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The Florida Vote: Committee of Florida Legislators Recommends Special Session; Supreme Court to Step Into Election Fray

Aired November 30, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a road trip across Florida. A truckload of Palm Beach ballots arrives in Tallahassee in case of a court ordered recount.

Al Gore's legal team takes new to keep Florida lawmakers from joining the from joining the legal standoff.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.


BLITZER: George W. Bush holds a power lunch in Texas to talk politics and policy with the nation's former top general.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the counting finally stops, we want to be prepared to lead this nation. That's what we were elected to do.


BLITZER: Bush and Gore send their final briefs to the nation's highest court as justices prepare for tomorrow's oral arguments in Washington. All ahead on this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY: THE FLORIDA VOTE.

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from here in Washington.

We've left the warmth of THE WORLD TODAY studios and moved down the street to the U.S. Supreme Court. We're here because history will be made inside the building behind me tomorrow morning. The nine justices will hear 90 minutes of arguments from lawyers representing Al Gore and George W. Bush. What they decide could determine who will be the next president of the United States.

Lawyers for Gore and Bush today submitted their final written arguments to the high court. And earlier in the day, a committee of Florida's legislature, dominated by Republicans, voted along party lines to recommend a special session of the state House and Senate meet next week to select Florida's 25 electors. And a rental truck carrying nearly half a million ballots arrived in Tallahassee from Palm Beach County.

The truck took most of the day to drive across the state. It was part of a caravan of police and political observers and the news media that arrived late this afternoon in Tallahassee. Court officials there unloaded the 462,000 ballots, which were packed inside 162 metal boxes, and placed them in a vault. The scene will be repeated tomorrow when Miami-Dade County officials load 654,000 ballots inside two rental trucks. They'll head out before sunrise on what's expected to be a nine-hour drive to Tallahassee.

Turning our attention now from Florida to right here in Washington and tomorrow's historic arguments here at the Supreme Court. I'm joined by CNN's senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer for a little preview -- Charles.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're not the only ones out here tonight. If you went around the corner of the U.S. Supreme Court you'd see about 100 people camped out hoping to be witnesses to at least one act of this political and legal circus.


BIERBAUER (voice-over): A line for the few available public seats began forming a day before the Supreme Court arguments. The final Bush and Gore legal briefs restated their positions in accusatory terms. Bush: "The partisan struggle in Florida today is precisely the kind of chaotic situation that would have been avoided by adherence to the statutory deadline."

Bush's lawyers are asking the justices here to overturn the Florida Supreme Court's extension of the time for recounting votes.

VIET DIHN, GEORGETOWN LAW CENTER: The court can give the Bush campaign a very narrow victory by simply saying that they are now resetting the clock back to November 14th, and the contest procedures that Al Gore and George Bush are currently going through in Florida can relate back to that point.

BIERBAUER: Gore's final brief says: "Bush seeks not just to run out the clock, but extraordinarily, to have the court turn back the clock so that he can declare the game over.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: We've explained that the decision of the Florida Supreme Court is precisely within the bounds of what that court is supposed to do. It's about Florida law. It interprets Florida law and is the final arbiter of what Florida law is.

BIERBAUER: Gore's attorneys also say the possibility of direct legislative appointment of electors by the Florida legislature raises a host of constitutional issues, but they've asked this court not to address the matter of the Florida legislature. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court does not have to make any decision.

DIHN: They're still the final word as the interpretation of the law but they may not have the final word as to who is president. And so in that case, they may dismiss this case as improvidently granted.

BIERBAUER: Al Gore would not mind that. It would acknowledge things have changed and allow all legal actions in Florida to proceed.


BIERBAUER: Improvidently granted, of course, would mean that the justices had thought twice about the decision they made last week to take this case. Tomorrow morning, each side, Gore and the Florida secretary of state -- rather Gore and the Florida attorney general and Bush and the Florida secretary of state will have 45 minutes to try to persuade the justices -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Charles, how unique is this situation? You cover the Supreme Court on a full-time basis. Some people say it's almost a precedence-setting event here tomorrow.

BIERBAUER: Well, it is precedent setting in the sense that all of these things are coming together. They've never had to deal with an election issue like this. They have taken cases on short notice before. They have rendered opinions on short notice little as day before, but this is unique because of what is involved here. But I think we have to also keep in mind that what these justices here in Washington decide only addresses somewhat narrow issue of what the Florida Supreme Court has done before. It will have an impact, but it will not necessarily decide this election. That's still up to the voters -- whichever voters we wind up counting.

