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Florida Legislature to Hold Special Session to Pick Electors

Aired December 6, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: This is a news conference in Tallahassee being held right now by Florida Republican leaders of the legislature.


Earlier this afternoon, Speaker Feeney and I signed a proclamation calling for a special session to ensure that Florida's voters are not disenfranchised from the 2000 presidential election.

The action taken today is done so with considerable reluctance on my part, due to the potential far-reaching effects of any actions.

What we will do may impact the course of our country, and that is why I've approached the legislature's role in this matter in a cautious and thoughtful manner.

My primary objective is simple: to ensure that the voters of Florida are not disenfranchised.

I've been candid about who I supported for the presidency. As a citizen of this state, I voted for George W. Bush. But as Senate president, I took an oath to represent all the people and not one single person or group.

I embark on a special session, not to advocate either position of the two protagonists, but as a constitutional officer with a responsibility to represent the best interests of all Floridians.

On December 12, we may find ourselves in a position that calls for our involvement should there be no finality to the contests that are still pending. And it is possible that there may be more filed before this day is out. It would be irresponsible of us if we failed to put a safety net in place under the current court conditions.

Once again, if the election disputes are resolved by December 12, there may be a possibility that the legislature will not have to act. We're convening on December 8, so that we will be in a position to act if necessary. We will not meet on either the Jewish or the Christian sabbath. The current slate of electors that is in front of us, though, may be tainted because of the Supreme Court actions and other local county voting procedures.

Additionally, a reasonable person could conclude that the recent Supreme Court actions may cause Congress not to accept our electors that have already been sent to Washington.

Our sole responsibility will be to put forth a slate of electors that is untainted and ensures that Florida's 25 electoral votes count in this election, regardless for whom they voted.

I believe that the electors should be based upon the vote totals that were available on November 14, and equally important, on the laws that were in place as of the date of the election on November 7. I believe that these votes are the least tainted of all.

We must be prudent and timely in our actions and our behavior. We are not trying to preempt, prejudge, or predict the election outcome. We are protecting Florida's 25 electoral votes and over 6 million voters.

I'll take questions in a few minutes, but first let me let you hear from the speaker of the House -- Tom.

TOM FEENEY (R), FLORIDA HOUSE SPEAKER: Thank you. I believe I'll be a lot shorter than the president.

I'll tell you that I find this a very solemn and important occasion. And the reason that I have signed the proclamation today, which President McKay sent to me about 10 or 15 minutes ago, is that I believe deeply, having studied Article II, Section 1 and having studied Title 3 and having requested some of the best advice from scholars on the Constitution and our obligations, that we have a duty to protect Florida's participation in the Electoral College.

And I have a hope, I believe most of my colleagues in the House, that the electoral issues may be resolved without the necessary of the legislature taking final action. But there appears to be a great risk that our electors are now not within the safe harbor that the United States Supreme Court described the other day in referring to Title 3 of the United States Code.

I want to tell you that I'm here and joined with -- joining with me is a number of members of the House, most especially speaker pro tem Sandy Merman (ph). I know the Senate leader, Representative King, is here. I want to -- Senator King. We still think of him as a representative down in the House, Senator and President McKay.

But I want to tell you that I have a deep and abiding respect for President McKay and his leadership team.

And people have suggested that we're thinking differently or there may be some division. I can assure you that I have enormous respect for the president, and I think the prudence that he exercised in making sure that all of his team had a complete comprehension of the options available to us and the obligations that we may have to undertake, I think was done so in a marvelously responsible manner.

So, with that, you know...

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, can you put any suspicions or fears to rest that you or President McKay have had any contact with the Bush campaign and that they're giving you instructions on what to do in this whole matter?

FEENEY: I can't speak for the Senate president. I can tell you that I'm looking forward to meeting Secretary James Baker, but that I haven't had any conversations with Secretary Baker. Matter of fact, the first time, I think, that I was made aware that we may be signing our proclamation was earlier today. I haven't had any contact with any members of the Bush team probably since -- in a good 24 hours.

So from my perspective, the actions that we took in the House today, was without any advice or guidance or counsel or discussion with either campaign, either with the Gore campaign or the Bush campaign.

QUESTION: What about the governor?

MCKAY: Well, just to answer this gentleman's question, I've met Secretary Baker about three weeks ago, but I haven't had any conversations with the Bush camp since that moment.

QUESTION: Have you met with the governor?


MCKAY: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Timing is obviously of the essence, can you talk about when you meet and what procedures you would follow? What's your indication of when you have to?

MCKAY: Well, I can tell you what the Senate will do, I can't tell you what the House will do, since I'm not familiar with their process.

