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Cheney Discusses the Bush Team's Transition Plans

Aired November 27, 2000 - 4:02 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's a contest of wills and the battlegrounds are courtrooms. The counting is done, the votes certified.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now the candidates try to win their cases and the presidency.

It is 4:00 p.m. on the East Coast, 1:00 p.m. in the West this Monday, November 27th.

WATERS: And from CNN Center in Atlanta, this is a special edition on the Florida vote. I'm Lou Waters.

ALLEN: And I'm Natalie Allen.

WATERS: Here's what's happening: Vice President Gore is challenging Governor Bush's razor-thin win in Florida. Bush's certified margin of victory just 537 votes. Gore's attorneys contend the certified vote tally includes some "illegal votes" while excluding some legal ones. This hour, a Tallahassee court takes up Gore's challenge of the vote tally in three counties: Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Nassau. And in Washington this hour, Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney speaks publicly on this contested election.

ALLEN: We have a view now of the podium where he will talk to any moment now and make a statement about the transition, if there is to be a transition. Apparently, he's been trying to get the keys to a transition office, but they haven't been handed over yet by the current administration.

And here's Secretary Cheney.


I'm here today in my capacity, announced last night by Governor Bush, as chairman of the Bush-Cheney transition team.

Traditionally, the day after the election GSA provides keys to the transition office and funds appropriated by the Congress for a new administration to begin the transition process. Because of the closeness of the election this year and the situation in Florida, that clearly was not the case this time, and we understood the reasons for that, given the fact that a recount was under way under Florida law. Now that the election results in Florida have been certified, in accordance with Florida state law and rulings by the Florida Supreme Court, we believe it is time to get on with the business of organizing the new administration.

We were disappointed, therefore, when the General Services Administration announced that they will continue to deny us access to taxpayer funds that are specifically appropriated by the Congress and set aside to pay for the transition.

This is regrettable, because we believe the government has an obligation to honor the certified results of the election. Despite the decision, we feel it is our obligation to the American people to honor their votes by moving forward and assembling the administration that they've chosen in this election.

Therefore, at the direction of Governor Bush, we will proceed, drawing on other sources.

The Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended in 1988, specifically authorizes public funds for transitions, but also makes provision for raising private money and contributions from private sources to supplement the public funds needed to defray the transition-related expenses.

This has been done previously, most recently in 1992 by the Clinton-Gore transition. We plan to follow a similar practice now.

We will file as a Texas non-profit corporation and seek 501(c)(4) status from the Internal Revenue Service and then begin operating with the funds raised accordingly.

The act specifically permits receiving both direct and in-kind contributions from individuals, from corporations and from political action committees. We will accept individual contributions within the limits specified by the statute of $5,000. And I want to emphasize individual contributions.

We will not accept contributions from corporations or from political action committees. Any goods and services that we receive from corporations will be paid for at fair market value out of transition foundation funds.

On behalf of Governor Bush, I am also announcing today that Clay Johnson, currently serving as Governor Bush's chief of staff in Austin and formally his appointment secretary, will become the executive director of the transition; that's Clay Johnson. And Ari Fleischer, who many of you know as the campaign spokesman, will be coming to Washington to serve as the press spokesman for the transition.

We will have a number of announcements, obviously, in subsequent days and we'll try to get as much information to the press as quickly as possible, with respect of office space locations, phone numbers, additional personnel, et cetera.

One of the important considerations that has not received attention, because of all the focus on the Florida circumstances in recent weeks, has been the fact that virtually nothing has happened publicly from the standpoint of the transition. While we've able to do some internal planning among ourselves, we've been able to do very little by way of actually beginning the process of working to put in place the new administration.

There's been a tendency, I think, for many people to believe that there is, quote, "plenty of time" before we begin to pay any kind of a price for the delay in certifying a winner in the Florida election. That may be true if one looks only at the timetable for the Electoral College, but we will pay a heavy price for the delays in planning and assembling the next administration.

I personally have previously participated in some five transitions, stretching back to 1969, in various capacities, at the White House, in federal agencies, and the Cabinet, department and agency level as well.

