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Bush Pledges Unity, Moves to Begin Transition

Politics: Cheney is named to lead team to prepare for presidency. Andrew Card will be chief of staff.


AUSTIN, Texas — George W. Bush moved swiftly to portray himself Sunday night as a president-elect who is determined to bring a conciliatory tone to Washington and to unite the country by working with Democrats.

In a nationally televised address, the Texas governor announced that he is proceeding with his transition to become America's 43rd president, and he urged Vice President Al Gore to abandon any further court challenges for the good of the country.

"This has been a hard-fought election; a healthy contest for American democracy. But now that the votes are counted, it is time for the votes to count," Bush declared during a five-minute speech.

"Once our elections are behind us, once our disagreements are expressed, we have a responsibility to honor our Constitution and laws, and come together to do the people's business," he said.

Bush's speech, in which he named a White House chief of staff and reiterated his campaign promise of a tax cut, was the latest extraordinary development in an ongoing national drama without precedent in the annals of presidential elections.

The winner traditionally does not claim victory until the loser has publicly conceded, and Gore has done nothing of the sort. In fact, although Gore privately conceded to Bush by telephone Nov. 8, he rescinded the concession a few hours later after it became clear the contest in Florida was too close to call.

Yet Bush evinced no compunctions about his belief that he has won the election--even as both campaigns face a hearing Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Noting that the Gore campaign intends to challenge the now-certified election results, Bush said:

"I respectfully ask him to reconsider."

Aside from the legal machinations, another potential hitch for Bush came Sunday night when the General Services Administration said it would not release to Bush the $5.3 million in government funds to help the next president prepare for office. The vice president's plans to contest the election place the outcome in enough doubt to keep the transition office closed for now, GSA spokeswoman Beth Newburger said.

As required by law, the GSA has set up a transition office complete with computers and telephones. Newburger said GSA Administrator David J. Barram is "authorized by law to ascertain--that is what the law says--the apparent winner, and authorize the transfer of funds to begin the inauguration."

"As long as there is not an apparent winner, and the outcome is unclear, there's not much we can do," she told Associated Press.

In his speech Sunday night, Bush disclosed that he has asked his vice presidential running mate, Dick Cheney, "to work with President Clinton's administration to open a transition office in Washington. And we look forward to a constructive working relationship throughout this transition."

Throughout his brief remarks, Bush struck an earnest and low-key tone. He spoke from the second floor of the Texas Capitol, just outside the Governor's Public Reception Room, reading his remarks from a TelePrompTer. When done, Bush snapped shut a folder, turned and walked back into his office suite.

Despite the somber, conciliatory tone, some of his words surely would grate on Gore.

"Until Florida's votes were certified, the vice president was working to represent the interests of those who supported him. I did not agree with his call for additional recounts. But I respected his decision to fight until the votes were finally certified. Now that they are certified, we enter a different phase," Bush said.

Having waged a hard-fought contest of ideas and philosophies, Bush continued, "now we must live up to our principles. We must show our commitment to the common good, which is bigger than any person or any party."

Specifically, Bush spoke of his intention to work with Democrats to improve public education reform, enact a broad tax cut, reform Social Security and add prescription drug coverage to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for senior citizens.

"Progress on these issues will require a new tone in Washington," he said. "I've worked with Democrats and Republicans in Texas, and I will do so in Washington. I will listen. And I will respect different points of view. And most of all, I will work to unite our great land."

In addition to appointing Cheney, who is recovering at home after suffering a mild heart attack Wednesday, to chair the transition, Bush named as his White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who served as Transportation secretary under former President Bush. Card also chaired the GOP convention this year, and Cheney served as Defense secretary in the administration of Bush's father.

Despite the appointments, Bush's communications director, Karen Hughes, said the Texas governor has no wish to be called president-elect while Gore pursues his legal challenges. Even so, Bush made it clear he believes the election is over.

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