December 4 , 2000
Four former U.S. senators offer their perspective on the Election 2000 legal battle. Jim Lehrer speaks with John Danforth (R-Mo.), Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), David Boren (D-Okla.), and Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.).
JIM LEHRER: Finally now, the perspectives of four former United States Senators: Republicans John Danforth of Missouri and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire; Democrats David Boren of Oklahoma and Dale Bumpers of Arkansas. Senator Danforth, is the opera almost over?
|A decisive day in Florida|
FORMER SEN. JOHN DANFORTH: I think it is. This has been going on now four weeks since the election. I think today was really a very decisive day particularly the decision by Judge Sauls. It's very difficult to see how Vice President Gore is going to end up winning in Florida. So therefore, I think this is really... this is the end of it.
JIM LEHRER: The end of it, Senator Bumpers?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, certainly the bar has been raised today, Jim. I won't say it's the end of it. But obviously this whole... everything that's happened today makes it much more difficult for the Gore forces.
JIM LEHRER: Should the vice president preempt this appeal and just get it over with?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: No, absolutely not.
JIM LEHRER: Why not?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, because it's important that the people of this country know that every judicial avenue has been pursued and the one thing that's going to be a real tragedy when this is over is that everybody knows-- there are thousands of votes that weren't recounted and the Miami Herald reported in a story today, according to an in-depth study they did, Al Gore won Florida by 24,000 votes. It's a real tragedy. I happen to personally believe that he carried Florida by a substantial vote. And yet nothing in the Florida... nothing in the judge's decision this afternoon, nothing in the Supreme Court decision... they followed the letter of the law. I'm not suggesting they haven't - but nowhere in there do you find it saying that... I always said on the floor of the Senate talking about the Constitution, the Constitution -- if you're going to summarize it -- says each one of us counts. In this particular case, each one of us didn't count. And that's a tragedy.
|Vice President Gore's shellacking|
JIM LEHRER: A tragedy, Senator Rudman? Is that what this is?
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Well, I don't think so. I have to disagree with my friend, Dale. It's certainly a great moment in American history. It's been a great lesson in democracy. And I think we ought to be proud of how all the institutions have, in fact, acted. I think that the voices have lowered a bit in the last week. They should stay lowered. Governor Bush had his day in the United States Supreme Court, although he didn't win, he certainly didn't lose. He won more than he lost. It's been remanded, not reversed. Vice President Gore took a real shellacking in court in Florida. I listened to the opinion, tightly drawn, carefully supported by statutory construction, very hard to overturn. I think everyone should do whatever they want to do up until the 12th. And at that point, it's over.
JIM LEHRER: But you don't think it needs to be over tonight?
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Hardly. I don't think the American people are preoccupied with it. I think the American people-- I will agree with Dale-- I think the American people want to feel that it was dealt with fairly. It now appears that Governor Bush will prevail, and as long as people think that's fair, it's going to help him as the new President of the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. But Senator Bumpers says that on the issue of fairness, "Hey, wait a minute, Governor Bush may get Florida, but he didn't win Florida in terms of the number of votes."
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, Jim, that may or may not be true. The Miami Herald thinks it's true and I'm not going to argue with them. I haven't done any research. But the fact is that mistakes are made in elections all over the country, and there were some big mistakes made in Florida. I would agree with Dale that if that is what really happened, that probably would be a very sad outcome. But we'll never know. We're a nation of laws. Everyone has taken their case to the court of competent jurisdiction. It will be decided and we will have a new president - and hopefully by the 12th.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Boren, how do you feel about what today means in terms of where this country is and what must happen next?
FORMER SEN. DAVID BOREN: Well, I agree with those that have said I think we're very close to the end of it. And I think that we have to keep in mind that the national interest, the institution of the presidency, is more important than the political agenda of either party. And I do think that it would be tragic if the decision on the selection of Florida electors were ultimately forced into the Florida legislature where a very blatantly political decision would be made. So I believe that if we come up to the 11th, if we come up to next Monday and we don't have a final resolution of this in the courts, I do think for the good of the country and the good of the presidency at that point that Vice President Gore should concede the election. But, Jim, I think, the important thing is what happens after that. That will determine whether or not this has been a tragedy. Clearly the American people have given us almost a tie in the presidential election -- a virtual tie in the congressional elections. They don't want to give either party, either political party, a mandate. I think the only way for the next president to really succeed for the national interest is for the next president to say, "I don't take the election as a party mandate. The people are sick of the bickering between the two political parties. I'm going to create what you really wanted, that is, an American government. I'm going to build a cabinet that's a bipartisan cabinet. I am going to work with a bipartisan leadership, as Senator Danforth and I suggested a few years ago, creating literally many cabinets within the Congress, the leaders in both parties, the national security, economic policy, and I'm going to try to put an agenda before the Congress that is a product of that bipartisanship. I think that's really the only way for the next president to succeed.
