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Who Will Be the Next President?

Aired November 9, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE, or should we say welcome to "The Twilight Zone"? Across Florida they're still counting votes. Across America, we are all still wondering who our next president will be.

And tonight, we don't know a lot more than we did same time last night, except this: One, with a recount still underway, Governor Bush still leads in Florida. Two, there are still thousands of absentee ballots to be counted and until they are, the outcome in Florida will remain uncertain. Three, a legal challenge to the ballot in Palm Beach County has been filed by residents who claim they mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan. No wonder it's confusing.

So, tonight, we're going to try to sort it all out, first, by getting the lay of the land, then by looking at the legal and the political aspects of it all. We start with CNN's Patty Davis down in Tallahassee.

Patty, please tell us. There are all these numbers. What is the margin right now, really, between Governor Bush and Vice President Gore?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You are right. There are a lot of numbers out there. First let me tell you what the numbers are. And I will tell you why they are different. The Associated Press is reporting 65 of 67 counties have given their numbers and they show that the recount -- in that recount, Bush is ahead by 225 votes, very small margin. Now, the secretary of state just came out about an hour ago, held a press conference showing their numbers, now, that Bush is ahead by 1,784 votes. The recount showing 53 counties have now turned in their numbers to the state, 14 still missing.

Now, the reason -- what's going on here is that Associated Press is actually in some of these counties. These 14 counties have not given their numbers officially to the state of Florida. So, they are not being included yet in the state of Florida's numbers. The state of Florida's numbers of 1,784, they include old numbers as well as new numbers from all these counties, the old numbers from the 14 counties that haven't yet reported, the new numbers from the 53 counties that have reported. So, it's all very confusing at this point -- Bill.

PRESS: It is indeed, Patty, thank you.

That at least tells us what the count is right now and this matter is certain to go from, as Mary said, the people's house to the courthouse. To help us sort out legal tangles that we may be facing, Greta Van Susteren, the co-host of CNN's "BURDEN OF PROOF" is also in Tallahassee.

Greta, first of all, there was a challenge filed in federal court today in Palm Beach County, but we understand it was with withdrawn. What was the claim in that lawsuit and what happened to it?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST, CNN "BURDEN OF PROOF": Well, it's interesting that it was withdrawn. Let me tell you, first of all, it was filed in federal court. Here is what I think happened behind the scenes. And I think that the lawyers that filed it realized that this case really belonged in state court. And let me tell you why.

Because, in Florida state court, what the people on behalf of Gore would have to prove, the voters, they are the ones that are wronged, is that they would have to show that there was a substantial irregularity in the voting process down here in Florida. And if, indeed, there is an irregularity, they must then show the judge that it was material and that it establishes a reasonable doubt whether or not the election manifests the will of the people.

And I think what happened is the lawyers on behalf of the gentlemen today realized it doesn't belong in federal court, it belongs in state court. My guess, in the next day or two, we are going to see the same case, maybe not the same parties, but the same case filed in state court. That's where it probably belongs.

PRESS: And is there, could there ever be a federal issue? I mean, could this ever get from the state court all the way up to the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land? What are we looking at?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, sure, it could end up in federal court. But I have to tell you the most attractive environment for the voters right now is the Florida state court because the highest court in Florida in 1998 issued a decision in which they said that if you have an election where you have these incidents of irregularity, the court can invalidate the election.

Now, on the Bush side, the court did say some level of incompetence is tolerated. The question is, what level of irregularity, what level of incompetence is tolerated? And, of course, that hinges on the question of substantial. If it's substantial irregularities, that's not tolerated. If it's insubstantial, that's probably OK.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: All right, but Greta, much turns on the timing of the discovery of this so-called irregularity. This ballot was produced in time to publicize it, to send it around to voters. Isn't if there is an irregularity, doesn't the law provide that that should be accounted for at the point of design of the ballot?

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Mary, let me play devil's advocate with you and let me tell you what the flip side would be, is that when someone says OK, when some Democratic representative says, OK, we like the ballot, they are not speaking for me. They are not speaking for all the Democrats. They are not speaking for the independents. And that's an argument, that I'm sure, if this case does go to state, court will be an argument raised by the Republican side of this issue. Who knows how this is going to be resolved?

MATALIN: Greta, I'm not asking you a political question, I'm asking you a legal question. Doesn't the law say that if the ballot was circulated in advance, that's the time to call attention to what could be -- end up as an irregularity?

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not saying it's a legal -- it's not necessarily a political question, Mary, it's a legal question how a judge looks at the evidence. And what the judge is really going to be looking at, if there is a substantial irregularity, if the court is satisfied by that, the judge will then make a decision whether the will of the people is represented by the election.

