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Florida Supreme Court Expediting Examination of Gore Appeal; Democratic Lawsuits Attempting to Invalidate Absentee Ballots

Aired December 5, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't feel anything other than optimistic.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I must say that I'm very encouraged by what's been taking place.


ANNOUNCER: Upbeat assessments from the presidential candidates, as their number twos assess the mood on Capitol Hill.

Down in Tallahassee, attention focuses on absentee ballot applications and the men and women of Florida Supreme Court.


ARTHUR ENGLAND, FORMER FLORIDA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: They now seem to be the very center of the presidential contest.


ANNOUNCER: Florida's mess has people looking for better ways to hold an election. Are the voters up to it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Online voting at the private level has brought to elections what ATM machines brought to banking and individual citizens.


ANNOUNCER: And New York senator-elect goes to Washington -- again.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATOR-ELECT: I am not adverse to hard work and I expect to be working very hard to learn a lot.


ANNOUNCER: We welcome our viewers from around the United States and the world to this CNN election 2000 special report: THE FLORIDA VOTE. From New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: So just what were the markets telling us today? Were they jubilantly saying, hooray, we almost have a president, and a Republican, to boot? Or were those huge jumps in the Dow and the Nasdaq cued by the words of our economic chief of state for life, and maybe beyond, Alan Greenspan? Well, in the words of my ex-broker, who knows?

What we do know, or think we know, is that this presidential race may -- may be approaching the finish line, or at least the stretch, or maybe the clubhouse turn. We'll report, explain and speculate, and with a plot this bizarre, it is only sensible that we're going to be joined tonight by famed movie critic Roger Ebert, maybe he can figure out the right ending to all of this.

So, election 2000 continues to be anything but business as usual, and here's a rundown of the latest events. It is back to the Florida Supreme Court for Al Gore and George W. Bush. Both sides have until noon tomorrow to file briefs in Gore's appeal of Judge N. Sanders Sauls ruling that rejected a contest of the Florida election results.

In Leon County Circuit Court, Judge Nikki Clark decided to hear testimony over whether to throw out some 15,000 absentee ballots that were cast in Seminole County. That case is set to begin tomorrow.

George W. Bush began getting CIA security briefings today. Running mate Dick Cheney spent the day on Capitol Hill. He met with congressional Republicans.

An optimistic Al Gore -- his words -- continued his push for recounting votes in Florida, while Joe Lieberman also headed to the Hill, trying to keep Democrats from wavering in their support for the vice president.

Now, the spotlight is back on the seven justices of the Florida Supreme Court. On Thursday, they will hear arguments from attorneys for Bush and Gore.

CNN's Kate Snow profiles the jurists who could decide who will call the White House home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seven justices with the weight of the world on their shoulders. As one former justice put it, they want to get this one right.

ENGLAND: They're in the epicenter, if you will, things coming down and coming up. And they now seem to be the very center of the presidential contest. SNOW: All seven have worked together since January of 1999. That's when Justices Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince joined the court.

THOMAS SARGENTICH, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW SCHOLAR: The general sense is that the Florida Supreme Court is a very fine, able body of jurists, very serious court.

SNOW: All of the justices were appointed by Democratic governors. Republican Governor Jeb Bush signed off on Peggy Quince's appointment, but she was originally named by Lawton Chiles. Six are registered Democrats, one is an independent. That background and what some see as left-leaning opinions have been a source of friction with Republican lawmakers.

GERALD KOGAN, FORMER FLORIDA SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: There are members of the legislature that say that the Supreme Court doesn't interpret the law, it makes the law. And consequently, it thwarts, as they say, the will of the people. So, you may not find us to be very popular with the legislative, or in this administration, with the executive branch.

SNOW: Gerald Kogan served on Florida's highest court for 12 years. He says it would be unusual for the court to overturn a finding of fact from a lower court judge, like Judge N. Sanders Sauls.

KOGAN: However, if the court feels that a judge has grossly, you know, abused his discretion, then the court will say, uh-uh, we're looking at the facts and his findings don't jive with the evidence that was at trial, and therefore they'll go back and reverse it.

SNOW (on camera): It's impossible to predict how the court will view the Gore appeal. Said one former justice, "no matter what they do, they're going to get a lot of grief."

Kate Snow, CNN, Tallahassee.


GREENFIELD: And now to cases in two other Florida courts that just could turn this whole story upside down one more time. Tonight, a Leon County judge denied a motion from the Bush campaign to throw out a lawsuit aimed at dismissing absentee ballots from Seminole County. A similar case in Martin County will also be heard tomorrow.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman has more on what could give Al Gore a net pick-up of thousands of votes.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If George W. Bush's attorneys were to lose the Seminole County case, their candidate could lose 4,700 votes, way more than his lead in Florida. So on Tuesday night, they hoped the judge would accept a motion to dismiss what they feel is an unfair case.

