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Will the U.S. Supreme Court Help Choose the Next President?

Aired November 24, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, the Supreme Court agrees to weigh in on the Florida recount. Will they bring us any closer to choosing the next commander in chief?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Governor John Engler of Michigan, a Bush supporter. And in New York, Congressman Charles Rangel, a Gore supporter.

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE: Day 17 of the election held hostage.

It was another action-packed one. There was court action in Tallahassee where team Bush argued military ballots rejected on technicalities should be reconsidered.

There was street action in Broward, where team Gore argued protesters intimidated recount canvassers, a charge echoed in Washington by none other than the Democratic vice presidential hopeful himself, Joe Lieberman.

Meanwhile, hand counters experienced a new state of confusion, as they enter the "Twilight Zone" of, quote, "disputed ballots," a land of no standards for evaluating the many chad varieties.

Bush has an unofficial statewide lead of 930 votes in Florida, but six counties have revised their totals, resulting in a net gain of 70 votes for Bush. Ongoing hand counts give Gore a net gain of 309 in Broward County, and Bush has a net gain of 14 in Palm Beach County. So the unofficial Bush lead for now is 705 votes.

The numbers released by canvassing boards do not include about 1,150 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 6,000 disputed ballots.

The day was bookended with good news for Governor Bush as running mate Deck Cheney was released this morning with no restrictions after suffering a mild heart attack two days ago. But a stunning victory came midday when the United States Supreme Court agreed to intervene in the Florida fracas. As if there wasn't enough history in the making for one day, the Florida House speaker announced that that body may choose their own slate of electors if the December 12th deadline is missed.

So, with all that motion are we making any progress toward a president? Though Gore vowed not to concede if Bush receives the certification this Sunday, is that his decision to make? Our veteran political superstars answer these and more questions after we get some clarification from team CNN.

For that, our clever co-host, reporter and soon-to-be best-selling author, Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER, GUEST CO-HOST: Thank you very much, Mary.

Now we go to CNN national correspondent Bob Franken at the Supreme Court.

Tonight, Bob, you had a big announcement. What was it?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A huge announcement. The U.S. Supreme Court has said it will take on the Bush campaign case, asking for consideration of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling that the hand recounts could go on.

Not only that, but it will do so on a high-speed basis. They will hold their hearings just a week from now, 10 a.m. next Friday. That is lightning speed for the Supreme Court, very good news for the Bush administration.

The court will consider whether or not the Florida state Supreme Court overstepped its bounds, violated federal law and also violated the Constitution.

TAPPER: Wow. Well, with the Gore campaign reaction to tonight's events, we have CNN congressional correspondent Chris Black outside the vice president's residence on Massachusetts Avenue.

Chris, what's the Gore camp saying tonight?

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Gore campaign didn't ask for this hearing, but they're taking it in stride. Gore's campaign lawyers say they still don't believe that the U.S. Supreme Court will overrule the Florida Supreme Court. They say this is an issue of federalism that has been affirmed many, many times by the nation's highest court.

Meanwhile, the Gore campaign is looking ahead to the next stage of this fight, contesting the election results when they're certified Sunday night. To that end, Joe Lieberman, the Democrat from Connecticut and the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, came before reporters today to complain about the demonstrations that were taking place in Miami-Dade on Wednesday. He said they were intimidating to local officials and accused Republicans of being behind them. CNN was able to confirm that Republican operatives indeed are organizing those demonstrators, who were in Broward County today. And six Democratic members of Congress have written to Bill Lan Lee, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, and asked for a federal investigation -- Jake.

TAPPER: Well thanks, Chris.

And with the Bush campaign's reaction, we go to CNN national correspondent Tony Clark in Austin.

Tony, what's the feeling in the Bush team camps this evening?

TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a lot of smiles. They're obviously pleased with the decision. Ben Ginsberg, one of the Bush attorneys, saying they're pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to review their case and that the high court will decide whether or not it's fair to change the rules, in his words, change the rules in the middle of the game.

One Bush campaign spokesman said this decision is heartening and that they felt they had a strong case all along. You might remember Governor Bush himself came out himself earlier this week in a somewhat blistering statement and attacked the Supreme Court, Florida Supreme Court's decision, saying that they were overreaching, that they were rewriting the law and that there were efforts being made in Florida to try to take the election away from him. Now they'll get the chance to argue that before the nation's highest court -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Tony.

