George W. Bush begins planning; says ‘give it up’
Al Gore insisted “there are more than enough votes” to reverse Florida’s make-or-break election results, ignoring GOP demands that he bow out even as George W. Bush plunged into the work Monday of building a new government. Democratic leaders rallied behind their vice president, though the party’s rank-and-file raised scattered voices of dissent.
A day after Bush summoned TV cameras to press for Gore’s concession, the vice president prepared a prime-time address to the nation — perhaps his last, best chance to explain why the closest presidential election in 124 years didn’t end Sunday night when Florida’s top elections officer, a GOP partisan, certified Bush the winner by 537 votes out of 6 million cast.
Gore contested the case in a Florida state court Monday, where attorneys for both sides wrestled over schedules and got little accomplished in their first session. The state case was assigned to Judge N. Sanders Sauls, a folksy jurist with broad authority under Florida law to “correct any alleged wrong and to provide any relief appropriate.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear GOP argument against recounts Friday. The stakes could hardly be higher.
“The integrity of our democracy depends upon the consent of the governed, freely expressed in an election where every vote counts,” Gore told Democratic leaders before his brief TV address.
With the agonizingly close election stretching into its fourth week, neither side appeared ready to give way in a fierce struggle that has entangled the judiciary in the business of presidential politics, threatening to spill past the Dec. 12 deadline for selecting state electors.
Bush moved quickly to take on the work, if not the title, of president-elect. Running mate Dick Cheney criticized the Clinton-Gore administration for refusing Bush access to $5.3 million in government transition funds and a federal office building set aside for the presidential changeover. He announced the Bush team would raise money to finance its own operation.
“This is regrettable because we believe the government has an obligation to honor the certifiable results of an election,” Cheney said at a Washington news conference, naming an executive director and press secretary for the transition team.
He took a swipe at Gore for not dropping out, as the Bush team sought to rush the vice president from the race before the courts have an opportunity to renew recounts.
Gore is “still unwilling to accept the outcome. That is unfortunate in light of the penalty that may have to be paid at some future date if the next administration is not allowed to prepare to take the reins of government,” Cheney said.
Cheney’s appearance was part of a fierce public relations fight as the Gore camp tried to show Democratic solidarity and the Bush team attempted to discredit the vice president’s challenge of the Florida certification.
Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, quietly signed the paperwork required by federal law to certify Bush the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes.
That would put him one vote over the 270 required to become the nation’s 43rd president — if courts uphold brother Jeb’s verdict.
High-minded principles aside, Gore said the issue was also personal: If state or federal courts re-open handcounts that concluded Sunday, Bush’s 537-vote edge would be at risk. “There are more than enough votes to change the outcome,” Gore said, “and that’s an important factor as well.”
But the vice president was handed a heavy burden when a Florida Supreme Court deadline expired Sunday night, freeing Secretary of State Katherine Harris to declare her political ally the winner of Florida’s election and America’s White House.
Gore’s lawyers protested results from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Nassau counties and asked the judge to “certify that the true and accurate results of the 2000 presidential election in Florida is that the electors of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman received the majority of the votes cast in the election.”
Gore believes he would overtake Bush if the final tally would include recounted ballots that were rejected by Harris — minus the 174 votes added to Bush’s lead during what Democrats claim was an illegal, eleventh-hour scramble for GOP ballots, including military votes from overseas.
Gore now faces a tough legal fight — persuading a court to overturn a certified election — and an electorate with limited patience.
An overnight poll by ABC and the Washington Post found that 60 percent of those surveyed thought the vice president should concede. Thirty-five percent said he should not.
Urging Americans not to rush to judgment, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle conducted a conference call with Gore from Florida. Gephardt said the certified totals were “incomplete and inaccurate and it’s premature for either side to declare victory or concede.”
At the White House, President Clinton called for calm and, echoing Gore, said the “the integrity of the voter, every single vote,” is at stake.
Yet rumblings were heard from the party’s grassroots.
“I think the vice president should take the high ground and hand it over,” Rep. Julia Carson, D-Ind., said in a phone interview. “I don’t think he lost the election, but I think the illegal activity that has taken place since the election has left the country battle scarred. In order for the country to get on with its business, we have to put this behind us.”
Robert Reich, former labor secretary for Clinton, said he had “great doubts about whether it is wise ... for the vice president to continue to pursue and to contest the results in Florida.” Reich, interviewed by ABC, had endorsed Gore’s rival in the primaries, Bill Bradley.
“Gore might want to take it to court, but I just don’t know,” Joe Sulzer, a Democratic state lawmaker from Chillicothe, Ohio, said in a telephone interview. “Without help quick, George Bush will be our next president.”
“Since (Bush) got certified, we’re moving closer and closer to finishing this thing off,” said Democratic strategist Jim Duffy of Washington. “I just don’t understand how they’re going to convince the courts that they should count those ballots.”
Anita Freedman, a Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire, said she was angry over Harris’ decision but inclined to believe that Bush has won. “I’ll keep praying, I guess,” she said. “I’m praying for a miracle.”
Other Democratic activists like John Pound in Santa Fe, N.M., and Mary Gail Gwaltney of Las Cruces, N.M., said Gore has a duty to keep fighting after winning the national popular vote and coming so close in Florida.
“What’s the rush to get it wrong?” said Gwaltney, a DNC member.
Bush, for one, is in a hurry to take over. He met with aides in Austin, Texas, to discuss his plans for the Cabinet and White House staff, and speculation mounted in GOP circles about his new team.
Retired Gen. Colin Powell is still Bush’s choice to be secretary of state, but senior advisers to the governor said the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t want his selection to be injected into Sunday’s political tumult. Bush decided before the election to name Condoleezza Rice as his national security adviser and has not changed his mind, senior advisers said.
Powell and Rice will likely be the first Cabinet choices formally announced, but probably not this week, aides said.
Advisers said Bush plans to have a diverse Cabinet, in terms of race and gender. He hopes to appoint at least one Democrat to a high-profile job, they said.
Gore has said he knows who will be in his Cabinet, though seniors advisers insist little or no time has been devoted to the topic.
In other legal wrangling:
—A lawsuit over Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” was sent to the state Supreme Court on Monday, though the justices had not yet decided whether to hear the case. Some Democrats complained the ballot was so confusing that they mistakenly cast votes for Pat Buchanan instead of Gore. They are seeking a new election in the county.
— A case scheduled for a court in Seminole County northeast of Orlando, on allegations by a Democratic attorney that Republicans tampered with absentee ballot applications, was being moved Monday to Tallahassee.
—Bush lawyers sought to put oral arguments on hold in a case they brought before a federal court in Atlanta against Florida’s manual recounts.
—The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network filed a federal lawsuit in Miami, claiming Harris’ certification disenfranchised minority voters.