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Inside Politics

Florida Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Manual Recounts

Aired November 20, 2000 - 5:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACLERK: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! The Supreme Court of Florida of the great state of Florida is now in session.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The presidential election is now in the hands of seven justices as they consider whether the ongoing recounts will matter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL HANCOCK, ATTORNEY FOR FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... was not guided by sound legal principles. It's flatly wrong. It elevates the machines over voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE KLOCK, ATTORNEY FOR FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: The difficulty that we have here is not really a legal problem. It's a political problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: As their attorneys clash in court, the candidates stay the course and wait for the ruling that could ultimately determine who will be the next president.

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is off.

An extraordinary scene today in Florida's state Supreme Court as lawyers representing two men who would be president stood before a panel of justices who could hold the outcome of election 2000 in their hands. At issue, those hand recounts sought by the Gore campaign in three heavily Democratic Florida counties. The Gore team has placed its only hope for victory in Florida on the outcome of those recounts, while the Bush team argues that selective manual recounts should have no role in the state's final vote tally. We begin our coverage of this historic day in Tallahassee outside the Supreme Court building with CNN's Mike Boettcher.

Mike, you were there.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed. It was very fascinating to be inside. There were probably about 150 people in the audience. There were the four small cameras around. You could barely even see them.

One person whose name came up regularly, but who was no there, was Katherine Harris, the secretary of state. Two other members of the state election canvassing commission were there, Bob Crawford and Clay Roberts, who is the head of the division of elections here. Also Warren Christopher there for the Gore side watching. On the other side, James Baker, the chief principal for Governor Bush.

And in the audience were many legislators in Florida who have a big interest in this. They convene tomorrow to be sworn in, and there's talk among some of those legislators in the cafeteria and around the capital that if something doesn't happen, they'll take matters into their own hands.

But today, it was up to the court to take matters into their hands and to consider what to do, if anything.

Now, the justices were keenly aware that the whole world was watching and said so at the beginning. Both sides had arguments prepared, but they weren't really able to deliver them. The justices had many questions, the most pointed of which were from several of the justices, but one exchange between Justice Pariente, Barbara Pariente, and Joseph Klock, who is the attorney for Secretary of State Harris. That exchange concerned how did the secretary of state come up with a deadline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KLOCK: ... her jurisdiction.

JUSTICE BARBARA PARIENTE, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: Is that rather unusual as for -- way for an agency head to come up with a decision in this state, to just come up with something within a few hours as to whether to allow something or not allow something?

KLOCK: Well, Justice Pariente, I was kind of refreshed, because the agency had actually asked for legal advice on it and what the legal standards would be for her to properly exercise her discretion, and she was pushing against a deadline. So I considered it excellent, frankly.

PARIENTE: But she didn't...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: So what's going on right now? Well, the justices have gone behind the curtain, and there is a chamber behind where they will all gather around a table there. And in order, the justice, Chief Justice Wells will call on each member by seniority for their opinion, what they think. They'll go around the table until they get to the person with the least seniority, and then Chief Justice Wells will give his opinion. And they will keep doing this until they come to some sort of a consensus.

Now, we're told by a court administrator there that if there is a division in the court, there will be two opinions written, and then the justices will hear those and read those opinions and decide from there what they are going to do. So the real debate, the real argument going on right now, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Mike Boettcher, any -- I know you've talked to people there who watch this court. Anything unusual about the proceedings today, about the kinds of questions, or was this very much true to form for the justices?

BOETTCHER: It was pretty much true to form. The justices, who are more quiet, were quiet, and the ones who ask a lot of questions, like Pariente, asked their questions. And you know, it was obvious that Chief Justice Wells was very concerned about the December 12 date when electors from Florida must be sent onto Washington. He was concerned that any decision they might make might affect that or what's going on now might affect Florida's voice in the electoral college.

But it went pretty much true to form.

WOODRUFF: All right, Mike Boettcher, it seemed to me that at one point or another pretty much every single justice had -- had something to say, had a question.

Mike, thank you very much, there in Tallahassee.

Well, as you can expect, both Al Gore and George W. Bush spent the day out of sight, for the most part leaving the spotlight for their legal teams.

Let's go first to John King in Washington with the Gore campaign.

John, I know you've been talking to them about these goings-on in Tallahassee.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Most unpredictable, Judy, the Gore side says, but they are relatively pleased with what they saw and heard today. As Mike pointed out, they thought the justices asked several skeptical questions of the attorneys representing the secretary of state and the Bush campaign, questions along the line of: "Well, if the state law allows for these recounts, how can you have a process then that shuts down before the results of the recounts are considered?"

So the Gore campaign thought the questioning was very skeptical of the Bush position and the secretary of state's position. However, they also say this is a very unpredictable case, of course, that's gone back and forth before. We do know the vice president has said nothing about this, but we know that he watched the legal arguments very closely from his home at the Naval Observatory.

Earlier in the day, he stopped his office at the White House for about three hours. The vice president while there taking part by satellite in his annual family conference, this back in Nashville, Tennessee, an event the vice president deliberately pushed back to this week, two weeks after the election, so that he could be there.

He had planned on taking a bit of a vacation after the election. He joked, as he opened his remarks, that he was sorry he couldn't be there, but who would have known that all this would have happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We decided to move this one out of the heat of the election to late November so we could be sure that it was well after the conclusion of the election. And you know, I just assumed that by November 20th, the election would be over with, but I guess not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And Judy, as the legal arguments played out today, a major political development as well and one that signals a little bit of impatience and alarm among Democrats outside the Gore campaign in the state of Florida and across the country. Remember over the weekend hundreds of military overseas ballots disqualified based on objections from Democrats, pro-Gore attorneys involved in the process, because they were not postmarked.

Now, many Democrats raised alarm there because Republicans have been making the case that the Democrats are anti-military. So the Florida attorney general today -- he is a Gore ally -- issues this directive, instructing the counties to go back and look again, saying that those ballots do not have to have a postmark as long as they are signed and dated by election day. Democrats in Washington urging the Gore campaign to take care of this because of the perception the party would be viewed as anti-military no matter how this turns out.

