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Election 2000: Leon County Court Hears Arguments Over Florida Ballot Dispute; Bush Maps Out His Future; What Will Florida Legislature Do?

Aired December 2, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: The view from the experts on the fine points of casting a ballot. But will their opinions bring an end to Florida's election controversy?

A weekend at the ranch and Governor Bush's latest efforts to map out his future.

And why lawmakers at Florida's statehouse may be critical players in ending the electoral impasse.

From CNN Center in Atlanta, this is a special report on the Florida vote.

Hello, I'm Joie Chen. Thanks for being with us.

We begin this hour with the latest developments in another day of legal wrangling in this heated political battle. This time, it's all playing out in a Leon County, Florida courtroom. The judge in the case heard familiar arguments from attorneys from both sides -- the Gore camp yet again pushing for yet another recount, and the Bush camp pushing against it. But this time, they called witnesses to back up their cases. Testimony is to resume Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern.

And there is late word from Tallahassee that plans for a special legislative session to discuss picking Florida's 25 electors may be on hold. The president of Florida's Senate -- state Senate -- says that he has no plans to sign a proclamation on Monday, which he would have to do for the session to take place.

George W. Bush, meantime, met today with his running mate, Dick Cheney, and two Republican congressional leaders. They discussed the details of his transition to the presidency.

And we are still awaiting word from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether the justices will intervene in the Florida recount. The ruling could come at any time.

The judge in the Leon County case we just mentioned faces a crucial question: to count -- to recount or not to recount. Today, witnesses for the Gore and Bush campaigns gave a tutorial of sorts on the voting process itself.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman has more on their testimony tonight -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, in a hot crowded courtroom in Florida's state capital, a judge is poised to make a decision that could affect the whole world. The Al Gore legal contest is under way.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): This noted four-letter word uttered in court was not Gore and was not Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he punches out that hole there, that is called the chad.

TUCHMAN: The chad, the definition of which was unknown to most before Election Day, was front and center in testimony in the first day of Al Gore's challenge of the presidential election results.

DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: The certified results reject a number of legal votes and include a number of illegal votes.

TUCHMAN: Roughly 1.1 million votes trucked in from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties are now in vaults in this very same courthouse.

The Democrats want the judge to decide to start counting some of the ballots. With that end in mind, they called a voting equipment consultant to the stand, who said many voters were thwarted from voting for president because of faulty equipment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If in fact the machines are not cleaned out on a regular basis, and there's chad buildup, and therefore, the voter may not be able to push down as firmly.

TUCHMAN: Chad buildup is something Governor Bush's lawyers believe is overstated, and they also doubted a claim made by the consultant, who brought his own voting machine to court, that the rubber under the punch holes get hard over time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever changed the rubber strips in your machine?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you now vote for president, please, without trying to make a dimple?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, vote for number five.

JUDGE N. SANDERS SAULS, LEON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: You don't have to say who you voted for.


TUCHMAN: There were occasional laughs during the nine-hour hearing, but also anger and frustration. Mr. Bush's attorneys said they doubted so much chad would be piled up to affect the vote, so one of Mr. Gore's attorneys did a rather theatrical demonstration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ever seen somebody after they get through voting go ahead and shake it up a bit, so that they get all the chads moved around? Have you ever seen anybody do that?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plaintiffs call Professor Nicholas Hengartner.

TUCHMAN: The Democrats also called a statistician to the stand, who testified he felt a much higher percentage of punch-card ballots were without presidential votes than other ballots.

And then it was the Republican team's turn to call witnesses.

Judge Charles Burton is the head of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. Democrats wanted his board to count dimples or indented chads as votes for president. He testified that was not their sole criteria.

JUDGE CHARLES BURTON, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: My rationale, quite honestly, was we saw so many cards with multiple impressions in the first row that, by virtue of seeing one impression, we felt -- or at least I know I felt -- that this voter obviously had no problem punching out their votes, and by virtue of just having one in the first column, that did not show a clear indication of an intent to vote.

TUCHMAN: Judge N. Sanders Sauls will reconvene his Tallahassee courtroom Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time.


TUCHMAN: In the often leisurely world of jurisprudence, this was a rather intense day -- nine hours in court. There was a short half- an-hour lunch break, two other short breaks -- but it was hot, it was crowded, and this situation was certainly intense. People realize the magnitude of what's going on inside.

Now the judge planned an going even later tonight, but he then said that a couple of his aides did not have a chance to have lunch, so he called it a night. He gave them some mercy. But the judge has said, "This trial will last no longer than 12 hours." So if he's right, it will all come to an end tomorrow. And if it ends tomorrow, we could find out tomorrow if yes or no -- if he will count.

