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Will Gore Bow Out Gracefully?

Aired December 13, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: In 90 minutes, the nation hears from Al Gore and later from George W. Bush. Tonight, will Gore bow out gracefully? Can Bush unite the nation?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a Bush supporter, and in Miami, Florida, Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings, a Gore supporter.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Suddenly but not smoothly it's over. The longest presidential election in memory ended shortly after 10 o'clock last night with a 65-page U.S. Supreme Court decision that was complex in argument but brutal in impact: Shut down the Florida recount and shut down Al Gore's chances for the White House.

Tonight, both vanquished and victor make it official: Vice President Gore at 9 o'clock Eastern and Governor Bush at 10:00 Eastern, and of course, both speeches will be carried live right here on CNN.

We begin tonight with a peak at what both of them can be expected to see: first from CNN senior White House correspondent John King, who's been covering the long Gore campaign.

John, what do we look for tonight at 9 o'clock?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, we look for about eight or nine minutes. We look most of all for the vice president to make the case that agree or disagree with what the Supreme Court did last night, it is time to respect the process and to move on. We're told the vice president will be quite conciliatory, that he will offer congratulations to Governor Bush, urge his supporters now to rally around the new president-elect. Don't look for the word "concession," don't look for the vice president to say anything that would leave the impression that he believes he lost the election, because he's not quite at that point yet, and many of his supporters telling him not to say that.

But he has told advisers that what he wants to do is bow out gracefully, make the case, though, for what he did here: defend his right to have asked for the recount, defend what he believes was well within his rights, to ask that every vote be counted. But as he bows out here, we're told the vice president will be statesmanlike, again urge the country to rally around the new president-elect, Republican George W. Bush. And we're told the vice president in his speech and in what he says privately in a conversation upcoming with Governor Bush and in the days ahead will offer to do his part on what he believes now must be a period of national healing, a bit of unity. And at the top of that agenda, we expect early next week a sitdown here in Washington with the new president-elect, Governor Bush, when he comes to visit. The White House prepared to issue an invitation, we're told, for President Clinton to sit down with the governor as well -- Bill.

PRESS: All right. Thanks, John, very much. We'll be there altogether at 9 o'clock.

And now, let's jump to Austin, Texas, check in with our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, a long time with the Bush campaign.

So, Candy, this is bringing the country together tonight?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, in words and in picture. The governor is going to be talking from the House side of the Texas legislature. It is dominated by Democrats who will be introduced by the House speaker, who is a Democrat.

They see this tonight as an olive branch to the Democrats. Bush will say, look, Republicans hold the hopes of the American people and so do the Democrats, and will make the case that over these past five week maybe people have even gotten more intent on getting rid of the partisanship in Washington. And he's going to salute the vice president and his supporters for the campaign that they waged, a very vigorous campaign.

He will talk about some agenda items, but with no real specifics, just talking about the things he talked about in the campaign: improving education, Social Security reform, that kind of thing.

What they want to do tonight really is just set a tone. They know that George Bush as president is going to have to try to move this country forward, and he can't do that until he pulls it together. So this is the "pulling it together" part of it. It will be all tone and very little about any kind of legislative agenda, because they believe that this is the first, most important thing that they're going to do.

That tone will kind of continue on tomorrow. The Bush campaign, the governor want to put together a prayer meeting at his church here.

So they're taking this slowly, although they are ready with their senior staff. They have some Cabinet officials that they want to put -- begin to put into place.

They believe that it's very important right now to just set the tone, and that's what Governor Bush will start doing tonight.

PRESS: All right. Thanks very much, Candy Crowley.

Governor Bush -- I guess we can start saying President-elect Bush -- at 10 o'clock tonight, and now let's get to tonight's guests -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Congressman Alcee Hastings, don't you think it's unfortunate that Vice President Gore, after all the turmoil he has put the country to in the last five years, still cannot -- in the last five weeks -- it seems like five years -- still cannot bring himself tonight to say I lost? He did lose the election by -- and the Supreme Court said so, and when he refuses to use the word "concede," doesn't that -- isn't that an overt attempt to undermine the legitimacy of President-elect Bush?

REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: You know, Bob, I came on this program to do something unusual, and that was to agree with you about something, but right away you've set me off. The interesting thing about your comment is that you are prepared, as am I, to parse the words of both these gentlemen to the maximum. I don't think the word "concede" means anything more than what he is about to do, and that is to withdraw from the election.

