Florida Lawmakers May Intervene in Bush-Gore Battle
Legislature Could Appoint Electors of Court Fight Goes Too Long
By Patrick Rizzo
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Nov. 30) - The Republican-led Florida legislature decides today whether to intervene in the U.S. presidential election, most likely on behalf of George W. Bush, as he and Democrat Al Gore forge ahead with myriad legal and public relations strategies to win the White House.
Lawyers for the vice president and the Texas governor have until 4 p.m. EST to file their final briefs ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic hearing of oral arguments on Friday about the disputed election of Nov. 7.
Bush, who was certified on Sunday as having won Florida's crucial 25 electoral votes by only 537 popular votes, wants the nation's highest court to throw out a Florida Supreme Court order that extended the deadline for certifying the election results and that ordered the inclusion of hand-recounted ballots in the state's official tally.
Gore, who won the U.S. popular vote and says he would have won Florida if all its ballots had been counted, launched a media offensive on Wednesday, appearing on three major networks' evening news programs to argue his case.
Either man must have the state's 25 electoral votes to pass the 270 votes needed to become the 43rd U.S. president.
The Florida Supreme Court is expected to receive an appeal today by Gore alleging voter irregularities and asking that the recounting of disputed ballots begin immediately, rather than being delayed until a ruling on Saturday in Leon County Circuit Court in the state capital, Tallahassee.
The state's high court -- with six justices appointed by Democrats and one jointly appointed by a Democrat and a Republican -- originally ruled that hand-counted ballots could be included in the final tally, a decision interpreted as a victory for Gore.
BALLOTS TO TALLAHASSEE
The state judge handling the Gore lawsuit, Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls granted a request from Bush's lawyers for all 1.16 million ballots cast in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to be shipped to the state capital for possible recounting, not just the nearly 14,000 disputed ballots requested by the Democrats.
Sauls said the ballots should all be transferred to Tallahassee under police escort to await his ruling on Saturday on whether a count -- and how big a one -- is necessary.
The Democrats say the Republicans are trying to ''run out the clock'' on the disputed Florida ballots as a Dec. 12 deadline nears for selecting the state's electors.
Gore aides said they were concerned that delays in the circuit court would ''defeat the rights of the people of Florida to have their votes counted.''
But Bush aides say time is running short and work must begin on assembling the new U.S. government.
Lawmakers in the Florida legislature were readying what former Republican White House Chief of Staff Boyden Gray described as an ''insurance policy'' in an interview on CNN.
If the dozens of pending lawsuits should prevent Florida from picking its electors in time, then the Republican-led legislature could simply circumvent the courts and pick its own slate of electors -- who would back Bush.
Bush's younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been studiously avoiding the limelight since Nov. 7, said on Wednesday that he would sign a bill picking the electors if the legislature passed it during a special session. A committee of lawmakers has already signaled its intent but is expected to decide on Thursday whether to call a special session.
GORE SUPPORT STRENGTHENS
After a slew of polls this week showed that up to 60 percent of Americans believed that Gore should concede the election, CBS News and the New York Times issued a new poll on Wednesday showing that only 42 percent wanted the Democrat to give up now.
Forty-eight percent said that it was too soon for any concession. The poll of 1,012 adults was taken on Monday and Tuesday after Gore began appealing directly to the American public for what he described as a full and accurate count of all votes cast.
Bush remained behind closed doors at his Texas ranch on Wednesday but was due to meet there on Thursday with his vice-presidential running mate, Dick Cheney, and retired Gen. Colin Powell, who led the military during the 1991 Gulf War and is Bush's likely pick for secretary of state.
Cheney, who was given a clean bill of health in a routine hospital checkup on Wednesday ahead of his trip to Texas, said that Republicans had set up offices in a Virginia suburb of Washington as a base for preparations to take over the White House.
He appeared on a spate of television programs throughout the day, while Bush's father, former President George Bush, gave an interview to NBC but grew irate when pressed to speculate on public opinion polls and the election impasse.
Asked how his eldest son was dealing with all the hullabaloo , Bush replied, ''Steady as she goes.''
Gore called the aftermath of the election ''an incredible story'' in an interview on CNN.
''It is an unusual time because you prepare yourself to win. You prepare yourself for the possibility that you won't win. You don't really prepare yourself for the possibility that you flip the coin in the air and it lands on its edge and you get neither outcome,'' he said.
Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain had his own view of the saga, which has now stretched into a fourth week:
''If it was a book, we wouldn't read it.''
''It's too bizarre. Bad fiction, too bizarre,'' McCain said on CNN's ''Larry King Live.'' ''Nobody would believe the plot. It ... wouldn't sell a thousand copies.''
Ballots Trucked to Florida Court
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 30) - A rental truck carrying nearly 463,000 ballots that could help decide the winner of the White House left Palm Beach County under police escort on Thursday en route for a court in the state capital.