Joie, back to you.

CHEN: Yes, hot and tired -- it was a Saturday and a holiday season after all, Gary. How did the two sides feel that they did after all was said and done today?

TUCHMAN: Joie, it was almost like one of the debates. After the debates, all the spinners come out and try to spin you. And as soon as this came to an end today, the Republican spinners, the Democratic spinners came out, and they all said they thought their side did very well. But of course, it will be up to one man -- not a jury, but one man, the judge here in the circuit court in Tallahassee -- to make that final decision.

CHEN: Gary, I know that going into the U.S. Supreme Court hearing, there were a lot of people lined up very early for an opportunity to be in. And at other hearings as well, we know that the general public had lined up and shown a great deal of interest in attending these hearings.

What about the hearing today? I saw a lot of suits in there, but were there a lot of regular people who wanted to hear and see what was going on inside?

TUCHMAN: What they did -- they had 30 passes available, which were split between the news media and the general public. A few members of the general public were in there, but not nearly the amount of people who wanted to get in there got in there. And also the news media -- not everyone could get in there. They had an overflow room in the courtroom to watch it on TV, but it's a very small courtroom and it literally was jam packed. There wasn't one seat available for anyone to sit in. So a couple of members of the general public, but most of the general public who wanted to get in ended up outside.

CHEN: They could have watched it on TV.

Gary Tuchman for us in Tallahassee tonight.

And keeping up a confident air while the wait goes on, Governor Bush forges ahead with his plans for his presidency.

CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Austin at this hour -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Joie, as Gary mentioned, no surprise -- the Bush team thinks they had a very good day in that Leon County courtroom. The governor himself actually does not have cable TV out at his ranch in Crawford, but in fact, he was otherwise occupied.


CROWLEY (voice-over): No chad here. Just Dennis and George and Trent and Dick. The Bush transition in exile let the cameras roll again Saturday, recording the opening of a session at the Bush ranch about next year's legislative agenda.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's time to start the plan to get those things done. You just don't do them at a turn of a nickel or just in a second's knee jerk. It takes some time. It takes some planning.

CROWLEY: Casual Saturday dress, but beyond that George Bush and Dick Cheney sitting around a table with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert looks a lot like a Republican leadership meeting in the Oval Office, which is part of the point.

The other part is the need to begin to put people and priorities in place.

GOVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I do want to continue to talk about tax relief particularly given the fact that there's some warning signs on the horizon about our economy. And I believe the agenda that we'll be bringing to the Congress is one that will help the economic growth of the country.

CROWLEY: Members of Congress didn't get much face time in the Bush campaign. It was counter to the Texas governor's strategy of running as an outsider against the status quo.

But even if the election isn't over, the campaign sort of is.

BUSH: Well, I'm soon to be the insider. I'm soon to be the president.

CROWLEY: But the ferocity of the courtroom battle in Tallahassee is the undertow that pulls at the certainty exuded by the Bush camp. Sometimes you feel it, as when George Bush described a Friday phone call to Louisiana Democrat Senator John Breaux.

BUSH: I knew it might put him in an awkward position that we had a discussion before the -- before finality has, you know, finally happened in this presidential race.

CROWLEY: Bush described the conversation as a comfortable discussion about the general state of things.


CROWLEY: And given the general state of things, that must have been a mighty interesting conversation -- Joie.

CHEN: Candy, how well does he know folks like Speaker Hastert? Has he had much communication with him prior to all this?

CROWLEY: He's been on the phone with him. But no, we really -- you know, as I said, we didn't see them that much. And George Bush really -- other than the time that his father was running for re- election -- is not a creature of Washington, though he well understands its ways. So he would not have sort of been at places where Dennis Hastert or Trent Lott might have been. They showed up every once in awhile -- obviously, Dennis Hastert in Illinois, Trent Lott in Mississippi -- along the campaign trail, but not that much. So this is really as much a sort of sizing up each other as it is getting the agenda out there. But they need him, and he needs them.

And he, in fact, talked about the fact that there will be differences between Republicans; between George Bush, who has had a different agenda than some in Congress, and Congress, who sometimes doesn't like what George Bush has had to say. So there is a lot of sort of bipartisanship that has to go on. But there's also some healing that has to be done within the Republican Party should George Bush become President.

CHEN: CNN's Candy Crowley with us from Austin, Texas, this hour.

