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Lieberman Criticizes Florida Legislature Actions

Aired November 30, 2000 - 1:00 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin today taking you straight to the White House live for Senator Lieberman.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be here.

I wanted to make a comment on one aspect of the continuing developments in Florida which really does trouble me, and then I'll be glad to try to answer a couple of questions if you'd like. I am very disappointed and disturbed about the continuing movement by the Florida legislature, now encouraged by Governor Jeb Bush, to consider choosing their own slate of electors after almost six million people in Florida voted on Election Day.

We all know, of course, it was an extremely close election. That is the subject of the court deliberations that are going on now. There is a process that the Florida Supreme Court has established, which we are involved in, which is all aimed at having a decision here which will legitimately produce electors from Florida in time for those electors to participate in the Electoral College vote.

And for the Republican majority in the Florida legislature, now unfortunately encouraged by Governor Jeb Bush, to say that they are prepared to put their judgment in place of the judgment of the six million voters of Florida, as it is expressed in a process that has been ordained by the highest court of Florida, is just wrong and sets a terrible precedent.

Because I do think it invites in future elections legislatures in a state that are controlled by a party other than the party of the presidential candidate that has carried that state to look for a reason to overturn the will of the people as expressed in the election and to replace the electors chosen by the people with their own slate of electors.

I'm not speaking this afternoon as a lawyer, but I've taken a quick look at the federal statute that the Florida legislature seems to be basing its action on, and I just don't think it contemplated this kind of situation.

I think what is contemplated is a very unusual circumstance, hard to imagine, where there might be no electors chosen by a given state on the date set as the Election Day. And then the legislature of a state is authorized by federal statute to come up with a new way to select electors, so that the state will not be unrepresented in the Electoral College.

Now that is not what has happened in Florida this year. And I do think this action by the Florida legislature really threatens the credibility and legitimacy of the ultimate choice of electors in Florida. It threatens to put us into a constitutional crisis, which we are not in now by any stretch of the word. And I just want to appeal to Governor Jeb Bush and the members of the Florida legislature to reconsider this action.

We know there's a lot of emotion swirling around the election and the results in Florida, but we're talking here about the integrity of the selection of a president of the United States. We're talking about history and the precedent that everything we do this year will set for those who follow us in years ahead. I just think it would be a terrible mistake for our country if the Florida legislature and Governor Bush went ahead and did what they said they're going to do. And I hope they'll reconsider.

QUESTION: Senator, what evidence do you have that Governor Bush is encouraging this? He has said that he would sign the legislation (OFF-MIKE)

LIEBERMAN: Let me just say that I thought that Governor Bush -- Governor Jeb Bush -- under the circumstances did the right thing and set a very strong precedent for his own action in this case when he recused himself as a member of the statewide board that considers and certifies the results of the election in Florida.

And therefore, I was surprised, and I base all this on a statement that I have read and saw repeated on television in which the governor -- I forgot the exact words -- but praised those who were considering taking this action in the Florida legislature to choose an alternative set of electors, and apparently indicated that he would sign the bill. He's the governor, and I hope that he will act in a way that will not put us into the kind of constitutional crisis that in this very unusual, unprecedented time in American history we have avoided.

And I hope we can continue to avoid it.

Again, Vice President Gore and I are only asking that the votes that were cast on Election Day be counted. And when that is done, regardless of the outcome, this will be over.

QUESTION: When you say, according to your reading of the statute, if the Florida legislature acts after December 12 there is no problem. Why would it be a crisis if they did act after the 12th? And how can you be certain now that this won't be resolved before the 12th, and there may not be a slate of electors?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I would say that we are on a course here, which is ordained by Florida law, and in accord with the decision of Florida's highest court, the Florida Supreme Court, which in my opinion, will produce a result in the Florida election and will produce a group of electors that will be legitimately chosen. And to threaten this kind of end run, if you will -- I can't think of a more elegant term for it at the moment -- around that process, is not right. It's not the kind of temperate action that we ought to have.

In America, when we have disputes, when people feel the government has done something wrong, we go to court and we go to our system of justice. And that's what we've done now.


QUESTION: ... before the 12th, is it not? It's only an end run if they act before the 12th. They're just saying they're preparing themselves in the eventuality that there's no slate available on the 12th.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think their action may be motivated more by their concern about what slate and what candidate that slate would favor, rather than there will be a slate of electors in Florida. I believe that there will be a slate of electors. That's the clear focus of the intention of the Florida Supreme Court. That was one of the areas that the justices of the Florida Supreme Court focused on in a hearing held a couple of weeks ago. And there's just no reason to expect any other result.

So to set this precedent, which will appear to be a very partisan precedent -- look, this was an election. It's a partisan matter. But we bring it to the courts for independent judgment.

And to take it back to the political body, a legislative body, with a clear partisan majority there, takes us down a road that regardless of which side we're on in this election, America ought not to want to go down.

STAFF: Thank you very much.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

ALLEN: Senator Joe Lieberman, not wasting much time, since the Florida legislature decided to meet in special session, and they will discuss whether to decide on their own electors, criticizing that action, saying he is discouraged that the state legislature, encouraged by Jeb Bush, as he put it, may select their own electors. He said, this is wrong, it sets a terrible precedent, and that it threatens to put the country into a constitutional crisis, which he says we are not in at the moment.

He appealed to Governor Jeb Bush and the legislature to reconsider.

Let's go to CNN's Eileen O'Connor, who is back in Washington covering the Gore campaign.

Eileen, this has to be very bad news for the Gore camp, this move by the Florida Legislature today; quite worrysome. EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a very bad move for them. It is, as you said, very worrisome. The reason is that this move takes this whole thing one step closer to the House of Representatives here. If the Gore campaign does prevail in the courts and gets those votes counted, the undervotes they say, and if the vice president were to pickup enough of those undervotes that they would be determined to go to him, and that he would then overtake the lead that -- the official lead that's been established for George W. Bush, then you could end up with two sets of electors, one that has been appointed by the Florida Legislature, perhaps in a special session, that would be slated to go and vote for Governor Bush. And then another set that could be elected, perhaps, or appointed by the Florida Supreme Court that would then be going forward to vote for the vice president.

And that would mean that this would come to the -- to Congress to the House of Representatives and -- and that would, of course, also will be a bad move for the Gore team, because both of the Houses are controlled by the Republicans at this point.

So this is a very serious problem for them. What they are arguing is, look, we've already started this action in the courts. Let the actions in the courts be -- continue and let it be decided in the courts right now. This is the way you can test elections through the courts, let us get through our arguments -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Did the Gore team expect this to happen?

O'CONNOR: Well, they were certainly worried about it. And obviously, there had been moves, the Florida Legislature had talked about it. I think that they were hoping, certainly, that those that were voted in, and they were making -- sort of talking about that -- that they would step back and think about what their constituents have said, you know, as the Gore campaign keep saying, looks this was a really close race. If you have the legislature in Florida backing just a slate for Governor Bush, that doesn't really reflect -- and you heard that in Senator Lieberman's remarks -- it doesn't reflect the will of all of the people in Florida. And that's the point that they're trying to hammer home.

As one aide said to me earlier, right after this decision was made by the legislature, you know, this is not a -- no longer about not just counting 10,000 votes in Miami-Dade, now it's about not counting millions of votes of Floridians. So this is very upsetting to the Gore campaign -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, thanks, Eileen.



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