November 16, 2000
With manual recounts underway in several Florida counties, a group of U.S. Senators looks ahead to the political fallout for the man who eventually wins this contested presidential election.
LEHRER: Finally tonight, the thoughts of four U.S. Senators; Republicans
Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Bob Bennett of Utah; Democrats Barbara
Boxer of California, Richard Durbin of Illinois. Senator Bennett, as of
tonight, who do you think is winning the battle for the hearts and minds?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: That's very hard to tell because the charges are going back and forth so vigorously that I think many people are beginning to tune it out because they're tired of the pontificating, the patronizing, the screaming that's going on. And I really don't know who's winning the PR battle.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Boxer, how do you read it?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: At this point, I think it's the American people. They're the real heroes. They're patient, they want this to be fair, and they're putting fairness over speed. And I am really amazed at them. I think that they're not given enough credit.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Hutchison?
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I do think the people have an innate sense of fairness. They are willing to wait a certain amount of time. I don't think they're worried about a constitutional crisis, as we have heard said on some of the news shows. And I think we are going to have a conclusion in the next week or so. And I think the people will accept it. I think both candidates will come forth and be good-natured about winning or losing. And I think we will go forward.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, how do you feel your side is doing in handling itself in this, the Democrats, the Gore side?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I think they've done very well and I think what they've done is remind the American people how important their vote is. And I think the American people, or at least the ones I've talked to, are very patient. They want to see this handled and handled fairly. A playwright wrote several years ago, it's not the voting that makes the democracy, it's the counting of the votes that makes the democracy and I think that's what we're engaged in.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Bennett, what kind of marks would you give the Republican side?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Came in a little late, quite frankly, unaware of the ferocity of the attack that was going to go on in Florida, caught a little bit behind the curve. I think now it's come up, and the two teams are probably equal. But I think for the first 36 hours, it went to Bill Daley and his team and then started to shift.
JIM LEHRER: What about the general perception that some people have that both sides really only care about winning, that the arguments could be interchangeable if they would help the other side or help themselves?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Well, obviously both sides care a very great deal about winning. They wouldn't be human if they didn't. So that's an obvious statement. Yes, I think there are some interchangeabilities between the arguments. But the one thing that moves me is a realization that I have not seen, frankly, on the news reports very much, and that is that the three election commissioners in the counties where the recounts are being asked for are all Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: And you think that's important?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: I think it's obviously important. I'm not accusing them of doing anything improper, but they're human beings. So you have a ballot here. The Bush person says that ballot is not a clear vote for Gore. The Gore person says, oh, yes, it is. And so it gets referred to the three people who are commissioners, and say, okay, you three get to decide.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Can I jump in here for a minute?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: And I think it would be only human for them to say, well, gee, we will exercise our best judgment, but they will decide, I think, more often for Mr. Gore than they would for Mr. Bush.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Boxer, are there human factors for the Democrats, as well?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: May I just say, this is amazing to me because right now a full one-third of George Bush's lead over Al Gore -- it's a small one -- but a third of those votes have come from revotes, recounts, manual, hand recounts -- in eight counties, six of which were dominated by Republicans. Now, you did not hear any Democrats that I know of accuse those Republican workers who were really good people, of anything untowards. You never heard Al Gore say, don't count those ballots from those Republican counties. I think this is what is sad.
The fact is there have been recounts, according to Florida law, in eight counties, six of which were Republican. And it doesn't seem as if my colleague, Senator Bennett, saw anything wrong with that. As a matter of fact, he's complaining about recounts that haven't even finished yet in the Democratic counties. It's really unfair. This is Florida law. It's called for -- a manual recount. And Texas law, I'm sure my friend Senator Hutchison, who is my friend, knows that they actually require, it's a mandatory hand count in all state elections of between one and three precincts as a check against the machines.
|An unfair result?|
JIM LEHRER: Now, Senator Hutchison and Senator Durbin, based on the exchange we've just heard now between Senator Boxer and Senator Bennett, that whoever wins in Florida and finally wins the presidency, are there going to be folks on that losing side saying, hey, wait a minute, they won because of this improper thing, there were Republicans who did this, there were Democrats who did that, and this is an unfair result, Senator Hutchison?
