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Election 2000: Gore Campaign Orders Recount Committee to Suspend All Activities, Says Vice President Will Make Statement This Evening

Aired December 13, 2000 - 10:00 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The word of the day, the presidential campaign of Al Gore withstood weeks of legal obstacles and rapidly eroding public patience. Now, though, it may teeter on surrender. Just about 12 hours ago from right now, the U.S. Supreme Court crushed what may have been Gore's last hope.

Taking a look at the ruling, it reads in part -- and this is a very small part of the ruling, but here's a quote: "Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the December 12th date will be unconstitutional, we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ending the recount to proceed," end quote there.

Seven of the nine justices ruled the ordering of the Florida recount was flawed, but the court was deeply divided over the prospect of remedies. In the end, the court's conservative majority won out, ruling 5-to-4 that there was not enough time to restructure a recount.

And so now all eyes now turn from the courts to the campaigns, specifically to Al Gore, the nation waiting and wondering when they will hear from the vice president.

With more on that, here's our Eileen O'Connor, who's in Washington D.C. -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest from the Gore campaign basically, Daryn, is there's no news, we'll call you when we know. Basically, they're huddled in a conference call. Aides say that they are right now trying to looking for options, any options they can find in this very complex decision, and that they are calling for the time necessary, they say, to look through this decision.

Now what option are they looking for? They say they're looking for any kind of option that would allow manual a recount to go forward. They say that's the principle that they've always been fighting for, and they want to fight for that, if at all possible. But most of them do say that the situation looks bleak, that the court ruling -- it's described as pretty devastating.

They do, also, some Democrats say, look, the bottom line is the Supreme Court has already signaled, despite the fact that it said it would send it back to the Florida Supreme Court to come up with some standards, they've already signaled it's too late. And by the way, any standard they would set forward would probably come into conflict with that equal-protection clause.

So therefore, all the doors do seem to be closed to the Gore campaign. But aides say they're disappointed that anyone has come forward at all, any Democrats, to talk about concession, that that is a decision for the vice president, and the vice president alone, they say. Senior Democrats will come out, and have starting to came out already, calling for the vice president to be given some time here.

Now, others say, though, with this end result so clear, that George W. Bush will be the next president, according to the Supreme Court decision, that right now, the time is now to unite the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED RENDELL, DNC CHAIRMAN: The main thing is it is very likely that Governor Bush will be the president of the United States, and I think the vice president is going to call for you uniting behind him, and I would to. The election is over, and we have to get some things done for this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: This is obviously a very difficult time for them, for not just the vice president, but for everyone in this campaign. They told me this morning, look, we fought a very long and hard campaign, we fought very long and hard right now for these recounts to go on. We should be allowed to have the time to consider what to do next -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And, Eileen, as they do go about considering that, are they considering more than legal options? Are they checking in with Democratic supporters and leaders within the party to see how much support really there would be out there for continued fight?

O'CONNOR: Right now, the only information I have is that they've been talking amongst themselves with aides. I'm sure they're getting some input of course from Democrats. They've been told from the Democrats that -- from major Democratic Party officials that they will support anything the vice president does. Obviously, he's under increasing public and political pressure to end this thing, and he's already said that if the decision was clear to him, after all of this, these legal wrangles and the court decision was clear to him, that the election was over, that he would concede. So right now, it's basically just making sure that that is the decision -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Eileen O'Connor in Washington, D.C., thank you very much.

That brings to mind the next question, when will we hear from George W. Bush. For more on that, we go to Austin, Texas and Jeanne Meserve.

Jeanne, good morning once again.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, good morning.

We expect to at least see Governor Bush shortly, when he leaves the mansion and heads to the state capitol. We have heard no reaction from him thus far. The only official campaign reaction came from Secretary of State James Baker, who spoke last night in Florida. He pronounced Bush and Cheney very pleased and gratified with the Supreme Court ruling, and also this morning, there was reaction from Jim Nicholson, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He said he was cautiously optimistic, but in a wait-and-see mode. What they are waiting for, of course, is Al Gore; they want to see what he does and what he says, they want to give him a lot of room what for what they acknowledge are very difficult decisions.

Nicholson also responded to the criticism from some Democrats of the Supreme Court and its decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM NICHOLSON, RNC CHAIRMAN: I think that this attack on the court will subside. What we need to do now is really come together, to stop the incendiary language, and see if we can't bond as a country, for the good of the people of the country, particularly the children, so we can improve their education, and help workers in America save more of the money they're earning with a tax cut.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The legislature agenda, the subject matter today for Dick Cheney. The vice presidential running mate is heading to Capitol Hill. He will confer with a small group of moderate Republican senators -- there are only five of them -- to talk about the Bush agenda, to decide on strategy and perhaps discuss what some of the first pieces of legislation might be, that they might be able to help pass in a much-divided Congress.

