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Special Event

Election 2000: The Florida Vote

Aired December 4, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN election 2000 special report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE N. SANDERS SAULS, LEON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: The court finds that the plaintiffs have failed to carry the requisite burden of proof.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Al Gore suffers a big defeat in a Florida court, but his attorneys aren't giving up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: They won, we lost, we're appealing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on manual recounts with more questions than answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIET DINH, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: The United States Supreme Court has now put the ball back into the Florida Supreme Court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A confident Governor Bush keeps his eye on the courts and the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I do believe I have won this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And our Ed Garsten found a recount where they're still smiling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED GARSTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There have been no protesters, no rancor here over inconclusive chad hanging.

CHRISTOPHER THOMAS, MICHIGAN DIR. OF ELECTIONS: If it's hanging by one or two corners, it's a vote. If it's hanging by three corners, it's not a vote, and that's the end of it. We don't look at indentations, we don't look at piercings and we don't look at the sunlight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: For our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is a CNN election 2000 special report: THE FLORIDA VOTE.

From New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Good evening.

Now, you wouldn't expect a headline-making ruling of the highest court in the land to be overshadowed by a decision from a humble circuit court in Florida would you? But then, why would we expect anything expected out of this story?

Twenty seven days after Election Day, the U.S. Supreme Court, in effect, said to the Florida Supreme Court, you guys need to explain more clearly why you've decided to change that deadline, so we're setting aside your ruling. Barely had the experts started to explain what the high court meant when Leon County Judge N. Sanders Sauls took the bench and delivered a hammer blow to the hopes of Al Gore, ruling that his lawyers had not made a case to contest the election results in Florida -- no need to accept those late counts from Palm Beach, no need for Miami-Dade County to conduct that manual recount.

Any good news for Gore's lawyers? Well, they weren't held in contempt. But for the Gore campaign now, two distinct challenges: first, try to persuade Florida's Supreme Court to reverse today's decision; second, persuade wavering Democrats to hold the fort.

Later, we'll discuss the fallout with our legal and political analysts, we'll ask a sprightly trio of journalists whether the fat lady is warming up her vocal chords.

But first, here's a closer look at today's developments. Judge Sauls ruled there is no evidence that substantial irregularities in vote tallies or that more hand counting would change the outcome of the election in Florida. As part of that ruling, he denied Gore's request to hand count 14,000 ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. That means more work for the Florida Supreme Court, where the Gore team quickly appealed Sauls' ruling.

The state high court will also have to look back at one of its earlier rulings, that's because of a ruling from Washington, from the U.S. Supreme Court handed down today. The unsigned order sets aside the Florida Supreme Court's decision to extend the deadline to accept those vote recounts in Florida. The nation's highest court is asking Florida's highest court for a clearer explanation on why it ruled the way it did.

Now, more courts. In Leon County Circuit Court, Gore and his team took what could be a fatal legal hit. They were contesting the vote for Florida's electors. They were hoping to begin a manual recount as soon as possible. They got discouraging news on both counts.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman covered the hearing and the decision.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAULS: The court at this time will enter its rulings before the bench.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a hushed courtroom packed to capacity, Judge N. Sanders Sauls took nearly seven minutes before he explicitly announced whether there was a need to manually count votes.

SAULS: There's no credible statistical evidence and no other competent substantial evidence to establish by preponderance a reasonable probability that the results of the statewide election in the state of Florida would be different from the result which has been certified by the state elections canvassing commission.

TUCHMAN: During more than 22 hours of testimony over two days, attorneys for Vice President Al Gore tried to convince the judge the votes were out there to change the election results. One of their most important goals was having the judge rule the decision of the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board to stop its hand count in midstream was wrong.

SAULS: The Dade board -- canvassing board did not abuse its discretion in any of its decisions in its review and recounting processes.

TUCHMAN: The judge earlier ordered ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County sent to Tallahassee for the possibility of using them for evidence or for counting, but his ruling completely shot down the possibility of any counting for now.

The vice president's attorneys immediately filed an appeal they expect will be in the hands of Florida's highest court by Tuesday.

BOIES: We hope that the Florida Supreme Court will promptly entertain this appeal so that we can resolve once and for all what the right is of citizens to have their votes counted.

BARRY RICHARD, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: A lawyer's always happy when he wins.

TUCHMAN: George W. Bush's attorneys are not saying it's all over but like the way things are heading.

RICHARD: I think that the witnesses that they put on failed to provide the elements necessary for them to win the case, which is weak enough from our standpoint.