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Oh, I think you can't deny that people are going to be disappointed and people have very strong feelings. Every radio talk show that I listen to is talking about this, on C-SPAN, they talk about this. So people are going to have pretty strong feelings. But I do think the American people are resilient. This has happened before. We've had close elections. We've had elections where the electoral college was different from the popular vote. And the great thing is the Constitution has provided a framework, and we will survive. And we will have a working government, and we will all come together and we will make the extra effort to make it work.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, when Senator Hutchison says we, should she be including members of the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle? Will this kind of rhetoric stop once the result is in?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I think it depends a lot on the new president. You know, I'm sitting here tonight in Chicago, and I can tell you you can count on some people after this election, whoever wins, talking about whether or not it was a fair win. But you know, the American people, more than anything, want to see a president who leads our nation, a president of strength. And if that new president, whether it's George Bush or Al Gore, does reach across in a humble way to the other side and ask for help to lead our nation, I think that it's the responsibility of all of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, to close ranks and try to help that president.
JIM LEHRER: But you say a fair win, Senator Durbin. Wouldn't people in Illinois who support you, Democrats who support you, look to you for guidance? I mean what you say may... Okay, well, if Durbin thinks it's a fair win, it's a fair win, even if it ends up George W. Bush being president of the United States?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: I don't think there's any doubt about it. I think people will look to all of us who are in elective office for some signals as to what we should do. But I think we also look to the people, and the people I represent in this state are very fascinated by this election, but they are completely dedicated to a strong country moving forward with strong leadership. And I think those in public life who lose sight of it and keep this battle waging over who had the political upper hand really lose sight of our responsibility as public leaders.
JIM LEHRER: All right, I'm going to pick up on this in a moment, but a short time ago James Baker of the Bush campaign spoke of all of this, of the day's events, at a news conference in Tallahassee. Here's a piece of it.
|'No legal impediment'|
JAMES BAKER (on videotape): A one-paragraph interim order of the Florida Supreme Court has just been portrayed to you by my good friend, Secretary Daley, as the biggest thing since night baseball. Let's be real clear about the real meaning of this order. It was not a decision on the merits. It was an interim order. It did not address the decision of the state elections canvassing commission to certify the results of the presidential election in Florida. It did not speak to whether the secretary of state's or the attorney general's opinion controls as to the question of expanding test manual recounts to the whole county. What the court said was simply that there is no legal impediment to the recounts continuing and, therefore, the counties in question can proceed with the manual recounts. This decision does nothing more than preserve the status quo.
JIM LEHRER: And so, Senator Bennett, it goes on.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: It does indeed. And it will end up not only before the Florida Supreme Court, but I think it will end up in federal court. And then we'll see where we go from there.
JIM LEHRER: You mean all the way to the Supreme Court?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: I'm not sure. But I think it will end up in the 11th Circuit one way or the other, regardless of how the federal court... the Florida court rules.
JIM LEHRER: Picking up on what we were just talking about, the people in Utah, your supporters, Republicans in Utah, will be looking to you for reaction. And do you feel a responsibility of some kind when this is over, to...
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Well, of course.
JIM LEHRER: ...to judge the outcome?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Of course. When it is over, it will be over, and we must recognize that and move forward. There will be fully half of the population that will be convinced, when it's over, that the election has been stolen, no matter which one of them wins. Those of us in public life should avoid that language when the result is here and say, okay, whether it was stolen or it isn't, the fact is that legally we now have a president, we now recognize his powers under the Constitution, and we go forward. And I intend to reach across the aisle as best I can in the Senate to try to see to it that we try to go forward in a positive and worthwhile way.
But let's not sit here and pretend that people's feelings on this are not as high as they really are. Yes, the American people are resilient, and yes, they're watching this with great interest. But just about everybody who's watching it carefully feels that the other side is doing something underhanded. And that's probably why it will end up in the courts and why eventually a court decision may be the best one.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Boxer, he's right, isn't he?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Absolutely. The fact is the courts have to weigh in here. And it is my view, just looking over some of the law in Florida, their big case on point was several years ago, and basically said, you've got to bend over backwards to make sure the right person takes office. And I think we all have to ask ourselves the question: Whoever we supported, wouldn't it be terrible if the wrong man was sworn in? And I think the key here is to make sure that we follow the law, that we make sure that every vote we can count is counted. And that's where we're going.