Top Gore adviser Jack Quinn also saying in an interview with CNN that this was not the official decision of the Gore campaign that these ballots not be counted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK QUINN, SENIOR GORE ADVISER: Let me be absolutely clear: I think that every ballot that can be validated from overseas ought to be counted. American men and women serving in a country overseas and who made the effort to vote in this election ought to have their votes counted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Democrats who have been standing with the vice president throughout this process now sending signals more and more that they believe the Florida state Supreme Court should be the last stop, win or lose, for the vice president. One of the reasons, this argument over the military ballots. Those Democrats who stood with the vice president, they were willing to do so as long as it was about him and a fair recount. Many now beginning to worry that if this goes on much longer, the party itself will be hurt by this debate -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, given that thinking on the part of a number Democrats -- we heard a little while ago Frank Sesno talking to Democrats, expressing the same sentiment -- any indication that the people around the vice president, Mr. Gore himself, are prepared to accept the idea that if they lose in the Florida Supreme Court, maybe they ought to think about backing off then?

KING: They're not willing to flat out say that right yet, but more and more you do get that in private conversations with them. And even Jack Quinn, as we just saw in that interview, he said in that interview that he believed we were nearing the end and that the Florida state Supreme Court was likely to be the final stop.

Still some additional legal issues outside of this case that we heard presented today that could have an impact on this, but we're two weeks after the election now. This is the case the vice president wanted. This is the case about will the recounts count? And if he wins here, he'll get those result, although some alarm in the Gore campaign that as the results trickle in from those recounts he's not making up as much ground as he thought he would.

But, yes, more and more advice from Democrats outside the campaign and now within the campaign from the attorneys and the political strategists that this is it. If he loses here, he's going to have to bow out gracefully.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King here in Washington.

And before we hear from Candy Crowley, who's been talking with the Bush campaign folks down in Austin, Texas, we want to tell you that James Baker, who has been legal and public relations spokesman for the Gore effort there in Tallahassee, we're told he's going to have a news conference in the Florida state capital sometime within the hour. CNN will bring that to you just as soon as it gets under way.

For his part, we're told Governor Bush seemed to go about business as usual at the governor's office today.

And, Candy Crowley there in Austin, you can tell us more about that -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, that basically sums it up. The governor got in some exercise, went over to the statehouse to conduct some business. He was asked how he felt. He said pretty good, thanks.

As far as any official reaction, what we have learned over the past almost two weeks is that they basically try to leave that reaction to the folks in Florida. So it's not surprising that we hear that James Baker is going to come out within the hour down in Florida to have some sort of reaction.

But so far, as far as today's legal proceedings are concerned, we don't have anything from the Bush campaign. We're told they're in meetings. We do know the governor about half an hour into this left the governor's mansion and went over to the statehouse to his office there. So while he may be watching carefully, he was not hanging on every word, that much we know.

So right now they're sort of in a holding pattern, again, wanting to leave the legal battle up to James Baker on the ground there in Florida -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy, any sense of what their recourse would be if they don't prevail in the Florida state Supreme Court?

CROWLEY: You know, I've talked a lot about endgames, as they say, to a number of people that are close to this process. And I really get the sense that they aren't spinning when they say we don't really have one at this point. Every day has brought something new. In fact, every day has brought several things new, where they've had to, you know, sort of drop back, reconnoiter, figure where they're going to go next.

So, you know, I'm sure they're poring over all the questions that were asked, that they have a fairly good feeling as to how they think this is going to go. But there are so many surprises along the way, that while they may have plan A, plan B and, plan C, they don't have a specific endgame planned here, other than to wait and see what happens in Florida in the courts.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Candy Crowley in Austin. Thanks a lot.

Well more now on the legal arguments and the issues. And joining us from Tallahassee, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.

Greta, we've heard a couple of folks listening to today's arguments say they had the sense that the justices were more inclined because of the tougher questioning of the attorneys representing Governor Bush that they seemed to be more inclined to be siding with Vice President Gore. Is it a mistake to read too much into it at this point?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think so, Judy. I mean, the justices here obviously know how important this is. They've been presented with a very thorny problem, one that's really created by the state legislature here. The state legislature said, we're going to allow manual recounts in this state, but then they only give seven days to do it. And so what is the court to do? You've got this cutoff, but you've got the fact that you've got this manual recount right.

So it's very interesting what the court is attempting to do, at least I think so. I think the court was very aggressive in questioning both sides, giving both sides a little bit of a hard time, challenging them, giving them the tough questions. But I think overall what was the most interesting, at least to me, was Chief Justice Wells, because he seemed to be interested in how do I resolve this without jeopardizing the rights of voters in the state of Florida.

And to me, that hinted -- I know this is just me reading the tea leaves. All lawyers read the tea leaves -- but what I read into it is that this court is struggling to find some solution that is orderly and will allow all the votes to be counted in the state without jeopardizing the rights of anybody.

WOODRUFF: Yes, Greta, I wrote down one of the, I thought, most telling points Justice -- Chief Justice Charles Wells made. He said, you're balancing on the one hand the interests of voters who may not have their vote recounted because of their failure maybe to punch that chad all the way through, and on the other hand the Florida voters who of course want to be represented when the Electoral College meets?

VAN SUSTEREN: That's right. And you've even got the more curious problem here is that there really is a two-tier process that challenged the election. One is the protest, which is where we are now, which is the procedure before the certification.

Once the votes are actually certified, then a candidate can contest the election. And what's so interesting is that when you want manual recounting in the protest side of this process is that you go to the local canvassing board and get permission from them. What the secretary of state says is that once the seven-day period is over she has to certify it and then the hand count must stop.

But oddly enough, you could then go to court contest it and get a judge to give you a remedy to investigate your claim. You could actually get a judge to order a hand count. So it's sort of bizarre, the sort of the statutory creation that the state legislature has handed this court and these politicians to try to deal with.

WOODRUFF: Greta, the Gore team, in addition to asking about whether these hand -- manually recounted ballots will be included, they also are asking the Supreme Court to come up with a standard to determine which ballots should be counted, one way or the other. Did you get the sense from what the justices said that they are prepared to tread in that area as well?

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I don't know. I think they might want to leave that one alone, because the statute says it's the obligation of the canvassing board to determine the intent of the voters. So I think they may leave the canvassing board in the different counties to their discretion as to how to determine the intent.

But what's sort of amusing if this weren't such a serious issue is the fact that the Gore team is constantly referring to the so- called "Texas standard" -- obviously a little bit of a jab at Governor Bush. And the Texas standard is a very broad standard which allows you to even look at the pregnant chads, so to speak. So anyway, it's sort of interesting here. But I would assume -- and I underline assume -- is that the Florida Supreme Court would simply go with the statute which says that the county canvassing boards are to determine the intent of the voter, and they're not going to get into the business of telling the canvassing board how to do their job.

