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What Are the Prospects for Bipartisanship During a Bush Administration?

Aired December 14, 2000 - 8:30 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special report. After five weeks of passion...


CROWD: Bush won. Bush won.


ANNOUNCER: Partisanship and outrage, a nation tries to heal.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: This election is over, and I congratulate Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney and wish them well.



RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would think it's fair to say the reaching-out process has already begun.


ANNOUNCER: Begun, but are the scars too deep?

Tonight, lessons from Watergate, Vietnam, and impeachment.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.


ANNOUNCER: And Florida's uncounted votes. Should we leave them alone or take the chance that counting them won't derail the healing?


CROWD: Every vote is counted. CROWD: Every vote should count.


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special report. From Washington, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: For weeks now, we've been following the courts, lawyers and judges struggle with the legal challenges posed by the presidential election. This time, there's a twist. Tonight's legal challenge? Surprise. For the first time in 36 nights, there are no legal challenges.

But this country faces a huge social challenge: healing the anger, distrust and division caused by the inconclusive election and its aftermath.

CNN's David Mattingly now on how and if we can move forward, and what we've learned from similar challenges in the past.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it was over, Vice President Al Gore had not only conceded, he had clearly set rolling a new national agenda.




MATTINGLY: In six minutes, 41 seconds, the vice president made 16 references to unity.


GORE: Start to heal the divisions...



GORE: ... partisan rancor must now be put aside...



GORE: ... can point us all to a new common ground.


MATTINGLY: Then, and hour later, President-Elect George W. Bush -- 30 more references.





BUSH: ... able to resolve our electoral differences.



BUSH: I will do my best to serve your interests.


MATTINGLY: And today, the appeals for unity continue.

CLINTON: The essential unity of our nation was reflected in the words and values of those who fought this great contest.

CHENEY: I really thought Vice President Gore's speech was very good. I liked it very much. I thought it was totally appropriate to the occasion.

LIEBERMAN: I fully intend to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and with President-Elect Bush to find that constructive consensus.

MATTINGLY: But how willing are Americans to take up the unity banner? Latest polls show Americans still almost evenly split in their feelings about a George W. Bush presidency.

EVAN THOMAS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": The United States has always been a messy, rocky, tumultuous, vibrant country. It is today. It was 100 years ago. It will be 100 years from now. But fortunately, because of the wisdom of the founding fathers, we have a system that can withstand tremendous jolts and just rock along.

MATTINGLY: Evan Thomas, assistant managing editor of "Newsweek," suggests looking to history for perspective.

THOMAS: We have been through much worse than this in recent times. i mean in this century that's just ended, a couple of world wars, a depression and a true presidential crisis in Watergate and divisive war in Vietnam. This is small potatoes compared to those really earth-shaking events.

MATTINGLY: The current political division cannot compare, for example, to the violent split in society experienced during the Vietnam War. Watergate, in fact, tested the constitutional limits of power far more severely than the recent election challenge.

THOMAS: Richard Nixon pushed the country really to the edge of a real crisis, and fortunately our system was able to cope with it. It was able to deal with it and bring him down when he abused power. But I think that was a far more severe threat to the system than what happened in the last 35 days

MATTINGLY: So, what keeps us together? Thomas suggests a good economy goes a long way toward soothing political bumps and bruises.

THOMAS: If the economy has a soft landing as they're talking about. In other words, the boom is over, but we're not plunged into a recession, I think in short order people will pretty much forget about this or that they'll remember it as kind of a spectator support.

MATTINGLY: In fact, both former candidates dipped deep into American annals hoping to strike a chord.


GORE: Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.



BUSH: I will be guided by President Jefferson's sense of purpose to stand for principle, to be reasonable in manner and above all to do great good for the cause of freedom and harmony.


MATTINGLY: But will words be enough? Angry allegations of disenfranchisement of African-American voters, deep partisan division in Washington, and signs of a possible slowdown in the economy suggest some post-election breaks may take a lot to mend.

David Mattingly, CNN.


VAN SUSTEREN: Another survivors of a razor-close election joins me here in Washington to talk about the process of healing and moving- on. In 1992, then-Representative Olympia Snowe of Maine was reelected with only 49 percent of the vote. Two years later, she was elected to the U.S. Senate. We also invited Michigan Congressman John Conyers to be with us, but due to bad weather, his flight to Detroit is running late. Thank you for joining us tonight, senator.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: Thank you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, I want to talk about this issue about healing. Is there truly a divide that needs to be healed or is this a fiction that the media created.