I would say this, in terms of Mr. Baker... Secretary Baker's comment. He said it's nothing more than the status quo. It's really quite different because, before this interim decision, my understanding was West Palm Beach was not counting votes. My understanding is they are now counting votes. So it's not exactly a status quo, at least in that county.
|A stolen election?|
LEHRER: Let me be very straight... Let me ask you a very straight question,
Senator Boxer. Let's say that it goes through whatever process it goes
through and it is decreed that George W. Bush is the winner in Florida
and he becomes president of the United States. Do you believe that he
would be the president as a result of a stolen election?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I would never, ever, ever use those terms at all. And I think it is very important that we not use those terms. I have one job to do in the United States Senate, and that is to fight for the people of California. I know very much what they want me to do. I know who they voted for for president because of the issues, and I will reach across party lines and within my own party to get those things done, regardless of who is president. I think a protracted fight over this will hurt our nation.
JIM LEHRER: So even if you thought it was stolen, you wouldn't say it, is that...
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I don't use the words, words like "stolen"-
JIM LEHRER: I'm just picking up -
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: -- I don't. No, I don't. That's not even in my lexicon of words right now.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: My issue is: Will we seat the right person or the wrong person? And I have one prescription to make sure we seat the right person. Count all the votes. That's what the law says to do. I think it's rather sad, again -- I agree with Al Gore that he stepped forward and made a very good suggestion to Governor Bush. I was sorry he didn't do it, to recount all of these precincts. After all, many Republican counties have been hand-counted.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Hutchison, how do you feel about how the rhetoric should go and will go from you and from others once this is finally resolved, regardless... Let's say George W. Bush does not win and Al Gore is the president of the United States. Are you willing to back off?
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Oh, I think once the decision is made and we have a president, I think we will all come together, and I think we will do so in Congress and we will look at the things that all of us have promised. We've promised tax relief, Social Security reform, Medicare reform. I think we will find the nuggets where we can work together on those issues, and I think all of us are going to have to give a little to produce results. And I think we will.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Durbin, there's a lot of skepticism outside the Congress about this, as you know, that my goodness, whoever wins is going to go in there limping and it's going to be a difficult time if. If it's President Bush, he's going to have a difficult time with you and your Democratic colleagues. The outside types are right, are they not? No?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: Well, I think you have to concede the fact that it's going to be a very closely divided Congress. But I remember what the original Mayor Daley used to say election night, humble in victory, courageous in defeat. And I think the winner, whether it's Al Gore or George Bush, if they show the proper humility, if they show in establishing their cabinet and their agenda and the way they deal with the other party that they really do want to achieve something for the American people, I think Congress is going to get the message, and perhaps, maybe just on a long shot here, when it's all said and done, a little less partisanship on Capitol Hill and maybe rallying behind a president who's trying to bring the American people together, too.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it that way, Senator Bennett, realistically?
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Realistically, when I first got here, one of my senior colleagues who had been here for a while when I was asking questions about partisanship, made a comment that I think applies here. He said, look, Bob, popular presidents get what they want; unpopular ones don't. The size of the mandate doesn't make any difference. Look back in history. John F. Kennedy had a clouded election. There were many people who believed that it was stolen by Secretary Daley's father. He became popular rather quickly. He had a style, a charisma about him that people liked. And the size of his mandate made little or no difference.
On the other hand, Lyndon Johnson won with a landslide, and he became unpopular by virtue of the way he handled the Vietnam War. And I remember in this town when he couldn't get anything he wanted. So yes, at the time of the inauguration, we'll all have this kind of rhetoric. But when the administration really starts, it will depend on how well the president communicates with the people, how well they feel about him. And those of us in Congress will go along with public opinion, as we always do in that regard.
JIM LEHRER: And all this will be irrelevant. And thank you, four senators, very much.