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Florida Appeals Court Unholds Miami-Dade County's Decision to Halt Manual Recount; Bush Appeals State Supreme Court Ruling

Aired November 22, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thank you for joining us for this special report.

PERRI PELTZ, CNN ANCHOR: And this hour's headlines: Dick Cheney says he will be OK. But a Florida court has handed the Gore campaign a new setback.

GREENFIELD: Yes, you know there are days in this business when you know it's time to put adjectives away and let the facts speak for themselves? Well, this is one of them.

Today, as Al Gore's campaign team was basking in its victory in Florida's state Supreme Court, waiting for hand-counted ballots to erase Governor Bush's lead, it received very bad news from the friendliest of places. The canvassing board in heavily Democratic Miami-Dade County said, no, we won't count those 10,000 ballots on table, we don't have time. The Democrats appealed, but a short time ago, a court ruled the Miami-Dade recount does not have to resume, a clear loss for the Gore team.

This was partially offset by a victory when a Palm Beach court said that Palm Beach County could count those famous dimpled ballots.

And as George Bush's campaign team was rallying Republican troops, and all but inviting Florida's Republican legislature to somehow override the Supreme Court, it heard bad news. Vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney was in the hospital with what doctors later termed a slight heart attack.

But in a phone call to CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE," this evening, Cheney said his prognosis is good and that he will be resuming his normal activities shortly.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Were you scared, Dick, this morning?

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, it's one of those things where I have learned, had drummed into me properly over the years, that anytime you feel something that might be cardiac related, you go check it out. And that's good advice for everybody, especially anyone who has history of coronary artery disease as I do. KING: And now, so they did the stent.

I guess you get to watch that don't you?

CHENEY: Yes, the initial test when it first came in didn't show anything and he changes it all, but we decided to go ahead and do the stent anyway, not the stent but the catheterization anyway, since I was already here. And that's when they discovered that I did have a blockage in one small artery and decided to go ahead and proceed to do the stent, made the decision, actually, while they were doing the test.

KING: Yes, they do it right there. Was the blockage in a new artery or in a graft?

CHENEY: No, it was a new artery, not in a graft. The grafts were fine and there had been, aside from this one location, there had been no progression of the disease over the last many years, which was good news.

KING: How about stress?

CHENEY: Frankly, it may sound hard to believe, but I have not found this last couple of weeks as stressful, for example, as say the Gulf War where they -- comparing the relative stress in different situations, my time in the Pentagon during the Gulf War was far more stressful.

KING: Is there a sort of a feeling now, like with regard to the election, it's out of your hands?

CHENEY: Well, it's kind of felt that way for about two weeks. And I can report that when I got in there today they didn't find any pregnant chads at all.


GREENFIELD: Now, you heard Larry and Dick Cheney mention a stent. When the doctors treated Cheney today, they performed an angioplasty and inserted a coronary stent. That's a small, slotted stainless-steel tube mounted on a balloon catheter and inserted into blocked artery. When the balloon is inflated, the stent expands and remains in place to keep the artery open.

PELTZ: And Jeff, now we are going to focus on the day's courtroom battles, including a Bush campaign appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and a late evening setback for the Gore campaign.

For all those details, we go to CNN's John Zarrella who is in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Just another quiet Thanksgiving eve in West Palm, huh John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I tell you, Perri, what a lovely day for the courts in south Florida today. It's just another fascinating day here in the Sunshine State. Down in Miami it really all got started early this morning, when at first the county canvassing board in Miami-Dade County had talked about going ahead and recounting all the ballots.

Then they decided there just would not be enough time for a complete hand recount. They were only going to count the undervotes, about 10,000 votes that had no presidential candidate listed. That set off the ire of many Republicans who had crammed inside and all around the Steven Clark metro building down there in Miami.

And after this subsided, the canvassing board in Miami got together and met and they decided unanimously to just forget about the whole thing, there was no time to count the ballots fairly. They couldn't count them all, so they were not going to count any of them. And the chairman of the canvassing board came out and detailed why they had made the decision.


LAWRENCE KING, MIAMI-DADE CANVASSING BOARD.: We cannot meet the deadline of the Supreme Court of the state of Florida and I feel incumbent upon this canvassing board to count each and every ballot and to not do a hand recount would potentially, potentially, Mr. Degrande (ph), not guaranteed, but potentially, even under the proposed plan of this morning could disenfranchise a segment of our community.