Well, Mary.

MATALIN: What a day, what a day, action packed.

Congressman Rangel, let's start with the action at the top of the day, the continuing dispute over these rejected military ballots. A press conference was held on behalf of Governor Bush by some of his supporters there.

Let's listen for a moment to one of your colleagues, Congressman Buyer.

REP. STEVE BUYER (R), INDIANA: What I've learned is that the Gore campaign has a theme. And the theme is that every vote counts and that no vote will be disenfranchised. So the Democrat canvassing boards are counting hanging chads, swinging chad and pregnant chad. But if it's Sergeant Chad in the DMZ in Korea then that vote doesn't count?


MATALIN: Well, Congressman Rangel, we know that you served in the Army in Korea. You received a Purple Heart, a bronze star. Do you approve of this systematic Democratic effort to disqualify overseas military ballots? And if not, why doesn't anybody -- why won't the Gore team join the Bush team in getting these ballots reissued?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I think it's disgraceful to use the military and to appeal to one's sense of patriotism for clearly partisan reasons. You know, they are veterans, disabled veterans, survivors of people who died for this country. And whether you're talking about a pregnant vote, a chad, a swinging, we all should join together in making certain that we're not selective in pointing out technicalities that avoid -- that void people's right to vote.

You know, for Senator Dole to get out and for others to say -- lawyers have said that people on the S.S. Cole could be trying to vote. I think that is so totally and emotionally unfair.

And I'm glad that the U.S. Supreme Court has taken jurisdiction over this case, because the polarization that has taken place, no matter who becomes president, it will be more difficult really to try to heal this great country.

MATALIN: OK, Congressman Rangel, as articulate and eloquent as you always are, you've avoided, as all of your previous colleagues on this show have, and that's answering the question. If you really...

RANGEL: There's no evidence. There's no evidence.

MATALIN: No? Why won't Gore and Lieberman join with the Bush team to have -- these ballots would not have been invalidated if not for the effort of the Democrats...

RANGEL: You know as well...

MATALIN: ... getting a chance to do that.

RANGEL: You know as well as I do that Republicans are really trying to remove technicalities for ballots that they think lean toward them, and the Democrats clearly picked the counties that they thought leaned for them. And so it's hypocritical to believe that they're just doing this for the veterans. They are doing it because they think there are more Republican votes there. And the Democrats are fighting to get the hand ballots because they think there are more Democratic votes there.

If both parties would say, forget the technicalities and let's get every common sense vote, then you're talking American style.

TAPPER: Well, thank you, Congressman. And, Congressman, also I'd like to say on a personal note, thank you for serving in Korea.

Now, Governor Engler, it is being reported by CNN and other news outlets that the Republican Party is behind these organized demonstrations such as the one that shut down the recount in Miami- Dade County. What do you, as one of Bush's chief advisers, know about this?

GOV. JOHN ENGLER (R), MICHIGAN: Well here's what I know. In Miami-Dade, they voted originally not to even do a hand recount, and then they got leaned on by the Gore campaign and reversed themselves. And there weren't any protests there until they decided they were going to selectively take some of the unvoted ballots and go to a private room and start voting them.

And, you know, we're way past the counting phase in this recount of the recount of the recount. We counted the votes. Bush won. We recounted them. He won. We counted the absentee ballots, at least some of them, and he won again. And now we're inventing votes here in Broward County today. I wouldn't have believed it, but sitting in that room for two hours watching ballots being held up that no vote has been cast for anybody for president, and the committee was divining some intention. And, you know, you can't invent the ballots. And I think that's why people are getting upset.

But I'll tell you what, part of what's going on is the effort to get away from the question Mary posed to Congressman Rangel. When Joe Lieberman went on television today, I assumed he was going on to say, let's get those military ballots counted, because you know what? They haven't been recounted once or twice or even three times. They haven't been counted at all. They were ruled out on some technicalities. They ought to put them in.

TAPPER: Governor, if I could just interject for one moment. Governor, just as Congressman Rangel is eloquent and also at the same time evasive, you have avoided answering my question, which is, is it appropriate for the Republican Party to be sending down organized teams of individuals to step outside the Miami-Dade canvassing board and intimidate the canvassers? One of the canvassers, a man named Leahy, David Leahy, said that had it not been for that violent protest, he would not have cast a vote to end the recounting process. Is it appropriate?

