The New York Times leads with what it calls the “far-reaching” defense George W. Bush’s lawyers filed in the Florida court hearing Al Gore’s election contest lawsuit. The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead with omnibus stories on the other main election developments: 1) A select committee recommended that the whole Republican-led Florida Legislature meet next week to consider naming a slate of Bush electors, a move Joseph Lieberman condemned because “it threatens to put us in a constitutional crisis.” 2) Lawyers for both sides prepared for today’s 90 minutes of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of whether the Florida Supreme Court erred when it ordered Florida to extend its election certification procedure so as to include the results of some manual recounts. 3) Gore attorneys asked the Florida Supreme Court to order an immediate recount of some 13,000 Palm Beach and Miami-Dade county ballots. USA Today is the first major in weeks to lead with something besides the election, going with FAA findings showing that U.S. runway near-collisions are up 31 percent over last year. The paper also says that its own analysis turned up at least 250 incidents at U.S. airports over the past 15 years that were similar to the recent crash in Taiwan where 82 people were killed when an airliner tried to take off from a runway closed for construction work.
The NYT lead gets into the extraordinary details of the Bush lawyers’ counters to Gore’s contest suit. The lawyers say they plan to subpoena nearly 1.17 million ballots in addition to the million already arriving today. And they argued for the first time that in fact, Al Gore has no ability to contest Florida’s presidential election because he was never really a candidate. Only electors are in fact on the ballot, and hence, they claim, only electors can file contests. The Times says that the “sweeping nature” of the Bush claims means that Gore’s lawyers may have to spend hours on motions and arguments that don’t directly bear on an immediate recount of the disputed ballots.
The LAT lead says that Republicans in the Florida Legislature had hoped to produce their own slate of electors without Gov. Jeb Bush having to sign the bill involved because in Florida if a passed bill goes a week without being signed, it becomes law anyway, but that this option may not be possible because of the time squeeze created by the Dec. 12th cutoff for designating state electors. And anyway, the coverage makes it clear that Jeb Bush is altogether behind the move and is perceived as such. Lieberman’s comments were directed at him, and the WP says Jeb Bush is prepared to sign the bill and quotes him saying, “I can’t recuse myself from my constitutional duties as governor of the state and I can’t recuse myself, frankly, of being my brother’s brother, either.”
A NYT front-pager says that these days, Al Gore has sidelined most of his consultants, and now his inner circle consists of his family and Joe Lieberman and only a couple of other people. The story also says he has not considered conceding and that no one advising him now has suggested it. The story quotes an unidentified former consultant on Gore’s current mind-set: “There is no Plan B and there is no talk of 2004.” The story also quotes a close friend (by name) as saying that Gore “seemed to be dwelling on” why he lost Tennessee.
The WP goes inside to say that the Ottawa Citizen reported yesterday that President Clinton told a small group of people at a Washington book party that “If the votes were counted, Al Gore would carry the state.” According to the paper, Clinton had Gore winning by 100 votes. And Clinton continued, you “don’t even have the butterfly ballots from Palm Beach. Or the Holocaust survivors who supposedly cast their vote for the anti-Semitic Pat Buchanan. Or the blacks voting for the first time who were given the wrong instructions and double-punched.”
The NYT goes inside with profiles of the lead lawyers for both sides who will be arguing today before the Supreme Court: Laurence Tribe and Theodore Olson. The Olson piece calls him “the most trusted appellate litigator of the Republican establishment.” And while there’s a reference to his “intellectual suppleness and gentle manner” and his friendship with Kenneth Starr, the piece doesn’t mention that Olson once got a $25,000 fee for getting Monica Lewinsky to sit for an interview with ABC.
Hey, anybody at the assignment desk got Lorena Bobbitt’s phone number? Stories in the Wall Street Journal, NYT, and WP note that The Associated Press felt the need yesterday to interview O.J. Simpson about the TV broadcast of the yellow Ryder truck bringing hundreds of thousands of ballots to a Florida court. “This is boring,” said Simpson. “In my case it may have been a little more intriguing because people didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Today’s Papers is still groggy from the nasty blow to the occipital region it received after passing out while reading the Bush legal team’s claim that Al Gore was never a candidate, but the cobwebs are clearing enough to ask: How then, does Mr. Bush have standing to be defending the contest lawsuit–isn’t that the job of some Florida elector?