TUCHMAN (on camera): The vice president's attorneys take comfort in the fact that last month the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling in their favor, but they'd rather be going this time as the victors as opposed to the vanquished.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Tallahassee, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: The justices of that Florida Supreme Court are going to have to deal with a ruling they had already made. Why? Because the United States Supreme Court set aside Florida's ruling that extended a state deadline for accepting recounted votes. The nation's highest court asked for clarification of the ruling.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer explains what that means.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Try again, the U.S. Supreme Court told the Florida Supreme Court, explain how the Florida justices concluded it was permissible to extend the time for counting ballots. It took the justices here just three days to send the matter back, saying: "After reviewing the opinion of the Florida Supreme Court, we find that there is considerable uncertainty as to the precise grounds for the decision."

DINH: The United States Supreme Court has now put the ball back into the Florida Supreme Court for that court to answer, in the first instance, the central question between how it interprets the law, and whether in that process of interpretation it has in effect made law.

BIERBAUER: The justices, noting a split between legislative and judicial authority, said, "We are unclear as to the extent to which the Florida Supreme Court saw the Florida Constitution as circumscribing the legislature's authority, and perhaps, ignoring the federal Constitution and election statutes."

JEROME BARRON, GEORGE WASHINGTON LAW SCHOOL: It does not say that there was -- the federal Constitution was violated. It simply says that the federal -- that the Supreme Court of Florida may -- may not have considered the federal statute to the extent that the Supreme Court thinks it might have.

BIERBAUER: The justices provided a guideline: "If the state legislature has provided for final determination of contest or controversies by a law made prior to Election Day, that determination shall be conclusive."

Internal dissent is evident in the ruling, but not in the way the justices unanimously agreed to handle it.

BARRON: As they debated these technical points, I think someone must have said, what benefit do we do the country if we decide this matter 5-4?

BIERBAUER: The ruling was a mid-morning surprise. The justices were hearing another case when a court official handed the ruling to reporters, creating a hasty exodus from the courtroom.

(on camera): Legal experts say the Florida Supreme Court may take another stand at explaining its ruling, but it is not mandatory for the justices here to give it a second review.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Yet another Florida court case this week could hold hope for the Gore team, even though the vice president's campaign is not directly involved. On Wednesday, Circuit Court in Leon County will look at a suit that wants 15,000 absentee ballots in Seminole County thrown out. The suits charges that workers for the Republican Party illegally altered ballot applications. If the votes are thrown out, Gore would see a net gain of more than 4,000 votes, more than enough to give him the statewide lead.

Well, now a look at how both candidates are reacting to today's court decisions. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is following the Bush campaign in Austin, but first we'll hear from CNN's Jonathan Karl on how the Gore camp tries to make sure Democrats stay with him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A major defeat for Vice President Gore in Florida Circuit Court, but his legal team rushed to the cameras to say although they lost the battle, the war is not over.

BOIES: They won, we lost, we're appealing. This is going to be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court promptly, and what I think is that, that will be end of the matter. I think whoever wins in the Florida Supreme Court will accept that.

KARL: The Gore team had written their notice of appeal even before Judge Sauls announced his decision. Outlining the basis of the Gore appeal, lead counsel David Boies said Judge Sauls made a major mistake.

BOIES: This is the first case that I am aware of that in a ballot contest, a court has refused to look at any of the ballots.

KARL: For the vice president, who earlier in the day met with Joe Lieberman and his transition team, legal hurdles are higher than they've ever been. As Gore's lawyers prepare the appeal, his political team is scrambling to keep nervous Democrats onboard.

As in recent days, he got some help from Democratic congressional leaders Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, who released a statement within minutes of Judge Sauls' decision saying -- quote -- "We are united in our support of the decision to appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court."

But aides say the vice president knows the more difficult task is keeping the support of moderate and conservative Democrats, especially those representing states and districts that voted for George W. Bush.

The Gore team is reassuring those Democrats that the vice president's legal action will be concluded over the next week, signaling that Gore doesn't plan to fight beyond the December 12 deadline for Florida to choose its electors.

(on camera): Gore's message to nervous Democrats is simple: wait for the Florida Supreme Court to hear their appeal, a favorable ruling from that court would get those disputed ballots counted, and that, Gore's aides claim, would change everything.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Candy Crowley in Austin.

The presidential look may soon be much more than strategy, but no party hats yet. "We've learned to take it one step at a time," said a senior Bush adviser, "we had a couple of good steps Monday."

SAULS: ... we call the case of Albert Gore et al versus Katherine Harris...

CROWLEY: The cleanest step came in a Leon County courtroom.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The court reviewed all the facts, listened to all the arguments, considered all the evidence and concluded that Florida's votes were cast and counted fairly and properly.