BARRY RICHARD, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: No allegation of fraud. No allegation of any question of integrity in this case.

TUCHMAN: Both sides agree the Seminole County supervisor of elections, Sandra Gourd, allowed Republican workers to go into the election office and fill out missing voter I.D. numbers on more than 2,100 ballot applications. The Democratic plaintiff says this was not done for the Democrats, and that could have cost Al Gore the presidential election.

GERALD RICHMAN, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: We're basically saying, in effect, that there was a conspiracy between representatives of the Republican Party, an elected Republican official.

TUCHMAN: The judge turned down the motion to dismiss the case and said she would rule on Wednesday regarding a request by the Bush lawyers for a jury trial. It's the third time they've tried to limit the influence of this judge in the past week, who Republicans fear might not be fair because she was passed over for an appellate court seat by Governor Jeb Bush.

The Bush side says it will have other county elections supervisors testify that they have taken similar actions in an effort to be helpful, not unlawful.

TERRY YOUNG, ATTORNEY, SEMINOLE COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: They're claiming fraud; we contend that what happened here is not.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Meanwhile, a very similar case involving Martin County, Florida, will go on trial here in Tallahassee, too. That also begins on Wednesday, but with staggered hours, so the two trials with some of the same lawyers won't compete with each other.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Tallahassee, Florida.


GREENFIELD: Now, you know that old saying, don't make a federal case out of it? Too late. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is one, and judges there heard arguments today. Bush supporters say those selected hand counts the Democrats want violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. There are related appeals from two cases, one from the Bush campaign, another from pro-Bush voters in Brevard County.

Well, it is difficult to keep up with all of the legal maneuvering, even if you have a score card. We have something better, CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack in our Washington bureau, held hostage for 28 days, trying to sort this out.

Roger, I want to turn to Seminole County, because that's the one that seems to me to have caught the eye of people, I guess because what happened there was at some level at least a technical violation of procedure.

But is the remedy that the Gore -- that the plaintiff -- not the Gore campaign -- asking to throw out absentee ballots, is that just too powerful even if the judge agrees that something wrong happened? ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jeff, to sort of -- to answer your question directly, I believe that it is too strong a remedy and I don't think that, that is the proper remedy. You know, having said that, of course, you know, watch it -- you know, watch these votes get tossed. But let me tell you why.

There is some case law down there -- and there is some precedent on the other side -- but there is some case law down there, the Beckstrom case, as we lawyers like to throw case names around, that indicates that you have to prove fraud, or at the very, very, very least, some kind of gross, gross negligence. And in this case, what happened, as you said, was that they filled in the application, they put the number on the application for the ballot. Nobody is alleging that anybody fooled around with the ballot.

So what's the remedy? The remedy is you throw out people's votes -- you've heard the Florida Supreme Court, they've said time and time again, particularly in their major opinion, the policy is we want votes to count. So it would seem to me that this remedy is going to be a stretch.

Having said that, let me tell you that there is an allegation in here that there was only selective repairing of these applications, that is that only the Republicans...

GREENFIELD: That's what I wanted to ask you.

COSSACK: ... were given the chance to come in and fill them in. That might -- you know, that might cause a problem. But again, the issue is, do you toss out these votes? And I think that's a drastic remedy.

GREENFIELD: When the attorneys for the Bush campaign asked for a jury trial, you'll forgive me if part of what I thought immediately was well, that will delay things pretty well, since you have to voir dire 12 men and women good and true. To what extent is running out the clock -- if that's what's going on -- strategically smart? That is just push it as close to December 12 as you can get, before final court decisions and the Florida legislature then says, we have to act?

COSSACK: Well, I don't think that the -- there is precedent, by the way, for that December 12 date not to be set in cement, as one seems to -- as people seem to indicate. There is precedent, I think in a 1960 election where it went on past December 12.

Having said that, I think there's also a symbolic feeling in the country that the December 12th date should be the end of it.

Now, as far as having a trial date, you know, one of the issues may be in this case that they have to prove fraud, and that's an intent crime, and you -- then you have to have 12 people agree that, you know, fraud -- that this is a felony and that fraud was committed, and you have to have it proven beyond a reasonable doubt. And you know, you get this into the criminal -- into a criminal scenario, I would be looking for a jury too if I was on the defense side. GREENFIELD: We're down to about 20 seconds, Roger: The Florida state Supreme Court, will it be looking over its shoulder at the U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court's warning to them or shot across the bow when it hears oral argument tomorrow -- Thursday?

