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CNN Late Edition
The Florida RecountAired November 19, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is a special LATE EDITION: The Florida recount.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the Bush campaign has done everything it could in Florida to avoid a recount. And, of course, we think we won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has high hopes for the final tally in Florida. We ask him why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The outcome of this election will be determined by the votes and by the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Overseas absentee ballots help Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush increase a narrow lead. Former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole joins us with the Bush perspective.
Plus, our roundtable discussion with Michelle Cottle, Robert George and Ceci Connelly.
And Bruce Morton has the "Last Word" on presidential elections past and present, a pattern of democracy despite the current confusion.
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER.
BLITZER: It's 7:00 p.m. in Washington, 4:00 p.m. in Los Angeles, midnight in London and 7:00 a.m. Monday in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this special LATE EDITION.
We'll get to our guests shortly, but first let's check in with CNN reporters covering the still-undecided presidential race.
Jeanne Meserve is with the Bush campaign in Austin, Chris Black is with the Gore team here in Washington, and ion Tallahassee, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.,
And let's begin with Jeanne Meserve in Austin.
Jeanne, the Bush camp filed its legal brief with the Florida Supreme Court today in advance of tomorrow's critical hearing. What are the main arguments the Bush team is making?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it argues that the secretary of state, Katherine Harris, was well within her rights when she decided to exclude those hand-counted ballots. They said she was adhering to a deadline that was set by Florida law. They also said it was unconstitutional to be conducting hand recounts in only selected Democratic counties.
Meanwhile, Governor Bush went through some of the motions of a normal life today. He went for a jog, he went to a church. He did not speak out publicly, he left that to his surrogates, Montana Governor Marc Racicot prominent among them. He called reporters to a hearing this afternoon to criticize Democrats for changing standards, he said, during the recount process in order to win more votes for Al Gore. He was particularly critical of officials in Broward County who reversed themselves and have now decided to count unpunched, dimpled ballots. He called that wrong, flawed, a process simply and honestly unworthy of our democracy.
He was also critical of the machine recount process under way in Miami-Dade, which he said would result in the creation of new ballots never touched by voters. He said, I've seen better standards used in a zoning hearing.
So the Bush campaign very much on the offensive, not willing to wait and watch for the Florida Supreme Court to rule.
Now to my colleague Chris Black in Washington.
CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Jeanne.
The Democrats say Republicans are trying to discredit this recount process because they're afraid of what it will show.
The vice president kept a low profile today. He went jogging with his wife. Tipper, leaving it to others to respond to the Republican charges. Gore campaign spokesman Chris Lehane says Governor Marc Racicot is, quote, "ignoring the law of Florida, the law of Texas, and even the law in his home state in Montana." All those states, Lehane says, call for hand counts to resolve election disputes and all use the standard of voter intent.
The Democrats agree with the Republicans on one point: the shifting standards for judging the ballots in the hand counts under way in Florida. The Gore campaign is asking the Supreme Court of Florida in its lawsuit to set a uniform standard that would allow county officials to count ballots that show any preference for a candidate. There are 28,000 ballots in those three counties that the machines did not record a presidential preference. And Gore operatives and observers on the scene say there are already literally hundreds of Gore votes that have been set aside in the recount which have an indentation, or one of those dimples, next to Gore's name.
The Democrats sent vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman on to the Sunday talk shows today to deny that Democrats targeted the ballots of overseas military personnel. Lieberman said local officials, most of them Republicans, made those decisions, which were based on guidelines provided by a Republican secretary of state -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Black in Washington, Jeanne Meserve in Austin, thanks to both of you.
So the presidency could well be in the hand of Florida's Supreme Court. Let's bring in our CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren from Tallahassee.
Greta, give us a review of the arguments. You've read both of these legal briefs, the Gore and the Bush papers, and I take it both are rather compelling.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well that;'s the interesting thing about any legal issue. You read one side -- I read yesterday the Democratic issues and argument, and it seemed quite compelling. Then I read today the Republican response and what they claim are the issues, and they had a compelling issue. And, of course, it's going to be up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide which side wins.
But let me tell you what this boils down to. It's this: Are hand counts prohibited in the state of Florida, and must the secretary of state accept any hand count votes after the deadline of Tuesday, which was just a few a days ago. That's the whole issue here.
Now what the Democrats say is that since the statutes provide for a hand count, that she must consider and count the hand count in the final tally. What the Republicans say is, look, sure the Florida state law says you can have hand counts, but they were supposed to have been done within seven days. And the fact that the counties didn't provide the hand counts within seven days, that's the counties' problem. That's the counties' mistake. That's not the secretary of state's problem, because she had to issue her certification on Tuesday.
