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Special Event

The Florida Vote

Aired December 7, 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.

Waiting for a court, any court, to settle the presidential election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTICE MAJOR HARDING, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: Did anyone ever pick up one of the ballots and hold it up and show it to the judge?

DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Not a particular ballot, Your Honor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the trial court examine those documents?

BARRY RICHARD, BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: No, Your Honor, because I think there was no basis in law for the trial court to do, though...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From what could be Al Gore's last chance in Florida's Supreme Court to a pair of absentee ballot lawsuits, the lawyers are finished. The judges are deliberating. And Florida's legislature isn't waiting. Our Mike Boettcher sets the stage for a dramatic special session.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fort Apache, Tallahassee: Outnumbered almost 2-to-1 by Republicans, Florida's House Democrats meet to plan their defense in the upcoming special session.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOIS FRANKEL (D), FLORIDA HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Don't anyone get, like, overanxious and feel like you have to save the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: At least somebody's still enjoying the political circus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's, you know, all the drama of O.J., but not the horrible seriousness of murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't want to have to hear the word "Tallahassee" anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to this CNN election 2000 special report: "The Florida Vote." From Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, and in New York, anchor Perri Peltz.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: You may remember a week or so ago I mentioned that Alexis de Tocqueville, the great 19th century chronicler of American life, said: "Sooner or later, every political issue in America becomes a judicial one."

Well, Perri, here we sit in Florida, waiting for one of three Florida courts to decide the biggest political question of all, perhaps: who will be the next president of the United States.

PERRI PELTZ, CNN ANCHOR: And Jeff, one thing for sure, de Tocqueville would say that was one busy day down in Florida today.

Here's where we stand: Florida's Supreme Court justices have called it a night, without making any announcement concerning Democrat Al Gore's appeal of the state's election certification. This morning, the vice president's attorneys again asked for a hand count of 14,000 disputed ballots.

Judges in two other cases that could change the Florida results are also deliberating. Separate trials wrapped up today in which Democratic plaintiffs are seeking to throw out 25,000 absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin counties.

And while we wait for the judges, Florida's Republican-dominated legislature comes into special session tomorrow, ready to pick electors pledged to Governor George W. Bush.

The U.S. presidency may rest in the hands of seven Florida Supreme Court justices. They are expected back at work on a decision at eight in the morning.

CNN's Susan Candiotti wraps up the landmark day of arguments in the state's highest court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At evening's end, a formal announcement: the justices not ready to rule.

CRAIG WATERS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: I just know that they did meet.

CANDIOTTI: Their deliberations continue Friday morning, considering answers to the pointed questions posed to both to both sides during oral arguments.

To the Democrats...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARDING: Did anyone ever pick up one of the ballots and hold it up and show it to the judge?

BOIES: Not an individual one, although we did tender them in evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: To the Republicans...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTICE BARBARA PARIENTE, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: Place in doubt is different standard than a reasonable probability of a different result. Do you agree with that?

RICHARD: I'm not sure, Justice Pariente...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Most of the questions centered around those 14,000 so-called "undervotes" the Democrats claim must be reviewed by hand to fairly decide a voter's intent. But one justice asked, "How could that be done by the time electors are supposed to be chosen next Tuesday?"

CHIEF JUSTICE CHARLES WELLS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: We don't have a remedy here that can do that by December the 12th.

PARIENTE: What is the time parameter?

BOIES: We believe these ballots can be counted in the time available. Obviously, time is getting very short. We've been trying to get these ballots counted.

CANDIOTTI: Bush attorney Barry Richard urged the court to reject another recount, and pleaded with the justices to uphold the lower court ruling against Gore.

RICHARD: This is nothing more than a garden-variety appeal.

CANDIOTTI: Afterwards, both camps steered clear of predictions.

RICHARD: But I don't think this court signaled where it was going by any of its questions.

BOIES: This is a matter of Florida law. It's Florida election law, and the Florida Supreme Court is the final arbiter of that.

CANDIOTTI: When the justices render their decision, will it be unanimous?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Or do they say, no, we're just going to have to let it, you know, sort of fall where it may, and come out with something -- hopefully not a 4-3 -- the presidential election's been close enough. We don't need another razor-thin margin.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Until the deliberations are complete, for Vice President Gore and Governor Bush all that's left is the waiting.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Tallahassee, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PELTZ: In two separate absentee ballot trials, written rulings could come as early as tomorrow. The cases involve Martin and Seminole counties. Election officials took the stand to defend their handling of thousands of Republican absentee ballot applications.

CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman takes us inside the Leon County Court in Tallahassee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear...

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The election supervisor of Martin County, Florida, accused of letting Republican workers take absentee-ballot applications out of her office to fill out missing Republican voter IDs. And she did not dispute the fact.

PEGGY ROBBINS, MARTIN COUNTY ELECTIONS SUPERVISOR: So it only seemed logical for them to correct it, because we did not want to deny the voter the right to get their absentee ballot.

TUCHMAN: This was the final day for this Martin County trial and this Seminole County trial.

GERALD RICHMAN, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: We believe, under the law, that the only remedy in this case is that the entire pool must be thrown out as a matter of law in Florida.

TUCHMAN: In both cases, Democratic plaintiffs say all absentee ballots should be disqualified, because alleged tampering of ballot applications was unfair to Democrats and independents. If that's done, it would give the state and the presidency to Al Gore, because most of those absentee ballots were votes for George W. Bush.

In the Seminole case, the Republican election supervisor acknowledges letting GOP workers inside her office to fill out missing Republican I.D. numbers on applications.

RICHMAN: They took a public office. And that public office was then turned into an agent or an arm of one particular political party.

TUCHMAN: But attorneys for the county and Governor Bush told the judge to keep in mind these were ballot applications, not ballots.

RICHARD: There is no evidence in this case that the ballots were ever compromised. And if the ballots weren't compromised, the election was not compromised.

TUCHMAN (on camera): After marathon court sessions on Wednesday and lengthy ones on Thursday, it's likely both decisions will come down on Friday. The Seminole County judge says she'll have a written ruling as soon as possible. The Martin County judge says he'll have a written ruling around noon on Friday, but only after conferring with the Seminole judge.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Tallahassee, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PELTZ: And when those rulings come down, will it be checkmate in the candidates' political chess match, or will the courts open the way for new game strategies? With insight into that, CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack joins us from our Washington bureau.

And Roger, I know just how much you enjoy second-guessing a Supreme Court. That being said, there some people tonight are saying, you know, if the Supreme Court was going to decide in Al Gore's favor, they would have done so already so they could get this count under way.

What's your reaction to that?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, that's another one of those wonderful theories that if it works out that they don't decide in Vice President Gore's favor, everyone'll say, you see, that was the right answer, and if they do, then everyone will forget that anyone ever said it.

I personally wouldn't put too much stock in it, Perri. I think this is the kind of thing, the kind of case where one of the probably principal tenets of the Supreme Court would be to come up with as unanimous an opinion as they possibly can.

For all we know, they're still arguing it. For all we know, it's 5 to 2, and the five are trying to convince the other two to sign on with them, or the two are trying to convince the other five to modify their opinion in such a way that they can all come up together.

This is a major case, and I'm sure of one thing: that the policy of this court would be to come up with as close to a unanimous opinion as possible, just for the instructional value that we would get from that in this important issue, and I think that's probably taking some time.

You heard -- you know, we all heard the questions today, and as all the lawyers have said -- and I agree -- you could not pick one side or the other from the questions.

PELTZ: Do you think, Roger, though, it's fair to say that the Supreme Court today was more subdued, possibly less receptive to the Democrats' argument today?

COSSACK: Oh, I don't know. I know a lot of people want to read that -- read into that because they feel that perhaps the Florida Supreme Court maybe feels like they got slapped a little bit by the United States Supreme Court. I think that's way too much reading into things. I think that it was just tougher issues today. It was a tougher issue for the Florida Supreme Court.

Look, they're human. They know that the United States has vacated a judgment of theirs that they came up with earlier and asked them for some explanation. They also know that this date of December 12th is quickly coming, and that limits a lot of things that can be done.

You know, one of the things that I thought was particularly interesting today was when the questions came up regarding whether or not they could just recount those three counties that have been contested or whether or not they have to recount the entire state.

You know, one side just says those three counties and others would contend that perhaps the entire state. Now, how do you go about getting the entire state counted by December 12th? I don't think you can do it.

PELTZ: All right, then let's move over to Seminole and Martin counties, if we can. Lots of talk today that the remedy of throwing all of these absentee ballots out is simply too harsh. Are there other remedies that fall short of that, and what's the likelihood that they will come up with one of those alternative remedies?