CROWLEY: It was, said a senior Bush aide, the first silver lining without a cloud in sight. Less clear cut for most observers was action by the U.S. Supreme Court. Asking for further explanation, the high court vacated a major Florida Supreme Court decision which favored Al Gore. Within that call for clarification, the Bush team hears its own arguments.

JAMES BAKER, OBSERVER FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: The legal effect of today's decision is that the Florida courts must construe the election code to be consistent not just with Florida law, but also with federal law and with the United States Constitution. This is precisely what we argued before both the Florida and United States Supreme Courts.

CROWLEY: As the legal battle returns to the Florida Supreme Court, filled with judges appointed by Democrats, the Bush team believes the watchful eye of the Supreme Court will be helpful. "The Florida justices got their hands slapped," contended a top Bush legal adviser, "the U.S. Supreme Court is watching." On a political level, the Bush team continues to press in the court of public opinion. George Bush stopped short of his running mate's call for a Gore concession and tried the soft sell.

BUSH: The vice president's going to have to make the decisions that he thinks are necessary and I know that he'll put -- the interests of the country will be important in his decision making, just like it would be in mine.

CROWLEY (on camera): The Florida Supreme Court remains a huge hurdle for the Bush team, where the atmosphere is described as not sanguine. Still, a key player for the Bush legal team says, "I feel for the first time this is moving inexorably in our favor."

Candy Crowley, CNN, Austin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: And just ahead on this CNN special report, a closer look at today's big court decisions on the Florida vote through the eyes of CNN's Roger Cossack and Bill Schneider.

And later, they're sharp, they're smart, they're younger -- insight from a trio of Washington journalists.

And then, far from Florida, a recount with a difference. We'll tell you about one little known still undecided political race that is without courts or confusion. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ROBINSON, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Well, the first argument and the best argument is that the most important evidence, the ballots themselves, were admitted into this case, but they were never reviewed or considered in the decision making. We believe that to be clear error.

GEORGE TERWILLIGER, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: And what the judge ruled today as a procedural matter is that, in fact, the Gore team did not make that showing. So there's no reason to look at the ballots until you show some error in the certifications that were used by the county canvassing boards to determine the vote totals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: Welcome back. Thanks for staying with us.

Now to try to make sense out of today's court rulings, legal sense and political sense, we're joined from our Washington bureau by two of our own: CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider. They are sharp and they are smart, but young? Let's not kid ourselves.

Now... ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: However, we can hear you. We do hear you, Jeff, go ahead.

GREENFIELD: I'm glad.

OK, Roger, I'm reminded after listening to today's court decision down in Leon County of an old folk saying, it goes, if it wasn't for bad news I'd have no news at all.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

GREENFIELD: So is there anything in this decision from which the Gore camp can take any solace?

COSSACK: Well, it's not a capital punishment case. I mean, I guess you can find that to say. I -- look, I hate to be, you know, facetious about this, but the fact of the matter is, is it's almost as if Judge Sauls sat down and said, how can I figure out the worst opinion I can come up with for Vice President Gore. I mean, even on things where he could have thrown him a little bone, he didn't do it.

He ruled against him on every single issue, and he did it both in the law and in the facts. And, you know, that means that it's just almost an impossibility to get a favorable review on appeal, and I know this, the judge knows this, and certainly Vice President Gore's lawyers know it, too. It's a real -- to say it's an uphill battle is really understating it.

GREENFIELD: Well, that's what I wanted you to focus in on for a second, because I think what folks might not understand is that every time one body makes a decision, the burden is higher because the next higher body is supposed to give them discretion.

So if, for instance, the Florida Supreme Court justices thought that Judge Sauls, maybe he should have taken a look at the ballots, would that be enough for a reversal?

COSSACK: No. Here's what happened, and to play off of what you just said, the next time you go up on appeal, which is what Vice President Gore is going to do, the presumption goes along with the lower court opinion. So what is the standard here that they have to use? They have to say, first of all, that he abused his discretion, that in his decision about what the facts were -- and remember, he's the one that heard the evidence, you know, Sanders Sauls -- Judge Sauls heard the evidence, he's the one that's supposed to decide credibility, he's the one that's supposed to decide which is the one -- which side is more believable and which one made the burden of proof.

That's his job. So unless he comes up with an opinion that said, you know, I believe that Governor Bush won and the sky was orange and polka dot today, which he didn't do -- and it's a reasonable decision -- that stands.

Now, let's talk about the interpretation of the law, it's the same thing. He has to make an interpretation about what the law is. Unless he is just totally wrong with his interpretation of what the law is, it stands. He -- you know, he wins.