So that's the dispute.
BLITZER: Greta Van Susteren in Tallahassee. She'll be with us, of course, all day tomorrow as these oral arguments are made before the Florida Supreme Court.
And amid these latest flurry of court filings, the recounts have moved forward in Florida's Broward, West Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
In Broward counties, with 351 of the county's 609 precincts counted by midday today, Vice President Gore has gained 90 votes over the official tally sent to the secretary of state last Tuesday. More than two-thirds of the ballots in Miami-Dade County were run through electronic readers to separate those that were unread by the machines. Plans are to start counting those ballots manually tomorrow.
Also, a county canvassing board rejected a request by Republicans to photograph the tabulation room floor.
And tensions ran high in West Palm Beach as well, forcing a county judge there to warn vote counters and observers to be more civil toward each other.
Now my interview with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman.
I began by asking him about the reports that more than 1,000 overseas absentee ballots, many from the U.S. military, were discarded for technical reasons.
LIEBERMAN: Well, I think the benefit of the doubt has to be given to every voter here, who went to the trouble either to go to the polls, as they did in the three counties that are hand counting, or to send in an absentee ballot, but of course, it's got to be done by law.
My understanding is that these decisions on the absentee ballots were made by the local election officials. A lot of them, maybe most of them, in Florida, are Republicans, and it's possible that they made these decisions and disqualified the ballots because they know the whole world is watching, and they felt they wanted to really apply the law as the law specifically is read.
But again, Al Gore and I want everybody who voted to have the maximum chance to have their vote counted. We would never countenance or approve or tolerate a policy that in any measure discriminated against our military personnel abroad when they try to vote.
BLITZER: Well, listen to what Montana's Republican Governor Marc Racicot said. Only yesterday, he's brought in by the Bush campaign to help them deal with this problem of overseas's military ballots. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. MARC RACICOT (R), MONTANA: We learned how far the vice president's campaign will go to win this election, and I am very sorry to say, but the vice president's lawyers have gone to war, in my judgment, against the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. In an effort to win at any cost, the Democrats have launched a statewide effort to throw out as many military ballots as they can.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Now, you're a member of the Armed Services committee in the U.S. Senate. Those are strong words suggesting that you suspected, as obviously was the case, a disproportionately larger number of those overseas military ballots would go for George W. Bush rather than Al Gore.
LIEBERMAN: Yes, with all respect to the governor, those are strong words, but from all that I know of the situation, they are very unfair.
They're unfair both to our campaign, which would never have a policy aimed at disqualifying military voters, but they are also unfair to the local election officials in the counties around Florida, most of whom I think are Republicans, who made the decision to disqualify those ballots.
BLITZER: But you know there are memoranda that were circulated from Democratic party officials stipulating what you have to look for before that ballot could count.
LIEBERMAN: You know, I asked that question, because I heard that story last night, to folks who are campaign officials for us, and they told me that the memo just stated what the law on absentee ballots is. Apparently there was a similar memo sent from the Bush campaign or the Florida Republican Party to the Republicans who are monitoring here.
So look, we are for counting every vote. We want every vote to be counted that possibly can be counted among the absentee ballots, and we want to do the same for those votes that are being hand counted in the three counties in Florida. And if I must say so, it is the Republicans who -- and the Bush campaign -- that have been working so very hard to try to stop the hand counting of ballots.
I think we all ought to agree that every ballot that can possibly be counted, the ones that were voted, and the three counties, or absentee ballots, ought to be counted. We don't want one ballot unfairly, but we don't want one ballot that should be counted not to be counted.
BLITZER: You know, in Sanford, Florida, in one county, Seminole County, there is an effort by some local Democrats to discard several thousand votes because the absentee ballot applications -- apparently there was some technical problem there, but a Republican local official accepted them in any case.
Are you supporting that effort to throw away those thousands of ballots that were counted, because of some supposed technical problem on the application, not on the ballot itself, but on the application for the absentee ballot?
LIEBERMAN: Yes, Wolf, I just heard about that case, within the last day or two, through the media -- probably CNN. To the best of my knowledge, that's a local lawsuit that will be handled by the courts as the courts see fit, and that our campaign has nothing to do with that. But you know, the courts are there -- here is why we are where we are. We just have had the closest presidential election in American history, both at the national level, where Al Gore and I are only 200,000 ahead of Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney, and about 100 million votes cast. In Florida, almost six million cast, and Governor Bush is about 900 ahead of us, which is about, I don't know, one- fiftieth or a hundredth of one percentage point difference. And therefore every vote counts. Therefore people who are unhappy and think that their right to vote was abused in the Florida election, are going to the courts. The courts are the place to settle that.
