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Bush, Cheney Deliver Statements on Election; Communications Director, Chief Strategist Hold News Briefing

Aired November 8, 2000 - 1:46 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we are about to hear from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. We are picking up this videotape made just a short while ago in Austin, Texas. After the two candidates speak, we will be hearing from the George W. Bush spokeswoman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning brings news from Florida that the final vote count there shows that Secretary Cheney and I have carried the state of Florida. And if that result is confirmed in an automatic recount, as we expect it will be, we have won the election.

The recount is already under way, and I understand the secretary of state of Florida has announced to the media that it will be completed by 5 p.m. tomorrow.

We have asked former United States Secretary of State James Baker to travel to Florida on our behalf. He's a man of impeccable credentials and integrity, and someone the American people can trust to make sure the outcome is finalized as quickly as possible and in a calm and thoughtful manner.

The strength of our American democracy was displayed in this exciting election, a close contest that produced a huge turnout. I want to thank all the supporters who worked hard on our behalf.

I also want to thank the vice president's supporters for their hard work and their belief in their cause. I want to assure them that should the election go the way that we think it will that I will work hard to earn their confidence.

America has a long tradition of uniting once elections are over.

Secretary Cheney and I will do everything in our power to unite the nation, to call upon the best, to bring people together after one of the most exciting elections in our nation's history.

Mr. Secretary?

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would simply add to what the governor said, that we look forward to getting this matter resolved as quickly as possible, so we can get on with the important business of transition, and are optimistic that once this process is complete, as the governor has said, that there will be a clear and decisive result, once the final count is completed in Florida tomorrow.

QUESTION: Governor, can you describe the events of last night and the phone call from the vice president?

BUSH: I got two phone calls and it was -- we had a good discussion. Last night was obviously a historic moment. And it's going to be resolved in a quick way. I'm confident that the secretary and I will become the president-elect and the vice president-elect in short order.

QUESTION: What will you do, Governor, if the popular vote goes one way, the electoral vote goes the other, Governor?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: George W. Bush and his running mate Dick Cheney at the Governor's mansion in Austin, Texas stepping out to speak with reporters and obviously not willing to answer questions at this stage. Sending James Baker, former White House chief of staff, into Florida to represent the Republican campaign in that recount. The Democrats sending in Warren Christopher, former secretary of state.

Here is Karen Hughes, spokeswoman now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH COMMUNICATIONS DIR.: I understand that it was an emotional moment for the vice president. I'm sure it was a difficult one.

There were two phone calls. The first one, the vice president made to concede the election and congratulate Governor Bush. The governor told him he was a good man, and that he had a respect -- that he respected him. The governor also told him that he understood that this was difficult for him and for his family, and that he gave his best to Tipper and to the vice president's children. The second phone call was approximately an hour later. It was certainly a surprise that someone who had called to concede the election was calling back to retract that concession. And I think the governor sought to clarify that that was in fact what was happening. I heard the conversation, he said, "Let me make sure I understand. You're calling me back to retract your concession," or something to that effect. And he said the final outcome was, "Well, Mr. Vice President, you need to do what you have to do." And that was pretty much the crux of it.

It was an amazing -- it was an amazing night. As you all know, since you lived through it, I watched it this morning on televisions in excerpts, and I thought that maybe it had all been a dream, and then I realized I was awake the whole time.

The governor had -- you all are probably interested in his schedule. He got to bed, he said, about 3:30. He slept for only about three hours. His usual morning routine, he said he did make the coffee and he did feed the animals -- now that's commitment, after three hours of sleep. And he had coffee with his parents before they left to return to Houston.

He has spent most of the morning -- he said he's responded to e- mail. He's been on the telephone.

He called the majority leader and the speaker of the House this morning, to touch base with them. He has done some mail and been on the phone mainly with people across the country.

QUESTION: Can describe for us what Secretary Baker's responsibilities will be in Florida? And does this suggest that you're concerned about vote fraud?

HUGHES: No. I think we have -- the governor has asked Secretary Baker to go just to oversee the process on our behalf. He is someone with a distinguished career of public service. He has impeccable credentials and is well-known for his integrity, and I think he will be a calming presence.