SCHNEIDER: Jeff, can I jump in here? Because I have a question really for Roger. One thing that the judge said today that really surprised me was his ruling -- one of the basis of his ruling was that there is no reasonable certainty that if they counted all these ballots or recounted all these ballots by hand that it would change the results of the election. Excuse me, but this election was razor- thin.

What was the judge talking about?

COSSACK: Jeff, is it OK if I go ahead and answer him?

GREENFIELD: Yes, I'll go out for coffee.

COSSACK: It's your show, you know.

GREENFIELD: You guys talk among your -- please. Go ahead.

COSSACK: Here's what that really is, and I think it's a good point, Bill. What this judge has to decide is what was the evidence that was put in front of him. All right? Vice President Gore put on two witnesses. Those two witnesses had to carry the burden of his case, which was that, look, there were legal votes that were not counted or illegal votes that were counted, and, Judge, if you recount these legal or illegal votes, there is a substantial reason to believe that there would be a different outcome.

You just can't say, look, I think it will be because there's only 500 votes and it's razor-thin. It's what went on in the evidence in that case. And this judge said, you know what, you didn't convince me, and the evidence you put on -- and that's all I'm looking to -- is what you put on and it didn't convince me.

SCHNEIDER: Well, legal reasoning may be OK. Statistical reasoning, I don't believe it.

GREENFIELD: Now, Mr. Schneider, since you've asked a couple of questions I get to ask you one. OK?

SCHNEIDER: OK, OK.

GREENFIELD: And that's about politics. When we talk about bad news for Al Gore, the fact that the Congress is coming back into lame- duck session, I believe tomorrow, is that good for Al Gore that all the Democrats will be coming back to Washington where he is, or is it bad news?

SCHNEIDER: Well, on the whole I think it's probably bad news, because the Democrats, you know, there's a lot of -- it's a big group of them and there's going to be a certain amount of group think going on. You're going to find some of the more liberal Democrats trying to keep up morale and to keep the party behind Al Gore. But what I think you're going to find is that the Democrats are going to stick with Al Gore until a week from tomorrow. That's the deadline, December 12th, which is when they have to certify the electors. And then they're going to start peeling off, and here's how they're going to do it.

They're going to follow the election returns. I think the better Al Gore is in a district, the more likely that member of Congress is to stick with him as the nominee. So the urban Democrats, the liberals, the minority Democrats are going to stick with Gore. But you're going to find all those Democrats in the red states, the states that Bush carried, suddenly start to peel off after December 12th, starting with the state of Texas.

GREENFIELD: The other thing that I think may be politically significant from today's ruling down the road, if you assume just for the moment that it's going to wind up as a Bush presidency, is that it seems to me that Judge Sauls did a huge favor to the Republicans by getting the Florida legislature off the hook. That is, if they don't have to decide to take over the process, they save themselves a big political headache, Bill. Do you think that's fair enough?

SCHNEIDER: I think that it is fair, because, you know, the legislature under law has the power to name the electors if the situation is unresolved after December 12th. But you know, most Americans do not like the idea of the legislature or Congress getting involved in this.

I mean, talk about an issue that could breathe new life into the Gore campaign, that would be turning the decision over to politicians. Then Gore could say, wait a minute, the fix is in, you know, this is George Bush's brother Jeb, who's the governor of Florida, this is a Republican legislature trying to appropriate the decision of the voters.

I think legislators are real nervous about doing that. Remember, all of them are elected, and they're going to have to face the wrath of the voters if they seem to be pre-empting the voters' prerogatives.

GREENFIELD: Roger Cossack, we heard a moment ago from Candy Crowley that the Bush campaign is saying, you know, when the Florida Supreme Court gets this ruling on the contest, the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States in effect slapped them down a bit, just said we don't understand what you're talking about, might have an impact.

From your experience, does that make -- is that correct? Would the Florida Supreme Court be looking over its shoulder at their brethren in Washington, thinking we better be real careful here?

COSSACK: You know, I don't think so. I think it's an independent judiciary. And I don't think that were exactly -- that they were slapped down by the United States Supreme Court.

I think the theory of that there was just a good yelling match at the United States Supreme Court and the notion that they were trying to come up with something that wasn't going to be a 5-4 opinion. And one of the things they could do was say, look, let's -- let's go and ask them for some more information, let's go back and do that. We'll vacate the order. We'll just sort of hang it out there for a while. And you know what, while they're getting that information together and while everybody's talking, and you know, getting new briefs, you know, the court in Florida may just come up and do what Sanders Sauls did today, which is take it off of our back. And I think that what happened in -- one of the things that happened from Judge Sauls' decision today is, in many ways it made the United States Supreme Court decision immaterial, because this is really where it's at. You know, the contest has always been where it's at.