There is no crisis have here. I find that the American people generally want to get it right, rather than getting it done quickly, because they know that is test of our democracy. And the world is watching. We want to have it end up right.
BLITZER: You know, right now you are behind by less than a thousand votes, almost a thousand votes.
BLITZER: And some people are suggesting that even if the full manual recounts go forward, and are allowed in those three South Florida counties -- Broward, Palm Beach county, Miami-Dade -- it's still an uphill struggle for you to get almost a thousand votes to defeat George W. Bush.
LIEBERMAN: Well, we'll see. I mean the important point to say, you know the Bush campaign has done everything possible to stop the hand counting of those ballots, I suppose because they think if they are counted, we will win. The truth is nobody knows how it will turn out.
The point here -- of course, we want to win -- but the point is the principle. There are voters -- tens of thousands in Florida -- who feel that their intention, what they tried to do when they went to vote, was not registered, either because the machines didn't pick up their vote, or because in Palm Beach County there was a confusing, and, we say, illegal ballot.
So let's try to count those votes, and, therefore, not leave anybody in Florida or anybody around the country feeling on January 20th, when the next president takes office, that somehow that president takes office in an election that was not fair. This is all about the right of every American to have their vote counted. Why? Because we want the president to take office with authority, so that we can unite around him.
BLITZER: On that specific point, "The Washington Post" did an editorial yesterday, wrote this. I want to read to you from The Washington Post: "A selective recount might move Mr. Gore marginally ahead, But many Americans will no more accept him as rightful president under those circumstances than partisans on the other side would accept Mr. Bush if he were too hastily anointed."
The Washington Post going on saying, "Have a recount, a manual recount, throughout the entire state."
Now I know Vice President Gore proposed that.
LIEBERMAN: I'm for that, right.
BLITZER: Is that proposal still on the table, a recount in all 67 counties of Florida?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I suppose it is. I mean unfortunately Governor Bush rejected it, and even though you know a lot of those 67 counties are Republican-leaning counties. But the point is to end this in a way that we can unite, and that'll only be so if people feel that every vote that was cast had a fair chance to be counted. And that is what we are seeking tomorrow, in the Florida Supreme Court.
I'm very grateful to the court that it stopped Secretary of State Harris from declaring a winner yesterday, because I think we would have had a very disconcerting situation. You can see it on a split screen on television, where on one side of the screen Secretary of State Harris declaring a winner in the Florida election, and on the other half of the screen, people are still counting votes in those three counties. That would make people around the country angry and would embarrass us, I think, within the world.
Look, I want this to end in a way that all of us can say it ended fairly. If Governor Bush wins, I'm going to congratulate him. I'm going to wish him well. And then as member of United States Senate, I'm going to look for every opportunity I can to work across party lines with him to help the country.
And I'm sure that Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney will do the same if, and I hope when, Al Gore and I are elected. That's why we ought to finish this right, so nobody is angry, or feeling that they were robbed, when the new president takes office.
BLITZER: Well, your Democratic colleague from Louisiana, Senator John Breaux, was on "Fox News Sunday" earlier today. He made the point that this process should end with the Florida Supreme Court.
Listen to what John Breaux said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: It's called the Supreme Court for a reason. It's the supreme law of the land of Florida. States really rule their election laws. I think that the court, whatever it says, ought to be the final word. I think if it went to the House of Representatives, it would make the impeachment process look like a piece of cake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Are you ready at this point to say whatever the final ruling of the Florida Supreme Court is, that ends it, once and for all? Accept those manual recounts or don't accept them, but with the Florida Supreme Court, it's "game"? LIEBERMAN: It's really not for me to make that kind of declaration now as events are going on, and citizens in Florida have grievances that they feel they have to go to courts to get relief and justice for.
But I will say that Vice President Gore just said just two days ago very clearly that the final arbiter of this all-important election in Florida will not be Governor Bush, or himself, Vice President Gore, or Secretary of State Harris. It will be the Florida Supreme Court, which at this point is the body that is applying the rule of law to protect the right of every citizen to vote.
So I think if that happens, then the prospect of further litigation is diminished. But, at this point, because Governor Bush surprised us and rejected all the offers that -- excuse me, because Governor Bush rejected all the offers that Vice President Gore made to try to settle this without excessive litigation, all options remain on the table for now.
BLITZER: So it could continue even after the Supreme Court rules one way or another?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope not. I hope that this brings us to a point where every vote -- every voter has the right to have his or her vote counted. And we can all feel that the result, whatever it is, is fair. And we can then reunite, as Americans always have when our democracy has been tested, to go on for the betterment of this country.
