November 14, 2000
|JIM LEHRER: Now some thoughts about what's happening, from four former U.S. Senators. Republicans Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, and Democrats George Mitchell of Maine and Dale Bumpers of Arkansas. Senator Mitchell, how are the... the election was a week ago today. How are the two men involved, the two candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore, handling themselves and their cases?|
|How the campaigns have handled the controversy|
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: It's sure been a long week, hasn't it? It seems like ancient history when the election was held. I think they've done the politically and substantively astute thing: They have stepped back from the limelight. They've let others carry the very difficult tasks that are now underway -- obviously preserving for themselves the option that if one of them... whichever one wins he'll be in a position to govern.
JIM LEHRER: But let me expand the question not to them personally but to their people, to their case, to their campaigns, to the various former secretaries of state who are representing them, how are they doing that?
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, that's a lot tougher question because there are a lot of people involved in a lot of decisions and it's very easy to second-guess decisions that are made. I don't agree with some of what has occurred. Let me give you one example which is a partisan one. Maybe Warren and Alan would give another one. The whole Republican approach now is advanced by Secretary Baker is that these hand recounts are awful. But, in fact, in six Florida counties, controlled by Republicans, there have been hand counts and Governor Bush has benefited from them, 97 votes increased in Seminole County, 40 votes increased in Polk County. I don't see how you can credibly argue that we have the benefit of recounts in some counties there can't be another. I don't agree with that decision. I think they would have been better to say let's have these hand recounts in as many places as possible, get it done promptly and certify the result. I think that would have been the best way to proceed. That's one decision. There are many others the other way. I'm sure my colleagues can point them out that they disagree with on the Democratic side. Overall it's a very tough situation for everyone involved. It's unprecedented, highly charged, very political, a lot at stake. I think what's most needed is a calming effect to say, look, we've got to resolve this soon but not at the expense of accuracy and fairness. We've got to try to get it done in a way that preserves, for whoever the victor is, the ability to govern, to manage the nation effectively.
|Headed for the Supreme Court?|
JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator Simpson, some are suggesting at this point that both sides are --pretty well already thrown it out in the air -- if the other guy wins, he stole it. Is that almost there? Are we almost to that point?
FORMER SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Well, you've thrown me into a tank there with these three friends who are lovely people, George, Dale, Warren. We had a lot of fun as we worked together even though Mitchell was a very partisan fellow but he looked kind. And I always liked that. He said, "Simpson, it takes one to know one." I tell you, it's my personal view that this thing is going to the United States Supreme Court because both of them will say, we was robbed. We have raised it now, without question, to a legal morass. You have a little thing filed today: Emergency appeal -- just one little line. That gets everything into the federal system. And once you wire the state court into the federal system, the injunction -- George used to say... I said, "George, I wouldn't want to practice in front of you." He'd say, "you're not kidding." Bumpers, I wouldn't want to run up and down the hallway with that cat while he's pleading to a jury. Let me tell you, it's going to go to the US Supreme Court. There isn't a question in my mind. The stakes are awesome. Nobody is going to let it end up with a canvassing board or whoever, a secretary of state, nobody.
JIM LEHRER: Is that where it belongs, Senator Bumpers?
FORMER SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: Yeah, yeah. If you're going to exercise all the muscles of democracy, exercise the heart and the lungs and the head and the sound, the voice and that's all the way through.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Senator Bumpers?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Let me say when everybody started talking about how nobody should go to court, that was a foolish thought. Obviously a lot of court action has taken place, going to continue to take place. And most of it... they're simply following the Florida law in doing it. And they're also exercising their rights. Let me just give you the partisan position on the Democratic side. You asked the question, how are they doing? I personally thought Al Gore's statement at the White House yesterday afternoon was very statesmanlike. He said it very clearly. What we want, and I think he echoes the American people. He simply says that we want everybody in this country or everybody in Florida who voted to be enfranchised. We do not want to disenfranchise them. Machines are... they're fast and they're inexpensive, but they are not the most accurate count. The most accurate count is a hand count. Everybody recognizes that. And my authority on that is George W. Bush. He said so when he signed a bill for hand counting in Texas. So, our position has been, we want everybody enfranchised. That's what democracy is all about. And we think a hand count is the right way to do it.
JIM LEHRER: But isn't the assumption that your side is making that, yes, a hand count will result in a victory for Al Gore?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well certainly it may but it may not.
