‘I’m soon to be the president,’ Bush says, but court still to rule

By TERENCE HUNT

Associated Press

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 impasse.

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 was poised 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, House Majority Leader Mike Fasano said. However, Senate President John McKay said he still had not reviewed a committee report recommending the session. "I will not call a special session on Monday," he said.

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 predicted he would win if all the votes were counted.

Bush’s attorneys filed countermotions and said any recount should be expanded to include all votes cast in Volusia and Broward counties, where Gore benefited 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. Under cross examination, Brace, president of Election Data Services, acknowledged that indentations on punch-card ballots could have resulted from simply handling of the ballots.

Saturday’s hearing in Leon County Circuit Court stretched over nine hours before being recessed until 9 a.m. Stoday. 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 Texas 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 he hoped to be able to move on Bush appointments quickly.

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 Louisiana.

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 ballot."

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 that 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.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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