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Special Event

Congressional Black Caucus Protests Electoral Vote Count

Aired January 6, 2001 - 2:00 p.m. ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And if you're just joining us, we're going to go straight to the press conference we told you about with the Congressional Black Caucus with regard to the -- all right, we're working on getting audio for you in just a moment. And while we're doing that, I will recap just a bit.

If you're just joining us now, you are looking at live pictures of a Congressional Black Caucus press conference, with Eddie Bernice Johnson, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, active member of the Congressional Black Caucus, talking about why she objected not long ago, within the past half an hour, to -- or rather in the joint session with Vice President Al Gore, as they were counting the presidential votes for one last time.

We have audio. We're going to listen in.

REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D), TEXAS: ... black caucus, and I'm going to ask Mr. Hastings to give his opening statement, and I'll return.

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Today was a very solemn day, and the remarks are that many of us were not permitted, regretted by us all. Had I been given an opportunity to go forward with an appropriate objection, I would have indicated that because of the overwhelming evidence of official misconduct, deliberate fraud, and an attempt to suppress voter turnout by unlawful means, I felt the necessity -- as do my colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus, and other members of the House of Representatives -- to object to the kinds of errors against democracy, the holy grail of democracy, that were permitted in the state of Florida.

And we felt that they should not be tolerated, as they would not be tolerated in other countries. Indeed, we should not tolerate them in America.

I would have said to Vice President Gore that Harry Truman once said that what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular. What we were doing here today is right. I hope all of our colleagues and the American people see it that way. And that is why we raised our objection. And it's a proud moment for the conscience of the House of Representatives, for those of us that are representing the entirety of the Congressional Black Caucus, in the presence of our chairlady, and the members here assembled, we stand proudly to say that we did what was right.

JOHNSON: Forty years ago, during the civil rights movement, I marched for justice with a firm belief that my son would not have to march, in order to utilize his voting rights. Much to my dismay, 40 years later, I find myself marching again, but this time for my grandchildren, so that they will not have to march in order to be afforded the same rights.

How long will we settle for injustice in America? How long will we have to fight to perfect the 15th Amendment? How long will we have to struggle for something that should be every American's birthright? On election day, 100 million Americans went to the polls to make their voices heard. Those voices want to be heard still. No hyper- technical manipulation of election laws should derail the intent of the voter.

We cannot sweep under the carpet the claims of first-time college voters who say they registered to vote, had voter registration cards in their hand, but when they were not allowed to vote at the polls, because their names were not on the roll, the lines were busy all over the country, where they tried to call to clarify their registration.

We cannot sweep this under the carpet, the cries of those who were incorrectly removed from the polling places in Florida by an inept Texas company hired by Mr. Bush's brother.

We cannot ignore believable stories of police intimidation, questionable activities by poll workers and simple ineptness by volunteers at the precincts. We cannot ignore what we saw with our own eyes on television: polls closing on voters in St. Louis, un- American voting lines in Pennsylvania and incredibly complex ballots in South Florida.

There is overwhelming evidence that George W. Bush did not win this election, either by national popular vote or the Florida popular vote. As members of Congress charged with defending the constitutional principles of this country, it is our duty to challenge this vote.

The vice president, in an incredibly statesmanlike effort to take the high road, has ruled against our challenge, so George W. Bush has managed to ascend to our nation's highest office. But he should be on notice that without justice, there can be no peace.

And we will ensure that there is no peace in this Congress until he truly reaches across party lines and corrects these wrongs. He must reach across party lines, racial lines, and philosophical lines. We see what's going on. There will simply be no peace until these problems can be corrected.

We have seen his so-called efforts to reach out. He has reached out to conservatives who think like him, even though they might look like us.

He has appointed people to fill our most important Cabinet offices, who have a history of activity contrary to the mission of the department where they are. We are particularly concerned about the appointments for Justice Department, and Labor Department. And though we acknowledge the phenomenal competence of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, we know that their brave stances on affirmative action will be meaningless, because they are in positions that do not influence domestic policy.

We know what's happening to us. We know that he has scoured this country to find tiny minority African-Americans who think like him, and then parade them in front of television, and perhaps even put some kind of commission in place to say they're going to reform election laws. We must see, and feel, and know it's the truth, and know it's sincere, and we can work with him.

You should know by now, based on the fact that he lost the popular vote by more than a half million voters -- and we don't know how many he lost by in Florida -- that American people are not fooled by this propaganda of false claims of unity.

