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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Rep. David Bonior Discusses the Florida Recount

Aired November 25, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS.

Now, Robert Novak and Al Hunt.

AL HUNT, CO-HOST: I'm Al Hunt. Robert Novak and I will question the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is Minority Whip David Bonior of Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): As settlement of the disputed Florida vote for president moves to the United States Supreme Court, the possibility remains that the outcome might yet be determined in Congress. The powerful House Republican whip Tom DeLay of Texas has circulated a two-page memo describing a process by which a vote of both the House and Senate could reject all or some of a state's electors.

Republicans still narrowly control the House, but the new Senate is likely to be divided 50-50, with Vice President Gore still on hand to cast the deciding vote when the electors' ballots are counted January 6th. If, however, Florida's electors were thrown out, that might send the presidential election into the House of Representatives, where George W. Bush would have the edge over Al Gore.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVAK: Congressman Bonior, you usually have pretty good intelligence about what your Republican adversaries are up to. Do you think there is a serious effort to send this into the House of Representatives and elect Governor Bush that way?

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D-MI), MINORITY WHIP: I don't think it's going to get to that point, Bob. I think this process will move through the courts and we should get some decision after the courts rule with respect to the contested election result, whether it's Bush or Gore contesting the certification next week, and then of course the Supreme Court decision will also bear on this.

NOVAK: Do you believe then that there will not be a question of the Florida legislature sending a separate set of electors up and the Florida Supreme Court sending one? Do you think you will not have to cope with two sets of electors?

BONIOR: Well, I hate to say I don't think, but I'm definitive on this because one thing we've learned from this process is nothing is for certain. But my sense is it's not going reach that point. I think what we have to do is wait and see what happens on these votes and certification that is coming up and then the challenges that will be made either by Bush or Gore, whomever is on the losing side. You have a period of time in which that has to work its will to the 12th of December. And then, of course, the court speaks beginning the first of December.

HUNT: Congressman, you're having a lame duck session in 11 days. Dick Armey, the No. 2 House Republican, has thrown his weight behind a proposal during this lame duck session that would require Florida officials to count all of those contested military absentee ballots. You're a veteran. Will you support that?

BONIOR: Well, I served four years this the Air Force, and I want to make sure that the presumption for all people who vote, no matter if they're veterans who sent their ballots in from overseas to these various colonies or they're veterans who fought there in the Second World War are being denied the vote in Palm Beach County or in Broward County or in Dade County for certain, all of these people should have the presumption given to their side if in fact there's some question.

HUNT: So you wouldn't vote for a targeted proposal?

BONIOR: No, I think that kind of an idea is going nowhere. But I think the courts ought to look at this. And if someone didn't, you know, sign their ballot, their absentee ballot, I don't think they should count it. But if indeed there's some question of a postmark being smudged or something, I think the presumption should go to that person whether he or she is a veteran or not.

HUNT: Let me ask you one other question. There have been a number of protests down in the state of Florida today and previously this week. Many of them have been Republicans. We see some of them on television right now. But there was one protest in Dade County the other day which some people have suggested intimidated the election board there into not continuing the recount. Do you believe that's true, and what should be done about it?

BONIOR: I do believe it's true. In fact, one of the canvassers on the board said in fact it was true that the noise and the ruckus of the mob in that building was one of the reasons he voted not to go forward. So indeed this -- the climate primarily the Republicans have been responsible for recently is, I think, unconscionably wrong.

I think to use words like "steal" and "theft" and today one congressman in northern Florida mentioned the fact he was going to go to war with Democrats, that's not helpful to this process. And you had people in that building who were locked in their rooms who couldn't get out, who needed police escorts to get out. You had people who were shoved, who were kicked, who were punched. That was a very ugly scene and that kind of thing is something we obviously don't need at this point. NOVAK: Mr. Bonior, the chairman of the board in Dade County, Mr. Leahy told CNN today that the demonstration had absolutely nothing to do with his decision to suspend the counting. He just said, and it seems reasonable, there was no way and they didn't have the facilities to count that many ballots by the deadline imposed by the Florida Supreme Court.

BONIOR: Well, I saw that today, Bob. I watched the news and I saw that but I also will tell you that he said something different when it happened to "The New York Times" reporter who reported it. And he said it was one factor in his determination to vote the way he did.

