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President Clinton Creating Transition Coordinating Council

Aired November 27, 2000 - 3:31 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We had some trouble with an audio glitch earlier when the president was speaking live from the Cabinet room, flanked by his chief of staff and defense secretary on matters of transition, taking some questions.

We have turned the tape around. We have pictures, we have audio, we have the whole deal now. So roll the videotape.

Here we go.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say, first of all, I called this Cabinet meeting in part just to thank publicly the members of this Cabinet for eight extraordinary years of service. A number of them have been with me the whole way, and for all of them I am very grateful.

The policies we have worked on together have been very good for America. They have sparked the longest economic expansion in history. Our welfare rolls were cut in half. We have crime at a 28-year low. And more land has been protected in the lower 48 states than any time since Theodore Roosevelt's administration, almost a century ago. This is a record that all of them can be proud of and only a small fraction of the record that they established.

Our country is now moving forward. In the final weeks of this administration, we are committed to maintaining a steady course. That means providing a smooth transition to the next president whether it is Vice President Gore or Governor Bush. As you know, an appropriate legal process is now under way.

That process will take at least four days to play itself out. Our job is to do what we've done for eight years now, to focus on the business at hand.

That is why I'm signing today an executive order creating a transition coordinating council. The council will provide the president-elect's team with coordinated services, especially regarding personnel matters. This action and other efforts by the Cabinet will well ensure that we are as prepared as we can possibly be for an orderly transition to the new administration.

In the meanwhile, we'll be doing what we can to get ready when Congress comes back to town in a few days.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think Governor Bush was presumptuous in declaring victory last night?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think I should comment on what he or the vice president says. There is an election challenge. Both of them are have litigation involved. There's at least one case involved in the U.S. Supreme Court. And the election challenge will play itself out.

I will say what I have said from the first day: In all this interplay, it is easy to lose what is really important, which is the integrity of the voter, every single vote.

CLINTON: On Election Day every person who voted had a vote that counted just as much as mine. And so, they have to sort that out in Florida, whose votes should be counted, can every vote be counted, if every vote can't be counted is there a good reason why they're not counting that vote?

And I think those are the things that will be resolved in this election challenge. And I think we just have to let -- both sides are very well represented and they are both have litigation, and we'll just watch it play itself out.

QUESTION: Mr. President, so you don't accept Florida's certification of George Bush as the winner?

CLINTON: It's not up to me to accept and reject. There is a legal process here. And if both of them have filed lawsuits. And the Supreme Court of Florida, when they issued their opinion a couple of days ago or a few days ago, actually anticipated a challenge. And if you read the opinion, they exclusively acknowledge that it is almost a certainty.

So, you know, let's just watch this happen. It'll be over soon, and we'll be ready for the transition.

QUESTION: Mr. President, (inaudible) was anyone on the White House staff involved in the decision by the General Services Administration to withhold transition funding from the Bush-Cheney team?

CLINTON: I was not involved in it at all. And as far as I know, no one else here was.

But there is a procedure, if you actually went back and reviewed the congressional deliberations on this legislation. And I think the General Services Administration believes that it cannot offer transition assistance to both of them, which is what I would otherwise be inclined to do. And I think they're going with what they think the law requires. But I personally -- I can't answer for anyone else in the White House, but I was personally not involved in it. I think they're trying to do what they think the law requires while this election challenge plays itself out. It won't be long now.

STAFF: Thank you.


WATERS: President Clinton speaking just a few minutes ago in the Cabinet room at the White House, saying at the end there, "It won't be long now," but treading lightly among the realities that we all know so well, and those are the legal fights now going on in Florida to resolve this situation.

The bit of news out of this is that the president is signing an executive order creating a Transition Coordinating Council, and we have White House correspondent Major Garrett with us to tell us what does a Transition Coordinating Council do, -- Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, just when you thought that you could not learn anything new or new government terms or legal terms as this process goes on, we have a new one today that I've never seen before, one that may be brand-new in the whole lexicon of presidential transitions. Essentially, as I understand it, as we understand it, it's basically a group that the president has assembled via executive order -- didn't have to ask Congress for any approval of it -- to put some folks together that can be a liaison to either Governor Bush or Vice President Gore whenever that person is declared the winner of the presidential election: give to them all the briefing materials that the various federal agencies have assembled, put together for them some space in the various agencies so they can begin the transition and move that process forward just as fast as possible.

Now, Lou, it's been very clear covering the White House the last couple of weeks the president has wanted to say almost nothing about this process, to categorize himself only as a fascinated observer. Well, Governor Bush last night pushed or nudged the president into the spotlight by asking for his help in setting up a transition.

Now, there is some law of the land as far as the administration is concerned about whether or not Governor Bush or Vice President Gore for that matter is entitled to any assistance. It's propounded in a memorandum the White House just released, authored on November 8th by White House chief of staff John Podesta.

Let me read to you the most relevant portion.

"Because of the uncertainty over election results, no president- elect has been identified to receive federal funds and assistance under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963. Until a president- elect is clearly identified, therefore, no transition assistance is, as contemplated under the Transition Act, is available."

Now, you saw the president was asked: Did you directly instruct the office that makes this determination, the General Services Administration, not to assist Governor Bush? The president said, personally, I didn't do it. For a moment, he said, I don't believe anyone on the White House staff has done it. Earlier today, White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert said no White House officials had given any instruction to the General Services Administration about how to proceed, and if you go to the GSA Web site, what it says is it's up to the director -- his name is Dave Barram -- to, quote, "ascertain," unquote, the winner of the presidential election.

That's what we know so far -- Lou.

WATERS: Major, we also know that Dick Cheney, who's been appointed by George Bush to head his transition team, is in Washington. We're expecting to hear from him in about 20 minutes or so. Do we know if Cheney has been in touch with the Clinton administration?

GARRETT: Earlier today, the White House press secretary, Jake Siewert, said there had been no conversations with any senior Clinton administration officials either from Mr. Cheney or from the newly appointed chief of staff to this presidential-elect transition in waiting, Andrew Card from Austin. So perhaps Mr. Cheney will let us know of conversations he has had, but the official word from the White House from just a few moments ago, no contacts yet -- Lou.

WATERS: All right. Major Garrett at the White House. We're expecting to carry Mr. Cheney's comments live when they happen around 4:00 p.m. Eastern. A let more news happening this day. We'll be on top of it all.

Lou Waters here at CNN Center. Now back to Bobbie and "TALKBACK LIVE."



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