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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Clinton Urges Patience on Recounts

Politics: The president, in Camp David for the holiday weekend, says allowing the courts to guide the Florida election is 'the way it ought to be.'

November 24, 2000|From Reuters

THURMONT, Md. — President Clinton waded cautiously Thanksgiving Day into the heated battle over the Florida ballot recounts, saying local officials should count every legally cast vote and urging the American public to be patient as the legal process plays itself out.

"There is a process underway. The courts will do what they're going to do, and that's the way it ought to be," Clinton told reporters Thursday near Camp David, the wooded presidential retreat in western Maryland where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.

The comments came as Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush pressed on with their legal struggles to determine who will succeed Clinton in the White House in January.

The battle is over the state of Florida, where legal maneuvers continued during the Thanksgiving holiday over vote recounts that could enable Gore to overcome Bush's small lead in the state.

"I just want everybody who tried to vote, legally voted, to have their votes counted, including the service people," Clinton said after playing nine holes of golf with a group that included his brother, Roger. "I think that's what they're trying to do and I hope there will be time to do it."

Florida's Supreme Court has given three largely Democratic counties--Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach--the green light to recount 1.7 million votes by hand, as long as they submit the results by 5 p.m. Sunday. Miami-Dade has opted to scrap its count, but Broward and Palm Beach counties are hand counting ballots.

Clinton sidestepped a question on whether the U.S. Supreme Court should decide whether the Florida recounts continue.

"I think the law on that's pretty clear," the president said, then paused and added: "I don't think I should comment about it."

Lawyers for Bush have asked the nation's high court to bar hand recounted votes from the final tally, arguing that the process is inconsistent and unfair.

Democrats said hand recounts are necessary to catch votes that machines missed, and they hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would stay out of the fight.

Clinton urged the American public to be patient and to recognize that they are seeing democracy in action.

"I'm thankful that I live in a country with enough faith in its democracy that we'll all let this play out," he said.

Referring to his recent trip to Brunei and Vietnam, Clinton said: "In Asia, I had a couple of people tell me, 'You know, in some countries people would be in the streets over this.'

"Instead, you know, we trust our system," Clinton added. "We just have to trust it, whether you agree with it or disagree with it. Let it play out. I just hope that we don't run out of time."

After playing golf in near-freezing temperatures, the president returned to Camp David for a private Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, including his wife, New York Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea.

"I've got a lot to be thankful for this year," Clinton told reporters. "I've got my family here. They're all in good health. They're doing well.

"I'm very grateful for how good the people in New York were to Hillary, and I'm grateful that the country's in good shape."

The White House said the Clintons and their guests sat down to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey with stuffing, cranberry relish and sweet potato casserole.

Clinton is expected to remain at Camp David through the holiday weekend.

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