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Crossfire

The Florida Recount: Is Patience Wearing Thin With Voters and Capitol Hill?

Aired November 23, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, the nation celebrates Thanksgiving while presidential campaigns continue their local wrangling over campaign 2000 election results. But is patience wearing thin with the voters and on Capitol Hill.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire in Miami, Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, a Gore supporter; and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, a bush supporter.

MATALIN: Well, happy Thanksgiving. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

No holiday hiatus for campaign 2000 electioneers today, or us. As the country counts its blessings, Floridians are counting ballots and presidential lawyers are counting legal briefs. In a major setback for Vice President Gore, the Florida Supreme Court rejected his bid to force a third recount in Democratic stronghold Miami-Dade County, which the vice president believed held a treasure trove of votes.

The Gore campaign immediately vowed to challenge Miami-Dade after Sunday night's court-ordered, statewide certification. Late tonight, the Gore team also challenged Gov. Bush's United States Supreme Court filing claiming there is no federal business in the Sunshine State.

While briefs were flying furiously, counters continued at snail's pace with an eye on the Sunday deadline. George W. Bush has an official statewide lead of 930 votes in Florida, but canvassing boards report that recounts have given Al Gore a net gain of 225 in Broward County, and Bush has a net gain of 14 in Palm Beach County. So Bush's unofficial lead for now is 719 votes.

The numbers released by the canvassing boards do not included about 1,700 disputed ballots in Broward County. Palm Beach County must still review about 300,000 ballots which are counted but not finalized, and as many as 10,000 disputed ballots. Broward County is recounting contested ballots that have that infamous dimpled chad, or have only one corner detached. Palm Beach County has similar rules with an added factor of voter intent in some cases. Got that?

The presidents-in-waiting appeared to have normal Thanksgivings with family and friends. Gov. Bush preceded his potluck feasting with a public, calorie-burning workout. So the wait continues. Are voters going to lose patience if this isn't wrapped up soon? If Gore carries this beyond Sunday, will he face a revolt from his own party? And how will Capitol Hill get along after this historic level of tension.

Bill Press is enjoying his turkey right now but will be your political dessert on "Spin Room" with Tucker Carlson, 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Joining CROSSFIRE tonight, a special holiday treat: Washington correspondent for Salon.com and renowned bon vivant Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SALON.COM: Ah, oui.

MATALIN: Oui. Thank you, Jake. Happy Thanksgiving.

TAPPER: And happy Thanksgiving to you, Mary.

MATALIN: And thank you congresspersons. We're so delighted you would join us.

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: Happy Thanksgiving.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Thank you.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, if I could start with you. And, again, thanks for joining us on this holiday season. I appreciate it.

Your comments have been very measured and stateswoman-like, and I'm sure America and your constituents appreciate it. But many people in your party, their comments have not been that way and the tenor as been rather heated. In fact, this one quote from a congressman, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. He said, quote, "I will use every ounce of energy I have to deny the electors being seated if I believe the political will of the people was thwarted by the son of Mayor Daley of Chicago.

TAPPER: My question for you is, bearing that quote in mind as well as a quote from Congressman Sweeney from New York, calling the Miami-Dade Canvassing Board, quote, "thugs," what is your reaction? Do you think this is helpful at all to this debate?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that it shows the level of frustration that we in the Republican Party are feeling because of this craziness of the counting in Florida where you have no written standard, uniform guidelines to decide which votes will be counted and which votes will not be counted. And it just doesn't make any sense.

For example, let me read to you what the standard was. It's just two sentences. In Palm Beach County, just right before the elections took place, they said that "a chad that is fully attached, bearing only an indentation, should not be counted as a vote. An indentation may result from a voter placing the stylus in the position but not punching through. Thus an indentation is not evidence of intent to cast a vote." Well, that was then, this is now. The rules keep changing. In one county, such an indentation is a vote, but yet in another county an indentation plus another characteristic would constitute a vote. And so you could understand the frustration of our Republican Party where there doesn't seem to be any written, uniform standards. And another thing: We're frustrated...

TAPPER: Right, but Congresswoman, if I can interrupt for one second, and I do apologize, but it's not just the Republican Party that's frustrated, it's the Democratic Party that's frustrated, it's the voters of Florida and the entire United States that's frustrated. And my question for you...