SNOWE: Well, I think obviously, I think given the unusual nature, of course, with this close presidential recount and being the closest presidential contest in history and the fact that it lasted, you know, 35, 36 days and the uncertainty that was associated with it, obviously, I think there is a time for healing.

But I know in talking to my colleagues in the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, we're prepared to move on now in making decisions that are going to be so important to the future of this country, and I think that it's a really question as to whether or not we are prepared to rise to the occasion and to work in a bipartisan basis to make a difference for this country.

VAN SUSTEREN: But when you talk about healing, I mean, I assume that the moderates have not been feuding with each and we're really talking about sort of the extreme on the right and the left, at least in the Senate. Am I right?

SNOWE: Yes, that's true. I think that so often now in Washington and even in Congress, it's been a haven for ideological absolutes, and I think that we really have to steer away from the polarization that has permeated the political process in Washington for so long.

That's why moderates have come together, centrists on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, to form a coalition that John Breaux and I are co-leading and we met last week and amazingly enough, 26 senators, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, came to that meeting and have committed to meeting on a weekly basis, in a time certain in order to make sure that we can do something to move the legislative agenda forward. That is very unique. Hopefully, we'll turn the corner in the political process.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, when I said I've been watching this story unfold for the past few days, people have been talking about healing and divide, it's usually in the context of Capitol Hill and I get sort of the sense the American people may be divided and are thinking but they're just watching. But what about the African- Americans down in Florida? Many of them feel disenfranchised and sort of left out? How can the Senate heal them?

SNOWE: Well, I think that what has been suggested and I think it'll be a very important issue here is on the issue of election reform. I think we all understand and share their deep disappointment and frustrations at what occurred in Florida, and those who were be able not able to vote or were disenfranchised because their vote didn't count. We know one thing from this election: Votes matter. We want to make sure that every vote is counted and I think that we should move forward to pass legislation to help the states put in place the machines and the funds to support a process that will make sure that every person in America has the ability to vote.

Yesterday, we had some conversations with Vice President-Elect Cheney. He indicated that President-Elect Bush wants to do everything that he can to bridge the racial divide in America, and will be looking at legislation to build those bridges.

(CROSSTALK) VAN SUSTEREN: How do you do that? How does President-Elect Bush bridge that divide? Outside of like, you know, he says that he wants to do that, and I believe that he wants to, but how does he actually really bridge that divide?

SNOWE: Well, I think in several ways. Obviously, he demonstrated that as governor of Texas in terms of education and I think he'll certainly do the same when it comes to educational policy to make sure that children -- African-American children, Hispanics have the best quality education in America.

Repairing the decaying infrastructure in the schools in urban areas, but also to make appointments within his Cabinet, African- Americans. Introducing legislation that will help improve he quality of life for African-Americans throughout this country, perhaps with housing. Visits to their communities, conversations. I think all of those things would help enormously to erase the feelings and to remove the barriers that exist today in America, which I think are unsettling and troubling and we've got to do everything we can to repair that.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we hear this question about the legitimacy of the presidency, because it's a close election. Does that really matter if a president is elected by a slim margin, the electoral college? Does that make a real difference when it comes to Capitol Hill?

SNOWE: No, it doesn't. I think what makes a difference is the attitude of the people in Congress as well as the president-elect. We've had previous presidents, in fact, you know, John Kennedy, who came with a very slim for the presidency.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happens if it turns out, because there are some very enterprising media organizations that are going to go back and look at those ballots, what happens if it turns out in looking at the ballots that perhaps the election went in Florida to Vice President Al Gore? Does that do anything to the presidency?

SNOWE: Well, Greta, again it goes back to the issues of the standards that were used and the uniformity of those standards and who counts them and by what manner they're counted, where they're counted. I mean, all those issues I think would surface again that did during the course of this recount, and what ultimately had to be determined in the courts, both at the state level and of course in the U.S. Supreme Court.

So I don't think that would do any good to address the problems that were, you know, fundamental in nature in this recount that ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court said that there are some constitutional issues. And I think it was a question of changing the statutes and changing the laws after the election, which was a violation of a federal statute.

VAN SUSTEREN: Many thanks to Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine...

SNOWE: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... for joining me tonight .

Coming up, a question some people think we shouldn't try to answer. But first, let's rewind to an interview from this summer when Al and Tipper Gore talked about life and politics.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I wasn't running for president, if I wasn't involved in politics, she would be just as happy for us to be doing something completely different as a family.

