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Gov. George W. Bush Delivers Statement on Dick Cheney's Health, Florida Supreme Court Ruling on Manual Recounts

Aired November 22, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney is hospitalized here in Washington after complaining of chest and shoulder pain. He was admitted overnight and initial tests indicate it was not a heart attack. He's resting comfortably as doctors perform additional tests.

The 59-year-old Cheney was given a clean bill of health by his doctor in July, though he has a history of heart problems. He's had mild heart attacks in 1978, '84 and '88. That same year, 1988, he underwent a quadruple bypass surgery. An exam four years ago found no progression in heart disease.

We want to take you over to the hospital. Eileen O'Connor is there. We're going to bring you up to date on the recount procedure in just a moment, but first to Eileen and the medical story -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Frank, the hospital here has said that Secretary Cheney came a little after 5:00, and he has actually been admitted. They did some blood tests, enzyme -- looking at enzyme levels. If there was a heart attack, those enzyme levels would be elevated. They were normal. Also an EKG. It was normal.

Now, the Bush campaign is stressing this wasn't really pain but more discomfort. Obviously there could be several reasons for that. It could also, given his history of heart disease, one likely culprit is angina, which is just a constriction of the blood vessel, and also it would slow down the oxygen to the muscles...

SESNO: All right, Eileen, let me jump in here. Here's George W. Bush. We're about to hear his statement.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning I talked to Secretary Cheney. We had a very good conversation. He sounded really strong, and he informed me that, as a precautionary measure, he went into the hospital. He was feeling chest pains, and turns out that subsequent tests, blood tests, and the initial EKG showed that he had no heart attack. I'm pleased to report that.

I know all Americans join me and Laura in wishing him all the best. Looking forward to talking to him this afternoon to continue strategizing about this election and the election results. I am disappointed with last night's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. We believe the justices have used the bench to change Florida's election laws and usurp the authority of Florida's election officials.

We believe the court overreached. Writing laws is the duty of the legislature; administering laws is the duty of the executive branch.

Two weeks after the presidential election, a court has decided that Florida's deadline for counting votes and certifying votes was not a deadline at all. The court has decided that the selective recounting of votes that have already been counted at least two times, and in some cases three or four times, will continue more than a week after the law says it should. And the court has ordered that the secretary of state must accept all this.

The court had cloaked its ruling in legalistic language, but make no mistake, the court rewrote the law. It changed the rules, and it did so after the election was over.

Manual recounts will continue in three selective counties, with no uniform standards, no clear direction, and therefore no fair or accurate result.

Even as recently as this morning, the rules changed in one of the three counties, and Democrats are trying to change the rules in another.

The effect of the court's opinion will be that voters' votes are being evaluated differently in different parts of Florida. Some votes that were cast legitimately may be offset by votes that were not.

Voters who cast their ballots in accordance with the rules, in accordance with law, have rights. And voters who choose not to cast a vote for president have that right, and no one else has the right to make their choice for them.

Voters who clearly punched preferences in other races on the ballot, but did not do so in the presidential race, should not have their vote interpreted by local officials in a process that invites human error and mischief.

All Americans want a fair and accurate count of the votes in Florida, and I believe if there is a fair and accurate count of the votes in Florida, we will prevail.

If Vice President Gore is seeking some common ground, I propose a good place to start: He should join me in calling upon all appropriate authorities in Florida to make sure that overseas military ballots that were signed and received on time count in this election. Our men and women in uniform overseas should not lose their right to vote. I hope the vice president will personally support me in this call.

I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida. And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.

It is important that votes are counted accurately, and it's equally important that votes be counted fairly and in a process that is seen to be fair.

As we approach our national holiday of Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for. We should be thankful that we live in the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.

Laura and I wish all our fellow Americans and their families a happy Thanksgiving. Thank you very much and God bless.


BUSH: Not that I know of.

QUESTION: Governor, do you plan to appeal the Florida Supreme Court decision?

BUSH: We will refer you to my lawyers in Florida. Jim Baker is doing a good job.

QUESTION: What options are you considering?

BUSH: I refer you to our folks in Florida; they are -- Jim Baker is in charge of the team in Florida, and he's doing a really good job down there.