As for Governor Bush, he did get a security briefing this morning. As we said heading, he's heading over to the state capitol to do some business. He is waiting and watching I'm sure like the rest of us. But unlike previous days, he is not waiting for a court decision. He is waiting to see what Al Gore does.

KAGAN: And, Jeanne, are we just assuming that as a matter of courtesy, waiting for the vice president to speak before he comes out and speaks?

MESERVE: That's our assumption. I have to tell you, we frequently talked in this campaign about how difficult moments are critical moments that go into lockdown mode. That's very definitely the case today. Nobody talking to us, but the presumption is yes, we -- he would not fine to say appropriate until after the vice president does. We don't know when that will happen -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Jeanne Meserve in Austin, Texas.

Thank you very much.

Not too far away from Jeanne is standing there waiting at that gate at the governor's mansion, there is a Suburban, waiting to take the governor over to the state capital when he does make his move, and he does move; we will be going back live just to show you the live pictures, just to show you we have our finger and our cameras on every aspect of this story this morning.

Jeanne Meserve, thank you very much.

And now to get an attorney's perspective, let's bring in our legal analyst Greta Van Susteren, who's been guiding us through this legal mine field of this election.

Greta, good morning.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: Speaking of a minefield, that was tough last night, when this rather confusing decision came out from the Supreme Court. It took a little bit of time to digest it, so help us do that this morning.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I'm not so sure it's necessarily so confusing, but that rather we tried to digest it in a very short time, to get to everyone very quickly. I mean, simply stated, it's this: The court has said the way that Florida Supreme Court said that the manual recount would go forward was unconstitutional. It's unconstitutional because of the equal protection clause to the United States Constitution, which says, basically, everyone should be treated the same, and what troubled the United States Supreme Court, is they concluded there was disparate treatment as to how votes counted from county to county and table to table within each county.

Now what's fascinating to everyone who studies this is obviously that opinion is what guides from here on in, but what's interesting is the sort of the extra opinions that were added on both the opinion by Justice Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist on the one side, and Justice Ginsburg and Breyer who dissented, because you can see that the division within the United States Supreme Court about the case. Seven justices signed on and said it was unconstitutional. Two of the seven thought that signed on thought there should be some sort of remedy. Five said, no, it's too late, it's over.

Perhaps what sort of fun for scholars to chew on from now until eternity are the two dissents, because in the last two dissents, Justice Breyer said, "I respectfully dissent." Justice Ginsburg, who wrote a rather scolding dissent simply says, "I dissent." Was "respectfully" just dropped out of the word processor, or did it show a real bitter divide? Because she said, this is a state election law and the Florida Supreme Court should interpret its own state law, and that the Supreme Court should get involved, and that typically, it doesn't get involved. Fascinating opinion.

KAGAN: Greta, didn't Justice Stevens also get a zinger in there when he said, "The identity of the loser is clear; it's the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the law."

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. Let's not forget we have nine human beings on the Supreme Court, and some get more passionate about issues than others. And certainly Justice Stevens was indicating his passion, or at least I think so, in making that statement.

I mean, the fact that we have so many opinions shows that this wasn't just a topic that had sort of a passing interest among the members of the court. They were all deeply involved in this issue.

KAGAN: OK, Greta, stand by, we're going to take live pictures now from Austin, Texas, as we understand it. Governor George W. bush leaving the governor's mansion now, going over to the state capitol. We just talked with Jeanne Meserve a little bit ago, who said we probably won't hear from the governor until we hear from Al Gore. But he has some interesting things to say today, heading over to the state capitol to take care of business. We will look forward to hearing from the Texas governor a little bit later in the day.

Greta, I want to get back one more time to these two different numbers, 7-2 and 5-4. What's the significance of both in those in one decision?

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we have lots of decisions that are 5-4. The two -- I think about 20 percent of the decisions were 5-4. One of the reasons we want nine people in the Supreme Court is that we have majority rule, rather than one single king decide it for us.

KAGAN: That's how it works. Greta Van Susteren, thanks for joining us from Washington D.C.

Now we will go to another part of Washington and bring in Eileen O'Connor, who is covering the Gore campaign -- Eileen.