ZARRELLA: While all of that was going on down in Miami, in Palm Beach County, in Judge Jorge Labarga's courtroom, circuit court judge here, the Democratic Party was arguing that the judge needed to clarify a rule that he had set a week ago. And in that ruling a week ago, the judge told the canvassing board here they that had to use their best discretion in order to determine what votes counted and what didn't.

Democrats said, argued today that they didn't believe that that was really happening and that is what happened in court here in West Palm Beach.

Let's listen.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Attorneys for the Democratic Party argued that Palm Beach County canvassing board by not counting dimpled ballots was ignoring the will of the people.

DAVID BOIES, DEMOCRATIC PARTY ATTORNEY: Thousands people in Palm Beach County have -- who have voted and meant their vote to count for the president of the United States are now being disenfranchised.

ZARRELLA: Democratic Party attorneys charged the Palm Beach Board was not following the judge's order from a week ago to use best judgment when determining voter intent. At one point, Judge Labarga asked how he could have better judgment than the board?

JUDGE JORGE LABARGA, FLORIDA CIRCUIT COURT: What is wrong with these three elected officials making the decision as to what the intent of the voter is?

ZARRELLA: In a strange twist, attorneys for the Republican Party agreed with the predominantly Democratic canvassing board's approach to determining a valid vote. Canvassing board chairman Charles Burton took the stand to explain the procedure.

CHARLES BURTON, CHAIRMAN, PALM BEACH COUNTY CANVASSING BOARD: We hold up a voting card. I don't know it's a man or a woman. I don't know if it's a young person or an elderly person. I have a card.

ZARRELLA: In his ruling, Judge Labarga wrote, quote, where the intention of the voter can be fairly and satisfactorily ascertained, the intention should be given effect.


ZARRELLA: Now, the judge here, Judge Charles Burton, just a little while ago came out here and he said that he believed that the canvassing board was in fact following the judge's original order and he still wasn't sure what kind of a clarification judge Labarga could give him. But Judge Charles Burton said, look, we're going to give the Democratic and Republican attorneys one more opportunity on Friday to come in here Friday morning before we start counting those dimpled ballots and we're going to let them argue whether we're counting right or wrong and how we should be counting those dimpled ballots.

So, there is still no clear change from the Palm Beach County canvassing board that they are, in fact, with about eight or 9,000 disputed votes to count, that they are, in fact, going to automatically start counting dimples for Vice President Gore. They don't think they need to change their policy or their procedures. That will be determined on Friday morning.

So, once again, here we go, could be more legal action if that's not resolved on Friday. But right now they're done here counting. They have finished counting all of the precincts here except that they have to count all of those disputed ballots. And until they do that, they can't sign off on several hundred precincts that are still outstanding. They hope to get that done certainly by Sunday by the deadline. And we probably won't know until Friday whether they're going to be counting dimples or not counting dimples here in Palm Beach County.

Back to you, Perri.

PELTZ: On that note, John, happy Thanksgiving.

Given Dick Cheney's heart problems, the court battles in Florida, and the fluctuating recount numbers, it's been a day of wide mood swings for members of George W. Bush's campaign team.

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Austin, Texas, keeping track of the fluctuations in her reporter's notebook


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The mood of the Bush campaign changes by the hour, and I mean that literally. Just looking at today, it began at dawn when George Bush was awakened to be told that his running mate Dick Cheney had gone to the hospital with chest pains.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning I talked to Secretary Cheney. We had a very good conversation. His -- he sounded really strong and informed me that as a precautionary measure he went into the hospital.

CROWLEY: After that, they got about the business at hand or at least what they thought today would be about, and that is the Florida state Supreme Court decision. What they found was a six-zero decision against them. Last evening, it was James Baker who decried that decision and today it was Governor Bush.

BUSH: I'm disappointed with last night's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. We believe the justices have used the bench to change Florida's election laws and usurped the authority of Florida's election officials. We believe the court overreached.

CROWLEY: You go from this full-frontal assault on the Florida Supreme Court decision to the next thing they see, which is that Miami-Dade decides it will not do a recount. This is a huge news for the Bush campaign, because Miami-Dade is a haven for Democratic voters.

I happened to be on the phone when the television showed the vote, and I could hear in the background the entire Bush staff cheering. And then at the moment the cheers stopped, someone said, well, just wait a minute, it'll probably change. So, that literally tells you how often the mood changes.

The bush campaign says the strategy is this: Watch what's going on, on the ground -- that is the state legislature and what it might do, as well as those hand recounts -- but keep all of your options, your legal options open. And what we learned is that includes everything up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court.