COSSACK: No, I think it's the other way around. I think the United States Supreme Court is going to be saying, Florida Supreme Court, please decide this issue, because once you decide it, we don't really have to get involved anymore. I think the 11th Circuit is going to be thinking the same thing.

I think once the Supreme Court decides -- or the Florida Supreme Court decides this case, these other cases almost become moot, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: Roger Cossack, thanks. We'll see you on every CNN show, probably including "SPORTS TONIGHT."


So just, if you like Rog, he'll be hear.

Just ahead, Tuesday with the candidates: Why is this man, not me, this man smiling? Well, he's going to tell you himself even though he's awaiting the court decision that could end his White House dreams once and for all.

Then to the Bush camp to learn what is causing the Texas governor to be both optimistic and cautious.

And we'll look at something else election 2000 has produced: A lot of calls for reform in the way people vote and what some members of the Congress have in mind. Please stay with us.


GREENFIELD: So now as they used to say school it's getting down to "show and tell" time. Four weeks to the day after the presidential election, two contenders are showing optimism while awaiting the most telling, perhaps, court decision to date.

We're going to get the latest check from both camps. We'll hear in a moment from CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who has taken up residence in Austin, Texas, but first to Washington and CNN senior White House correspondent John King on the vice president's day.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The public line is upbeat.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't feel anything other than optimistic. I really -- and the team down in Tallahassee feels that way also.

KING: The public image one of unity. REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: Al Gore and Joe Lieberman enjoy strong support within our caucus for what they're doing to try to get every vote counted in Florida.

KING: But many restless Democrats and even some top Gore advisers believe the odds are long, the end in sight.

GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: If Gore loses in the Florida Supreme Court, I think that the ball game is pretty much over. It will be tough for him to go on at that stage.

KING: The vice president's contest of Florida's election results now rests on one last appeal, and a month of waiting could be down to a decisive few days. The Florida Supreme Court will hear Gore's appeal Thursday, with a ruling expected as early as Friday. And trials are scheduled Wednesday for Democratic suits challenging thousands of absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin counties.

The vice president is not party to those and before Tuesday had little to say about them, but he could benefit if the ballots are disqualified, and he's clearly watching with interest.

GORE: More than enough votes were potentially taken away from Democrats because they were not given the same access that Republicans were.

KING: The Gore appeal challenges all of the circuit court ruling by Judge Sanders Sauls, but Gore legal advisers believe their best case, because of prior state Supreme Court rulings, is the portion dealing with Miami-Dade County. The Gore teams wants credit for 157 additional votes identified before a countywide hand recount was called off and wants a manual review of 10,000 ballots that registered no vote for president in machine tallies.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're also confident that this can be done expeditiously.

KING: But even Lieberman's confidence has limits. Sources tell CNN he has spoken to several friends and associates in recent days about the challenges of returning to the Senate in such a volatile political environment. And the vice president, too, is described by a close adviser as well aware he is running out of both legal and political options.

(on camera): But the vice president surprised even some of his own advisers by stopping well short of saying he would bow out if he loses the state Supreme Court court appeal. Some took it as proof that he's not as confident as he says he is and is looking for help in those suits challenging absentee ballots.

John King, CNN, Washington.



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

Optimism is tempered by the inherent unpredictability of what the Florida Supreme Court may do.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's been one month from today that the people actually showed up and started to vote, and here we stand -- and here I stand -- still, you know, without a clear verdict.

CROWLEY: Still, the governor of Texas may be a court ruling away from president-elect. And the rhetoric about a concession from Al Gore has been dialed back.

BUSH: That's a decision the vice president has to make. It's a difficult decision, of course, and you know, I can understand -- I can understand what he may be going through. It's been a very interesting period of time for both of us.

CROWLEY: Key word: conciliatory. Bush and company want to give the vice president room to play this out his way. "Our guiding philosophy," says a Bush staffer, "is simple caution. There is a concern with acting presidential while not acting in a way that is condescending to the vice president."

Caution extends to movement toward naming a Cabinet.

"We're in total lockdown until Gore concedes," according to one aide.

Still, senior staff announcements may be forthcoming, and some potential Cabinet nominees have been contacted, activity designed to ensure that Bush can move out of uncertainty with decisive movement.

BUSH: I think it is going to be important to show some -- once the election is over -- to show the American people that this administration will be ready to seize the moment.

