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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Congress certifies Bush

Gore presides over constitutional formality

January 7, 2001

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— With the vanquished Vice President Al Gore presiding, Congress formally anointed George W. Bush on Saturday as the victor in last year's achingly close and bitterly contested presidential election.

In a hoary constitutional ritual that made up with political irony and shouted objections what it lacked in suspense, four members of Congress read aloud documents certifying the electoral votes of each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, all in alphabetical order.

Vice President Al Gore responds to members of the Black
Congressional Caucus as they object to results of Florida's
electoral vote count, during a joint session of Congress Saturday
in Washington.

Vice President Al Gore responds to members of the Black Congressional Caucus as they object to results of Florida's electoral vote count, during a joint session of Congress Saturday in Washington.

When they finished an alternately raucous and humorous 92 minutes later, the Republican Bush had won by 271-266 just as when the electoral votes were counted in every state capital on Dec. 18. To prevail, the winner needed 270 of the 538 electoral votes nationwide.

Reading from a sheaf of papers, and showing no apparent emotion, Gore intoned:

"George W. Bush of the state of Texas has received for president of the United States 271 votes. Al Gore of the state of Tennessee has received 266 votes. ... This announcement of the state of the vote by the president of the senate shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and vice president of the United States, each for the term beginning on the 20th day of January 2001, and shall be entered, together with a list the votes, on the journals of the Senate and the House of Representatives."

After announcing the results, Gore, a Democrat, said, "May God bless our new president and our new vice president, and may God bless the United States of America." At that, he shook the outstretched hand of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and a number of others, and it was over.

Gore was presiding because it is one of the duties of the vice president. The last vice president defeated in a presidential race to oversee Congress' counting of the electoral votes was Richard Nixon in 1961. Vice President Hubert Humphrey did not do so in 1969, following his defeat by Nixon.

The joint session of Congress drew extraordinary attention because it was the final vote tally in a disputed presidential race that did not end until five weeks after the Nov. 7 election. Gore did not concede until Dec. 13, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court forced a halt to vote-counting in Florida.

Even so, House Democrats mostly blacks raised 20 objections during the session aimed at blocking Florida's pivotal 25 electoral votes from being counted. Many Democrats have asserted that Bush won Florida unfairly because some votes were not counted and because of a disproportionate number of irregularities in largely black, mostly Democratic areas.

"It was the Supreme Court and not the people of the United States who decided this election," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., over shouts from Republicans.

Members of the Black Caucus, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., left,
Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., center, and Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.,
walked out of the ceremony on Capitol Hill in protest of the
results that gave the presidential election to Texas Gov. George W.
Bush over Vice President Al Gore.

Members of the Black Caucus, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., left, Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., center, and Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., walked out of the ceremony on Capitol Hill in protest of the results that gave the presidential election to Texas Gov. George W. Bush over Vice President Al Gore.

But time and again, Gore blending wit and formality disallowed the objections because they were not also signed by a senator, as required by law. That shortcoming underlined the judgment by many Democrats that the public had no patience to resume battling over the election outcome.

"The chair thanks the gentleman from Illinois, but, hey," a grinning Gore told Rep. Jesse Jackson, D-Ill., who raised one of the challenges.

When an angry Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said she did not care that a senator had not signed her objection, Gore responded, "The chair will advise that the rules do care."

The rules also forbade lawmakers to explain their objections. Many tried but were quickly silenced by Gore amid grumbling from Republicans.

At one point, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., among the complaining lawmakers, cried out to Gore, "We did all we could."

"The chair thanks the gentleman from Florida," Gore responded with a smile.

After their objections failed, at least 16 House Democrats filed out of the chamber en masse.

Before the voting began, several Republicans took to the House floor to offer conciliatory words.

"Let us put the bitterness and rancor behind us, and let us move forward to do the job we were sworn to do," said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

Gore pumped his right fist when California's 54 votes, the biggest electoral prize, were awarded to him. But he showed no emotion when the 11 votes from Tennessee, his home state, went to his rival.

At one point, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., one of the four lawmakers who read the votes aloud, held Delaware's certificate up to the light and squinted. "This one is different than all the others," he said with a smile.

His act, which provoked laughter, was a joking reference to the repeated televised recounts of Florida's votes.

With the outcome beyond doubt, only about one-third of the members of Congress attended the session in the House chamber. Most left well before it ended.

Not attending were House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who was Gore's running mate.

Gore could have won an additional electoral vote. But in the Dec. 18 voting, District of Columbia elector Barbara Lett-Simmons left her ballot blank to protest the district's lack of a voting representative in Congress.

Out of more than 100 million popular votes cast nationally, Gore won by nearly 540,000 votes, according to a count of the final state tallies by The Associated Press.

It was the first time since Republican Benjamin Harrison's 1888 victory over Democrat Grover Cleveland that the loser of the popular vote had won the White House by capturing a majority of the Electoral College.

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