<i>FTN</i> Transcript - Nov. 19

face the nation logo, 2009
Bob Schieffer, CBS
News Chief Washington Correspondent:
Today on Face The Nation, what next in Florida? We'll talk about it with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman; former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, speaking for the Bush team; and we'll get some insight from Sam Nunn and Howard Baker.

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow on what to do next in Florida. Will the Democrats concede if the count is halted and Bush is ahead? We'll ask Joe Lieberman. Dick Thornburgh will have the latest from the Bush camp, and then we'll talk with two statesmen who have a long history of working with the other party: former Republican senator and White House chief of staff, Howard Baker, and Georgia's former senator, Sam Nunn. Can they see a way out of all this?

Gloria Borger will be here. And I'll have a final thought about the count that won't quit. But first, Senator Joe Lieberman, on Face The Nation.

Announcer: Face The Nation, with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer: And we begin here in the studio where Senator Joseph Lieberman joins us. Senator Lieberman, the Florida Supreme Court, as the world now knows, will hear arguments Monday on how to proceed down in Florida. Will the Gore team accept the results, whatever they turn out to be?

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Ct.): That one goes beyond even my pay grade as a vice presidential candidate, Bob. I'm sure that the campaign will look at where we are after the Supreme Court rules, and at this point take no options off of the table.

But I think it is important to remember what Vice President Gore said earlier in this past week, which was that offer he made to the Bush campaign, that if the votes are counted by hand, as we want in those three counties, or as he said in the full state, then we would not be parties to any further litigation that might occur. And Governor Bush rejected that, unfortunately, including Vice President Gore's offer to have a meeting to improve the dialogue.

But I think it says a lot about where we are. We don't want to continue this forever, we don't want to continue it for a lot longer, but we want everybody's vote to be counted, and the reason for that is not only that we promise and teach our children and say always that every count does vote in America, but because we want the next president, whoever he is, to take office with a sense of legitimacy about him without millions of the American people who supported the other candidate saying, "We were robbed.'' And I think the way to do that is to do everything we can to have every vote counted.

Schieffer: Let me just ask you about something that Time magazine is reporting today, and I'm just going to quote, it says, "Late last week, Gore Campaign Chairman Bill Daley and former Secretary o State Christopher quietly informed the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate that if Gore cannot win on the hand recounts, the campaign will fold its tent.'' It said they cautioned the principals, you and the vice president are not there yet, but Daley and Christopher said they would find a way to get that message to you all. Is there anything to that?

Lieberman: Well, I wasn't at any of those meetings on Capitol Hill, so I don't know. But I can tell you that the vice president has not made a decision on that. I think we're focused now on getting every vote counted. We're focused on the very important arguments before the Supreme Court tomorrow.

We're very grateful that the Supreme Court not only agreed to hear this case, but that it stopped Secretary of State Harris from certifying a winner yesterday while votes were still being counted. I think that would have created exactly the kind of anger in the country by supporters of presumably ours that this was not a fair election. And frankly, it would have embarrassed the United States in the world. This is a test of our democracy. We're handling it well so far. And I think the aim here, and it's shared by most of the American people, let's get it right instead of getting it done quickly.

Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report: Senator, yesterday the Bush campaign leveled some tough charges. They said you're not getting it right. They said that in the counting of these absentee ballots, particularly the military ballots, the Gore representatives were disqualifying more of the military ballots because they expected not to get those votes. Governor Mark Racicot (of Montana) came out and said this is a process that is completely untrustworthy. How do you respond to that?

Lieberman: Well, look, I think our friends in the Bush campaign are unhappy that they weren't certified by the secretary of state as the winner yesterday, so they're going to do everything they can to try to put a cloud over the hearing that we're going to in the Florida Supreme Court.

On the absentee ballots, the decision about which ballots to count and not was made by a local elections official, most of whom I think are Republicans. There were Democrats and Republicans there who, representing each campaign, who could protest, but the final decision was made by that local elections official. And I think it's not fair to those officials to think that they would do anything but what they thought the law required.

Let me say that my guess is that this large number of ballots was disqualified - and incidentally, large numbers were disqualified in Democratic-leaning counties like Broward and Dade - but they were disqualified by the election officials because the officials know the that whole world is looking at every vote cast in Florida, and they're going to follow the law, and that's what...


Schieffer: But shouldn't you and the vice pesident put out some statement or something to the effect - some guidance even to Democrats who think they're doing - following the letter of the law that says, look, we need to give our military people the benefit of the doubt?