Waiting out this weekend in Washington, Vice President Gore's low-key agenda included coffee with his wife and lunch with his college roommate.

CNN's Jonathan Karl joins us late now from Washington - Jonathon.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, that college roommate lunching with the Vice President was his one-time Harvard classmate, Tom Jones, now better known as the actor Tommy Lee Jones.

We're told the lunch went good, but the Gore team is far less optimistic about what happened down in Judge Sander Sauls' courthouse, where the pace was far too slow for comfort.

As one top Gore aide said, when we're counting ballots, we're in good shape. When we're not, we're in bad shape. And today was yet another day where no ballots were being counted, and more importantly, where there was no clear indication when or even if they ever will be.


(voice-over): Vice President Gore is keeping mum while the courts determine his fate, venturing into public only long enough to take a brief stroll down Wisconsin Avenue in Washington with his wife, Tipper, and his daughter Kristen.

After grabbing a cup of coffee at Starbucks, Gore ventured ever so briefly his only public comment of the day. It came in response to a question about how his presidential transition is coming along.

GORE: We're making quiet progress.

KARL: But transition talk aside, Gore's aides are nervously watching developments in Florida, worried that time is running out as his court case drags on.

BOIES: Every hour makes a difference. Every day makes a difference. But having said that, I think we are on track.

KARL: Gore's top aides privately concede that the vice president, who is on somewhat of a legal losing streak, desperately needs a legal victory soon. They are looking for a court order to immediately start the counting of those 14,000 disputed ballots.

BOIES: If you manually look at these punch-card ballots, you will discover hundreds and hundreds of votes, where the intent of the voter is clear, that have not been counted. KARL: The Gore team hopes Judge Sander Sauls will rule on their recount request Sunday. If he rules against them, they are prepared to appeal. But they are also keenly aware that by then, it may be too late to get the counting done on time.


KARL: There's a reason for Gore's low profile as he awaits action by the Florida court and by the U.S. Supreme Court. As one top advisor said, court decisions over the next 24 to 48 hours will tell the tail. Anything else right now is just a side show -- Joie.

CHEN: Jon, looking at Mr. Gore today and comparing his image with that of Mr. Bush -- Mr. Bush meeting with some figures who could be key in a transition, who could be key in a future administration that he might have -- Mr. Gore almost looks as though he's still campaigning, making stops in the coffee shop.

KARL: Yeah, and that was a very quick stop outside the residence. Really, the vice president's having some of those very same meetings, but he's not inviting the cameras in. I mean, the vice president over the last several days has been meeting with Roy Neil (ph), who is heading up his transition team. He's having regular meetings with Bill Daley, his campaign manager, regular meetings with Alexis Hermann, who's talked about as a possible chief of staff in a -- in a Gore administration.

So that stuff is going on, the quiet progress towards a potential transition. But there's a real sense on the Gore team that really, their fate is not in their hands right now. Again, the next 24 to 48 hours awaiting these court decisions, that will be -- that will tell the tale. That's what will tell what's going to happen.

So they're not as interested in some of the image making that we see going on in Austin. Clearly, George W. Bush trying to set the tone that he is preparing to go to the White House, that he clearly believes he won the election, and that he is preparing to take control in Washington.

The vice president knows that he can have time to fight that battle and to project those images after these court decisions. But right now, there's really a sense of almost shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Well, we'll see what happens."

CHEN: Has anybody talked about like a drop-dead time, if we don't have votes started to be counted by Tuesday, or Wednesday, or whatever, there's no way this can be done?

KARL: Well, that drop-dead date seems to keep moving back. I mean, earlier the Gore team had said that if the ballots weren't being counted by this weekend, there wouldn't be time to count all of them. Now they're not saying that. Now they're saying that even if you had a decision Monday or Tuesday to start counting the ballots that you could just bring in more people to do the counting. They say there's only 14,000 disputed ballots. Those are the only ballots they want counted. They say they could do that in a day or two. But, of course, the drop-dead deadline down in Florida is December 12th, which is the date that the state must confirm its slate of electors to the electoral college.

So the Gore team still thinks they have some time. But remember, it was just a couple of days ago that they were saying, if we don't start counting by the weekend, it's over. We can't count. Now they're backing away from that, because here we are at the weekend, still not counting ballots.

CHEN: CNN's Jonathan Karl for us from Washington.

How are the men who would be President handling themselves during the long wait?

Ahead on this CNN special report, taking the pulse of the nation, and the view of our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

We'll be right back.


