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Gore Campaign Asks Florida Supreme Court to Order Manual Count of Disputed Ballots; Legislature May Choose Florida's Electors

Aired November 29, 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, the potential recount grows potentially much larger as a court orders a million ballots from two Florida counties delivered to Tallahassee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You prepare yourself to win. You prepare yourself for the possibility that you won't win. You don't really prepare yourself for the possibility that you flip the coin in the air and it lands on its edge and you get neither outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: As the Florida legal battles trudge ahead, the Bush team in Washington says the future is now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It's been recounted. It's been certified, and we've got to get on with the business of putting together a government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Court battles, ballot convoys, and how Jeb Bush could be the one deciding whether his brother becomes the next president of the United States.

All ahead on this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY: THE FLORIDA VOTE.

Reporting now from Washington, here is Wolf Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening.

Al Gore's legal strategies to win Florida and become the next president took new turns today, in Florida's courts as well as in the Florida legislature. Among the key developments: a circuit court judge acted on a Bush team motion ordering Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties to deliver their combined 1 million election ballots to Tallahassee, not just the 14,000 disputed ballots. They'll be potential evidence in Saturday's hearing in a lawsuit brought by the Gore campaign.

The Gore legal team approved a new appeal to Florida's Supreme Court today designed to get a recount of those disputed ballots under way even more quickly.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, in Florida are considering whether to take matters into their own hands. Today, legislators debated whether they should call a special session to choose the state's electoral delegation. While the legislature has the legal right to intervene, the idea is stirring up controversy.

The story from CNN's Mike Boettcher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... proceeds to authorize.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The public was invited to give their comments to this select Florida legislative committee, and they got an earful. For two hours, they heard from mostly south Florida voters, who accused Republican legislatures of trying to rob the election.

ROGER MAGNUSON, FLORIDA SENATE COUNSEL: As my grandmother used to tell me, sometimes the best course of action is no course of action. If you sit here today and put in your personal agendas and your personal will and try to force that on the people of this great state of Florida, then you will be no better than the thieves that walk into a bank and rob that bank with a gun, you will be no better than those people who have denied us all our rights all of our lives.

BOETTCHER: Democratic Party officials openly admitted they paid to fly about 70 of the angry voters to attend the session. Most wanted to talk about voting irregularities on November 7 -- the original agenda for this legislative committee, which at the last minute changed its focus to the special session question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I served as a precinct clerk in Palm Beach County on Election Day and I myself observed numerous irregularities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want your constitutional rights to elect the electors. We want or constitutional rights to have our vote counted.

BOETTCHER: But the day ended with the attorney for the Republican-dominated Florida Senate telling lawmakers it is their constitutional duty to name Florida's presidential electors.

MAGNUSON: ... says not only is this power plenary and full and absolute, but this body has an absolute right having given that power to another method to resume that power at anytime.

BOETTCHER: And Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has kept a low profile during this entire controversy, spoke out today in favor of the legislature's right to call a special session and name Florida electors. (on camera): The special committee reconvenes at 10:00 a.m., and according to senior Republican legislative sources, will vote to recommend a special session be called.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, Tallahassee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Vice President Gore's day began included with -- began and included a business meeting with potential members of a Gore administration. He also took his case to the people by making the rounds to a number of media outlets, including our own.

CNN senior White House correspondent John King sat down with Mr. Gore this afternoon.

John, I know that you spent about a half an hour with the vice president today and you've met with him, of course, on many other occasions. Any difference today as opposed to so many other times?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he was in remarkably good spirits given the roller-coaster emotional nature of this 22-day post-election ordeal and the grueling nature of the campaign itself. The vice president said he was receiving frequent updates from his legal team, that they were confident his contest would succeed.

At the center of that legal dispute, of course, some 13-14,000 ballots that the vice president and his team insist have never been counted. Of course, Republicans disagree with that, but the Democrats say those have never been counted.

And the vice president, a bit of an edge in his voice as we discussed that issue, he said that unless those ballots are counted, he does not believe that his supporters would ever look at a President Bush as legitimate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GORE: If all of the votes are counted, that's the best way to confer legitimacy on the outcome of the election. And you know, in a close race, which by definition is usually one where the passions are running high and the feelings are very strong, it's even more important than in any other kind of race, to make sure that the outcome is one that's determined by the will of the people, by the votes cast by the people, not by politicians who have control of the election machinery, and who decide, for whatever reason, to let some votes in that are legally cast, and take other legally cast votes and exclude them.

