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Vice President Contests Certification of George W. Bush as Florida Victor

Aired November 27, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, as the Bush campaign plans a transition...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We believe it is time to get on with the business of organizing the new administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: ... the Gore campaign heads back to court, arguing election 2000 is not a done deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is about the principle, but there are more than enough votes to change the outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: As recounts give way to more lawsuits, we examine the political strategy of winning public opinion with a House Democrat, a Senate Republican, and a former Clinton Cabinet member, who wonders aloud whether it's time for Gore to give up the fight.

It's all ahead on this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY: "The Florida Vote."

Reporting now from Washington, here's Wolf Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. George W. Bush today moved quickly to solidify his status as the certified winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes, and therefore, of the White House. But Al Gore refused to step aside, instead mounting a legal and public relations offensive. One element of that: a nationwide address within the hour.

CNN, of course, will bring that to you live when it happens.

Among today's developments: Gore campaign lawyers filed suit in Florida state court, challenging the official vote totals in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Nassau counties. The Gore camp contends the manual recount in Palm Beach County gave him an additional 215 votes, a recount rejected by state officials because it missed yesterday's 5:00 p.m. deadline. Also in Palm Beach, Democrats say about 4,000 ballots went uncounted because there was a dimple but no puncture. Gore claims there's a net of 800 votes for him right there.

Gore says a 20 percent hand recount in Miami-Dade county netted him 160 more votes. Miami-Dade decided to junk its recount because it couldn't meet the deadline.

In Nassau County, Gore wants the court to reverse a tally that gave Bush 50 extra votes. Gore says the tally was from election night and not from a later recount. Also, Florida's Supreme Court asked for briefs by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow. At issue, a voters' suit on that controversial butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County.

On the political front, Democratic House and Senate leaders flew to Florida for a public show of support on behalf of Al Gore. Governor Bush, meantime, held meetings with Andrew Card, the man who would become the Bush White House chief of staff. Running mate Dick Cheney held a news conference here in Washington on the Bush transition, saying the Bush team will pay transition expenses with private money until public funds are made available. The federal government so far is making no transition funds available until the results are clear.

Let's bring in our correspondents covering these two campaigns: John King is here in Washington and Candy Crowley is in Austin.

John, you cover Al Gore. Tell us -- give us a little preview of what we can expect to hear from him later this hour.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the speech will run just shy of five minutes. In it, the vice president will insist to the American people that he is not asking for another recount as the Republicans say, but he will make the case that he's asking simply for a count of about 13,000 votes that he makes the case have never been counted in the first place: that a key distinction. The vice president will try to say all he wants is a full and fair accurate count of Florida's results, and he will ask the American people to support his legal dispute going on for another week or so.

The vice president previewed this strategy a bit earlier today in that conference call you mentioned with key Democratic leaders, the House and Senate Democratic leaders, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, dispatched to Florida in a show solidarity with the vice president. Mr. Gore with Joseph Lieberman at his side telling them on a telephone call his legal challenge here is, No. 1, he said, guided by the principle that every vote should be counted. But he also made clear that he believes if the votes are counted the way he would like them counted, that he believes he would be the next president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm also very encouraged by what you said at the outset, that from your perspective there on the ground in Florida, if every vote is counted, that are easily more than enough to change the outcome and -- and -- and decide the election in our favor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All this -- that conference call, tonight's speech -- part of a Democratic public relations campaign urged -- aimed at urging the American people to stay with the vice president. The Democrats obviously concerned that with every day, every announcement from the Bush campaign that he is planning a transition, that the American people will grow tired of this and want this all over, even if they support the vice president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, stand by. I want to bring in Candy Crowley in Austin. She's covering the Bush campaign.

Candy, it looks like Governor Bush is dealing with all of this by simply moving full speed ahead with his transition plans.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and that is the message. If there is a single message out of the Bush team here in Austin and in Washington in the person of Dick Cheney it is it's over, the election is over, and we're moving forward.

Today, the governor was seen in public but not heard. It was Dick Cheney who took that message to the public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: 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 reigns of government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The same message that it's over and Al Gore should concede, something that Governor Bush suggested last night when he addressed the nation, is also being carried forward by a number of Republicans who have been on the TV and talking journalists, saying it's time for Al Gore to concede. What they're trying to do here, of course, is to build this snowball and to keep it moving.