CROWLEY: Laying the groundwork for getting legislation through a divided Congress, Dick Cheney worked Capitol Hill Tuesday, meeting only with Republicans, reaching out to everybody.

RICHARD CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the transition is up and running and operational now, and we look forward to working with members of Congress of both parties.

CROWLEY: The Bush team philosophy as described by one aide: "Hug a Democrat. You need them."

But the timing is not yet right. "We're looking forward to reaching out to Democrats," said one strategist, "but part of being bipartisan is being respectful of the opinions of the other party and not putting them in an awkward position."

(on camera): This step back and let it happen approach is a short-term strategy. Should the Florida Supreme Court turn things upside down, every option, both political and legal, will be under review in the Bush camp.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Austin.


GREENFIELD: Governor Bush today probably had his heart in Minnesota, where his father underwent hip replacement surgery. A spokesman at the Mayo Clinic said surgery on the former president's left hip proceeded well, as expected. The former president, who's 76, is said to be resting comfortably. He's expected to be hospitalized for five days.

By the way, have you ever heard of anyone reporting that someone was resting uncomfortably? Let me know if you ever have.

Still to come, we will talk with "TIME" magazine's Tamala Edwards and with CNN's Bill Schneider about Florida fatigue, Washington whispers and other assorted alliteratives. And then we will catch up with a very familiar face in a historically unprecedented place as Hillary goes to the Hill.

Please stick around.



ED RENDELL, DNC GENERAL CHAIR: It's important the winner in this have the ability to reach out to the other side. But I think it's just as important for the loser, whether it's Governor Bush or Vice President Gore, and the congressional leaders of the loser's party, to not make this a two- or four-year election campaign, to not say we're going to just gridlock the government and we're going to fight, fight, fight for the next four years.



JIM NICHOLSON, RNC CHAIRMAN: I had a meeting today with Secretary Cheney -- I want to call him Vice President-elect Cheney -- and leaders of the Senate, and talked about that very issue, of how important it is that we work in a bipartisan way to get some things done for the people of America.


GREENFIELD: And welcome back to the special report. Now we seek meaning here, we seek perspective here, we seek wisdom. And so we turn to Washington?

Well, in this case yes, because joining us from our bureau there are Tamala Edwards of "Time" magazine and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, you have some poll numbers that address the question of whether the public may finally be saying enough already.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we are finding some pretty clear evidence of Florida fatigue out there. How's this for evidence? Most Americans now say that if the winner in Florida is not decided by the deadline, they think it's a good idea -- you see it there on your screen -- a good idea for the Florida legislature to name the Bush slate of electors as the official electors from Florida.

Now, take a look at this. Well, that's the same thing. When people are willing to turn the choice over to politicians, you know they've had enough -- Jeff.

GREENFIELD: And you also have what's now -- was on the screen a second ago, Bill, is the notion of whether or not voters -- or our voters, the people you talk to -- favor or oppose the notion of hand counting those ballots in Miami-Dade.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's right, and this shows that a majority of people say they don't want those ballots hand-counted. Now, that's a real turnaround.

Today on the White House lawn, Vice President Gore came out and he said he doesn't believe in polls, but he saw a poll that he thought was interesting: that most people say count the ballots, they want them all counted one by one.

Well, no more. What this says is people are really tired of this and they think that the contest is over and they don't necessarily want to see those ballots hand counted one by one, even the disputed ballots, in Miami-Dade County. They don't think that's the fairest, the necessary way to determine the outcome.

Enough is enough, and what Vice President Gore today said really no longer holds.

GREENFIELD: And Tamala, you were at that White House ceremony, photo opportunity, conversation, whatever it was.


GREENFIELD: If Bill is -- if Bill is right that the public is now even saying, you know, we don't even want to bother with a hand count, just let's get it over with, could you sense that the Democrats surrounding Al Gore today were reflecting that view of the public?

EDWARDS: Well, it's interesting, because you almost have to separate out the two things, the Democrats around him and Al Gore himself.

I was struck at that press conference, first of all, in that compared to what he's looked like in the last few days physically looked a lot better. He looked a lot more comfortable. He seemed pale and a little wan and beat up if you ask me, and today he seemed a little bit revivified. And we also saw in the spate of the last press conferences or news avails that he did, particularly "60 Minutes" on Sunday, where he said, listen, this would be over by mid-December, and yet today he backed away from that. And shortly after that press conference, I talked to a senior aide, who also sort of waved me back from the December 12th date.