He should know, based on the fact that a smaller percentage of African-Americans in his own state voted for him than the tiny percentage that voted for him around the nation.

I am still waiting for Mr. Bush to reach out to the Congressional Black Caucus. I believe he will, and I hope that in due time, he will. And we'll be prepared to work with him, because he needs to solicit us in the next four years, and he ought to start right now. If he truly wants to reach out, and make this a priority -- voting reform -- then we can truly work with him.

It is ludicrous to even discuss a $2 trillion tax cut, before allocating billions of dollars that will be needed to ensure that the abuses we suffered this time at the polls will never ever happen again. It is not difficult to fix this problem. We stand firm on our desire to have it done. We are chagrined, unhappy, and frustrated today, because we know who won, by the voters, to go to the White House. We will continue to object to the election procedures until they are corrected.

I now call on Miss Meek.

PHILLIPS: And if you are just joining us, you are watching live coverage on CNN this afternoon, as all eyes are on Capitol Hill. At this hour, top right of your screen, a joint session of Congress is counting the votes of the Electoral College. While the outcome is pretty certain, hard feelings left over from the post-election struggle in Florida has provided for some pretty dramatic tension.

At the bottom-left corner of your screen, you're watching a press conference brought to you by the Congressional Black Caucus, where within the past 40 minutes or so 12 representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus objected to the counting of the votes of the Electoral College. Vice President Al Gore gavelling them all down as they came up to the podium.

We're going to go back to the Congressional Black Caucus press conference and listen in once again.

REP. CARRIE MEEK (D), FLORIDA: We dare not have it repeated. We dare not have the Tilden and the Rutherford Hayes situation repeated again, because it disenfranchised our people at that time.

This will disenfranchise -- it already has -- our people. We don't want that continued. We will always come out. We will always fight. We don't care who is it there.

We are very disappointed that our senators did not stand up and support us today. We helped to elect those senators. They will hear from us again, because we feel very disappointed that they didn't say we want our African-Americans, and our disjointed people who were not able to vote, to have someone in the halls of Congress to say, yes, give them a chance to debate this issue, so that the world could see what is happening here.

We have had our votes nullified. That's why we're so sad. They were nullified by defective voting machines, nullified by discriminantly distributed and targeted machinery, election machinery, in our neighborhoods. The votes were nullified by a purge of voting lists, undertaken by direction from a campaign that retained the equivalent of electoral thugs.

I was there. I saw exactly what happened. I was chased by these thugs. I was called a communist by these thugs, a socialist by these thugs, many of them who were not even citizens of this country. That's what happened in this campaign in Miami-Dade, Florida.

So that we were illegally struck from the voting list by a process that classified thousands of our people as felons. We were nullified again by deals that were cut in cities -- cut by the winning campaign, with our leading authorities in our cities. We were nullified by ballots that were printed in such a way that reasonably thinking citizens could not know for whom they were voting. That's why we're here.

Everyone should have a right to know how they're voting, and for whom they're voting. We were nullified again, by a secretary of state, who has already been given a very big accomplishment by this administration. She authorized her authority to prevent valid votes from being counted. So, it nullified the thing for us.

All that is left for us now, as the Congressional Black Caucus and as citizens of this country, is to exercise our First Amendment rights, while we still have it, and before it is further undermined by a politically dominated Supreme Court.

We exercise that right today to protest against this ill-chosen nomination. We exercise our right to petition our government for our citizenry to receive a redress of grievances. So, I speak for the majority of Americans, particularly African-American Americans, who did not vote for the new president-elect, but who now must live under an administration that appears to award spoils to the victors, even when the electoral process has been so clearly corrupted.

I thank you.

REP. CORRINE BROWN (D), FLORIDA: I guess I keep hearing, you all need to get over this. Let me tell you something. We will never get over this. We will take this -- I personally will take it to my grave.

What happened in Florida, we will -- must rededicate to ourselves to the fact that it will never happen again. Too many people died, too many people bled for us to come to this point, where an election has been stolen, robbed, or taken from the people.

On November 7, it is very clear that more people in this country went to the poll and voted for Al Gore than George W. Bush. But let me tell you what is not a secret, that more people in Florida went to the poll and voted for Al Gore than George W. Bush. And, in fact, the election is not close.

I represent Duval county, where 27,000 votes was thrown out, 16,000 of them African-Americans that vote 98 percent Democratic. I represent Seminole County, where, when I go into the supervisor of elections office, I never go past the counter, where Republicans came into the office and filled out forms. I represent Lake County, where "The Orlando Seminole" recently count and found out that Al Gore came out 130 votes ahead -- counting conservatively -- 130 votes ahead, in a predominantly Republican area.