ROS-LEHTINEN: But the ones who are receiving the benefit of this is Al Gore.

TAPPER: But my question for you is, do you think the comments of Curt Weldon and the comments of Congressman Sweeney and the like, the other comments accusing Gore of stealing this election -- comments from Trent Lott and Tom DeLay and Dick Armey saying that the Florida -- very, very heated comments about the Florida Supreme Court -- are these helpful to this process that we're going through? Does this really add anything?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think Curt Weldon is well-versed, for example, on national security and defense issues. And you one of the things that has really upset Curt Weldon -- and that's where that statement was taken place -- was this kind of a publication. This was a memo sent by the Democratic Party to all of their Democrat lawyers saying to challenge all of the overseas military ballots. And they were saying, yes, even if the Florida administrative code allows for it to be received without a postmark as long as it has a witness and a date, go ahead and challenge it anyway.

And in many counties throughout Florida, balloting is over and all of those military votes were not counted. And that's why Curt Weldon, a great patriot, a great American, says that is a plan to steal the election. And that's where that frustration comes from.

MATALIN: Congressman Hastings, let me pick it up there with you. Every Democrat that's been on CROSSFIRE, I've asked this very question. Secretary Daley, who heads the Gore campaign, said in response to Gov. Bush's call to have those military ballots reissued, that, no, they should be kept out on a technicality of no postmark or no signature, whatever, which is not what the federal law is. Where do you stand on the military ballots that have been rejected on technicalities in Florida.

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: I don't think any military ballot or any other ballot ought be rejected on a technicality. And I think Mr. Lieberman, the vice presidential nominee, made it very clear that the Gore and Lieberman staff didn't have anything to do with the memorandum that my good friend -- and she is my good friend -- just showed you.

The fact of the matter is that we shouldn't be disenfranchising anybody. Until yesterday, I had no strong feelings about contesting this particular election. But now I feel very strongly. And if I were advising the vice president, I would say to him that he should vigorously contest the disenfranchisement of the 10,000 people in Dade County whose ballots have never even been tabulated for the reason that the machine did not tabulate them.

And it's unfortunate that the Republican Party that my friend says is so frustrated would allow themselves to go forward and have recounts in Seminole and Polk County where Mr. Bush gained votes. You didn't hear me crying at that time.

MATALIN: No, Congressman, lets stick to the facts here. Those hand counts that were conducted in Republican counties were part of what the machine kicked out.

Let me go to Miami-Dade. I'm glad you brought that up, because after the vice president's stunning victory given to him by the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday night, he had the following to say about all those hardworking Floridians. Take a listen to this, please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to thank the citizen volunteers no matter their political party; also the public officials involved in the canvass, all these people that have given enormous amounts of time in an extraordinary effort. They're doing their jobs diligently and seriously under difficult conditions. As Americans always do, they are rising to the occasion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: OK, those very same people, Congressman, in Miami-Dade that he was speaking of the next day voted for the second time not to have a countywide recount because the discrepancy between the election night count and the recount, which was plus-six for Gore, did not justify when they voted that way twice. And now he's suing them. The vice president's suing the very same people he said rose -- have been rising to this occasion. Doesn't that strike you as odd?

HASTINGS: Mary, firstly, the people that he was referring to were the volunteers that were doing the counting as well as the canvassing board. No, it doesn't strike me as odd that they would go to court. I think the Florida Supreme Court put that issue to rest today by not enforcing the particular provisions sought in the mandamus by the Gore people, and I think that it should stay at rest for all intents and purposes until the contest arises.

And then I think you will see that the failure to manually recount pursuant to the law after it was determined that the appropriate percentage of error had occurred is going to be a major part of the contest, along with the butterfly ballot, along with the minor discrepancies that the cumulative effect of all of them adds up to an election that smells foul.

And I suggest to you that all of us know that the legitimacy of the presidency, the integrity of democracy is at stake and it's time for us to let a fair and accurate finality come about.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, if I could just jump in here, speaking of smelling foul, as well as Miami-Dade, there was an incident right outside the Miami-Dade Canvassing Board yesterday that we actually have some video of. There was a very heated and bizarre skirmish between Republicans against a canvassing board, two of which have members -- two of the members of which are not affiliated with a political party. What is your reaction to this scene?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, first of all, I think that scene is taken out of context. I was there at the Dade County Elections Canvassing Board three, four days. There were no skirmishes. And when you -- that's a gentle way that you put it when they're -- you say that they're nonpartisan. I would say that out of the three members of the canvassing board, there wasn't a single Republican. I think that's a more accurate way of saying it.