These days of transition before a president-elect takes the oath of office are of great importance. The quality of a transition has a direct bearing on the quality of the administration that follows it, a direct bearing on the quality of the people that are recruited to serve in an administration. The transition affects the quality of planning, the building of relationships between the administration and the Congress, the capacity of a new administration to develop and execute a legislative program, and even the ability of the new team to deal with that first crisis when it arises, as it inevitably will.

Under normal circumstances, we have approximately 10 weeks to get ready to assume the responsibility for governing after an election. Given the enormous complexity of interviewing, recruiting and confirming hundreds of senior officials, most administrations in recent years have not been fully staffed and organized until well into their first year in office. This year, because of admittedly unusual circumstances, we have already used up nearly three weeks, or roughly 30 percent of the original time available for a transition.

For all of those reasons, we believe it is absolutely essential for us to get on with the business of a transition. Indeed, it would be irresponsible for us not to move as rapidly as possible to carry out these responsibilities.

One final point. As Jim Baker made clear yesterday, Governor Bush and I prevailed at each step of the election process in Florida.

Now we have been officially certified in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida the winners of the state's 25 electoral votes.

Every vote in Florida has been counted. Every vote in Florida has been recounted. Some have been counted three times. Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman are apparently still unwilling to accept the outcome. That is unfortunate in light of the penalty that may have to be paid at some future date if the next administration is not allowed to prepare to take the reins of government.

We find ourselves in a unique and totally unprecedented position. Never before in American history has a presidential candidate gone to court to try to change the outcome of an already certified presidential election. But whatever the vice president's decision, it does not change our obligation to prepare to govern the nation.

I'd be happy to take a few questions.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how far are you ready to go with this unofficial transition, and you consider it that at this point, you may not consider it quite official?

QUESTION: Are you and Governor Bush going to be naming any Cabinet secretaries at any point, soon?

CHENEY: I expect we will be selecting Cabinet secretaries. We've already spent a lot of time talking about that between ourselves and together with Mr. Johnson, who's been doing some transition work during the campaign, as well as Andy Card and others.

I don't know that we will announce anybody. I wouldn't want to forecast that. I wouldn't foreclose it. It's conceivable that we might, during this period of time, actually go forward and announce one or more Cabinet members. I wouldn't want to be bound today, but clearly our preference, hopefully, is to get access eventually to the GSA funds and to be permitted to begin a transition that includes public as well as private support.

But we have to get onto the business now of beginning to talk to people about possibly joining the administration, sourcing others for their ideas and thoughts on who might be willing to serve, beginning the process of preparing people to go through the full-field investigations, the FBI requires; the complete financial disclosure that's required by the Office of Government Ethics; preparation for the confirmation process in the United States Senate.

And of course, all of this has to happen in the middle of the holiday season. And, as I say, 30 percent of the time ordinarily available is already gone.

So, you know, we are -- I'm announcing today, at the direction of the governor, that we are going to get on with the business of the transition just as rapidly as we can, although as I say, it'll be awhile before we can make any announcements.


QUESTION: Since you haven't felt like you yet announced Cabinet nominees, has Governor Bush had time yet to make some decisions on Cabinet nominees? And how far has he gotten in terms of private decisions?

CHENEY: I simply, at this point, want to say that we have had extensive conversations and discussions. A practice that I followed over the years in working with other presidents I have known is not to discuss what I discuss with them or what the status of their thinking is.

When he has announcements to make, he'll make them.

In the meantime, clearly this is a subject that we'll be spending a lot of time -- and have already spent a lot of time on, but I wouldn't want to characterize that state of this deliberations at this point.

Yes, sir?


QUESTION: ... possible Cabinet nominees, will the nature of those people be more moderate because things are so close in the Senate and the election itself was so close? Will you take less of a risk on your nominees?

CHENEY: The governor is interested in getting the very best people we can to serve in those positions in the Cabinet and sub- Cabinet positions. He's interested very much in having a wide variety in terms of backgrounds and experience. I think diversity will be an important consideration, as well as other considerations that ordinarily go into putting together a Cabinet.

Certainly the questions of policy, legislative agenda, relationships with the Congress, all of those are likely to be influenced by the fact that this has been a very close election, that the nation is, if anything, evenly divided, if you will. We're certainly cognizant of that, and I would expect that the decisions the governor makes will certainly take those considerations into account.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?