And the fact that Gore could go into all these intricacies -- you know, I'm not a party to that lawsuit, I don't know what's going on, but by the way, have you noticed all of these details in Martin County and Seminole County -- it's clear that he's also keeping his eye on that ball. And what happens if we get to December 12th and those lawsuits haven't been solved. Is he saying, no, hold on, I'm not ready to get out? And then what happens to the Democrats around him?

And those poll numbers that you just showed are interesting to me, because I think we're not yet at the tipping point. Even though some of those figures are at 50 percent or a little bit above, you're also showing somewhere in the low to high 40s of people who seem to agree with the vice president's position.

I think it's not until you start to get up around to 65, 70, 75 percent that we're starting to hear that that's when, you know, other people can say, listen, let it go. There's a difference between six people being against you, four for you, and seven, eight people being against you, two for you.

GREENFIELD: And yet, Bill Schneider, in a political sense, so many Democrats who stepped up in the last day or two to say, we're with him, it seemed to me that they were saying, we're with them until the Supreme Court of Florida says what's what.

Based on those numbers, is it your sense that should Al Gore somehow want to keep this contest going even after the Supreme Court would, let's say, reject him, that at that point the numbers would begin to just become an avalanche against Gore?

SCHNEIDER: I think, you know, one more deadline, one Supreme Court decision, and it all begins to crumble. What Gore's trying to do is exude confidence so that he keeps his base with him. I mean, if he looks like a loser, they're going to abandon him.

And the Democrats are being brave about this and they're saying, OK, we're with you, we think you're a winner, you look like a winner, we think you actually won Florida, but you've got one more chance. And Gore is trying to ignore that deadline.

Look, it almost is mid-December. So if he says, you know, we're going to wait until mid-December, it looks like time is running out.

He's trying to say there's no clock on this, we're waiting until somebody, somewhere, some court orders a recount to start, because the secret is, if you start the recount, you can't stop it.

GREENFIELD: Before I turn to Tamala for another political point, you have one other number -- I don't know if we have a graphic or not, but you can tell us -- about the notion that Al Gore's leading in the popular vote, which a lot of Democrats think is the moral or political underpinning of their argument. What's -- what's the public telling us about that notion?

SCHNEIDER: What the public is telling is two-thirds of them say that they are perfectly aware that Gore is the winner of the national popular vote. We ask people: Who won the national vote in this contest? Two-thirds say Gore. Only a few people, in the teens, believe that Bush actually beat Gore in the national vote.

The interesting thing is that doesn't seem to translate into anything. You know, before this election -- I've been looking at polls a long time, and I would have guessed that that would have translated into a sense of legitimacy for Gore, it would have backed up his claim. But yet, the public isn't sticking with him. They want this to be over. They're ready to declare Bush the president. They think the legislature can step in.

That number, the fact that they know Gore won the popular vote, doesn't mean that they think Gore really is the legitimate winner: in part because, I think, No. 1, they know what the rules are and you've got to play by the rules. Al Gore himself said he'd abide by the rules of the electoral college. And No. 2, they know that this election was very, very close and could have gone either way.

GREENFIELD: Now, Tamala, you remember a couple of years ago during impeachment. The polls were running very heavily against impeachment, but the House Republicans felt that they could vote for it because the folks in their district were mostly Republicans, because of the way the House has changed.


GREENFIELD: Is something like that, do you suspect, going on with Democrats, that because they're in -- the members of Congress, at least, represent heavily Democratic districts, by and large, they can afford to stay with their base even if the public at large is going another way?

EDWARDS: Well, that's a really important point, Jeff, because, you know, all of these guys when they run know they're going to need their base and you don't want to be -- you know, it's sticky wicket to be the guy who's known as the one who got out there quickly and said, no, you know, let's concede. Let's go ahead and embrace George Bush especially with that number of people saying they think the votes should be counted and the fact that the public hasn't en masse 70, 80 percent said let's call it a day.

You know, so they can stick with Al Gore I think until December 12th. But it's interesting the number of them privately and publicly. I just heard Bob Graham from Florida say a little earlier tonight that December 12th is the deadline. And most -- I mean, that's a handful of days. They lose nothing by sticking with him until then.

The problem becomes next Tuesday if he is indeed looking to Seminole and my comments earlier -- it was my sense of the vice president. I don't think that that's the sense of the party or a lot of his constituency in other places. I think people are ready to call it a day on December 12.

GREENFIELD: So, Bill just -- we're down to our last minute. But if in fact the vice president were to find some way to keep this contest going, it almost sounds like even if he found a foothold, the danger there is that he then begins to lose what he has of this base so far?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there's only one way he can keep the contest going which is find some way to start counting the ballots. Because, as I said, you can't stop it once it starts. That would be unfair. I think among Democrats there's the same calculation that you mentioned a minute ago about Republicans during impeachment. They were afraid.

