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Clinton: No need for 'hand-wringing' over presidential standoff


HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (CNN) -- Before President Bill Clinton ended his visit to Vietnam today, CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King interviewed him about the ongoing battle for the White House between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Here is a portion of the transcript from that interview:

CLINTON: As close as this is, now it appears that when all the votes are counted that Vice President Gore will have won a plurality of the popular vote. It appears that unless he wins Florida, he will be three votes short in the Electoral College. Therefore, everything is on Florida.

And Mr. Bush has a narrow -- the narrowest of leads out of six million votes, far less than a tenth of 1 percent, one-sixth of one-tenth of 1 percent, or something like that.

Watch CNN's John King's complete interview with President Clinton in Vietnam.(November 19)

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Now in an environment like that, you have to assume that either side will try to, you know, make the best argument they can, because you only have a whisker of difference.

I think the important thing is that there is a process underway and it is being shepherded by the parties. They are both very well-represented by articulate, able people, and they have recourse to the courts in Florida.

And the Supreme Court seems to have been willing to be prompt in its decision-making.

So I think the American people should just let it play out and should understand that with so much at stake, both sides are going to make the strongest case they can.

And the only thing that I hope that all of us will keep in mind here is that we don't know who won, but we do know that when people vote, they deserve to have their votes counted, if they can be. And so we ought to just respect the process and respect the fact that the advocacy will take place and they should take place. You can't blame either one of them for making the strongest case they can.

This is not a crisis in the American system of government because it will come to an end. It will come to an end in plenty of time for the new president to take the oath of office.

And there is a way of resolving these things, and all these cases are in the courts. And as I said, it appears to me that they are being handled in a fairly prompt way. Some of the decisions have gone one way, some have gone another way. And we will have to see what happens.

But I think the American people ought to let this -- it seems to me the American people are letting this play out in an appropriate way, and that's what I think should be done.

KING: Look around the corner, though. You have considerable experience, in your own right, trying to govern in a very difficult environment. Relations with the Republican Congress not terribly good during most of the latter half of your administrations. And now you have research being done on both sides about, well, maybe this will get thrown to the Congress, and can we, you know, disqualify electors. Do you see, A, with the election being so close, and then, B, with the very difficult fight over who wins, can whoever gets this job reasonably govern, in your view?

CLINTON: Well, I'd make two points. First of all, it is true that I faced an unusually partisan group of Republicans. But it's also true that we got a lot done. I mean, I've noticed with some pleasure, I confess, that students of American history, several of them have come out in the last few weeks saying that I had kept a higher percentage of my campaign promises than any president in modern history.

We've gotten a lot done with this Republican Congress in spite of all the partisanship in the last six years. We got a balanced budget agreement, we got a welfare reform, we got, just this year, a sweeping measure on debt relief for the world's poorest nations, and any number of other things. I don't want to go through all that.

But the point I want to make is, that even in a difficult atmosphere, where the Congress is closely divided, and the president is elected by a narrow margin, you should not assume that they won't be able to get something done. If they're willing to work hard, fight for their positions, and then in the end make principled compromises, quite a lot can be done. That's the first thing I want to say.

The second thing is, if you look at American history, it is not inevitable that the person who wins the White House under these circumstances will have a deeply divided country.

Now, you know, in 1876, when President Hayes won, he promised to only serve one term, so we don't know whether he could have been re-elected or not, when he lost the popular vote and won the Electoral College.

In 1824, John Quincy Adams won in the House of Representatives when he lost the popular vote, and he was voted out, although he came back and had a wonderful career opposing slavery.

But when Thomas Jefferson was forced to go for many, many ballots in the House of Representatives, he came out of it as a more unifying figure, with a commitment to be more unifying. And in effect, he was so successful that he got two terms, and the opposition party, the Federalist Party, disappeared.

And then two members of his party, James Madison and James Monroe, succeeded him, and they both had two terms. And arguably, that 24-year period was the biggest period of political stability in the whole history of the republic until you had the dominance of the Republicans after the Civil War, and then the Roosevelt-Truman years and the Depression and World War II.

So I think you -- I wouldn't -- I don't think we should have all these hand-wringing, dire predictions. We've got a system that's underway, and, you know, yes, these guys are, you know -- the advocates for either side are under enormous pressure. And of course they're being pretty snippy with each other from time to time. But, look, you'd expect it. I mean, 100 million people voted, and there's 1,000 votes, more or less, at stake in Florida.

So everybody ought to just relax, let the process play out. But don't assume that no matter who wins and no matter what happens, it's going to be bad for America. It might be quite good, because it might be sobering for the country to realize we're in a completely new era, nobody's got a lock on the truth, we're all trying to understand the future.

It's still clear that about two-thirds of the American people want a dynamic center that pulls the people together and moves us forward, and I think we still have a fair chance to achieve that.

KING: We are short on time -- indeed, out of time. But I just -- in a sentence or two, you have been at this eight years, and I think you have eight weeks. What runs through your head when you get up to go to the office every day?

CLINTON: I want to get everything done I can possibly do while I'm here. And for the rest, I just feel grateful.

America is in much better shape than it was eight years ago. We got to implement the ideas and the policies that I ran on in '92 and '96. I didn't do everything I wanted to do, but the overwhelming majority of things I wanted to do, I was able to accomplish, and I'm grateful that it worked out for the country.

And a lot of other things came up along the way which were good for the country. So I'm happy now, and I'm grateful.

And, of course, I'm thrilled about Hillary's election to the Senate. And I just feel enormous gratitude. But there's still a lot of things I'd like to do, and so I'll work right up to the end.

KING: Mr. President, we thank you very much for your time.

CLINTON: Thank you.


Sunday, November 19, 2000



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