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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Bush Lays Groundwork for Possible Move to Pennsylvania Ave.

Politics: Escalating pressure on Gore to concede the still-contested race, the Texas governor suggests time is near to 'get this election behind us.'

November 11, 2000|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. George W. Bush said Friday that he has begun "in a responsible way" preparing for his possible ascendancy to the White House even as he vowed to unite the country.

"I think it's up to us to prepare the groundwork for an administration that will be ready to function on day one," Bush told reporters during a brief session at the Governor's Mansion.

The governor seemed relaxed and even jovial as he personally escalated the pressure on Democrat Al Gore to concede, suggesting that the time was near to "get this election behind us."

Bush delivered his comments as running mate Dick Cheney and several key aides sat nearby: Condoleezza Rice, his chief foreign policy advisor; Lawrence Lindsey, economic advisor; Clay Johnson, a longtime gubernatorial aide; and Andrew Card, who was Transportation secretary for former President Bush and is believed to be Bush's choice for White House chief of staff should he win the election.

Pressing Ahead With Transition Plans

"There was a count on election night. There's been a recount in Florida. And I understand that there are still votes to be counted," Bush said. "But I'm in the process of planning in a responsible way a potential administration."

There was a large adhesive bandage on the Republican candidate's right cheek where he had developed an infection, possibly caused by an ingrown hair, according to the Bush campaign.

"There's been a series of ongoing meetings that [former Secretary of Defense Cheney] and I have had on a variety of subjects so that--should the verdict that has been announced thus far be confirmed--we'll be ready," Bush said. "And I think that's what this country needs to know: that this administration will be ready to assume office and be prepared to lead."

Bush went to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, near Waco, on Friday night with Cheney as well as other aides to continue working on the possible transition.

"These meetings will go on for a while," Bush said.

He referred all questions about the vote recount in Florida to James A. Baker III, the former secretary of State who is serving as his personal emissary to Florida.

Asked whether he thought it was time for Vice President Gore to "give up," Bush responded:

"I think each candidate and each team is going to have to do what they think is best--in the best interest of the country. And I think it's in our country's best interest that we plan, in a responsible way, a possible administration."

Responding to a question from ABC-TV reporter Dean Reynolds, Bush said it was premature to be consulting with President Clinton's outgoing administration concerning transition matters.

"I think that's a little early, Frank. Right now there's still votes to be counted," the governor said, chuckling.

Several times, Bush mistakenly referred to Reynolds as "Frank," which is the name of the newsman's late father, who was an anchor at the same network. When Bush finally caught himself, he quipped:

"You know something? It's been a long time since I've seen you. We haven't spent much quality time together."

Then Bush playfully referred to another journalist by an erroneous first name.

"How quickly we forget!" he added.

Turning again to Reynolds, Bush said, grinning: "You're . . . Dean Reynolds, OK? I'm George W. I beg your pardon."

By then, the governor had forgotten Reynolds' question and asked him to repeat it.

Uniting the Country Called Job One

In response to another question, about whether he was considering resigning as governor, Bush said:

"There are still votes to be counted, Tom. . . . and I believe--as does Secretary Cheney--that the responsible course of action is to prepare, and that's what we're doing here in Austin, Texas--taking our time. We're, in a very low-keyed manner, preparing for a possible administration."

Bush conceded that his transition planning--and his clear expectation of moving into the White House on Jan. 20--will cause consternation in some quarters.

"I'm sure there's going to be some people disappointed that their man didn't get in. There's also going to be a lot of people very happy. . . . Our job is going to be to unite the country, and I'm confident that a Bush-Cheney administration will be able to do so in a dignified way."

Bush added later:

"I think we've got to get this election behind us. . . . I think it's up to us to prepare the groundwork for an administration that will be ready to function on day one.

"I'm looking forward to bringing this nation together. I've had a record of being somebody who can unite and reach across the partisan divide to get positive things done."

Bush declined to specify whether he intended to name Lindsey as Treasury secretary, saying simply:

"Mr. Lindsey has been a loyal friend and a person whose judgment I trust."

Time and again, Bush emphasized his desire for a speedy resolution to the electoral stalemate.

"The more quickly this gets resolved, the better off it is for the nation," he said.

"And we believe that the responsible course of action is to be well prepared . . . so that, should I assume the presidency, that this is an administration that is planned well and is prepared to assume the highest office of the land--and it will be. And we will be prepared."

He then dismissed the press gaggle, saying: "That's all. Thanks."

Earlier in the day, Baker in Florida and Karen Hughes, the governor's communications director, in Austin delivered much the same message in the continuing battle in the court of public opinion.

"We've had a vote," Hughes said. "We have laws in this country. We have a constitutional process. We have had a vote. We have now had a recount of that vote. And both of those confirm that Gov. Bush in fact carried the state of Florida."

Midmorning, on what was a glorious autumn day here, Bush took time out from his meetings to travel to the nearby University of Texas campus to get some exercise.

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