O'CONNOR: Just got a statement by -- via e-mail from the Gore campaign, a statement from William Daley, saying that the vice president has ordered the recount committee to suspend all activities, saying there will be a statement this evening from the vice president. So that does looks as if they are ending any pursuit of any other options here for any manual recounts. I was also told earlier by a source within the party privy to conference calls that that they were looking for in terms of options weren't any options on principle, weren't statements from the Florida Supreme Court. The only option they're looking for is any possibility of a recount.

Suspending the recount committee, you can I think assume that the vice president has determined that that is not possible.

KAGAN: And that the vice president would be calling off at this point.

O'CONNOR: He has basically called it off, ordering the recount committees activities to be suspended.

KAGAN: You said also there will be a statement tonight. Are they giving any idea of what time or a general ballpark?

O'CONNOR: No, basically this evening. I basically was reading that e-mail and came right out here. As I remember, it didn't have any specific times, just that it would be this evening, a statement by the vice president. KAGAN: And once again, to address the nation, looking forward to that. Once again, calling off this recount committee, this could be the gathering of legal advisers and campaign advisers, looking if there was any wiggle room, if there were any legal options, political options left given last night's Supreme Court ruling.

O'CONNOR: Well, that's the activities of the recount committee, which is down in Florida. AS you know, they've had observers basically standing by once that recount was suspended. They had their observers in the offices, ready to fan out again across the state of Florida to observe that recount. So in suspending those activities, it obviously appears you can assume what the vice president campaign basically saying is, that we don't believe another recount going to happen.

KAGAN: So it sounds like the vice president is getting ready to call it quits and call up any recount efforts. And again, tell us what little we know about what he plans for tonight.

O'CONNOR: We don't anything about what he plans for tonight. But you can rest assured, Daryn, this is a very important address, that he has to talk about the principles for which he stood for. He also has to talk about and has already talk about the need to unite the country, basically after this very divisive fight. But he will, and as he has been doing, talk about the principles of what he was fighting for ,which was a manual recount.

It will be a very important address for the vice president, and an important dress for the Democratic Party. Senior Democrats have already indicated that they wanted to give the vice president room to maneuver here, room to say what he wanted to do. And they all said that they would support him in whatever he wanted to do and say -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Eileen, that is going to be a very important address. People will be listening very closely to the words that he uses. And as we've been going through the morning, I think the word I heard over and over, the vice president must be gracious, but, as you said, he must stand for what he believes in, but people are really going to be listening closely to see what kind of support he offers to George W. Bush.

O'CONNOR: Well, he, obviously, is -- as he said before, that no matter who won in this fight, that the country should, in fact, unite behind the president. And the vice president knows how critically important that is. He also knows that whoever is the president -- he said this -- throughout, they were going to have this very divided country in terms of the election. It was a virtual tie. You have divisions in Congress in both Houses, very slim majorities on the Republican side. And so now you actually have 50/50 split in the Senate. So obviously, a very critical address, and the words he will choose will have to be very gracious, but also, to make it clear the country that he felt what he was doing was wright, that he didn't want to divide the country, and now, it's time to unite behind the principles and behind the president. KAGAN: Eileen O'Connor in Washington D.C. once again reporting that Vice President Al Gore has sent word to Tallahassee to his recount committee to call it off. It sounds like he's ready to concede. That is the big news of the morning. Let's bring in our Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, who also is in Washington this morning.

Frank, good morning.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, to you.

Well, obviously, this is all coming to what appears to be some kind of determinative and climatic moment here. I want to point out, something that is very important here. We should be careful with the word "concession," because there has been some discussion within the Gore camp as to whether he concedes or as to whether he suspends or withdraws his operation here. So let's be very careful about that. We also don't know exactly how he's going to be handling this thing, in terms of the precise words he uses as far as the recount effort.

Here's what we know, what we know right now is that from the time this decision was issued last night, Democrats, some Democrats on Capitol Hill, some rather influential ones, took a quick look at it, and starting sending the signal that it was over. We know that inside the Gore campaign, while the lawyers immediately went right to very complicated lengthy Supreme Court decision, many of them framed the discussion very pessimistically from the outset.

We know that William Daley, who has of course been a very, very influential voice in Al Gore's ear all along took an initially rather realistic and even pessimistic view about this, that it was Al Gore himself who was conducting many of these deliberations and discussions, and that he was also hearing from some close advisers who were saying, the principle that every vote counts and count every vote should be a principle that they fight to the bitter end with, even if it meant going up against December 18th and coming up empty handed.