(AUDIO GAP)

... put in that argument. It's also in the briefs. I mean, those lawyers did it purposely, and it was a good piece of advocacy, I guess.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Greta Van Susteren in front of the Florida state Supreme Court.

Thanks, Greta.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, the recounting isn't over -- not by a long shot. We'll have live reports from three Florida counties where the action remains hot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As the nation watched lawyers for the Bush and Gore camps go before the Florida Supreme Court, another drama continued to unfold in three heavily Democratic counties: the hand recounting of presidential ballots.

We have reporters in two of those three counties. Susan Candiotti is in Broward County and in -- I'm sorry -- yes, and in Palm Beach County, John Zarrella.

Susan Candiotti, to you first.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy.

Well, the canvassing board here has yet another new wrinkle with which to deal as it works on the recount process. That new wrinkle is this: The only Republican on the canvassing board, 70-year-old Jane Carroll, who has been supervisor of elections for 32 years, has announced to her panel, the board here, that she is leaving on a family vacation tomorrow in California and she is not coming back to continue work on this process.

So now, the board has to figure out a replacement for her. And they first must turn to the county commission here. If they are unable to find anyone on that county commission -- and by the way, there are no Republicans on the county commission here in Broward County, no other Republicans -- they must turn to the chief judge here in Broward County. He can either appoint another judge, barring that, he could appoint a citizen to participate in this historic process.

So, we'll see how that all shakes down.

Now, the canvassing board has clearly not met its 5:00 deadline. And although it is at least 85 percent complete, that means -- and they have said that they will complete their work tomorrow. They anticipate after they get through all 609 precincts that the board will begin work on reviewing the so-called dimpled ballots and there are several hundred of those to go through. They have announced no expectation of how long they believe that will take. And they will do that work unless the Florida Supreme Court orders it to stop.

That is the latest from here, and for more on what is happening in Palm Beach County, I turn to my colleague, John Zarrella.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Susan, wrinkles in Broward County, lots of dimples in Palm Beach County.

And with 41 percent of the votes counted here, right now, the tug-of-war between the two candidates puts the vice president up with an unofficial, very unofficial count of a plus three. And that's really big news because the Gore campaign had believed that Palm Beach County, being heavily Democratic and a stronghold during the election for the vice president, that there could be as many as 1,900 additional votes in a recount, a manual recount for the vice president.

That is not bearing out right now, although we do not know exactly which precincts have been counted, whether they were heavily Republican or heavily Democratic. That we don't know. So, certainly there could be big changes in the other 60 percent or so of the precincts that have not been counted so far. They've gone through about 191,000 of the 462,000 that have to be counted at this point.

The other interesting aspect of all this is that they plan to take Wednesday afternoon off, after 5:00. They're going to stop counting here, take Thursday off, Friday off, Saturday off, come back Sunday to count if they get enough counters and then, of course, start Monday with a full day. Now, the canvassing board will work a couple of the days over the weekend, including Friday, going over the challenged ballots. But there will not be any of the counting over the Thanksgiving holiday.

So, if we move into Monday and beyond it will have been a good solid two weeks that we will have been counting ballots here in Palm Beach County.

Back to you in the studio -- Judy?

WOODRUFF: All right, John Zarrella is in Palm Beach County. As he said, Susan Candiotti in Broward County.

And from them we're going to skip all the way down south to Miami-Dade County where CNN's Charles Zewe has been watching the hand counting -- Charles?

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, it's been going on all day, surrounded now by a lot of Bush-Cheney supporters, Cuban- Americans who are upset with the Clinton administration over the Elian Gonzalez affair and who turned out to support George Bush in the election. The count, meanwhile, has been going on since about 9:00 Eastern time this morning. So far, they've counted about two percent of the 653,000 ballots cast in Miami-Dade County, Florida's most populous county on Election Day.

Republicans all during the day today have been complaining. They've got observers in the tabulation room along with Democratic observers. They've been complaining about how the election workers appointed by the county to do this tabulation have been handling the ballots. The Republicans have been claiming that they have been twisting the ballots, distorting them, knocking off chads and changing the ballots themselves. Democrats counter that by saying that is just sour grapes, that nothing of the type has happened, that the ballots themselves have not been changed and the vote is accurate.

How many votes have been changed one way or the other today? So far, Vice President Al Gore picked up a net 12-vote increase in his totals during the day. But, many precincts have remained unchanged. There's still a long, long way to go here and another court hearing.

Republicans are going into court here in Miami at 8:00 in the morning Eastern time to again make their allegations that this count is illegal, it's being improperly done and it's unfair and should be stopped.

There have been no other problems reported here during the day other than the fact that one election supervisor had an exchange of words with one of the counters and the counter was replaced, didn't affect the counting but it was a little tense inside the tabulation room.

Again, today, they plan to work until 8:00 tonight and then resume in the morning. They expect the tabulation in all 614 precincts here in Miami to be complete by Friday, December the 1st, unless the courts stop it -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Charles Zewe in Miami-Dade.

CROWD: We want Bush! We want Bush!

WOODRUFF: Charles, it looks like they are about as close to you as they can possibly get. Thanks a lot.

Charles Zewe surrounded in Miami-Dade County.

Well, in yet another key legal development today, a judge ruled that he did not have the power to order a new election in Palm Beach County. Several residents who had filed suit seeking a new vote said they will appeal judge Jorge Labarga's ruling. They said they meant to vote for Al Gore but were confused by the county's so-called butterfly ballot and may have voted twice or for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

Joining us now for more on the hand recount issue, University of Wisconsin economics professor Bruce Hansen. He has done a statistical analysis of the hand recounts being conducted in the three Florida counties.

Just quickly, professor Hansen, how did you do this since you didn't have access to these ballots?

PROF. BRUCE HANSEN, UNIV. OF WISCONSIN: We have access to the precinct-level voting data that's posted actually on the Web by each county. In addition, the undervotes, the votes that weren't punched all the way through are not available on the Web but they were supplied by the county boards themselves.

WOODRUFF: So, given access to those numbers, how did you go about reaching the -- tell us what your conclusion was, first of all?

