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Transcript: Joe Lieberman on CNN's 'Larry King Live'

KING: We begin with Senator Joe Lieberman. He joins us from Washington.

What's this been like, really, inside? LIEBERMAN: Oh, Larry, it's been a most unusual experience. Look what a year this has been. An extraordinary opportunity that Al Gore gave me to run for vice president. Had a -- just a great time in the campaign. People were wonderful all around America. I believe in Al Gore. I believe in the program to continue America's prosperity that we ran on. And that's why...

KING: Yes, but what's...

LIEBERMAN: What's this been like?

KING: What's the last four weeks been?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's been a bit of a roller coaster. But the good news is that I've been home. I've been with my family. I've gotten a lot more sleep than I got during the campaign. And we feel all right, because we think what we're doing is right, and we just want a fair result, want all the votes to be counted.

KING: Have you ever, Senator, said to your -- doubted yourself in fighting this fight after the election? Have you ever said, "Maybe we should chuck it in"?

LIEBERMAN: I honestly have not. I mean, if we come to that moment, we will know it. But this is not about, you know, fighting on regardless, but a refusal to concede, if, in fact, we have lost. Let's go back to election night, Larry, and remember that Al Gore and I were ready to concede when we thought we had lost. And when the votes began to come in a little bit different way and we saw we hadn't, naturally we didn't concede.

But ever since that night and the next day, all that we have asked is that every vote that was cast be counted. And that's a simple, and I think very profound, American proposition. And it's not only important to the people who voted, but it's important to the next president so he takes office without that cloud over his head.

So, no. I feel very committed to what we're doing. I think it's fair. I think it's just. When you're treated unfairly by the government in the United States of America, what do you do? You go to the courts. And that's what we're doing. And we're not going to carry this on to a point where it will hurt this country.

KING: Are you saying, Senator, do you feel that if every vote -- every vote in Florida was counted, recounted, they went through everything hand, if they were able to do that, you would win this election?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I believe we would.

LIEBERMAN: And certainly that's part of why Al Gore and I are asking for this hand recount -- or joining the people in Florida who have asked for it.

Remember, we won the popular vote. We're just three electoral votes short of victory.

But on the hand count, honestly, we don't know how it will end, and that's why we say just count the votes that have not been counted. And by that, of course, we mean the votes that were put in the machine and nothing registered for president. We think a lot of those people intended to vote, and we just want people to look at them by hand and eye, and decide whether they did indeed vote, and if they did, they ought to be counted.

KING: Read somewhere that you feel deeply hurt because it's Miami, and because you spent so much time in Miami, especially among the elderly and there are a lot in Miami. Campaigned heavily and you thought you got that vote. You thought you got the vote in Palm Beach that went in one area to Pat Buchanan.

Do you feel personally disheartened because of that, because you spent so much time in that area?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I saw that in the paper and I don't know where that all came from. I mean what I'm really proud of is that Al Gore and I worked very hard all across America, carried our message of keeping the prosperity and progress going, got the 267 electoral votes, majority of the popular vote, and excruciatingly close in Florida. I'm really proud that we carried the Orlando area, the Tampa area. And I spent a lot of time in all of those places, including South Florida.

I did feel that butterfly ballot in Palm Beach really confused a lot of people, and not just me feeling it. I have heard from them. I get e-mails. I get phone calls. They're just heartbroken that they went in intending to vote for Al Gore and me and ended up either voting for Buchanan or getting confused and thinking they had a vote because the way the butterfly ballot was for both us, for both Al Gore and me individually.

But that's not even what we're asking for now, as unfair as I think that was. We're just asking that the votes be counted and anybody's vote who didn't register on the machine.

I thought Al Gore had a great metaphor earlier tonight with John King. It's like when you go into the supermarket and the box cereal doesn't register on the scanner. So what do they do? They call somebody and look at it my hand and charge it up. And that's what we're asking here with people's votes.

KING: What's his mood? You spoke with him today.

LIEBERMAN: We've been together a lot. We've been friends for 15 years and -- as well as professional colleagues. But I've never been with him this much, this consistently, as we have in the last 22 days. And the good news is, I think even more of him today than I did before these last 22 days.

KING: Why?

LIEBERMAN: He's been very strong, very balanced. He's got perspective. He's turned away from some legal recommendations that maybe a hard-edged person or just a lawyer would have said, "Do it because you can win," because he thought it was either too divisive or it would take too long. We want to have this end by December 12, which the Florida Supreme Court said.

And I just think Al has been thinking not just of fairness, and fairness for us and the 50 million people who voted for us, but doing the right thing for the country. He's not going to carry this too far. And I hope and believe that George Bush and Dick Cheney would do the same if and when -- as I believe -- we end up getting more votes than they do in Florida. KING: You mean there were recommendations that you could have done other legal things to -- that would have been tougher and might have gotten you this victory?

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, there were. And particularly in this stage of the appeal that began on Monday. But -- well, I don't want to speak about them in detail, because I keep all my conversations with the vice president private, I can tell you that he did turn away from some recommendations because he just thought they would be too divisive, and they might take too long, and he wants this to end in a reasonable time to allow a reasonable transition to go forward.

I tell you, Larry, I wish the Bush campaign would have the same attitude, because it seems to me in the court in Leon County, as well as in every attempt by the canvassing boards to count for the last two and a half weeks, the -- our opponents have done nothing but try to delay. And you know in America justice delayed is justice denied, and I think they're trying to run out the clock on us, which may be all right in football but is not right when you're talking about counting votes that people have cast.