Well, I guess the Senate and the House will convene at 12:00 on Friday. In the Senate we will notice a committee meeting -- normally in a special session we have a two-hour notice before a meeting can convene. In this case, because of the magnitude of the issue, that committee will meet -- the Ethics and Elections Committee, which I will appoint tomorrow -- will meet at 10 a.m. on Monday. It'll be notice for eight hours and then a special order subcommittee of the Rules Committee, which will also be appointed tomorrow, will meet thereafter so that we can have a calendar available, should we have to meet on Wednesday.

QUESTION: When would you be naming the electors?

FEENEY: Tomorrow. The electors? That would not occur until Wednesday, in the event that we convene. And as the speaker said and as I have said, that may not be necessary. The event that drops the checkered flag so this process convenes, I believe, is whether we have finality on the 12th. That still has yet to evolve.

QUESTION: What do you consider will be the outcome at the 12th?

FEENEY: I believe that means that all the court contests have been concluded. And if they're concluded, then we'll see what happens then.

QUESTION: Senator, you have said all of them concluded?

FEENEY: All of them concluded. Pretty straightforward, isn't it?

QUESTION: Does this proclamation require participation or involvement by the governor?

FEENEY: There may be a possibility, and the jury's still out as to whether he will have to sign a letter that accompanies it that is similar to the letter that he -- similar or perhaps identical to the letter that he signed accompanying the earlier certification. But we don't have an answer to that at this point; other than that there's no involvement.

QUESTION: Senator, you said that you would name the electors on next Wednesday, that would be the 13th. I mean, you're not concerned about...

MCKAY: In a joint resolution, our position is...


MCKAY: Our position is that the electors need to be named in the resolution, but the resolution hasn't been authored at this point.

QUESTION: But the 13th, Wednesday is the 13th.

MCKAY: Wednesday is the 13th. That's correct.

QUESTION: So you're not concerned about December 12 as being a deadline in...

MCKAY: I think my perspective from talking to all our experts is the 12th is the event that triggers our ability to act. The 12th is not the date by which we have to act, that is, in fact, the 18th.


MCKAY: I think that I've been pretty clear: In the event that there is finality on the 12th, I think we will have to act regardless of whether it's Gore, Bush or Nader. I am not representing the Republicans, I'm representing all the people of Florida in my constitutional capacity.

QUESTION: So you're saying there's a chance that you'll endorse electors who are for Gore?

MCKAY: I will uphold my constitutional responsibility.

QUESTION: Senator, moving as close as you can here, you've left open a slim possibility, albeit slim, that the judge in the Seminole County case could certify a new election result, thereby, as some Republicans have said, making it look like you're now reacting to a court decision that's bad for Governor Bush. Aren't you concerned about that appearance?

MCKAY: No, I have gone through my thought process, Steve, without regard to the evolution and the various courts, not only here in the state, but also in Washington. I've tried to study the issue.

I've tried to examine the issue. I've tried to ascertain when is the appropriate time, if at all, for the legislature to act. And that happened to coincide with now. Actually, it didn't come about until 9:30 last night.


QUESTION: ... you said you were worried about the far- reaching...

MCKAY: I think somebody had a...


MCKAY: ... somebody had a question for Tom.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, yesterday you talked about the (OFF-MIKE) that you would not have to call a special session. Can you be very clear and direct about what happened between today and yesterday to cause you to sign the proclamation?

FEENEY: Well, I had one on my desk that had been signed by the Senate president.

QUESTION: You said that you were worried about the far-reaching effects. What sort of effects are you worried? What did you go through in your thought processes, what effect this could have long- term in the nation, our political process? Can you go through the debates...

MCKAY: Yes...


QUESTION: ... with yourselves and with each other?

FEENEY: Well, I am concerned that the potential exists where there is already what Hamilton referred to as tumult and disorder, that that may continue, and that now the legislature may be involved. I'm concerned that I've got some good friends in the Democratic Party, both in the House and elsewhere, that may be upset by the legislature's participation. I'm concerned that the wonderful institution of the Florida House and the legislature in general suffer a short-term black eye.

But I will tell you that, as I have said, that fundamentally I believe that when I took my oath to uphold the United States Constitution, I did so without qualification. I didn't say I would do my duty if it was fun or convenient or popular.

I believe deeply that the way Leader Frankel, on behalf of the Democrats, has conducted herself, Mike Fasano in our team, we have had very respectful discussions about our obligations, and I think that we can do that in committee, I think that we can do that on the House floor.