COSSACK: Well, one of the remedies that, you know, falls short, falls very short of that would be not be throw out any of the votes but to penalize the individuals who allowed these kinds of things to occur, the people that put in the numbers that were missing or allowed other people to come in and do that. That is a penalty that the courts could decide.

You know, it's a pretty radical -- it's a pretty radical penalty to say that we're going to throw out votes from legitimate people who did nothing more than put in their application for the ballot and have somebody alter their application for their ballot, but no one has claimed that any of the votes were anything but hundred percent legitimate. Now, I understand Vice President Gore saw it as saying that, you know, we were not given equal access. And I think in some ways that's a very good argument. But the question is -- is do you remedy that by throwing out legitimate votes of people who clearly wanted to vote for Governor Bush and didn't do anything wrong? You know, Vice President Gore has a real gripe and he has something to complain about. I just don't know honestly how you remedy that and I know the notion of putting statistician on to somehow extrapolate, while it sounds good, I just think is like pie in the sky and pulling numbers out the air.

You know, statisticians are wonderful people. I took that course as UCLA. I thought they were going to have to burn the university to get me out of there. It was the toughest course I could take, but I just don't have a lot confidence in this notion that you can just pull a number out of the air and say, OK, let's put these many votes here. I just don't think it works.

PELTZ: So, that's just another quiet day in the Florida legal courts. Roger Cossack, thank you so much. I appreciate it. And we want to hear how you feel about the latest developments in the Florida vote. Head to the message board at cnn.com, and please tell us your opinions.

And still ahead on this CNN special report, what to expect when the Florida legislature meets tomorrow, adding still another element to the recount controversy.

Also ahead, now it can be told who's helping Al Gore pay all those legal bills for all those appeals.

And in a surprisingly candid interview, reflections from President Clinton on how he would do things differently. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOIS FRANKEL (D), FLORIDA HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: For the Florida legislature to go into session now and to really superimpose its will on the people or instead of the people, I think would be wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNNIE BYRD (R), FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: The real problem is that all this will never be resolved by the courts it appears and on Monday at midnight our votes are at risk ,and I think we need a safety net to make sure Florida is represented. So, it's over at midnight Monday unless we do something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PELTZ: Florida lawmakers convene at noon tomorrow, adding another layer to the fight over the state's 25 presidential electors. The Republican-dominated legislature hopes to name a slate loyal to George W. Bush well ahead of the December 18th meeting of the Electoral College should the legal challenges still be going on.

We learned what to expect from this special session from CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's historic and it's very emotional.

BOETTCHER (voice-over): Fort Apache, Tallahassee. Outnumbered almost two-to-one by Republicans, Florida's House Democrats meet to plan their defense in the upcoming special session.

LOIS FRANKEL (D), FLORIDA HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Don't anyone get, like, overanxious and feel like you have to save the world, OK?

BOETTCHER: Words of advice from Democratic House leader, Lois Frankel, who is determined not to surrender, but who knows her party is about to be overrun by Republicans legislators. Her fellow Democrats vow not to go down quietly.

KENNETH GOTTLIEB (D), FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: The most important thing for us to do is to speak out and let the world know what's really happening instead of all the rhetoric and spin that people hear because this is definitely not what the Constitution says that we're supposed to do. It's illegal.

RON GREENSTEIN (D), FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: We're taking the will of the people and changing the will of the people by just a political decision and shame on us for doing that. Shame on us.

BOETTCHER: But across the Capitol, Republican Senator Dan Webster says politics didn't drive him to be the first to warn fellow Republicans that a special session would be needed. It was the U.S. Constitution. He told that to a group of senators on November 10th.

DANIEL WEBSTER (R), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: There, I just said I just want to let everyone know, based on what the U.S. Constitution said, we may be right in the middle of this whole matter.

BOETTCHER: His fellow senators laughed then, but three weeks later, there was Webster, sitting on the Republican-dominated legislative committee that recommended that Florida lawmakers name its own slate of presidential electors.

He rejects the notion that Republicans are trying to steal the election. He believes if action isn't taken, Democrats could steal it.

WEBSTER: Our inaction on tainted electors will elect Al Gore by default as president of the United States if that situation arises because our electors won't be counted. He'll win by less than a majority, less than 270 votes, but he will win the presidency.