What they believe here is that time really is on their side at this point, that each day this goes on, they lose even more of the public that is growing increasingly tired of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley in Austin and John King in Washington, covering these two campaigns, thanks again for joining us.

In a split with most of his fellow Democrats, former Clinton Cabinet member Robert Reich today went public with some concerns about Al Gore's legal strategies. Robert Reich joins us now from Boston.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us on THE WORLD TODAY. And you said earlier this morning that you did have what you called some "grave concerns" about whether Al Gore should pursue his legal challenge to this vote in Florida. Explain to us why you have these concerns.

ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: Well, Wolf, first of all, those concerns are a little bit moot right now, because the vice president is pursuing the contest. I guess I'm worried and still I do worry a little bit that positions are hardening on all sides. The strident tones are becoming even more strident. Partisanship is rearing its head. People are becoming on all sides a little bit less reasonable, a little bit more ideological.

The longer this drags on, the more cynical the public becomes about our governmental processes and the more difficult it's going to be to actually form a government ultimately.

Now, again, another week is not going to hurt. I think if Al Gore expedites this particular contest, if he makes sure that his filings are quick and that the other side files as rapidly as possible, maybe we can get it over with in about a week. But remember, we do have only 15 days left before those electors have to be certified in Florida. They have to be selected for the final presidential electoral count. Only 15 days, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, but Mr. Secretary, most of -- almost all of the other, your fellow Democrats point out that if Al Gore won almost 300,000 more votes in a popular level and he's only behind by a few hundred votes in Florida, doesn't he owe it to his supporters to use every legal challenge to make sure that the right person won in Florida?

REICH: Wolf, I'm sure that Al Gore owes it to all his supporters to do whatever he possibly can, and I'm not suggesting he shouldn't do that. But I do think that the longer this drags on, the more difficult it becomes, not only for him, but also there is a national toll, a national interest at stake here.

And again, if you add up the number of days, the filing and then the discovery phase and then the trial phase, and then at the end of all of that, you still have to get a remedy. And how are you going to get the recounts in four or five or six days before those electors have to be finally selected?

In the meantime, again partisan -- the rhetoric increases.

I guess I'm also worried, frankly, about this just cycling out of control. You're getting the possibility of two different electoral contingents showing up on December 12th, the House of Representatives getting involved, very divisive constitutional issues cropping up.

BLITZER: Robert Reich, but you know, you're going way out on a limb as far as most of your Democratic colleagues are concerned. How does it feel to be in effect, at least for right now, isolated in the Democratic Party with your strong views?

REICH: Wolf, I've been isolated many times before. Look, I think Al Gore would make, in terms of my values, a far, far better president than George W. Bush, and I campaigned very hard for Al Gore. But at some point, at some point, this does have to come to an end. And at some point, we all have to be very mindful of the effect that this could have on the country.

I don't think we're in a crisis yet. I think that we can go through a contest right now. I think there are a lot of Democrats who are quietly saying to themselves that we do need to be very careful in trying to do this as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: All right, Robert Reich, the former labor secretary, the first term of the Clinton administration, now a professor at Brandeis University. Thank you once again for joining us on THE WORLD TODAY.

REICH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, more on the Democrats' support for Al Gore. We'll talk with New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, and don't forget Al Gore's address later this hour. This is a special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for Gore, but I think we've taken this thing way too far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Welcome back. In a show of Democratic solidarity, New York Representative Charlie Rangel traveled to Tallahassee today to defend the vice president's challenge to the vote certification. Joining me now from Florida is the representative himself, Charles Rangel. Thanks for joining us, Congressman Rangel.

You just heard your old friend Robert Reich say, you know, it may be time to throw in the towel and move on, given what's at stake for the country.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (R), NEW YORK: That is so unlike Bob Reich. I heard him and was really surprised. First of all, I've been with Democratic caucuses in the House and in the Senate, and we truly believe in the rule of law. The whole idea that the American people are sick and tired of the rule of law and that because Gore was playing against a stacked deck in Miami that he ought to pick up his marbles and go home is not right for the Constitution, it's not right for people who want their vote counted.