Lieberman: Well, look, my feeling is that every voter should receive the benefit of the doubt as they try to express their intention, the ones whose ballots are being hand counted in the three counties, the voters in Palm Beach County who got obviously confused by the butterfly ballot there, and everybody, including particularly military personnel who cast their votes from overseas. It seems to me that it's not only obviously in the interest of the United States, our basic value to count every vote, but it's actually the law of Florida that the officials have to give the benefit the doubt to the voter.

And I guess I could say more specifically on the absentee ballots: Al Gore and would I never countenance, would never tolerate, any specific policy by anybody representing that was aimed at singling out votes from our military abroad. That is just wrong. Obviously the military are the ones who fought to defend our right to vote, and they deserve it.

Borger: And so, go back and take another look at them perhaps?

Lieberman: Yes, I mean it's got to be done according to the law. It is not for me to say - I don't even know the circumstances.

But I can only you assure you, because I checked with our campaign last night when I heard about this because I was upset about it, that - I've been told that the directions to our personnel from our campaign were pretty much the same as the Republican people had, which is, just make sure the law is followed. That's all.

Borger: Can I ask you a very sort of plain and simple question because there have been charges and countercharges flying between the campaigns during this recount? I guess very simply, do you think the Republicans are trying to steal this election away from you and Al Gore?

Lieberman: I wouldn't say that they are trying to steal the election, but it does seem to me very clearly that they are doing everything they can to stop the recounting of votes because they're slightly ahead, and they fear after the recounting they won't be. We don't know how we're going to do in the recounting. But the point is, there is a principle here that every vote must be counted.

I've got to say that I watched as the Republicans attacked the counting of these ballots by hand and said that there's fraud there. Now look, if there's fraud, and they have evidence of it, they ought to take it right to the local election officials.

Al Gore and I want a fair, honest and accurate count. We don't want a single vote that we don't deserve. But it is unfair to make charges like this if they're not justified. And it is unfair to the citizens who are down there in those three counties in Florida working long hours to try to get - tuphold a basic American principle, that every citizen's vote ought to be counted. And that I think is what is happening there in those counties.

If you look at these pictures on TV, which I have, you have two election officials, a Republican, a Democrat, sitting right at the table looking at those ballots. It's pretty hard to have much fraud there.

But if they've got evidence, they ought to get it right to those election officials quickly. And obviously, I would support the fullest investigation of those charges.

Schieffer: Senator Lieberman, we have to stop there. I want to thank you for coming by and wish you the best of luck.

Lieberman: Thank you, Bob, good to be with you. Thank you, Gloria.

Schieffer: The Democratic vice presidential candidate, Joseph Lieberman. Now we're going to get the other side of the story. We turn to former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh who is speaking today for the Bush campaign.

And I want to make clear, when we're talking about those absentee ballots involving the military, the controversy that has arisen is that some of them have apparently arrived without postmarks, and the Democratic operatives are going over them with a fine tooth comb and some of them have been thrown out.

But, Mr. Thornburgh, let me start by asking you, Gloria asked Joe Lieberman just now: Are the Republicans trying to steal this election? In your view, are the Democrats trying to steal the election?

Dick Thornburgh, former Attorney General: Well, I think it is much too early to tell what the intention is, but we know what the state of play is. Governor Bush won the election on election night, the count. He won the machine recount, and he won the overseas ballots, and he looks to be in pretty good shape overall.

And I think the question that we have to ask ourselves first of all is, why are these recounts going forward in these heavily Democratic communities that were picked by the Gore team, a process that The Washington Post said this morning is tilted in favor of Gore.

Normally, when have you a recount it's because of fraud or malfunction in the machinery. Here it's alleged mistakes that have been made by the voters. I've been an election monitor throughout this country and in several countries around the world, and there is no place where I'm familiar with where casting two ballots for a candidate for the same office or saying, "Gee, you know, I'm not sure I voted for the right person,'' is grounds for throwing over the election.

Borger: Well, Mr. Thornburgh, if Republicans are complaining about selective recounting in heavily Democratic counties, why not agree to Al Gore's proposal to recount the entire state?

Thornburgh: I think they believe the process is flawed. We went to machine counts in the first place because we didn't trust the human element. And we've seen, during the course of this campaign, no uniformity in the vote couning procedures, varying rules set up, rules even being changed overnight in various counting spots. It seems to me that it's self-defeating to say that we should begin to recount these votes by hand at really a discontent over the original ballot count.

The logical extension of that vote is we do away with machine counting everywhere and simply count all our votes by hand, and that doesn't make sense.

Schieffer: Well, the other side of that would be to get some machines that got it right...

Thornburgh: Amen.