So, if they are able to paint a picture that we don't need to act, don't believe it on principle. It's on the election of another person other than George W. Bush. BOETTCHER (on camera): The special session is expected to move quickly with the resolution naming the legislature 25 electors passed by Wednesday. But both sides know the impact of what they do and how they do it could be felt for years after their anticipated historic vote.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, Tallahassee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PELTZ: And, of course, CNN cameras will be focused on the Florida legislature. We plan live coverage when that special session gets under way, and that is expected tomorrow at noon Eastern, and 9:00 Pacific.

And we have some thoughts now from CNN's senior analyst Jeff Greenfield who is down in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. And Jeff, there's a certain irony. Here Al Gore is waiting for the one court that gave him his biggest legal victory and yet give him an almost impossible timetable.

GREENFIELD: I think that's right. I think if you're Al Gore you might be thinking about the Florida Supreme Court, I could protect myself from my enemies but God save me from my friends because in that what we consider a major victory when they said the deadline for certification could be expected, they put Al Gore in a kind of a trap. I don't mean deliberately.

They did not allow enough time for certainly the Miami-Dade board to think that it could hand count the ballots the way that Broward and Palm Beach tried to. They did not demand or insist that Miami-Dade do those recounts and yet they pushed the certification far enough back so that now in what's called the contest phase they're running up against that December 12th deadline and even if the Supreme Court were of a mind to order those recounts, they now see that there may not be enough time to count the ballots with finality before the legislature steps in. So it was a kind of a that at the time I'm sure the Gore campaign said, hooray. You've given us new life and it was almost as if they extended the torture period.

PELTZ: And it's interesting, of course, Jeff because that December 12th deadline is five days away. How would they actually get this all done if in fact the Florida Supreme Court says, OK, Al Gore. You can have your recounts?

GREENFIELD: It beats me. I mean -- on the one hand could say, well, the court could instantly propose the appointing. If they took it upon themselves they could, for instance, appoint a hundred what they call masters, who are kind of agents of the court, and they, I guess, could hand count the ballots. The problem is unless they can figure out how to hand count the ballots -- let's -- this is all suppositional -- find out somehow that Al Gore actually had enough legitimate votes to win, certify him the winner, then the Bush campaign takes it up to the United States Supreme court and that December 12th deadline still stares them in the face. And if you really want to speculate, I suppose the Florida Supreme Court could say well, you know, December 12th is not really the drop-dead deadline. We've got a few more days and then you are into complete political chaos as the legislature steps in and names its own slate of electors. So, that's a long way of saying, Perri, I don't know how they do it.

PELTZ: All right, Jeff, but then if we're going to down that what-if road that we seem to like to go down, let's keep going. Then what happens if it goes back up to Washington to the Congress and they have to make a decision?

GREENFIELD: Well, remember just in case you think this is complicated enough, the Congress could have two decisions to make. The first one is if you want to play this out and say that somehow the Florida Supreme Court mandates Katherine Harris to certify a Gore slate of electors while the Florida Legislature has picked a Bush slate, the Congress has to settle on which slate of electors is legitimate.

If you look at the party lines, the House would vote for the Republican slate. The Senate, in a 50/50 with presumably Al Gore breaking the tie would vote for the Gore slate and the 19th century law says, well, if there's a division, it goes back to the slate that was certified by Florida's chief executive, who one assumes would be Governor Bush unless, of course, Governor Bush was threatened with jail for contempt for not certifying the Gore slate. So you see, those of us of conspiratorial or at least bizarre minds can play this out all the way through January without a resolution.

PELTZ: OK, Jeff, so I can't resist. If it comes back down then to Jeb Bush, then what happens?

GREENFIELD: Well, look, I do think that the Florida legislature is simply not going to permit an unchallenged slate of Gore electors to go to Washington even if somehow the Florida Supreme Court contrived to do it, which means Jeb Bush would probably sign the Republican slate of electors, and no matter how you look it if you're Al Gore, there still is no way in the end game for him to win because either Jeb Bush's slate of electors are ultimately the winner because the Congress divides.

And even if you posit that the electors don't come up to an electoral majority somehow, like two electors for Bush defecting on December 18th, the House of Representatives chooses the president by states and that's still Jeb Bush -- rather, George W. Bush. I don't think anybody yet has figured out a scenario, no matter how weird of mind you may be, in which Al Gore winds up as president because as you point, December 12th is simply too close for final resolution to come out of Florida that makes Al Gore a winner, I think.

