Dan Rather Interviews Lieberman

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman sat down for an exclusive interview with CBS News Anchor Dan Rather. The transcript of their discussion follows:

Rather: Bill Daley said, and I quote: "If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory." Is the Gore camp suggesting that a George Bush presidency would not be legitimate?

Lieberman: No, not at all. In fact, the entire effort that's going on now in Florida is aimed at making sure that whoever takes office in January as President of the United states will do so with full legitimacy. That is, there won't be any questions about the election process that brought that president there and therefore no questions about the authority of the president to govern. I will say that we feel very proud of the fact that at this moment, Al Gore and I are leading in the popular vote count, we're leading in the Electoral College, and in the state of Florida by the AP tally we're only 327 votes down now out of six million cast. So what we're about is making sure that the president who takes office is the one who got the most votes.

Rather: Senator, how many people in your party, at the top level of your party, have called to urge you and Vice President Gore to give it up and get on with it?

Lieberman: I can only speak about myself, Dan, and the answer is zero. Not a single person has called. I think that they understand that the recount that is occurring in Florida now wasn't even requested by us. It is required by Florida law because of the closeness of the vote. The hand recount that we're asking for is based on allegations of trouble in the voting procedure in four different counties, and that's not mandatory, that's up to the election officials in those counties. Three of them said we've made enough of a showing that some of the voters might have been frustrated in their desire to cast a vote in the way that they wanted that they're going to do a hand recount. So, no. I think I understand that there is some frustration out there in the public. There's frustration that we feel. This was a long campaign and, naturally, we would have liked a clear decision. But that wasn't to be, and we just think there is a critical principle at stake here which is that this government of ours rules by consent of the governed, freely expressed in an election. And the right to vote and the right to have your vote count are at the heart of our democracy and we just think some folks in Florida didn't have their votes counted. So that's why we're in the process we're in now.

Rather: Senator, it's my understanding that the overseas absentee ballots cannot and will not completely be in and counted before about a week from today. Can you see any reasonable scenario before that time that Vice President Gore and yourself say, "We're convinced it's Bush, and we concede?"

Lieberman: Not at all. Incidenally it's so close, and in fact, in the mechanical recount that's going on in Florida you know we've gained apparently about 1,500 votes from where the estimate was on election night. And that's just the machine recount when you put the computer cards back in the calculator. We think there may be big changes in the hand recount that is beginning in three of the four counties where we requested it. So, I don't see any conclusion here before next Friday when all of the votes will be in. And then the judgement will be up to both of the campaigns. And I'm hopeful that by next Friday Al Gore and I will be ahead in Florida.

Rather: Senator, give me your strongest brief for why this is good for the country to have this stretch on for even another week, never mind beyond that.

Lieberman: Again, at this point we're not stretching it on. The voters, by voting in an election in Florida that's so close, instigated, or kicked in, a Florida law that said that this recount that' s going on now has to go on. But look, this is at the heart of our democracy. The right to vote, the right of American citizens to express their desires for who will lead their country is a right that has been fought and died for by soldiers wearing the uniform of the U.S. over the generations. I went to Mississippi as a college student in 1963 to work with African-Americans there who were being denied the right to vote and that is sacred in our country. And we believe sincerely in this extraordinarily close election that the right of some people in Florida to vote was frustrated, was blocked, and that's the principle. The broader principle also is that when a president takes office on January 20th of 2001, that president should have emerged from an election process over which there were no clouds. That is, everyone will feel that the election was legitimate, and therefore the authority of the incoming president will be unquestioned. And, Dan, that's particularly strong at this moment because we have an electorate in this country that's obviously almost evenly divided. Congress is very closely divided. It's going to be a challenge for the new president to govern and to produce results for the American people. And the last thing that president needs, whether it's George Bush or Al Gore, is a cloud hanging over the election that brought him here. And remember, right now, Al Gore and I are leading in the popular vote, leading in the Electoral College, and are only 327 votes behind in Florida. So we think momentum is on our side.