That's wrong. And if the election is determined that way, it would, it would present a serious risk for the ability of whoever is the winner, to bring the country together.

KING: This is obviously uncharted waters, unprecedented territory. One of the things happening as the legal challenge unfolds, is the Florida legislature, controlled by Republicans is having a process of hearings now and they've been quite open about the possibility, that if you succeed, if your challenge, your contest is upheld, and if they count those votes and the courts say, "Al Gore won Florida," that they will, regardless of that, send to Washington a slate of Republican electors, directed by the state legislature to vote for Governor Bush.

What happens then?

GORE: I can't believe that the people of Florida want to see the expression of their will taken away by politicians. The people of Florida have the right to select the candidate for president that they want. If the politicians ever tried to take that away from the people, I think you'd see, I think you'd see quite a negative response to it.

KING: This has been a town in turmoil the last few years -- the impeachment debate, relations between the Clinton-Gore administration and the Republican Congress, even the impeachment debate aside, not always great. Do you see this going to the United States Congress? Do you sense how the country would deal with that?

GORE: I do not. I think this is all going to be over with by the middle of December.

KING: You were in this very room a short time ago with our running mate, Senator Lieberman...

GORE: Right.

KING: ... with Roy Neal, your long-time friend and adviser, talking transition.

GORE: Right.

KING: Where are you in that process? And you ready -- obviously, you know, the public part of that at least delayed by the contest of the election.

GORE: Right.

KING: Do you have a Cabinet in mind?

GORE: Yes.

KING: Where are you?

GORE: Yes. We -- I have made a lot of progress. Joe and I have been working very hard on it. And we've tried to keep it a private process. And I said the other night that I thought it was time for both Governor Bush and I to move forward on this process. I choose to do it in a way that doesn't put a lot of names out there. He can choose his own way of doing it. I'm not criticizing whatever approach he takes there.

But I think it's in the national interest that both of us be thorough and meticulous in preparing for the transition that's going to take place for one of us on January the 20th. And I will be ready.

KING: Your attorneys have been pushing and are now appealing to the Florida Supreme Court, to speed up the process in the contest through which the judge would bring the ballots into the court room and start looking at them, the ballots from Miami-Dade County, and well as the 3,000-plus from Palm Beach County.

There is a legal argument there, but is there not also a political argument in the sense you know what the public opinion polls say, you know it's been 22 days and we are an impatient society, how important is it to you politically, as part of that legal strategy, that the American people actually see, see they're still counting the votes; therefore this election is not over?

GORE: No, that's not a political move. I mean all of this is, of course, in part because I want to see an outcome that I will declare that Joe Lieberman and I won the election. But more important than that, really more important than that is the principle that every vote should be counted. And that's important for our country, regardless of who the winner is.

KING: What will your grandson's 8th grade history books say about this?

GORE: That the Gore-Lieberman administration was a great success, following one of the most exciting and closely fought election contests in American history.

That's what I hope it'll say.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, the vice president grimaced and then nodded, didn't want to talk much about it. When I asked him if he believed if he ultimately won this election, could he govern in Washington with a Republican Congress that believed he stole the election. He said the American people would demand that he govern effectively and demand that the Republicans cooperate with him. He didn't want to talk much about that, Wolf.

BLITZER: John, this visibility by the vice president and granting interviews, news conferences, in contrast to what Governor Bush is doing, what do they hope to achieve by all the exposure?

KING: Well, they believe that it is important that he be seen out there every day, No. 1, to explain his rationale for contesting the election, but No. 2, just the image to convince the American people that this is not over. That's why he had the transition meeting today. Governor Bush's team is going about the transition planning, trying to convince the American people he is the president- elect.

The Gore team realizing, as it presses the legal case, it could take another week or two, but they must get the vice president out there to try to convince the American people (a) this is not over, (b) please be patient, that in his view, he has a chance to succeed here. BLITZER: John King, our senior White House correspondent, thanks again for joining us. And you can see the entire interview tonight in a one-hour special on the Florida vote. That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

And next here, we'll check in on what the Bush campaign did today and hear from former Education Secretary Bill Bennett about the Florida vote. Also, how Governor Jeb Bush could wind up choosing the next president.

You're watching a special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Like the rest of the country, we sort of feel like the VCR is stuck on pause.