PELTZ: OK, on that note, Jeff, then just keep thinking about it because we're going to come back to you a little bit later in the show and get some more thoughts. Thanks, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: See you. PELTZ: And when this special report continues, the list is out and you may be surprised who's bank rolling the vice president's recount battle.

Plus the humor of it all. We are going to go behind the scenes with the cartoonists. They are having a hey day with the presidential stand-off.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PELTZ: You're may be wondering just who's paying for all the high-powered lawyers facing off over the Florida vote? Well, today, the Gore camp filed an official disclosure with the Internal Revenue Service and CNN's Brooks Jackson found it to be pretty interesting reading.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gore's report listed nearly $3.3 million in donations, and it had some very large ones. Houston trial lawyer John M. O'Quinn, who stands to share in a $3 billion fee for suing tobacco companies, gave $200,000 to pay other lawyers for Gore.

Slimfast Foods founder S. Daniel Abraham, a big soft-money donor to the Democrats, gave $100,000 to the recount committee. Jane Fonda, who's now separated from husband Ted Turner, CNN's founder, also gave $100,000. She listed her occupation as actress.

But the biggest of all was from a registered Republican: Silicon Valley's Steve Kirsch gave half a million. He's been quoted as saying statistics convince him Gore got the most Florida votes.

In all, the top nine donors, all giving at least $100,000 each, accounted for $1.5 million, nearly half Gore's total. And 70 percent of gore's total came from donors of $25,000 or more. Among them: New Jersey's Senator-elect Jon Corzine, who spent $57 million on his own campaign, and still had $25 000 left to give to Gore.

Gore posted his disclosure on his recount committee's Web site -- a copy of the official form being sent to the Internal Revenue Service in Ogden, Utah -- disclosure required by law for so-called Section 527 political organizations.

The Bush recount committee has a different legal structure and managed to avoid required disclosure, but has voluntary disclosed about half of the $6 million aides say has been raised so far. It's dull reading -- unlike Gore, Bush won't take more than $5,000 per person. Where's it all going?

The only expenditure listed by the Gore-Lieberman Committee was to the law firm of Dexter Douglass of Tallahassee: $50,000, but that's just for starters.

(on camera): There's no telling how much all of these legal fees will eventually add up to. And neither Bush nor Gore are saying which of their lawyers are donating their time or giving a cut rate.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PELTZ: And stay with us as our special coverage continues. We're going to have the latest developments plus some more thoughts from Jeff Greenfield who is in Florida and he has some special guests. So stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PELTZ: A few reasons now why tomorrow promises to be a climactic day in the contested Florida vote. The Florida legislature will come together in a special session. The Republican-controlled body is vowing to select 25 electors for George W. Bush.

Written rulings could be issued as early as tomorrow in two separate trials involving absentee ballots. Democrats say Republicans in Martin and Seminole counties tampered with thousands of applications for those ballots.

And of course, a potentially decisive rulings could come down from the Florida Supreme Court. Justices are deliberating on Al Gore's appeal of the state's election certification. Members of the Bush and Gore legal teams appeared on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight to express their optimism for a ruling in their favor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN "LARRY KING LIVE")

RICHARD: We are prepared to file appeals and briefs, not only in this case but in the several other cases that are pending, not because we anticipate losing, but because, as I say -- and you know, we also anticipate the possibility of appeals either way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN "LARRY KING LIVE")

KLAIN: I think we're not going to lose in the Supreme Court tomorrow. We wouldn't have gone there. But I think that the Supreme Court of Florida certainly is the final arbiter on Florida law. That's what we're focused on. And I think the most important thing is to let that court decide, and we'll go from there.

I do think, in the end, what this is about for us is getting those 14,000 votes counted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PELTZ: And that's a look at the latest development in the Florida vote. Now, we're going to go back to Jeff Greenfield, who's in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Hi again, Jeff. GREENFIELD: Hello, Perri. You know, there's politics south in Florida where we are waiting to see what three courts and the Florida state legislature might do. There are politics up north where Democrats and Republicans are gathering in Washington for a short lame-duck congressional session, trying to make sense of what we've been through. We've got it stereophonically covered, because joining us from Miami, Tom Fiedler. He's an editor of the editorial page at "The Miami Herald," longtime student of Florida politics. Joining us from New York, Rich Lowry. He is an editor of "The National Review."