The people of the country were almost evenly divided in the election, but I honestly don't think this is a divided country in an intense and deep way, and I'm confident about that.
And so I think our democracy can stand this test. We're doing well at it. The American people are -- I passed a man on the street the other day who said, came over and shook my hand and he said three words: "We are patient." And I believe that's true. The American people want it to come out right, whoever wins.
BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, thank you so much for joining us once again on LATE EDITION.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We have to take a quick break.
Just ahead, former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole gives us the view from the Bush camp.
Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION: The Florida recount.
Earlier today, I spoke with Senator Bob Dole about the increasing tensions over the Florida ballot recount.
Senator Dole, thanks for joining us once again.
BOB DOLE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Always good to have you on our program. I know you are very concerned about some of these overseas military ballots not being counted. But I guess you could ask the question, should they be treated -- military personnel -- differently in a vote than civilians? Aren't all votes, all people, all citizens supposed to be equal?
DOLE: Yes, and I think we need to make that determination. How far are they going on the votes that were cast in, say, Palm Beach County or some vote that comes from Saudi Arabia or some American GI overseas? And, as I understand, they sign their ballot but they're not postmarked. It seems to be a technicality, but I think every effort -- and I agree with Senator Lieberman, who is my friend and a good person -- that you ought to lean over backward to count these military ballots.
Should they receive preferential treatment? No. But I'm not there, so I don't know what's happening -- looking up into the light, seeing whether or not the punch was a dimple or pimple, whatever -- I don't think that's the case with the military ballots. And we have a letter, as you're aware of, from some commander that's saying that sometimes they can't be postmarked.
But, you know, with the president in Vietnam talking about reconciliation, with Vice President Gore very proud of his record in Vietnam, and with all the talk about servicemen, we are going to disenfranchise about half of them. And that is not happening anywhere else in Florida.
BLITZER: You heard the Democratic vice presidential candidate say that Gore's proposal to have a recount statewide is still on the table. A lot of people are saying, including editorial writers, why not -- if you don't like the recount in those three Democratic counties, heavily Democratic counties in South Florida, why not just have a recount throughout the whole state and end it with that?
DOLE: That sounds very reasonable just to throw it out there, but you've got to add that the Democrats control 47 of the 67 counties when it comes to the electoral process. And if you look at what has happened in the three counties right now where the Democrats have reversed themselves: Miami-Dade, they've been on again-off again; in Palm Beach County, Broward County, they're thinking about changing their system; they have a two-to-one margin, two Democrats, one Republican, and one county is 3-0. I mean, on its face -- I mean, you know, both sides made offers they knew the other side would reject, and they know why they rejected, and why, in large, what I think is a misinterpretation of the law. In any event, we shouldn't choose selective counties. That doesn't mean that Bush has to jump at a chance to select other counties where the Democrats control the apparatus
BLITZER: You also heard Senator Lieberman say that even if the Florida Supreme Court rules one way or another, he is not ruling out that that will end it, as far as Gore campaign is concerned, despite what Senator John Breaux said earlier today. Do you think that the Supreme Court of Florida should be the final word on this issue, or do you think the Bush campaign should continue legal options if they don't like what the final adjudication is?
DOLE: Well, I think Joe is right. He's a principal -- I mean, John Breaux is in the Senate, I'm an outsider, so it's not up for me to say what they ought to accept.
BLITZER: But you're an important outsider.
DOLE: Well, I'm not important, but I -- you know, my view is that if the Supreme -- I think the facts are overwhelming. If they follow the law, Bush will be the president-elect. If they decide something else, I don't know, but that is going to be a call by Jim Baker and others, not -- they won't consult with Bob Dole on that.
BLITZER: I guess that question is do you have confidence in this seven-member Florida Supreme Court, six of whom were nominated -- appointed are supposedly Democrats, and one is an independent.
DOLE: Appointed by a Democrat.
Well, you'd like to hope that everything, you know, you have confidence in the justice system. The Supreme Court is the Supreme Court, it should be removed from politics. But I think I'll just wait to pass judgment until I hear what the decision is.
BLITZER: You know, there's a lot of the language, a lot of rhetoric, on both sides at times seems to be getting ugly, questioning motives, raising all sorts of worst-case fears. Vice President Gore spoke out about this earlier in the week. I want you to listen to what he said and get your response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORE: I would also like to urge all of those speaking for either of us to do their part to lift up this discourse, to refrain from using inflammatory language, and to avoid statements that could make it harder for our country to come together once the counting is over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, he spoke before Governor Marc Racicot of Montana made those very serious accusations yesterday about in effect the legitimacy of this hand recount. Is it appropriate to raise questions about the legitimacy of this election at this point?