Different people might have different views on that and that's why it's so important, you know, when a judge looks at this, that the judge have all the information. But at this point, it's much too early. And both sides are going to split hairs, and Republicans are going to be accusing the Democrats. The Democrats are going to be accusing the Republicans. But at this point, what both sides need be to looking for is whether irregularities were substantial or not.

PRESS: Greta, lets look at the ballot itself. Everybody has been faxed a copy of the Florida law. Suddenly we have experts in the Florida law governing the what the ballot has to look like. But there seem to be two provisions in where the little holes have to be placed to the right of the candidate's name and that one candidate has to be under the other one.

Have you looked at that and do you think they are legitimate questions that the ballot itself under Florida law was not in the proper legal form?

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think the ballot was a problem, Bill, and I will tell you why, is that there is one section, I don't really know if people are looking at, which relates to electronic or electromechanical voting. And in that particular case, what the law says down here, it says, voting squares may be placed in front of or in back of the names of candidates and statements. And that's the kind of voting we had here in Palm Beach. I'm not so sure that's a particularly strong argument for the people who say that they intended to vote for Vice President Gore and they think they may have voted for Pat Buchanan.

Now, the whole issue, though -- I don't think that's a particularly strong issue for them. I think the better issue is whether or not they were confused and that there were irregularities associated with, perhaps, the way the ballot was set up, in terms of they couldn't really tell from the location whether they were voting one for the other. That might be an irregularity that is substantial. I don't know. A judge will make that determination.

MATALIN: OK, counsel Greta, let's get out of this thicket here in Palm Beach and into the big picture. Do any of these impending challenges -- and the Gore campaign is threatening all sorts of them, or supporting all sorts of them -- would any of these impending challenges delay the immediate outcome of this election, which the secretary of elections, or whatever her title is, says is going to be -- her certification is going to come November 17? Will any of these challenges preclude that outcome?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, first of all, Mary, these challenges aren't coming from Gore because what the Supreme Court says in Florida is that these are voters' rights. They are the people that are wronged in this case, not the vice president. If anybody is wronged here it's the voters and not the vice president.

At the moment, this election procedure can go forward. Nobody has stopped it. It would, in my view, take a court saying, look, I'm going to issue an injunction and say Florida cannot certify election results. At that point, that would then stymie the process. That hasn't happened yet.

It's also possible that lawsuits could be filed and a judge may think it's a particularly good lawsuit but not issue an injunction stopping the state of Florida from certifying their election and sending their electors to vote on December 18th. So, it needs an act of the court to actually stop the process. That hasn't occurred.

MATALIN: Great, Greta, thank you so much and for all of you who have even more questions, we have barely scratched the surface.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you like my friends behind me?

PRESS: Good taste, Greta.

MATALIN: We see you're standing right in front of the shirtless ones. That's so you, Greta. Well, Greta, I'm sure our viewers will have more questions for you.

And if you do, you don't want miss CROSSFIRE's on-line double- header. The first debate, that Greta Van Susteren that you just saw, our legal analyst, will be on our site after the show followed by Gore supporter Mark Mellman and Bush supporter Bill Paxon. That addresses is Stay tuned, we will be right back.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Getting results of the first election of the new millennium is taking longer than most in the last century. Even when Florida completes its count, other states' margins are narrowing, presenting potential recounting challenges and more delays. Will the wrangling diminish the dignity of the office?

Two veterans take the measure of this remarkable election: Republican strategist Bill Paxon, a Bush adviser, and Democratic strategist Mark Mellman, a Gore supporter.

Mark, let me just start with of the dueling press conferences today what is -- what appears to be this whole thing is turning on, and that's the Palm Beach County ballot. And this is what Secretary James A. Baker III, who's down on behalf of the Bush team, had to say about that ballot.


JAMES A. BAKER III, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It is a ballot that was approved by an elected Democratic official. It is a ballot that was published in newspapers in that county and provided to the candidates, to the respective political parties in advance of the election in order that complaints, if any, could be registered.

And hey, guess what, there were no complaints until after the election.


MATALIN: OK. The only complaint with the election is that you didn't win. So now you're trying to take this election result out of the hands of the voters and put it into the hands of lawyers.

MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the truth is Bill Clinton -- Al Gore did win the popular vote in this election. Al Gore won the popular vote, and he probably won the popular vote in Florida as well. The issue in Palm Beach County is simply this: It's not about which party controlled a particular office. The -- lawyers can dispute whether or not all the procedures were followed, whether or not all the laws were followed. That's a dispute among lawyers.

What's not open to dispute among reasonable people is that some 20,000 people in Palm Beach County were confused, intended to vote for Al Gore, ended up voting for Pat Buchanan...

MATALIN: Excuse me. That is -- that is in dispute.

MELLMAN: ... and didn't want to.


MELLMAN: And that's the honest...


