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Joint Session of Congress Begins Certification of Electoral College Votes

Aired January 6, 2001 - 1:04 p.m. ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, watching today's vote count with keen interest is Ed Henry, co-editor of "Roll Call," which covers the day-to-day workings of Congress in detail. He joins us now from Washington with his perspective on this historic moment.

Ed, why don't we begin -- give us a little flavor. What are we going to see? How's this ceremony going to play out?

ED HENRY, "ROLL CALL": I think there's a lot of pomp and circumstance that brings us back almost to the impeachment trial where you see back then with President Clinton's impeachment trial, we saw House managers dramatically going from the House chamber over to the Senate to get ready for the trial and deliver the articles of impeachment. Now we see the opposite. We see senators marching over to House chamber to get ready for this historic ceremony.

Al Gore did this once before. He did it in 1997. It only lasted 24 minutes. We're speaking it to last a little longer this time, and if only because there's more people here, probably, I think, because this is history making, and this election was so closely fought. I think you see there are quite a few senators walked over from the Senate chamber. In years past, it's only been a handful because it hasn't been a big challenge; it hasn't been such closely fought race and I think that clearly this is historic.

PHILLIPS: And we're seeing Gore step up to his seat right. We're going to listen for a moment, Ed.

Ed, are you still with us?


PHILLIPS: OK, we're noticing a bit of things kind of getting settled here. What's going to be the first move as Al -- or Mr. Gore takes his seat?

HENRY: Well, they have to choose clerks. There's two clerks from each chamber, one Democrat and one Republican, that are going to be the official tally clerks. I'm assuming they've worked that out beforehand, but they'll probably have those people come forward, and so that they're ready to go.

Al Gore, as you saw, greeted Speaker Dennis Hastert and Gore received a strong bit of applause from Republicans and Democrats. He did that earlier in the week as well when he swore in new senators. In the Senate chamber there was quite a bit of applause. I think there are still warm feelings for Gore on both sides of the aisle just for having conceded, and, you know, ever since he finally dropped out of the race, there has been a lot of warm feelings towards Gore at least in the sense that people feel that he was statesman about finally dropping out of the race.

We see that's Secretary of the Senate Gary Sisco preparing the actual electoral votes that came over in the mahogany cases from the Senate chamber over to the House. Those come over from archivist of the United States. They were delivered to Congress this week when the Congress opened up for session; the 107th Congress. You saw Secretary of Senate Gary Sisco preparing them as they're actually delivered to the House chamber.

PHILLIPS: We're going to bring in our Chris Black, also.

Chris, are you with us?

BLACK: Yes, I am, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk a little bit about Gore and how he will announce these results. Basically announcing his own defeat, and just the historic and ironic twist here.

BLACK: Well, it's very historic, and it's very highly scripted, too. There is really not an awful lot of opportunity for spontaneity in these. He's doing just exactly what the Constitution requires him to do. One of the reasons that Richard Nixon went ahead and presided over his own defeat in 1961, which he noted at the time in a very brief speech on the floor of the joint session, on the floor of the House, was because it was important to show the stability of the constitutional system and the peaceful transfer of power.

This is something that Al Gore himself mentioned when conceded the election; something which again he could mention again today. But his very presence, the fact that he's willing to do this; he's going through this, as difficult as it is, shows the strength of the constitutional system in the United States.

PHILLIPS: And Ed, the expected objections to the vote count, when could this happen? When we would see this? We talked about Alcee Hastings and -- Chris, you wanted to add?

BLACK: Yes, we actually could have an objection even before that. Peter Deutsche, who's a Democratic from Florida, may protest and say -- protest the absence of a quorum. It's a parliamentary move that won't amount to too much, but he did indicate earlier that he might raise that objection.


PHILLIPS: And the objection...

BLACK: Just to slow things down. PHILLIPS: Ed, of course, the objections are very symbolic. You want to talk a little about that?

HENRY: Yes, absolutely. I think Chris is right talking about Richard Nixon. In 1961, for example, there were two sets of electors delivered from Hawaii because there had been some confusion about who had actually won Hawaii by the time the electoral votes had to actually be delivered to Washington. So, two sets of electors were sent To Washington in '61 and one for Nixon; one for Kennedy.

And Nixon not only did the honorable thing by showing to preside over his defeat, he also made sure that he counted the Hawaii electors for Kennedy, not for Nixon because Kennedy had won Hawaii. And so, I think that's why Gore wants to show up here. He wants to make sure that, as Chris said, there's a smooth transition of power. He looks, you know, like he's above the process and I think that these protests are largely symbolic as has been pointed out.

You need a senator and a House member and try as they might, they could not get Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota to join their crusade. I think that's simply because Democrats -- undoubtedly, Democratic leaders would put a lot pressure on senators not to do that. Democrats don't want to look like sore losers.