So, I think if anybody who saw those pictures would come to the conclusion that this is something that was very intimidating and scary. You had people like Harold Ford around Carl Levin who were locked in rooms in that building and couldn't get out and needed police escort.

NOVAK: Congressman Bonior, they're still counting the ballots down in Florida. We look on the screen now and in West Palm Beach, they're still counting the ballots. They'll be counting them tonight, counting them tomorrow, but the deadline is tomorrow evening. And Senator John Breaux and several other Democrats have said that maybe that is the terminal point. That perhaps if Al Gore is behind at that point after three weeks, he ought to give it up and say, these recounts and these lawsuits can go on forever but he should not contest it. What do you think of that?

BONIOR: Well, I think that John Breaux and Bob Torricelli have had a very stressful election period and I think they really need to take some time off. Bob should go to the New Jersey shore; John should probably do a little fishing down in Louisiana.

I think the process needs to go forward no matter who is on the other side of the ballot numbers, Bush or Gore, and I think we should be patient. This process will work its way through the courts, will work its way through system and we will have a winner and a loser at some point in the process.

NOVAK: Well, when is the termination time, Congressman? Is the termination time on December 12th, the deadline for the electors in Florida or is the termination time January the 6th when the electors are submitted to the Congress or is the deadline January 20th, which is the inauguration? I believe in 1876, they did it the day before the inauguration. Would you run it right up to the inauguration?

BONIOR: Rutherford B. Hayes went right up to the end and there were mobs in the street in front of the Capitol and that's the kind of thing we're trying to avoid. We've got almost two months left.

NOVAK: But listen, what is the date of those three days?

BONIOR: I'm not going to give you a date because I don't know a date, but I'm going to tell you this. That if you look at the number of people who were disenfranchised in one way or the other in just the four counties along the Eastern coast of Florida -- Duval, Palm Beach County, Broward and Miami-Dade, you're talking because of ballot design or because of under counts, somewhere in the neighborhood of over 70,000 people.

Those people have a right to have their votes counted and all we're asking for is an accurate and fair count of votes and we believe if that happens and if we're on the losing side, so be it. If he's on the losing side, Bush, so be it, but they have a right.

Those are the people who made this country. They're Holocaust victims. They're people who fought in out wars. They're Haitian- Americans who take care of our mothers and our fathers in nursing homes. They have every right to have their ballots counted and we have every right to be passionate about their vote.

Al Gore said in his campaign that he was going fight for you, and by God this couldn't be a more important thing for him to be fighting for today than the fact that those people have the right to have their votes counted.

HUNT: Congressman, though, the perception among a lot of people including some Democrats is that the Gore campaign keeps changing the rules until it gets the sufficient votes, that these indented, these dimpled ballots is now the latest cause. Is that a fair charge?

BONIOR: No, I don't think it is a fair charge. I think the law is very clear and I think Judge LaBarga in Palm Beach County made it clear that the board -- we just saw on the screen here, is looking at these ballots and making decisions.

And it seems to me if someone goes in and makes a mark on a ballot, an indentation that that ought to count and just as those overseas ballots for veterans or whomever sends their ballots back they ought to count as well. If there's a smudge and you can't see the date, well, too bad. We ought to have the presumption in their favor. We have the presumption in the favor of people who cast their votes. For many of those people, the most precious act that they can make for this democracy is to vote and they believe that and we ought not rob them and take them away of that very special thing in their life.

HUNT: But Congressman Bonior, if Vice President Gore were to win because of those ballots, you've already cited what some of your Republican colleagues have said. J.C. Watts, another house Republican leader, said basically the problem with Gore is he can't lose honorably. He engages in cutthroat -- I'm quoting now -- cutthroat tactics that he learned in Clinton-Gore. With that kind of mind set, could Gore ever govern?

BONIOR: Sure, he can govern and so can Bush govern and I think we just need to kind of step back and not project on how people are going to do in a given situation. I mean, they said that Kennedy couldn't govern in 1960 after his election because it was so close, and of course, he did govern. And he governed quite well and his numbers skyrocketed shortly after his inaugural.

HUNT: David Bonior, we're going to take a break but we'll be back in a minute with: Will this election be stolen?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: House Democratic Whip David Bonior, many Republican Congressmen, other Republican politicians have told me on the record that they feel the Democrats are trying to steal this election. Do you feel the Republicans are trying to steal the election?