|Describing the nature of the cloud|
JIM LEHRER: Senator Danforth, how likely do you think it would be that Governor Bush, if he in fact ends up being president would do what Senator Boren just suggested?
FORMER SEN. JOHN DANFORTH: I think that's exactly what he will do. I think it's what he has to do. I think David Boren is exactly right. We have to put this election behind us. It's been very contentious, very strong feelings on both sides, but we have to end it. We have to put it behind us. And we have to try to reconstitute a bipartisanship in this country and a willingness to get along with each other. I think that the big problem that's occurred in the last few weeks is that on both sides, there have been those who have challenged the legitimacy of the other side's candidate if the other side's candidate gets elected. That really is a very dangerous thing. Republicans have talked about Democrats stealing the election. Democrats have said there is only one way to count ballots, that's the accurate way, that's manually, which doesn't happen to be the case. I mean the fact of the matter is we will never know for sure who won in Florida. It's too close. The mechanics of an election, whether it's manual counts, holding up ballots, looking for chads and so, or mechanical counts are not that accurate so we will never truly know, so what we have to do is to say, okay, we've done the best we can, it's behind us. Let's move on.
JIM LEHRER: But Senator Bumpers says, Senator Danforth, that that's a tragedy -- if, in fact, Al Gore got 24,000 more votes than George W. Bush in Florida.
FORMER SEN. JOHN DANFORTH: There is no way to know that. And there never will be. You know, people have said under the Sunshine Law in Florida various groups will go and look at ballots. There is no way to look at ballots and to know with that degree of certainty. For example, we've all seen the television broadcasts of the election commissioners holding up the ballots and looking for a dimpled chad and so on and seen that with three commissioners they've often voted two votes to one, which means it's a judgment call; it's a matter of opinion. Democracy isn't perfect. Elections aren't perfect. And it's a mistake to think that they are perfect. And I think that the sooner we realize that this is a rough approximation, we hope the person with the majority won, but we will never clearly establish that.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Senator Bumpers?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, I agree with one thing. One of the things we don't know precisely what the vote is, is because we didn't count the ballots. That's one of the great tragedies too. But there's no point in getting into that. One of the things that is very... that should be a great benefit out of all this is that the states all across America are going to look very closely at the way they cast their ballots in the future, what kind of voting machines they use. We can do much, much better. One of the real tragedies in this whole thing is that we hadn't done that a long time before. This butterfly ballot, all of those things, it's terrible.
JIM LEHRER: What about Senator Danforth's point, no matter how you do it, it's always going to be a rough approximation -- there is no such thing a perfect electoral system -- I'm paraphrasing but that's -- will you buy that, Senator Danforth?
FORMER SEN. JOHN DANFORTH: Yeah, you said it well.
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Jack is a good friend. We served together a long time. I've always had a great respect for his intelligence and his judgment. But I must say I have a tendency to disagree with that to this extent. It will never be perfect. But it certainly can be much more perfect than it is now.
JIM LEHRER: Now what about another point? Senator Lieberman on this program last week said that if those votes that were at issue and Judge Sauls said today they will not be counted, he said if they are not counted there will always be a cloud over this result. Is he right?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Describe the nature of the cloud.
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, the nature of the cloud is, for example, when the votes were certified, Palm Beach....
JIM LEHRER: No. I mean the cloud coming out of this -- not how we got the cloud. What's going to be the impact of that cloud?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, the cloud is going to be over George W. Bush's head if he is the next president. And the cloud is going to be that... you know, you're going to have this 50-50 split, for example, in the Senate. And that's going to be... that's just a manifestation of what the people in this country can expect over the next four years. The cloud is going to be that not very much is going to happen. Some of the things that have to take place is going to happen but it's going to be a difficult four years.
|A difficult four years ahead?|
| JIM LEHRER: Senator
Rudman, difficult four years for anybody, for everybody?