BLITZER: Charles Bierbauer, thanks for joining us.

Florida lawmakers, meanwhile, have stepped into the fray. Today, a Republican-dominated legislative committee voted to call a special session that would allow lawmakers to select the state's 25 electors. That left Democrats howling in protest.

From Tallahassee, here's CNN's Mike Boettcher.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As expected, the vote was along party lines, eight Republicans voting to recommend a special session, five Democrats voting against.




LISA CARLTON (R), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: Yes. By your vote, the motion offered by Senator Laurent is adopted.

BOETTCHER: The vote sets off what could be an historic chain of events -- a state legislature inserting itself into a presidential contest and naming its own slate of presidential electors. During debate before the vote, Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to steal the election for Bush.

TOM ROSSIN (D), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: The suggestion by supposed constitutional experts that this legislative body has the power to overturn the will of the voters of Florida is ludicrous and bizarre. This is the Florida legislature, not the House of Lords.

BOETTCHER: But Republican legislators said they believed Vice President Gore's challenge of Florida's vote count put in jeopardy this state's voice in the Electoral College. They contend the U.S. Constitution gives them the right to step in.

MARIO DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: Obviously, the Florida Supreme Court changed the rules of the election after the election had taken place. Again, putting the six million votes cast by the people of this state at risk.

BOETTCHER: Democrats in Florida's House and Senate conceded that they can do little to stop the Republican majority from naming the presidential electors, but they promised not to go down quietly.

LOIS FRANKEL (D), FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: I believe we will go down in history as the first, and I hope the last, legislature that would try this partisan power grab where a governor tries to elect his brother.

BOETTCHER: But Governor Jeb Bush offered no apologies.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I know that The gore campaign would love for me to basically disown my family, but look, I'm going to do what's right.

BOETTCHER (on camera): And what Florida's Republican-dominated legislature believes is right holding this special session beginning Tuesday, and directing the state's 25 electoral votes to vote for their candidate, the already-certified winner in Florida, George W. Bush.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, Tallahassee.


BLITZER: Al Gore's running mate, Joe Lieberman, said the action by Florida's legislature would encourage other states to follow the same path if an opposition candidate won in those states and threatens to put the nation into what he described as a constitutional crisis.


LIEBERMAN: 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 6 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.


BLITZER: Lieberman met with Gore and other advisers today about the transition and possible Cabinet appointments for a Gore administration.

That was also the agenda in Texas today, and we'll hear what George Bush and Colin Powell had to say after the break.

Also ahead, Bruce Morton on how the high court has weighed in on mighty issues. This is a special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think I would vote again, not right now, and I think a lot of people are discouraged about the voting.


BLITZER: As the legal challenges press ahead in both the state and federal courts, Governor Bush is moving ahead with plans for his potential administration. Today, retired General Colin Powell, who is widely expected to be Bush's choice for secretary of state, met with the governor at his Texas ranch.

With details, here's CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For all the effort to make this look normal, the whole transition scene is awkward. We know it; they know it.

RET. GEN. COLIN POWELL, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I look forward to our conversations this afternoon on matters of international affairs and foreign policy and also to discuss transition issues.

So thanks for having me, and congratulations, governor, on your success in your election.



CROWLEY: One of the world's most open secrets is that Colin Powell may have any seat he wants at the Bush table. But he hasn't been asked.

POWELL: But I never expected that the governor would reach that point in his deliberations until after this matter had been resolved.

CROWLEY: "This matter" being the presidency to which they are transitioning.

BUSH: When the counting finally stops, we want to be prepared to lead this nation. That's what we were elected to do. And as far as the legal hassling and wrangling and posturing in Florida, I would suggest you talk to our good team, our team in Florida, led by Jim Baker.

CROWLEY: Bush's role is to project certainty while his lawyers deal with questions, to have the presidential look while the Florida legislature and the courts deal with chaos. A macromanager, Bush largely gives the thumbs up or down to his legal team while letting them wage the Florida ground war.

As for efforts by Florida's legislature to begin the process of picking its own set of electors, the Bush camp wants as much distance as it can get.

QUESTION: In Florida, with the special session of the state legislature, are your concerned that this has the appearance of a partisan power play to short circuit the courts?

BUSH: You know, here is my view: I've won three counts. And I think it's time to get some finality to the process.

CROWLEY: Bush strategists say they have made -- quote -- "no effort" to prod or otherwise influence the Florida legislature. "It's their thing," insists the Bush camp.


