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Election 2000: With 5-4 Supreme Court Decision, Gore Suspends Recount Efforts, Plans to Make Speech Tonight

Aired December 13, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Last night's pivotal opinion from the Supreme Court of the United States does not actually claim to be the final word. It sends the case back to the Supreme Court of Florida, though without giving that court much room for action.

CNN's Susan Candiotti joins us now from Tallahassee with more about all of that -- Susan.


Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has stopped cold the recount or the count of all those undervotes throughout the state of Florida, what is next? The U.S. Supreme Court, as you indicated, has sent the matter back here to Florida to the seven justices, telling them that the standards that were being used here are not good enough, the standards being used to decide the voter's intent, that they violate equal protection under the law.


CANDIOTTI: So what are now the options before this court?

CRAIG WATERS, FLA. SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: There are a number of possibilities of what could happen. As you saw in the last remand and simply issued the clarification that to answer the questions that were posed by the U. S. Supreme Court. There had been some reports that Mr. Gore may concede. There's the possibility that one or more parties could, then, suggest that the cases moot and ask that it be dismissed. We just don't know at that this point. It's going to depend on what events develop during the day.


CANDIOTTI: The U.S. Supreme Court's decision was placed on the desks over the seven justices overnight. They have spent the day so far reviewing what the highest court of the land had to say, and we do expect a statement from the seven justices sometime later today.

Back to you, Lou.

WATERS: OK, Susan Candiotti, down there in Tallahassee, keeping watch on things. It's time now for a historian to join us, and he is best selling author, Robert Shenkman, presidential Historian. Do you think that founding fathers ever imagined anything like what we just witnessed over the past 36 days.

RICHARD SHENKMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No. They never contemplated that the courts was going to decide the president of the United States. You know, there are three branches of the government. The and legislature, the founding fathers said, was probably going to be the most powerful. They were wrong in this; the presidency probably is. They said because it had the power of the purse, that was going to make it really powerful, and then they said the president was also going to be powerful because they the power of the sword, and the judiciary was going to be the weakest of the three. But the weakest of the three just decided the presidential election. That's unprecedented.

WATERS: So what happens to public confidence in our branches of government. We know that the confidence in the politicians and the political process has been eroding for quite some time, and now the courts are in this, what Frankfurt (ph) referred to as the political thicket. Will the American people be able to get past all of this and have faith that there government can and will work for them?

SHENKMAN: Well, I think that over the long haul, the institutions will survive, but the Supreme Court has taken a hit, and it's a self-inflicted hit. Back through the ages, they have done this from time and time, and it has taken years for the institution to recover. In the 19th century, it was the Dred Scott decision, which for a generation demoralized the Supreme Court and really removed it as the factor in American politics. In the 1930s, it was the ridged four horseman in the Supreme Court that kept turning down New Deal law after New Deal law after New Deal law, and that really was a damaging blow to the Supreme Court. And now I think this decision, 5-4. It's not going to make people happy. I think that it's bad for the court.

WATERS: You historians need time I know, but are there historical flourishes here that will echo through time because of all of this that we have gone through?

SHENKMAN: Well, I think that one of the consequences could be that it forces the American people to reexamine the basic system of government, and that's one thing that could come out of this that's healthy. You know, over the last 35 or 40 years, every time we've had a in this country, we have tended to personalize it. We have made the political be personal. In Vietnam, with Lyndon Johnson, we said it was because Lyndon Johnson is a congenital liar, and with Nixon in Watergate, we said it was Nixon was someone who can't tell the truth. And with Reagan in the Iran-Contra, we said the poor man is old, and doesn't really know what he's doing. With Bill Clinton, and of course with Monica, they said, again, character flaws.

In this case, it's not a question of any individual's characters flaws. It's really questions about the system. The Electoral College -- should it be junked? Should the Congress spend billions of dollars to upgrade our ballot system throughout the country? And three -- and I think that this is something that may come up in the political debate -- should the Congress remove from the Supreme Court the appellate power to decide presidential elections?

WATERS: That process begins tonight. We know now we are going to hear from Al Gore at 9:00 p.m. Eastern from George W. Bush, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. There would be, I would imagine, an enormous amount of pressure from these two men to begin this political healing process and moving forward with some of the things that you suggest.