And I disagree with you most respectfully, Bob: Vice President Gore pursued legal remedies that were available to him here in the state of Florida. He didn't put us through anything. There is no misfortune. If there is any misfortune, it's going to be in the fact, as pointed out by many of the dissenting justices of the Supreme Court, that we may not really ever know who won this election.

NOVAK: Congressman Hastings, there is a meaning in words, as you know, and there was a rally today in Alabama. And a mutual friend of ours, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, was shaking and baking, and let's listen to what he said.


REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: ... driving while black and now voting while black. The election was essentially taken and stolen. You must get your votes in the public booth, not the private chambers of judges who are your political allies.


NOVAK: The Reverend Jackson is a pyromaniac with words, talking about stolen elections and judges stealing the elections. I want you to join me, if you can, sir, in condemning that kind of demagoguery.

HASTINGS: Bob, you know something, Reverend Jackson has his agenda, and I think you know me well enough to know that I have a mixed portfolio. There are times when I sound a lot like any civil rights activist when there are problems. We had a lot of irregularities and discrepancies in Florida, and just to respectfully correct you, that rally took place in Tallahassee.

I disagree with the methodology of having rallies at this time. Those irregularities and discrepancies cause me to use my part of my portfolio to work, like people, with your other guest that's on the program, Senator McConnell. I've already filed companion legislation to Senator Specter and Senator Bennett that was filed on election reform. And I think it's important for to us gather empirical data rather than be in the streets demonstrating.

So to that degree, I have a disagreement with my good friend Jesse Jackson, but I certainly respect the right that he has, as I'm sure you do, to demonstrate his feelings regarding an election that had a lot of irregularities and discrepancies.

PRESS: Senator McConnell, first of all, congratulations. I say it sincerely. I also want you to relax. I'm not going to ask you to critique either candidate's speech tonight before we've heard them. But I do want to ask you this.

There's no doubt that this is over. I think there are questions about how it got over, and I'd like you to listen to one of the more dispassionate members of Congress, how he put it last night, I believe here on CNN. Please.


REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: It's over, because the Republican Party, with the assist from the United States Supreme Court, ran out the clock. But they didn't run out the clock on Democrats; they ran out the clock on democracy.


PRESS: That's exactly what they did, senator, didn't they? They kept this thing going until 10 o'clock last night, and then said, oh, you've got two hours to fix the whole thing if you want to.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: No. The election in Florida was no more -- quote -- "irregular" than a lot of other elections across in America, but we've been focusing here on this so-called "undervote": that is, people who didn't vote for president.

PRESS: maybe.

MCCONNELL: There were about a million and a half of those across America: 5 percent of the people in Idaho, 4 percent of the people in Illinois chose not to vote in a presidential race; 30,000 voters in Oregon chose not to vote in a presidential race. Nobody in the Gore camp is going back and saying we ought to count those and see if Oregon really was carried, you know, by Bush instead of Gore.

Look, we want to have fair elections in this country. We have never had perfect elections. But I was pleased to see Alcee is interested in legislation that will improve the way we conduct elections.

Bob Torricelli and I have a bill that we think will make a major difference, upon which we're going to have hearings in the rules committee. And hopefully, by the time '02 rolls around, we'll be conducting elections all across America in the most modern way possible.

PRESS: But let's focus, before we start fixing future elections, focus a little bit more on this one, because here's Governor Bush, President-elect Bush, lost the popular vote nationwide. He got one more vote than he needed in the electoral college, if you add Florida in, and he won the Supreme Court by one vote, 5 to 4.

I mean, he barely squeaked in there. Isn't it -- doesn't he have the problem, for the whole first fours years, everybody's going to look at him and say, did he win it fair or square, or did he steal it?

MCCONNELL: We had a race for the House in Michigan decided by 100 votes, one in Minnesota decided by 100 votes, one in -- a Senate race in Washington decided by a couple of thousand. None of those candidates went to court to try to overturn. They just simply recounted and ended it.

Look, we've had plenty of close elections in this country, and speaking of close court decisions, the Florida Supreme Court decision was 4 to 3, the one that helped Gore.

Just because an election is close or just because a court decision is close doesn't mean it has any lack of legitimacy in this country or finality.