KING: If you would were to lose -- if you lose in court they don't -- the contest doesn't go through, they don't read it back, are you going to feel this will be a tainted victory? Are you going to have -- is this going to be a bitter four years?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope not. And that's why, in the best of all worlds, Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney would have joined us in this call for a full hand count, as Al Gore offered them do it statewide, because that's the way to put it to an end and to have most Americans feeling that it was fair and square. I'm afraid...

KING: But it didn't happen, right?

LIEBERMAN: Look, Al and I are committed to keeping America strong and united. We're not going to be bitter about this, we're going to do whatever we can to keep the country going forward.

LIEBERMAN: But I bet there'll be millions of Americans, particularly those who supported us, who will feel bitter about the result and feel that it was unfair if it results from a kind of delay, delay, delay tactics that our opponents are following now in the courts of Florida that means that thousands of votes cast by people in Florida are not counted in this election.

KING: We'll be right back with some more of Senator Joe Lieberman, and then Senator John McCain. We haven't heard much from him in all of this. We'll be right back, don't go away.


KING: Senator Lieberman, Vice President Gore told John King today that he thought there'd be a negative reaction if the Florida legislature got involved in this.

KING: Do you share that view?

LIEBERMAN: Oh, I sure do, Larry. I think that would be terrible. I tell you, one of the most disappointing moments of this whole experience post-election -- and we've all been tested here. It's not been easy for anybody involved -- was the night that the Florida Supreme Court gave it's decision saying that these hand counts of these counties should go forward and the secretary of state should count them. And folks from the Bush campaign immediately talked about going to the Florida legislature.

That's -- that would set a terrible precedent. I mean, this is all about the rule of law, established procedures. The courts can interpret statutes then reflect the votes of the people who took the time to go to the polls to vote.

I mean, when I say it would be a terrible precedent, if, in fact, as we expect, the Florida electors will be chosen and certified by December 12th, and let's say they're our electors because the counts have gone forward and show that we won the state, what an awful precedent it would be for the Florida legislature to go ahead and choose its own electors. Because it would set a precedent that would say in another state in the next election, if the legislature is controlled by one party, the presidential candidate of another party carries the state, the legislature could them come up with some reason to send its own electors to Washington and frustrate the will of the majority of voters in the state. That's not right.

KING: Is there a question about it being constitutional? Or would it be constitutional?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think it's a question -- I think it would be a terrible precedent. I think you'd really have to have a situation where the -- where the process in the state had totally broken down. Not just that you didn't like the result of it, but that, in fact, the risk was that a state wouldn't have electors. And then -- I suppose that's why that provision was put in there for the state legislature to act. But we're not going to be in that situation here.

At least, Al Gore and I are not acting in a way to bring us there. If the Republicans in court keep delaying and slow walking, unfortunately we may be in that position. But I hope not. We can get this done in a matter of days if we cooperate.

KING: Do you think you have enough time, Senator Lieberman? If the courts go your way, do you have enough time? LIEBERMAN: We have enough time. And Larry, as I look at this, we have the facts on our side. Which is to say that votes were not counted in just the way that I described earlier, they weren't registered on the machines, the deserve to have somebody look at them.

We have the law on our side because the law says that every effort should be made in Florida to find the intent of the voter, even if you have to look at the ballot by hand and eye, because that's what democracy is all about.

So we've got the facts and the law. But the time -- because we want to meet this December 12 deadline, in the interest of Florida being represented in the Electoral College, the time is not with us. And that's where we have to ask for, not only relief from the courts, but for hopefully some cooperation from our opponents, who right now are doing everything they can to delay and run out the clock.

Witness the request today to have the million or so ballots brought up from Tallahassee, which is another way of creating obstacles to getting this done on time and depriving us of our right to a fair and timely trial.

KING: Senator Lieberman, whether you are in the Senate or in the vice -- or chairing the Senate, or rapping the gavel to call them to order, what are the next four years going to be like?

LIEBERMAN: Well, look, this has become a very partisan city over the last decade, Washington has. But even in that time, we've had -- we've made some great progress working together.

LIEBERMAN: We balanced the budget together. It required support from both parties. We're running a tremendous surplus. We reformed welfare. We passed a great anti-crime law. I can...

KING: Yes, but no -- not meaning to interrupt, Bill Clinton was elected with a majority of the electors. This will be questioned no matter who has it. What's the effect going to be?

LIEBERMAN: Well, the reason I cited those -- and you're right about the difference, Larry, -- is that even in a very partisan time, if the people demand it, and members of Congress and the president have common sense and understand that we came here not to fight each other but to get something done for the country, then I think we can achieve progress in the four years ahead. Certainly I believe that if Al Gore and I are fortunate enough to be elected.

Look, both tickets, we're talking about mostly the same issues: How do we improve our schools, provide prescription drugs for the elderly, keep Social Security and Medicare strong, and keep our national defense strong? So we ought to be able to figure out how to work together to achieve, if not everything each side wants, at least good part of that.

And I can tell you that, Al Gore and I, as we think about what our administration would look like, are very anxious to include Republicans, and independents in the administration, very anxious to work with members of both parties on the Hill to get something done. And I honestly believe we can.

KING: Thanks, Senator. Always good seeing you.

LIEBERMAN: Larry, thank you. Have a good evening.

KING: You, too.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the vice presidential nominee of his party.


Wednesday, November 29, 2000


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