Tom Fiedler, a couple of days ago I think one of the Republican legislatures said to the press, well, you know, if Al Gore certified the victor by December 12th, that -- we can sign off on that.

How seriously, if at all, should we take that?

TOM FIEDLER, "MIAMI HERALD": Oh, not very seriously at all. I think the really -- the only purpose, the only logical purpose for the legislature calling itself into session beginning tomorrow, and of course, extending through December 13th, is really to serve as an insurance policy for George W. Bush. I mean, otherwise, the election results that were certified by Governor Jeb Bush, after Katherine Harris' certification on November 14th, serves whatever legal purpose there needs to be served, and that's already on file with the National Archives.

So the only possible purpose for the legislature to go into session and provide what they're calling the safety net is actually to make sure that they can serve as a check against any recount and any action by the Florida Supreme Court.

GREENFIELD: So since Perri made me play "what if," I'm going to turn the tables on you: If somehow the Florida Supreme Court were to say, Al Gore's case is right, we're going to count these votes with 100 masters, and by God, on December 11th, we discover Gore's the winner, is there any -- what would the Florida legislature do in that situation? I mean, faced with that possibility, what do they do?

FIEDLER: Well, I think -- well, that's -- what you're talking about here is the constitutional collision here in Florida. I think that the legislature, at least the Republican leadership in the legislature, is perfectly prepared for that outcome, and their intention would be, in that particular case, to go ahead and call it for George W. Bush: to name the 25 electors that would vote for George W. Bush, and press ahead and force whatever collision there would have to be in Washington at that point.

GREENFIELD: And speaking of Washington, I want to shift the focus up north for just a second, Rich Lowry, and ask you about the reconvening of this lame-duck Congress. We saw House majority whip Tom DeLay make some very strong statements about if Bill Clinton wants to shut the government down again, that's OK, and with a Republican president in Congress, it's a golden opportunity for us. And it seemed today, as those congressional leaders like J.C. Watts were saying, no, you know, Denny Hastert will figure this out. Were they rattled, do you think, by the prospect of, what some would call, I guess, a partisan call to arms?

RICH LOWRY, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, I think what's going on here, Jeff, is the struggle between the Republican Congress and Bill Clinton since 1994 has been characterized by shutdown fights. And ever since the disaster in early '95, Republicans have just surrendered to Bill Clinton on the budget over and over again .

And what you have is Tom DeLay represents one school of thought, which says: Look, Clinton tried to pull the shutdown strategy again right before the election; it didn't work, no one paid attention; and this is a strategy that's lost its force. So why don't we stand up to him for once? And then you have other Republicans who are still very nervous, they're still a little bit like dogs who've been beaten one too many times with a rolled-up newspaper. So all they have to do is see a newspaper and they begin cringing. So J.C. Watts is a rough representative of that viewpoint.

GREENFIELD: Well, I'm glad that it was an editor of the staunchly conservative "National Review" who used that particular metaphor rather than, say, a CNN senior analyst. But let's pursue this for a second.

Whatever -- whatever one ideologically or politically would want to see happen, if you look at where people think the country is, exhausted by this month-long post-election whatever it is -- dust-up -- is confrontation at the last moments of the Clinton administration going to be good for, say, the Republican Party?

LOWRY: Well, Jeff, I think a little confrontation would be an excellent thing, and we have -- obviously, we have a very evenly divided electorate, but we are going to have probably, more or less, unified Republican control of the Congress and the White House, and Republicans, I think, owe it to the country to try to pass their agenda and show the country what it is all about. And then the public can choose again two years from now. And I think that would be more responsible than just having some mushy nothing happen for two years.

GREENFIELD: Now, Tom Fiedler -- go ahead, please.

FIEDLER: I mean, I just -- no offense to Rich there, but I don't think that the country wants a Republican agenda for the next two years. I think the signal clearly was that the nation by and large wants the Congress to lead from the middle.

And it's interesting that last week, when Newt Gingrich was in the Capitol for the unveiling of his portrait, the message that he put out, the speech that he made was very much that we need to work together, we need to listen to each other's stories. We need to understand as white Americans what the pain is of black America. And it was very much kind of let's hold hands and sing, "Kumbaya," which you wouldn't have expected from the leader of this revolution now six years in the doing.

So I don't think that confrontation is at all the point.