TIPPER GORE, AL GORE'S WIFE: See I love him, no matter what he's doing, and we'll be happy no matter he's doing.

A. GORE: Even if I wasn't running for president.

T. GORE: Even if you weren't and even if you are. Yes, that's it. It's so simple.




VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Fast-forward to January 21st. Imagine, newspapers around the country run the headline: "President Bush Sworn- in; P.S., Al Gore Actually Won."

It could happen, because several media groups now want to inspect and count Florida's ballots, and not just the contested ones in these boxes locked away in Tallahassee, but ballots from counties all around the state. And because of state laws allowing easy access to Florida's public records, we can almost count on seeing one, if not many, recounts.

Just how would a fledgling Bush administration be affected by a media count showing Gore won Florida? Conversely, if a recount shows Bush won, would that help the new president?

Let's ask our next guests: "Miami Herald" assistant managing editor Mark Seibel is in our Miami bureau. His paper is suing to gain access to the ballots. And in Los Angeles is Patrick Caddell, a co- producer of "The West Wing," and in a former life, he was a pollster for President Jimmy Carter and other prominent Democrats.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Mark, first to you, you want those ballots. Your newspaper's filed suit. What's the status?

MARK SEIBEL, "MIAMI HERALD": Well, we've asked 67 counties to share the ballots with us. We've heard back from about half of them. Most of the election supervisors are quite willing to do it. They recognize their obligation under Florida law, and it's really just a question of logistics.

In Miami-Dade County, we're waiting for the ballots to be returned from Tallahassee so that a procedure can be set in place for their review.

VAN SUSTEREN: Patrick, good idea or bad idea?

PATRICK CADDELL, CO-PRODUCER, "THE WEST WING": Well, I'm troubled by it. Frankly, let me say from the very beginning I was hoping we'd have a whole recount of the entire state. I just -- I, in fact, began my political career counting precincts in high school in Florida, so I know I'm a little about it. And I must say that I'm disturbed on several levels, mainly for the problem that the court found, which is the question of equal protection.

We have a real mess on our hands, and I'm very -- and I have to say, Mark, that I thought you all's coverage, "The Herald," was fantastic in this close election period. I read it every day. It was the best coverage in the country, I think.

But you know, I'm very, very disturbed, and I have some questions. I mean, what do we do for standards here?


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let's ask him. Mark, how about some standards? Give Patrick some standards. What are you going to do?

SEIBEL: Well, we just talked about doing -- and of course, we're concerned about standards. We don't think we should be in the business of setting standards. I mean, people ask that: well, what standards are you using?

What I think we're going to engage in is a journalistic undertaking where we're going to try to describe the ballots as they exist. And what I would say, if we're able to do it, apply the two standards that were used, the Palm Beach and the Broward standard. I think we won't come up with a count in which we say, you know, Al Gore had so many votes and George Bush had so many votes. We will probably come up with a range of possibilities.

And more than that, what I think it's important -- you know, we're about to engage in rethinking how we feel about manual recounts and how we deal with ballots and what sort of election system we use. And I think we don't really have all the information in front of us unless we look at some of these uncounted or unexamined ballots.

VAN SUSTEREN: Patrick do you want to get in?

CADDELL: I just want to ask another question, and then I want to jump in. What are you going to count? Are you going to count just undervotes or are you going to count everybody or are you going to count overvotes?

SEIBEL: Well, I think we're going to look just at the undervotes, though, to be honest, as I talked to elections people around the state, it may be necessary in some counties certainly to look at all the votes just to determine what are the undervotes.

CADDELL: Well, I think you'd have to, because it would certainly have been a lot easier this week, this last weekend, for some of those smaller counties to count everything.

But you know, I have some problems, and here they are. No. 1, you have some disproportionate problems with the undervote and the overvote. In the optical counties, particularly those where people use the optical scans and they're taken to a central location, those -- those counties produced about 18,000 overvotes, but in many cases, they are mismarked ballots. They are people who both wrote in a candidate as well as voted for them. And in some senses, they're very similar to undervotes in punch-card counties.

And those unfortunately in some cases are, you know, overwhelmingly for George Bush. And it seems to me -- Martin County last weekend, in fact, the one county in Florida that has -- still has the old lever, where you can't undervote -- or you can't overvote, I'm saying. You only get to pull one lever. They started going through their absentee ballots and discovered that they had a whole bunch of overvotes that they could determine who in fact people had meant to vote for. What do we do about that?