HANSEN: Well, my conclusion -- I only analyzed Palm Beach. But I have access to other researchers now to the other two counties. We forecast that after the hand recount, there will be a net increase for Gore of 611 votes. But that's actually quite -- there's a lot of randomness associated with that. We give a range between 383 and upper bound of 819 votes that Gore could get relative to Bush after a hand recount.

The way you come up with these calculations, you look through precinct by precinct, look at percentage of votes that Gore got and that Governor Bush got, compare the two, and also look at number of undervotes by precinct, use those numbers together to come up with a total tally.

WOODRUFF: So, it sounds like you are saying this is a much tougher mountain for the vice president to climb than he's perhaps thought, or the people around him have perhaps thought?

HANSEN: Well, I don't really know what they're thinking, but the calculations would suggest that if the same methods are used to assess the ballots as were done in the first one percent that were used as a test case a week ago, the probability is only one-tenth of one percent that Gore could pick up the 930 votes to overtake Governor Bush.

The one caveat that has to be mentioned is that the initial tabulations were based on votes that were completely punched through, not on ballots that were so-called "dimpled." We don't know what is the ratio of so-called "dimpled ballots" to those that were punched through.

If that percentage is as high as 50 percent, that is if there are 50 percent dimpled ballots relative to the punched-through ballots, and that are able to be assessed by the hand counters as actual votes, then it comes up to a 50/50 toss-up. That is, I would forecast that Gore would pick up a net of 916 votes relative to Bush, and the probability goes up to 46 percent that Gore could top Bush in a toss- up.

WOODRUFF: In other words, if the standards are changed to permit the indented chad, the dimpled chad, so to speak, then you are saying, clearly -- and if those indentations are in Al Gore's favor, he's clearly going to pick up more votes. HANSEN: Exactly. The expectation would be that Gore would pick up votes if the dimples are caused by people who are random draws from the same population of those neighbors, which is -- seems like a reasonable assumption to make.

WOODRUFF: All right, and we should point out that, that indeed was part of the argument before the Florida state Supreme Court today: What should the standards be to determine which ballots are acceptable?

Professor Bruce Hansen, University of Wisconsin, we thank you very much for joining us.

HANSEN: You are very welcome.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Well, there is much more ahead on this 90-minute edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Still to come, with the Florida Supreme Court considering the next stage of the vote count, we'll talk to Gore adviser Ron Klain and Montana Governor Marc Racicot.

Plus, strategy and politics as the ballots are recounted -- Ron Brownstein on what lies ahead.

All that and much more as our extended coverage of the legal battle continues here on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking our top story at this hour, the Florida recount: The presidential standoff shifted to the Florida Supreme Court today, with seven justices hearing arguments on the validity of manual recounts in three Florida counties. Meanwhile, those hand counts continue in West Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. The official statewide count at this point shows George W. Bush with a 930-vote lead. That number does not include results of the hand counts underway.

Several Palm Beach voters who say they were confused by the so- called "butterfly ballot" have filed an appeal of a judge's ruling earlier today, a ruling that denied a request for a new election in that county. And Florida's attorney general has issued a directive urging counties to count previously rejected overseas military ballots, which had been disqualified because they lacked postmarks. Republicans had objected after some 1,400 ballots were thrown out.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been following today's developments at the Florida Supreme Court, and she joins us now live with more -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, you may be able to hear some protesters behind me, they are demanding that justice be done in all of this. Just to bring you up to date on this hearing, the Gore team, which filed the appeal, began the oral arguments and the first to speak on their behalf was the attorney for the attorney general, Bob Butterworth, and he argued that all of the votes of Florida voters should be counted.

Now, the rhythm of this hearing was established almost immediately. The chief justice interrupted within three minutes of the arguments beginning. His first question, he said -- he was concerned about prejudices between the voters whose votes have already been counted and the voters whose votes are being counted now. He then followed up with concerns on when Florida loses its right altogether to be counted in the Electoral College.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF JUSTICE CHARLES WELLS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: What is the attorney general's position as to the date in December that the -- Florida's electoral votes would be prejudiced or not counted in the Electoral College if there is not a certification by the secretary -- by the Department of State under 103.011? What -- what's the date that -- the outside date that we are looking at in which puts Florida's votes in jeopardy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: December 12, your honor, is my understanding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Now, the lawyer representing Vice President Al Gore, David Boies, he was the fourth one to speak and he argued that sections of Florida statute cannot be looked at separately, that they must be considered within their entirety, and if the judges do that, then in fact they will determine that the manual recounts, even filed after the deadline, can be included in the final total.

Now, the Republicans have been arguing that, that deadline is sacrosanct, it is laid out clearly under Florida statute, and the first person to speak for their side -- interestingly -- was the attorney for the secretary of state. You may remember yesterday she had filed a motion with the Supreme Court saying that she wanted equal time, she wanted a bit of the 120 minutes allocated to both sides -- well, she didn't get that. But the Republicans did allow her attorney to speak during their time and he spoke for almost a complete half hour.

And the judges were really playing devil's advocate in all of this: for example, to the lawyer for the secretary of state they said, well, why is that that some votes can be ignored? And then they asked, well, how is it that the secretary was able to knock out the possibility of recounts so quickly? The attorneys arguing the deadline is the deadline, and one man saying that it's like a term paper, the counties, if they chose to start the night before to do the term paper, well, that's up to them; doesn't mean that they should be given any sort of extension -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Deborah Feyerick there outside the Florida state Supreme Court building, thanks very much. Well, now for some reaction to today's Florida court hearing, we are going to check in with two guests on either side of the political standoff. Marc Racicot is the Republican governor of the state of Montana, he'll be joining us from Austin, Texas.

And -- if he has his microphone on yet -- Ron Klain is a senior adviser to Vice President Al Gore. Ron Klain is in Tallahassee. I know he's sharing a microphone with Deborah Feyerick, who just finished speaking. And Ron, thank you for joining us. We're going to talk to you first.

RON KLAIN, ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Great.

WOODRUFF: Did the issues as far as you are concerned get a full and fair hearing today before the state Supreme Court?

KLAIN: I thought so, Judy, and I thought that everyone who watched the hearing would be impressed with the thoughtfulness that the justices approached the issue. They clearly spent the weekend studying the briefs very carefully and asked questions that reflected a high degree of understanding of the very important issues at stake here.

So I thought it was a very full and fair hearing in the court today.