CHENEY: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: On the question of the FBI, this is a long process that you need to go through, months and months. If the FBI is not consenting, at this point, to start reviewing nominees for offices, does that, essentially, delay this effort that much longer? The question is what it is, exactly, you can accomplish with this sort of pre-transition that you're talking about.

CHENEY: Well, I -- without question, you know, what we would like to see today is that the administration would be thoroughly supportive of our needs to get on with the business of assembling an administration. That means financial support from the funds appropriated by the Congress, office space, GSA support, access to the various agencies that are involved, as well as the full cooperation of organizations like the FBI that have to do full-field investigations. That's not situation we find today.

There is a lot of preliminary work that can be done, once we can begin to interact with prospective administration officials, once we can recruit people and get them to agree to sign on as part of the administration. There's a lot of preliminary work that can be done in terms of getting them to assemble all of the information that's required.

My recollection is, for full-field FBI investigations, and I think I've been through about three of them, you have to go back and assemble a list of every place you've ever lived in your entire life.

There's a lot of information that people need to be able to produce and prepare. We know what that is. We can assemble, for example, packages of the kinds of things that are going to be required for background investigations, financial disclosure, what the requirements are of the Office of Government Ethics. And even though we cannot actually initiate action by those federal agencies yet, we can do everything short of that, in terms of getting people ready to go through the process.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, have you been using campaign funds to finance the travel, housing and food of those people who were protesting outside the courtroom?

CHENEY: I don't have any idea. You ought to direct that question to Austin. I really don't have any idea. I didn't come here today to talk about Florida. But I'd direct that question either to the folks in Florida or Austin.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you called the national evenly divided, but now for the first time in 46 years, it'll be Republicans in the White House, Senate and House. Will you take this opportunity to govern conservatively?

CHENEY: I think I've already addressed that question. I think the governor will, at the appropriate point, lay out a course of action.

There'll be a State of the Union speech, an Inaugural Address, revisions to the budget, all of those things that encapsulate the basic thrust and focus of his administration. Those are announcements that he'll make.


QUESTION: You're assembling the transition team and the administration, why then continue with the Supreme Court case on Friday?

CHENEY: We're continuing with the case primarily because we feel that we have no option, given the fact that our opponents, Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman, are continuing to challenge the results in Florida.

QUESTION: Have you personally spoken to anybody in the Clinton administration today about the kind of things you talked about today in wanting to go forward? CHENEY: I have not. I took the announcement from GSA that they did not yet want to provide support, that they made publicly, as definitive. I know that Andy Card has placed a call to Mr. Podesta at the White House. I don't believe it's been returned yet. It hadn't before I came out here.

I'll do one more question.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there a certain level of frustration within your campaign because you are not able to use the appropriated funds or unable to get the use of them?

CHENEY: Is there a certain level of frustration in the campaign? You know, these are unprecedented circumstances. There is no experience that I've had that I've been through this, and I've been through some strange circumstances. I worked for Gerry Ford when we took over the White House as Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. That was a strange transition.

There's never been anything like this, at least not in recent memory, and I think the governor's been very clear in terms of what he expects out of those of us involved in the transition. He wants it to be as professional as we can make it. We want to make certain that we do absolutely everything we can to stand up the organization and have it in place to take over on January 21.

But he's also emphasized, as he has in public comments, that -- as he did last night I thought very eloquently in his remarks, that this is a time, given the closeness of the election and our responsibilities, a nearly evenly divided Congress, that we really do need to reach out to people from all walks of life and from every political faith, Republican and Democrat alike, to find principles we can agree upon, programs that we can develop and support mutually together, and I think that'll be very much a part of our effort.

To say this is a time of frustration -- I frankly feel privileged just to be here, just to be a part of it. I have an opportunity to serve with Governor Bush, to return to government after I'd left it some eight years ago. And now, to have been through what has to have been one of the closest elections in history -- I've got a lot of good friends on the other side of the aisle, and one of the things I hope to be able to contribute to the administration is the opportunity to help work with some of my Democratic friends that I served with previously in the Congress, and Joe Lieberman and Al Gore and others, to put all this together again so that we can get on with the business of the nation. I think that's a very important consideration.