I believe, candidly, there's every opportunity that the institution of the Florida House can come out of this very difficult challenge as strong as it has ever been, and that would be my goal in the next few days.

So, yes, there are risks, but those risks pale in comparison to the oath that I took two weeks ago.


MCKAY: Let me just add. My concerns are identical to Tom's, except with regard to -- I'd substitute House for Senate. I have also a little additional concern, and that is, since we are treading on ground that hasn't been walked upon before, at least not in a long darn time, that we proceed very cautiously because this could affect future elections. And I would not want that to have any negative effect on this nation.

So we're proceeding very cautiously to date, and we will continue to proceed cautiously.


FEENEY: Well, what I said yesterday was that I could see the clouds parting a little bit, and based on some dramatic and positive decisions by Judge Sauls locally, who, by the way, referred to the safe harbor of Title 3, Section 5, and especially the United States Supreme Court opinion, which I read very differently than some who have suggested it's a neutral opinion asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider the opinion that was tossed out when it was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

I read the U.S. Supreme Court opinion as very clearly instructing the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in light of some things that the Florida Supreme Court wasn't fully asked to consider.

And the two notes that I've been singing over and over again are Article II, Section 1, and Title 3 of the United States Code.

Now having said that, I also said that I think, and I've been convinced for some time, that the prudent thing was to act, just in case, to protect the participation of Floridians in the Electoral College.

I would note that there will be -- I don't think the president or I expect any formal vote to be taken until Monday at the earliest when we will have committee meetings in our respective bodies. Tuesday at the earliest in the House under the timetable we have. So that there may be intervening acts which eliminate the need for us to take final action.

But I believe the prudent thing to do is to start, to be prepared. And if we find a way to do our duty without bringing the session to a close with a final vote, then I would be the most pleased man in Florida.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, let me ask you both. You mentioned the Democrats and your concern about your relationship with them. And they certainly have raised concern, not just about both of you supporting George W. Bush, but about the fact that you are electors, about the fact that Mr. Feeney ran with Jeb Bush in his unsuccessful bid for governor. How do you convince the American people, whose votes are all at stake, that this not partisan but a constitutional concern?

MCKAY: I think what they need to do is watch us. And I think as they watch us they will find us -- that both the speaker and I carry out our duties very responsibly. The proof's in the pudding. That's what we're going to see.

QUESTION: Mr. Feeney, could you also answer that question.

MCKAY: I just -- I finish the process.

FEENEY: I echo the president's comments.

Thank you very much.

SHAW: Two Republicans, Senate speaker -- President, rather, John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney, making a very dramatic announcement now on behalf of the Florida legislature, just carried live here on CNN in Tallahassee.

They said they had signed a proclamation which would call for a special session of the Florida legislature December 8th. They indicated that they're very concerned about the way events are moving. At one point, President John McKay said, if we fail to put a safety net under the current conditions, that is why we're acting.

He said the current state of Florida electors -- the current slate of Florida electors may be -- and he used this word -- "tainted" because of the Supreme Court action and other legal proceedings. He said, "Our sole responsibility is to do put forth a slate of electors untainted."

Correspondent Mike Boettcher was there. You heard him ask at least four questions.

Mike, these leaders apparently very sensitive to the allegations by some or the conclusions by some that these men are acting in behalf of Governor Bush of Texas.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, very concerned about that, and that is an appearance that they want to stay away from. That is why you heard the very solemn tone that was given by both of the men at the stage.

The Democrats have alleged that this is being driven by the Bush campaign, but I can tell you, having walked around this capitol for the last couple of weeks and trying to get a sense of what they're thinking, there were very aware, to them, the triggering point was the Supreme Court.

They believed the Florida Supreme Court tread into their territory, and Bernie, after that Supreme Court decision came down extending the period for the vote certification, the House was ready to go to war then. The Senate held back. The Senate leadership said, let's hold back and see what happens. But now, they've felt they've held back, Bernie, as long as they could, and they feel that they have to act by a week from this Friday, on the 11th. So, that's why they did it today -- Bernie.

SHAW: And very quickly, Mike Boettcher, let's underscore the upshot of all of this. What these two men announced just moments ago is an indication that potentially, if they move along, potentially Florida would be sending two separate slates of electors to Washington, D.C. on December 18th.

BOETTCHER: Potentially, Bernie, and they believe that they have to affirm the slate of electors as certified by the secretary of state on November 14th. Now, if there's a second set of electors, well, of course, that goes to the Congress.

But they believe the U.S. Supreme Court decision pointed out specifically, according to the Republicans here, that they have plenary power, the legislature, to go ahead and name that. And they believe they are acting under the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Code -- Bernie.