The ballots, critical to Vice President Al Gore's hopes of overturning a 537-vote lead held by Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the critical state of Florida, were packed into 162 gray metal boxes and loaded onto a yellow Ryder truck for the eight-hour, 450-mile journey to Tallahassee.
A state court judge in the capital ordered Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County elections officials to ship more than 1.1 million presidential election ballots to his court as he decides whether to order another recount in the two disputed counties.
Democrat Al Gore had asked Leon County Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls to order that the 14,000 ''undervotes'' from the two counties -- the ballots on which counting machines could not read any vote for president -- be hand-tallied and included in the state's election results.
Some had votes that could be detected by human eyes but which were not included in the certified tally that gave Bush, a Republican, a 537-vote lead out of 6 million cast in Florida.
Gore hoped to pick up enough votes to overtake Bush and claim the presidency. But Bush's lawyers said any counting should include all the ballots cast in the two counties -- nearly 654,000 in Miami-Dade and 463,000 in Palm Beach County.
Both Bush and Gore need the state's 25 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Sauls will not decide until Saturday whether the ballots will be hand-counted but he ordered on Wednesday that all of them be brought to Tallahassee in case they are needed.
The rental truck left the Palm Beach County government offices shortly before 8 a.m. EST, led by a police cruiser and followed by an unmarked car. Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore, who oversaw the loading, hugged the truck driver and sheriff's deputies before they left.
In Miami-Dade's election office, the sorting and packing was slowed by partisan observers' complaints that election workers were manhandling the ballots, which county officials denied.
The Miami-Dade Police Department's SWAT team -- the specially trained and heavily armed squad called out in gunfights and hostage battles -- will pick up that county's ballots on Friday for the 10-hour drive to Tallahassee.
Military Personnel Warned on Politics
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2000; Page A35
Two major U.S. military commands, one in the Air Force and the other in the Army, recently warned their personnel that it is a crime for officers to express contempt for the nation's political leaders, either in speech or in e-mail correspondence.
Brig. Gen. Jack Rives, the top lawyer for the Air Force's Air Combat Command, said he acted on Nov. 21 after reading in news stories comments from military officers who were upset by Democratic Party challenges to military absentee ballots cast in Florida. He sent out a message to people in his command, which includes 89,000 troops at 17 major bases, telling them that "this is not the time to send e-mails or otherwise get involved in an improper or unprofessional manner with the continuing controversy over the presidential election."
Col. James Rosenblatt, the staff judge advocate for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, said he decided to send out his own lengthier message after seeing the Air Force message.
Citing "the swirling political process associated with the presidential elections," Rosenblatt sent an e-mail reminding the command's generals and lawyers that Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids military officers from using "contemptuous words against the President, Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any state." (Rives noted that the article forbids officers from being contemptuous of governors and legislatures only of states in which the officers are physically on active duty.)
Rosenblatt, the top lawyer in his command, which has about 67,000 soldiers and civilian employees at 15 major bases, concluded his message by suggesting that the current situation may provide an opportunity for commanders to conduct educational sessions "on the question of civilian control of the military."
With 28 years of service in the Army, Rosenblatt said it was the first time he ever felt it necessary to remind officers that it is against military law to express contempt for political authorities. However, Rives noted that parts of the military have issued similar reminders twice in the past decade after military personnel publicly criticized President Clinton.
A violation of Article 88 can result in dismissal and one year's imprisonment. But prosecutions under the article are rare, and Rives and Rosenblatt said they weren't aware of any in recent decades.
Spokesmen for the Navy and Marine Corps said their services have not issued similar warnings in recent days.
November 30, 2000
THE CHANGE OF POWER
As Gore Presses His Case, Bush Camp Molds Image of Administration Building
By ERIC SCHMITT with FRANK BRUNI
Paul Hosefros/ The New York Times
Dick Cheney announced on Wednesday in Washington that he and Gen. Colin L. Powell would go to Gov. George W. Bush's ranch in Central Texas on Thursday to make plans for a national security team.
REGION BY REGION
Northeast, Midwest, South and West
ASHINGTON, Nov. 29 — Gov. George W. Bush's campaign sought to rev up the engine of inevitability today that Mr. Bush would soon occupy the White House. But Vice President Al Gore refused to budge and pressed his case anew on all the major television networks.
Even as Mr. Bush kept a low public profile in Texas, his running mate and transition director, Dick Cheney, said that he and retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, Mr. Bush's almost certain choice to be secretary of state, would meet at the governor's ranch near Waco, Tex., on Thursday to hash out details of their national security team. Mr. Cheney is a former secretary of defense.
It was a day of dueling presidential images, with both sides seeking the mantle, if not the title, of president- elect. Mr. Gore convened his transition team, attended meetings at the White House, and chatted briefly with President Clinton in the Oval Office. In an interview on NBC's "Today" program, Mr. Gore put the odds of his prevailing at "50-50."