GREENFIELD: Now, it's fair to say that the mood swings that Candy Crowley described in the Bush camp are just as dramatic among members of Vice President Al Gore's campaign team.

From Washington, CNN's John King shares some observation from his "Reporter's Notebook."


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Those who have spoken to the vice president describe him as very hands-on and relatively calm. He is watching when the court arguments are on live television. He is talking to his lawyers all day, on the phone, on the phone, on the phone.

Went out in public today, made a joke, at a food bank passing the boxes. You know, are we supposed to count these boxes? Gee, shouldn't we recount these boxes?

Obviously, he was very upbeat after the state Supreme Court ruling.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Florida Supreme Court has now spoken, and we will move forward now with a full, fair and accurate count of the ballots in question.

I don't know what those ballots will show. I don't know whether Governor Bush or I will prevail. But we do know that our democracy is the winner tonight.

KING: But the morning's not half over when Miami-Dade shuts down the recount: 10,000-plus votes, a pull of votes there that they thought they would get quite a bit of votes out of, now taken off the table.

WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: We were disappointed by the decision of the Miami board -- Miami-Dade board of canvassers, who have previously found that there was an error in the vote count that did require a manual recount.

Under Florida law, once the finding is made, the recount is mandatory.

KING: They go from a high of the state Supreme Court to a low of the Miami-Dade ruling, and back up a little bit later in the day when it turns out a judge tells Palm Beach County you have to look at the dimples, you have to check those ballots with the dimples in them that aren't all the way punched through. They believe that's critical to them.

All the while, they hear word that Governor Bush may try to go to the U.S. Supreme Court and shut this whole process down.

The Gore people believe that will fail, but it's for him, too, a roller-coaster. He will know in the next several days probably whether he's the next president of the United States or whether he was to bow out and concede the race to Governor Bush.


PELTZ: To help untangle and we hope clarify all of today's court action we ask CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack to join us from out Washington bureau. Roger, thanks for being with us.


PELTZ: So the Florida court has decided tonight that Miami-Dade does, in fact, not have to continue counting. This is obviously a blow for Democrats for Gore. What's your legal analysis of that decision?

COSSACK: Ah, but it's not quite over yet, Perri, as you may not be surprised to hear. Yes, the third circuit county court in -- the third circuit court in Florida has said that they do not -- Miami-Dade does not have to count, but the Gore people have said we're going to appeal right back to that Florida Supreme Court, and try and get them to make them count.

What they're asking for is called a writ of mandamus, and that means in English they're asking for an order saying you must do something. So they're asking the court to say to the county -- to the canvassing board you must count those ballots, you have no option.

The legal charge is that, yes, you have an option when you first go through to see whether or not there's a tabulation error, but once you find there's a tabulation error, you must recount.

So far, that one court has said no. They say they're going to the Florida Supreme Court. Well, perhaps they'll have a friendlier ear.

PELTZ: All right. While we're discussing writs, let's discuss a writ of certiorari. The Bush campaign has filed two petitions with the U.S. Supreme Court, which means they are alleging federal violation. What's the allegation?

COSSACK: Well, there's a couple of different allegations. One, they're saying that because of the fact that there are no standards that have been articulated for how you recount or how you count -- hand count these ballots, that therefore that is a violation of equal protection and due process. The other one is the argument that they made with the 11th Circuit, which they've been unsuccessful with so far, which says that since you are only hand counting selected counties within Florida, those other that are not being hand-counted, their votes are diluted as opposed to the ones that are getting hand- counted.

They need federal issues to get before the United States Supreme Court. It's a hard way to go. Presumptively, they should be in the state court, but obviously, they're looking for a friendlier court than the Florida state court. And remember, seven of the nine justices on the United States Supreme Court were appointed by Republicans.

PELTZ: And of course, just what you want to do, Roger, is guess what the U.S. Supreme Court might do, but of course, that's not going to stop me from asking. What might the U.S. Supreme Court do? Do you think they'll decide they have jurisdiction here?

COSSACK: Well, you know, this is a, as he attempts to beg the question, this is a tough decision, because I would normally say in most cases absolutely not. Presumptively, this stays within the Florida Supreme Court. This is one of those issues that's underlining states' rights.

But in this case, there are -- we're talking about people's votes being counted, and if you can convince the justices that somehow people who intended to vote aren't getting their votes counted, then they may very well say this is a federal question, we perhaps should then take a look at it.

