Nassau, there are 174 votes that have not been counted. You take all of those and the vice president is actually ahead.

Now, there are other questions outstanding. And you're right, the military question is one that I think has been largely resolved in terms of how they ought to be counted. Either they ought to have a postmark or they ought to have a signature. The vice president has been willing to take that position, and I believe it's the right now.

QUESTION: For the people who are watching and not partisan on either side and saying there seems to have been a statutory deadline and then a Supreme Court deadline and then a certification, and they're saying: When does this end? Now there's the electoral deadline of December 12 coming up. Are the Democrats prepared by December 12 to call this over?

GEPHARDT: What we want is every vote counted. And everything that has happened has happened according to Florida law. You first have protests; those have been handled, with the Supreme Court getting involved, and other courts. We're through that phase.

Now, as you know, we're at the contest phase, which is all provided for under Florida law. That will take place over the next days.

There is a need, as the Florida Supreme Court set out in its decision, to try to get a resolution for counting all of these votes before December 12, because that's the date on which Florida is supposed to send the names of its electors on for the electoral meeting which takes place I think on December 18.

So that's kind of the time schedule we're on. That is the process that is being followed. But all of this is in law, and all we're trying to do is follow the rule of law.

And as I said in my statement, the Bush campaign has filed lawsuits with the United States Supreme Court and with various courts here in Florida, and they have every right in the world to do that.

So everybody is trying to use our legal process to get to a fair, honest and accurate result.

And as Tom said, wouldn't it be horrible if we just take the numbers that the secretary of state put out last night, without counting 9,000 ballots in Miami-Dade, and then have some academic a month from now, under the Freedom of Information Act, go and get those Miami-Dade ballots and find out that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman really won this election, they had the national popular vote and they had the vote here in Florida.

I don't think we want that to happen in our country, and we can avoid it through these contest procedures.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: With the December 12, the reason that's become -- and I believe the vice president in the New York Times had indicated that's a day where Florida must, to ensure its electoral -- to appoint its electors. Is there a sense that by that date, December 12 -- I mean, there's always another maneuver on both sides -- is there a sense from the Democratic leadership that December 12 is the day where we say Florida must have its electors in, this must be done by December 12?

DASCHLE: I think that this is a matter best left to the Gore campaign and the vice president. He has indicated a willingness to accept the 12th with some finality, but let's look and see what the circumstances are on the 12th.

Clearly, we want to revolve these issues. We don't know how long the Supreme Court will take. We don't know how long the courts will take here in Florida, so there are a lot of questions pertaining to court action that is out of our control. Let's look and see what happens in the courts before we come to any final conclusion about the 12th.

GEPHARDT: Let me just follow up on one point on this whole business of timing. The reason that the votes haven't been counted is because the Bush campaign has been throwing every known roadblock into getting them counted.

And, to go back to what Tom said, if the Bush campaign had accepted two weeks ago what the Gore campaign was offering, which is a recount of all the counties in Florida and let the chips fall where they may, we could have had this done by now. Miami-Dade finished a fifth...

WATERS: The biggest Democratic guns descend on Florida to talk about what we've been talking about ever since the election, and that is the number of votes cast in this election. The Democrats contend that even though the vote has been certified in Florida and it's over, that the Democrats are saying there are some votes that not only haven't been recounted, they haven't been counted for the first time. They refer specifically to 10,000 votes in Dade County. It's a matter of 52 votes which were tossed out in Nassau for Gore.

So they're getting down to the very nitty gritty on the number of votes that were cast in Florida. But in the end, the Democrats maintain that if all the votes are counted, Gore is the winner.

We're going to be hearing this Democratic mantra throughout the week because it's at the end of the week that the Supreme Court rules on the supreme court -- the Florida Supreme Court decision of last week. So there are a lot of legal issues surrounding this recount today. We're going to be taking us all by the hands here with various experts throughout today, and be leading us through what exactly is going on where and what the results anticipated will be.

Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we'll get to all of that in just a moment. Right now, let's talk with CNN's John King about Al Gore and his PR machine he has sent to Florida trying to show a united front, a very important thing for him to do on this day -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very important, in the calculation of the Gore campaign, Natalie, to make the case to the American people that this is not a waste of time, that Florida's secretary of state may have certified the results, may have declared Gov. Bush the winner, and may have said, in her view, that he deserves the 25 electoral votes and therefore the presidency, the Gore campaign making the case that there are still votes to be counted, still plenty of time to do so before there's any sort of a constitutional crisis.

The vice president pressing his case in the courts today. They have filed the official contest to the election results asking the courts in Florida to look at several specific counties to see if, for example, 10,700 votes in Miami-Dade were never counted in the first place, as the Gore campaign alleges, to look at ballots in Palm Beach County to see that if you manually inspect those -- and they're asking judges to do that now or to appoint a special master under the auspices of the court to hand look at those ballots to see if you can see if there's a vote for president there.

Now, as the legal fight goes on, as you mentioned, very important for the Gore team in the arena of public relations now to convince the American people that this is nothing extraordinary; it might be unprecedented, but that this is a process clearly allowed under the laws of the state of Florida, and clearly to make the case to the public that this is not a waste of time, that they believe if all the votes are counted that the vice president, indeed, might be the winner in the state of Florida. We will hear from the vice president in a nationally televised address to the American people this evening.

This effort during the day, though, you're just seeing the Democratic congressional leaders there in Florida. Just before that news conference, they were involved in a conference call with the vice president. They were down in Tallahassee, the vice president here at his official residence in Washington making the case in that conference call -- and knowing it would get media coverage -- his case to the American people that all he wants, he says, is a fair and accurate count of the Florida vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: And I want to make it very clear that this really is about much more than which candidate wins and which candidate loses, it is about the integrity of our system of government. And that integrity can only be assured if every vote that is legally cast is actually counted according to the law -- the laws of America, including the laws of Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now, that's a key distinction here. From the Bush side, you are hearing that the Gore campaign just won't quit and that it will keep going back into the courts in an effort, in the view of the Bush campaign, to try to steal the election. The Gore campaign trying to counter that argument in the public relations arena by saying all it wants is a recount of the votes and a count of the ballots, roughly 15,000 in the view of the Gore campaign, that it believes have never been properly counted in the first place. That a key distinction now. They know they will lose if they keep asking for recounts. They're trying to make the case that there are some ballots that have never been counted, and how could you be opposed to counting them?

This a public relations battle back and forth now because the Democrats know now that the results have been officially certified they need to make the case to the American people that it's worth waiting, that the vice president is within his rights to contest the election in Florida, and that the public should not just rise up and say, we want an end to this, until the vice president pursues his rights in the courts -- Natalie.

ALLEN: But, John, what if his PR case doesn't work? What if they get a sense from the American people that the American people are tired of this and they want it to end? Is there any chance that Al Gore would give up this fight at this stage?

KING: Well, at this stage, no. He will not give it up today. He has just filed his protest, his contest in the Florida courts. But everyone in Washington, including those close to the vice president, say a key date is Friday. Remember, it is Gov. Bush not Vice President Gore who filed the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. That case will be heard on Friday.

What the Democrats say privately here in Washington is the vice president needs to make some progress, needs to score some victories in the Florida courts, needs to have a counting under way so that the public can actually see evidence that they are counting votes and that the vice president is gaining ground or perhaps even has pulled ahead of Gov. Bush. Because once the U.S. Supreme Courts rules in this case, then the Democrats concede it will be very hard to shape public opinion to keep this fight going.

So between now and Friday, the vice president needs some victories in the courts in Florida and, most Democrats would concede, needs some evidence that, indeed, if you did count those votes, that he can and just might make up that lost ground and pull ahead of Gov. Bush.

