<i>FTN</i> Transcript, Nov. 26

Bob Schieffer, CBS News
Chief Washington Correspondent:
Today on Face the Nation, the presidential saga continues. Will the Supreme Court decide who will be president? The Florida secretary of state is expected to certify the election tonight, but what happens after that?

House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt will speak for the Gore campaign today. New York Governor George Pataki speaks for the Bush team. And then we'll bring in a panel for perspective: former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta; Republican Senator Chuck Hagel; and court expert Stuart Tailor of National Journal. Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on power. But, first, Dick Gephardt and George Pataki. Joining us this morning from St. Louis, Missouri, House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt. With us from West Palm Beach, Florida, New York Governor George Pataki. We're going to talk first to Leader Gephardt, but before we do that, Mr. Leader, let's bring folks up to date where this stands now.

The unofficial count in Florida, at this point this morning stands at - and I believe we have 403 votes that Bush leads Gore by in the latest unofficial count. But now let's go to Leader Gephardt. Mr. Leader, if Al Gore somehow comes out ahead at the end of the day today, will he declare himself president?

Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.): I don't think so. I don't think in either case will they do that. And the reason is we now enter a new phrase for the next couple of weeks. We're going to be in what we call a contest of the election.

And, Bob, I think it's important to remember where we are in all this. First of all, you've got the closest election probably in 100 years. You've got Al Gore winning the national popular vote by over 300,000 votes. He's got 267 electoral votes. He only needs three more to be president under our electoral system. And so, it's very important that we be sure that every vote is counted in Florida. And that is why this contest, on both sides, is going to go forward.

Schieffer: Let me ask you this: House Republican leaders, Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, are already, they say, considering legislation to throw out Florida's electoral votes should the Florida votes go to Al Gore. First, is that appropriate? And, second, can you stop it?

Gephardt: Well, it's not appropriate, and I hope they are not seriously entertaining that idea. First of all, the House should not be entering into this whole morass. Let's use the rule of law. Let's use the courts and the political and the electoral system in Florida to get this done.

It should not go to the House of Representatives, and I sure hope Tom DeLay or Dick Armey or others in the House are not thinking of trying to assert the House's authority to throw out electors, something that we've never done and shouldn't do. I will try to work with the other side. I'll try to with Speaker Hastert and Tom DeLay and Dick Arey to see that the House acts appropriately and does not try to insert itself in this in an inappropriate way.

Schieffer: Well, in fact, do you think they could prevail if, in fact, they tried to do that?

Gephardt: I don't know, Bob. I don't think it's the right thing to do. I don't think it's, under the Constitution, something the House ought to do. We changed the Constitution many, many years ago, back in the 1800s, and said the House will not elect the president of the United States. The people should elect the president of the United States through the Electoral College. That's what the Constitution calls for, and that's what we ought to do. The House shouldn't be sticking its nose into this in that way.

Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report: Congressman, if George W. Bush is certified as the winner today, should he begin public transition activities? There's talk that he will do that.

Gephardt: I don't think so, Gloria. I think, again, we're now in a two-week or so period in which you have a contest on both sides about this election. You have a very close election. There are still contests to be brought by both sides. You have the Bush campaign now in the Supreme Court of the United States; they're not going to have a hearing on that case until Friday. So I think we got to stick with the rule of law, stick with the legal system which has held us together for all these years and made this a great country, and see if we can make this work, and find out accurately who the winner of the Electoral College was.

Borger: Congressman, a week or so ago, there were Democrats who seemed to be intimating that Al Gore ought not to contest actions after the vote certification if he did not win, or to ought to concede. At this point though, it seems that the Democrats have changed and they seem to be a little bit more united behind Al Gore. What has changed here, if anything?

Gephardt: Well, Gloria, I think everybody is following what is happening. You can see how many changes there have been in this process. The minute you think you have it all figured out, you don't, and there's another turn in this process that you didn't see.

The facts are the facts. Al Gore won the national popular vote. He is very close to a electoral victory. There's now only a handful, just above 400 votes that separates these candidates in Florida. You have one county, Miami-Dade, which started to do a hand count and then stopped. There's some thought there was intimidation.

I don't know what all went on, but it clearly, if you had hand count in Palm and - in Palm Beach County and in Broward County, it's obvious that the Gore campaign thinks that we ought to have, and I think we ought to have, a hand recount in Miami-Dade. It should be done according to law, and it should be done after the Florida Supreme Court can hear that in a contest procedure.