You know, members of Congress are very safe. They rarely get defeated these days. But what Republicans worried about in impeachment was that if they didn't come out against President Clinton they would be opposed in their own party's primary by a staunch conservative.

Well, liberal Democrats are afraid of the same thing, that if they don't stand by Al Gore, they'll make a lot of Democrats in their district angry and the Democrats in their district could run or contend against them two years from now and say this person, this member of Congress, was disloyal to Al Gore, our noble nominee and that could be very damaging. They don't want to take that risk

GREENFIELD: And on that note of what could happen in the future, urging you to watch our coverage of 2002, 2004. 2008. I thank Tamala Edwards of "Time" magazine, Bill Schneider of CNN and remind you folks that there is even more to come on this CNN special report, including a hot button issue that is already the talk in Congress, election reform. So please stay with us.


GREENFIELD: And with those results from poll, I'm Jeff Greenfield welcoming you back to this special report on yet another day in which the courts still hold the keys to the presidency. And here are the latest developments in the battle for the White House.

George W. Bush is moving ahead with his transition plans, but according to an aide, is refraining from naming a Cabinet just yet out of respect, until Vice President Al Gore concedes. Meantime, Vice President Gore says he remains, quote, "optimistic," unquote, and is refusing to say just how far he is willing to take his fight.

However, he signaled that other cases in Florida involving absentee ballots could be pivotal. Those cases, involving Seminole and Martin Counties, will be heard tomorrow in Leon County, that's at Tallahassee, the capitol. At issue, whether to throw out thousands of absentee ballots because of voter allegations that Republicans were allowed to alter ballot applications while Democrats were not.

And both the Gore and Bush campaigns have until noon tomorrow to file briefs in Gore's appeal of Judge Sauls' ruling that rejecting a contest of Florida's election results.

Well, as the legal jockeying continues, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are wasting little time trying to prevent a repeat of this year's election turmoil.

As CNN's Carl Rochelle tell us, they're busy advancing a host of bills aimed at trying to modernize voting across the United States.


CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When voters went to the polls last month they cast ballots in several different ways. Some used computers, some lever machines, others paper ballots and many the now infamous computer punch cards that caused so much grief in Florida. Some are members of Congress are making a bipartisan effort to upgrade the way people vote before next national election rolls around.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We're not mandating that the state vote in a certain way. We realize there are constitutional issues in terms of doing that as well as practical issues.

ROCHELLE: The bill proposed by Senators Schumer and Brownback would direct the Federal Election Commission to study alternative voting methods and provide matching funds for localities to implement changes such as using computers or voting on the Internet.

BILL SLATE, AMERICAN ARBITRATION ASSOCIATION: Online voting at the private level has brought to elections what ATM machines brought to banking and individual citizens.

ROCHELLE: Another proposal, this one from Senators McConnell and Torricelli would create a new federal commission to deal with election reform.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: We do think with the status of a permanent commission with presidential appointees, this would become the repository of the best information in the country and the best advice in the country to states and localities about how best to conduct free and fair elections.

ROCHELLE: Similar legislation is being considered in the House of Representatives. There is support from state officials, primarily because they believe Washington wants to help without dictating what the alternatives should be.

CATHY COX, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: We're not by any means looking toward everybody doing the same thing on same equipment as much as every state deciding among the best alternatives.

ROCHELLE (on camera): The 2000 election generated other calls for reform, including doing away with the Electoral College and requiring polls nationwide to close at the same time -- a hedge against national news organizations declaring winners before all the polls are closed. Lawmakers say they've talked about making changes before, but now it's time to take action. Carl Rochelle, CNN, Capitol Hill.


GREENFIELD: And when we come back, a conversation with Christopher Caldwell in the thick of the Washington fire and Roger Ebert, whose day job involves staring at the silver screen. Please stay with us.


GREENFIELD: Mixing and matching interesting people is one of the joys of this job and tonight we've got a neat dynamic duo. From Washington, we're joined by Christopher Caldwell. He is a senior writer with "The Weekly Standard," which bills itself as America's foremost political weekly. That's their term but we'll see if we can prove it tonight and from Chicago, famed movie critic, Pulitzer Prize winning critic Roger Ebert, best known to some of us as screenwriter of "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens" and "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

I'm going ask both of you to talk about the consequence of this weird month that we have been through and may soon be coming to an end. From inside Washington, Christopher, forget whether people are happy or sad who's likely to win or not, is there a sense that this has been useful, depressing, damaging? Where did you think people are going to come out on that?

CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I don't think it's been terribly useful. It's just an accidentally close election, but it's been incredible exhilaration. Certainly, I think people in Washington are energized even much more so than they were by impeachment. Energized and polarized.

What's particularly interesting is what's happened to the pundit class, to the journalistic class. There are lot of people in Washington who have a reputation of calling them as they see them, being -- whether they're slightly on the right or slightly on the left they tend to hue to the middle and judge things dispassionately.

This situation has really flushed lot of these people out and turned them into extreme partisans either for Gore or for Bush. And maybe I'm among those, I don't know, but it's been an interesting development.

GREENFIELD: Well, without pinning you down to names, although God knows you're welcome to point them, why do you think that's happened?

CALDWELL: I don't know. I think it's because the election was so close, it is in general a nightmare for democracy. This is -- this would be a problem in any democracy even if worked perfectly, even if it had a very streamlined, foolproof ballot system.

The problem is that you can very credibly create a majority for either candidate by just manipulating a few votes. If Gore were to take Florida and the Bush team were to have all the time in the world, you could go in and look at undocumented aliens voting in New Mexico or Oregon or felons voting in Wisconsin and manufacture a different majority for Bush. You could cut this either way.

GREENFIELD: Roger, from where you are, outside of Washington. You like I live in Heartland America. Me in Manhattan and you, of course, in the Midwest. How have you watched this as a spectacle, as a pageant of civics gone amok? Where do you come out?

ROGER EBERT, FILM CRITIC: Jeff, it's been wonderful. It's been one of the four greatest -- one of the greatest months in American history because we've seen the two parties working, working against each other but in that sense working with each other.

I was in a parking lot across a Marshall Fields (ph) today and I heard three ladies talking to each other while they were waiting for their car and they were saying, hasn't this been wonderful for the children. It's been like a daily civics lesson.

And you know, it has and also people say, well, it makes us look bad overseas. I think it makes it us look great overseas. That image of the judges in Palm Beach County holding up each ballot to the light and looking at it -- all over the world, that shows how important we take our elections and I don't see the downside except for the fact, you know, the guy that I wish would win might lose.

GREENFIELD: Well, but I mean half the country's going to feel that way one way or the other but the questions -- there are some folks who say what this shows, you know, that lawyers run amok. As Christopher pointed out that supposedly dispassionate people move to the barricades and pick up talking points as battering rams to hit at each other. Where's the exhilaration you find even in all this clamor or is that part of the exhilaration itself?

EBERT: Well, first of all, I think everybody is interested. Everybody's talking about it around the water cooler. Everybody is politicized. Everybody is finding reasons for their guy and reasons against the other guy. My own solution is since the victory in Florida was within the margin of error, and it is therefore statistically impossible to tell who won in Florida, we should get Presidents Carter and Ford together to flip a coin and then everybody would be happy. Otherwise, no matter who gets in, half the country is going to think he's an illegitimate president.

GREENFIELD: Christopher, I have a hunch that the Bush campaign at this point might reject that idea but talk to us a little about within the Washington community. I mean. today, the only voices we heard on the tube were calling for comity and cooperation, even from some of the most partisan people in Washington. I'm going to ask this bluntly. How seriously do you take those statements and how much do you think the bitterness is going to splash all the way into next year?

CALDWELL: I think -- I do take them seriously. There has been a sort of different reaction in the political class that there's been in the pundit class. I think that it's given a lot politicians a fright. Gore, for obvious reasons namely that he is showing up as the loser in the election right now, has said to be very aggressive and partisan and Lieberman has as well.

Bush has done a good job of staying out picture. I disagree with a lot of people who think that's a mistake. But, you have dynamic going on where you're going to have some sort of election ballot reform. It's going to be the hot issue in the next Congress and with that will come -- onto that will probably be tacked some sort of campaign finance reform.

You're going to have both parties needing to establish centrist credentials. You also have the wings of the parties leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the public and you have both candidates, since they've been such tribunes of partisan warfare, they don't feel they owe the respective wings much. I think you have a real possibility for centrist governments here.

GREENFIELD: Now, Roger, I can't forbear from pointing out, you know, as I've mentioned, your day job or night job. If this were a Hollywood movie -- Hollywood being about 98 percent liberal Democratic as far I can figure out, the ending would be a last minute deus ex machina, some amazing dramatic event to propel the Democrat into the White House with a full orchestra. But could Hollywood make a movie out of what appears to be likely to happen, a kind of an ending not with a bang but a whimper?