CROWLEY: Still, the Florida legislature is dominated by Republicans who can pretty much have their way, and the governor of the state of Florida is Jeb Bush. So no matter how hard he tries from a public relations standpoint, it's pretty hard for George Bush to get much distance from that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, I take it that Colin Powell is only the first in a series of some high-level visitors that Governor Bush has invited to Texas.

CROWLEY: We're going to see in Crawford at the ranch on Saturday some people we didn't see much of during the Bush campaign, and that is speaker of the House Dennis Hastert as well as the Senator majority leader, Trent Lott. Both of them are coming down to the ranch. They'll be talking about the 107th Congress -- ready or not, it's coming right around the corner in January -- and about Bush's agenda.

There's also been some reaching out by the governor to some Republicans on the House Education Committee, a signal of what George Bush wants to do as one of his first priorities, and that's some education reform.

So you will see this sort of transition in waiting as we call it continue on, and it continues on Saturday.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley reporting from Austin, thanks for joining us.

And several other high-profile names are being tossed around as potential appointees in a Bush administration. Joining us from here in Washington with some insight, CNN's senator White House correspondent John King.

You've been doing some reporting on the transition, and I take it that Colin Powell's offering already some advice to Governor Bush.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're told that one of the people Colin Powell is very high on as a possible defense secretary is the Pennsylvania governor, Tom Ridge. One problem is the governor says he's not interested. He says he promised the people of Pennsylvania he would finish the remaining two years on his term. But Powell said to be high on Governor Ridge because Governor Ridge is a former congressman and he served in the infantry in Vietnam. General Powell making the case that if you are to sell significant Pentagon reforms on Capitol Hill and to the rank-and-file in the military, Tom Ridge would be a perfect fit.

So he's high on the list. Again, though, they would have to lean on him pretty heavily we're told by people in Pennsylvania, because Governor Ridge promises to stay put for now.

BLITZER: Well, what about Treasury? I know that amid all of the Wall Street jitters, there must be a lot of consideration given to -- given to that post.

KING: Exactly right. One name heard early, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, now retired, Bill Archer. Bush loyalists today playing down that, and for the reason you just cited, the recent turmoil on Wall Street.

Many believe Governor Bush should send a reassuring signal, much like President Clinton did when he brought in Lloyd Bentsen and Bob Rubin.

Three names we've heard about as on the list now to be considered -- and remember it's early -- but to be considered for treasury secretary: Walter Shipley -- he's the chairman of Chase Manhattan -- Don Marron, the CEO of PaineWebber; as well as John, some call him Jack, Hennessy, the chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston.

We should make a note that Mr. Marron, one of his top aides at PaineWebber helped out Mr. Cheney during the presidential campaign. Some think that might give him a little bit of an edge. We'll see.

BLITZER: And the so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats, those conservative Democrats, a couple of dozen, perhaps more, mostly from the South, I understand that, as you've been reporting now in the past couple of days, there may be some reaching out from Bush people to them as well? KING: That's right, and some even from the governor himself. More to come in the days to come. Some of that is about governing. Governor Bush reaching out to conservative Democrats because of the close margin in the House of Representatives. Some of it, though, we're told also about potential Cabinet or sub-Cabinet picks: Governor Bush wanting to send a signal early on, because of this very close election, that he wants some Democrats in his Cabinet.

And also, some House Republicans telling him pick a few of those conservative Democrats from the House for senior administration jobs, and we can pick up those seats for the Republicans two years from now.

BLITZER: All right, John King, thanks for joining us.

Up next, sorting out the Supreme Court's role in this election law with analyst Ken Gross, and discovering when this becomes a constitutional crisis. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Al Gore should definitely concede, he's -- now he's just grasping for straws.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care how long it takes, but count the votes, and my vote in particular.


BLITZER: Now that the U.S. Supreme Court is involved in the election process, could that present problems down the road?

CNN's election law analyst Ken Gross joins me now with some answers.

You know, Ken, some people think that the involvement of the Supreme Court could potentially lead this whole process down a very dangerous road?

KEN GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: You know, there is that potential. We've seen the Supreme Court involve themselves in cases involving the president, Clinton case with Paula Jones, and the Nixon case, but never before involving the election of a president, that's where this one differentiates and in some respects, may be involved in who selects their own successors in perhaps three or four instances.

BLITZER: Is there any sense that the Supreme Court -- everybody thinks this is the Supreme Court -- they're going to tie it all up very, very neatly in one big package?