WOODRUFF: Was there anything promising or worrying that you heard from the questions the justices were asking?

KLAIN: Well, I think the most foolish thing a lawyer can do is to try to guess a court's decision by the questions at oral argument. I was very pleased, though, by the way our presentation came across. We're here arguing for a full, fair and accurate count of the votes in Florida, for having those votes counted and that count added to the state's vote tally. And I thought our presentation on that today was very strong. The justices gave us a very fair hearing on that.

You know, I think it's a pretty basic, fundamental principle that when people cast votes, those votes should be counted. And then, once counted, they should be part of the final result.

WOODRUFF: Ron Klain, we are hearing today Democrats around the country increasingly of the view that if Vice President Gore does not prevail in the Florida Supreme Court, that he should drop this notion of trying to get these hand-recounted ballots included.

Is it the view of the vice president, others around him, that this is the end of it? If this court rules against him, that it really should be dropped?

KLAIN: Judy, I'm not going to guess what the court's going to do or talk about our actions afterwards. I think what we're fighting for here in Florida is a fundamental principle, that in democracy what's supposed to decide elections is how the people vote.

There are people who voted in all three of those counties whose votes weren't counted. Let's get the ballots counted, let's get those tallies added to the tally, and then let's go from there. I don't think that's really very much to ask for.

It would be all over by now if the Republicans, if Secretary of State Harris hadn't made such an effort to stop the counts, to obstruct the counts, the counts would be completed. And as it is, I think even so, they're just days away from being done.

WOODRUFF: How can you be sure of that when we've seen -- for example, we have -- in Broward County we have a member of the canvassing board who announced just a few hours ago that she's going to take off and go on a family vacation. And these members of the canvassing board are crucial, as I understand it, to making determinations of whether the questionable ballots are going to be counted or not.

KLAIN: Well, Judy, Florida law provides for mechanisms to replace members of the canvassing boards when they're gone. They are important. But the count in Broward County's more than half-done. The count in Palm Beach is moving along. The count in Dade is a limited count that's getting under way.

I think the most important thing, though, the most important thing is that there were delays, and the delays were caused by Secretary of State Harris and the Bush campaign. And to now as a result of those delays say that people lose their right to have their votes counted, that's very anti-democratic. The votes should be counted; the counts should go in the totals. That's our position.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Klain, adviser to Vice President Gore. Thank you very much for joining us.

And now for the opposing view, we talk with Montana Governor Mark Racicot. Let me ask you same question, Governor Racicot, that I asked Ron Klain: Do you think the issues from your perspective received a full and fair hearing before the Florida Supreme Court today?

GOV. MARK RACICOT (R), MONTANA: We do. We think that quite obviously the court was very well-prepared. They obviously had studied the issues in depth. There were some issues that they focused on more heavily than others. One of them I think that the chief justice instantly seized upon is whether or not millions of Florida voters would be disenfranchised because of the failure to observe timelines, and knowing what had to take place from here until the end of the process, was gravely concerned about that.

But I do think that our case was presented succinctly and carefully and clearly, and that they were very well-prepared. I think that's an entirely fair analysis of what took place.

WOODRUFF: Do you think it is accurate or reasonable to interpret some of the questions of the justices to be wanting to -- to interpret the role that they're playing here as allowing the hand recount to go on?

Several of them made the point that what the voters want should be the most important thing here.

RACICOT: Well, having argued probably 50 cases -- I think about that many -- before appellates, including the United States Supreme Court, I learned a long time ago that you can't discern very much from the questions that are asked by justices. They're testing their own beliefs, they're testing the arguments that are presented by both parties. And as a consequence of that, it's been my experience that it's very, very difficult to discern anything.

I think what you can discern is that they were very well- prepared, and obviously, recognized that this is a matter of grave, grave importance. And I believe that their ruling will reflect the kind of precision that is needed under the circumstances. And we feel good and confident about our case in that regard.

WOODRUFF: Governor Racicot, our Frank Sesno reported a little while ago in talking with Republicans close to the Gore camp, is I believe how he described it, that in their view, if the decision from the Supreme Court goes against Governor Bush, that he should by all means appeal to the next higher court.

Is it your view, is it your sense that there would be an appeal, that this wouldn't be the end of it if Governor Bush were -- if the ruling were to be adverse to his interests?

RACICOT: Well, to be very honest with you, it's very, very difficult to make a judgment about any series of possibilities, and there's an infinite member of combinations here that can be pursued.

We are presently involved in a protest process, as was mentioned today before the court there. Then there's a contest provision under Florida law. There's also the possibility of the Florida legislature being engaged. There's federal law that applies. And until such time as we know precisely what it is that the Florida Supreme Court says, to be honest with, it's just not possible to know with any degree of certainty exactly what would take place.

And so I would say that it's not -- it's just not possible at this point and time to make that determination.

WOODRUFF: Sounds like a number of potential avenues of recourse, though.

RACICOT: There are.

WOODRUFF: Well, Governor Marc Racicot, we thank you so much for joining us.

RACICOT: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you. Thanks a lot.

And there's much more ahead on this expanded edition of INSIDE POLITICS: When we return, we will talk with Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Joining us now in Tallahassee, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, a short while ago on the program, we interviewed a professor from the University of Wisconsin, who did a statistical analysis of these counties where the hand recount is under way. And to make a long story short, he says his analysis indicates it's going to be very tough for Vice President Gore, even if these hand recounts can be included, to make up the votes that Governor Bush has at this point.

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": I think that's right. I think that's increasingly the conclusion of the Democratic vote counters here as well as the Republican. Bush's lead is sort of at the outer edge of what Gore might hope to get: not out of reach, but certainly not easy by any means.

And Judy, I think it really underscores something important that was going on in the courthouse today. On the one hand, Gore has to be cheered that the vote -- that the judges seem more focused on how rather than whether to include these manual recounts. I mean, all of the discussion of whether you can get this done by December 12th presupposed that you would want to get it done at all, which is obviously not what the Republicans or the secretary of state wants.

On the other hand, I think it's becoming increasingly clear to the Democrats over the weekend that they need a victory an the second issue as well, which is establishing a statewide standard to which votes to include in this manual recount, because as it stands, the way things are going, especially in Palm Beach, they feel that the standard is too restrictive and they may not get the votes that they need.