SHAW: Thank you, Mike Boettcher, in Tallahassee. And CNN's live coverage here in this segment of INSIDE POLITICS will continue: The Florida recount vote 2000 in a moment.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: While we were listening to the Republican leaders of the Florida legislature announce their decision to convene the legislature in special session this Friday to moves toward selecting electors, should that be necessary, a courtroom in Leon County, Florida has taken a short break. We expect them to come back in another 5 to 10 minutes. This is the courtroom where hearing the case of a Democratic voter who has filed suit, saying absentee ballot in Seminole County were filled out illegally by a Republican Party officials.

Now, that trial is -- has been under way, is in break, is coming back. And to -- for a little bit more of what's been going on...

I'm told instead of going back to Leon County Courthouse, we're going to go to Lois Frankel, who is a Democratic leader of the Florida legislature. This surely is reaction to the Republican announcement.

LOIS FRANKEL (D), FLORIDA HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Sadly, I have to say that I believe this is orchestrated, and the only thing missing from the proclamation today was the postmark from Austin, Texas. I want to say again that 77 House members and 25 Senate members should not be -- I'm sorry, 25 Senate members should not be substituting their will for the will of 6 million voters.

Any questions?

QUESTION: What kind of tactics will the Democrats employ? Will you try to slow it down or -- legislatively with maneuvers or will you just fight it verbally in debate? Or both?

FRANKEL: I think that, you know, we will, with every ounce that we have and every breath that we have, with strong and reasoned voices, try to convince our colleagues that it's wrong. You will see most Democrats, if not all, voting against this resolution. But, quite frankly, they have the votes if they want to push it forward.

QUESTION: Do you think there are Democrats who will vote for this?

FRANKEL: I don't know. You know, we haven't counted votes. I know that they have enough members, one way or the other. I mean, there's no way that we can stop the votes.

QUESTION: Is there anything legally that can be done to stop a special session from convening?

FRANKEL: Well, I've heard from some lawyers that there is the potential of the action being enjoined. I don't know if that is -- whether that's appropriate or not.

But I do want to say that the members of the House and the Senate received yesterday, from 37 constitutional scholars around the country, a very, very firm statement saying that this action, after a lawful election had taken place, would be illegal and unconstitutional.


QUESTION: ... the Republican leadership was saying that they were concerned about the long-term effects of this.

What do you see as the long-term effects of this action if it's carried through to the end and it leads to a new slate of electors than was elected?

FRANKEL: I think this will set a dangerous precedent for this country. What if any state legislature that was dissatisfied with the results of an election would call their members together to go around the will of their voters?

And I believe that would create a very chaotic situation in our electoral process.

QUESTION: What about the concerns they expressed, Representative, if they did not act? It's possible that Florida's 6 million voters will not be represented. FRANKEL: Well, I can tell you again -- and I have to reiterate the words of people far smarter than I and the really -- the dozens of constitutional scholars who were not bought or paid for by anyone, who have said to us that you already have a certified election; the electors have been sent to the Archives in Washington, and unless/until Al Gore has certified electors sent in those place would there be any change in that status.

So there really seems to be no possibility that we will be without electors. But even with that said, what we have been told, as I said, by constitutional scholars who were not paid for by any one party, that once there has been a lawful election and the voters have made a choice, that the legislature has no legal authority to be involved in the election.

QUESTION: Lois, could Democrats boycott the session?

FRANKEL: No, Democrats should not boycott that, this session. We have, I believe, a legal duty, if there's a special session, to be here and the to be the voice of reason and to represent what I think are the millions of Floridians who would be against this legislature trying to decide the next presidency of the United States.

QUESTION: Leader Frankel, it's my understanding that Speaker Feeney had dinner with Jeb Bush last night and this topic, it's my understanding, was raised. Speaker Feeney, if I heard correctly, said in the past 24 hours he's had no contact with the Bush campaign, which implies he has before.

Is this action more objectionable to you because of those facts that this is being, sort of, connected to the Bush brothers, or is it no big deal, it's happening anyway?

FRANKEL: Well, let me answer it in two ways. Number one, whether Jeb Bush was our governor or not would be irrelevant as to my response, because I believe this is an unlawful action that we've been asked to take. And I think it is unreasonable and unfair to ask the Florida legislature to become the political arm of the Bush campaign.

I think it was obviously because of the connection of our governor and Governor George Bush, certainly the communications would be easier.

QUESTION: Lois (OFF-MIKE) to do this, in effect, why are they doing it?

