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Angry GOP Could Make It Tough for Gore to Govern

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The Transition
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Election Day is just the beginning. Keep up with Al Kamen's In the Loop, Steve Barr's Federal Diary and news from The Post's Federal Page.

By Eric Pianin and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 20, 2000; Page A8

Growing GOP anger about the recount in Florida could make it much more difficult – if not impossible– for Vice President Gore to forge consensus on Capitol Hill even if he were to gain the presidency, according to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Although they staunchly back his aggressive legal tactics in seeking a hand recount of votes, some Democrats fear that if Gore prevails and wins the election, a conservative backlash could cripple his presidency and lead to a reprise of the bitter feelings that attended the impeachment of President Clinton.

Already, some prominent Republicans, including former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), have mentioned the possibility of a boycott of the inauguration if Gore is elected president over George W. Bush. And House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has circulated a staff memorandum to congressional Republicans pointing out that the House and Senate can reject a state's electoral votes if they decide that the votes are tainted.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said in an interview that he and other Democrats are concerned about the growing intensity of Republican outrage over Gore's tactics--and what that might mean for the future if Gore is elected.

"I think Gore has handled [the election recount] as well as he could, but it's a very delicate situation," Durbin said. "If he ends up the president, he will feverishly reach out to members to try to build bridges. But he will be carrying some Clinton-Gore baggage that's going to keep some Republicans from wanting to work with him."

A Senate Democratic leader added, "The depth of resentment and the extraordinary hostility the Republicans already have demonstrated towards the vice president is far greater than the somewhat mild opposition that Democrats have expressed about Bush."

Interviews with House and Senate lawmakers and aides suggest a growing unease on Capitol Hill over the historic post-election battle for the presidency, which could drag on for weeks and eventually come before the House to be resolved.

House GOP Chief Deputy Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is advising the Bush campaign in Austin, warned that a Gore win in Florida would make Republicans question the legitimacy of the outcome.

"It's difficult for me to see a way [Gore] can get there in a way that's not very troublesome," Blunt said. He noted that Democratic officials control key posts in the counties that are undergoing a manual recount, and that they have objected to hundreds of military absentee ballots: "It would be difficult for people to believe that the process wasn't cynically manipulated at the end."

For the moment, the Democrats are standing firmly behind Gore. During a conference call in which Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman briefed 120 House members Friday, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) was unwavering.

"We want you to know all of us are behind you," said Gephardt, who jointly issued a news release with Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) supporting Gore's efforts to delay certification of the election. "We're there, [and] we will stay there."

Moreover, some Democrats warn that if DeLay and other House conservatives try to challenge a Gore win in Florida, the repercussions would be dire. "If Republicans try to invalidate electoral votes, that certainly would poison the well," said Rep. Martin Frost (Tex.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Behind the scenes, however, Democrats, who came up short in their bid to reclaim control of Congress, have begun plotting strategy for how to go about dealing with a new Republican administration. Last week, Gephardt met privately with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in a bid to mend their strained relations.

Gephardt and other House Democratic leaders also met with the 14 freshman Democratic House members and with the conservative "Blue Dogs" and more centrist "New Democrats" to begin mapping out a new agenda.

What came through loud and clear at those meetings, said a senior House Democratic aide, was that many of these Democrats would be eager to work with a new Bush administration if that meant they could play a role in shaping tax legislation, health care reform, campaign finance reform and other key measures that have languished in Congress.

"I think the conservative and moderate Democrats would eventually work with Bush," said a top Democratic aide. By contrast, he added, Gore would have enormous trouble winning support for his programs from moderate Republicans, who would be pressured by GOP conservatives to stay in line, just as they were during the impeachment proceedings.

"The conservative Republicans have made it impossible for the moderates to work with Gore," the aide said.

Blunt noted that in the past two years the vice president has not made a single call to a Republican House or Senate leader. That level of distance, argued Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, would only exacerbate Gore's problems in working with Congress.

"I couldn't think of a single Republican who, if Gore became president, would serve as an intermediary. That will make it tough," Ornstein said.

Durbin said that as "the new kid on the block," Bush could "walk into meetings with congressional leaders with no history or baggage," while "Gore has a history." He said Gore would bring far more experience to the job than Bush, but conceded that it is unlikely he could galvanize Republican backing for his proposals.

"I guess we can pray for [that], but it would be a triumph of hope over experience," Durbin said.

Conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said he would give Gore "the benefit of the doubt" and might cooperate if Gore were sincere about reaching a consensus on taxes and other issues. But he charged that the Clinton administration repeatedly misled the Republicans in the past and that "you become very jaded."

Republicans retained control of the Congress in the Nov. 7 election, though their margins shrank. In the House the GOP holds a nine-seat advantage, while in the Senate the margin will be either 51-49 or 50-50, depending on the outcome of Sen. Slade Gorton's (R-Wash.) reelection bid.

As of Saturday morning, Gorton had withstood an influx of absentee ballots to hold a 1,771 lead over Democrat Maria Cantwell, with 51,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted.

With neither party scoring a resounding victory and Congress still struggling to complete its work for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, many believe that neither Bush nor Gore would be able to get much of their ambitious agendas enacted into law.

"Recent history shouldn't give anyone a lot of confidence that things are going to change that much," said Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (D-Calif.), a centrist who supports some GOP initiatives. "It's going to be incumbent on either President Bush or President Gore to send a strong mandate to the Hill that he expects people to work in a bipartisan fashion."

But appearing on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), another leading moderate, said: "We're going to be forced to like each other whether we like each other or not. It's going to be a different Congress."

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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