Rather: Are you concerned about a public backlash, including some among Democrats who cast Al Gore and yourself as sore losers?

Lieberman: Well, this is not about sore losers. This is about the fundamental principles of our democracy that those of us who are privileged to lead by consent of the citizenry, and that consent is expressed in free elections. Again, I understand the desire of people to move on. But thee is a big principle involved here. It's at the heart of our democracy and the truth is that there's no hurry. The electors from the various states don't meet until December 18th and the president is not sworn in until January 20th. It's worth the time to make sure that those who voted, not just in Florida, but across American, have their votes accurately reflected. And what I'm saying when I talk about across America is that, you know, almost 100 million people voted. Almost 50 million voted for Al Gore and me and they expected that not only their votes but the votes of everyone else who wanted Al Gore would be counted. If we allow some of the procedures in Florida -- which I'm convinced blocked the desire of thousands of people who wanted to vote for Al Gore and me -- to do so, it not only diminishes their rights, it diminishes the rights of every one of the almost 50 million people in our country who wanted Al Gore and me to be elected. So I think we all ought to step back, relax and understand that there is a big democratic -- small "D" -- principle at work here. That this is history and precedent that we're setting. And as much as all of us want the election result to be clear -- and frankly none of us I'm sure wants this to end more than the candidates in both parties -- none the less it's got to end right. The votes of all the people who voted have to be counted right and it's worth a little time to do that.

Rather: Senator, I know that you need to move on and I want you to be able to move on. But this just in, if you will. Concerning New Mexico: the central vote counting clearing house for the press, VNS, has now pulled New Mexico, as of this moment, back from the Gore column and put it in the undecided column. Not for Gore, five electoral votes there, because the actual vote tabulated shows a margin as thin as 100 votes for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Your comment on that.

Lieberman: We had heard that that was happening. That's exactly the kind of argument we're making. For the right of the voters in Florida to be accurately reflected also relates to the voters of New Mexico. We've also heard that the votes are moving slowly as they're counted in Oregon, very much in our direction, and there is a chance that that state will be taken out of the too close to call category in the near future. So this was a remarkably close election. All the more reason to make sure that the result of it reflects the desire the voters of America and has no cloud of illegitimacy hanging over it as the president takes that oath next January 20th.

Rather: Senator, when is the last time you saw Vice President Gore?

Lieberman: I saw Vice President Gore on Wednesday when I left Nashville. We were together most of the day, or a good part of the day, and I've spoken to him each day since then.

Rather: True or untrue that he's just crushed.

Lieberman: Oh no, I must say I was with Al Gore throughot the night on Tuesday and he showed remarkable strength and balance in a in a very difficult circumstance. And incidentally, at the moment when the networks declared George Bush the winner in Florida and across the nation, prematurely, Al Gore, I can't think of a better way to say it, took it like a man. And he said, "We've got to go over now and concede." And in fact, I was hesitant because the vote was so close. So I think he was ready to do what clearly he felt was in the national interest and not to extend the voting process any longer than it had to be extended. It was only when we got over to the War Memorial in Nashville, we got a call that said the margin is not 50,000, it seems to be down to 600, that that we decided that we couldn't concede if it looked like you might have carried the state that would determine the election. Each day I've talked to Al. He's very sharp and straight-ahead and I'm proud of him. And if I may say, I think he's showing exactly the kind of characteristics that I've always seen in him that I believe would make him a very strong and effective president.

Rather: Last quest Senator. Did he talk to you about his conversations with Governor Bush when he called to congratulate him and then called to pull it back. Did he discuss that with you?

Lieberman: He did discuss the first conversation. I was not there when that happened. I was there when the second conversation happened, but you know, I always feel that the conversations that he and I have are and should be private, even though we're not in office yet.

Rather: I understand that and respect it. Senator, thank you so much, particularly under the circumstances, for taking the time to do this. We appreciate it.

Lieberman: Thank you, Dan.

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