Schieffer: Mr. Leader, let me sk you this. After the Supreme Court hears this, will both - do you think the Gore campaign will abide by whatever the Supreme Court rules or will there be other steps that they might take?

Gephardt: Well, I don't know the answer. Obviously, we're a country of laws. And the Gore campaign, you know, said early on, and I thought rightly, that even though they won the national popular vote, that we would obviously abide by the Constitution, which says you have to win the electoral vote even though he's only three votes short of winning the electoral vote.

So I'm sure that Al Gore and the Gore campaign is going to abide by the laws and the decisions of all the courts of our country, obviously including the Supreme Court as well.

Schieffer: Mr. Leader, thank you so much for joining us. Let's get the other side of the story now as we go to Florida and New York Governor George Pataki, who is speaking today for the Bush team. So I'll start with you in the same way that I did with Leader Gephardt, Governor. If the count shows that George Bush is ahead in Florida tonight, will he declare himself the president?

Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.): Well, I can't tell you about what Governor Bush will do, but I believe that the American people will accept the fact that he has won the presidency. I believe he won it on November 7, and all these efforts to count and recount and change the standards are simply and effort, not to try to have a fair and accurate recount, but to try to find votes for Al Gore.

And if you look at this fairly, I just heard Leader Gephardt talking about how well the Gore campaign wants to count every vote. That's not true. They don't want to count military votes. They don't want to count the votes of men and women who risked their lives to defend our right to vote. And in fact, they had a five-page legal memo telling people how to challenge military ballots on hyper-technicalities.

What they're trying to do is overturn every rock, looking for more Gore votes, extend this as long as possible. And I think it's extremely a gross disservice to the American people. Governor Bush, I believe, won Florida, and by winning Florida, won the election, and should be our next president.

Schieffer: Well, that of course begs the question: If Gore comes out ahead today, will the American people accept him as president?

Pataki: Well, take a look at what has happened here, Bob. For the first time ever, to my understanding, we are having a hand count using not just hanging chads or swinging chads, but dimpled ballots that have never been counted before. And this hand count is only going on in the two counties that Al Gore carried by the largest amount. Can you imagine if the Republicans said, "Well, we're going to do a new system. We're going to change the standards. We're going to have Republicans count in the Republican counties where George Bush did the best, and then add thoe in, and see if we can win the election." That's not right for America. It's not the way it could be done here.

I believe Governor Bush has won this race. And to change the standards after the election, to put in place an arbitrary process - you know, Bob, I was in the counting room until almost 2 o'clock this morning, and you see the inspectors who are trying hard, holding the ballots up, looking for marks, and it reminds me of Johnny Carson's old Carnac trick, where he'd hold an envelope up to his forehead and divine the content. That's not a way to count votes, and it's certainly not a way when you're disqualifying our military from voting, because they may have happened to support Governor Bush more than Vice President Gore.

Schieffer: Let's let Gloria in.

Pataki: Yes, Gloria.

Borger: Governor Pataki, if George Bush is certified this evening by the secretary of state of Florida, you still have a court case, an appeal pending before the United States Supreme Court. Would the Bush campaign consider withdrawing that appeal?

Pataki: Gloria, I don't want to speak for Governor Bush or for his campaign, I'm just here...

Borger: Is it being discussed?

Pataki: ... as an observer for the Bush campaign. But I think that, to me, despite the count, recount, over-count efforts to find votes, Governor Bush has won Florida. And if that is certified, I would hope that would be the end of it, and Vice President Gore will do the right thing and recognize that Governor Bush will be our next president.

Borger: So, as far as you're concerned, it doesn't matter what the Supreme Court decides, if the Bush campaign continues with its appeal?

Pataki: Well, certainly if the Supreme Court decides, as I would hope they would, that this hand count is an arbitrary process created after the election by the Gore campaign, and done in a way that violates the equal protection of laws, because we're only doing it in the overwhelmingly Democratic pro-Gore counties - if they determine that, then Bush's margin of victory would simply be greater.

But I think it certainly is appropriate for the Bush campaign to raise those questions. I think the Florida Supreme Court clearly engaged in overstepping its judicial boundaries by changing, basically, the statutes of Florida and overruling the ability of the statewide elected official, the secretary of state, as the Florida law provides, to certify the election.

So certainly Governor Bush was appropriate in making that appeal. If at the end the day, he is certified as having more votes, I would hope that Vice President Gore would say, "OK, that's it, good luck to Governor Bush."