And once he says, you failed in the contest, the Supreme Court's not going to help him.

GREENFIELD: We're down to our last 30 seconds, Bill Schneider. Let's assume for the moment that George W. Bush becomes the president. He becomes the president with the smallest electoral vote majority since Rutherford B. Hayes and a loss in the popular vote. Does that -- does that get overwhelmed by the pomp and circumstance of an inauguration and a new president, or is that a cloud over his head like that "Little Abner" character will stalk him for at least a while?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Well, it's a cloud over his head. I mean, look, this is a honeymoon without a wedding, and you know, that's called elopement. And what he's got to do is create the conditions of his own honeymoon. He's got to indicate that he's going to govern -- he's going to try to govern from the center. He's going have to reach out to Democrats. He's going to have to build up a reservoir of goodwill among a lot of voters, principally Democrats, who think he's an illegitimate president or who don't trust him or like him.

I think it would be tougher if Al Gore became president, but it's not going to be easy for George Bush. He's going to have to work very hard to create the condition of a honeymoon, which is a sense of a fresh start, unifying the electorate after this bitter and very damaging experience.

COSSACK: A honeymoon without a wedding. Jeff, a honeymoon without a wedding is called an elopement, huh? Well, maybe.

GREENFIELD: Well, you know what, we're going to leave that right where it is, because we then descent into another kind of cable program altogether.

I want to thank the youthful Bill Schneider and the would-be youthful Roger Cossack for joining us. Just ahead, however, the focus and Al Gore's best hope return to the Florida Supreme Court. The latest from Tallahassee as our CNN special report continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: I'm Jeff Greenfield. Welcome back to the CNN special report. Now, recapping the latest developments in the battle for the White House: The Gore campaign suffered a series of legal setbacks today. Saying the vice president's attorneys failed to prove their case, Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls denied Gore's request to hand count thousands of ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Gore's attorneys immediately appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Hours earlier, the United States Supreme Court set aside the Florida Supreme Court's decision that extended the deadline to accept vote recounts in Florida. The justices are asking the state Supreme Court for a clearer explanation why it ruled the way it did.

And as members of Florida's state legislature consider whether to intervene in the dispute, George W. Bush signaled that he is in no rush to have them get involved, saying the process should be handled one step at a time.

Now today's double-blow to the Gore campaign puts the Florida Supreme Court right back on the hot seat, facing two key cases. CNN's Susan Candiotti looks at how the justices are likely to proceed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Florida Supreme Court waited until day's end to respond to the Supreme Court's order. But the more pressing issue, by far, is the appeal filed by Vice President Gore.

CRAIG WATERS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: The justices are concerned to make sure that the law is applied according to the law of the land. That is their sworn duty as judges.

CANDIOTTI: The vice president's appeal was hand-delivered by a lower court to Florida's seven Supreme Court justices, who will formally decide whether to accept it Tuesday, an unprecedented case.

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: This is one that's of national significance. This is one I think the justices know that they are really being watched not only by the rest of the country, but the entire world.

CANDIOTTI: Florida's highest court, all appointed by Democratic governors, two weeks ago extended the deadline allowing Florida recounts to continue and forcing the secretary of state to accept the new results, results that narrowed the lead of Governor Bush to 537 votes over Vice President Gore.

On that matter, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday vacated the state court's ruling and asked it for clarification.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really kicking it back to the Florida Supreme Court and telling the Florida justices redo this opinion, be more concise about your reasons for doing what you did, and then send it back to us and we'll reconsider.

CANDIOTTI: Both sides have been asked to file briefs by Tuesday afternoon before the Florida Supreme Court responds. For now, all eyes remain fixed on where Mr. Gore's appeal is heading.

Legal analysts predict the court will order attorneys for Gore and Bush to weigh in before deciding whether to schedule oral arguments likely by the end of the week. (on camera): Sometime Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court is expected to respond to Mr. Gore's appeal, mindful the December 12 deadline for choosing Florida electors is inching closer and closer. In its appeal, Mr. Gore's lawyers said: "Time is extraordinarily short. The Florida Supreme Court must respond immediately and finally to resolve these issues."

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Tallahassee, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Just how short is the time getting for Vice President Gore. We'll ask our guests that and other political questions when we come back. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: So what about the politics of today's rulings in Florida and in Washington? Joining us to discuss it are three journalists who toil in the political vineyards: Michelle Cottle is senior editor of "The New Republic." So, for that matter, is Andrew Sullivan. He is also the proprietor of his own Web site: AndrewSullivan.com. They're in our Washington bureau. And Jake Tapper, who is Washington correspondent for Salon.com, joins us from Tallahassee.

