By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent
George W. Bush flatly asserted Saturday,
"I'm soon to be the president" and met with GOP congressional leaders as if to
prove it. Al Gore sought a recount before a Florida judge as both candidates awaited a
U.S. Supreme Court decision that could untangle their election
All nine Supreme Court justices were at work, a day after hearing arguments in the
case. There was no indication when the high court would rule. Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature arranged to meet
in special session Wednesday to consider naming a slate of 25 electors for Bush to protect
against any court decision erasing his victory.
Despite the legal challenges, Republicans continued to prod the vice president to
abandon his challenge. "George W. Bush is rightfully our president-elect," Ohio
Gov. Bob Taft said in the GOP's weekly radio address. "We should not prolong a
constitutional impasse that could prevent the timely transition of presidential
Gore spent a quiet day in Washington,
chatting over lunch with actor Tommy Lee Jones, his college roommate and longtime friend.
Meanwhile, the vice president's lawyers tried to persuade a judge in Tallahassee to count
14,000 disputed ballots from South Florida. Attorney David Boies said the contested
ballots in heavily Democratic Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties could "place in
doubt" Bush's 537-vote victory margin certified by Florida Secretary of State
Katherine Harris. Gore previously has predicted he would win if
all the votes were counted.
Bush's attorneys filed counter motions and said any recount should be expanded to
include all votes cast in Volusia and Broward counties, where Gore benefitted from
recanvasses shortly after the election. Bush's lawyers also sought to negate a Seminole
County lawsuit filed by Democrats to throw out about 15,000 absentee ballots, which would
cost Bush a net of 4,797 votes.
Kimball Brace, an election expert called by Gore's side, said a hand count is the
"only way of finding out exactly how many votes were cast" for each candidate.
Brace, president of Election Data Services, tried to show various ways Floridians
intending to vote for Gore could have failed to fully punch their ballots, instead
creating impressions called dimples.
Under cross examination by Bush lawyer Phil Beck, Brace acknowledged that indentations
could also have resulted simply the handling of the ballots.
"If I were to rub my finger across it, that could create an indentation and that
obviously should not be counted as intention to vote," Brace testified. Gore's
lawyers also presented testimony from a statistician, Nicolas Hengartner of Yale
Saturday's hearing in Leon County Circuit Court stretched over nine hours before being
recessed until 9 a.m. Sunday. The day ended with testimony by an expert in rubber and
plastics, Richard Grossman, who was called by Bush's attorneys to talk about material used
in voting machines.
Bush retreated to his ranch, meeting with
House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to discuss Republican
legislative priorities for the new Congress. The meeting appeared
intended to project an aura of inevitability of a Bush presidency,
court cases notwithstanding.
The governor expressed concern about a "potential slowdown" in the economy,
citing concerns about auto sales and rising energy prices. He said he would work with
congressional leaders to "prepare a plan that will keep the economy going."
Lott said that he hoped to be able to move on Bush appointments quickly. Lott noted,
however, that "in the Senate, we've got a very delicate situation" with a 50-50
split between Republicans and Democrats. Lott joked that Cheney, who could cast the tie
breaking vote as vice president, might be needed a lot.
Sitting before the fireplace at his ranch house, Bush unabashedly declared, "I'm
soon to be the insider. I'm soon to be the president." He promised to reach out as
president to Democratic leaders, saying he already had talked with Sen. John Breaux of
Breaux is among a number of Democrats that Bush advisers have suggested for a Bush
administration slot. But Bush said he recognized that "it might put him in an awkward
position" to be directly discussing a role for Breaux.
In new polling, a declining majority of the public says it is most important to come to the correct resolution.
A new Newsweek poll found that 52 percent said all reasonable doubts should be removed,
down from 72 percent who felt that way immediately after the election. Forty-four percent
of those surveyed said it's more important to get matters resolved, compared to 25 percent
right after the election.
Twenty-five days after the election, the legal battle inched forward in Florida a day
after two setbacks for Gore.
The state Supreme Court on Friday refused to order an immediate hand recount of the
14,000 ballots, sending the case into a hearing that stretched through Saturday. In
another decision, the court refused to order a new election in Palm Beach County,
rejecting a plea from voters who contested the design of the county's "butterfly
Forced to argue their case, Gore's lawyers staged a courtroom demonstration of how the
election count could be skewered by ballot problems.
Bush attorney Barry Richard said no more recounts should be allowed, calling Gore's
request "contrary to the long-standing and clearly established law of the
state." He accused the Gore team of trying to get the court to alter the course of
the election to reach "a destination that he must arrive at in order to win."
Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls, a registered Democrat appointed by a Republican
governor, presided over the hearing. He has the power to order a correction to Florida's
official results which gave Bush the 537 vote margin.
In Palm Beach County, officials announced a final
adjustment to their recount total, reducing Gore's net gain of votes in the recount from
188 to 174. The state has refused to accept those recount numbers because they weren't
completed by last Sunday's 5 p.m. deadline.
Court Works on Saturday (Next story)