ENGLER: You know, today I think I saw -- I don't think Republicans had anything to do did with Reverend Jesse Jackson showing up here in Florida, and today the 30, 40 people who were here outside the Broward Courthouse, very orderly group, just holding up some signs saying, you know, let's have some fairness.

And I think that's why the United States Supreme Court said, look, we're going to review this, because fundamental fairness dictates that you don't change the rules once the election's been held and the vote's been announced. And that, unfortunately, in three counties is what's been going on in Florida.

TAPPER: Well, I actually saw Reverend Jackson's protest in person, and it was peaceful. It had nothing to do with the canvassing boards and no one was shouting in the canvassing board's face. But that said...

ENGLER: Oh, I think he was helpful in trying to get them to do the recount, wasn't he?

TAPPER: That said...

ENGLER: I think people have a First Amendment right to be there. TAPPER: Governor, I'm sorry. I have to interrupt for one second, please. Take part in tonight's online audience vote. Go to and tell us whether you think Governor Bush will win his case before the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll have the results later. Then stick around online tonight and debate Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Zeldin, then victory 2000 communications director Terry Holt after the show at


TAPPER: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Chief Justice Rehnquist and the Supremes have been beckoned center stage next week to rule on whether the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its bounds. Will they sing to Bush, "Stop the Recount in the Name of Love," or will Vice President Gore be treated to a little ditty I like to call "You Can't Hurry Votes"?

Here to serenade us with their wisdom and other matters are regal lawmakers John Engler of Michigan, a Bush supporter who governs Motown itself, and Representative Charles Rangel of New York, a Gore man who represents the fabled Apollo Theater -- Mary.

MATALIN: Oh. He's too much, that Tapper boy. All right. Now, Congressman Rangel, this is -- this -- let's talk some more about this...

RANGEL: Now, Mary.

MATALIN: I'm loving this. I'm loving this. This is great, history in the making.

RANGEL: I do, too.

MATALIN: Great history lesson. And that's why I want...

RANGEL: I think so.


MATALIN: Let's listen to your would-be vice president, some of the rhetoric he used this morning. This is Joe Lieberman in Washington concerned about mob rule. Lets take a listen.



SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vice President Gore and I call on the demonstrators and all who may be organizing or encouraging them to stop these activities immediately. And I hope that Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney will join us in this call.


MATALIN: Congressman Rangel, the press reports, there were a hundred Republican protesters. When Jesse was down there, he was also here on the show, he mobilized 15,000 protesters. And when he was there, he talked about -- and I'm sure you heard him -- the sons and daughters of slavery and the Holocaust, this is an extension of Selma.

RANGEL: You don't need -- you don't need Jesse to convince me of the right to protest. I've been arrested more times than I'd like to remember for protesting. What would-be vice president Senator Lieberman is talking about were the thugs, the mobs that hit people, that bruised people, that intimidated people and caused them to say, I quit because I can't do my job. There's a difference, Mary, and I think, you know, more important...

MATALIN: Congressman Rangel...


MATALIN: Congressman Rangel, I have to interrupt you, because when that...

RANGEL: That's OK.

MATALIN: ... canvassing board voted for the second time to not do a countywide vote, the first -- they reiterated the sentiments on their first vote, which is when they recounted the 1 percent it did not justify a county recount, because Gore only received six votes. It was only after the fact, when the Gore thugs came down and intimidated those canvassers, that they said they were intimidated.

Well, they're not -- these are after-the-fact charges.

RANGEL: Well, I'll tell you one thing, if the Gore thugs did do it, it was not recorded like the mobs of the Bush thugs that were Republicans, that were hired to go down there and to disrupt.

You know -- but I'm trying to avoid doing this, because we've got Tom DeLay calling for the Congress to make the decision. We've got other people calling for the Florida state legislature to do this. And this country for 200 years has been able to withstand these types of shocks to our Constitution.

But people who are saying that Gore is stealing the election and that they're manipulating the ballots, what makes you Republicans so confident that these chads are not votes for Bush? Why are you so intolerant of these people not having a chance to have their vote really mean something, the same way you and I agree that every legal vote cast by a military person should be counted, by common-sense legal standards?

TAPPER: Governor Engler, speaking of demonstrators, although, of course, a much more peaceful demonstration was made in Broward County by Senator Bob Dole. Let's listen to what he had to say.