BONIOR: No, and I'm not going to use words like that because we're going to have to come together when this is over, whether it's Bush or Gore as president, and work together, and I don't think that's very helpful. I think it's important to let the process work, and I think words like steal and I think words like theft and you know, Dick Armey suggesting he's not going to go to the inaugural. Those kinds of things are -- they're a bit immature, number one, and I think they're not very helpful.

NOVAK: You'll going the inaugural if George Bush is elected? .

BONIOR: Indeed, I will.

NOVAK: Do you -- would you use the word cheat, that they're trying to cheat?

BONIOR: No, I'm not going to use any words that have that kind of connotation or meaning to them.

HUNT: How do you think that George Bush and Al Gore have handled themselves over the last two and a half weeks?

BONIOR: Better than I think the media gives them credit for.

HUNT: Both?

BONIOR: Yes, I would say so, but I would -- you know, I would add this with Bush. I was disappointed that Bush did not come out yet and denounce the activities that occurred with regard the mob scene in Florida. I think he should have spoken to that. I think he should have taken a position of something he's advocated in the campaign. He said he was a conciliator. Well, here's an excellent chance for him to have shown leadership. He didn't do it, and I'm hopeful he will do it in the next day or so.

HUNT: Do you agree if either -- one of these men is going to be president. Do you agree that he should pick, say, three or four Cabinet members from the other party, including one of the top four, Secretary of State, Defense, AG or Treasury?

BONIOR: I think it would be wise and it's always wise for a president to reach out to the other party, and include -- especially given the dynamics in Washington today with the closeness in the House and Senate.

HUNT: And for one of those four top Cabinet jobs Gore should pick a Republican and Bush should pick a Democrat.

BONIOR: Sure, sure, of course. That would be -- I think people would accept that and understand that and appreciate it.

NOVAK: Congressman Bonior, the Republican margin in the House of Representatives is one of the smallest in history right now.

BONIOR: Yes.

NOVAK: When Dennis Hastert replaced Newt Gingrich as Speaker, I know that he wanted very much to establish relationship with his counterpart, Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader. He was unable to. I know they met recently, but do you think perhaps that the Democrats ought to be a little more forthcoming and willing to sit down with Republicans to avoid some of the really contentious strife that we've had over the last six years?

BONIOR: The answer is yes, and I think that's already with begun as you've indicated. I've always had a very good relationship with Dennis. He and I have very much common interests in other things besides politics, and we've built our relationships on politics and on government as a result of those other interests we have. Dick sat down with Dennis Hastert,

Speaker Hastert and I'm -- I think we're going to have a much more workable relationship. I hope we meet on a regular basis. There's no reason why we can't meet once a week to discuss issues, to discuss floor policy, to discuss where we're headed and I'm hopeful that will happen.

NOVAK: In that connection, sir, a guest on this program a week ago today was Senator Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, and he told us that in return for the Republicans being a little more forthcoming on things like patient's bill of rights and prescription drugs, he thought he would consider, at least, being a little more forthcoming on Republican tax cuts. You think that might be a good idea?

BONIOR: I'm surprised you ask that question. Yes, I think it would be a good idea. I've actually had a discussion with Speaker Hastert about that. I think there are some things that we can do, for instance, on this present tax bill that's pending on the minimum wage piece.

There are some pieces we don't like about it, but most of the pieces I think we can agree on and I would be happy and I told him to work to try to yield on some of the provisions that he wants that have been objected to by our side in return to getting this minimum wage bill done in the lame duck session.

NOVAK: You think you might be able to come agreement on the estate tax or the marriage penalty tax?

BONIOR: I don't see why we can't get to the estate tax issue. I mean, we're just talking about a infinitesimally minute group of people here, and it seems to me we offered a solution on that that would deal with, you know, 99 and 5/10 of the people that would be affected and we would exempt up to $4 million on small businesses and farms and we'd reduce the rate, and we'd reduce the rate, by the way Bob, as you probably know, down to 20 percent at a much faster rate than the Republicans wanted to do in their bill.

HUNT: Would you accept total repeal?

BONIOR: No, not total repeal, but I would move in the direction of taking care of especially people who have small businesses and farms.