MATALIN: Mark, excuse me. I'll ask the question, you answer it. It's in dispute. This same county, with lower turnout in 1996, had the same number of invalidated ballots for the same reason, double- punched. Maybe there's the same population of confused people, but this is not a new problem in that county. Same number in 1996 for the same problem invalidated.

You can't just make this charge. That charge of invalidation, disenfranchisement is in dispute.

MELLMAN: It's really not in dispute that people were confused. There are a thousand people who themselves have said we were confused.

It's quite clear. You don't get three times as many people voting for Pat Buchanan in this county as you do in counties that are twice and three times as large as Palm Beach County. It's simply ridiculous.

You've shown the charts here on CNN about the difference in the Pat Buchanan vote in Palm Beach County as compared to every other county in the state of Florida. There's no dispute about confusion.

There may be a dispute about whether we care whether people were confused. You can argue we don't care. The procedures that were followed, the people were confused, that's their problem.

But nobody can argue reasonably that people weren't confused.

PRESS: Bill Paxon, before we get to the Palm Beach show, I want to talk about the main event, which is the count in Florida, the vote in Florida. And picking up on what Mark said, just reminding us all and everybody watching that Al Gore did win popular vote. Nobody so far has one the electoral vote, although Al Gore is ahead in that. And there is under way in Florida an automatic recount that neither campaign asked for, but the state of Florida, the law just automatically triggered it.

Now, I want to go back and ask you this question. So next Tuesday, all the counties will have reported, certified to the secretary of state. The difference is now 225 votes.

If next Tuesday Al Gore leads in the popular vote in Florida, thereby winning Florida's electoral votes, are you ready to say -- is the Bush campaign ready to say, congratulations, it's over, Mr. President-elect, I'm with you.

BILL PAXON, BUSH ADVISER: Well, a few things. First of all, excuse my voice. The Bush camp -- Governor Bush wants an honest count to determine who's going to be president. The Gore team obviously today wants trial lawyers, lawsuits, Chicago tactics, and street theater to determine who's going to be the president of the United States.

You know, Bill Daley was on election night saying the campaign continues. Today, ABC just said the Gore campaign is waging war. These are Clintonesque tactics, campaign forever, war. This is what Governor Bush was fighting against.

And the answer to your question is simple. Next Tuesday, they're going to have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) machines. By next Friday, they're going to have the count from the overseas ballots come in.

By the way, in Florida last time, Bob Dole only got 38 percent of the vote statewide, got 54 percent of those overseas ballots. We're also going to see what happens in Iowa and Wisconsin (UNINTELLIGIBLE) when there's recounts, because they're getting very close. Gore's margin has dropped and dropped and dropped there.

Let's see what happens in all these states as we move forward. New Mexico, where there's 27,000 ballots yet to be counted, in the state of Washington, Oregon, on and on. There's a lot of states where Governor Bush was behind narrowly, but he's catching up. PRESS: So what I hear you saying is, first of all, you start out political slamming the Gore campaign, and then you end up saying that you are going to fight and fight and drag this out until you win, no matter it takes, and even if it takes tearing down the country. Isn't that what you're saying?

PAXON: Two points. Bill, it's the Gore campaign that's talked about campaign...

PRESS: You just did it!

PAXON: ... and a war. All we want is an honest vote count. We want an honest vote count.

Bill, you know who caused this problem? Listen to this. Who caused this problem? This network and every other one when they jumped the gun and announced these numbers before the polls were closed. In Florida, 75 percent of the vote was in. There were many hundreds of thousands of people that didn't have a chance to vote. They -- where were they? They were in the Panhandle, the next time zone, that voted overwhelmingly for Bush. Governor Bush would be even further ahead.

Where else did it hurt? It hurt across this country when they wouldn't call Ohio and West Virginia, which had huge Bush margins, and yet in Florida they rushed to judgment.

Governor Bush would be way ahead in the popular vote today. He would have this state and others, and we would have had other congressional races.

That phenomenon is clear. You're from California. You know what happens when they call those numbers on the East Coast.

PRESS: I know what happens when you're losing and you won't admit it.

PAXON: This network and every other -- this network and every other is responsible.

MATALIN: And I want to go to this politicalization, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) indisputable fact, because you are fomenting turbulence down there: Jesse Jackson is down there today. The rent-a- riot is down there today. And he's making a point that you're saying is indisputable, that Pat Buchanan couldn't possibly get that number of votes.

His campaign manager said today that in that county, in 1996, he received three times that number of votes in that county. He received 9,000 votes in Palm Beach County.

It happens to be an anomalous county where there's a hotbed of Reform activity. Yes, the secretary -- excuse me. The Florida...

MELLMAN: Pat Buchanan himself said that there's no possible way he could have received those votes. MATALIN: Mark, Mark, Pat Buchanan does -- does not like the Bushes. He ran against...