FRANKEL: Well, I believe this. I believe that if, in fact, Al Gore gets some traction in the courts, if he's able to get his recount, and he wins as a result of that recount or something happens in the Seminole County case or the Martin County case, and where Al Gore would eventually be declared the winner, I believe that this Republican legislature has decided that they would not accept an election where Al Gore was certified the winner by the courts. And that they would want to send up another set of electors, and therefore, really, send to the Congress two sets of electors. QUESTION: Are you telling us the situation, come Tuesday or Wednesday, that you could end up having two slates of Bush electors, if the courts haven't decided yet?

FRANKEL: Well, now I don't think the problem in the end, from a practical point of view, having two sets of Bush electors, probably would not be problematic. But, having a set of Gore electors and a set of Bush electors would be problematic.

QUESTION: Legally, you already have a certified slate officially.


QUESTION: Wouldn't this create a second slate, and then which one gets ranking (inaudible)?

FRANKEL: Well, my instinct is that they're going to just name the same electors. The problem's going to be, this action is going to be unlawful, but it's going to problematic if Al Gore eventually wins the election of Florida and we have two set of electors up there.


FRANKEL: Yes. The question is, "What changed the urgency?"

Look, you know, I say this with a great deal of hesitation, because we all have to live together here in this state when you all go home. But I have said this from day one. I believe this is orchestrated. We are talking about a presidential election where the future of the world is at stake, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent. And, really, I think it would be naive to believe that the speaker of the Florida House and the Senate president are really calling the shots here.

I think that they waited as long as they could, in hopes that the courts may have decided in Mr. Bush's favor or that Al Gore would have conceded. And that hasn't happened. And I think what we see is just them following through something that they have predetermined.

QUESTION: You spoke about an action here in Florida. How serious are you about this?

FRANKEL: Well, it would not be an action that I would be taking, but I mean, I have heard that as a possibility.


FRANKEL: Pardon me?


FRANKEL: Look. If anyone who thinks this would be -- they threw around the term "conclusivity" the other day. I don't think anybody in America should think that any action by the Florida legislature would be conclusive, because I think it is pretty clear that it would be further litigated, and we would have another round of court challenges.

QUESTION: Lois, do you think that this action comes on this night because it's an effort to intimidate the state Supreme Court?

FRANKEL: Well, you know, this legislature -- this Republican legislature has a history of a hate relationship with our courts. And, you know what? You're going to have to ask that to Mr. Feeney and Mr. McKay.

STAFF: Two more questions.

QUESTION: Does the legislature have -- the Democratic side of the legislature have counsel on this issue? Have you hired lawyers?

FRANKEL: We have not -- the House, we have not hired lawyers, but I can tell you that, you know, we have -- there have been constitutional scholars around the country who have been watching these proceedings on television, who have contacted us, who have e- mailed us, and have spoken to our members and our Democratic caucus.

QUESTION: Strategically, would it be better for the Democrats, from your view, to, of course, argue verbally against this debate, but not use any means available by the rules of the House and the Senate to slow it up?

FRANKEL: I think we have to fight with every ounce of our strength against this. It is the wrong thing to do. It is circumventing the will of 6 million voters in this state. And it is just plain wrong for the Florida legislature to elect the next president of the United States.

I don't think we should be game-playing. I believe Democrats have a right and a duty to fight this hard.

QUESTION: Speaker Feeney referred to this giving the legislature a "short-term black eye," was his term. Would you agree with that?

FRANKEL: I would just -- I think I would put an addendum to that. I think it's a long-time black eye. Because I'll tell you, I don't think the history books will treat us kindly.

That's it. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: In fairly stunning understatement there, Lois Frankel, who is the Democratic leader, the minority leader of the Florida legislature, said at one point it would be problematic if there were a slate of Gore electors sent to cast ballots or cast their votes for president at the same time there were from Florida another set of Bush electors.

I think one can underline that it would be something more than a problem. It would present an enormous challenge to the United States Constitution.

What we heard Lois Frankel say just quickly, to recap, is in her view, as the Democratic leader of the House it would be illegal, it would be unconstitutional for the state legislature to -- to convene a special session and go ahead and appoint an alternate slate of electors. She began by saying -- making no -- no -- frankly making no bones about it.

She said all that's missing from what we just heard, she said, from the Republican leaders of the legislature was a postmark from Austin, Texas, suggesting that -- she said at another point this is the Florida legislature being the political arm of the Bush campaign.

She called it unlawful, but she did say that she believed that the Democrats in the state legislature should cooperate in -- in participating in the session, although she expected certainly that most Democrats would be voting against the Republican slate of electors.



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