Now what is happening the day after is the more the people look at the Supreme Court decision, the less running room there appears to be, and now we hear word, that the vice president is suspending the recount committee, that he plans to address the nation later on today, this evening presumably, in primetime.

I'm joined here in the studio by John King.

John, you've been talking, again, as we all have been, with a lot of people. But is there clarity to precisely to where the vice president is headed?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's clarity in the sense, Frank, that he is Headed out of this race. The vice president's campaign sending word through it's top deputies tonight, that in his remarks to the nation tonight, he will acknowledge the reality of the Supreme Court decision, that he has now no viable option to be elected the next president of the United States. We're also told there are plans being made as we speak for chairman Bill Daley in the Gore campaign to reach out to his counterpart in the Bush campaign sometime during the day. We're still not clear on the timing of that, and source also saying, it is quite likely the vice president himself will try to reach Governor Bush at some time during this day. Whether he will do that before or immediately after his address to the nation tonight still unclear. Although most expect it would be before that address to the nation.

Also, what we're told is that Mr. Daley has sent word to key Democrats on Capitol Hill, and we know that there is a statement forthcoming from Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Daschle, the House and Democratic leaders, urging other Democrats to step back and refrain from any critical comments or any suggestion that the vice president should quickly bow out until he gets a chance to speak. That an effort by the Gore campaign to calm down the Democrats, to buy the vice president a little bit of time to settle on just the words he wants to use when he makes his statement tonight.

As you mentioned, a great sense of frustration, a great sense of anger at the court. They view this as a political decision, but they also can count. And we now know there are five U.S. Supreme Court justices who they believe are absolutely opposed to any additional recounts, so that going back to the Florida Supreme Court, in their view, would be fruitless.

SESNO: John, a couple of points, what we're hearing from some Gore confidantes is, as you say, real bitterness directed toward the court, that it was 5-4, that it broke down along partisan lines, that twice they stopped the counting. And that this was a court, in the view in some of these Gore confidants, and I don't know -- it's going to interesting to see how we hear this going forward -- that thwarted the fundamental principle that Al Gore has been trying to trumpet all along, is that every vote counts and count every vote.

KING: There in a difficult position publicly, in the sense that both the vice president and Senator Lieberman have said the people and that they themselves the candidates must respect the final word of the U.S. Supreme Court, agree or disagree, that's why we have a supreme court. But privately, they are scathingly critical of the court, and they were quick to refer to other Democrats, who would speak publicly, like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, like members of the Congressional Black Caucus. They find themselves in a bind politically, because they see that they have no options, but their anger at court is quite interesting and a reflection that this political debate, even as the vice president prepares to bow out, this political debate and the very raw partisan atmosphere in Washington that we have had from the impeachment debate from this election in postelection period, and now in this fight over the courts, is likely to continue here, even as the vice president plans to step out of this race.

SESNO: John, thanks very much. We're going to back to Daryn now in Atlanta.

And, Daryn, we should point out that it's not just the Democrats who are very busy today. It's also Republicans. Dick Cheney is up on Capitol Hill. There's an outreach here among the Republicans, so very quickly, the attention shift here in Washington. It's going to be a remarkable day.

KAGAN: It really is. And here we go, Frank.

You brought up Capitol Hill. Reaction already coming from congressman and senators. And for that, let's bring in our Chris Black, who is on Capitol Hill -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, the mood up here among Democrats is really very grim and fatalistic. Democrats say, privately, they know Al Gore's campaign for the presidency is over. The two Democratic leaders have just issued a public statement, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, saying -- quote -- "The Supreme Court made his decision. We support and respect Vice President's Gore right to respond in his own sometime schedule. Until he does so, we will have no comment."

There's a real reluctance up here, Daryn, to second guess the vice president at this juncture. In fact, one Democratic senator had planned to hold a press conference in his home state today to basically say that this race was over, but canceled it after getting a call from the Gore campaign asking him to please hold off.

But there is no -- there are no illusions here. There is a strong realization here that the Supreme Court last night basically killed Al Gore's campaign, and there is a strong sense that they now have to just move ahead -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Chris Black on Capitol Hill. More news coming out of there later in the morning. I'm sure we'll be checking back with you.

Once again, to repeat the news that we first heard a few minutes ago from Eileen O'Connor, Vice President Al Gore has put in a call to his recount committee in Tallahassee, and called it off. We expect to hear from the vice president later tonight. More details on when and what the vice president might have to say just ahead here on CNN.

We'll take a quick break, taking a picture of the vice president's residence.

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