JIM LEHRER: But the assumption is that will, it not?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, I don't know. Obviously, they didn't pick the three big Gore counties hoping they'd lose, but that was their choice and they did it timely under the Florida law.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Rudman, what do you think about this question of... the point that Senator Simpson was making that "we was robbed" is now in the air and that it's going to have to be resolved by the Supreme Court?
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, Alan is right, of course, it in the air. But I'm not sure on what basis in the air for either camp. The one thing we can all agree on up to now there has been some evidence of incompetence and an abominable ballot -- that butterfly ballot -- in Palm Beach County, which was designed by I don't know who. But the fact is that there's no evidence of fraud or malfeasance, maybe some negligence. On that basis, my view is that Florida should do what Florida normally does. I assume that Florida statute is like the New Hampshire statute or probably any other statute. If you have an election, which is... which hits a certain threshold in terms of closeness, it reaches that level of closeness, then you're entitled to a recount. So the recount shouldn't be in the whole state. It should be wherever it meets that statutory count. And where it does, frankly, I don't disagree with George at all or with Dale, hand recounts are probably a very effective way to do it. They ought to do it. For your first question, I think both parties have raised the level of rhetoric higher than it ought to be. And I think one thing they ought to be thinking about is the American people, and the people I talk to, people who stop me in the street and they know me -- what do you think -- they are not happy with this. They would like this to be handled in a dignified way in the courts, out of the courts. As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, I'll make a prediction. Unless there's some evidence of some gross violation of somebody's civil rights, as that is broadly construed, I don't think the United States Supreme Court or any other federal court will accept that case.
JIM LEHRER: You used to be a federal judge, Senator Mitchell. Weigh in on this: It will never get to the Supreme Court.
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I was a federal judge for less than a year, which enabled me to say proudly that I was never reversed in my decisions. I don't know the answer to that. Seven days ago, there is not one among us, probably not a person on earth who could have predicted where we are today. I think that should chasten us and give us some humility about predicting the future. I don't know what's going to happen.
|Can anyone win legitimately?|
JIM LEHRER: But where do you come down on this question about the rhetoric and that these two men and their people have gotten the country into a position now to thinking, oh, well, if Al Gore wins, he stole it; if George W. Bush wins, he stole it?
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: I think that's very unfortunate.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with me on that?
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: Do I agree with you that that's what they're saying?
JIM LEHRER: That that's where it's getting close to.
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, it's there. You saw it in today's paper, in the "Washington Post," larceny was the headline in one of the editorials in some of the newspapers, I might say without a shred of evidence of fraud or criminal activity as Warren has suggested.
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: On either side.
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: On either side. I think both of them must now be thinking, "if I am elected, I must govern." And if this continues to create the impression that it's stolen, boycotts, don't participate, then think it makes an already difficult task nearly impossible. So if I were them, I would encourage a pulling back, a toning down of rhetoric, creating circumstance where whoever wins has the capacity to govern in what will be a very difficult circumstance.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Simpson, is pulling back even an option for these two men now?
FORMER SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: No, I think it's... I'm really surprised that George has indicated a little item that has been on his bosom and to me it's to watch Warren Christopher not being Warren Christopher. That's not the Warren Christopher I know. It's almost as if Daley is pushing him out on the stage and he's speaking like Daley. It's unfortunate because there are so many things underneath here, you know? This is really where it is. There isn't fraud. There isn't this. But let me tell you, we all know the reality: The longer you keep this baby open, you can torture a ballot and it will finally confess. That's just exactly where we are. Everybody knows in their bosom, in their heart of hearts that the longer this is extended, Gore will win. He picked four Democrat counties. He picked three election officials of the Democrat parties in those counties. Those other ones that are mentioned tonight, Polk and the others, are small Republican, in that sense. This is big-ticket item. They're in the big-ticket pile. And they're going to mess with them. You can pick them up; you can shuffle them and the things can pop out. This is a whole different game. This is not about the right to the will and so on. This is about pimpled and dimpled and chads and half chads and all the rest of them.
|A hard case to resolve|
JIM LEHRER: Let me be then direct to you, Senator Simpson. If in fact when it's all said and done Al Gore ends up carrying Florida and wins the presidency, would you think George W. Bush would have a legitimate complaint that he was treated unfairly?