CHEN: While the candidates await the verdicts from the courts, a new poll offers the public's latest views. Newsweek's poll finds 53 percent of those surveys approve of the way Governor Bush is handling the election impasse. Forty-one percent disapprove.

On the other hand, 55 percent of those polled think Al Gore is not doing a good job handling the situation. Forty percent, though, think he is.

To help us decode the result of this latest poll and the possible political fallout, senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us from CNN's Washington bureau.

Hey, Bill, so give us the update on this -- what does this new poll tell us about what the mind set is of the public now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what it tells us is that Florida fatigue is setting in. The Newsweek poll has been asking for several weeks now, "Is it more important to remove all reasonable doubt that the vote count in Florida has been fair and accurate, or to get this resolved as quickly as possible?"

Well, the percentage of Americans who say it's more important to wait and remove all reasonable doubt about the count -- that's been going down. It was 72 percent a few weeks ago, last week it was 61, this week it's 52. Still the majority say they're patient; they want to wait. But that number has been going down about 10 points a week. Once it hits 40 percent, then you've hit into the hard-core Gore support, and it's not likely to go down any further.

CHEN: So what does that tell the campaigns, particularly the Gore team?

SCHNEIDER: What it tells the Gore team is simple -- this can't go on forever, that the public is patient, but not infinitely patient. And if the legal process cannot resolve this, then it's going to be turned over by law to the political process, to the politicians.

Now, the law provides for that. It says the Florida legislature can have a role in naming the electors if this situation is not legally resolved. And of course, the Congress has a critical role in counting the electoral votes. And once it gets turned over to the politicians, then of course public opinion becomes paramount, because the politicians all are elected, and they're going to be very sensitive to what the voters want, just as they were during the impeachment process.

CHEN: You and I have both talked a lot about the Supreme Court -- the U.S. Supreme Court and its role as the -- sort of the even hand, the final hand, bringing an end to everything. Do you think it is possible, given what we heard from the court on Friday, that their intention is actually to do that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, what we heard was a divided court on Friday. They seemed to be just about as divided as the American people, as the Congress, as the politicians. They're supposed to be the voice of the Constitution and the institution speaking for the entire American people, but they didn't seem to be eager to play that role. It'll be disappointing if they come out with a 5-4 decision and if the majority and the minority snipe at each other in a rather partisan way, because I don't think it'll be conclusive.

What the court can really do is, of course, produce a psychological effect. If the headlines coming out of the Supreme Court are, "Gore wins," that'll have a dramatic psychological effect. It would be a big boost to the Gore campaign -- "They're handling this right." And people will say, "Well, if the Supreme Court says they were right, then they should have more time to just pursue this as a matter of law. If the court says, "Bush wins," no matter what the details of the decision are, that'll be a big psychological boost for Bush.

CHEN: And what if the court says, "Look, we just don't have a role to play in this?"

SCHNEIDER: If they say -- if they punt, so to speak, and say, "We don't want to really get involved in this," that's a bit distressing, because they really, I think, have not fulfilled the duty for which they really took up this decision, which is to arbitrate the matter. And then it'll be left to the legal process. But from those poll findings, the legal process is just not going to be able to go on forever, though the Gore people expect it might be able to go on a long time. And then eventually, the politicians will take it over.

You know, there was an op-ed article in today's "New York Times" saying that the December 12 date is not a real deadline and even the January 20 date, when the new president has to be inaugurated -- if they're still counting ballots, my goodness! The Congress could name Bill Clinton acting president and keep him in office for awhile. How's that for a horrifying scenario?

But what's happening is the Democrats are saying, "You know, we can go on, and on, and on, until every one of these ballots is counted." And you know what? The public says, "That ain't going to happen."

CHEN: Talk more about the frustration for what is happening to the public. I mean, is the tiredness -- just tired -- we're tired of the process? Is there a sense that the process got the better of the public, that we all believed in how elections work -- we all understood that this is how elections work -- and now there's really just a sense that, "Hey, maybe we just didn't understand this at all." There are a lot of irregularities that happen in elections that we probably never even knew about.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, I think the public is being quite realistic about this. I think they understand a couple of big things here. They understand that any count that you have -- whether it's a machine count or a hand count -- is going to have error in it. And the margin of error either way is likely to be greater than the margin of victory. They understand that. They don't expect a perfectly accurate count.

Number two, they understand that this election really could have gone either way, that the American public was very closely divided, that Florida was very closely divided. Right now, they think Bush won Florida because he's been certified. But really, they understand that the election could go either way and they could live with either result.