(LAUGHTER)

And yes, we are nervous, but we really are doing just fine, taking each day and each count ruling as it comes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Former first lady Barbara Bush. Welcome back to our special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.

As the legal challenges continue, the Bush transition team is moving full speed ahead. The Bush camp set up offices in Virginia to accelerate the search for possible Cabinet picks. One prospective appointee, General Colin Powell, is due to meet with Bush and Dick Cheney tomorrow in Texas.

Earlier tonight in an interview with CNN's Bernard Shaw, Cheney explained what's on the agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We'll be talking about the transition itself, talking about the whole area of national security policy and how best to structure an organization that will be able to move forward in this administration.

We've not yet prepared to announce any Cabinet members this week, but clearly, General Powell has been a close friend for a long time, somebody who worked very closely with us during the campaign, and we welcome and value the opportunity to spend an afternoon talking to him about this very important part of the next administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Cheney was given a clean bill of health during a routine checkup today, a week after suffering what was described as a mild heart attack. For more now on the Republican and Bush point of view, we're joined by Bill Bennett, co-director of the conservative organization Empower America.

Bill Bennett, thanks for joining us.

WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I want to get right to the key issue: If Al Gore does win this election, if they come up with the votes in Florida, would you accept his presidency as legitimate?

BENNETT: I don't think he will, Wolf. I'm not with the Bush campaign. I haven't spoken to anybody from the campaign in a long time. I don't have talking points.

He's not going to win the election. He needs to have somebody on his staff tell him the way the world is going and what the shape of reality is.

I've been in executive positions. I certainly haven't been vice president or president, but you need people not only to say, you're great and you're the best and you can win this, which I'm sure he's got in abundance. He needs to have somebody come to him and say: This is not going to happen, sir; this is too uphill a fight; we can't do it; we keep changing the rules; sir, you lost this election; you're OK now, but it's beginning to look a little ridiculous.

BLITZER: Well, in such a close election, Bill Bennett, when there's only a few hundred votes' difference and the Gore campaign keeps arguing that there are some 10,000 disputed ballots in Miami- Dade that have been counted twice by machines but have never been counted by human beings, what's wrong with taking a look at those ballots and making sure that Governor Bush is the real winner in Florida?

BENNETT: Because there is no making sure. As we've seen from this close examination of dimples, there is no making sure. There's a 2 to 1 vote among a group of canvassers or a committee or a county group.

You've heard this ad nauseam. But the problem with changing the rules is that we have abided by certain rules for a very long time. They've abided by these rules in the state of Florida. Particularly in a close race, I think it's particularly important to abide by those rules.

Now the Gore campaign was saying all day and the last couple of days, these votes have never been counted, they've never been counted. Now comes a shift in locution: They've never been counted by human hands. There's a reason they haven't been counted by human hands, because of the uncertainty in counting by human hands, the subjectivity that's introduced.

All sorts of votes all across this country were disqualified or qualified based on what a machine did and not on human hands. We cannot go back and redo this every time.

Whatever the army of lawyers says, however much they want to litigate, the conventions are what the conventions are. And I think he's at the point of beginning to look ridiculous.

I'm sure they'll persevere.

BLITZER: But on this specific point, even in Texas, as the Democrats keep pointing out, when there is a dispute with the machine- counted ballots, if it's a close election and the vote could turn, go ahead and count it by hand. That's the preference -- have strict standards to make sure that you're doing the right thing -- but go ahead and do a manual recount.

BENNETT: Surely we're not arguing -- I've heard a lot of things from lawyers in the last few weeks, but I have not heard any lawyer argue that because the law in Texas operates one way, the law in Texas governs what goes on in Florida.

Florida has pretty clear rules and pretty clear procedures. Now, they got an extension by the Florida Supreme Court, but even by that extension they could not meet the number. Now, we've got -- what? -- more than a million ballots up in Tallahassee which may be counted.

I don't think they will be counted, but if they are counted, my guess is the uncertainly will remain the same.

Somebody -- I don't know if they're there -- but somebody needs to explain to Mr. Gore that vague concepts, like the will of the people, not measured by anything tangible, like a vote in a machine (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but something that's in the subjective judgment of people who are either Republican or Democrat is too vague a concept.

The will of the people, what people in general want, not as evidenced by clear and decisive evidence of a vote, but saying, well, they voted on the ballot for Democrats all the way down, so we're going to assume that they wanted a Democrat at the top, I think all of this has been shown by analysis to be very far-fetched. And I think Al Gore has to now start thinking not about the presidency, but about some measure of credibility and respectability.