But I would say it's an uphill battle for the Republicans to get the United States Supreme Court involved.

PELTZ: All right, CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack. Roger, thank you so much.

COSSACK: My pleasure.

GREENFIELD: Roger will be on work release. He gets to go home tomorrow, we think.

Just ahead on this CNN special report, you can call them dented or you can call them dimpled, but ballots with a chad still attached have popped up in elections outside of Florida. We'll examine how they were counted, after the break.


PELTZ: Much of the controversy swirling around the recounts in Florida has to do with dented or dimpled chads, ballots with an indentation next to a candidate's name instead of a clearly punched hole.

Our Brooks Jackson looks at the dimpled chad issue in other states.


BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside Florida, dimples are counted, but not every one. Take a look at that 1990 Republican primary in Illinois for state representative, a recount the Florida Supreme Court mentioned in its opinion. At first, an Illinois judge refused to count indented chads as votes, and declared a tie.


JACKSON: Peggy Pullen lost the coin toss, but later won in the Illinois Supreme Court. The court said -- quote -- "These voters should not be disenfranchised where their intent may be ascertained with reasonable certainty."

So the trial judge counted again. This time Pullen won by six votes, all dimples, according to her lawyer.

MICHAEL LAVELLE, ELECTION LAWYER: Of those six, they were all dented ballots that were counted on behalf of Pullen.

JACKSON: And that's a point being stressed by Al Gore's lawyers. But it's also true that most dented chads were not counted in that same case. The trial judge examined 19 disputed ballots, but saw clear voter intent in only eight, counting seven for Pullen, one for her opponent. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I looked at some of those ballots and thought they clearly indicated the voter's intent. The trial judge didn't. There is a discretionary judgment involved here.

JACKSON: Other states also count dented chads. The Massachusetts supreme judicial court justices personally examined more than 900 disputed ballots in a 1996 Democratic congressional primary recount. Subjective judgments are inevitable.

Even George W. Bush's own state of Texas counts dents as votes, more often than not, according to the election supervisor of the state's largest county.

TONY SIRVELLO, HARRIS COUNTY ELECTIONS ADMIN.: If the chad is indented so that you are able to ascertain the intent of the voter, that you are to count that as a vote for the candidate in whose chad was actually indented.

JACKSON: In fact in Hays County, Texas, two years ago, dimples made the difference in a race for the state legislature. A recount made Republican Rick Green the winner by 36 votes, mostly indentions made by straight-party Republican voters.

RICK GREEN (R), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: That's right, we did include some of those ballots, but we had the hanging chads and pregnant chads and other types of ballots. What we didn't do is count all of what they are calling dimpled ballots in Florida. We call them indented ballots here in Texas. In Florida, apparently, they're counting everything that's been even slightly touched by a stencil. It's starting to look like they're counting a chad that's been breathed on.

JACKSON (on camera): One rule Texas officials say they try to follow is that a dent won't count if a voter has made clean punches elsewhere on the same ballot, but that's not specified in Texas law or regulation. It's a judgment call.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.


GREENFIELD: Well, as the chads are counted and the courtroom warriors fight on, a potentially decisive question looms from another venue. Will the Florida legislature step in, maybe even name the electors on its own.

Here with us, two veteran Florida journalists: Tom Fiedler, the editorial page editor of "The Miami Herald." And "The Palm Beach Post's" Tallahassee bureau chief, Shirish Date. Thanks for joining us.

All right, Tom, we've been hearing and we'll hear later in the program, that mood of the Republicans in Washington is almost sulfurous. They're sure this election is being stolen and they'll do, they say, whatever they need to, I mean within reason, legally to stop it. What about Florida Republicans? How angry are they. TOM FIEDLER, "THE MIAMI HERALD": Now, I think that mood is reflected all the way down. And in fact, it was reflected today in Miami-Dade County's courthouse where you saw the angry demonstration there just initially before the ruling came out that they were going to stop the count. So, there's a lot of anger and I think there is the sense that they're ready to reach for whatever solution it takes at this point that will make George W. Bush the president.

GREENFIELD: Now, Shirish Date, that solution could include, under federal, the Florida legislature saying this is a mess. We're taking this over and we hereby appoint 25 electors for Bush. Shirish, is that actually looming as a plausible scenario in the days ahead?