Schieffer: ... because obviously some people thought they voted one way and the machines thought they voted another way.

But let me ask you this, Mr. Thornburgh: If the Florida Supreme Court rules, is the Bush campaign ready to accept that court decision?

Thornburgh: Oh, I can't speak for the Bush campaign, and I doubt if they would speak without having seen the exact wording of the opinion that comes down one way or the other. We don't know. We trust that the court's going to put aside any possible partisan considerations they might have and will decide this on the law. And I think if they do decide it on the law, the Bush arguments have a good chance of prevailing.

Borger: Mr. Lieberman said, though, that what the Bush campaign is trying to do is create a cloud over this hearing that we're going to hear tomorrow before the Florida Supreme Court. How do you respond to that?

Thornburgh: I haven't seen any evidence of that. I think there is always uneasiness when you have to take an appeal from a winning judgment in the court below to a higher court. But I think we all hope and expect that the judges will do the right thing.

Schieffer: What sort of a timeframe do you think would be acceptable here?

Thornburgh: Well, that time frame problem is growing increasingly crucial, because American public has been very patient up to now. But I think if they see more delay, more attempts to jigger the process, they're going to get impatient, and we do have some deadlines we have to be aware of: the deadline for certifying the Florida electors and the deadline for having the electoral vote. I mean, we don't certainly can't anticipate that this would escalate into 2001, and still have a patient American public watching.

Schieffer: Mr. Thornburgh, thank you so much for coming by.

Thornburgh: Thank you, Bob.

Schieffer: When we come back, we'll hear from former Senators Sam Nunn and Howard Baker in just a minute.


Schieffer: Joining us now, two distinguished statesmen who have a long history of working with members of the other parties: in Atlanta, Georgia, this morning, former Senator Sam Nunn; joining us from Augusta, Georgia, former Senator Howard Baker.

Gentlemen, do either of have you a way out of this? Do you know what ought to be done next? Senator Nunn?

Fmr. Sen. Sam unn (D-Ga.): Bob, the answer is no, I don't have a simple, easy formula. There are some principles involved though. First of all, there is no constitutional crisis. I don't think we're in anything like a war or a depression. The public is calm. We have no rioting in the streets, no violence, really no allegations so far of widespread fraud or civil rights violations.

The problem is the legitimacy of the next president and his moral authority, because either way we go here, the partisans on both sides are getting fired up. The public, I think, is calm. If Bush wins without a manual recount, the Gore partisans are going to be inflamed. If Gore wins after a manual recount, the Bush partisans are going to be inflamed.

I guess the only way that people will be calm on both sides that are partisan is if you have a manual recount and Bush wins. Now if that number three doesn't happen, I think the American people in their wisdom, which they have in abundance, are going to have to calm down the partisans on both sides and urge them to accept this outcome and get behind the next president and make sure that we can have the kind of moral and political authority in the next president that is so essential for us to have the leadership in this country and the world that we have to.

Schieffer: Senator Baker?

Fmr. Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.): Well, I think Sam sums it up right. I do think that there's a grave danger here. I don't think we're in crisis status, but I do think people are sort of fed up with this. They - the people I talk to at least sort of say, "a plague on both your houses.'' We're tired of hearing about this. It ought to be over, and it should be over.

But as a matter of fact, a candidate for president of the United States not only has the obligation to try to win, but he has also the obligation to see that you preserve the legitimacy of the succession. And if this thing goes on very much longer - I don't know how long, but if it goes on very much longer - the country is going to get really upset about it, in my view. And it will cast serious doubt on the ability of either candidate to serve successfully as president.

Borger: Senator Nunn, this is going to the Florida Supreme Court tomorrow. They're going to talk about the legitimacy of a hand count. Should both candidates decide that they are going to abide by the verdict of the Florida Supreme Court and not appeal this any further?

Nunn: I think the answer to that from my perspective is yes. I think a court, unlike what some people are saying, when they hold up their hand and take an oath, I don't think they're any longer Democrats or Republicans. I think the judges are going to try to decide what the law is. I, myself, would support them whatever they decide in terms of the recount.

We've got a real dilemma here, Gloria. We've got a recount that is authorized - manual recount - by Florida law, and yet we don't have ay standards. And we have a secretary of state and attorney general who have been aligned on both sides and who haven't stepped aside, nor have they gotten together, so there is no state guidance to the local areas.

And then we have on top of that, a deadline law that conflicts with the manual recount law. And on top of all that, we have a litigious society these days. I'm reminded of the story about the little boy on the playground who runs into the flagpole. The teacher comes up and says, "Johnny don't cry, don't cry.'' He says, "Cry hell, I'm going to sue someone."