GROSS: That's right. I think there's a conception that maybe we'll get a package with a big pink bow on it, and I think in reality, Supreme Courts, as other courts, try and resolve issues on the narrowest grounds possible and usually on statutory grounds. They'll avoid constitutional decisions if they can. So we may be left with a lot of unanswered questions even after this case is over.

BLITZER: And it's clear there is not going to be a decision tomorrow?


BLITZER: This could take a few days at least.

GROSS: I -- you know, that's anybody's guess. Most people are saying maybe Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, which would be my guess. I would say somewhere in there, but you know, they could decide that they improvidently granted the case, they could not decide it at all, or they could decide not to decide it. There's a lot of things that they can do here that may be unanticipated at this point.

BLITZER: As we reported earlier in the program, the Florida legislature is now threatening to get involved as early as next week, name their own 25 electors to decide who would get Florida's 25 electoral votes. There is some constitutional question, though, whether that would withstand the law?

GROSS: It would. And I think that that's probably an issue that the court is not going to venture down.

BLITZER: Which court?

GROSS: The U.S. Supreme Court. That is an issue that they could possibly take up, is it up to the legislature just to pick the electors? What has been the law in this country is that the legislature, the state legislature, passes a law and the law in every state is that whoever gets the popular vote gets the electoral votes. This would turn that on its ear and we would have a situation where they would just be deciding who gets the votes, and that would be different than the way it's being done now.

BLITZER: So the process continues.


BLITZER: Ken Gross, thanks for joining us.

Up next, the big drop on Wall Street, and how the Supreme Court has stepped into this -- the nation's biggest situation. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Concerns over a slowing economy and corporate earnings led to a jaw-dropping slide on Wall Street today. The Dow industrials plummeted 214 points to close at 10414 points. The Nasdaq composite tumbled 109 points to 2597, its lowest level since August of last year. Among the biggest losers, PC maker Gateway, which lost nearly 39 percent of its value over two days.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: In Washington, people have been lining up outside the Supreme Court since before dawn today to get one of the 50 seats reserved for the public. Tomorrow's hearing on the presidential election is the hottest ticket in town.

Our national correspondent Bruce Morton reports, it's no wonder.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No wonder reporters call them "The Supremes." It started back in 1803, when the court ruled it couldn't give an appointee of outgoing president John Adams a job, but added, in John Marshall's words, that it had the "duty to say what the law is."

In great national debates, that made the justices players big time. Look at your history book. Dred Scott, 1857: Congress could not ban slavery in U.S. territories and slaves could not be citizens -- probably hastened the Civil War. 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate but equal was OK, and so Southern states could legally segregate everyday life.

1954, Brown versus Board of Education: No, "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," and little black kids went to white schools in places like Little Rock, Arkansas, protected by soldiers with guns. 1973, Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion. 1974, Watergate, ruling 8-0 that President Nixon's secret White House tapes had to be handed over to the special prosecutor, a decision which led to Nixon's resignation.

Carl Bernstein covered, and uncovered, big parts of that story.

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: We were talking about criminal actions by the president of the United States, and that's what the Watergate tapes decision was about.

MORTON: This election fight is very different, but maybe as big?

REV. ROBERT DRINAN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: It's quite possible that this would emerge as a central question, the supervision of the federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court over this very sacred process that we call an election. If the Supreme Court does not intervene, that would mean that for all time there's no really ultimate correction of a voting situation that would be corrupt or careless or really wrong.

BERNSTEIN: There is great hope that many people have that the justices will speak as one and come forth with a decision that will give some legitimacy to the next presidency that it might not otherwise have.

MORTON: Will it be a broad decision, or a narrow one? Strong, nearly unanimous, or divided, with quarreling opinions? We don't know. But they are the Supreme Court, and if they want to play big time, they surely can. Just look at the record.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: CNN's live coverage of the Supreme Court arguments begins at 9:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow. Arguments begin at 10:00 a.m. You'll be able to hear what's said in the court chambers as soon as it's over via audiotape. We'll bring you that as soon as it is available, likely around 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

CNN's Greta Van Susteren is here at the Supreme Court to pick up our coverage. Greta, you were one of the first who did predict that this case would wind up here at the Supreme Court.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Come on, Wolf. The truth is I got lucky, that's all. I mean, look, it could have gone either way. At first, I said, I don't think it will ever end up in the Supreme Court, and then the day of I got lucky. I turned to Roger, my co-host, and said, you know, I think they'll take it.

BLITZER: And they have.

VAN SUSTEREN: And they have.

BLITZER: And you'll be here tomorrow and we'll all be watching. Thanks for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from the Supreme Court. Greta Van Susteren's special report begins right now.



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