VAN SUSTEREN: And let me ask one other question, Mark, as well. I'm a little bit curious. You know, there is a right to do this, to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the ballot under the Florida law. And I love Florida, that it's so open to everybody. But I'm wondering if we really gain from learning the result.

Let's say hypothetically that Vice President Al Gore wins. What will it do? Will it not just sort of weaken us in a sense?

SEIBEL: Well, I don't think that's really true. First off, I would just say that I don't think anyone benefits from being ignorant. The truth is...

VAN SUSTEREN: But wait a minute. Let me give you an example. Let me give you an example. President Ford pardoned President Nixon, and so we never really found out a lot of stuff that we could have fount out had perhaps he hadn't pardoned him. But it certainly put that to rest so we could move on. Probably a lot of people think it's a good thing.

Why not the same sort of theory here, put this one to rest?

SEIBEL: Well, I'm not sure it will ever be put to rest if you don't actually look at the ballots, and I think it's quite possible, our own projections indicate that it's very likely, even had all the votes been re-examined, that George Bush would still come out ahead. But I think there's always going to be a lingering question, so, you know, some people are going to believe that's the case anyway.

VAN SUSTEREN: Patrick, so why not? Let's -- why -- why not have the truth? Why not do this?

CADDELL: Well, because I'll tell you, determining the truth is -- I wish we could, but I don't know how you do it without recounting all the ballots in the state, frankly. But you really...

VAN SUSTEREN: They're just going to report them, though, Patrick...

CADDELL: Let me just speak -- let me just speak about the disparities here. And it's really dangerous to come out and say a president wasn't elected, and I happen to believe, as Mark just said, I -- from my own analysis, I'm pretty convinced that Bush carried the state in terms of votes that count in the state. But you know, despite "The Herald's" earlier analysis, which I think was terribly flawed, which you all did earlier from the guy in Arizona.

But let me just say, look at the difference in Miami. We have votes counted in Miami-Dade out of 139 precincts -- and you all were good enough to provide those precincts, and I went through them. And you had many precincts where there were actually machine-vote errors, not undervote errors, which were counted in, but those precincts went 76 percent for Al Gore. We never counted the rest of the country. It was 53 percent for Bush, and now you're going to mix the two together?

VAN SUSTEREN: Mark, you've got 20 seconds. Patrick, I hate to cut you off. Mark, 20 seconds.

SEIBEL: Well, Pat, it sounds to me like you're making the same case I would make, which is we never counted the other ones in Miami- Dade, and we know that some of those were districts that went heavily Republican. So right now, the portrayal is that the districts that were counted showed 168 for Al Gore, but is that really true?


CADDELL: No, it wasn't. I mean, obviously it wasn't. There were a lot of machine vote errors, not just undervote errors. There were mistakes in the counting machines, clearly, because you had precincts showing up for the candidates got minus. In other words, something was wrong...

VAN SUSTEREN: Patrick, I have to cut you off. It's obviously a long discussion and a great discussion, but that's all the time we have.

Thanks to "Miami Herald's" Mark Seibel and producer Patrick Caddell.

Next, something both Democrats and Republicans probably can agree on, and it's already starting. Please stay with us.


VAN SUSTEREN: It has been a long road to electing the 43rd president of the United States. Everyone is tired: the politicians, the public, the media, me, too. But our work isn't finished just yet.

Tonight's "Case Study": electoral reform. Now's the time to get ready for the next election, the 2002 midterm elections. We have much to do. Florida got burned, but it isn't the only state with flawed election procedures, outmoded voting machines, and hanging chad. Now, Florida's taking the lead in doing something about it.


GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Under the scrutiny of one of the closest presidential elections in history, numerous concerns were raised about the integrity of Florida's elections process. That's why we're creating a new task force, as I mentioned several weeks ago, on election procedures, standards, and technology to recommend and propose new legislation to the Florida legislature to improve our system.


VAN SUSTEREN: The big question: How are we going to pay for bringing the entire nation's voting process into the 21st century? Here's a thought. Today, a reporter asked me, why not skim a percentage point or two from the campaign contributions of those big donors? He might have a point.

The donors insist that they are not buying their candidates but are interested in democracy. Assuming there is no First Amendment collision, it might not be a bad idea to include this proposal in any bill for campaign finance reform. Senators McCain and Feingold, are you listening?

Thank you for listening. Let me know what you think. Send an e- mail to That's one word, askgreta.

I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. Next on LARRY KING LIVE, a conversation with Senator Joe Lieberman.



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