And I don't -- and we do have time. It's not a crisis. We have a president, a vice president, and the issues are in court. So why in god's name would anyone want to say that Bush can go to Austin and coronate himself, and we Democrats ought to, after we got beaten on by the boards and by the secretary of state, that we should just accept it? BLITZER: You know, Congressman Rangel, there aren't many Democrats who are speaking like Robert Reich, but one in Indiana, a colleague of yours, Congresswoman Julia Carson, she was quoted as saying -- and our Frank Sesno, our Washington bureau chief, spoke to her earlier today -- as saying that the country is battle-torn and perhaps Gore shouldn't go through with this fight. Strong words from Julia Carson, whom you know quite well.

RANGEL: The country -- the country is battle-torn, but Bush doesn't help it by saying that he's been declared the president, and so therefore we ought to roll over and just endorse him. There is -- there are court cases, one of which Governor Bush brought himself.

And the whole idea that you can find one or two Democrats, and then all of a sudden we're deserting the vice president is absolutely ridiculous.

It is true that the Republicans have decided it's now or never. and I've never seen the type of tactics used, even by Democrats, in terms of what they did at the polling centers, what they did at the vote count. And now all of a sudden everyone is saying, while we're waiting for the courts to decide whether we can get a fair count -- not a recount, but just those people who voted to have their votes count -- that all of a sudden this is un-American.

I'd like to add, too, you and I know that if the votes were the other way and we knew that Gore had those votes counted, that Katherine Harris would never have certified Gore. She was there just to certify Bush, and she waited and she did it, and it was a bad count, and the whole world knows it.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Rangel, stand by. We have to take a quick break. You'll be back, but on deck as well, Republican Senator Arlen Specter. CNN's live coverage of the Florida vote continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should continue. I mean, I think what he's doing and the reasons that he's doing it are the right thing to do. It's making it a long process, but I rather have it done right than done fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're standing by, awaiting Al Gore's speech to the nation later this hour. The vice president will explain his legal challenges to the Florida vote counts and the certification.

But first, let's return to our discussion with Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York.

Congressman Rangel, one thing that Bob Reich did say was end it with the Florida Supreme Court as far as the Gore legal challenges are concerned. Don't look to try to sway electors or for other problems in the House of representatives or in the Senate, others challenges. Is that a fair way to resolve it, with the Florida Supreme Court?

RANGEL: Yes, but you have to remember, Wolf, that we have a United States Supreme Court decision out there that's outstanding. And if you listen to Cheney and to Bush, they're saying to walk away from the Florida Supreme Court. I mean, we're talking about the rule of law as they're going to review whether or not legal votes were ignored. And so the whole idea of just walking away and giving up because he's swearing himself in, in Austin doesn't make any sense.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel, congressman from New York, thanks for joining us once again on THE WORLD TODAY.

RANGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Always good to have you on our program.

Let's now get a...

RANGEL: Good to be back.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Let's get a view from the Republican side of the aisle. I'm joined here in Washington by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who himself is just back from Florida.

Welcome back from Florida, Senator Specter.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Nice being with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: You heard Charlie Rangel and Al Gore's other supporters make the case, count the votes.

Are you comfortable with the possibility that George W. Bush could become president based on a few hundred votes that could swing either way depending on further recounts?

SPECTER: Wolf, when they say the votes haven't been counted that's simply not factually correct. The votes have been counted, they have been counted twice. They've been counted by machines. But when they want to go back and have a hand count and take a look at all the chads and all of the dimples, that's an interminable process.

Robert Reich is saying openly...

BLITZER: Yes, well, let me just interrupt -- Senator Specter, let me interrupt for a second though.

On that issue of what Gore says and his lawyers say, that some votes haven't been counted, they are specifically referring to those 10,000 votes in Miami-Dade County that didn't register when the machine sought to count them. They didn't show up with the vote and as a result you want to take a look by hand to see if maybe the machines made a mistake.

SPECTER: Well, Wolf, they were counted. They were counted and they were recounted, but they didn't register because there weren't appropriate perforations made. And the Florida Supreme Court gave Vice President Gore a very liberal ruling, and then the Dade County officials decided not to have a recount and the vice president then asked the Florida Supreme Court for an order directing Dade County to go through and have a hand count and recount them again, a third time, and the Florida state Supreme Court, which has been very good to the vice president, refused to do so.

So it is not true when they say the votes haven't been counted; they have been.