FORMER SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: I don't know. We're not through -- everything is happening here. There's lots of stuff -- lots of stuff out there. Watching the Board of Canvassers on television outside when the chairman finally had said, look, we'll do this over at Channel 2 in a minute and this woman just going goofy, "Put me in jail!" and everybody cheered it looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland. That's not getting anywhere.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Senator Bumpers the same question. Do you think based on the way you read the situation now, when it's all said and done, if George W. Bush is declared the President of the United States, Al Gore will have a legitimate complaint?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Let me put it this way: I don't think either one of these people... First of all, I don't think you can resolve this to the satisfaction of either party. Whoever loses is going to be very upset and they're going to be pointing to various things that caused it.
JIM LEHRER: That's just because it's so close, right?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: That's exactly right. You're not going to be able to resolve this to everybody's satisfaction, and the country is going to be split on it too. But I will say this: When this thing first started and George W. Bush started this transition team out in public as though he already won it, that was a public relations disaster for him. And I think a lot of people took exception to the Democrats rushing off to court first thing, but the American people have settled down. And the polls all show that they think this is going to take a while but they consistently show that the American people want all the votes counted and they want them counted accurately. And I'm saying that the hand count is the only way you're going to get an accurate vote. That's not going to please everybody. Now, obviously, Gore thinks that's to his advantage and it may be and he may very well win. But nobody can say he stole it because of the hand counting.
JIM LEHRER: All right. But let's say there is no hand count. Let's say the secretary of state, if Florida does not allow the hand counts after today....
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: I think that would be a disaster.
JIM LEHRER: And George W. Bush ends up winning Florida, would you think Al Gore would have been wronged?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: I do think Al Gore would have been wronged.
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Let me make one point, the reason I made the point originally, if we're interested in having this election come out the way the people want it to come out, the only fair way to do it is to not select your hand count. Go on the Florida law. If a county was close enough for a count, have a hand count. Look at the machine again. Do whatever you want to do. But let's not hand count the entire state unless there is a closeness in a particular district or county that requires it. And the problem we have here is both sides are attempting to do some selection. I understand why. But if you want to be fair to the American people, then do it with a... follow the Florida law.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Senator Rudman, about the expectation now all day has been now that this thing that the secretary of state intends to certify a winner on Saturday, and that if she certifies either one of these guys as winner, the other one continues a legal challenge or goes on after that, that he's got a hard row to hoe with the public, et cetera, do you agree?
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: I think that's right. I think the American people want it settled. The only thing that would change that... we don't know what will happen, as George said. But if something happened in the next 72 hours that indicated foul play on somebody's part, then you would have a terrific change in attitude of the American people. The American people want this settled fairly according to the law.
JIM LEHRER: After Saturday a hard time for either one, Senator Mitchell?
FORMER SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL: Of course, it depends on what goes into the certification. If she now says that she will not include any hand-counted votes even though the court has pretty clearly told her that you must use your discretion, you cannot simply arbitrarily reject them, as she has proposed to do, if she simply excludes them and effectively disenfranchises several large counties then I think of course there will be a great deal of upset.
JIM LEHRER: And it will go on. Senator Simpson, what's your view of this, the Friday- Saturday bit?
FORMER SEN. ALAN SIMPSON: I think it's just going to go on. I'm not a pessimist. I don't live that way. But the stakes - I mean, the media has America worked up. I think it's great. We won't hear any of these boobs running around saying, "my vote doesn't count anymore." It sure does. This is so hyped up. I think these people on the 24- hour news cycle, they need some rest. They need to go back to bed. They need have the covers pulled up. Have a glass of port. Sleep. This is bizarre. And so we're all worked up. Then you come back and say why are the American people worked up? Hell, they can't do everything but watch all day and all night.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Bumpers, Saturday.
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: If the secretary of state refuses to accept votes that have been counted simply because they're late getting in or for some other trumped-up reason, I mean, after all, we're talking about a secretary of state who is the co-chairman of the Bush campaign in Florida. She's campaigned all over the country for him. So she has got a big burden on that to begin with. I'm saying that if she refuses any of those votes that have been hand counted and they hand them in for certification and she rejects them, you're going to have a big problem.
JIM LEHRER: It's going to go after Saturday.
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: It's going to go on for a long time.
JIM LEHRER: Well, I'm glad we've been able to clear all this up. Thank you all four very much.