Schieffer: All right, Governor, let me ask you this. As you heard me speak with Leader Gephardt, Republican leaders Tom DeLay and Dick Armey are already saying they would consider legislation to throw out the Florida electoral votes if in fact tey go to Gore. Does the Bush team associate itself with that movement, or what would you say about that?

Pataki: Bob, I can't speak for the Bush team.

Schieffer: But they're the only - you're the one that the Bush team told us was speaking for them today.

Pataki: Right, but I haven't spoken with them about what some leaders in Washington may or may not have said. I haven't spoken with the Washington leadership. But I do believe that this whole process of trying to stretch this out and look for more Gore votes, while denying our military the right to vote on hyper-technicalities, points out the hypocrisy of the entire Gore campaign effort. It's not to count every vote; it's to find every vote they can for Al Gore and overturn the results that were plain on November 7 and I believe should certify Governor Bush as having carried Florida.

Schieffer: All right, we have to end it there. Thank you so much, Governor. We'll have more on the impact of this recount and some perspective when we come back.


Schieffer: Joining us now from Monterey, California, Leon Panetta; of course, he's the former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton. With us from Omaha, Nebraska, Senator Chuck Hagel. Here in our studio is Stuart Taylor of the National Journal, who is an expert on the Supreme Court and the law.

Let me start with you, Stuart. Let us suppose that George Bush winds up ahead tonight when this count, whatever it is, is announced. Do you think that the Bush people would then go ahead with their appeal to the Supreme Court or would they drawback?

Stuart Taylor of National Journal: I think they would probably call upon the Gore team to end all lawsuits, and just let things take its course, because under that circumstance, they win. And I think the Gore camp might well say no.

But I do think if Bush is ahead at the end of the recount process, he is in a fairly commanding legal position, because although the Gore people have a whole bunch of irons in the fire, if you look at them one by one, I don't see a winner in there.

Their best shot might be to force the recount to continue in Miami-Dade County, but they've already lost that before the Democratic county officials, before the circuit court, in their first shot at the Florida Supreme Court. So for them to win that now, they would have to get the Florida Supreme Court to turn around while under a national spotlight, which suspects their partisan affiliation, and say, "OK, come to think of it we will give Gore one more shot."

Schieffer: But consider this: Had this appeal not been filed, and let's say that Gore did wind up finishing second today, there would have been heavy pressure on him to concede. Now it seems to me, he is not losing a thing by hanging around until Friday to see what the Supreme Court does.

Taylor: I disagree. I think that if Bush is ahead and again, unless some deus ex machina in the Florida courts - the fact of the matter is there's no issue has been put before the Supreme Court where they can help Gore, if he's behind, after tonight's recount.

The only thing the Supreme Court has been asked to do is, in essence, to award victory to Bush by overruling what the Florida Supreme Court did earlier. If Bush wins anyway, the case is close to moot, and it would be hard for the Gore people to seriously maintain the idea that somehow the Supreme Court was going to pull their irons out of the fire.

Borger: Leon Panetta, you heard Dick Gephardt talk a few moments ago about the united Democrats behind Al Gore. How long does that last?

Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff: Well, Gloria, I think that at this point in time, the Democrats are unified behind the vice president, in terms of the contest that he can file following the certification of the vote, and certainly, depending on what happens in that certification, I think there's going to be unity through the Supreme Court's hearing at the end of the week.

Look, I think - you know, this can go one of two courses. One is kind of a scorched-earth litigation process that takes us ultimately to the House and to the Congress, and prolongs this whole issue, and makes it very divisive for the country. The other is that there is a point at which there is a convergence of the rule of law, common sense and the national interest. And at some point, if that happens soon, then one candidate will be a winner, and one candidate will be concede gracefully.

Schieffer: Well, Chuck Hagel, let me ask you that: Will the public accept this? As I listened to Governor Pataki, he seemed to suggest that if George Bush is declared the winner today, that the American people will accept that, but they won't accept it if Al Gore is declared the winner. Where do you think we'll come to the point, as Leon Panetta talked about, where people will accept the winner here?

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.): Bob, I wish I was wise enough to give you a defined answer; I am not. I don't know.

But Leon Panetta is exactly right. We are closely approaching the time when both of these candidates are going to have to put the best interests of this country aside, because - and their own interests aside, and put the best interests of the country first, because elections are about governing, and we must govern. The world is not going to stop until we get our act together.