Again, Gore got a nice bump in public opinion when he finally conceded, and I think it would be a major step backwards, maybe several steps, backwards for any Democrat to look like there's some foul play here that they're trying to stop the peaceful transition of power.

PHILLIPS: Well, if Gore refused to make the announcement, that would be quite a hit to the credibility of this process, correct?

HENRY: Oh, absolutely. But also, you know, for Al Gore himself as person and as a politician, it would certainly doom him; finish his career. You know, there's still a chance that he could rebound in 2004 at this point. This is a long time away, but if he were to do anything, again, any sort of foul play here, Gore would be finished as politician. It would obviously be a black mark for the country, but also it would be black mark on his career and I'm sure that Gore wouldn't do anything like that.

PHILLIPS: Chris or Ed, feel free to interject to this question, any expectation that a senator would jump ship and support any objection by the two individuals, the Democrats expected to object to the vote count.

BLACK: No, Kyra. We did a pretty quick check yesterday. We called all of the likely suspects and the Congressional Black Caucus made lot of calls trying to get at least one senator to join them. There was no interest, really. They got a very lukewarm reception in their own words, and also Al Gore made it very clear he did not want this happen.

The election is over, as far as he's concerned. It's time to move on. Time to make sure that the transfer of power is orderly and appropriate and constitutionally sound and there was no appetite on this side of Capitol Hill to join in protest, even though people understand there's lot of anger, particularly in Congressional Black Caucus, for what happened in Florida; what happened in this election and the Congressional Black Caucus in fact is moving ahead with this protest to make sure that the historical record records there was a protest; that they were not happy with what happened in Florida.

PHILLIPS: Ed, let's a little about the talk about the committee chair reshuffle and the 13 new phases that we're going to see -- we are seeing, actually.

HENRY: Yes. Well, clearly you know, the last three days we've seen a remarkable coming together within this Congress. Nobody thought it could happen, but House members had term limits on Republican side for their chairman, six years, and a lot of people said that they were, you know -- it was not going to happen. They wouldn't come through on their promise. They did. We now have 13 new faces. The following day in the Senate, just last night, we saw a historic 50-50 agreement where there'll be 50-50 membership on all of the committees, split down the middle between Democrats and Republicans as well as staff...

PHILLIPS: Ed, we're going to listen in.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Speaker, members of the Congress, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, pursuant to requirements of the Constitution and the laws of the United States, have met in joint session for the purpose of opening the certificates and ascertaining the counting -- ascertaining and counting the votes of the electors of the several states for president and vice president.

After ascertainment has been made that the certificates are authentic and correct in form, the tellers will count and make a list of the votes cast by the electors of the several states. The tellers on the part of the two Houses will take their respective places at the clerk's desk: Senator Dodd of Connecticut; Senator McConnell of Kentucky; Congressman Thomas of California; Congressman Fattah of Pennsylvania.

Open the certificates in alphabetical order and pass to the tellers the certificates showing the votes of the electors in each state and the tellers will then read, count, and announce the result in each state.

For what purpose does the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Deutsch, arise.

REP. PETER DEUTSCH (D), FLORIDA: To make a point of order.

GORE: The gentleman will state his point of order.

DEUTSCH: Mr. President, we have just completed the closest election in American history. There are at least...

GORE: The gentleman will suspend. The chair is advised by the parliamentarian that under Section 18 of Title 3, United States Code, no debate is allowed in the joint session. If the gentleman has a point of order, please state the point of order.

DEUTSCH: Mr. President, there are many Americans who still believe that the results we are going to certify today are illegitimate...

GORE: The gentleman will suspend. If the gentleman from Florida has a point of order, he may state the point of order at this time. Otherwise, the gentleman will suspend.

DEUTSCH: I will note the absence of quorum and respectfully request that we delay the proceedings until quorum is present.

GORE: The chair is advised by the parliamentarian that Section 17 of Title 3, United States Code, prescribes a single procedure for resolution of either an objection to a certificate or other questions arising in the matter. That includes a point of order that a quorum is not present.

The chair rules on the advice of the parliamentarian that the point of order that a quorum is not present is subject to the requirement that it be in writing and signed by both a member of the House of Representatives and a senator. Is the point of order in writing and signed not only by member of the House of representatives, but also a senator?

DEUTSCH: It is in writing, but I do not have a senator.

GORE: The point order may not be received.

The chair hands to the tellers the certificate of the electors for president and vice president of the state of Alabama, and they will read the certificate and will count and make a list of the votes cast by that state.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: We the undersigned, being the duly elected electors for president and vice president of the United States of America from the state of Alabama...

PHILLIPS: And Congressional correspondent, our Chris Black and also, Ed Craig who joins us from "Roll Call" magazine. Well, that started off with a very interesting tidbit. Let's talk about this for a moment. We expected it was going to be Peter Deutsch. Chris, you actually said you expected him to say something prior to everything beginning, so this didn't surprise, you did it?