Jake, we saw tapes earlier -- and there was David Boies smiling and saying, you know, they won, we lost, we'll appeal.

What were -- what were the Gore folks telling you once the cameras were turned off?

JAKE TAPPER, SALON.COM: Well, I'll tell you, they never expected Judge Sauls to rule for them. I think that they might have been a little stunned that he ruled so decisively against them. But one of the Gore attorneys, a guy named Jeremy Bash (ph), was in the courtroom with the appeal in his briefcase. And before Boies even left, Bash had handed it off at the district court.

So they were expecting this, and you know, their real hope lies in the Florida -- whatever hope they have left, let me say, lies in the Florida state Supreme Court.

GREENFIELD: Well, I'm interested in your amendment, because, as we heard from Roger Cossack, any time you appeal a local ruling the burden gets progressively heavier on you. Is there any sense they have of optimism, do you think?

TAPPER: I don't think there's one person in Tallahassee who has any sense of optimism for the Gore team. But that said, look, this is a very liberal court with a very broad interpretation of what they think voters' rights are. On the other hand, it could be said that, you know, they extended the deadline for the Gore people, and you know, they gave a lot of ability to the canvassing boards to make decisions. And I find it very hard to believe that they're going to rule in the Gore team's favor. But you know, in this story, I think we've all learned anything can happen.

GREENFIELD: This is true. Michelle -- Michelle Cottle, do you think that all of these court cases coming together, all running so heavily against Gore from the time of the Florida Supreme Court, will lessen the sense among Gore partisans that somehow this was unfair or illegitimate, or is that fire still burning?

MICHELLE COTTLE, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Well, with the partisans, I think there's just this sense on both sides that something -- something terribly wrong is afoot. I mean, the problem is that broad middle swathe of America who are kind of patiently waiting for the Supreme Court to rule and for the courts down in Florida to rule. They're going to start getting antsy now, as you will probably also see among Democrats in Congress.

You know, they were holding so closely together for Gore, and now you're probably going to start to see a lot more splintering.

GREENFIELD: And the fact that the Democrats and Republicans -- that is to say the Congress -- reconvenes tomorrow, I mean, one assumes this will be the buzz along the corridors in the Capitol. Do you expect the movement, the ground to start shifting out from under Al Gore as early as tomorrow, or are they going to give him a little more time?

COTTLE: Well, it certainly will start rumbling. I mean, there's also this Seminole court case that people are waiting on Wednesday that's considered a wildcard, and the process is going to work its way through the Supreme Court in Florida. And you're going to see a gradual progression here.

But you know, just what's been surprising thus far is how little grumbling there has been as the Democrats were waiting on these court rulings, and now that's just going to start to fall apart.

GREENFIELD: Andrew Sullivan, is it your sense now that among the Republicans, who were really in high dudgeon about the Gore contest -- they were using phrases like "theft of the presidency," "coup d'etat" -- have all these rulings in any sense to figure, OK, we've won, we can damp down the rhetoric a bit?

ANDREW SULLIVAN, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": I think the U.S. Supreme Court's knuckle-wrapping of the Florida Supreme Court definitely has helped take the fizz out of the Republican hysteria at this point. But I sort of feel like we're at that last seen in a horror movie, where you think it's over and it's sort of gone quiet, and suddenly, you know, Al Gore is in the bath tub and it's "Fatal Election," and any minute now he's going to come screaming back out of the bath tub and go after us all.

So I think there's also a sense of waiting for the worst to come.

GREENFIELD: Andrew, that -- I think perhaps you may have tipped your hands to your ideology... (LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: Sorry.

GREENFIELD: ... with that.

SULLIVAN: I kind of like Glenn Close.

GREENFIELD: But if we can strip away the diabloique "Fatal Attraction" scene, where do you see that coming from? Are you talking about possibly Seminole County? Are you talking about some electoral college thing?

SULLIVAN: No, I'm talking about the Florida Supreme Court. Everything's with them. They've only ruled once so far, and they overruled a lower court judge, Judge Lewis, to give Gore an extra week. I see no reason why the Florida Supreme Court couldn't again interpret this very broadly for Gore and allow a selective recount to give him the dimples he wants. And...

GREENFIELD: But, Jake Tapper -- I'm sorry, Andrew, go ahead.

SULLIVAN: I think it's perfectly possible, given their record. I think we're be a little silly to assume they won't. They've been reprimanded by the U.S. Supreme Court, but it still lies with them.