SHIRISH DATE, "THE PALM BEACH POST": Well, I guess that'll depend how much cooling-off period there is between now and when they have to make that decision. Think about it. That's a serious, serious step. And yet we have Florida Republican legislatures who right now are essentially saying that, hey, a dimpled ballot is essentially a fraudulent ballot, and we'll need to step in a do something. The tone here, as Tom said, it's pretty strident.

GREENFIELD: Well, Tom let me ask you, and Shirish, jump in, if you will, short of that nuclear option, as it is being called, what else could the Florida legislature do should they come back in a special session short of just naming electors?

FIEDLER: Well, I don't know that they can do much short of doing that. I think what we have going on here is a big game of chicken with the Florida legislators holding as their trump card the ability to call themselves into session and if necessary name the electors, and, of course, what the Democrats are possibly planning to do in the, again, the extreme case is to keep on delaying and delaying and delaying so that Florida's votes don't count in the Electoral College meeting December 16th which means that Al Gore wins.

So the pressure, the Republicans are just reminding the Democrats that, hey, we can keep you from doing that by jumping in and naming the electors ourselves. This is a very internal game, but a serious one.

GREENFIELD: Well, Tom, let me just follow-up for a second. There's not a filibuster in the Florida state Senate, as I understand it. So how could the Democrats keep the Republicans from doing this, you know, if December 10th and 11th looms?

FIEDLER: Not in the legislature, not in the legislature, but by continuing the proliferation of lawsuit on the various issues that are surrounding this. I think there's something like 22 lawsuits now going on and that number is apt to increase as we see the writ of mandamus from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal down here go on.

So just by doing whatever it takes in the court to prevent there from being some clear resolution of the contest, that would force the legislature to name the electors representing the winner. That by thwarting that process there and keeping Florida from casting its ballots on December 16th, the Democrats win. GREENFIELD: I think if -- I don't mean - I think December 18th is actually the day the electors actually have to vote. Believe me, we're all getting dizzy by these dates, Tom.

Shirish, let's talk politics for a minute. Assuming the Florida legislature has the power under that once obscure federal law, as I understand it,the Republicans just a couple years ago took over control of the state legislature. Is there a chance that they will pay a political price for stepping in and using so strong an option as to name the electors?

DATE: I think there would be a significant political price. You know, let's remember that the Florida legislature, particularly the Florida House, has been antagonistic with the Florida Supreme Court now for two years. There've been ideas such as, hey, let's get rid of the court. Let's replace it with a criminal court and a civil court. Let's pack the court, all kinds of thing. So this is nothing new for them to be mad about a Supreme Court decision.

Now, politically, you've got to remember that yes, the legislature does control close to two-thirds of each House, but Gore took basically half the votes at the top of the ticket. So there are people who voted for Gore who later down voted for their local Republican for state representative or senator. What's that voter going to do in two years if they turn around and basically award Florida to George W. Bush. I don't know, but I think there'll be a number of Republicans who might be kind of worried about that.

GREENFIELD: Tom, one of the Republicans who has -- we haven't heard much from is a fellow named Bush, Jeb Bush. From a purely political point of view for him, this has got to be the most extraordinary position any governor has found himself in. Where is he in all of this?

FIEDLER: Well, you know, where he's trying to be is as far away from this as possible, which is why this option of the Republicans, the Republican legislature calling itself in the session and naming the electors is very, very difficult for Jeb Bush because if they did that, and the rest of the nation then saw that this was a power play by Republican legislators, it would just wouldn't pass any kind of a national sniff test and I think that would have serious repercussions, do serious damage to George W. Bush's ability to govern. So Jeb Bush is in an extremely difficult situation here. It's virtually lose, lose for him.

GREENFIELD: Tom Fiedler and Shirish Date, thank you. I have a feeling that the only way to solve this is to get Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry to write whatever legislation the Florida legislature may pass. At least those guys may be a lot more popular than any politician or for that matter journalist. Thank you.

FIEDLER: They couldn't top the facts.

PELTZ: All right, coming up just ahead on this CNN special report, how the Florida Supreme Court ruling is sitting with Republicans in the nation's capitol. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: From Florida, we shift the focus to Washington. If Republicans on Capitol Hill were all wearing mood rings, the color of those rings would be black. Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the sunshine state turned into storm clouds over Washington.

CNN's Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno, tells us why Republicans are so angry.


FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Republicans are virtually burning up the phone lines talking to one another and to any who will listen. There is probably more outrage here and more anger than we have seen in Washington perhaps in our lifetimes, certainly more than there was during impeachment.

Many Republicans say that they feel that they are being cheated, that they are seeing an election that is being stolen out, they charge, they claim, right out from under them. In the words of one GOP strategist, this is slow-motion grand larceny.