We expect this all to take place quickly. The secretary of state this morning indicated that this would be concluded by, she felt, tomorrow night at 5 p.m. We contacted Secretary Baker a short time ago and my understanding is that arrangements are being made for him to fly to Florida as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Has Tony Evans have already gone to Florida?

HUGHES: No, he has not. He is here.

QUESTION: Will Secretary Baker be allowed to monitor the actual recount or will he be requesting that access?

HUGHES: I don't know that at this point. I think he will be there to be a representative for Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney, should there be a need for that.

QUESTION: What about the absentee ballots? Could it be 10 days before we know who the next president is?

HUGHES: My understanding is that the secretary of state has indicated she expects the count to be complete by tomorrow. And, as you all, I'm sure, know, I checked with Karl, our political guru, and historically recounts tend to almost always confirm the initial result, and the initial final result this morning shows Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney winning the state of Florida by more than 1,700 votes.

QUESTION: How will Governor Bush spend the rest of his day?

HUGHES: He is going to have lunch with Secretary Cheney and Mrs. Cheney and Mr. Bush. I imagine he will again be on the phone, talking with members of our staff, and be in touch with the returns from the state of Florida.

QUESTION: Looking back, this is hindsight, do you now wish you had spent more time in Florida, particularly earlier before the Republican Convention and before the Democratic Convention?

HUGHES: I'm sure there is plenty of time for that. But as you know, we spent 24 hours of the final 48 hours in the state of Florida, that full Sunday before the election.

I think it became clear over the course of the fall that Florida was going to be a contest. And given the fact that Jeb Bush won the governor's race in 1998 and lost it in 1994, and that President Clinton won the presidential race in 1996, but President Bush won it barely in 1992, I think the history of Florida has shown that it is a battleground, and it proved to be the case last night.

QUESTION: What sort of mandate do you have, Karen, if you win by such a slim margin?

HUGHES: Well, I think a victory would be a testimony to the power of Governor Bush's ideas and his agenda. By all rights, he should not be close in this election. We have a strong -- there is the right track, wrong track measure, which is frequently used as a measure of how people will vote strongly on the right track side. I think I saw last night that it was in the high 50s to the low 30s.

We are in a time of peace and prosperity and we were up against an incumbent, and so I think the fact that it appears that Governor Bush may prevail is a strong testimony to the power of his ideas on Social Security.

I noticed the exit polling showed that a strong majority of voters agreed with Governor Bush's plan, the need to reform the Social Security system.

And so I think that the victory will be a testimony to the power of his agenda for the future of the country.

QUESTION: How do we characterize his conversations with Republican leaders in the House or Senate? Did they congratulate him as a president-elect?

HUGHES: Judy, I don't know the answer to that question. They had cordial conversations; he was briefing them and letting them know what the status was.

QUESTION: What do you think happened between the day before yesterday, when we were looking at a popular vote victory of 9 percent in your view, and possibly of 323 -- or even up to 340 in some Bush campaign aides' estimations -- an Electoral College wipeout, and now we're into this recount situation. What happened? What changed the dynamics?

HUGHES: Well, I don't know that it's accurate to say it changed. I think if you -- the -- I think that for almost six weeks now, people have been saying this was going to be a close election and that proved to be the case.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the confidence of the American people in the electoral process, with the popular vote going one way and the electoral vote going in the other? And, if so, is that one of the reasons you're sending Secretary Baker to Florida to try to restore some of that confidence?

HUGHES: Well, I think actually the election was a validation of the process. We have a wonderful democracy. We had a large turnout. We had a close contest. And it was an exciting election, I think, for everyone who was involved, maybe a little too exciting in a few moments.

But I think the American -- we have -- we do have -- our democracy does have processes in place and they are -- we're in the midst of those processes right now. And so, I think people can be reassured that those will be conducted and they -- in a fair and open manner.

QUESTION: Karen, if you take yourself back to yesterday around 6 when it looked like Florida was going to go toward Gore, can you just recount a little bit about the emotion and what President Bush and Barbara Bush said to their son to kind of help him through a very tumultuous evening? HUGHES: They were very calm. When I arrived, it was after the networks had declared the state of Florida for Vice President Gore and everything -- they were very calm. They were watching the returns.

I think the feeling on our campaign's part was that that was a premature prediction on the part of the networks. The reports we were getting from the ground in Florida indicated otherwise. And I think it turned out that that was correct on our part.

