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U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Bush's Favor; Gore to Concede, Aides Say; Bush Campaign Refrains From Gloating; Cheney Visits Capitol Hill

Aired December 13, 2000 - 1:05 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: There is every indication today that the closest presidential election in more than a century has finally run its course. About 12 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a jumbled ruling that seemed to close the door on any further recounts in Florida, the Gore campaign announced its recount committee was closing up shop.

The vice president himself, legally if not politically checkmated, plans a nationwide address this evening.

Here's where we stand: The highest court in the land says that manual recounts ordered by the Supreme Court of Florida were constitutionally flawed. In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court says there's no time left to redo them under constitutional standards and safeguards. The Bush team says it's "pleased and gratified" by the court's opinion, though the Texas governor has not declared victory outright.

That, apparently, will wait until after Gore's address to the nation at 9 o'clock eastern, 6:00 Pacific tonight.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Bush team apparently seems content to let Gore bow out on his own terms and timetable, and that's set for tonight, as Natalie just mentioned. CNN's Tony Clark is in Austin, Texas, where Governor Bush is.

Tony, what's going on there?

TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, the Bush family is -- knows what it's like to face defeat, and so there is no -- no gloating, no big celebration. As one aide put it, this is not the time to go say, oh, wow.

Instead the campaign is in a mode that is being described as simply being respectful, giving the vice president room, giving him latitude.

The governor spent about 2 1/2 hours at the State Capitol in his office today, on the phone much of the time, talking to various aides. Aides are coming in from back from Florida, back from Washington, D.C. after the legal battles there. The governor is expected to speak tonight. He said he has not talked to the vice president -- expected to speak after the vice president, a tone that is designed to, in the words of one aide, bring America together, a tone that he is going to be president for all of the country and not try and emphasize -- try and move away from the division that has been so prevalent over the past several weeks.

His staff announcements expected in the next few days about Washington staff, Cabinet staff. But the immediate announcement will be one of reconciliation.

Meanwhile, his running mate, Dick Cheney, on Capitol Hill today, meeting with a group of five moderate Republican senators, because the campaign knows and has emphasized for some time that it is going to need to reach out across the aisle to bring Democrats and Republicans together, and the moderate Republicans are going to be a key to be able to do that, to help set the tone if this Bush administration is to be successful, because of the divisions in both in Congress and around the country.

So efforts here under way to begin the reaching-out process. That's the tone we expect to hear tonight from the governor. In the meantime, we don't expect to hear anything from the governor or key staff members until the vice president has his opportunity to address the American people -- Lou,

WATERS: Tony, who, do you know, is working on the Bush speech for tonight?

CLARK: Well, there are various aides. He has a key speechwriter. Then Karen Hughes, his communications director, often goes over the speech to kind of put it in the sort of tone and words that the governor himself would present. And it's the kind of thing that's been tossed around for the past several days. And so right now they're simply refining the tone.

And as I say, it's mostly this -- this idea of bringing the country together, trying to heal some of the divisions that have been so hurtful over the past several weeks -- Lou.

WATERS: Tony Clark, keeping watch in Austin, Texas today -- Natalie

ALLEN: Well, Gore's legal and political advisers spent a long night poring over every syllable in the high court's 65-page opinion, looking for a lifeline. Having apparently failed to find one, their mission now turns to closure, and that may be as daunting as winning a Florida recount.

CNN's Patty Davis is at the vice president's residence in Washington -- Patty.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, Gore aides say the vice president is working on a statesmanlike address that he will give to the nation at 9:01 this evening, ending his White House bid. He also spoke this morning with President Bill Clinton, who is traveling overseas, that conversation said to be comforting and consoling in nature, according to aides.

Now, the vice president is expected to write most of his address himself, aides tell us. In fact, he's here at the residence, at his residence in Washington working on that as we speak.

Now in that speech, he's expected to talk about the principle of one person, one vote, the fact that he has been fighting for all along that every vote should be counted. But he will also address the need for Republicans and Democrats to come together at this time for what he sees is the best interest of the country.