GREENFIELD: Jake Tapper, if that were to happen, is it your sense that the Florida legislature would then just kick into fifth gear and just take the process over?

TAPPER: Oh, yes, they're on their motorcycles, and they're ready to do wheelies here on Monroe Street. I mean, the Florida legislature is getting ready and hoping they don't have to, because, look, it could hurt them come re-election time, especially in the state Senate. But at the same time, you know, they're looking at the Florida state Supreme Court and they're itchy.

GREENFIELD: They're itchy -- OK.

TAPPER: Yes, they're -- well I figured Andrew talked about Al Gore in the bathtub, I could try to...

COTTLE: You have the bathtub, you have itching, this is just getting weird.

TAPPER: Al Gore in a bathtub is the most horrifying image I've ever had in my brain.

GREENFIELD: You know, Andrew, this is a very good time to take...

SULLIVAN: Sorry.

GREENFIELD: No, this is a very good time to take a break.

And when all, you know, get the heartbeat down and when we come back, I'm going to pose to our trio what may seem like a paradoxical notion that all this has actually been very good for George W. Bush. We'll see if they can handle that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: Welcome back.

I'm Jeff Greenfield talking with Michelle Cottle of "The New Republic"; Andrew Sullivan, also of "The New Republic" and his own eponymously named Web site -- I looked that word up -- and Jake Tapper of Salon.com, who is in Tallahassee, Florida, unlike the first two who are in Washington.

OK, Michelle Cottle, here's the hypothesis, that these 27 days have actually been a tremendous benefit to Governor Bush, that had he simply won Florida by, say, 8,000 votes, no contest, the first thing everybody would have known about him was he is the first president since 1888 to have lost the popular vote. And there might have been some uneasiness on the part of even his supporters.

Instead, the contest, the fighting and the vitriol in terms of the rhetoric has made George W. Bush a hero to all Republicans and conservatives because he saved them from Al Gore, and that, therefore, this was actually good for them.

Discuss.

COTTLE: No.

Bush was already a hero to all conservatives and Republicans because he's doing away with the Clinton legacy. I think just in general, he didn't -- nobody has behaved beautifully in this contest. I mean, there's been suits filed and countersuits and the level of rhetoric has just gone through the roof. And, you know, to some degree in more recent days there has been whisperings that George W. has been sent to play with his toys while the adults handle the ugly situation.

So, you know, it depends on where you draw the line. I think the couple of court rulings today being so decidedly against Gore will help out Bush. But this whole long process, I just don't buy it.

GREENFIELD: OK, well that was candid if not the answer that I was hoping for my own sense of security.

Andrew Sullivan, would you like to make it two for two and tell me that my theory is just all wet?

SULLIVAN: Yes, I'm sorry, Jeff.

No, I don't think that it's going to be that good for either candidate. I certainly think it would be a disaster if Gore pulled it off after this for him.

But I do think you're right. I think that the general consensus that he was loser of the popular vote has been lost in this fight to the finish. I still he think he's going to have his work cut out. I think he's been remarkably unimpressive the last two or three weeks. He's been basically AWOL in one of the most important periods. And we've looked for some sort of leadership. I think it's worrying that he has been AWOL, but I hope that he'll somehow manage to pull himself together and reach out to Democrats, which is exactly what he's got to do if he's going to be a successful president.

GREENFIELD: Jake Tapper, you're welcome to take a shot at me, but I want to just shift the question just a bit to ask whether or not if George W. Bush comes back on to the scene in the next couple of weeks, assuming that he is, in fact, going to be the president-elect, makes conciliatory speeches, meets the right people, can't he go a fairly long way to erasing this bitterness ever before he's inaugurated?

TAPPER: I think that George W. Bush has the potential to do a lot of that, actually. George W. Bush, as governor of Texas -- now of course Texas Democrats are not the most liberal Democrats there are, and certainly they're not like Dick Gephardt or David Bonior in the U.S. House -- but, you know, he does have a record of reaching across the, you know, aisle in Texas and in Austin, and I certainly think that he's a savvy enough politician.

Look, the guy ran a great campaign defeating, possibly, Al Gore in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. He is -- he's never -- you know, he's not the dim ball that a lot of people in the media have made him out to be. He's certainly no genius, but he's a very savvy politician, and he will do what it takes, I think, in order to have a good feeling. Not to mention that when this is over, people are just going to be so happy that it's over, especially this cameraman right here, I think it's fair to say that people will be very, very happy to have someone declared president.

GREENFIELD: You know, Michelle, I think that that point actually is another thing working in Governor Bush's favor, that is the desire not just for this to be over but for words of conciliation and healing to be heard, that that's a fairly low bar for George W. Bush to leap over, no?

