House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt told CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer that he does not think that Vice President Gore will declare himself president on Sunday, even if he comes out ahead in the total vote count by the certification deadline. Instead, the Missouri Democrat said the legal process needs time to unfold.
"The reason is that we now enter a new phase for the next couple of weeks. We will be in what we call a 'contest' of the election," Gephardt said. "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 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 will go forward."
Speaking for the Bush camp, New York's GOP Gov. George Pataki told Face The Nation that he refused to speculate whether the Texas governor would declare himself president if the Florida votes are certified in his favor.
"But I believe the American people will accept the fact that he has won the presidency," said Pataki. "I believe he won it on November 16th - and the efforts to count and recount and change the standards are not an effort to try to have a fair an accurate recount, but to try to find votes for Al Gore."
Pataki continued to hammer home the Republican charge that the entire manual vote recount process is fundamentally flawed and prone to subjectivity and mistakes.
"I believe George W. Bush won this race, and to change the standards after the election is to put in place an arbitrary process," Pataki said. "I was in the counting room until almost 2:00 this morning and you see the inspectors holding the ballots up looking for marks. It reminds me of Johnny Carson's 'Carnac' trick. That is not a way to count votes."
House Republican leaders are reportedly already considering legislation to throw out Florida's electoral votes - as Congress can do under the Constitution - should Gore prevail in the Sunshine State. But Gephardt claimed such action is inappropriate, if not unconstitutional, saying Congress should be keeping out of the election completely.
"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," Gephardt said. "I don't think it's under the Constitution as 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 te Constitution calls for."
Stuart Taylor, a Supreme Court expert with The National Journal, said that if Bush holds his lead until the certification deadline, the governor will be in a commanding legal position.
"If Bush is ahead, the fact of the matter is there's no issue that has been put before the Supreme Court where they can help Gore, if he is behind after (the certification). The only thing the Supreme Court has been asked to do, in a sense, is to award victory to Bush by overruling what the Florida Supreme Court did earlier," Taylor said. "If Bush wins anyway, the case is close to moot."
"The Gore people have irons in the fire and as you look at them one by one, you don't see a winner," Taylor added. "The 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 and the circuit court."
Leon Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton, said that the Democratic Party is firmly behind Gore, so far. He said that support will certainly last at least until Friday's Supreme Court ruling - but he did admit that patience with the entire process is wearing thin in Washington and across the country.
"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, one candidate will be a winner and one candidate will concede gracefully," Panetta said.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) agreed with Panetta.
"We are closely approaching the time when both of these candidates are going to have to put 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," he said.
"That means that one of these candidates, at some point here, is going to have to reach a decision - that essentially leaves them to say, 'We are going to step back.'" added Hagel. "And it's going to be painful and disappointing, and in their minds probably unfair, but the best interest of this country is preeminent."
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