They don't like the dimpled ballots and the fact that they're being counted. They're infuriated by what they see as an activist, partisan Florida Supreme Court in its decision. They point to Dade County and they see a series of flip-flops over what the county is going to do and what the standards are for a recount, if there's going to be a recount at all. And all of that just reeks to them.

They believe strongly that this is an election that George W. Bush already run and every day that goes by drives that in.

It's underscored by one other very basic fact: Al Gore and the Democrats and many Republicans do not have a good relationship. It's been eight years of bad-blood politics, tinged with impeachment and investigation. Al Gore is not known for having a series of close working relationships, certainly not with Republicans, in some cases not with Democrats, on Capitol Hill.

And so there is sort of an insult-upon-injury kind of sense here.

First and foremost, what the Bush camp is being urged to do is to fight on, fight for the very -- to the very end if necessary, through the courts, through the legislature, to the Congress, through the electoral college constitutional process, if need be.

As one Republican put it, primal forces are being unleashed here, and many of them are saying that this just needs to play itself out and George W. Bush needs to go, you know, for whatever it takes to win here, because they believe that Al Gore is doing that and the Democrats are doing that.

As several people put it, this is far worse to them than impeachment. Impeachment, extraordinary as it was two years ago, was in the view of many Republicans who I've talked to today, it was at least as much about a signal, a political and even a historical signal, a message, than it was about removing President Clinton. A lot of Republicans didn't think they would be successful or it would end up in the removal of the president from office.

This, in their view, is about, if not political fraud, certainly the danger, they see, of political fraud. That's their perspective, right wrong, or otherwise, but that is their perspective, and they're very angry about it.


PELTZ: As for the Democrats in Washington, we turn to Michael Weisskopf, who's chief political correspondent for "TIME" magazine.

Michael joins us now from our Washington bureau. Michael, thank you for being with us.

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME": Good to be here, Perri.

PELTZ: Let's talk about something that Frank Sesno just raised in his story, which is this idea that somehow this Republican outrage and anger goes back before this election really to impeachment, that there's some sort of historical baggage that's being brought to this race.

WEISSKOPF: Indeed, and we have a parlor game in Washington, and that is how Hezbollah the Republicans can get. They're in a continual state of outrage during the Clinton years, in part because of the old hare-and-fox problem. And that is that the president has continued -- and of course, Al Gore was part of the team -- continued to outdistance them, to outmove them every step along the way, whether it was in Donorgate with campaign finance and the failure of Clinton's attorney general to appoint an independent counsel, or later with impeachment or all the many other scandals. Clinton has continued to service well with his rope-a-dope. And they see this as just another example of the Clinton administration trying to stretch the law to the breaking point. They would call it extralegal.

PELTZ: Which I would imagine, Michael, is related to the next question, which is there are political watchers who are saying, you know, the Republicans are simply more passionate about Bush than the Democrats are about Gore and Lieberman. What's your assessment?

WEISSKOPF: George Bush offered to Republicans their best hope of breaking the Clinton lock and the Clinton-Gore lock on Washington. He has a moderate message. He's attempted to move to the center. And I stood at the Republican convention and watched a lot of conservatives swallow hard as he moved to the center, but they thought it was worthwhile if they could restore power in the White House.

And the Democrats and the other -- on the other end, while they are -- while they of course support the vice president, he doesn't have a lot of lasting friends in Congress, and members of the House believe that his lack of a strong message at the top of the ticket hurt them in terms of their efforts to regain the House. And they are willing only to go so far in terms of support. PELTZ: Michael, it's interesting, because for a while you were hearing the winner in this ultimately will be the loser, that you have to set your sights ahead to 2002 and then 2004. But it seems that neither side is really looking, at all prepared to back down at this point.

WEISSKOPF: Indeed, and you can't predict what's going to happen over a four-year period, and a loser is still a loser, and he has to start from scratch again, raising all that money and assembling an organization. A president can do a lot once in office, and as longs as the game is still there, they're going to play it to the end.

PELTZ: Chief political correspondent Michael Weisskopf. Michael, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

WEISSKOPF: Pleasure.

GREENFIELD: And ahead on this CNN special report, a mild heart attack sidelines Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney. Will it affect the political health of the Republican ticket? More on that when we come back.


GREENFIELD: As we told you earlier, Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney is recovering after suffering what doctors called a slight heart attack.