WOODRUFF: Ron, have you talked to enough people since the hearing to get a sense of whether they think the state Supreme Court is inclined to wade into that area of coming up with a statewide standard, a standard that now resides in the individual counties?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I'm -- Judy, as you know, as you've discussed on the show, that received much less attention than the paramount issue of whether to include these ballots at all, and so I don't think we have a clear signal of that. One of the questions will be whether there is conflicting evidence from courts in different counties and whether the Supreme Court feels they need to reconcile that.

But I think we didn't really get as much of a signal on that today as we did on some of the other questions.

WOODRUFF: Ron, you've been talking to the people around the vice president, the people around Governor Bush. What are they saying to you about their strategy going beyond what the court does? Assuming the court does what you're suggesting the signals today were -- and again, it's always a mistake to presume anything.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. WOODRUFF: But assuming they do come forward with some kind of an OK that these hand-recounted ballots should be counted, what are the two campaigns saying?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the problem here from the point of view of almost a civics lesson is that these two sides are so close together that there's on incentive for either of them to give up.

Even if the manual recount goes forward, it's entirely possible, bases on what we're seeing over the last few days, that even if Al Gore gets a lead, it will not be an insurmountable lead and there will be an incentive for Governor Bush to challenge other groups of voters.

They're talking about obviously litigation or other administrative action to try to bring more of these military ballots. The Democrats are looking at Seminole County, trying to disqualify absentee ballots. And intriguingly, both campaigns are talking about voters in Florida who may simultaneously be registered in other states.

Republicans are talking about Floridians who also have registration In New York. Democrats are talking about Floridians who also have registrations in Alabama. And you could conceivably see a sort of a tit-for-tat endless series of challenges to leapfrog one over the other because they're so close.

The question is when does the public tolerance for this end, and really maybe even more practically, when does the tolerance inside the political parties end?

WOODRUFF: Well, one thing's for sure: A lot of people will be eating turkey on Thursday and thinking about this thing that has consumed all of us and will continue to consume us for some time.

All right, Ron Brownstein...

(CROSSTALK)

That's right. Ron Brownstein, outside the Florida state Supreme Court building. Thanks a lot. And INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Charles Ruff was a study in contrasts: a low-key defense lawyer with an aggressively scathing contempt for the case against his client.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 19, 1999)

CHARLES RUFF, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT CLINTON: Be wary. Be wary of the prosecutor who feels it necessary to deceive the court.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: He was at once dismissive of the charges, respectful of the forum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 19, 1999)

RUFF: He didn't commit perjury. He didn't obstruct justice. He must not be removed from office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: He was at times all lawyer. At others, every bit as savvy a politician as any of those in the room.

It was by most accounts a solid job. Point by point, not too much and not too little, Ruff ripped apart the prosecution's case: allegations that the president perjured himself by testifying he was not paying attention when his lawyer denied any kind of sex between the president and Monica Lewinsky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 19, 1999)

RUFF: But to charge him with perjury for having testified falsely about his own state of mind with nothing more to rely on than a picture would strain credulity in any prosecutor's office and flies pass the bounds of constitutional reasoning in this chamber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: On charges the president spearheaded a scheme to have Vernon Jordan to find a job for Monica Lewinsky so she would lie in the Jones case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 19, 1999)

RUFF: Begin with the fact that both Mr. Jordan and Ms. Lewinsky had testified that there was no such link between -- between the job and the affidavit, and the only person to ever suggest such a link was once again Ms. Tripp.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Even in his insistent defense that the president broke no laws, Ruff left room for those who believed otherwise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 19, 1999)

RUFF: Impeachment is not a remedy for private wrongs. It's a method of removing someone whose continued presence in office would cause grave danger to the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Charles Ruff, the attorney who defended President Clinton during his impeachment trial, died early this morning in Washington. Ruff was rushed to the hospital after his wife found him unconscious in their Washington-area home.

President Clinton learned of Ruff's death during his return flight from Vietnam. He released this statement. Quote: "All of us at the White House admired Chuck for the power of his advocacy, the wisdom of his judgment and the strength of his leadership. We loved him for his generous spirit and his keen wit, which he used to find humor in even the most challenging circumstances."

Vice President Gore also mourned the loss, calling Ruff -- quote -- "A devoted public servant, and a man of uncommon honor, integrity and decency. His contributions to the nation will serve as a source of inspiration for scholars and citizens for generations to come."

Charles Ruff was 61.

This extended edition of INSIDE POLITICS will continue in just a moment, as the Florida battle over who will take the White House stretches into week two.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOIES: It will be up to the Supreme Court to make its decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The fate of the presidential hopefuls may now hinge on a ruling from Florida's highest court. The legal and political implications, just ahead.

Also, are the odds stacked against Al Gore? Our Bill Schneider on what could happen next.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lawyers are lawyering, and counters are counting. Are we in a crisis?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Bruce Morton on the Florida standoff and the issue that truly concerns Americans.

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Once again, Judy Woodruff, in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to this extended edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

In Tallahassee, Florida, the seven-member state Supreme Court heard arguments today from lawyers representing Al Gore and George W. Bush in a hearing that could, could determine the outcome of the presidential election. The court is being asked to decide if manual vote recounts in three Democratic counties should be included in the final state tally. George W. Bush now holds a 930-vote lead in Florida. The Gore team hopes that the three-county hand recount could produce enough new votes in Florida to surmount that lead.

Joining us now in Tallahassee for more on the Florida's Supreme Court ruling, CNN's Deborah Feyerick -- Deborah.

FEYERICK: Judy, the justices listened very carefully for a good two hours and a half. They were asking many questions. The first to speak, the Gore team. They filed the appeals, so they were allowed to go first.

The rhythm of this hearing was established within the first three minutes. If you were expecting to hear a lot of arguments, what you heard instead was the justices asking question after question. And not questions to keep the arguments sort of going in the direction, what they were asking, they were really playing devil's advocate. They wanted to basically hear from the Democratic attorneys justification, for example, for a Republican argument. And so, that's what we heard in the beginning.

David Boies spoke for Vice President Al Gore and he said the court really must step in in order to resolve this issue of the recounts. He said that they must also step in to kind of create a uniformity in all the recounts that are going on right now.

And he said it is an issue of favoritism, effectively. You know, that three counties are now being recounted, while 64 counties have already had their votes included. He said, well, the court definitely has the power to step in and issue a statewide recount.