QUESTION: Governor, do you feel that the court was biased?

BUSH: I feel the court overstepped its bounds, just like I said in my statement. I think it was a reach.

And as I said, the legislature's job is to write law. It's the executive branch job to interpret law.

Last question, I've got to...

QUESTION: Any misgivings about Secretary Cheney and his selection...


BUSH: No, not at all. Secretary Cheney will make a great vice president. And as I reported today -- I'm pleased to report that he sounded very strong on the telephone.

And he did the right thing. He felt some warning signs, and he went into the hospital and had them checked out.

And he's going to make a great vice president. And America's beginning to see how steady and strong he is.

Last question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) BUSH: I feel great. I believe I'm going to win, particularly if the vote is accurately and fairly counted.

Like many Americans, I am amazed at what I see on the TV set, the changing of rules on a regular basis.

If somebody doesn't like what's happening one day, they try to change the rules the next.

But I'm confident that, when it's all said and done, the vote will stand in Florida, so I feel great.

I'm looking forward to a good Thanksgiving meal, I might add, with my family.

And Dick Cheney is healthy. He did not have a heart attack. He did the right thing. Anybody who tells you -- anybody who's had heart conditions will tell you that if there's any sign, any warning sign at all, it's important to have it checked out, and that's what he's done. And I was so pleased to hear his voice this morning; he sounded strong and vibrant.

Thank you all. I hope you have a good Thanksgiving.

Bill, good to see you.

QUESTION: Governor, why do you think the vote in Florida is so untrustworthy?

SESNO: A very deliberate, very strong statement from George W. Bush just now, first and foremost reinforcing that Secretary Cheney, in his view, is in good health and will make a great vice president, in his words, clearly showing no indication that the health issues raises any concerns in his mind about his fitness to proceed with the campaign, and should they get enough votes, with his fitness to proceed in office.

Then a very, very harsh criticism, critique of the Florida state Supreme Court, which last night, as you now know, ordered that the counting proceed and that the secretary of state accept it. The governor of Texas saying that the court rewrote the law, changed the rules, and did so after the election was over, and that no fair or accurate result would come of this. Then he went on to say in very strong form -- strong ways that the votes -- voters, rather, should not have their votes interpreted by people -- this now referring to the count that's under way in these three counties -- that this process opens itself up to, in the governor's words, "mischief" and "error."

And finally this: A strong signal from the governor that what we're hearing from other Republicans is in his mind too, and that is that this election, in a sense, is being stolen out from under him. "Secretary Cheney and I," he said, "won the vote in Florida. We believe that some are determined to keep counting and to change the legitimate result."

To Jeanne Meserve, who is covering the governor and was listening to this statement right along with us.

Strong stuff, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frank, but we didn't get the answer we wanted, which is what are they going to do next? Everybody has wondered since the Florida Supreme Court ruled last night what they do since the hand counts are going forward. Jim Baker refused to tell us last night, the governor referred all questions to his legal team in Florida. That means Jim Baker.

There were possible hints here, however. He raised those constitutional questions: Did the Florida Supreme Court step out of its bounds in trying to rewrite electoral law? And were there constitutional questions raised by the fact that these hand counts are only going forward in three counties? Does that give weights in different parts of the state different value?

So there may have been a hint there, but we didn't get the answer we wanted.

The other thing I noted quite strongly was the challenge to Vice President Gore. The vice president, in his two public remarks in the past week, has challenged Gov. Bush with the idea of a meeting. Well, today Gov. Bush returned fire and said, well, I challenge you on this issue of overseas military ballots. We both know this has been extraordinarily controversial since last Saturday. The Bush campaign maintaining that the Gore campaign went through a concerted effort to have those votes discounted because they didn't include a postmark.

There have been mitigating comments from vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman and Florida's attorney general, saying, well gee, if they're signed and dated by Election Day, they should be counted. But here we had Gov. Bush saying to Vice President Al Gore, you step up to the plate. I want to hear you say that those ballots should be included.

This has been a very potent weapon for the Republicans; clearly the governor trying to use it one more time -- Frank.

SESNO: Jeanne, two points: The governor did not make any reference to the Florida state legislature, which Secretary Baker did last night in terms of a next step. And on those overseas ballots, the Bush campaign feels there are more votes for their man there.