What they're getting impatient about is, "Just give us a result. This can't go on forever," because they really don't see a really decisive resolution in sight, unless the Supreme Court gives it to them.

CHEN: And if the Supreme Court does not do it, who do you see as the likely player to be able to put the calming hand on this and to say enough, the buck stops here?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the answer is the American public. The public is going to have to say, "This has got to end," and they're going to have to communicate that to the politicians, just as they communicated very firmly to the politicians during the impeachment, "We do not want Bill Clinton removed from office." And the politicians said, "OK! OK! We think he's guilty, but we're not going to take him out of office, because we'll have to pay the penalty." If the public says, "We want this ended," the politicians will obey, because they're all elected, and they will have the final say, because in the end, they count the votes.

CHEN: It is still the voice of the people.


CHEN: Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, thanks for being with us.


CHEN: Ahead here, there are still a tremendous number of legal issues outstanding. Coming up, we'll get an update on the court cases that are still out there.


CHEN: Lawsuits, of course, are about counting ballots, but it's almost as tough these days counting all the courts involved in the election's legal aftermath.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer tonight reminds us which cases are still in progress.


CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a million ballots are locked up in Tallahassee, pending the trial in Judge Sanders Sauls' courtroom.

JUDGE N. SANDERS SAULS, LEON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: Do you want to proceed to motions?

BIERBAUER: Post-election lawsuits are advancing on several fronts. Another trial begins Wednesday over 15,000 Seminole County absentee ballots. A Democratic attorney, not one of Gore's, wants them thrown out because Republican poll workers filled in many missing voter I.D. numbers. Nearly 10,000 absentee ballots from Martin County have also been challenged by Democrats. A hearing is set for Wednesday.

KENNETH GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Many people on the Gore side are keeping a watchful eye on it because they feel that if that case goes in their direction, there's enough votes that would be disqualified that would more than wipe out the advantage that Governor Bush has right now.

BIERBAUER: The Bush campaign wants disqualified overseas military ballots reinstated. Lawsuits are pending in several Florida counties and a federal court. Federal court appeals filed by Bush supporters to bar hand recounts are scheduled Tuesday in Atlanta's 11th Circuit Court. They argue hand recounts are unconstitutional because they do not treat all votes and voters equally.

GROSS: The issue is still alive and I guess in some respects it was a reflection of the U.S. Supreme Court's view that, that was not as significant of an issue or one that they just weren't ready to hear yet.

UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: The honorable court is now adjourned until Monday next.

BIERBAUER: The U.S. Supreme Court, after Friday's momentous arguments, was outwardly silent Saturday. There's no indication when the justices will rule or how.

UNIDENTIFIED VOTER: I never try to figure out how they're going to vote. LAURENCE TRIBE, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: I think most lawyers have private guesses, but I don't know any who would sort of curse themselves by making those guesses public.

BIERBAUER (on camera): The justices could reverse the Florida Supreme Court ruling which allowed extended recounts. They could let the ruling stand or decide there is no federal issue for this court to decide.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, the Supreme Court.


CHEN: Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are now considering those oral arguments delivered by the attorneys for the Bush and Gore campaigns.

For a closer look at Friday's high court activities, as well as the other legal machinations under way, Laurie Levenson joins us tonight from our Los Angeles bureau. She's a professor at Loyola Law School.

Thanks for being with us, Laurie.

You know, all the things that we've heard in the course of today, yesterday, everything going on in Tallahassee, as well as in Washington -- what is the more important legal avenue -- obviously, we think of the U.S. Supreme Court as being the supreme -- but in terms of this particular outcome, which one might have a bigger play?

LAURIE LEVENSON, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: Well, I think you got it right. Frankly, ironically, it may be the Florida court proceedings that are going on right now -- the trial proceedings regarding those chads -- that could have more of an impact on this election than even a Supreme Court ruling. And the reason is, is that the issue before the Supreme Court involving things that came up before the certification -- the protests about the initial certification by Katherine Harris -- well, that's behind this now. And the difference between the two certifications is really only about 400 votes.

What's going on now involves many more votes. And if Gore doesn't win some of these challenges, these contests, it's not going to matter what the Supreme Court says.

CHEN: So is what the Supreme Court is considering now purely academic? I mean, is it just going to become fodder for some sort of precedent in elections in the future or something?

LEVINSON: It's not purely academic, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this is a very close election, so maybe even the 400 votes can make a difference. But the second reason is that they can send the signal as to what the Florida Supreme Court should or should not do, if they see another such issue come before them. Because don't forget that whatever happens in the courts right now is likely to make its way up to Florida Appeals Court and the Florida Supreme Court again. And so they can send a message as to whether it's changing the rules, and whether that's permissible, even at this stage.