And I think that the integrity of the process -- I agree with my good friend Alcee Hastings. It is important, and that's why we should go by the rule of law. And the rule of law is very clear. The rule of law should not be manipulated to fit the circumstances, which is what the Democrats have tried to do. The rule of law in Miami-Dade County is very clear. It says that these ballots are to be machine- counted unless there as been sufficient proof of any malfunctioning of the machines. And in Miami-Dade County -- thank the Lord -- we had no malfunctioning machines. If there were human errors, that's what they are. That does not mean that they had any right to have a manual recount in the first place. It was ludicrous that we would have that manual recount.

TAPPER: OK, I've got to jump in. I'm sorry.

HASTINGS: (OFF-MIKE) ... to the supreme court decision.

TAPPER: I've got to jump in, both of you. I apologize.

Jump online for tonight's audience vote. Tell us what you think. Will either candidate really win in the end? Go to CNN.com/crossfire. We'll have results later for you later at the 11:00 p.m. -- 11:00 p.m. Eastern when our very own Bill Press joins Tucker Carlson in "The Spin Room".

And speaking of spinning, here is our very own Bill Clinton, the president of the United States for the time being, and maybe in perpetuity, who has his own spin, his own little Florida spin, on the Thanksgiving celebration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm thankful I live in a country with enough faith in its democracy that we're all letting this play out. Comedy shows are having fun with it, we're all laughing about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Good evening and welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Jake Tapper, Salon.com's Washington correspondent, sitting in tonight for the magisterial Bill Press.

Well, folks, we have a big fat turkey of a presidential crisis on our hands, surrounded by, as is tradition, a sour cranberry sauciness, half-baked yammerings and a lovely chad souffle.

Here to provide some rhetorical Tums for our electoral indigestion are two esteemed Floridians, U.S. Representatives Alcee Hastings, a Gore supporter, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Bush supporter, both in Miami -- Mary.

MATALIN: That boy can write, can't he, Congresspersons?

All right, Congressman Hastings, I want to read to you something from Geoff Garin, who's a Democratic strategist. I'm sure you all know him, a very famous and good pollster for you all. He has said in the "Washington Post," quote, "Sunday night or Monday morning becomes a boundary line for Gore. If he tries to push the fight much beyond that and raise issues beyond those currently being addressed, he runs the danger of wearing out his welcome. He has to live or die with recount."

Congressman, I know you're a good Democrat, but certainly you're aware of all the rumblings, including at the highest levels in the Democratic Party...

HASTINGS: Yes.

MATALIN: About vice president's endgame. And you seem to have suggested earlier that he should contest in perpetuity. He's been counting. The votes seem to not be there for him. Should he just keep counting and searching until he finds enough dimpled and mind- read chads to get there?

HASTINGS: Let me ask you, Mary: When did speed trump justice? And when did the bedrock principle of this country become that we must hurry up and undertake to do things? The Florida Supreme Court was very careful the other day and continued to ask both sides about the 12th of December date for certification to the Electoral College. And the reason that they did that is very simple. They were mindful that there is provision in the law of Florida that I predict for you will be overhauled in a major way. That provision permits 10 days after the ultimate certification that either side can contest the election.

I disagree with the gentleman's assertion for the reason that I think that there are issues of consequence, starting with the disenfranchisement of the 10,000 people who the tabulation machine did not pick up, starting with the 157 Gore voters in Dade County that evidently are going to be dissed at this point, going to the number of African-American and others who were disenfranchised by virtue of what I refer to as minor discrepancies and not being able to correct them on Election Day. There is a contest here and there is a winnable contest, and there's no reason for Vice President Gore to back off. And let me tell you something: If, in Dade and Palm Beach County, enough votes come out for Gore to win, watch the contest from Bush.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, if I can follow up on that with a quote of my own from the Old Gray Lady herself, the "New York Times" editorial board, which kicked in today with a question for Gov. Bush in a sense. It says, "By all but declaring that the presidential election will be illegitimate if Mr. Bush does not win, and hinting that the Florida legislature should somehow neutralize the Supreme Court's decision, the Bush campaign risks undermining the rule of law and the office he hopes to occupy."