SHENKMAN: Well, this is a grand opportunity for both of these men. Al Gore can appear exceptionally presidential tonight, which could set him up for a run four years from now and really help the country understand, what of are the basic issues at stake, and maybe focus on how the system needs to be reformed? I think that he can perform a wonderful service in that way. I think it's a little too much to ask him to try to unite the country around George W. Bush. I think that's what the big expectation is. I think he has to say some soothing words, but I don't think that he can really deliver that. That a little bit beyond him at this point.

And George Bush also can try to come across presidentially. I don't think that he has been terribly presidential during the last 35 days. This is his opportunity. And so for both of these men, it's an opportunity.

WATERS: And some folks might say, does it make a difference what either these guys say tonight? Don't actions speak louder than words?

SHENKMAN: Well, you know in American politics, a president's words really count. And it's interesting, the first president's words who really -- which really counted, Thomas Jefferson, 1801, after a terribly divisive election. He says just a couple of words. He says, "We are all Federalists. We are all Republicans." And boy, that really did have an affect on the country, did help unite the country.

WATERS: And ahead here now, we understand that the "Miami Herald" is already petitioning to launch an investigation of the undervotes in Florida. So someone using some standard, no matter what it is, will be counting those undervotes in Florida. What if, on down the line, when George W. Bush sits in the Oval Office, and someone comes up with a result that would indicate that Al Gore got the most votes in Florida, what damage, if any, might that do to the government?

SHENKMAN: Well, he's already coming in eye a cloud over this presidency, because he didn't win the national vote, because the Supreme Court handed him the presidency, so that's two blows against him. This would really be strike three and he's out. He would be president of the United States, but he would not have the clout with the American people. This is very, very dangerous, and it's something that may very well happened. If he didn't really win all of those votes, depending on how you count them, then it's going to be tough on him as president.

WATERS: And if that were to happen, the Supreme Court didn't do the Bush campaign any favors here.

SHENKMAN: Yes, I'll tell you, I don't think that the Bush campaign did itself many favors from the way that it handled this. From the moment that James Baker went down into Florida and said he was going to throw this into federal court, and he was the first one to actually file a lawsuit. I think he was going on the wrong assumption that wining was everything, and once they got into office, it would be OK, they could then act presidential. I think you've got to act presidential under these circumstances when you're actually trying to win the presidency, and he hasn't done that, and it's going to be damaging.

WATERS: Rick Shenkman, presidential historian. I appreciate it. Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Remember the Florida legislature? The court developments throw into question a move by Florida lawmakers to guarantee a slate of electors for George W. Bush. Let's get the latest on that from CNN's Mike Boettcher at The Florida legislature.

Mike, hello?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, as expected, the Senate gaveled to order at 1:00, and then recessed about 10 minutes later. The Senate president said that he wanted the members and the body to be able to look at Vice President's Gore's speech tonight to see what happens, they would come back tomorrow at 2:00, or they could delay coming back until the 18th; if they feel they don't have to act, they could wait until that point and make sure, they say, that there are no other problems with this electoral slate for George W. Bush. At that point, they would go sign a die, they would adjourn.

But let's and listen to the words of Senator John McKay, who is the Senate president, who spoke on the floor about a half on hour ago.


SEN. JOHN MCKAY (R), FLORIDA SENATE PRESIDENT: We have successfully negotiated unchartered waters in the past few weeks, and it is my intention that we will not run a ground as we continue. Therefore, out of respect for the vice president, we will wait to hear his comments this evening before taking further action.


BOETTCHER: Now, you remember that yesterday, the House voted 79- 41 here in Florida to name that slate of electors, but it's very likely, if Vice President Gore does make a concession speech tonight, that the Senate in Florida will never vote on this matter, and it will never become law -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Another chapter ended in this ordeal. Thanks, Mike Boettcher in Tallahassee.

Now to Lou.

WATERS: And Chris Black is navigating through the political thicket up on capitol hill, has a development from there -- Chris. CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill say that Al Gore should not concede tonight, he should withdraw from the presidential race, because they say this race essentially ended in a tie, but one senator just came here to the gallery to speak to us about that, Byron Dorgan, who's a Democrat from North Dakota, and he said, "The vice president should make it very clear that he lost this race."


SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I believe that I believe that there a concession speech. As difficult it is, I believe that George W. Bush at this point is the winner and Al Gore is the loser. Now, you know, that's difficult for some to accept, but that's the fact, that's what, and which from this process and from the institution of the Supreme Court decision last evening, and I think that it's appropriate at this point for Al Gore, Vice President Gore, to give his speech tonight that is a concession speech. I think that it's important for the country.


BLACK: Now Byron Dorgan is from a conservative state, North Dakota, a state that voted heavily for George W. Bush, but he is a real Democrat and a leader in the Senate, and frequently went to the Senate floor to defend Al Gore's policies and reinforce what he was saying on the campaign trail. But this is very interesting. This shows that there a strong feeling, in the Senate in particular, that there should be a bipartisan approach in order to get anything done next year -- Lou.

WATERS: And, Chris, what is the debate over concession or withdrawal? Does one mean more than the other in this context?

BLACK: Well, it's a distinction really that doesn't necessarily mean a lot, but potentially could if it looks like the Democrats were not accepting this and were somehow undercutting the legitimacy of George W. Bush's election. There is a lot of concern, particularly among senators, who do serve six-year terms, and sometimes can take a step back, that it's important to recognize that the Supreme Court has made its ruling, the court has to be respected. George Bush has won, that has to be respected, as difficult as it is for many partisans.

WATERS: All right, Chris Black on Capitol Hill -- Natalie

BLACK: Well, judging by the polls, and we really don't even need a poll to be able to know the public has grown increasingly eager for election 2000 to be over. So are people relieved today? And the people we should ask in Florida.

CNN's Mark Potter is in Tampa.

Mark, I am trying to figure out why you are in Tampa. Either, A, you were passing Tampa on your way back to Miami. Or, B, poor Tampa hasn't been involved in this really. MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We came here originally, Natalie, because they were going to count some of the votes here, some of the undercount. We came here over the weekend on that. And know that that's unlikely, so why not stop and talk to the people. We've been here at the Village Inn since early this morning, believe me, very early this morning, and we're still here, and most of the people, as you indicated that we have been talking to are saying that they are happy that this is seemingly now on its way out and coming to an end.

Now let talk fair moment with Nat and Renee Brodei (ph).

Renee, tell, what do you think? Are you happy that this is coming to an end? Or are you upset by the results?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, both. I am sick and tired of it.

POTTER: Sick and tired of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sick and tired of it. And also disappointed that they didn't just revote the whole state of Florida. I think that would have changed the outcome. I think that they threw out way too many votes in Florida.

POTTER: Are you upset that the way that the court his handled this ultimately?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am. They have been ping-ponging it back into the courts, and I don't think that's where it belongs.

POTTER: Nat, you're going to be watching, I presume the vice president tonight. What do you think he should do? Do you think he should throw in the towel? Or should he keep fighting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he should keep fighting. I think he should throw in the towel. He can acknowledge that he was beaten by the polls. He doesn't have to throw in the towel.

POTTER: Are you upset by these results? Do you think that he should have taken this election?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It have been nice to have my man in.

POTTER: It always is, isn't it?

Let's go talk to somebody from the other party. Thank you very much for your time. Lynn Tornad (ph) -- you're a Republican.


POTTER: Now what did you think when you came to hear and understand -- and that took some time -- the Supreme Court ruling last night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was glad to know that it was finally going to be concluded.

POTTER: And what's your overall thought about this process in general?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that there needs to be some kind of stipulation of normalcy across the board, so that everything is done in a formal way, formalized so that there aren't any confusion, you know, any confusing issues again.

POTTER: Now, what about the point that Renee was making, though, that votes should have been counted? There was some votes that were never counted, at least by hand. Do you by that argument?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I think that the votes were counted twice. They were counted three times some places. And if they needed to be counted again, I think that this had to be counted all over the state of Florida, and not just in certain counties, certain areas.

POTTER: Well, thank you very much for your time.


POTTER: What are you going to do now that there is no election to worry about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to go home and tell my 7-year-old daughter that there will be a President Bush again.

POTTER: Thank you very much for your time.

And everyone here that we have talked to today says, one, they're tired of this and that they're going to be watching TV very closely tonight.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: All right, thanks, Mark. Take care.



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