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Fury is rising among Republican lawmakers over the vice president's tactics in Florida.
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000
WASHINGTON -- Amid escalating Republican attacks on the conduct of the Florida recount, senior House GOP leaders moved closer Wednesday to endorsing a strategy to deny Vice President Al Gore the presidency should he win the state's 25 electoral votes.
In a sign of how GOP anger over the election is mounting, both House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, endorsed proposed legislation that would require state officials to include retroactively all military absentee ballots as part of the final vote. The measure is likely to come up for a vote next month, when Congress reconvenes for a lame-duck session.
Although the proposal has little chance of passage, the fact that Republicans have begun contemplating legislative remedies to the controversy surrounding the presidential vote in Florida reflects the increasing bitterness within the GOP over the election. And it suggests a growing willingness by GOP lawmakers to consider intervening in the counting of electoral votes at a joint session of Congress on Jan. 5 should Gore emerge from the recount with Florida's crucial electors.
In the clearest indication yet that House GOP leaders are contemplating blocking potential Gore votes in the Electoral College, Armey said Republicans had the right to pass judgment on their credibility if they conclude the Florida election was flawed.
"We in the House must be aware of one fact: In the end, when the final analysis is brought to the House, it is our duty to accept or reject that," Armey told the Associated Press. "We need to be able to say we're confident the process was legal and compliant with the Constitution before we cast a vote to accept it."
At the moment, Armey added, "It's a mess."
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said nearly 100 House GOP members were united during a conference call Wednesday with Karl Rove, Texas Gov. George W. Bush's chief political strategist, in expressing their "disgust" and "outrage" at Gore's tactics.
"I will use every ounce of energy I have to deny the electors being seated if I believe the political will of the people was thwarted by the son of Mayor Daley of Chicago," Weldon said, referring to Gore campaign chairman William Daley.
Florida's votes could be called into question if at least one senator and one representative raise an objection when Congress meets to tally the electoral votes. Although the grounds for raising an objection are somewhat murky, they include questions over whether the electors' votes were "regularly given" or whether they were "lawfully certified," according to congressional researchers.
Each chamber would be required to vote separately on any objection, which would need a majority in both houses to be sustained.
Republican criticism of the Gore campaign's tactics and Tuesday's decision by the Florida Supreme Court allowing the hand counting of ballots escalated Wednesday, with many lawmakers using language that approached the heated rhetoric of the impeachment period two years ago.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., accused the Florida court of disregarding "the most fundamental principles of our democracy," and he vowed: "This cannot stand."
"While its impact on the current election will only be seen in the days ahead, this decision serves as a chilling reminder of the need for vigilance to ensure that the actions of unelected judges do not usurp the right of the people to govern themselves in a democracy," Lott said.
Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, expressed concern over the mounting GOP anger.
In a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., supported Gore's call Tuesday night for both sides to tone down their attacks and criticism. "Overheated rhetoric and political threats will only make it more difficult for the nation to unite when the next president takes office," they said.
Republicans gave no sign they were prepared to stand down, however. Armey said he would support a measure being drafted by Weldon and Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., ordering state election officials to count military absentee ballots, unless they were fraudulent. "Given the public outrage over what has happened in Florida to our servicemen and women, I would expect a bill like that to be greeted with overwhelming support in the House," Armey said in a statement.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, R-Va., is considering introducing similar legislation in the Senate when Congress reconvenes the first week of December, spokesman Carter Cormick said. Warner also announced Wednesday that he would hold hearings Nov. 30 on the question of Florida's absentee military ballots.
One senior Republican, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., predicted that if the question of who becomes the next president is not resolved by either candidate conceding or the Supreme Court issuing a ruling, whichever party ends up on the losing side will raise objections in January when Congress counts the electoral votes.
He said Democratic anger would be compounded if the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature intervenes by appointing a slate of Bush electors.
"Republicans will want to do it because they will think Democrats in Florida cheated them out of a presidency, and Democrats will think the Florida Legislature cheated them out of a presidency," Tauzin said. "We're potentially closer now to what I call a constitutional crisis."