Only Mr. Bush was missing from the TV tussle today. Mr. Gore appeared on five networks and his running mate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live." Mr. Cheney was interviewed from his town house in McLean, Va., for three nightly news programs.
The Bush camp is working to create a sense of inevitability. The campaign announced General Powell's visit when it would have been easy not to, given the remoteness of the ranch. Reporters and photographers are to be brought to the ranch on Thursday for a photo session with Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Powell.
Today's announcements followed that pattern. Fresh from what he described as a routine check-up after suffering a mild heart attack a week ago, Mr. Cheney told reporters here that the transition team had rented 21,000 square feet of office space in McLean, just outside Washington and a few minutes from Mr. Cheney's home.
Mr. Cheney named the transition's legal counsel, Michael Toner, and its liaison to Congress, David Gribbin, one of Mr. Cheney's oldest friends and a respected former House and Senate aide. Mr. Cheney also said that the transition would have a Web site operating by the end of the week.
Given what for now appears to be Mr. Bush's advantage in this electoral and legal muddle, he and his advisers are in a position to send the train down the tracks to a seeming point of no return, so long as they do it with at least some public sense of restraint.
Bush aides have said that they would not announce any cabinet appointments this week, but they are in so many other ways seeking to create the impression in the public mind that this is an administration- in-waiting, and one that is coming together regardless of ancillary impediments. On the lectern at Mr. Cheney's news conference, for instance, was an official-looking "Bush-Cheney Transition" sign.
In all the activity, there is a distinct echo of much of the Bush campaign, especially its final weeks. As Mr. Bush campaigned in states thought to lean heavily or tilt distinctly toward Mr. Gore — states that in most cases Mr. Gore ended up winning — part of the goal was to create an aura of Mr. Bush's unstoppable strength.
With Mr. Bush largely out of sight today, Mr. Cheney bristled at repeated questions suggesting that he was eclipsing the governor by appearing to be in charge.
"It's perfectly appropriate for him to spend time on his ranch and to continue to spend time in Texas," Mr. Cheney said. "He's still the governor of Texas. He has very important responsibilities to carry out there."
Andrew H. Card, Mr. Bush's designated White House chief of staff, inadvertently seemed to reinforce the impression that Mr. Cheney was upstaging Mr. Bush when he mentioned that he and Mr. Cheney had to get their boss up to speed by Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
"Governor Bush wants to be ready, should he become the president-elect and when he becomes president on Jan. 20," Mr. Card said on the "Today" program. "We have a responsibility to make sure that he understands all of the workings of the White House and how the cabinet will have to work."
A Republican official with close ties to the Bush campaign said of Mr. Cheney's prominent role: "Bush is in a very tough spot. In some ways, he's in the same spot that Gore's in. If you go out, and you get on shows, and you're your own spinner, then you're not very presidential. It doesn't lend itself to making broad leadership statements. It lends itself to getting involved in the muck and mire of this lawsuit and that lawsuit."
As senior campaign strategists seek the right balance of visibility for Mr. Bush, campaign workers in Austin have already begun researching the backgrounds of people under consideration for high-level positions in a Bush administration.
Today, one Democrat said to be under consideration for a senior posting, former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, said he was not interested in returning to government as part of a bipartisan cabinet.
Ari Fleischer, a Bush campaign spokesman who has been named the spokesman for the Bush-Cheney transition, said that while Mr. Bush had had general telephone conversations with congressional Republican leaders, including Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, he had not had yet spoken to Democratic leaders.
But Mr. Fleischer made a point of mentioning that Mr. Bush had called Representative Gene Taylor of Mississippi, a Democrat who was quoted in news reports as saying that if the election were thrown to the House, he would support Mr. Bush.
According to Republican officials with close ties to the Bush campaign, Mr. Bush and his advisers on cabinet appointments and transition are concerned about plotting the course that maximizes the chances of getting his education agenda passed.
Advisers to Mr. Bush have long said that his education proposals are the ones he is likely to move on the fastest once in office, since that was what he made his signature issue and one that helps define him as a new kind of Republican.
Earlier this week, Mr. Bush called three Republicans on the House Education and Work Force Committee: Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, Michael N. Castle of Delaware and Tom Petri of Wisconsin.
Mr. Hoekstra said today he was at his home in Michigan when he was reached. "I was surprised to get the call," he said. "And I was surprised that he committed 15 minutes."
"He reiterated that education is going to continue to be a very high priority for him, and he wanted to make sure that he builds relationships with people in Congress who have been active on the education issue," Mr. Hoekstra said.
Mr. Hoekstra said the governor told him that he wanted to reach out to all kinds of Republicans, and Democrats, to discuss the issue.
"I was very impressed with his approach," he said. "It's kind of like hey, let's begin this on a personal level. Let's build a personal relationship here, recognizing that we've all got our own policy priorities and those types of things."