Now, one aide said -- quote -- "We recognized reality," that even if the Florida Supreme Court gave them an opening that the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't necessarily accept any new standards or the decision, whatever that might have been, that the Florida Supreme Court had come up with. So, that was why they decided to end things.

The mood in the Gore campaign obviously extremely disappointed. One Gore aide telling me today that, in fact, he -- there were -- there were tears once Secretary Daley's announcement came down, his statement that he delivered, in fact, saying that there would be an address by the vice president this evening.

But aides say that they are united at this point. They will stay united. They feel good they fought for this principle of one person, one vote. And they still stand behind the vice president -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Patty, in usual circumstances, when the election is over, you often see the family standing with the candidate when he concedes. Will Al Gore have his family with him tonight?

DAVIS: The campaign hasn't told us anything about that so far. So we just don't know at this point. He has been closely involved with his wife, the rest of his family. They have been closely involved, with him every step of this way in every decision. So I assume that they will, if not be standing with him tonight, at least giving him some advice today -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Patty Davis. Thanks, Patty. Now for more, here's Lou.

WATERS: And a Gore concession, if indeed it comes tonight, would mean the election won't come down to partisan fights over electors in the House of Representatives. It also has set up some unusual, even historic, congressional dynamics.

CNN's Chris Black has been around on Capitol Hill, checking out what that may mean.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not hearing anything.

WATERS: Chris, are you hearing anything now?

BLACK: I guess we're still in a break.

WATERS: We're not in a break, Chris.

OK, she's not hearing. I'm sorry. We'll move on -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. We'll move on and re-establish contact with Chris in a moment.

Well, more than 50 years ago, the Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter issued a famous warning against high-court involvement in what he termed "a political thicket." "The New York Times" points out justices ignored that advice barely a decade later and never looked back.

CNN's Bill Schneider has helped us navigate this particular thicket from the beginning. He joins us again to help us look forward.

Bill, can you hear us?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I can hear you.

ALLEN: All right. We're doing -- we're doing a little bit better then.

Let's talk about this political thicket and the United States Supreme Court. How will this be remembered and what is the effect on the United States Supreme Court if at all?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the court itself said that they thought that the court system, the judges themselves are the big losers in this. And in a sense, it was unavoidable, because somebody had to sort out this constitutional mess. It had become a legal fight. And the court was the only voice in the country with the authority to impose a closure, a finality on this.

It could have either gone back to Florida for a recount, saying that, you know, whatever standards you can come up to -- come up with, just do it, or they could declare closure, which they did last night, saying it can't really be done as a practical matter.

But the court had to play that role. I think they recognized there was no choice and they recognized how unfortunate it was that they were divided, just as divided as the rest of the country.

ALLEN: And we'll talk about Al Gore in a moment. But what about the Democrats speaking of divisiveness? Are all the Democrats that Al Gore has utilized in this fight onboard and ready to accept closure?

SCHNEIDER: All of them? No. Many are. He's been urged by a number of Democrats in positions of leadership to essentially acknowledge reality. But some Democrats want him to stay and fight. You're hearing those voices, particularly from the Congressional Black Caucus and some of the minority community and some of his more ardent liberal supporters, who really see this as a fight for principle. The principle is every vote must count.

It's interesting. There was no huge issue divide in this country. Even though the voters were closely split, it wasn't like there was a war or Watergate or anything like that going into the election November 7th.

Instead the issue divide has become the election itself and the principle that every vote must count. African-American voters, more than any other in this country, are very sensitive to that, because they struggled for over 200 years to get that right to vote, and therefore, they see it as a very important principle and they don't want Al Gore to give in.

ALLEN: Well, he is preparing to do that, we assume tonight. And if anyone had any doubts about how badly he wanted this, they certainly learned how badly over these past five weeks.

Give us a sense of what kind of difficult day this is, Bill, for Al Gore.

SCHNEIDER: Well, he has to decide whether to make the statement that he concedes. Essentially, if he does not say he concedes, he simply stops his campaign, he withdraws from the race, then he will not be acknowledging that he lost. And I think that Al Gore doesn't really believe he lost. He believes -- he believes he won but that we really won't know until all the votes are counted. And that could happen, because under Florida's sunshine law as well as the Freedom of Information Act, the federal law, somebody can go in, a journalistic organization, an authorized organization can go in and take a look at those Florida ballots under very carefully controlled conditions. And we could end up discovering months or a year from now that maybe there was a decisive lead for Gore, depending on what standard they use to look at those ballots.

