Gore Decides To Concede Election
WASHINGTON Al Gore decided Wednesday to concede the country's overtime election, aides said, clearing the way for George W. Bush to become 43rd president and leader of a nation sharply divided along political lines. The vice president acted after a split Supreme Court ruled against recounts in contested Florida.
Two senior advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gore would officially drop out in a nationally televised address at 9 p.m. EST. "The race is over," said one official after speaking with the vice president. "We're done."
Gore made the decision 12 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court, as divided as the nation, ruled 5-4 against the vice president's bid to recount thousands of ballots in Florida. Gore had sought the recount in hopes he could overturn Bush's 537-vote victory margin in the state whose 25 electoral votes will settle the election.
"The vice president has directed the recount committee to suspend activities," campaign chairman William Daley said in a written statement that effectively ended an unbearably close election 36 tumultuous days after the nation voted. Gore topped his Republican rival by more than 300,000 votes out of 103 million ballots cast nationwide. But Florida's electoral votes, to be cast on Dec. 18 and counted on Jan. 6, would give Bush a total of 271 electoral votes to Gore's 267.
Bush was in Texas, savoring his hard-earned triumph in private, as if to give Gore all the room he needed for a graceful exit. The governor waved to reporters as he strode into the Capitol in Austin at midmorning but merely smiled in answer to questions about the developments.
Republican running mate Dick Cheney was in Washington, meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and other GOP lawmakers, part of a transition to power that now could begin in earnest. "The wounds that have come from the passions of partisanship must begin to heal for the good of the country," Hastert said in a statement that set the tone for other Republicans.
Democrats struck a different note, some openly expressing anger at the Supreme Court, others muting their reaction. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he accepted the recount ruling but the "majority has dealt the court a serious blow by taking actions many Americans will consider to be political rather than judicial."
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking for the Republican camp, had said Tuesday night that Bush and Cheney were "very pleased and gratified" by the court's ruling. That was an understatement of historic proportions given the furor since Election Day a saga of counts, recounts, lawsuits by the dozens and two trips to the highest court in the land.
Bush's inauguration on Jan. 20 would give Republicans greater control over the government than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower sat in the White House. The GOP retained control of the House in the November elections. The Senate is split 50-50, but Cheney's election as vice president will give the GOP at least nominal control there, as well.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday night triggered a fast-paced series of events.
Members of Gore's own party urged him to concede the race, but the vice president went to bed Tuesday night without telling aides what he would do.
After meeting with his wife Tipper and several advisers, Daley among them, Gore authorized the statement on Wednesday saying he would not press the recount any further for Florida's pivotal electoral votes.
Aides said the vice president intended to telephone Bush, probably before his address.
A Gore confidant said the evening speech will make clear that he has conceded to Bush and that the country should unite behind the next president. Gore also will explain why he fought for five weeks after the election, returning to his theme that every vote should be counted.
Though Gore has told advisers he considers the 5-4 ruling the act of a partisan high court, the confidant said the vice president will not criticize the justices in his speech.
In Tallahassee, the court ruling and the vice president's decision seemed to render moot the action by the Florida Legislature to appoint a slate of electors loyal to Bush. The House approved the measure on Tuesday, and the Senate had been on track to follow suit on Wednesday. Leaders were meeting to discuss whether to proceed.
Democratic leaders who had stood with Gore throughout his recount fight made no attempt to prod him to the exits. "The Supreme Court has made its decision. We support and respect Vice President Gore's right to respond on his own time schedule. Until he does so, we will have no comment," said the party's congressional leaders, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Not all Democrats were as sanguine.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., urged Democrats to abide by the Supreme Court decision, but said that "with every bone in my body and every ounce of moral strength in my soul" he disagreed with the high court. He called it "a willing tool of the Bush campaign" that "orchestrated a questionable 'velvet legal coup.'"
The Texan would become the first presidential candidate since Benjamin Harrison 1888 to lose the national popular vote but win the state electoral contest and thus the White House.
The electoral vote split would be the closest electoral since 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel J. Tilden by one electoral vote in an election settled in the House of Representatives.
Bush is set to complete the nation's second father-son presidential team after John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-1829). He has relied on his well-to-do family's connections, both to raise money and build the foundations of a new administration.
The high court's ruling Tuesday night fell like a hammer on Gore's chances.
Within an hour, Ed Rendell, the general chairman of the Democratic party, was on television declaring the vice president "should act now and concede."
Gore's loyalists moved swiftly to undercut the comment, but within 12 hours, the vice president himself had come to the same conclusion.
His team was divided, with some advisers arguing Wednesday morning that the Supreme Court had left a window open to an appeal. These aides said it was up to the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether Tuesday was a flexible deadline for assigning state electors, and they suggested the state court could order recounts completed by Dec. 18, when the Electoral College meets.
A legal brief had been prepared making that case to the Florida courts, but Gore ruled out using it.
In their extraordinary late night ruling on Tuesday, the court agreed 7-2 to reverse the Florida Supreme Court's weekend decision that ordered a statewide recount of thousands of questionable ballots, finding that such a recount would not provide equal protection because standards for determining a voter's intent would vary by county. A narrower 5-4 majority found there was no constitutionally acceptable procedure by which a new recount could occur before Tuesday's midnight deadline for selection of presidential electors.
"Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the Dec. 12 date will be unconstitutional ... we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed." The Electoral college will meet Dec. 18, and the electoral votes counted in a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
In the majority were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.
Dissenting were Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
In a forceful dissent, Stevens wrote: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the law."
Souter and Breyer agreed there were constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida court, but did not rule out the possibility of the state court being able to fix them if allowed to do so and thus did not join the 5-4 majority.