MELLMAN: But his campaign manager does. You're quoting his campaign manager. I'm quoting the man himself.

MATALIN: I'm quoting the facts. I'm quoting the facts. Pat just said -- Pat -- who gave the facts. You can look it up. The Florida Department of State said that's how many votes that Pat got in 1996.

MELLMAN: He did not get 22,000 votes in 1996. That's not true.

PAXON: He got 9,000...

MATALIN: He got 9,000 in Palm Beach County.

MELLMAN: The fact is very simple -- in a primary -- that no reasonable person can look at these numbers and suggest that Pat Buchanan got three times as many votes...

MATALIN: Yes, a reasonable person could. The Florida Department of State is saying that the registration...


Do you want to look at the facts or do you want to talk about a reasonable (UNINTELLIGIBLE) standard? Here are the facts.

MELLMAN: No, the facts -- the facts are that there are a thousand people...

MATALIN: There was 110 percent increase of registration for Reform Party in that county for this election.

MELLMAN: And there's many more people who voted for -- whose ballots were disqualified than registered for the Reform Party. The simple facts -- the simple fact is that many people do deserve -- there are a thousand people who've said they were confused. They've already written signed statements.


PRESS: I have a question for you about Palm Beach. I also want to point out, whatever happened four years ago, that was before Pat Buchanan wrote a book that said we made a mistake going to war against Adolf Hitler in World War II.

PAXON: Pat Buchanan got a lot fewer votes this time everywhere then he did four years ago.

PRESS: I recall before you became a very famous and wealthy lobbyist here in Washington, that you were a member of Congress and a good one from up in Buffalo, New York. I just want you to look at this situation. If you were involved in a tight race up in Buffalo in a heavy Republican district and you end up even losing and you find out there were 19,000 ballots that were tossed out in one of your counties, wouldn't you at least -- to be fair -- wouldn't you at least raise the legal issue or at least look at those ballots and say, what the hell happened?

PAXON: Every ballot should be counted. That's what Governor Bush wants, every honest ballot to be counted. There is not an election district in this country, Bill, and you know it as a former state Democrat chair, you know there is not an election in this country where there aren't blank, void and scattering ballots where people...

PRESS: Five percent. Five percent.

PAXON: And in this district, four years ago in this district, there were 15,000. You know what the problem is. They've got a Democrat election commissioner down who didn't do her job and clean up the process if that's the problem.

MELLMAN: We're not going the change the result of the presidential election because there's was a bad election official in Palm Beach County.


PAXON: The Constitution does not allow one county to have a revote to determine the votes. If that's the case, then I want those votes in all those places where our people were turned down to vote.


PRESS: Quick last word.

MELLMAN: Fact is Al Gore won the popular vote. He won vote in Florida. If people get to speak Al Gore...

MATALIN: He did not win.


PRESS: I'm told we are definitely out of time. Bill Paxon, thanks for being here. Mark Mellman, thanks for being here. Mary Matalin and I get the last word. Closing comments coming up on CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: OK, don't miss CROSSFIRE's double-header online tonight. First, you can debate CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren and then Gore supporter Mark Mellman and Bush adviser Bill Paxon. That's right after the show at

You know, Mary, this is a long process. Bob Strauss was right, we will survive this. I think what we need, everybody wants and needs is a clean, complete, honest count in Florida, and I have an unusual suggestion for both sides. I think until we get that both sides ought to just shut up and let the process go forward. MATALIN: I am rendered speechless because what I going to attack you for was joining in the slaughterhouse killers, politicizing this, dragging this out, distorting the facts, suggesting that we're going to keep voting until they get result they want. But you are right. But the Bush people have not been doing that. They've been merely responding to Gore people politicizing this.

PRESS: Now, wait a minute. See, there you go. Now, you're pointing the finger. I mean, I saw Karl Rove, Don Evans and Karen Hughes, and I saw Bill Daley and Warren Christopher today.

MATALIN: When did you see them? After Daley's two press conferences.

PRESS: And I saw Dick Cheney and George Bush out there yesterday crowing in front of the mansion saying they won.

MATALIN: Crowing.

PRESS: I'm saying I think both sides, both sides ought to just shut up and let the process go forward. Don't you agree?

MATALIN: I totally agree with that, but the Gore people don't listen to me. They listen to you. So did you hear that, Gore people? Your big, California man is saying shut up. Quit politicizing this.

PRESS: And did you hear that, Bush people? Mary is saying stop talking.

MATALIN: But they're not doing it. They're not doing it.

PRESS: From the left, good night for CROSSFIRE. I'm Bill Press.

MATALIN: And from the quiet right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again next week for more CROSSFIRE. Have a wonderful weekend.



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