CHEN: Watching everything that happened yesterday at the high court looking over transcripts today, I got the feeling that we, as sort of legal observers -- you guys, who are experts at these things -- maybe misunderstood a little bit of what the Supreme Court would be interested in, the kind of questioning that they would do. Did we sort of mis-focus, going into yesterday's arguments?

LEVINSON: Well, I think that everyone has focused a great deal on this very old federal election law, back from the Hayes election. And I'm thinking that that would be the hook by which the Supreme Court would say that they should take a look at this issue. When it actually got to arguments, the Supreme Court said, "Well, wait a second. This is a law that says that a state should not change the rules after the election." But that's a law that really goes to Congress to decide how they're going to handle any such violation, not us, the courts. And instead, they changed directions, and said, "Let's look directly at the United States Constitution, namely Article 2. And that may give the grounds for a federal cause of action.

But before the Supreme Court can decide whether the Florida Supreme Court did anything wrong, they have to decide there's a federal interest. And that was really quite much of the focus of the first part of the argument.

CHEN: So I guess everybody wants you to say, "What is the Supreme Court going to do?" Is it going to be a broad decision in your view, or is it going to be fairly narrow?

LEVINSON: It is impossible to say. I mean ...

CHEN: Come on.

LEVINSON: Oh, I know, everyone says that. But it happens to be true, because there are three real options for the Supreme Court. I mean, one option -- and the one that would be the most likely to get them a unanimous ruling -- would be one that basically says it's a political issue, and they're not going to touch it, or they're not going to touch it now. But if they get to the merits -- and it sounded like several of the justices wanted to -- then we're more likely to get that split decision, that five-four type decision.

Because during the arguments, you heard something that we've heard over and over again with this Supreme Court. We've heard the liberals siding with the Gore team, saying that what the Florida Supreme Court did was mere interpretation of Florida laws. And we heard the conservatives say, "Uh-uh, the Florida Supreme Court went out of bounds. And they stepped on the toes of the Florida legislature, who had the right to set the rules."

CHEN: Afraid we're going to have to leave it there.

Laurie Levinson, from Loyola Law School, from Los Angeles, thanks for being with us.

Ahead here, we'll talk about the Florida legislature and the decision that faces that body.


CHEN: Leaders of the Florida legislature are divided over what role they should play in the contested Presidential election. The House leadership is pressing for a special session. But the Senate President says, "Not so fast."

CNN's Kate Snow has the latest from Tallahassee -- Kate.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, we've been saying all day that leadership in the House was pushing ahead with their plans for this special session. In fact, the House Speaker, Tom Feeney, was said to be making preparations for a ceremony midday on Monday, where they would proclaim a special session that would begin then on Wednesday.

There's only one problem with this whole scenario. And that is that Feeney cannot do this alone. He needs the Senate President, John McKay, who is a fellow Republican, to go along with this plan. And what John McKay is saying tonight in a statement is that he is not ready to make that call, at least not on Monday. McKay says he won't make a decision until he's been able to look over a report from the joint committee, which was asked to look into the election. That committee earlier this week recommended a special session to name Florida's 25 electors.

McKay cautions that lawmakers should be patient about this. They should wait and make sure that the court doesn't eliminate the need for legislative intervention. John McKay saying in his written statement tonight, "There are many uncertainties contingent upon actions outside the control of the legislature that we must -- and that we must proceed with the utmost caution. This is perhaps the most important issue that the legislature will ever face," he says. "The Senate will not be rushed to judgement. We have only one chance to get this right."

McKay has not, however, ruled out deciding on this after Monday at some point. And after any proclamation is signed by both McKay and House Speaker Feeney, they would have to wait 36 hours for the special session to occur.

So still a possibility, certainly. But at this point, Senator John McKay saying, "Let's hold off for at least a little while."

Joie, back to you.

CHEN: Kate, does that mean that the timing still works? Is it still possible to do it if McKay signs after Monday?

SNOW: Right. It's still possible, and here's why. If they were to, say, wait until Tuesday, and then sign this joint declaration calling for a special session, you wait for 36 hours, they could start the session on Thursday -- they would need essentially three legislative days to get a bill passed into law. They have to -- through Florida law, they have to have three legislative days, they have to read the bill three times. There are some procedural things they have to do. But that would give them Thursday, Friday and Saturday, say, if they wanted to stay here. They're trying to get all of this done by midnight on December 11th. That is what they feel is the drop-dead date for Florida to choose its 25 electors.