For more on Cheney's political prognosis, we turn to CNN's Jeanne Meserve. She's in Austin, Texas.



LARRY KING, HOST: How are you feeling, Dick?



JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On "LARRY KING LIVE," Dick Cheney on the phone from his hospital bed.


KING: Is there sort of a feeling now like, with regard to the election, it's out of your hands.

CHENEY: Well, it's kind of felt that way for about two weeks. And I can report that when I got in there today, they didn't find any pregnant chads at all, Larry.


MESERVE: Cheney dismissed the idea the stress of the current election turmoil had anything to do with his heart attack.


CHENEY: I have not found this last couple of weeks as stressful, for example, as say the Gulf War. Really comparing the relative stress in different situations, my time in the Pentagon during the Gulf War was far more stressful.


MESERVE: Governor Bush was at great pains Wednesday to portray Secretary Cheney as a partner and a player.

BUSH: Looking forward to talking to him this afternoon, to continue strategizing about this election and the election results.

CHENEY: But one high-ranking Republican says Cheney's hospitalization is the last thing the Bush campaign needs right now when it wants to project stability and strength. Cheney's health could be more than a PR problem. If it sidelines him for long it could be a serious setback for transition planning -- the time for which is already truncated.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Most of our staff is so consumed and occupied in dealing with the situation in Florida that we've had very little time since the initial days after the election to really spend much time considering the transition.

MESERVE: Though not formally named head of the transition, Cheney appears to have the job. Unlike most members of Bush's political team, Cheney has an inside knowledge of Washington's ways and personalities that some consider vital in filling Cabinet and sub- Cabinet positions. As a former member of Congress, he could be useful in building relationships there and he has real transition experience having work for Gerald Ford in 1974.

Montana governor Marc Racicot, who is advising the Bush campaign, describes the Bush-Cheney relationship as extraordinarily comfortable and complementary.


CHENEY: It's time for them to go.


MESERVE: Although he didn't light dynamite on the campaign trail, he did give the ticket gravitas. During the campaign, Cheney used his stature as a former secretary of defense to skewer the Clinton-Gore administration's record on military matters.


CHENEY: With all due respect, Joe, this administration has a bad track record in this regard and it's available for anybody who wants to look at the record and wants to talk to our men and women in uniform and wants to spend times with the members of the joint chiefs, wants to look at readiness levels.


MESERVE (on camera): If Cheney is out for just a couple days, no big problem. But if he's out of commission for a longer period, some Republicans fear it could harm a Bush transition if there is one.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Austin, Texas.


PELTZ: Still ahead on this CNN special report, could the Florida fireworks explode in Washington? We'll have that story next.


PELTZ: As you've heard, Republican lawmakers are growing increasingly angry over the situation in Florida. Today, House Majority Leader Dick Armey said Congress would be prepared to challenge the presidential election if there are questions about the legitimacy of the winner.

CNN national correspondent Bruce Morton looks at some of the scenarios IN which lawmakers could have the final say


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Congress? The U.S. Congress could get involved in this? Well, yes. When the Congress meets, January 5th, House and Senate together, Vice President Gore in the chair, unless he decides not to appear, it would take just one Senator and one Congressman to object to an elector or a group of electors like, say, the Florida delegation.

House and Senate would then split up, debate the objection, and if both voted to sustain it, it would stand. Ever happened? Yes. In 1968, objection to a Republican elector from North Carolina who voted for George Wallace instead of Richard Nixon. The House and Senate debated, and let the vote stand. It did not, of course, affect the election.

What if a state certifies two sets of electors? That happened in 1960. Hawaii's governor thought Richard Nixon had won, and certified the Nixon electors. Then a recount showed John Kennedy had won, and the governor certified Kennedy's electors. Both voted. Congress seated Kennedy's. Again, the election was not in doubt.

What if Florida dissolves in lawsuits and no Florida electors get certified? Well, the Constitution says you need "a majority of the whole number of electors appointed" to win. Would that mean 270, even without Florida? There's no precedent.

In 1873, still getting over the Civil War, Congress didn't count the votes allocated to Arkansas and Louisiana, but Ulysses Grant would have had a majority even if they had been counted, and so was elected president. If no one has a majority -- and this hasn't happened since 1824 -- the House picks the president, with each state getting one vote. This year, that would help Bush. More states voted for him than for Gore and more have Republican majorities in their House delegation.