BLACK: Not at all. We knew that Peter Deutsch was going to try and raise point of order and suggest that a quorum was not present. He very much wanted the opportunity to say that he felt these election results from his home state of Florida were illegitimate. It's really ironic: Peter Deutsch, a Democrat from Florida, one of Al Gore's most ardent supporters. He was out there on the TV screens every day during the recount carrying the banner for Al Gore, and he had to be ruled out of order by the man he wanted to see win this election. PHILLIPS: And Ed, it was pretty -- it was interesting that Gore seemed very prepared for this; ready for this. He stated Section 18, saying no debate allowed, and then he quoted Section 17 about the point of order, a quorum not present; not only it was in writing but not signed by senator. Can you talk about both of these sections for us?

HENRY: Well, absolutely. I think that clearly, as we mentioned earlier, the vice president wants to do this straight by the book. he doesn't want to play any games. He gave Mr. Deutsch his opportunity to say what he wanted, but as Chris noted, there's no debate, first of all; and second of all, it does have to be in writing; and third of all you have to have one House member and one senator.

We see now Bill Thomas, the new Ways and Means chairman. He's the outgoing House Administration chairman and he was chosen to be one of the tellers because he again, as outgoing House Administration chairman -- Chaka Fattah is a Democrat on the House Administration Committee.

Senator Chris Dodd is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and Senator Mitch McConnell is the top Republican the Rules and Administration Committee. They're just sort of the people in positions of power within the Congress to do this straight by the book, and again, keep politics out of it.

PHILLIPS: Well, let me ask you this: Alcee Hastings, congressman from Florida, is expected to stand up and object. Do you think the same is going to happen to him; that Vice President Al Gore will step right in, and name these sections and basically stop him?

HENRY: Yes, absolutely. I think first of all, Hastings is not going to have a senator to back him up. So, that's going to be difficult for him. Right there, he's going to be stopped. And secondly, if he tries to debate or, you know, give some sort of a speech, which I think clearly that's what Peter Deutsch wanted to do. He wanted to get some prepared remarks. He wanted to talk how the election, in his words, was illegitimate.

You know, Gore is not going to stand for that. You can't have that kind of grandstanding at a ceremony like this. You have to just go by the book and get it done, and I think if Alcee Hastings tries to start claiming that there was, you know, irregularities and shenanigans going on down in Florida, I think Gore will gavel him down. You can tell that he's getting advice from the House parliamentarian. He's also getting advice from the Senate parliamentarian; the bearded gentleman, Robert Dove who's sitting down right now in the back to the left of Gore.

PHILLIPS: All right, we're going to...

BLACK: It's important to note, Kyra, that there's no wiggle room in these rules; that the rules are very, very specific. They were written a long time ago. They were put down in federal law. So, if Al Gore goes by the book, which he clearly is, there's just no opportunity for spontaneity or for speechifying or anything else. We're also told that other members of the Black Caucus may try to join Alcee Hastings in making a symbolic protest. We'll have to wait and see if they follow through on that threat but others may rise to the -- and try to seek attention from the presiding officer. But again, they will be gaveled down.

PHILLIPS: All right, Chris and Ed, please stay with us. We're going to listen in for a few minutes.

GORE: ... count and make list of the votes cast by that state

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Mr. President, we the undersigned, duly elected and qualified presidential electors for the state of Arkansas for the year 2000, hearby certify that we have met at the state capitol, the old Supreme Court chamber in Little Rock, Arkansas on December 18, 2000, as provided by law, and have cast our ballot for the president of the United States.

We hearby certify that we have cast our separate ballots for the president of the United States as follows for George W. Bush, in witness whereas we are here and subscribed names on the 18th, 2000 -- December, 2000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to do the vice president as well. Read the vice president.

FATTAH: And we the undersigned, duly elected and qualified presidential electors for the state of Arkansas, meeting in Little Rock on December 18th, as provided by law cast our ballot for vice president, and we hereby certify that we cast our separate ballots for vice president for Dick Cheney. Signed by the pertinent electors and duly attested.

Mr. President the certificate of the electoral vote of state of Arkansas seems to be regular in form and authentic, and it appears therefrom, that George W. Bush of the state of Texas receives six votes for president and Dick Cheney of the state of Wyoming receives six votes for vice president.

GORE: Is there objection? Hearing none, the chair now hands to the gentleman from California and the other tellers the certificate of the electors for president...

PHILLIPS: You're watching live coverage here as Congress is formalizing the results of, I guess we could say, a tumultuous presidential election by ratifying the Electoral College vote. Al Gore is presiding over this joint session, and we are awaiting for him to declare his challenger, George W. Bush, the victor and president- elect. And as we wait for that and as the counting continues, we take a quick break. We'll be right back.



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