CHEN: There's a lot of work going on on the weekend.

Let's talk about Senator McKay. He is a Republican, of course. Is he alone -- is there any indication that other Republicans within the state have any sort of concern or consternation with his decision not to sign -- at least, not to sign on Monday?

SNOW: Right. Well, he's certainly not alone in the whole legislature. In fact, Lois Frankel, the Democratic minority leader, was on our air a little while ago, talking about how she doesn't feel there's a need for a special session.

But among Republicans, he is -- at least tonight -- a lone voice. I've spoken to several different offices today, and all the Republicans that I've spoken to want to push ahead with the plan for the special session. Jeb Bush, as you know, has come out and said that if a law were passed, he would be willing to sign it, assuming that it's the, what he calls, appropriate language.

So a lot of pressure for Republicans to move ahead. But you have to -- we have to wonder, because there is political pressure. This state is predominantly Democrat, and let's say someone wanted to run for a higher office down the road that's a statewide office; they may want to take into consideration what they do at this point -- make sure they don't offend any of those Democrats that live here in Florida -- Joie.

CHEN: CNN's Kate Snow for us in Tallahassee, Florida.

And ahead here, understanding the nation's high court and its role in the election impasse. A view from history and our guest, after a break.


CHEN: Working late at the Supreme Court.

It is no secret: the presidential stalemate is one for the history books. And with the highest court in the land weighing in on the matter, how will future generations see this case?

Joining us is a Supreme Court historian, Peter Irons. He's author of "A People's History of the Supreme Court."

Peter, thanks for being with us this hour.

Let's talk about the importance of what the Supreme Court is deciding, what the Supreme Court is considering, versus what is being decided in Florida, in the circuit court of Leon County. I asked Laurie Levenson this earlier: Which one really is going to be more important to the outcome of choosing a president?

PETER IRONS, SUPREME COURT HISTORIAN: Well, the Supreme Court itself may not decide the outcome of this election. I think there are so many court cases going on in so many different courts now -- Leon County, Seminole County, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court -- so that as these opinions come out, they may get in each other's way, so to speak, and we may not know a final result for weeks.

CHEN: In terms of the weightiness of this particular issue in Supreme Court history, does it fall at the top of the list? I mean, is this the single most important decision the Supreme Court has made?

IRONS: Well, if you look at the past decisions over 200 years of American history - and we've had some very, very controversial and important cases -- Dred Scott about slavery, Brown versus Board of Education, Roe versus Wade, Miranda -- I don't think in the historical long run that this is going to be at the top of the list. It certainly is, at the moment, the most important case going on in the country.

But in a long-term perspective, it involves an issue of whether a state court correctly interpreted its own state law, and the court deals with cases like that all the time.

CHEN: So in terms of what precedence it -- I guess, obviously, it wouldn't make a difference what the court ultimately rules, or whether it decides it just doesn't have involvement in this at all, right?

IRONS: Well, I think that, you know, whatever the court decides, there's going to be another round in this case. First of all, it may not decide that the Florida Supreme Court was wrong, in which case, the cases going on now are going to keep going through the legal system. There will eventually be a deadline, of course, when the electors meet in Washington on the 18th of December. But before that, everything is really up in the air.

CHEN: You know, I think of the Supreme Court -- and I think most of us as laymen today look at the Supreme Court and think of it as a very noble body, higher above politics, above the political fray, a truly moral authority -- even though we know that different individuals on the high court do have -- at least are perceived to have certain leanings in different ways. But we see them as being over all that fray. Has that been the history of the Supreme Court? Has it always been sort of above it?

IRONS: No, the Supreme Court from its very beginning has been a political body. Its members are appointed by presidents, usually of the same party. They go through a confirmation process in front of a political body. Most justices, when they reach the court, have had a political background and involvement.

For example, Chief Justice Renquist was a Republican poll watcher in the presidential election in 1964. It became an issue in his confirmation hearings because of the way he interrogated voters in Phoenix.

CHEN: What will happen, do you think? I mean, do you think -- are you looking at a decision coming down Monday, Sunday, Tuesday? How long will this go?

IRONS: It's hard to say. I think there will be a decision this coming week, probably as early as Monday or Tuesday. The court has decided cases very quickly in the past. There have been cases -- the Pentagon Papers in 1972, the Little Rock school integration case back in 1958 -- where the court heard arguments and decided the case within a matter of days because of its importance.