Yes, we know that the Supreme Court selected George W. Bush as the president; he was not elected. And it would be travesty that today, that we did not stand up and speak about what has happened. The world knows what's happening. Florida knows what's happening.

And we -- it is our obligation and duty to stand up today. What happened today, happened 100 and some years before. And it took 129 years for Florida to send an African-American to Congress. And we were sent here for a purpose, and one of those purposes is to speak up for the people that have been disenfranchised.

Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the bottom left-hand screen, you're watching a press conference. They are saying what they couldn't say to Vice President Al Gore, who continues to preside over a joint session of Congress, counting the votes of the Electoral College.

We're going to bring in our congressional correspondent Chris Black once again.

Definitely not business as usual today, Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not exactly. Things were going along as expected. The District of Columbia votes were recorded, and then Chaka Fattah, ironically a member of the black caucus himself but one of the two House tellers working on this Electoral College vote today, got to Florida. He announced the 25 Electoral College votes. Al Gore said, is there an objection? And there were a lot of them. A dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus, one after the other, rose to their feet to object to the votes from Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For what purpose does the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Deutsch, arise?

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

GORE: Gentleman will state his point of order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GORE: The point order may not be received.

HASTINGS: Mr. President, and I take great pride in calling you that, I must object because of the overwhelming evidence of official misconduct, deliberate fraud and an attempt to suppress...

GORE: The chair...

HASTINGS: ... voter turnout.

GORE: The chair must remind members that under session 18 of title 3, United States Code, no debate is allowed in the joint session.

HASTINGS: Thank you, Mr. President.

To answer your question, Mr. President, the objection is in writing, signed by a number of members of the House of Representatives but not by a member of the Senate.

Thank you, Mr. President.

WATERS: I rise to object to the fraudulent 25 Florida electoral votes.

GORE: Is the objection in writing and signed by member of the House and a senator?

WATERS: The objection is in writing, and I don't care that it is not it is not signed by a member of the Senate.

REP. BOB FILNER (D), CALIFORNIA: I have an objection to the electoral votes from Florida.

GORE: Is the objection in writing? Is it signed by a member of the House of Representatives and a senator?

FILNER: No, it is not in writing, but I rise in solidarity with my colleagues who have previously expressed their objection.

GORE: The chair thanks the gentleman from Illinois, but -- hey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: There were 13 objections in all, 12 from minority group members in the House of Representatives, last one saw was Bob Filner, who's a Democrat from California, a former professor, a big supporter of Al Gore, and clearly was just moved by the emotion of the moment.

They were all gavelled down. It was a great irony for the vice president. Here were some of his biggest supporters in the House of Representatives. He was clearly sympathetic, understood what they were trying to do, but he went right by the book. There was no debate allowed under the law that governs this joint session. There is also -- no objection can be heard unless it is signed by a House member and a senator.

Not a single senator would join members of the Congressional Black Caucus, much to their dismay. About a dozen members of the caucus walked out in protest, to protest the Florida vote, and then had a press conference in the gallery.

The vote, meanwhile, is continuing. We're getting towards the end. We expect that at end of the day, George W. Bush will have 271 Electoral College votes, Al Gore will have 266, and this election, finally, Kyra, will be over.

PHILLIPS: As you grin, as we all grin.

Chris, it must have been very tough for Gore to gavel down his supporters. But like you said, he stuck to the U.S. Code. What do you think this says about his character, possibly his future as a politician? He's definitely thinking about every move he makes, yes.

BLACK: I think that's true, Kyra. He's a very practiced politician. He's been in public life -- held public office for the last 24 years, he's the son of a senator. This is a man, however, who was bred to follow his duty. His father was a senator from Tennessee in a very tough re-election campaign. He was an opponent -- his father was an opponent of the war in Vietnam. Al Gore, who had just graduated from Harvard, enlisted and went to Vietnam in hopes of not only helping his father politically but also, as he said many times, out of a sense of duty, because he said if he didn't go, some other young man from Cathage, Tennessee, his hometown in Tennessee, would have go in his stead.

This is a man who has always shown a strong sense of responsibility. It can only help him politically, though the future is still very unclear for Al Gore.

PHILLIPS: Chris, thank you.

Lots of emotions on the floor obviously today. And as all eyes continue to stay focused on Capitol Hill, the joint session of Congress still is counting the votes of the Electoral College, right now taking votes from New York.

We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.

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