BLITZER: One quick question, final few seconds that we have, Bill Bennett: We've seen a lot of Al Gore in the past few days, a lot of Joe Lieberman, a lot of Dick Cheney, but we've seen very little except for scripted addresses from George W. Bush. Is this a mistake on his part, to sort of be invisible in these very dramatic, important days?

BENNETT: No, I don't think it is. I think it's -- I think it's just fine. We will see plenty of George Bush at the point where he is named president. We will hear a lot from him.

If he were to come forward in public, you know what kind of hectoring will take place.

I think for somebody to remain relatively silent and quiet during this is actually a relief, and compared to a lot of other people, it looks quite statesmanlike.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Bennett, thanks for joining us...

BENNETT: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... once again from Empower America. The former education secretary.

And this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many of you, during your last election cycle, would have been willing to settle for an incomplete vote count if all evidence pointed to that end? You would not accept that, and neither will the people who've been denied their rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Just how far could the legal battle over the election go on, and who might be the eventual winner?

Ron Brownstein is the national political correspondent for "The Los Angeles Times," he's also a CNN political analyst, and he joins us once again from Tallahassee.

Ron, earlier today we heard from Florida's Governor Jeb Bush on this entire matter. He hasn't been saying much publicly, but listen to what he had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Clearly this is in the courts, and if there is uncertainty, the legislature has clear, delegated authority from the U.S. Constitution to seat the electors. And, you know, I admire them for, at least on a contingency basis, accepting that responsibility and that duty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Ron, I know you've been digging deep into the Jeb Bush role in this entire affair. Tell us what you've got.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I think that's significant, what you heard there today, Wolf. Those are his most extensive comments to date, the first time he's endorsed the legal theory put out by the legislature, which says that if the electors are not seated, in effect, all disputes not resolved by December 12, that they have the right and, indeed, the responsibility to choose their own slate.

But behind the scenes, I think Jeb Bush is actually one of the cooler and calmer heads down here. And he is, from several sources that I talked to, very aware of the potential political risk, both to himself and his brother if the legislature acts preemptively -- something that's never been done in American history -- to name its own slate of electors. Now, he will do it, I believe, if it is the only way to deliver the state to his brother; but I think he would feel that any other option might be preferable.

BLITZER: Well, is there another option, if they go the legislative route, to name a separate delegation of electors to the Electoral College, is there any way he could, in effect, recuse himself and stay as far away from this decision as possible?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think in form, if not substance, though, Wolf. The legislators are talking about, perhaps, trying to do with this a concurrent resolution, which would not require a signature. But I think that would be a pretty thin fig leaf. Everybody would realize that it is his allies, the speaker of the house, who has been the driving force in this, Tom Feeney, was his running mate in his unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial bid. There's no question that, if the legislature goes ahead, it will be with the approval of Jeb Bush.

BLITZER: But you're saying that Jeb Bush is, in effect, trying to put some brakes on this entire legislative route?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think he is one of those who is, sort of, understanding that there is a cost here. The state Senate is a little more cautious than the state House in recognizing that if you go that way.

Now, here's the interesting question though, Wolf: If the state legislature moves ahead and selects its own electors and the courts authorize recounts that give the lead to Al Gore, you could end up in a situation next month where you have two sets of electors presenting themselves in Washington. Now, at that point, Congress would have to choose between them. The Republican-controlled House, presumably, would side with the Republican electors for George W. Bush. The Democratic, or the even Senate -- 50-50 -- could go for the Democratic slate if Al Gore casts the tie-breaking vote, which is what he would do.

Now, what does the law say if the House and the Senate disagree about which electors to seat? The decision reverts back to the governor of the state that sent them. So Jeb Bush, in effect, if we come down to that scenario next month, could personally name his brother as president -- talk about being your brother's keeper. I mean, he would have the ultimate authority in the case of a deadlock.

So, in that sense, Al Gore would have to knock out the Republican electors selected by the legislature in court somehow, because if they both get to Congress, Jeb Bush gets to pick the president.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, thanks again for joining us from Tallahassee. This story gets more amazing every day.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be right back with the final word. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hear what Joe Lieberman and John McCain have to say about the Florida vote at the top of hour on "LARRY KING LIVE." Also: a full wrap-up of today's developments in a special report at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. "THE SPIN ROOM" follows at 11:00.

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

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