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Actually, you know, I really believe that what Jack said about what Governor Bush would like to do is accurate based on his performance as governor. However, what we don't know, which Dale has referred to, is what is the Congress going to do? Are they going to essentially get into gridlock for the next two years? Are they going to try to be more bipartisan, as Jack and David Boren suggest, with Governor Bush leading them, or are they going to form some sort of a collective leadership in the House and the Senate? I will tell you that that will have, in my opinion, more to do with the success or failure of a Bush or a Gore presidency than any other single factor.
JIM LEHRER: I will ask David Boren this. It was your idea. How does anybody, you or anybody else, sit down and convince a Democrat in the Congress of the United States now it's in his or her interest to help George W. Bush be a successful president when he's going to have to run for re-election presumably against a Democrat in four years? Senator Boren.
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, I think that can happen because the only way for the country to succeed-- and clouds have silver linings-- if the next president, he's the one that will determine this, really doesn't claim a partisan mandate, doesn't seek an advantage for his own political party but says I'm going to form a coalition American government.
JIM LEHRER: You mean a real coalition government?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: A real coalition. Pardon?
JIM LEHRER: You mean a real coalition government?
FORMER SEN. DAVID BOREN: I'm talking about a real coalition in the sense that you put a very significant part of the cabinet from the other party, people you can respect and work with certainly, probably moderates. You put together the ranking Democrats and Republicans on key committees like foreign policy and armed services and national security affairs, for example, and you really work together in national unity and you share the credit. You give the credit where it's due when you get support from the Democratic side if it's a Bush presidency. I really think one person has the ability to determine whether or not this is a cloud or whether there's a silver lining to it: That's the next president of the United States. And if he comes in, pushed on by some militant advisers to say we've won the election now we're going to use the presidency for the gain of our political party, I think you will have gridlock. You'll have the other party winning the off-year election because Jack Danforth is right, we'll never know with certainty who actually won this election. And if the next President claims to have a mandate, he'll make a tragic mistake.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Bumpers, let me ask you -- not ask you personally but a Democratic senator, powerful Democratic senator in the present tense is sitting there and he is approached by, say, President George W. Bush and let's say this is a liberal Democrat, who ached for Al Gore to be President of the United States, is he going to agree to be a part of the kind of thing that David Boren is suggesting?
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: I think this, Jim. I think that this election, with pick-ups of four seats in the Senate and two or three seats in the House, means that the... and this vote. I think it means that the Republican Party, for example, is going to have to move toward the center. If George W. Bush wants to accomplish anything, he is going to have to move toward the center. I think the Democrats will be happy to move in that direction in order to get some things done. But you're not going to be able, for example, his Supreme Court appointments. People are going to be watching that very carefully. That's the most important function a President of the United States has is Supreme Court appointments. And people are going to watch that very carefully. I don't know that he'll have any, but the suggestions are he could have as many as three. And if he appoints, you know, if he appoints some right-wing ideologue, you can almost forget the rest of his term in the United States --
JIM LEHRER: It will just go down the tubes.
FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS: Well, I think so.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Senator Danforth, would conservative Republicans, positions of power, after having gone through and supported George W. Bush and he ekes out this victory -- now he's the president and he turns around and says we're going to have to share power with these liberal Democrats, are they going to go along with that?
FORMER SEN. JOHN DANFORTH: Well, they have to. And I think on the question of gridlock, we've already had gridlock. We've had gridlock for years between congress and the president. A good argument could be made that we've got no place to go but up. I agree with David Boren. I think that there is a silver lining in this. I think the American people have spoken not to give a mandate to George Bush or to Al Gore but the American people have said to both parties, "work it out" and try to establish some kind of constructive relationship with each other. I think that that is a message that has been heard. There have been a number of very positive comments from people in Congress, and as a matter of fact, from both Vice President Gore and Governor Bush. So I am very hopeful. I think that there is a positive message in all of this.
FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN: Jim, I really would wish that my friend Jack Danforth was right, but I must say observing what's been going on there lately and with an election coming up in two years that could be decisive in terms of putting Republicans or Democrats back in power, I hope Jack is right but I have very serious doubts.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to go. Thank you all four very much.