NOVAK: OK. Here's tonight's online audience vote: Should Gore be the Democratic front-runner in 2004? I can't wait to get the answer on that. Just go to and tell us. Gore in 2004? We'll have the results later. And then stay online for tonight's debate with Gore supporter Congressman Alcee Hastings and Bush supporter Congressman Asa Hutchinson, right after the show.

We're going to take a break, and when we're going to come back, we're going to get Bill Press' plan to elect Al Gore by subverting the electoral college.



NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

All it takes now for the electoral college to actually vote in George W. Bush as the 43rd president of the United States next Monday. Is this any way to pick a president? And what about efforts to peel away three electors and erase the Bush lead? Is that a last thread of hope for Al Gore yet to make it into the White House?

We're talking to Congressman Alcee Hastings, Democratic of Florida, in Miami, and here in Washington is Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Senator, two questions to you about the electoral college. First of all, I'm sure you agree with me, to be president, a man or a candidate has to win at least the electoral college, if not the majority vote. What are you going to do next February, next April when all the votes in Florida are counted and Bush is in the White House and you discover he didn't win either one of them?

MCCONNELL: Look, Bill, you can count the votes 100 different times, you'll get a 100 different answers. If some liberal news organization goes down and counts the votes and finds that Al Gore won, we'll send "The National Review" and "The Weekly Standard" down and they'll do their count.

The truth of matter is in an election this close - as I said earlier, we have fair elections in this country, but we don't have perfect elections. In an election this close, I think it will be very, very difficult to ascertain who really won.

PRESS: Well, I think all we were really looking for was a full election I'm not sure we got. But let's talk about...

MCCONNELL: Yes, they counted them one time, two times, and selectively three or four times.

PRESS: We've heard that -- heard that a lot. But about this electoral college, this is now the fourth president elected who didn't get the majority vote...


PRESS: ... only by the electoral college. Isn't it time in the 21st century to get rid of the electoral college once and for all, and let the people decide who their president is?


You laugh at that! I mean, that's democracy!

MCCONNELL: Can I answer your proposition? Without the electoral college, we'd be recounting all over America, in every single precinct in America.


MCCONNELL: The electoral college localizes the election in the states so that you can get finality in 50 different places. The electoral college is a very, very important thing. It will not be abolished. I don't even think there will be a serious effort to abolish it.

NOVAK: Congressman Hastings, one of the really distinguished and constructive Democrats, former Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, has been all over television saying how all you have to do is peel away three electors and steal the election from George Bush. Do you think that's a good idea?

HASTINGS: He didn't say "steal," Bob.

NOVAK: No, grab it. Grab it from him. Do you think that's a good idea?

HASTINGS: No, and I would say that to the governor. I consider the governor to be an extraordinary visionary, and a gentleman who sometimes serves as a co-host on this program initiated that idea, Bob Beckel, who you and I know very well.

I disagree with Bob and the governor. I think both of them are curiously naive if they think that Senator Mitch McConnell and his colleagues are not able to keep their troops in line.

I do believe that there's going to be a healthy discussion about the electoral college. I think it should take place. I agree with Bill that it should be abolished, but I also agree with Senator McConnell that it will not be.

But I disagree with the governor with reference to trying to pick anybody off. If it could happen, if anybody chooses to do so -- and there are 100 reasons why won could -- then assuredly it would make a difference. All Gore needs is three people.

NOVAK: Congressman Hastings, I want to go back to the court decision. You know, I have -- I have been around this town a long time. I have not seen so much judicial bashing as I have seen in the last 24 hours. It's amazing to me that the political -- that the liberal Democrats and activists down in Tallahassee on the Florida Supreme Court can write their own laws and the people in the media here don't get upset, but they really get upset over some conservative judges in the Supreme Court.

And I just want to read from the majority opinion. The five judges who had the majority opinion said that they didn't like to interfere in an electoral process. But they went on to say this, and let's put it up on the screen.

Quote: "When contending parties invoke the process of the courts, however, it becomes our unsought responsibility to resolve the federal and constitutional issues the judicial system has been forced to confront" -- unquote.

You can't really disagree with that, can you?

HASTINGS: I can't disagree with it. What I disagree with is a court that should be providing us finality ultimately picking the president of the United States.