LOWRY: Well, Tom, I see what you're saying, but even if you want to pass common-sensical, bipartisan legislation -- say, eliminating the major penalty or eliminating the estate tax, things that passed last Congress with a lot of Democrats -- you are still going to have confrontation, because Dick Gephardt's not going to just sit down easily and let these things happen. There's going to be a political argument. And something, I think a real pernicious notion in our political culture is that political arguments is bad, that it's just, quote/unquote, "partisan bickering."

It's not just bickering. It's extremely meaningful and important argument about the direction of our county. That's what Washington is for. That's what politicians and Democratic politics is for.

GREENFIELD: OK, Lowry and Fiedler, if you like an argument, I'm going -- we have about two minutes left. I want to put something on the table and let you both assail it. I think I've come up with one interesting statesmanlike solution to this whole thing.

Suppose the Florida legislature appoints 25 electors and instructs them to vote for neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore, thus depriving them both of a majority. The election then goes into the House, and while George W. Bush wins almost certainly, at least it is the national legislature that settles this contested national election rather than one legislature in one state.

Go at it. Fiedler, do you think it's a brilliant idea or abject nonsense or something in between?

FIEDLER: Well, I think it sounds like an idea for your next novel, Jeff, but frankly...

(LAUGHTER)

It may -- actually that may sit a lot better with the nation. What I've heard, a lot of proposals here to -- to instruct the electors in Florida to divide 13 to 12, and then just see where that goes. Of course, the question is who gets the 13.

GREENFIELD: Well, we know where that -- we know where that goes, though.

FIEDLER: That's right. Who gets the 13th is the key.

LOWRY: Jeff, I actually...

GREENFIELD: Well, no, it isn't, because if they get -- if they get 12 electors, Al Gore's the president, because he's already got 267 votes.

LOWRY: That's right. That's right.

GREENFIELD: So, Mr. Lowry...

LOWRY: Well, I think...

(CROSSTALK) I'm going to be constructive here, Jeff, and tell you what I like about your idea, which is that it wouldn't depend on a judge making a decision. And...

GREENFIELD: Exactly.

LOWRY: ... if any one should decide this, it should be one of the politically accountable bodies, whether it's the state legislature down in Florida or whether it's Congress. And it would be better to have Congress and Tom DeLay make a decision than have Sandra Day O'Connor make it, because Sandra Day O'Connor is accountable to no one.

If Tom DeLay does something that's perceived as being unfair and unjust to help the cause of George W. Bush, he and congressional Republicans could be punished two years later, and that's the way a political system in a democracy corrects and heals itself.

So, that's the good point about your idea. I don't know how realistic it is, but that's the good part about it.

GREENFIELD: OK. Well, considering I got some positive words out of one of you two, I'm going to call it a night and declare victory, the way Senator Aiken (ph) suggested we should do in Vietnam.

Tom Fiedler in Miami with "The Miami Herald," thank you very much. It's going to be very quiet down there in a few weeks I have a feeling.

FIEDLER: Almost.

GREENFIELD: And Rich Lowry of "The National Review," thank you for joining us.

LOWRY: Thanks, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: Perri, back to you in New York.

PELTZ: All right, Jeff Greenfield, thank you to you. And coming up just ahead, would he still want to be president if he could? And what would he do differently? "Rolling Stone" gathers some thoughts from President Clinton.

And later, "New Yorker" cartoonists on their take on the Florida recount: why their work draws raves from readers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PELTZ: While the nation anxiously waits to see who will be the next president, the current one is reflecting on his years in the White House. In an interview with "Rolling Stone" magazine, President Clinton talks frankly about everything from gays in the military to marijuana to the U.S. Constitution.

CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Bill Clinton, these are times to reflect about what might have been. Another four years in the Oval Office? He says he may have pursued that option if there were no 22nd Amendment limiting a president to two terms.

"Oh, I probably would have run again," he told "Rolling Stone" magazine.

"Do you think you would have won?"

"Yes, I do," he said. "But it's hard to say because it's entirely academic."

There are things he says he would have done differently. For one, not moving so quickly his first year in office to overturn the ban on gays in the military. "I think it backfired partly because the people that were against it were clever enough to force it," said Mr. Clinton. "The Republicans decided they didn't want me to have a honeymoon."

And there are new thoughts about other controversial issues, such as reassessing prison time for nonviolent drug offenders. The man who once said he never inhaled now says smoking marijuana should not necessarily lead to jail time. "I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be. We really need a re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment," he told the magazine.