DOLE: Well, you know, I understand what vice president -- he was out there laying the premise that we shouldn't do this, while some of his people are doing it. I think Alan Dershowitz should apologize to the secretary of state, saying she's a crook. I don't know that she's a crook. I mean, it's totally irresponsible for a Harvard professor to go out and lash out at someone, but he did it.
BLITZER: But he's not officially part of the Gore campaign.
DOLE: Oh, he's down there helping all he can.
BLITZER: But he says he's representing private individuals.
DOLE: Oh sure, I'll bet. Well in any event, I mean, I think obviously the question is to get the votes counted, and of course the Bush people want the Bush votes counted and the Gore people want to keep counting until they're ahead -- with Gore votes. That's certainly understandable, but it seems to me -- I think the law is clear and the Supreme Court says it's clear. If not, then you're going to have the experts get together, go back to the 11th Circuit with equal protection argument that some -- you pick selective counties, Democratic counties, but that's a little above my pay grade, I'm not going to be involved in that.
BLITZER: All right, well give us your perspective, you know, you're elder statesman here in Washington. How much longer can this go on?
DOLE: Not much longer.
BLITZER: When you say not much longer, give us a -- days, weeks?
DOLE: I mean, everywhere you go -- I attended a wedding yesterday, and it's even part of the -- you know, the recount, talking about we may have a recount before we're married. I mean, everywhere you go, they're talking about it. People know about it, it's way up on the Richter scale -- what? -- 85 percent of the people know about it.
And I would hope that it would be resolved by Thanksgiving -- seems like a pretty good day to do it -- or maybe even before.
BLITZER: But you would agree that you would want to make sure that whatever way it's resolved, it's resolved with the will of the majority of Florida voters being represented.
DOLE: With the will of majority Florida voters, and again, I'm not -- I can't sit and tell you how you're going to reach that, and it's got to be so the loser understands that "I lost." And he's got to be a magnanimous, gracious loser to help bring the country together. Congress is divided 50-50; the electorate's divided 50-50. It's going to be an uphill climb for the president-elect.
BLITZER: You never imagined you'd ever see anything like this, did you? DOLE: No, not -- you know, any time I didn't -- '96, it wasn't that close, and we thought -- this time I thought Bush would win by four or five points. He didn't.
But the important thing now is to get this behind us. And again, you know, election night Bush was at 18 points. They had a recount, he was still ahead 400 points. Now, they've counted the absentees, he's ahead 930 votes. So he's consistently been ahead even after the machine count.
BLITZER: But on that machine count -- we don't have a lot of time -- every time they did a machine count, the numbers changed, a small number changed, and sometimes to Governor Bush's advantage. So the machine counts are by no means perfect either.
DOLE: Nothing is perfect.
Certainly the manual count is not -- you talk about not being perfect, then it becomes subjective. Somebody who has never even seen the voter determines what the voter meant by what may appear on that ballot. And the ballots have been misplaced, or have been Bush votes stacked with Gore votes and other things.
But, you know, elections, they have a little -- we make mistakes. We make mistakes in Kansas. Probably my hometown of Russell, Kansas, some people's votes are cast out.
BLITZER: I don't think that ever happened in Russell, Kansas.
Senator Dole, unfortunately we are all out of time. I think all of us will agree, we've got to find better way to come up with these ballots at some point in time.
DOLE: If they can't work it out, I'm available.
BLITZER: All right. I'm sure they will come to you.
Senator Dole, thank you so much for joining us.
BLITZER: And just ahead, how and when will the deadlock over the presidency end? We'll go round the table with Michelle Cottle, Robert George and Ceci Connelly when this special LATE EDITION continues.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Time now for our roundtable. Joining me here in Washington, Michelle Cottle, senior editor for the "New Republic," Ceci Connolly, staff writer for "The Washington Post," and Robert George, associate editorial page editor for "The New York Post."
Thanks for joining us. Ceci, what can we look forward to tomorrow? It's going to be a huge afternoon. At 2:00, these oral arguments begin to be made before the Florida Supreme Court.
CECI CONNOLLY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That's right, Wolf, and I'd like to say this is going to be the final step, but, after hearing Senator Lieberman on your show this morning, I'm not certain it is. But this is where the Gore campaign is finally going to get its chance to argue before these justices, "We just want to count every single one of these ballots by hand." I think, ideally, what they'd like is to get those three counties counted right away.