The Republicans, meantime, they stuck to the issue of the deadline. They said the deadline came and the deadline went, that Florida's statute is the only thing that the justices should be going on when they make their decision. Now, the attorney for Governor Bush said that the Gore team was really trying to change the rules of the election after it had happened.

And as for the recount, one justice asked the attorney, well, what prevented Governor Bush from stepping in and asking for his own recount? And his attorney, Michael Carmichael -- I think I got that right, maybe I didn't -- but basically said that Governor Bush really feels the process is unconstitutional and fundamentally flawed. And this is what we heard for a great deal of it.

Again, the judge's really playing devil's advocate to try to get the other team to perhaps even empathize with what the other side was saying -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Deborah Feyerick there in Tallahassee.

The two people who have the most to lose or gain from the Florida Supreme Court hearing, of course, are Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Candy Crowley is in Austin with the Bush campaign. And here in Washington, keeping watch on the Gore camp, John King.

John, you've been talking to some of the Gore people since the Supreme Court hearing, what are they saying?

KING: Judy, they say they are pleased and those said to be pleased include the vice president himself. Mr. Gore watched the legal proceedings on television. He was at his official residence, the Naval Observatory here with his wife, Tipper; campaign chairman Bill Daley also on hand as well as several senior political strategists.

Their view is that the justices asked several -- probing, was the word one top adviser used, skeptical the word by another -- questions about the apparent collision in Florida state law. On the one hand, the deadline for the secretary of state, on the other, the provision for the hand recount. Their view was the justices now face a decision: who do you side in favor of? the voters or the secretary of state? And it is their belief that this court will come out in favor of the voters.

But they say this is very unpredictable, of course. They expect the ruling to come late tomorrow or Wednesday. And many now increasingly in the Gore campaign believe -- although they won't rule anything else out -- that because of pressure from Democrats -- and we're now at the end of the second week of all this -- that the Florida state Supreme Court will be the last major stop in this legal battle, win or lose.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King, and now let's bring in Candy Crowley.

Candy, I gather there may not be a great deal of reaction there in Austin to the hearing. If not, I want to ask you about the developments on the military ballot front and what they're saying about that.

CROWLEY: Well, as you know, the attorney general in Florida, who is a Gore backer, did say to the counties, I want you to go back and reconsider some of those absentee overseas military ballots that were thrown out. As you know, the Bush campaign had been complaining that there was a systematic effort by Gore supporters to throw out, they said, up to 1,100 military ballots.

Now, it gets a little complicated because the secretary of state had also sent out a letter saying, if there isn't a postmark on these things you have to throw them out. Now the attorney general has said, go ahead and look at them. This obviously comes as good news for the Bush campaign because they feel that the preponderance, at least, of those military ballots, at least historically, have gone to Republicans. So, they believe that the governor can pick up more votes if, indeed, some of those overseas military ballots are put back into it.

WOODRUFF: Just to clarify, Candy, it was the secretary of state who presumably -- well, who was involved in the Gore campaign effort who had said there should be a postmark -- should not be -- should be a postmark?

CROWLEY: The secretary of state who is involved in the Bush campaign is the one when sent out the letter after the election and said, listen, you know, you should look at those, you know, it has to have a postmark. Now comes the attorney general -- stay with me -- who was associated with the Gore campaign, who said, look at them again.

Now, part of the reason for this is that over the weekend, you know, the Democrats got slammed for, you know, disenfranchising the military. This is very touchy stuff. You know, as the military holds a, you know, a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans and also in the politics of politicians. So, they felt that they had really, you know, put the Democrats in a corner and thus the attorney general came out and said take another look at those ballots.

WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley, now we know who's on first. Candy, John King here in Washington, thank you both.

And ahead when this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS continues, as the Florida election standoff continues, we ask just how long could it drag on? And how is the delay playing out on Capitol Hill?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we continue our special coverage of the Florida recount, I'm joined now by CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Which side has, Bill, the partisan advantage -- if either one -- in this dispute?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right at this very moment I would say the Democrats. The Florida Supreme Court has six Democrats and one independent, no Republicans. But if Gore prevails and the court orders the hand-counted ballots included, Democrats will find the deck stacked against them after that; in the other branches of Florida's state government, for instance.

WOODRUFF: And what can those other branches do?

SCHNEIDER: Well, remember, the Florida secretary of state has to certify the final vote, and I am able exclusively to reveal that Katherine Harris is a Republican and a Bush supporter.

Federal law also provides that if there is a conflict between two slates of electors, the electors certified by the governor shall be accepted, and the governor, too, is a Republican, guy by the name of Bush. Notice also, both houses of the Florida state legislature are controlled by Republicans, and that could make a difference, as well.

WOODRUFF: Now, why is that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that is because of a very obscure provision of federal law. It says that if a state's electors have not been appointed by December 12 -- quote -- "the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such state may direct."

Now, it's never been done before, but the Republican speaker- elect in Florida said he is prepared to see the Florida legislature -- quote -- "play a role, should it become necessary."

WOODRUFF: Suppose, after the hand -- any hand recount, if it's allowed to go forward, Gore wins. What happens then?

SCHNEIDER: Well, not necessarily. Congressional Republicans are reported to be furious over what they regard as Gore's effort to steal the election. Now, do they have the power to block his election? Well, maybe. Federal law provides -- quote -- "the two houses of Congress concurrently may reject vote or votes, where they agree that such vote or votes have not been so regularly given by electors."

In other words, if Congress finds irregularities in the Florida electoral vote, it can refuse to count Florida's votes. Both houses of Congress would have to make that decision by majority vote, and Republicans control both houses of Congress now by slim margins.

WOODRUFF: But if Congress does not count Florida's electoral votes, wouldn't Gore win, wouldn't he be ahead?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's true that Gore is leading in the electoral vote outside of Florida. The Constitution requires the winner to receive a majority of appointed electors. Without Florida, neither Gore nor Bush would have the required majority of 270. The election would then go to the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote. And guess what? Republicans control 28 out of 50 state delegations in the House.

WOODRUFF: So you're suggesting, Bill, that Gore's election or majority might not be accepted by congressional Republicans?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that is exactly what I'm suggesting, and you can see the hostility right there in the polls. A quarter of Gore supporters say they would refuse to accept Bush as the legitimate president if he is declared the winner. Over 40 percent of Bush supporters say they would refuse to accept Al Gore as president. So it looks like Gore would have more of a legitimacy problem than Bush, even though Gore is leading in the total nationwide popular vote.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you for rummaging around in those books.