So I don't think of it in terms of frustration. There's a whale of a lot of work to do, and we've got to get started.

Thank you all very much.

ALLEN: Dick Cheney speaking to us, the country, live from the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., expressing frustration. He is chairman of the Bush transition team, but he's having trouble transitioning, and he puts the blame squarely on Al Gore's shoulders for continuing the legal fight in Florida.

Because of the legal challenges that continue, the Bush-Cheney team has not been given the keys to the transition offices, have not been given public funds that are available to help in the transition from administration to administration, and to announce that they would continue on using private sources to try to get some transition going.

He was also asked if they want to keep going, why continue with the United States Supreme Court case? He said, we don't have an option there, because the Gore team is continuing to challenge in Florida.

Now to CNN's Eileen O'Connor, who is in Austin, Texas.

Eileen, clearly Dick Cheney wanting to move on but expressing that he and George W. Bush cannot at this point.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think also a really important message here, Natalie, is that they believe they have the right to move on. And that's one of the things that they are hammering home; that they have prevailed. And that although they understood when manual recounts were going on, that now these are the results that were certified in Florida, giving Governor George W. Bush 25 electoral votes of Florida and thus making him, they say, the president-elect.

Now they also believe that by hammering home this point you're also hammering home to the public it's a lot different what the vice president is doing in contesting the election and not protesting the original counts. They are saying, and he pointed out, that it was unique in American history that a candidate has gone to court to change the results of a certified election.

Now that's no mistake, those kinds of words. They are basically words to imply that what the vice president is trying to do is to take away the presidency from Governor George W. Bush.

They know that they have to attack two pillars of support for the vice president's efforts in contesting the election, one public opinion, two Democrats on Capitol Hill. They believe as public opinion erodes, so will that important Democratic support on Capitol Hill.

Other points of course, too, the transition itself. They say they would be irresponsible if they did not move forward. He is in a much worse situation than the vice president, because the entire executive branch has to be replaced. That's about 600 jobs that have to be confirmed by the Senate and some 3,000 jobs in an administration that the Republicans would want to replace.

Another interesting point is reaching out across the aisle. Republican strategists are saying that's very important that Governor Bush has to look like he is willing to be that compassionate conservative that he's been saying and possibly even, he implied, include a few Democrats in this Cabinet. That was an implication perhaps by those words by Dick Cheney -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes, he said that that's something they've been talking about. Maybe we'll hear more about that as the saga plays out. Eileen O'Connor in Austin.

Now for more, here's Lou.

WATERS: And while Gore attorneys wrangle in court in Tallahassee, the vice president rallies the Democratic troops in Washington and elsewhere.

CNN's senior White House correspondent John King joins us now from Washington with news from the Gore camp.

What's new, John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, obviously the vice president's challenge now is to convince the American people that this is worth waiting a little bit longer for, that he is well within his rights in contesting the election in the state of Florida and that he is not wasting the country's time. The vice president making the case today that he believes some 15,000 ballots or so have never been counted.

You hear the Republicans saying the vice president wants to keep recounting the votes, he's making the case that there are some ballots, especially 10,700 from Miami-Dade County, that have never been counted in the first place. On a conference call with Democratic leaders today, the vice president speaking to them, but more importantly to the American people, making the case that he believes if all the votes are counted that he will ultimately win.


ALBERT A. GORE JR., VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This really is about the larger principle that I outlined, but I want you to know that I, on a personal basis, I'm also very encouraged by what you said at the outset...


GORE: ... that from your perspective there on the ground in Florida, if every vote is counted, there are easily more than enough to change the outcome and decide the election in our favor. It's about the principle, but there are more than enough votes to change the outcome. And that's an important factor as well.


KING: Now a critical hearing on the Gore legal challenge in the state of Florida this afternoon. The vice president believes all this could take just a week or two more. His appeal for patience from the American people will be delivered in person tonight, a nationally television address from the vice president, 8:55 this evening, his way of making the case that this isn't over just yet. John King, CNN, reporting live from Washington.



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