BOB DOLE (R), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We don't expect because you're in the service you get preferential treatment, but you ought to get the same treatment. It shouldn't be any better, any worse.


TAPPER: Governor, is this true, you just want the ballots to be counted fairly and accurately, the same way you want all other ballots to be counted?

ENGLER: Well, for the military ballots, we'd like them count the first time. Just once would be a great start with the military ballots.

Now, on the ballots that were counted for the third and fourth time, I've got -- you know, the problem with the chad, the congressman's point, the chad isn't missing. The chad is firmly in place. It's there for No. 2 and No. 3. Both the Gore or the Bush chad is remaining in place.

What we're doing is looking at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and said, if I was a chad and I'd left the card, would I have left and voted for Bush or for Gore? And guess what? Two to one is the vote on so many of these. And Congressman Rangel, if you had a 2-to-1 majority on your committee, you'd never lose. And guess what? There's a 2-to-1 Democratic majority on all these canvassing boards, 3 to nothing in some cases.

And guess what? Al Gore doesn't lose these competitions either. That's what is so objectionable about the way this process works.

TAPPER: This is the first time I've ever had a Republican change the subject when I'm talking about overseas military ballots. But in any case...

ENGLER: I just said -- Jake, I said count them one time. We don't need a recount. We can't even recount them. We've got to count them once.

TAPPER: But there's the question: How does it square, the idea that you don't want any preferential treatment on military ballots, how does that square with this quote from the election supervisor in Okaloosa County? Her name is Pat Hollarn, and she's quoted in "The Miami Herald." She's saying -- quote -- "Postmarks were never a problem before. We never accepted them without postmarks before, and we didn't accept them this time."

Now, of course, the Bush campaign has sued Okaloosa County, as well as 12 other counties, and they are forcing them to change the rules midgame the same way that they're accusing the Gore people of doing it. How do you square this?

ENGLER: Well, that's probably why there's a consent decree in place, because they didn't count the military ballots before or didn't give them an opportunity to get them in. But my understanding of the federal consent decree that sort of governs this and in federal law, you can't postmark from a ship. A Marine is on a ship in the middle of the sea, that's going to show up here without a postmark. It's not expected to have one. And the idea it's being held to the same standard as the absentee ballot that I cast back in Michigan or many other people cast elsewhere in America is silly, and it's not been the rule.

The gore campaign put out a five-page memorandum saying here's how you knock these ballots out, and they targeted the military, and they said, we're not going get those votes in. And now, they're targeting chads that have never even been punched out and saying, how can we count that for Gore? Let's invent some votes. And that's what this is all about.

Remember, in Palm Beach County, the gore campaign actually sued that little board of canvassers there because they weren't counting these so-called "dimpled" or "pregnant" chads. And in Miami-Dade, they're suing them because they won't do a hand recount, even though their statistical count showed that it wouldn't make very much difference for Al Gore or for George Bush.

So Al Gore just wants to count until he gets the right result, bottom line.

MATALIN: All right, John Engler, governor of Michigan, thank you so much. Charles Rangel, congressman of New York and overseer of the Apollo, thank you very much. The debate rages on.

ENGLER: Thank you.

MATALIN: It's endless. We know it will go almost until Christmas at this point. Take this debate online tonight, first with Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Zeldin, then Victory 2000 communications director Terry Holt.

The esteemed Jake Tapper and I will be right back with our closing comments.


MATALIN: Now for the results of tonight's online audience vote. Earlier we asked you to go online and tell us whether you thought George W. Bush would win his case before the United States Supreme Court, and 83 percent of you said yes while 17 percent of you said no.

The silliest thing of all the silly things, Jake -- I know. That's -- I've got to let that sink in. I've got to internalize that one a little bit.

TAPPER: good thing it doesn't mean anything.

MATALIN: But as stunning as that was, the silliest thing was calling Republican protesters mobsters.

TAPPER: Did you see that? That was some crazy business.

You know what, I just wish that some Republican would admit that both sides are doing everything they can to win, both sides are legally wrangling, both sides are suing counties. It's everyone.

Anyway, sitting in on the left, I'm Jake Tapper. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And admitting we want to win and will because we already have, sitting in on the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again next week for more CROSSFIRE. Have a wonderful weekend.



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