The other drama that's going on, though, while those justices are listening to the arguments is the counting that's taking place, and that's where we start getting into the P.R. battle that's also happening here.
BLITZER: On that point, though, Robert, neither campaign is willing to say it will end with the Florida Supreme Court.
ROBERT GEORGE, "THE NEW YORK POST": Well, I -- that's right, mainly because they don't know what the -- what the court's going to say. It's a -- it's a heavily Democrat-filled court, so they could say that Katherine Harris has no authority to -- to basically cut off -- cut off the recount. They could -- they could open it up to a revote or a new election, and nobody really knows exactly what's going to go on, so they really want to hedge their bets instead of saying what they're next step's going to be.
BLITZER: Smart -- is that smart politics for these guys or -- John Breaux earlier today said, "Take the high road. Just say end it with the Florida Supreme Court."
MICHELLE COTTLE, "NEW REPUBLIC": Well, I think it's a little late for the high road for either one of these guys. I mean, at this point, they really want the will of the American people to be done as long as it's in favor of their candidate. So nobody's going to limit themselves and say, "Oh, absolutely, no matter what happens tomorrow, it ends there."
BLITZER: But, at some point, one of -- one of these two presidential candidates has to blink, has to concede.
COTTLE: Which is why, I think, at this point, it's the public relations battle. When public opinion becomes hot enough against someone, then, hopefully, their party will pressure them to back out. But, right now, you have two guys who -- their entire lives are wrapped up with this and the lives of their campaign teams, and -- and nobody wants to call it quits until absolutely they have to.
GEORGE: I think the only way we would really see a truncated end to this is if the Supreme Court says Katherine Harris has complete discretion on -- on not accepting -- not accepting the numbers, if she -- if she so chooses. Then I think there would be basically overwhelming pressure on Al Gore to basically -- to basically close it down. BLITZER: And, Ceci, even -- even from within the Democratic Party?
CONNOLLY: Well, interestingly, I think the pressure within the Democratic Party comes at the point at which those counts have been made. Interestingly enough, you know, in talking to a number of Democrats on the Hill in recent days, they're all in favor of doing that hand count. So I think, if the justices say Katherine Harris has full discretion immediately and snap their fingers, Gore -- the Gore team and the Democrats are going to howl even louder for that manual count.
BLITZER: And do what?
CONNOLLY: And not -- not concede, for one thing. There's also provision in Florida law that, interestingly, even after a vote is certified, you can go ahead and challenge the results of it. Now that turns into a very ugly legal battle, which, I think, for P.R. reasons, they don't want to do, but they certainly can. It's an option.
BLITZER: Do you think that's a realistic option, Michelle? I mean, I -- I know a lot of these Democrats, and what John Breaux and Bob Kerrey and others, you know, may say privately -- and Gephardt and Daschle -- but do they have the stomach to say, after the Supreme Court of Florida says, "Yes, she can certify this election as a done deal," at that point, are they going to still keep on fighting?
COTTLE: It's a disaster, I think, if they do. I mean, it would actually be, I think, in Bush's best interest if they let the hand counts go through. I mean, if they want to expand them to the entire state of Florida, that's fine. But then it -- there's no -- there's less of a chance that the Democrats are going to come forward and say he stole the election or his party apparatchik in Florida stole the election. Let them go through, and then if you're going to be -- the -- the smart thing for Democrats to then do would then be abide by the hand count.
BLITZER: On Bob Kerrey's point, I just want to point out he was on this program earlier today, and he was very tough. He was saying, "Fight, fight, fight." He was not among those Democrats who was suggesting maybe it would be time to fold.
But, in terms of the public relations battle for George W. Bush, it seems these hand counts that are unfolding in these three South Florida counties are going very slowly. They've got, what, 90 -- a net gain of 90 so far with half of the precincts of Palm Beach County already completed. Maybe that -- that nearly 1,000-vote margin that Bush has is enough to carry the day.
GEORGE: It may very well -- it may very well hold -- it may very well hold up because in the first -- in the first recount, when you had the numbers dropping from 1,700 to 300, that was a nice psychological boost for Gore.
BLITZER: And that was all done with a manual.
BLITZER: That was done...
GEORGE: It was just a...
BLITZER: That was done with the...
GEORGE: Machine count.
BLITZER: That's right.
GEORGE: Machine count. Now, however, with the manual -- the manual count -- well, first of all, you have the overseas ballots, which pushed it back up to over 900, and now this manual count. It's a lot -- it's a lot less -- a lot smaller numbers than the Gore people were thinking, so, you know, they're now in a slightly more awkward pos -- an awkward position in terms of not knowing. They -- they may not be able to -- to basically get the -- get up the full, you know, 900-plus that they need to tie him or go -- or go ahead of him.