MESERVE: That's right. They guess that there are about 900 to 1,100 overseas military ballots that were excluded for lack of a postmark. Their belief has always been the majority of those would go to George W. Bush. So of course they do want to see them counted, hopefully to increase George W. Bush's margin in the state of Florida.

There was another part to that question, Frank. I've now forgotten what it was.

SESNO: The reference to the state legislature.

MESERVE: There was no reference. SESNO: Right.

MESERVE: You're absolutely right. And Jim Baker did raise that last night and say, this is one avenue that we could explore. Maybe the state legislature wants to step in here and reconsider exactly and exert its authority about how electors from the state of Florida are chosen. No reference to that here by Gov. Bush. We don't know what it signifies because we don't know what their next step is going to be.

Frank, I was also struck by his comments about Secretary Cheney, obviously wanting to portray him as a man who's up to the job, saying he sounded very strong in our conversations. He's going to continue to take an active role in strategizing about what we do next, clearly wanting to quell any qualms people may have about the state of Secretary Cheney's health at this point -- Frank.

SESNO: All right, Jeanne Meserve, we'll be back to you for sure. Thanks very much.

Over to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider now.

Bill, this issue that we heard George W. Bush raise on the legitimacy of the count, the sense that something really wrong is going on here.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. It was very tough talk, which I think will have the effect of encouraging the already strong Republican belief the Democrats are trying to steal the election. I mean, look at what he said: "I believe," he said, "Dick Cheney and I won Florida." Well, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman believe they won Florida, too. Gov. Bush said, "some are determined to keep counting in order to change the result," to change the result.

If he believes "we," the Republicans, won Florida and others want to keep counting and counting and counting until they get the result they want, they're trying to steal the election.

SESNO: Bill, I've been talking to Republicans, a lot of them, this morning and others, you know, who are talking in turn to other Republicans. And I'm hearing terms like "slow motion," "grand larceny," that the outrage is higher than it ever was during impeachment. Republicans are furious over this because they very much believe, as the governor laid out, that Florida belonged to him and this is theft.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. We saw a week ago, last weekend when we polled Republicans nationwide, over 40 percent of them said that they would -- these were not Republicans, I should point out, these were Bush supporters nationwide. Over 40 percent of them said that they would not accept Al Gore as a legitimate president if he is declared the winner; 26 percent of Democrats said they would not accept George Bush. But if there was 41 percent of Republicans who said they wouldn't accept Bush -- Gore as a legitimate president, that number must be growing. I would guess it's growing. We'll see again when we poll this weekend. But that is an extraordinary number. If we get to a majority of Republicans who would not accept Al Gore, that would really be critical.

SESNO: Some real concern, Bill, from some senior Republicans that this thing, in the words of one, is "spiraling out of control" and going into dangerous places.

SCHNEIDER: And he also talked about courts usurping their authority. That also touches a chord with Republicans, who have also objected to what they regard as judicial activism, judicial overreach. I think that was a critical point he made, too.

SESNO: Bill Schneider, thanks.

To Chris Black now who's been tracking the Gore campaign.

Again, a challenge, as we heard, to Al Gore as this process continues, Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frank, the Gore campaign says that the highest court in Florida has spoken and that that should be the end of it. The Florida Supreme Court sets the final word on Florida state law, and they say there's just no dispute about that.

They also say that Republicans are way over -- making way too much of the military ballots issue. To the best of their estimates, there were maybe 200 of those ballots that were thrown out because of missing a postmark. And their own Bob Butterworth, who is the state attorney general and a leader of the Gore campaign in Florida, has urged those local officials to revisit those ballots and count them if all that was missing was just a postmark.

Meanwhile today, the vice president at this hour is at a community center here in Washington helping prepare Thanksgiving Day meals for the needy. This is something he does every year, something that is of great interest to his wife Tipper, who has gone under cover here in Washington to work with the homeless.

The vice president is very much trying to stay above the fray and adopt a statesmanlike posture, going so far last night as to say he would refuse to accept any elector pledged to George W. Bush -- Frank.

SESNO: All right, Chris Black, thanks very much.



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