Our reports from the ground were encouraging to us during that period of time, because we were hearing from Florida that it didn't -- that we didn't think -- that we thought that we would carry Florida.

QUESTION: The governor never believed that, when it was first announced, that Florida went...

HUGHES: I think we were always skeptical, because the reports that we were getting from the ground in Florida indicated that Florida was, in fact, very close and that we felt that we had good turnout in areas where we felt we needed to do well.

QUESTION: Didn't the campaign ask the networks -- didn't you contact the networks and asked them to reconsider their call of Florida?

HUGHES: I believe Karl may have had some discussions. Karl, did you contact the networks?

ROVE: Members of the campaign staff did contact the networks. What was ironic was the...

(LOSS OF SATELLITE FEED) ROVE: ... state that was a lot closer, even in their own exit polling. And what to me was most ironic was to give it to -- to announce it before the polls even closed in that state.

Florida is a state split between the Eastern Time Zone and the Western Time Zone -- or excuse me, the Central Time Zone -- and essentially parts of the first -- all of the First Congressional District and part of the Second Congressional District or the panhandle are in the Central Time Zone and the polls were still opened for about 35 minutes after the point at which most of the networks had called Florida for Al Gore. Which, you know, we came out of the First Congressional District, the panhandle's western most district, with about 100,000 vote margin.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting that the networks demonstrated some political bias in the states they choose to call from those they did not?

ROVE: No, I just think that they're standards were different for one set of states than for another, and there are states like Ohio and West Virginia in which the Bush margin was substantial and, yet, they did not call those states, but they rushed, for whatever reasons of their own.

Last night, one of the network anchors said they call the state whenever 75 percent of the polls in that state had closed, which I thought was just sort of an unusual statement.

QUESTION: The second time that they called in your favor, were you surprised they called again? And what did your vote count out at that point and did you anticipate a recount anyway?

ROVE: We thought it would be close. I can't remember exactly what the number was when they called it. But, you know, look, it's up to them to decide when they're going to call states. I just thought the early count was premature. It particularly hurt us on the West Coast where literally people got up and walked out of our phone centers when Florida was called and went home.

QUESTION: Did you anticipate a recount?

ROVE: We anticipated it would be a close election.

QUESTION: Do you believe that your phone calls had any role in persuading the networks to pull Florida back from Gore early in the evening?

ROVE: I doubt it.

QUESTION: Do you think you had bad information going into the election, Karl?

And secondly to that, what will it say, if the governor loses the popular vote and becomes the Electoral College victor in terms of his ability to govern? ROVE: Well, Americans have a tradition of uniting behind their leaders, their new leaders after an election, and we're confident that will happen here.

Look, what happened in this election at the end was they got out their vote and they got it out big time. And we got ours out, fortunately, in critical states a little bit better. But they did a terrific -- my hat's off -- our hats are off to Donna Brazile and her crew. They did a fabulous job of generating their vote.

QUESTION: When did you see the Florida votes starting to slip from you?

ROVE: Pardon me?

QUESTION: When did you realize that Florida might be lost. I know it isn't clear that it is lost.

ROVE: See, I did not believe it was lost right from the beginning because the evidence was simply not there. We were overperforming in a whole range of counties -- Clay County, St. Johns County, Escambia, you know, Okaloosa. There are a whole series of counties in which we were doing better than we needed to that were coming in early, and the big Democrat counties -- Broward, Palm Beach and Dade -- were not yet in.

So it struck me that it was a little bit premature that, particularly when you looked at the counties, that they had I suspect not really fully taken into consideration these counties in the western-most part of the panhandle -- Panama City, basically to the west. They had not taken that into consideration in their call, because they had no precinct returns from those precincts to factor in to their decision to make this call because the polls had not closed in those precincts yet. They were on Central time zones.

QUESTION: Was it the Social Security issue that hurt you the most in Florida? ROVE: No, you know, what helped win it for us in Florida was the Social Security issue. Governor Bush took on the so-called third rail of American politics and survived.

HUGHES: Thank you all very much. Let's go before we all freeze to death.

QUESTION: Will the numbers of the Bush campaign be overseeing the recount? And are you worried about voter fraud?

ROVE: I'm confident there will be a fair count in Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: Karen Hughes, the Bush communications director, and the chief strategist, Karl Rove, briefing reporters of what happened last night.

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