BLITZER: And the -- and the Gore campaign is being hammered on this military overseas absentee ballots issue as well.
CONNOLLY: Yes, yes. That's absolutely right, and one of the interesting things that you saw earlier today with Senator Lieberman going out on all of the Sunday talk shows was that his position with respect to those military absentee ballots grew stronger in favor of getting those all calculated and tabulated. I don't know. Perhaps he wasn't ready for that question when he started off this morning...
CONNOLLY: ... because he seemed to move along as he went from show to show.
BLITZER: Hold that thought. Everyone, hold that thought. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.
More of our roundtable in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't assume that, no matter who wins and no matter what happens, it's going to be bad for America. If you -- it might be quite good because it might be sobering for the country to realize we're in a completely new era. Nobody's got a lock on the truth. We're all trying to understand the future. It's -- it's very clear that about two-thirds of the American people want a dynamic center that pulls the people together and moves us forward, and I think we still have a fair chance to achieve that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Clinton weighing in on the election deadlock in an exclusive interview with our John King from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam earlier today.
Welcome back to roundtable.
You know, Robert, at an earlier time, Bill Clinton going to Vietnam would have just dominated the news incredibly.
GEORGE: It wouldn't have been -- it wouldn't have had quite the headlines of Nixon going to China, but it would have definitely been -- it would have definitely been up there, but it's absolutely amazing that Clinton's gone to Vietnam and nobody's talking about him.
You've got the biggest political story of the last 125 years, and -- and he's not -- and he's not in the -- he's not in the middle of it, which those of us who've sort of observed Bill Clinton must think it's -- he must think it's a little bit galling, but --
And the other -- the other irony is that Al Gore who, at the con -- at the Democratic convention, said, "I'm now running as my own man," and -- if you really look at, it -- it took him until after the election that he is really now his own man. He -- it was his decision to contest -- contest the election, and so the focus is completely on Al Gore, and, of course, George W. Bush as well, but no Bill Clinton.
BLITZER: Is there any indication, Ceci, at all that the Gore team is consulting or asking Bill Clinton for any advice, and if they were, what would he be telling them?
CONNOLLY: Well, it's interesting. I know from reporting and talking to people at the White House that President Clinton feels very strongly they ought to fight this to the death, but he's being very careful not to say that publicly because of the whole "my-own-man" dynamic that's still at work here.
Interestingly, there's not a lot of communication between the White House and the Gore campaign. Steve Ricchetti stayed behind, did not go to Vietnam.
BLITZER: The deputy White House chief of staff.
CONNOLLY: Precisely. He's kind of acting as something of a liaison between the two camps, but this is very much a Gore operation and a very small Gore operation. It's basically the vice president in his dining room with his wife Tipper, his older daughter Karenna, brother-in-law Frank Hunger, one or two other people.
BLITZER: And, Michelle, you spent a lot of time covering the Bush camp. Tell us how -- you know, how the -- how the Republican candidate is dealing with this behind the scenes almost two weeks of what must be torture.
COTTLE: Well, you know, he -- he goes out, and he does his thing. He goes to church. His whole persona has been it's not...
BLITZER: He went to church, by the way, this morning...
COTTLE: That's right. BLITZER: ... with his wife.
COTTLE: It's very important for him to project confidence, you know, project that he's moving forward. You know, there was a period where he was moving forward with transition plans, and it's like, assuming that he is the president-elect and that this is not going to be a disaster and that things are going to turn out like they should, which, of course, in the Bush people's mind has always been that Bush is going to be the next president...
GEORGE: Well, I think there are a lot of Republicans who were a little bit more enthusiastic over the last couple of days because I think they felt that the Gore people basically from election night onward had really -- had really had the -- not the high road but really the -- were the aggressor, were very aggressive in the public relations campaign, and it's just in the last -- in the last few days where I think that the -- the Bush people have really kind of gotten their legs on them, focusing on that military -- on that military issue, which, of course, pushed the Democrats back on the defensive.
BLITZER: If you're -- if you had to be in either of these candidates' shoes right now going into the Supreme Court hearing tomorrow, who has the upper hand at least in this fierce battle right now?
CONNOLLY: Well, my sense is that every day that the Gore campaign buys is a better day for them because, as long as that counting continues, they feel it's -- it's going to go in their direction. I don't know if the numbers are really going to work out that way, but that's the perspective from their campaign.
COTTLE: Well, there is the problem, though, that the numbers aren't adding up quickly enough, and there's the danger that public opinion will shift and say, "Well, you know, Bush won the recount. You're just dragging this out," and this -- this is clearly what the Bush people are hoping for, coming out and talking about stealing the election and recounting the votes until they go in the Gore people's favor.