CHEN: Listening to the justices ask their questions the other day, it sounded like they were almost speaking to each other in a certain sense, telling each other a little bit about "what I think," in the kinds of questions -- "what you think" -- it almost seemed as though there were times that they were sending a message to each other about the questions to come in their private deliberations. Is there really sort of a time where the Supreme Court justices sit down and sort of hash things out and say, "No, you're wrong," "No, you're" -- I mean, do they operate as a jury does in coming to a decision?

IRONS: Well, they meet after the arguments in their conference room and discuss the cases. Usually, they vote on the cases within a day or two after the arguments.

CHEN: Is it animated? I mean, does anybody know?

IRONS: Well, the only reports we have -- nobody ever sits in the conference room except the justices and it's completely private. But we do know -- justices have talked about it -- that they get into heated arguments. There was one time at which Justice Hugo Black said that Felix Frankfurter got so mad at him he thought he was going to hit him. So they do have differences of opinion -- very heated sometimes.

CHEN: And do you think that it's possible in this particular case, with this cast of characters, that it will be a heated, emotional sort of debate? Or do you think that they will be relatively calm, understand, and write it all out and let history look at it all?

IRONS: Well, there's some justices -- I think Justice Scalia primarily -- who get very emotional. You could hear that on the bench when he was asking questions at the oral argument in this case. He really feels strongly about these. On the other side, Justice Ruth Ginsberg is very passionate and asks a lot of questions.

And my guess is that in the conference room, they'll keep that debate going. It's more of a dialogue. But the justices all do participate.

CHEN: Yes, wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall there?

IRONS: That would be great.

CHEN: Peter Irons, thanks very much for being with us.

IRONS: Thank you, Joie.

CHEN: With all eyes, of course, on Florida now, and the questions about who will be our next president, what is President Clinton -- remember him? -- up to in these final days of his administration? We'll check on that, coming up.


CHEN: Now to recap the latest developments in the Florida election controversy -- the great recount debate returns to a Leon County courtroom in the morning. Gore camp attorneys try to convince the judge to order an immediate hand count of 14,000 disputed ballots, while Bush lawyers want the plug pulled on the recount process once and for all. No ruling yet; testimony resumes 9:00 in the morning.

George W. Bush, meantime, moving forward with his transition to the presidency. He met with majority leaders in the House and Senate to start planning his political agenda.

And Florida's Republican lawmakers push ahead with plans for the special session that could give Bush the election. But the state Senate President says he is not ready to sign a proclamation calling for that special session.

In the final days of the Clinton administration, the spotlight has indeed turned away from the White House. But there still is a President at work.

White House correspondent Kelly Wallace on that.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Quiet days these are at the White House. Only a handful of reporters pepper Press Secretary Jake Siewert with questions, primarily about one subject only.

JAKE SIEWERT, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What will it take for Bill Clinton to actually fully cooperate with Governor Bush on transition?

WALLACE: The President himself, at a recent New York City dinner, joked about no longer being in the headlines.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am not a very good story. You should be down in Florida doing interviews tonight.

WALLACE: Of course, there is normally less focus on an outgoing administration after an election. Remember 1992, when all eyes shifted from the Bush White House to President-Elect Bill Clinton, and being out of the spotlight took some getting used to, says Bush's former White House counsel.

C. BOYDEN GRAY, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think it's disappointing. I think there's a decompression period you go through, which is -- which is hard to adjust to.

WALLACE: But these are unusual times. Nearly four weeks of legal wrangling over the presidential election has meant less coverage of the President's historic visit to Vietnam and perhaps less of a spotlight when lawmakers return to Washington this week.

The President, though, hoping to get the public's attention, used his radio address to press Congress on education funding.

CLINTON: I hope when Congress comes back, these commitments to our children will be kept.

WALLACE: This White House, accustomed to center stage during good times and bad, says less attention doesn't mean that less will get done.

SIEWERT: Whether the press are paying attention or not, whether the people are paying attention or not, there's important decisions being made. And we're focused on that work.

WALLACE: But whether the unresolved election will impact the President's goals for the upcoming congressional session, or his remaining days in office, is an open question.

But senior aides stress is it is business as usual around here, the President planning to work until his final day in office, even as he adjusts to being on the sidelines, since grabbing the spotlight eight years ago.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, the White House.


CHEN: And that's our special report on Election 2000, the Florida vote. Be sure to stay with CNN for the very latest developments on what's next.

And remember, you can always go to our Web site at for updates there as well.

"SPORTS TONIGHT" is coming up next. Thanks for being with us.



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