BLITZER: What about those few hundred votes, those 400 votes that they point to in Miami-Dade, in Palm Beach County, in Nassau County, which they say could help Al Gore maybe not enough, but were counted but were not necessarily accepted by the secretary of state of Florida?

SPECTER: Well, they had to have a cut-off time. The Supreme Court of Florida gave them a very extended time to go back there until Sunday at 5:00, and Sunday at 5:00 came and they had run out of time.

BLITZER: What would have been the problem if another couple hours Palm Beach County could have been completed?

SPECTER: Well, the issue arises as to how many couple of hours you're going to add on. Originally, the time was 5:00 on the 14th of November. Then the state Supreme Court extended the time to 5:00 on the 26th of November. There has to be a line drawn somewhere. But even if you count those votes, it doesn't change the outcome, and an indispensable factor in having a successful court appeal is to show that if there is a change it will affect the outcome and that showing has not been made.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Specter stand by. I want to get right back to you.

We have to take another quick break. A reminder -- we're about to look at the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory here in Washington -- Al Gore will address the nation later this hour. CNN, of course, will bring that address to you live. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how many times Mr. Bush has to win the election in order for someone to finally say it's over, but in fact it's over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's continue our discussion with Senator Arlen Specter on the Florida vote. Senator Specter, the Florida Supreme Court seemed to put their schedule forward, that 5:00 p.m. deadline Sunday, and in effect invite either side to challenge the process, that's why they came up with that early deadline.

What's wrong with Al Gore challenging the certification if it's a legal process that's built into the system?

SPECTER: Well, Wolf, at this point I don't think he has anyplace to go. It's going to be very lengthy, it could take a long time. Robert Reich said if he can get it done in a week that would be OK -- well, that's wishful thinking. There is not going to be a trial, they're going to have to make a factual determination. They are really not equipped to make the change here. What is the remedy to be?

I want to come back to Robert Reich. I think that Robert Reich had the courage to say publicly what a lot of Democrats are saying privately. There are quite a number of my colleagues in the Senate on the Democratic side of the aisle who aren't so happy about what's going on, and I think you're going to see some slippage. Right now, they're imposing party loyalty in a pretty effective way, but I think that dam is likely to break and break fairly quickly.

BLITZER: All right, we will soon find out. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, thanks for joining us on your return from Florida.

SPECTER: Nice to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And CNN, of course, has been staying in touch with members of both parties on Capitol Hill throughout this day, as well as many party pollsters and handlers.

Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno joins us now with what he senses is the latest gauge of support for these legal proceedings.

Frank, tell us what's going on behind the scenes.

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the Democrats first and what Arlen Specter was just saying. He senses that the dam is about to break. Well, for now, the dam is holding, though the water pressure clearly is building behind it. What I'm told is that most Democrats -- and I've talked to a number of them today -- still support this challenge, but they understand and they say quite openly that time is of the essence.

As one person put it, support is dwindling every day. That subject came up, Wolf, in a 2:00 conference call this afternoon between the managers of the Gore campaign and about 50 congressional Democrats, and they were told by the campaign that the campaign understands that time is the enemy, and so they are pushing this legal action just as aggressively as they possibly can. You mentioned that I spoke earlier today with Julia Carson -- I did indeed -- she says she still thinks that Gore is the winner -- she's the Democrat, she's broken ranks, she's from Indianapolis -- she says she still thinks Gore is the winner, should be the winner, but she says enough of this. So far, she's a lone voice, at least publicly as an elected representative.

BLITZER: Frank Sesno, our Washington bureau chief, thanks for joining us.

We want to give you a quick "MONEYLINE" update. Retail stocks helped push the Dow higher on Wall Street today. At the closing bell, the Dow industrials climbed 75 points to end at 10546. Among the biggest gainers, retail giants Wal-Mart and Home Depot. On the Nasdaq, the tech-heavy composite fell 23 points to 2880, after jumping nearly 100 points in early trading.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: That's all the time we have for this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY. A reminder: we're waiting for Al Gore to address the nation from his residence, seen here, at 8:55 this evening, 25 minutes or so from now. We'll bring it to you live.

And stick around afterwards for "LARRY KING LIVE" at 9:00 Eastern, a CNN special report at 10:00, and "THE SPIN ROOM" at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

For now, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Greta Van Susteren picks up our coverage with a special report that begins right now.

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