Inside Report: Overriding the Court

Posted: Nov 25, 2000 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Even before the Democratic-appointed Florida Supreme Court ruled for Al Gore, leaders of the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature were meeting privately to discuss possible legislative intervention in the presidential recount. In those sessions, House members expressed a much more hostile attitude toward the state's high court than did their Senate counterparts. Senate President John McKay cautioned that the lawmakers should move slowly and methodically. The Democratic Supreme Court and the Republican Legislature have a history of contention in Florida. The GOP lawmakers fully expected that the judges would exceed their judicial authority and legislate from the bench. WHERE IS MCCAIN? George W. Bush's political strategists in Austin would like Sen. John McCain out front making accusations of Democratic abuse of Florida's military absentee voters, but Bush's opponent for the Republican presidential nomination instead has kept quiet at his Arizona home. The Bush team wanted McCain, as a prominent Vietnam veteran, to protest disqualification of overseas absentee ballots from U.S. service personnel. But the senator's political advisers have urged him to keep a very low profile. A footnote: Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, another famous war hero, went to Florida to defend the Gore campaign from charges of disenfranchising service men and women. Kerrey has had as rocky a relationship with Al Gore as McCain has had with Bush, but has been an aggressive Democratic surrogate in the election recount battle. GORE'S TEAM Although Gore chairman William Daley came under heavy fire from Republicans for introducing Chicago-style partisanship into the presidential ballot recount, campaign operatives have complained that he has been too soft in lambasting the opposition. Al Gore's professional campaign operatives have had to stay out of the spotlight as part of the public relations effort accompanying the recount, leaving the public statements to Daley and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher as Gore's chief recount observer. The politicians would have liked to see more decisive statements from both men. A footnote: Contrary to published reports, super-lawyer David Boies was not added to the Gore team as an effort by the politicians to supersede Christopher. Actually, Christopher recommended Boies. SENATE POWER-SHARING? Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott will vigorously oppose Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's bid for "power-sharing" -- co-chairmen of standing committees for the two parties -- if the Bush-Cheney ticket is elected. With Republican Sen. Slade Gorton apparently defeated for re-election in Washington state and Republican and Democratic senators thus evenly divided at 50-50, Dick Cheney as vice president would cast the decisive vote for Senate control. This balance, unprecedented in American history, is viewed as inconclusive by Daschle. Ironically, if Gore becomes president and Sen. Joseph Lieberman has to resign from the Senate, Connecticut's Republican Gov. John Rowland almost surely would name a Republican to replace Lieberman. That would give the GOP a 51 to 49 edge, ending all talk of power-sharing. FIGHTING TO BE CHAIRMAN The bitter battle between Republican Reps. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Mike Oxley of Ohio to be chairman of the House Commerce Committee became nastier when Oxley was not invited to a secret session of committee members summoned by Tauzin shortly after the Nov. 7 election. The meeting was ostensibly called to talk about Tauzin's investigation of the news media's election night coverage. In fact, however, Tauzin discussed a compromise plan backed by prominent Republicans under which Oxley would be given the Banking Committee chairmanship as a consolation prize, sweetened by transferring Commerce's jurisdiction over financial services to Banking. At the secret meeting, Tauzin urged the Commerce members to oppose any such transfer of authority. Members of the committee tipped off Oxley, who was furious and complained in a private letter to colleagues that he had been shut out of the session by his rival. Tauzin replied that the meeting was informal and that Oxley had been excluded because of an oversight.