TALLAHASSEE, FLA. Two court decisions Monday favorable to George W. Bush may allow the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to reconsider a controversial special session designed to give Bush the electors he needs to carry Florida and win the White House.
The state House, in particular, under Speaker Tom Feeney, has been pushing to hold the special session, while Senate President John McKay has favored a wait-and-see approach.
Party leaders have been warning Republican lawmakers that the special session could earn them a backlash from voters.
Plans for the session were unresolved Monday night after the two court rulings, one in by the U.S. Supreme Court, the other by Leon Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls.
"Whether we have a special session is pretty much down to whether Vice President Gore wants to continue fighting this," said Rep. Mikhe House majority leader. "Nobody wants a special session. But if he wants to continue battling us in the court system, he's going to force the Legislature to do something it doesn't want to do. We're running out of days."
In a written statement, Senate President McKay said he was weighing whether to call the special session, with the court rulings playing a part in his decision-making process.
"I expect this process to require another day or two," he said.
He and Feeney said they would file a brief with the Florida Supreme Court asserting that the Legislature has the primary role in deciding who names Florida's 25 electors.
Even before Sauls' ruling, George W. Bush himself sent a signal from Austin for Florida lawmakers to move slowly: "We ought to take this process one step at a time," Bush said.
Democratic lawmakers, who oppose a special session, wore orange ribbons and urged Floridians to do the same as a way to send a message to GOP lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush that "you want your vote to count." Lawmakers are phoning thousands of Democrats across the state to board buses for a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
"This has never been about the Constitution. This is pure brass-knuckles partisan politics at its worst," said Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. "If the Florida Legislature picks our electors, we will have subsequently disenfranchised many more millions and I can tell you this: People will not forget."
Republicans remained resolute, in the House anyway, insisting that under the U.S. Constitution they must act to protect Florida votes before Dec. 12, the deadline for naming electors.
While Gore's lawyers rushed to appeal Sauls' decision with the Florida Supreme Court, Republicans rejoiced and Democrats were downcast. But both sides could only speculate about whether legislative intervention was still imminent.
The House Democrats' leader, Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, wondered aloud how the Republicans would react now: They have been sharply critical of the courts' decisions in the contested election, yet the judiciary now seems to be Bush's ally. Even Frankel advised her fellow Democrats to prepare for the prospects of a Bush in the White House. "We're just going to have to suck it in and accept it," she said.
A new poll showed a majority of Americans oppose legislative involvement. The Washington Post-ABC News poll of 757 adults, conducted Sunday, showed 56 percent disapproved of Florida lawmakers getting involved, and 38 percent approved.