And of what's now known as "the Lewinsky matter," he believes the man who led that investigation, former Independent Counsel Ken Starr, did what the conservatives wanted him to do: "He was hired to keep the inquiry going past the '96 election and to do whatever damage he could. That's why he was put in, and he did what they asked him to do."

(on camera): A lot of thoughts about what might have been, and some predictions for what would be in that interview before Election Day: Mr. Clinton saying he thought the presidential contest would be close, but that Al Gore would win Florida and the presidency. Two predictions, still just that, one month after voters went to the polls.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PELTZ: And still ahead, from another publication, humorous aspects of the Florida recount.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this is a great topic. It's a lot of fun. It's, you know, all the drama of O.J., but not the horrible seriousness of a murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PELTZ: Inside "The New Yorker" and the creative minds of its cartoonists when this CNN special report continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PELTZ: Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, along with their wives, went to the movies tonight. They saw the new comedy-drama "You Can Count on Me." We're leave it to the guys in "THE SPIN ROOM" to ponder the subliminal meanings in that choice. Maybe it would have been even more fun for the pundits if they had seen "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Or maybe one of those movies with actor Chad Everett. Sorry, couldn't resist.

But for decades, cartoon lovers have gotten their weekly humor fix from "The New Yorker" magazine. Its drawings are known for being sophisticated, subtle and often topical. This means "New Yorker's" regular contributors keep pens poised for a humorous take on news of the day. Understandably, events in Florida have produced a gold mine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PELTZ (voice-over): While the nation waits and waits, one sure winner is the cartoonists from "The New Yorker."

ROZ CHAST, "NEW YORKER" CARTOONIST: Oh, I think this is a great topic for cartoons. A lot of fun. It's, you know, all the drama of O.J. but not the horrible seriousness of a murder.

WILLIAM HAMILTON, "NEW YORKER" CARTOONIST: I enjoyed Watergate more because this doesn't have any real stars.

SAM GROSS, "NEW YORKER" CARTOONIST: I just don't want to have to hear the word Tallahassee any more.

PELTZ: "The New Yorker" cartoonists admit their weekly crop -- and these days it is a bumper crop.

BOB MANKOFF, "NEW YORKER" CARTOON EDITOR: Don't you think you're doing maybe too many cartoons. My hands are hurting.

PELTZ: Cartoon editor Bob Mankoff has to hand-pick the best of this week's harvest.

MANKOFF: I don't want to see this cartoon again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scotch tape?

PELTZ (on camera): All right, Bob, how good is this. this story?

MANKOFF: Well, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

PELTZ: Doesn't get any better.

MANKOFF: The whole premise of humor is people doing absurd things, but not realizing they are absurd. Saying thing over and over again like dimpled chads. One of most important things to come out the campaign is actually, I think, the importance of humor. It's a way that we can speak about these people.

I'm not against public service, I just think I can do more damage in the private sector.

PELTZ: So, how do you pick?

MANKOFF: It's a thought expressed, you know, through humor. That's what I'm looking for, and a voice and something that speaks to us as human beings.

PELTZ: Show me the goods.

MANKOFF: Show me the goods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "I guess next time we'll all just have to vote a little bit harder."

MANKOFF: This is one is "Chad has point out a stamp with Al Gore on it," that will actually not be used.

PELTZ: OK, well, what did you use?

MANKOFF: We used this which is, "Today in school we learned to recount to ten."

He used this guy at Chinese restaurant looking at the fortune, "Good Lord, it's another vote for Al Gore." This is thank you cards for Ralph Nader. "Yosemite's a shopping mall/The desert isn't there at all/Alaska's an amusement park/I guess you really made your mark/Thanks a lot, jerk."

PELTZ (voice-over): So, what will the cartoonists do when election 2000 is finally resolved?

CHAST: I'm sure when its over there'll be other stupid things to make fun of.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PELTZ: And on that light note, we will end our special report Election 2000: The Florida Vote. I'm Perri Peltz in New York. "THE SPIN ROOM" is ready to take off. Here are Bill Press and Tucker Carlson in Washington with a preview.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Thanks, Perri. We have everything tonight, a three-ring circus. We have absentee ballot, Supreme Courts and Congressman J.D. Hayworth.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST, CNN "THE SPIN ROOM": Yes, tons -- tons of stuff to spin about tonight on "THE SPIN ROOM" coming up in two minutes, right here on CNN.

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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