COTTLE: That's true. And, I mean, largely what he'll have to do is keep control of the rest of the party, which, you know, has got to be jumping up and down as we speak celebrating the end of the Clinton era. If he can keep control of Lott and Armey and the congressional Republicans, who tend to be a little more vitriolic in their rhetoric, then he will have, you know, made a good first step toward being the president of healing and bipartisanship that he always said he would be.

SULLIVAN: His great success in the primaries, I think, Jeff, was because he got the religious right locked down. He didn't have to give them anything. And oddly enough, this endgame with Al Gore has also, I think, locked down the religious right. So with any luck, he won't be required to throw them any bones, or that many bones, when he gets into office, which is exactly what he needs to avoid if he's going to be a successful president. GREENFIELD: Yes, so in other words, that actually -- OK, that's a rare moment of agreement I was trying to argue, namely that just beating the legacy of Clinton, Andrew, was -- is enough for the right for now -- and we've got about 20 section.

SULLIVAN: I think it is. And I think that he's lucked out in that respect. He's kind of a default president. He was a default candidate, he's now going to be a default president, and I think that he could turn that around to his advantage.

GREENFIELD: All right, Andrew Sullivan, Michelle Cottle, Jake Tapper, my thanks to you. And, Jake, tell the cameraman that it might be over before Groundhog Day.

Just ahead...

TAPPER: I keep telling him that.

GREENFIELD: ... where hanging chad and another political race hangs in the balance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS: If it's hanging by one or two corners, it's a vote. If it's hanging by three corners, it's not a vote. And that's the end of it. We don't look at indentations, we don't look at piercings, and we don't look at the sunlight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: You will see why in this state -- and, no, it's not Florida -- they can recount the votes without going to court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: It's been sort of lost in the news amid all the excitement over the Florida recount, but there is also a recount under way in Michigan. It will decide a congressional seat in Washington.

As CNN's Ed Garsten tells us, unlike the Florida contest, there's been no bickering and the recount rules are clearly spelled out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARSTEN (voice-over): The colors are code names for the candidates: red for Republican Mike Rogers, blue for Democrat Diane Byrum. Rogers margin of victory for the 8th Congressional District seat was only 160 votes out of almost 300,000 cast. And so, Byrum called for the recount hoping to hear more of this...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blue, blue...

GARSTEN: ... than this:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... red. ADAM WRIGHT, BYRUM PRESS SECRETARY: If we were to pick up one vote in other every precinct, that would be enough to turn the election around.

GARSTEN: It's all been very civil. Even though Rogers has already been to Washington for the orientation for new Congress members, his press secretary says he has no beef with the recount and no fear it will change the outcome of the election.

SYLVIA WARNER, ROGERS PRESS SECRETARY: It's very rare for a recount to overturn an election in Michigan, just because our laws are so well designed and our election workers are so well trained.

GARSTEN: There have been no protesters, no rancor here over inconclusive chad hanging.

THOMAS: If it's hanging by one or two corners, it's a vote. If it's hanging by three corners, it's not a vote. And that's the end of it. We don't look at indentations, we don't look at piercings, and we don't look at the sunlight.

GARSTEN: Ballots are all set up in a straight line so voters don't get a case of the butterflies.

(on camera): The results are expected some time during the week of December 18th, and unlike the situation in Florida, both sides say they'll accept the final vote tally, meaning the winner will go to Congress, the loser will stay in Michigan, and nobody plans to go court.

Ed Garsten, CNN, Mason, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: And finally, a request to you, the viewer -- well, some of you, anyway. Those of us in the news business appreciate it when a story sparks the kind of intense interest like this one has. We like it when people decide that political matters matter. And, to be honest, we like the fact that a lot more people are watching.

But have you ever wondered what it must be like to be a referee or an umpire in the middle of a crucial game, with passionate partisans on both sides? Think about it. Have you ever, ever seen a crowd treat a call that goes against one of their players with anything but outrage? Same here.

If we note, for example, that Al Gore leads in the national popular vote, that is a matter of fact. It doesn't mean George W. Bush should lose the White House if he winds up with a majority of the electoral vote.

If we note that some Democrats may be moving away from Al Gore, we're not celebrating it, we're reporting it.

So keep those calls and letters and e-mail coming in, folks, whether you come to praise or bury us. But just for the sake of simple decency, you might want to leave out one or two of the more colorful adjectives.

Well, that's it for this special report on election 2000: the Florida vote. I will be back tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern time.

I'm Jeff Greenfield in New York. "THE SPIN ROOM" is on tap.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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