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Tony Clark on Bush's image as a president-in-waiting

November 30, 2000
Web posted at: 4:18 p.m. EST (2118 GMT)

Tony Clark
Tony Clark  

CNN National Correspondent Tony Clark is in Austin, Texas, following the Bush campaign.

Q: What is happening in the Bush campaign today?

CLARK: The governor is at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Today is a big day because his vice presidential running mate, Dick Cheney, and retired Gen. Colin Powell are coming to the ranch. They'll be spending today and perhaps the next couple of days talking to the governor about the National Security Council.

One of the things I think is interesting is that even though we were told that no announcements would be made about Cabinet positions this week, the campaign made it quite clear that Cheney and Powell were coming in.

Powell is being considered for secretary of state in a possible Bush administration. There is the image that the campaign is giving of an administration-in-waiting, essentially, that is working hard on transition, pulling in resources of well-known [figures]. So it gives the campaign almost a presidential image. That's what they're trying to project.

Q: You mentioned that some observers consider Bush's list of prospective Cabinet members a sort of encore of his father's Cabinet.

CLARK: That's one of the things that Dick Cheney was talking about. Cheney himself was President Bush's secretary of defense. Condoleezza Rice, who has been talked about as national security adviser, was in President Bush's National Security Council. Colin Powell was part of the Bush administration. Andy Card, who is the chief of staff for Gov. Bush, was secretary of transportation for President Bush. And the list goes on and on.

There have been comments that this would be essentially a "Bush II" administration. Dick Cheney said Wednesday that you could look at this a different way: Because so many of these people have been involved in national politics for years, you could almost look at it as a second Ford administration.

Cheney himself goes back some 37 years in national politics. It's all a matter of perspective. Any administration wants to call on its most experienced people, and some of the most experienced people happen to have been associated with the previous Bush administration.

But at the same time, Cheney [who would head a Bush transition team] has said that they will be bringing in fresh faces, fresh ideas as well.

Q: Has the Bush team been working on freeing up federal transition money that has so far been held up by the government?

CLARK: At this point, the campaign is simply waiting. But what they've done is set up their own transition office. They've subleased space in McLean, Virginia -- about 21,000 square feet -- which used to be a high-tech company, so it's got a lot of computer lines and things like that already in it. They expect to be up and running by the end of the week. They're sending out a fund-raising letter to help pay for transition costs, because they currently can't get federal funds. That's not that unusual. The Clinton campaign did that back in 1992 to help defray some of the costs. The fund-raising letter should go out around the end of this week. They're even going to set up their own Web site.

So they are moving ahead with transition. In fact, Dick Cheney has said he's eager for the office to open because until now the transition effort has been mainly run out of his kitchen. He said he has only two telephone lines into his house and so it's been kind of a problem. Had it not been for cell phones he wouldn't know what to do.

In a news conference on Wednesday, where Cheney talked about transition, there was a Bush-Cheney transition sign that looked very professional on the podium. It almost gives you the appearance of a fait accompli, that a Bush presidency is inevitable, and I think that that's one of the images that they want to have.

Q: How is the Bush campaign gearing up for Friday's hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the continuing legal battles in Florida state courts?

CLARK: The Bush argument before the U.S. Supreme Court is that the Florida Supreme Court acted unconstitutionally, that it rewrote Florida law, that it usurped the authority of the Florida legislature to set the rules for the elections, that the Florida Supreme Court changed the rules of the game, essentially, after the election. And what they're asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do is to reverse what the Florida Supreme Court did.

If that happens, the Florida vote count that happened right after the election, [plus] the overseas absentee ballots -- that count would be the official certified count, as opposed to the later recount.

At the same time there are other legal battles in other courts in Florida over how the ballots were counted, whether the count in Miami-Dade County needed to go on, whether the canvassing board was really required by the Florida Supreme Court to continue its count instead of not doing its count. And in the background of all this is the expectation for a special session of the Florida legislature next week, in which it may name its own electors.

Q: Is the Bush campaign optimistic on the legal front?

CLARK: The campaign I think is cautiously optimistic, but they also know that there could be a setback in any one of these things that could change the equation.

Right now there are several things going their way. For example, the Palm Beach question. The Gore campaign wanted just 3,000 votes, so-called non-votes, counted by hand quickly. The Bush campaign has so far successfully argued to the court that if they are going to count ballots, they ought to count all the ballots, which is a significant number of ballots, and that could delay things. Time is running out for the Gore campaign and the Bush campaign is not helping speed things on.

So there is some optimism. But at the same time there is the awareness that there have been so many ups and downs in this thing, no one is taking anything for granted.

Q: It seems the Bush strategy is to slow things down, to make it difficult for Gore to win any legal battle before December 12, when Florida will certify its slate of electors. Is that true?

CLARK: The Bush campaign has said that they are not trying to run out the clock, but that is in essence what is happening. Before different courts in Florida, [the campaign's lawyers] have said they simply need more time to gather witnesses, take depositions, to be prepared for their client. They blame the time running out on the Gore campaign.

Bush attorneys have said that had the Gore campaign not taken so much time during the protest phase of the election, there would have been more time in the contest phase of the election for these court battles to proceed. So they say if time is running short, then that is the fault of the Gore campaign and not the fault of the Bush campaign.


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Thursday, November 30, 2000

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