ALLEN: And finally, John, is anyone saying privately how Al Gore is handling this? Of course we see his public face, but has he been emotional, has he been down? How did he take Katherine Harris certifying this for George Bush yesterday?

KING: The decision by Katherine Harris was expected. Most top aides would say the vice president has been pretty determined through all this, a roller coaster of emotions for both sides, Gov. Bush as well as Vice President Gore. He is very much involved in this. We don't see him much. Once or twice a day, perhaps, they allow the cameras close to him.

But he is intimately involved with Joe Lieberman at the residence, with campaign chairman Bill Daley for hours every day, conference calls with the lawyers. This a very hands-on vice president here in what obviously is a very dramatic fight and a very high-stakes fight, as he continues to fight on, believing, as we just heard him say, that he believes he's the winner of Florida and, if so, the White House. But this next week -- and we've been saying this for a while -- but this next week very critical now as he presses his new procedures, the contest in the courts of Florida.

ALLEN: Yes, we do say that every week now, don't we? But you're right, another critical week here in this election. Thank you, John King.

Now for the other side, here's Lou.

WATERS: And how is the Bush campaign handling this day after the Florida certification? The legal blizzard goes on in Florida, but in Austin, Texas, there are plans for a Bush administration.

Eileen O'Connor's in Austin.

What are they talking about today, Eileen?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're talking about looking presidential, acting presidential acting presidential and being presidential. They say that Gov. Bush has won this election several times. And he went -- left the governor's mansion early this morning on his way to the state capitol, where he went in, he met with his new chief of staff, Andrew Card. They said that they were going to be in touch with Dick Cheney in Washington, who Gov. Bush had said that he is going to put in charge of the transition.

They also said there were actually even going to be talking about cabinet appointments, basically saying that they are going to be prepared to lead. Andrew Card also said that even if the General Services Administration does not release the funds that are allotted for transition and doesn't open up an office building in Washington that's set aside for a transition, that they will have their own office buildings. But they are going to move ahead.

And as you heard Gov. Bush last night in claiming victory, in thanking the voters of Florida for those 25 electoral votes that he says gives him enough to win the presidency, the Bush campaign does not believe that that was a presumptive action. They say that these votes -- countering the Gore campaign's contention that they were never counted, they say these votes were counted; they were counted twice by machine, and that, in many cases, they were recounted manually.

And their complaint all along and continues to be is that there has to be a final solution. How many counts is there going to be? Are we going to stop counting only when the results favor Al Gore?

They also said, and they continue to say, that there were flaws in those manual recounts that gave more votes to the vice president. They say that Democratically controlled canvassing board in those counties were not counting votes, that they were casting votes by looking, as you saw, at those dimpled chads, that they were actually interpreting and divining the intent of the voters. And that is what the Bush campaign believes and that's the argument you're going to see in counter to the arguments that are presented before those Florida counts -- courts in contesting the election results.

And also they, as you heard James Baker say, they are going to go forward with the Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court case, because they believe they have to -- Lou.

WATERS: Eileen, the Bush people could set up a transition office, but they also must have some cooperation from the Clinton administration in order to get on with the transition. Has there been any contact or are there any plans for a contact between the Bush people and the Clinton administration?

O'CONNOR: Well, we've been asking that but I don't know the answer to that yet. I mean, basically we have been asking what are going to do, also, in the absence of these funds and the office building, and they basically say they are going to just go forward and work on the transition. They can get their own offices. Bush campaign headquarters are still up and running. They have been funded for the recount efforts from donations. I'm sure they believe that they could be, of course, reimbursed from government coffers once those funds are released.

Again, the Bush campaign saying that the Gore campaign's contention that these votes haven't been counted is disinformation. And also, again, they say, you know, look, we've won this three times. And that is their contention. And that's why they also believe their right to go forward with the transition because they really say, you know, Gov. Bush has to be ready to be President Bush -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Eileen O'Connor watching the Bush people in Austin, Texas. We'll be back to you, Eileen.

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