So, everybody is trying to - everybody is trying to litigate their way out of this. In the final analysis, the candidates have to step up to the plate, I think, and basically be the clients that decide the case, rather than the lawyers.

Schieffer: Well, what about that, Senator Baker? If I understand Senator Nunn, he says probably you ought to just accept what the court hands down, the Florida Supreme Court. Would you agree with that?

Baker: Yes, I agree with that. I also agree that it should have happened a long time ago. I don't personally think the thing should be litigated to begin with. You're not - you're not trying a contest over just the (inaudible). You're trying a contest over the election of the president of the United States. And I think we're doing positive damage by dragging this thing through the courts. I think it should have been terminated on the night of the election.

Schieffer: I'm very sorry to announce this, something has happened to our picture. And while were we were able to hear Senator Baker's voice, his picture just was a freeze-frame there. He appeared to be talking while his mouth wasn't opening or closing, but Senator Nunn, let me go back to you. What...let's see if we got Senator Baker back now. Go ahead Senator.

Baker: Let me just say that that's probably the best thing I've done all day is to talk without moving my mouth.

Schieffer: Senator Nunn...

Baker: What do you want me to do?

Schieffer: If this thing--is it best to get this settled in Florida? I mean, there are all kinds of scenarios now being talked about. If it gets to Washington, some are saying here that the Congress may not even certify the electors. What happens if we get into this - the nightmare scenario of it's not settled in Florida and it winds up in Washington?

Nunn: Well, the federal constitution, our constitution envisions that the states will make these decisions. So unless there is some kind of fraud here, then I think the states, the state of Florida, has to make the decision. The federal courts so far have held that, and I think that they will continue to, unless there's some real abuse here that's apparent.

And I don't think mistakes on ballots are an abuse. People make mistakes in every election, and officials make mistakes in every election. And we hav a lot of volunteers out there that work in every election in good faith, whatever their political preference. So, I think we ought to accept the verdict of Florida within the Constitution of the United States.

Borger: Senator Baker, I recall that you once actually ran for the presidency, so let me ask you to put yourself in this situation of either of these gentlemen. Say you become president of the United States. What's the first thing you do?

Baker: Well, I did run and I thank you for remembering. Unless you play Trivial Pursuit, you would not remember that I ran for president...

Borger: Actually, I covered the campaign.

Baker: ...but I did. Well, actually you did, and I was grateful for that.

But you know, I understand maybe more than most how deeply held feelings are when you're in the midst of a campaign, but that's why I say and say now that (OFF-MIKE) their obligation to see that in pursuing their own ends, they do not damage the country.

And I think this thing should have been terminated even before now. We are in the - Sam and I just pointed out, this might even get into - even beyond litigation. It might get into the question of (OFF-MIKE) certifies the result. This is idiocy.

You know, the country simply should not have to put up with that. Sam Rayburn was a great speaker of the House of Representatives. My dad was in Congress and was agonizing over a vote and Rayburn said, "Look, Howard, it takes an awful lot of effort to do much damage to this Republic,'' and that's true.

But we can do a lot of damage to this Republic if we don't decide this election and get it out of the way. I think we've already gone too far. It's already having a corrosive effect but it has not yet seriously damaged the ability of the next president to govern, but it will before very long.

Schieffer: Senator, I'm awfully sorry we got back into those audio troubles again. Thanks to both of you this morning. I'll be back in a minute with a final word.

Nunn: Thank you, Bob.


Schieffer: Finally today, in a week when the situation in Florida was spinning totally out of control, Florida's Supreme Court did the right thing in calling a time-out so everyone could rest and regroup. If the court had not stepped in and Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also co-chairman of the Bush campaign, had tried to declare Bush the winner yesterday as television was showing votes still being counted, there have been chaos, not to mention that the Gore team would surely have contested the election.

There may be chaos yet, but let's cut to the chase. This isn't about fairness. It's about both sides trying to win. The Bush team is trying to stop the recount in the heavily Democratic counties because it believes adding in those votes will throw the election and the presidency to Gore. Gore's people want to keep the count going for preciely the same reason.

There is really only one question neither side can answer now: Who wins if all the votes statewide in heavily Republican and heavily Democratic counties are recounted by hand? Gore has offered to accept the results of such a recount. If Bush would also agree, perhaps the American people would then accept the result as legitimate.

I am not taking sides, but I can't think of another way to settle this. Maybe the court will have a better idea. Let's hope so. But I know this: Unless Americans believe the presidency was fairly won, it won't be worth a dime to whoever wins it.

That's it from us. We'll see you next week on Face The Nation.