And I have to say, where is the respect for the canvassing boards, the Florida Supreme Court, and all of the American institutions that all of us and, I thought at one point, the Republican Party hold so near and dear?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, it's certainly no surprise that the "New York Times" would editorialize time and time again for the Gore position. But the Bush administration, which will be the Bush administration, is very clear about the rule of law. And I think George W. Bush was correct when he called Florida -- the supreme court's decision totally out of line because they have become an activist jurist. They have decided that they now can write the law and administer the law. So they've assumed the legislative and executive branch of government.

But we should be very clear that what the Florida Supreme Court said is that they did not rule on the accuracy or the validity of the voting recount, they have set the date. And that was beyond what they should have done. That is handled by the legislature and administered by the Florida secretary of state.

So I agree with George W. Bush when he says that they have become an activist -- they have assumed an activist role. And I think that when the "New York Times" editorializes about the rule of law, I think that Bush has been very clear that the rule of law should be followed.

And, again, I go back to these disenfranchised votes that my good friend Alcee Hastings talks about. Now, what we're talking about are ballots that have just the slightest indentation. I want to make sure that the voters understand that these are ballots where the person has actually punched through holes for other candidates and for other offices. Yet for the presidential ballot, perhaps the person just put the slightest indentation. And what is the canvassing board supposed to do? Like Kreskin on Johnny Carson's show he's supposed to guess the intention of the voter.

(CROSSTALK)

By that we should then guess the -- that's like counting the votes of the people who intended to vote but didn't vote.

MATALIN: Congresspeople, congresswoman, congressman... HASTINGS: Ileana, count them like they count them in Texas, that's all.

Excuse me, Mary, go ahead.

MATALIN: You guys, thank you so much both for joining us. And the good news is that more people all across America have a better understanding of what you do. You've both been fabulous advocates for your sides. Thank you for joining us on this joyous occasion.

HASTINGS: Happy Thanksgiving.

ROS-LEHTINEN: OK, thank you. You're the turkey.

MATALIN: Happy Thanksgiving to you. Go back to your desserts. That's -- well, this is it. We are the turkey and we'll be back for more gobbling after this quick commercial break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Jake, because you're such a good guy...

TAPPER: Yes.

MATALIN: ... despite your liberal leanings, and it is Thanksgiving, I'm not going to crossfire you. I want to say a couple of good things about this: A, we're sending in lawyers not tanks. That's pretty good with wars around the world.

TAPPER: Always good.

MATALIN: B, Skip in the makeup room said he's just gotten done visiting a bunch of college kids and they're following this. They get it. That's good if this is the only way to get them.

TAPPER: Great civics lesson.

MATALIN: And little kids, big kids, everybody gets it, they get their vote counted too. That's a wonderful thing. Three, I've stopped fighting with my husband. Happy anniversary. Thanks for cooking, thanks for babysitting. Happy anniversary. It's our anniversary so I'm not going to even crossfire you tonight.

TAPPER: Happy anniversary. That's wonderful.

MATALIN: So three good things in one day. And we only have to wait two more days for Gore to lose.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Can I just say one thing that I thought was interesting? is that the American people clearly gave a mandate of nothing, of bipartisan cooperation. The presidential election was essentially a tie. The Senate is split 50-50, the House has a very thin margin. And yet as great as the congresspeople were, they're still a Democrat and a Republican. And other than the fact that they kept saying that they're very good friends, there seemed to be very little middle ground between them.

MATALIN: Their are more advocates for market-based solutions that Bush advocated in Congress on both sides of the aisle -- and you know it -- than there are for what Gore advocated. What did he advocate? What was his mandate?

TAPPER: He's for the people.

MATALIN: Happy Thanksgiving.

TAPPER: Sighting in on the left, I'm Jake Tapper. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And sitting -- no, I'm not sitting in, I belong here. On the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us tomorrow night for another live CROSSFIRE. Don't forget to tune into that beautiful turkey of ours, Bill Press, 11:00 on "The Spin Room." See you tomorrow night.

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