But Gore does not believe he lost. So the question is, will he say anything in his remarks today to indicate that he -- he believes or he's willing to say that he lost the election. Or will he just say, I'm not going to be president, but I don't believe I lost, which would cast a kind of shadow of illegitimacy over the Bush presidency?

ALLEN: How do you think the Bush camp has handled this since the announcement? And what does George Bush need to do as far as the next step in trying to reunite those in Washington and in essence the country?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the Bush campaign I think has been very low key, which is exactly right. They haven't been pressuring Al Gore. They haven't been triumphant. They haven't been presumptuous, as Bush was immediately after election night in November, where a lot of people thought that he acted far too quickly to claim victory and to start setting up -- start behaving as if he was the president-elect.

He could do that now because of the Supreme Court decision, but he has wisely chosen not to: not cornering Gore and not pressuring him, but just waiting to see what Gore does and expecting him to do what Bush believes is the right thing, the only thing he can do in this situation.

As far as what his message to the country has to be, obviously some kind of reconciliation. You know, he's under pressure from some Republicans in Congress to govern in a strong way, to try to interpret this election as a mandate. There's a Republican majority in the House. There will be a Republican majority, though only a bare one, in the Senate when Dick Cheney becomes vice president. But it is not a mandate, and I think it would be a bad mistake for Bush to behave as if this were a partisan mandate.

ALLEN: Quickly, Bill, if you can think of one quote or one visual that stands out in your mind as momentous from this long ordeal.

SCHNEIDER: Oh, I think it's those -- those people in Florida staring at the chads...

ALLEN: I would concur.

SCHNEIDER: ... you know, over and over again with -- with a magnifying glass. I mean, that's what this election really came down to. Could they do that in a fair and equitable manner? The Supreme Court said, nice try, but they can't do it.

ALLEN: I hope all those folks that had to do that are now sitting on the beach soaking up the Florida sun. Thanks so much, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

ALLEN: Now to Lou.

WATERS: All right. Return with us now to that other branch of government, the legislative, which, if there is a concession or withdrawal or whatever you'd like to call it by Al Gore tonight, will have some interesting dynamics.

Chris Black is watching over all of that, and I trust my voice is reaching all the way into your ear, Chris.

BLACK: Finally, Lou, I can hear you now, yes.

Congress is already making the pivot from campaign mode to preparing for the administration of George W. Bush. There is great relief on the Republican side.

Dick Cheney is here today for a number of previously scheduled meetings with Republican lawmakers, and they are already calling him the vice president-elect.

He paid a quick courtesy call this morning on House Speaker Dennis Hastert and then had a more substantive discussion with Chris Cox, who is chairman of the Republican policy committee, to talk about the budget process.

Here on the Senate side, he met with Senator Chuck Grassley, who's the incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. That's the committee that handles Medicare and tax policy, two issues that George W. Bush talked a lot about during his campaign.

But most interestingly, Cheney was trying to watch his weight. He has three luncheon meetings, the most interesting with five moderate Republican senators. They say they want to give him some tips on how to deal with the Democrats.

As for the Democrats, there was a great deal of empathy and sadness up here for Vice President Al Gore, someone they know very well. There is also quite a bit of resentment and quite a bit of concern about what he's going to say tonight. Most Democratic lawmakers are holding their fire, waiting to take a cue from Al Gore tonight -- Lou.

WATERS: Chris, is Dick Armey or Tom DeLay on that list of Congresspeople that Dick Cheney has on his schedule?

BLACK: Not today. For the most part, Dick Cheney is meeting with people who have asked him to come up here and meet with them, people who are basically involved in policy on both sides. So no, he's not meeting with Armey and DeLay, but he has been in touch with them.

WATERS: OK, Chris Black, keeping watch up on Capitol Hill.

Al Gore again addressing the nation at 9:00 p.m. tonight. What he'll say only he knows for sure.

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