SCHNEIDER: OK.

WOODRUFF: Thanks a lot.

Well, one question that seems to be on just about everyone's mind is how long will this election standoff continue? And, how are folks reacting to it, especially those on Capitol Hill?

Joining me with some insight into these questions, David Broder of the "Washington Post," and our own Washington bureau chief here in the nation's capital, Frank Sesno. Frank, I know you've been talking to folks on the Hill this very day about that question of how this whole scenario plays out.

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, I can tell you first and foremost, Judy, that certainly attitudes are hardening among Republicans up on Capitol Hill. You know, yesterday on the talk shows, Senator Bob Dole -- former Senator Bob Dole said he wouldn't be surprised that if it were a President Gore, some Republicans might even boycott the inaugural.

Well, some Republicans, especially moderate to conservative Republicans I spoke to today, say they were horrified by that kind of language, they find it very divisive. But not all. In fact, House Majority Leader, Republican leader Dick Armey has said on the record very comfortably that he would find it a very distasteful experience to go to a Gore inaugural if that were to happen. He would do it, he said, because that would be part of the job, but no way would he stand. He says, "I don't have to enjoy it, and I don't have to stand and applaud him." And he acknowledged that there would be others who would stay away.

WOODRUFF: David Broder, if these are the kinds of feelings, if these are the kinds of emotions playing out, out there, what are you hearing about how this contest is going to play itself out, whether in the Electoral College, or in legislative body?

DAVID BRODER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, Judy, I've thought about three different times in the last 12 days that this had to be it, that this would certainly wind it up. Now we've heard this court in Florida talking about December 12 as the deadline that they see, the date on which Florida has to pick a slate of electors to vote on the presidency. I think the longer this goes on, the more intractable a problem becomes and the more both sides get dug in. So I think we are in a very, very perilous slope at this point.

WOODRUFF: Well, if that's the case, David, what are the options for the individuals involved, simply to keep fighting, keep slugging it out in court? What other option is there?

BRODER: Well, the other option is to say after you've documented a case that the process has been rigged in favor of your opponent, and both of them now are pretty far along in making that case to say, OK, the country's interest come ahead of my interests and I will let that thieving, no good so and so have the presidency and begin the campaign of 2004.

WOODRUFF: But, Frank, you were talking to prominent Democrats today who were saying if Gore does not prevail in the Florida Supreme Court -- and he may well do so -- but if he were not to, what were they telling you?

SESNO: They were saying that at that point you have to pull the plug, that the Florida Supreme Court is it. It's sort of the court of last resort at least as far as the court of public opinion is concerned. But back to what David said, you are hearing more of that -- much more of that among Democrats than the Republicans right now. And that is that it may be in the best interests of the country and in, again from the Democrats' point of view, Al Gore's own self-interest that at some point you say, we were robbed, we won the popular vote, we should have won the Florida vote -- and this is what I'm being told today by a number of people -- and you play the "injured prince" in the words of one Democratic senator and look onward.

David, I'm sure you're hearing the same sort of thing, but I'm told Bill Daley within the Gore campaign is assuming the role of the political pragmatist here, and according to one senior Democrat who has been talking with him, he has been saying that, you know, we may just need to look forward not only to the well-being of the party and the country but to Al Gore in 2004, that very scenario that you laid out.

WOODRUFF: David, what...

BRODER: Well, and you're hearing the same thing from some of the advisers to Governor Bush.

WOODRUFF: David, and just quickly about Gore, in other words, you're hearing it from both?

BRODER: Yes, it may be at some point necessary to concede the election, but don't do it in a way that makes people think that you're out of the fight, that you're that still going to make the fight in another election cycle.

WOODRUFF: All right, David Broder, Frank Sesno, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.

And still ahead on this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS, how can we relax and enjoy the holidays when we're in the midst of an election imbroglio? Well, you might be surprised.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: And finally tonight, the election standoff has been dominating the airwaves and our national conversation for almost two weeks now. But another obsession is about to get under way, one that just might take people's minds off of politics.

CNN's Bruce Morton has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON (voice-over): Lawyers are lawyering, counters are counting. Are we in a crisis? Last week, 64 percent said, yes, major crisis or problem. This week, it's down to 54 percent. Why? Voters face a real crisis: the holidays.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a little more concerned with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, because that's a little more tasty than who's going to be president. MORTON: You've got to shop. Christmas sales used to start after Thanksgiving. Forget that. After Easter, maybe, but shopping time is here -- now. And travel. Remember, "over the hills and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go"? Well, they weren't bumper to bumper on the interstate back then, and they sure weren't trying to fly to grandmother'S, along, of course, with their children, grandchildren and pet snake or whatever. Getting there hasn't been half the fun for years. It's hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanksgiving, definitely. The presidency doesn't really matter at this point.

MORTON: They'd probably all vote for whoever'd promise a lift to grandma's on Air Force One.

So there's shopping, there's getting the gingerbread ready, then there's all the fancy food. And then for some, this is do-or-die time.

The bowl games are coming. The 'Noles ate up the Gators -- can a Seminole eat a Gator? Anyway, Florida State beat up on Florida over the weekend, chased all the politicians out of the Tallahassee hotels, and they're still not sure about which bowl they'll get.

Ron Vanderlinden's Maryland team won't get any bowl and he's looking for work -- fired. Now that's a crisis.

College hoops is just starting, too -- more trophies, more careers on the line. And if you want crisis, how about these guys?

I mean, their lives are on the line. All over America, people are arguing -- roast them, deep fry them, which stuffing should we use? a few urge, hug a turkey, pig out on tofu. But the odds are the other way. This is crisis. All the lawyers and counters are just passing time.

And Gore and Bush? Maybe they miss the quieter holidays of campaign '99?

GORE: Who knows who St. Nicholas is?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Santa.

GORE: There you go.

BUSH: 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a...

CHILDREN: Mouse.

MORTON: Or a lawyer maybe. Picking the president is serious, of course. Once Americans get the holiday crisis out of the way, they'll probably agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd rather just get through Thanksgiving. I'm kind of burned out on the election, personally. MORTON: Keep counting and arguing, guys. We'll check you later.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Let's not rush this Thanksgiving thing, we've got two whole days of politics to go before the turkey day.

That's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. THE MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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