HUNT: Let me ask you, in this lame duck session, will anything be done? You mentioned the minimum wage. You think that will deal will be cut?

BONIOR: Well, I hope that piece -- the minimum wage piece, the tax piece that we just talked about and maybe the new markets initiative that the speaker and President Clinton worked on, which is an important initiative, I think that is doable and I hope we can get it done.

HUNT: Just quickly, next year, do you expect to see other prescription drugs or a patients bill of rights pass or is Congress too divided? .

BONIOR: Well, I hope so. I mean, the country wants it, clearly, and the Republicans know that because they ran on it, their own version, of course, which I think is deficient. So, it seems to me that with the closeness of the majorities that we will probably get those two things.

NOVAK: Just quickly, if those were such good issues, how come you only won two seats, which was very disappointing?

BONIOR: Well, there are many reasons. And we're going through an analysis of why we didn't win more seats, but this is the third year in a row -- third election in a row that we picked up seats. Republicans outspent us again. They had, you know, campaign finance reform. We need to do that because they've got these little pockets of money that they send into these districts. At the end, we were heavily outspent.

HUNT: David, we have to take a break now, but we will be back in just with the "Big Question" for Congressman Bonior.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: As the recount continues in Palm Beach, we here in Washington have the "Big Question" for David Bonior.

Congressman, one of these men is going to be elected president and one of them is going lose. If Al Gore should lose, given the closeness, the most historic -- this historic closeness of this election, would he become the front-runner for 2004 for the Democratic Party?

BONIOR: I'm not going there.

HUNT: Oh, come on. BONIOR: I'll tell you what, I was on this show a year ago or two years ago, and you asked me the same question, who is it going to be? Who are you going to support, Gore or are you going to support Gephardt for president? And I didn't go there...

HUNT: You ducked then.

BONIOR: ... then and I'm not going there -- and I'm ducking today. Clearly he will have high a stature in our party, but who knows what's going to happen in four years? What I'm interested in is making sure that the transition, whomever is president, goes smoothly and we can get the things done we talked about on this show.

NOVAK: I'm going to give you a question that's a little bit like the old joke about watching your mother in law go over the cliff in your brand-new car, the mixed emotions. Would you have some mixed emotions if Al Gore finally wins this because you'll probably lose seats in the House of Representatives? In the second year of a new presidency it almost always happens, and then you'll be out in the cold for the fourth straight election, whereas if Bush is counted in, you'll probably take over. And who knows? You might be Speaker Bonior.

BONIOR: Well that's a real pessimistic way to look at it -- and I have a great mother in law, by the way, and she me actually be watching now. Let me put that on the record.

No, I would much obviously prefer to have Al Gore as president. He's decided to fight for people on the issues that we talked about here. He's run a good campaign, he's a good man, and I think he would be great for the country.

NOVAK: But you might be more apt to lose the House of Representatives again.

BONIOR: Who knows what will happen in two years.

HUNT: Didn't say if he had a Cadillac, did he?

NOVAK: David Bonior, thank you very much.

Al Hunt and I will be back with a comment after these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Bob, we both know David Bonior is a tough guy who speaks his mind. But today he struck a moderate, almost statesmanlike, posture. I think it shows the anxiety or agitation level is far higher among Republicans than it is among Democrats over this election.

NOVAK: I have to agree with you. And, you know, he said some pretty harsh things about Holocaust victims and Haitians not being able to vote, their votes taken away. But I've seen David Bonior on the floor of the House really shake his fist, and I didn't see the intensity that you find from Dick Armey and Tom DeLay on the other side.

HUNT: No question about that, although I do think the circumstances surrounding this Dade County cancellation, the re-vote, the intimidation, bussing in -- bringing in the Republican outsiders is going to come back to haunt Bush.

NOVAK: Well, it may. I think it's going to be forgotten, be in the category of Elian Gonzalez if he is president. And I'll make a prediction on that, that it really isn't going to happen. I was most interested that this new relationship with the House Republicans and the House Democrats, you know, that's like the cats and dogs getting together, But we'll see.

I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.

NOVAK: Coming up in one half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES," is the press hyping the coverage of the Florida recount? And coming up at 7 p.m. Eastern, all five members of "THE CAPITAL GANG" weigh in on the Florida recount, the Supreme Court and much more.

HUNT: That's all for now. Thanks for watching.

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