And that means that one of these candidates, at some point here, is going to have to reach a decision - and I don't know when that comes, but I think it's coming soon - that essentially leads them to say, we are going to step back. And it's going to be painful and disappointing, and in their minds probably unfair, but the best interests of this country is preeminent, and that is what must take precedence, and we will run that course. One other pont on that...

Schieffer: Go ahead...

Hagel: ... are the precedents that we're setting here. I think it's important that we all recognize that this process is living through a precedent process, obviously, meaning whatever comes next, everyday, every moment, is going to be important for the future in how we deal with this. So that is another dynamic that doesn't always get played out here.

Schieffer: Let me ask you quick question, Senator Hagel, as a Republican, you have heard that the House Republican leaders are talking about pushing legislation to throw out the Florida electoral votes if, in fact, they go to Gore. Do you associate yourself with that movement, or do you think that is a good idea?

Hagel: Well, I have always believed, Bob, that, in the end, the American people must have some amount of confidence in the validity and the verification of the process. And that is going to be critically important to governing this country over the next four years. So I'm saying that I think that should be most important. And to arbitrarily say, "Well, it's our party or the other party, therefore, I'm a Republican, therefore, I'll take that party line," I don't think you can say that that easily. The validity and the legitimacy of this process and this outcome is most important.

Borger: Stuart Taylor, let's go back to the court for a moment. We talk about the legitimacy of this process. Do you think that the court will work toward a unanimous decision, whatever it does, because this is such a closely watched case, and the American public is so divided?

Taylor: I think they'll certainly feel great pressure to do that and they'll try. Now, frankly, I think they're probably hoping that this case will be over before Friday and that they won't have to jump in, and it would be moot, which would make them very happy, because they don't want to get splattered with this same partisan mud.

But assuming they do have an important issue to decide, they all know that something like a 5-4 decision, conservatives over liberals or liberals over conservatives, depending on which way the centrists vote, that looks like a partisan outcome for either Gore or Bush is a disaster for the stature of the United States Supreme Court - an unprecedented disaster, because, suddenly, they would look as partisan as everybody else does.

I think they'll try very, very hard to avoid any such outcome, and that, unless they can achieve some sort of unanimity, I think the path of least resistance for them would be to leave the status quo undisturbed, which means affirm the Florida Supreme Court.

Schieffer: Let me go back to Leon Panetta. Did I understand you, Mr. Panetta, to say that you believe that the Gore campaign will hang in there at least until after the Supreme Court decision on Friday?

Panetta: Oh, I think without question. I think they'll file contests. I mean, assuming that th certification is made and that Bush leads by a few hundred votes, I think they'll file these additional contests, as they have a right to do under Florida law. They will go to the Supreme Court hearing. I can't imagine - I know what Stuart said, but I can't imagine that the Supreme Court or either campaign is going to back away from that hearing. And as a matter of fact, they shouldn't. This is the highest court in the land. They should make the final decision here.

I think it would be in good-keeping for both of these candidates to say to the country that they will abide by whatever the Supreme Court says. They are sworn as future presidents to uphold and defend the Constitution. There is no better way to resolve this than to have the Supreme Court of this country come out with a final ruling that makes very clear whether or not they should go with Florida state law or whether they should proceed with the vote as the Bush campaign has advanced.

Schieffer: All right. On that note, we have to leave it. We'll be back with a final word in just a minute. Thanks to all of you.


Schieffer: Finally today, as the Democrats became the party of states' rights this week, Republicans pushed the federal courts to intervene and George Bush broke out in a boil, I began to wonder what was next. Would it rain frogs? No, just a mild heart attack for Dick Cheney. That is scare, of course, that goes past politics, and I'm thankful he is going to be all right.

But in this strangest of elections, as we watch oddity pile on irony, let us consider perhaps the greatest irony of all. Once the election is settled, who will be the most powerful man in Washington? Not Bush, not Gore, but here's a clue: Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott can't stand him and George Bush didn't want him on the ticket. And the answer is, John McCain.

He came away from his unsuccessful presidential run with a national following. Surveys show he's the Senate's most recognized and liked senator, and that spells power.

There is more. No one person is more responsible for Republicans holding their slim majority in the House than McCain, who campaigned nonstop for countless Republican House members who had tough races. They owe more to McCain than their own leaders, and McCain will have great influence among them.

In a Senate split 50-50 among Republicans and Democrats, it is even simpler. Whether it's a Democratic or Republican initiative, McCain will be the swing slot.

Don't expect much, but whatever gets done over the next four years will carry McCain's blessing. Somebody, we don't know who, will be president, but the big winner this year was John McCain.

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


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