(on camera): It's all speculation and shaky precedents, but Congressmen of both parties are commissioning research, getting ready for who knows what.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: I think it'd be foolish for members not to try to figure out how this works, what the rules are, what the dates are, if for no other reason than when 435 of us are home for the next few days, somebody in every single Congressional district is going to say, what happens now?

MORTON (voice-over): Why not? If this election has taught us one thing so far, it's that you never know what will happen next.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


GREENFIELD: Now the idea of the Congress picking a president is just one of those things that about 99,999 Americans out of 100,000 couldn't contemplate. Some of the people who do know this, of course, are historians, who have been beckoned before the cameras in this last two weeks to explain what the framers were doing in the first.

Our historian of choice, Carol Berkin. She is a professor at the City University of New York. She is a familiar presence in the cameras because she has been appearing frequently on the History Channel.

Thank you for joining us, Mrs. Berkin on Thanksgiving Eve and I apologize in advance for the truncated time.

The Framers, who had this notion of these men of distinction and virtue, these electors and this smooth running system, I'm wonder if it's fair to say that if the Framers were alive today they would be rolling over in their graves at this partisan victory.

What are you think? Is this what they had in mind?

CAROL BERKIN, THE HISTORY CHANNEL: Well, what they had in mind, rally, was so different. Times were so different then than now, that as men of politics, they were really a lot more flexible than we give them credit. And they liked to fix things. If something went wrong and it wasn't working right, they'd fix it.

But I'm sure that everything about this election would a amaze them. Just the sight of African-Americans and women voting would be enough to throw most of them into a tizzy.

I think their vision of the Electoral College was that it would be wise, educated, calm men who would make a decision to avoid what they considered to be sort of the impulsive behavior of the ordinary person. We don't think that way anymore. And so I think they would be a little perplexed by what's going on today.

GREENFIELD: Well, you anticipate my next question admirably, because the other way to put it is that there's an amendment process. They knew the Constitution wasn't writ in stone.

Isn't it possible to honor these Framers and still say, you know, this electoral machinery they designed 200 year later with the franchise and people expecting a voice, it just isn't working the way they thought it would work and needs overhauling?

BERKIN: Absolutely, I don't think they thought of themselves as men writing on the stone tablets of Moses. I think they were really experimental. They were practical. They were excited about the opportunities to create a new government. But I don't think they ever thought that life would stay the same and that that government would serve in all its form always for everyone.

GREENFIELD: So, just because we are unfortunately so short on time, was anybody back then even making the case that maybe people should elect the president directly? or was that something we came along with later?

BERKIN: I think we came along with that much later. The only person who might have thought of that was Samuel Adams or maybe Tom Paine but Payne had gone on to bigger events, the French Revolution. And so I don't think this was on his mind. There may have been farmers somewhere in Western Massachusetts who thought that but not the founding fathers.

GREENFIELD: All right, Mrs. Berkin, again, my apologies. I'd love to bring you back, and we will, for more leisurely conversation if this ever gets settled. Thank you for joining us.

BERKIN: Thanks a lot.

GREENFIELD: Have a good Thanksgiving -- Perri.

PELTZ: But now we are going to take a break and when we return, Jeff offers some final thoughts on the Constitution, its Framers and what we can all be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Stay with us.


GREENFIELD: Finally with any luck at all, you're home tonight or soon will be for Thanksgiving. Now, in the world of greeting cards and television commercials, home is always a place of unalloyed joy. You know, real life isn't always so simple.

Robert Frost, the poet, put it this way, home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Maybe that unsentimental tone is the right way to look at this political battle or mess. The warring candidates insist on cloaking their struggle as a matter of high minded principle. But as we have just heard, the Framers of the Constitution knew better. They knew all about ambition and power and the way heat can replace light when political passions surge. That's why they diffused power so widely, to limit the consequences of political turmoil.

They did not design a perfect process. In an election this close, we are learning, some of the gears in our electoral machinery seemed to be jamming. But they did give us a system that can readily withstand the damage from political passions run amuck.

That is something to be thankful for, I think.

PELTZ: Sounds good me, Jeff. You don't think people are going to be sitting around tomorrow saying, I'm thankful not to discuss pregnant and dimpled chads.

GREENFIELD: They will be watching football.

PELTZ: That's all for our special report but do stay with us. Bill Press, Tucker Carlson and "THE SPIN ROOM" will be open for business in just a minute. That's at 11 p.m. Eastern.

From New York, I'm Perri Peltz.

GREENFIELD: And I guess that means I'm Jeff Greenfield. Happy Thanksgiving. Good night.



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