GEORGE: Yeah, I have to agree with that. I think -- checking my -- my favorite focus group in Florida, my mother, she -- happy birthday, Mom -- but her point and those of her neighbors are that the -- the -- there is a sense of, you know, you've gone through the election, you've gone through the count and the recount and so forth, and, you know, those -- those images that we see of them looking through -- looking for the chads and so forth, that -- that image does kind of -- that does kind of build up, and the public opinion does start to go more in Bush's favor.
BLITZER: All right. Robert George, we've got to leave it there.
Michelle Cottle, Ceci Connolly, thanks for joining us on our special LATE EDITION.
We'll have you back.
And, just ahead, Bruce Morton's last word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The facts are that the U.S. has a pretty good record, held a presidential election in the middle of a civil war, for one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: With all the controversy and confusion, could America still take pride in its electoral process?
BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's last word on the election. While there may not be a final decision yet, Bruce reminds us that things could be a lot worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEMONSTRATORS: What do we want? Democracy! When do we want it? Now? What do we want?
MORTON (voice-over): Well, I'm confused. There's a story quoting a Japanese reporter as saying that Japan is very orderly, its people very quiet, you would never see this in Japan. But haven't Americans been quiet, orderly? I mean, a few folks waving signs and chanting slogans, but has this Japanese reporter ever been to a British soccer match, say, or wrestling here in the U.S.?
Then "The New York Times" quoted a man named Robert Pasteur (ph), who had worked for the Carter Center named after the former president, as saying the U.S. was below Nicaragua and Haiti in this electoral stuff. But, in Haiti, the losers often get killed or escape to the Dominican Republic. Both George W. Bush and Al Gore are still here and well, as far as I know.
Nicaragua is a closer call to left-wing Sandinistas, overthrowing a U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorship years ago, actually held elections, and when they lost, allowed the winner, Violeta Chamorro, to take office. They're getting even better at democracy. They just elected a Sandinistan mayor in Managua.
Still, the facts are that the U.S. has a pretty good record, held a presidential election in the middle of a civil war for one, and the electoral college, while odd, reflects the distrust the men who wrote the Constitution had for direct democracy and their desire to place power with the states.
Sure we could require the states to appoint presumably impartial election officials, but lots of places like electing their judges and secretaries of states and so on, and if those people are seen as acting in an unfairly partisan way, they know they probably won't get reelected. And there's no grand plot here. Who knew Florida would be key? Who knew Gore would lose his home state and Bill Clinton's home state and make Florida so decisive? Anybody smart enough to call all those right would be making zillions in the new economy, not messing around with elections.
So take heart. Nothing awful has happened. Politicians are (INAUDIBLE).
GORE: Neither Governor Bush nor the Florida secretary of state nor I will be the arbiter of this election.
BUSH: Unfortunately, what the vice president proposes is exactly what he's been proposing all along, continuing with selective hand recounts that are neither fair nor accurate.
MORTON: The lawyers are suing and making money. What could be more American than that?
I do concede all the Mickey Mouse jokes have a point. The big mouse does live in the state, but the U.S., for all the fussing, is about to elect a president peacefully again and pretty honestly again. Elections, like most other things, are seldom perfect.
It will be over in time for the inauguration and the Super Bowl (INAUDIBLE).
I'm Bruce Morton.
BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.
Coming up, we'll take a look at some editorials appearing in Sunday newspapers around the United States. Stay with us.
BLITZER: And now a look at some Sunday editorial pages from around the United States.
"The New York Times" has a warning for both candidates. "Mr. Gore should entertain no thought of prolonging the process with litigation aimed at getting a new vote in Palm Beach County. Republicans in Florida should not try to obstruct or delay the hand recount."
And "The Los Angeles Times" says talk of an illegitimate presidency is overblown. "It would be a good idea," says "The L.A. Times," "to forget all the loose talk about how the Florida vote controversy threatens to diminish the next president's `legitimacy.' The next president will have exactly the same constitutional powers as if he had swept into office with 500 electoral votes and a popular plurality of many millions."
BLITZER: And that's all for this LATE EDITION: The Florida Recount.
Up next on CNN, a special INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff who's standing by to give us a preview -- Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.
We will have a full report from Florida on tomorrow's state Supreme Court showdown. Who are the seven justices who may help decide the presidential election?
Plus, are Americans losing their patience with this process. We'll release new poll numbers.
That's all coming up on our special INSIDE POLITICS at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Thanks, Judy.
For now, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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