Bob, you started by saying you've been around a long time. So have I. We don't know in our lifetimes any time when the Supreme Court picked the president of the United States the way that they did. These people stopped the recount.

Now, listen, they have a right to be strict constructionists, and they have a right to be strict constructionist activists. But when you talk about bashing courts, I -- in the last 24 hours, evidently you had gone to Pluto 72 hours ago when the Florida Supreme Court ruled and people, such as my good friend Tom DeLay, were calling them political hacks. That was not necessary.

NOVAK: I didn't -- I didn't hear -- just to clarify myself, I didn't hear the media bashing them. I'm talking about media bashing, all my liberal colleagues.

HASTINGS: Well, you know more about them than I do, but I do know this: that court bashing serves no useful purpose. But I also know that within the dissent -- and remind you there were six opinions from nine judges in this particular case. And I know that in the dissent it was made very clear that there were judges that thought that they had undermined their own credibility with the decision that was made and had impacted the legitimacy of the presidency: not George Bush or Al Gore, the presidency.

PRESS: Congressman, let me pick up there and ask you about that, Senator McConnell, because in one of those dissents by Justice John Paul Stevens, he in fact did say we know who the winner is and who the loser is.

Let me quote it to you and put it on the screen for our viewers. Quote: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of the law."

This court is seriously damaged and it's going take a long time to recover, isn't it?

MCCONNELL: Let me quote a CNN/Gallup poll...

PRESS: Oh, we don't believe in polls.

MCCONNELL: ... on the issue of who the American people would feel most comfortable with making the final decision in this matter. It was the U.S. Supreme Court, far ahead of Florida legislature or the Congress which is where it could have ended up had this not ended in the U.S. Supreme Court.

PRESS: You mean to tell me as Congressman Hastings just said that five Supreme Court justices pick a president of the United States and that's not a political decision? That's the most political court we've ever seen, Senator.

MCCONNELL: Well, you were perfectly happen with four members of the Florida Supreme Court in effect picking the president because they were allowing a recount...


PRESS: No, no, no.

MCCONNELL: ...they were allowing recounts to go forward in overwhelming Democratic areas until the result elected Al Gore.

PRESS: If I may, recounts of people who cast votes. They weren't casting their own votes, they were people who cast votes that were never counted.


HASTINGS: Absolutely, I disagree with the senator.

MCCONNELL: But they were not inclined to recount on a statewide basis.

PRESS: Congressman, I know you two, and senator, you disagree. But we just ran out of time, just when we're getting going here.


PRESS: Mitch McConnell, thanks so much for being here. Congressman Alcee Hastings down there in Florida, thank you for joining us. Bob Novak and I, we get the last word as always with our closing comments and again, don't forget we've got a big debate going on right after the show with Democratic congressman Alcee Hastings and Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson. They'll be at our Web site. Just go to right after the show at 8:00. Thanks.


NOVAK: Here's the results of tonight's online audience vote. Earlier, we asked whether Gore should be the Democratic front runner in 2004 and 78 percent of you said no, while 22 percent said yes. What perceptive viewers.

PRESS: Yes, what a phony poll.

NOVAK: Well, you know, I hate to correct you, but you made the same mistake many of your liberal brethren and sisteren have said in analyzing this dissent by Judge Stevens. When he is saying the nation's confidence in the judge as the impartial arbiter was diminished, he wasn't talking about the Supreme Court.

If you had read the opinion, you'd know he was talking about the attack on the Florida Supreme Court and the overturning of the Florida Supreme Court by the high court. That was the confidence -- the confidence in the state court he was talking about, not the Supreme Court.

PRESS: Believe it or not, Bob, I don't trust your reading of the opinion. I trust my own reading of the opinion. I trust the justices' words. But let me tell you this, Bob...

NOVAK: Read the thing. I can't believe it.

PRESS: Bob, 200 years from now, people are going to be talking about this election. You know what they're going to say? This is the most doubtful election and the most dishonest court in the history of this country. It's bada day for the country.

NOVAK: Oh, that's a shameful thing for you to say.


PRESS: It's a shameful thing...

NOVAK: I never thought I'd see a lefty like you being a judge basher.

PRESS: It's shameful thing for the country. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE. I'll see you on "THE SPIN ROOM" at midnight tonight.

NOVAK: Judge basher. From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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