EBERT: No. If this movie were shown to test audiences around the county, half of the audience would go out saying they didn't like it, and Hollywood would then shoot a new ending because half of the people in our country are not going to like the ending of this election. And it doesn't look to me like there is going to be a happy ending.

It's the kind of serial that you want to go on forever because day by day it's fascinating, but then when it's over, everybody's kind of let down.

Now maybe in Hollywood, the ending would be that Seminole County throws out 15,000 ballots and -- but then, of course, the Florida legislature gets in the act and isn't over there either. So...

GREENFIELD: Sounds more like the..


EBERT: ... it doesn't make a real good movie. I'm not looking forward to the Oliver Stone version of this.

GREENFIELD: It sounds more like it's more like a miniseries.


EBERT: An endless miniseries.


GREENFIELD: Like a continuing drama.

EBERT: Right, it is. We have all the characters.

GREENFIELD: Maybe Al Gore could be the fugitive running around the country in search of, you know, the dangling chad. I don't know. i don't know. Christopher, you want to try to make big money by pitching a story to Ebert and the screen writers and directors. Do you got an ending for this one that's worthy of Hollywood?

CALDWELL: I'm afraid not. The way these things typically end in drama is you have a revelation that's either -- that either explodes or is suppressed, as in -- what's the Gore Vidal play? "The Best Man"? Yes, this is more like a television show. And what's interesting to me is if Gore's challenges do fail, whether he continues the series into the next season.

GREENFIELD: OK, well, on that note -- one thing about television, we are a slave to time -- Christopher Caldwell in Washington, thank you. Roger Ebert, a delight as always, a friend of about 40 years standing, I will confess.

And just ahead, a first for the first lady.


CLINTON: For me, it's been the great privilege to be here, especially with the other new senators with whom I will serve.


GREENFIELD: The view from the Hill for the U.S. Senate's most visible freshman, when this CNN special report continues.


GREENFIELD: Now, depending on the outcome of the presidential race, she just could be the most prominent and visible Democrat in Washington. Today, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton took her place alongside other newly elected senators participating in orientation.

As CNN's Eileen O'Connor reports, she tried her best to blend in, it really wasn't that easy.


EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She came with her own Secret Service detail: first day for the first, first lady to be elected senator.

CLINTON: How are you this morning? Nice to see you.

O'CONNOR: And try as she might to hide amongst her fellow freshmen, she simply couldn't.

CLINTON: For me, it's been the great privilege to be here, especially with the other new senators with whom I'll serve. O'CONNOR: Joining 12 other women now in an elite men's club. The star power of a first lady, the women say, will help their causes.

SEN.-ELECT DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Everybody talked about doctors being in charge of medical decisions, everybody talked about schools and safety and equality for our children. Now the question is, how do we, in fact, follow through on that for the good of the country?

O'CONNOR: For the guys on her team, the Democrats that is, Hillary represents a star politician who has played in the big leagues.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY WHIP: If I played baseball -- and I used to -- and somebody gave me someone that could hit home runs, could hit singles, could steal bases, and was a great defensive player, I'd say bring 'em on. That's how I feel about Hillary.

O'CONNOR: As for the guys on the other team, Senate Republicans, she's just like all the other rookies.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: She, I'm sure, is going to be a very diligent senator, will work hard, get committee assignments where she has a real interest, and will be a very important part of this body, just like every other senator is.


CLINTON: I really think Bill has everything under control.



O'CONNOR: Her husband has joked about how he will now have to treat his wife, soon to be the only one drawing a regular salary -- as it should be for a woman who always said baking cookies wasn't her thing.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.


GREENFIELD: Finally tonight, I asked a couple of senators today why Republicans seem so much more intense about this battle than Democrats do. My Republican source pointed to a bitter fight over a very close 1984 congressional race in Indiana, the House fought over that one race for months before it voted on straight party lines to seek the Democrat, creating a polarized climate on the Hill that endures to this day. No wonder, this Republican said, that his side was convinced the other side would do anything to win.

My Democratic source had a different explanation, first he said, "We Democrats went into Election Day expecting to lose;" second, "A lot of what this administration did -- NAFTA, China trade, welfare reform, crime -- just didn't sit well with a lot of Democrats." Finally he said, "We Democrats have held the White House for eight years, the Republicans may simply want it more."

That sounded so familiar I went back and checked, it's a thought right out of the classic play and movie "State of the Union," where a Republican operative is asked to explain the difference between the two parties: "All the difference in the world," he said, "they're in and we are out."

And that's it for this special report on election 2000. I'm Jeff Greenfield in New York. Please join me again tomorrow at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for another look at the Florida vote.

But "THE SPIN ROOM" is next and ready to roll.



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