While Democratic congressional leaders yesterday spoke of the possibility of working with President-elect George W. Bush, some members of the party were beginning a campaign to delegitimize his presidency.
If Mr. Bush got up yesterday thinking that Tuesday night’s Supreme Court ruling in his favor had finally halted the Democrats’ furious political offensive against him, he was quickly disabused of that notion by a barrage of fiery broadside attacks that questioned whether he should be president.
“This decision will leave in place a vote tally that, by the court’s own logic, is constitutionally flawed,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.
“It will leave the final counting to journalists and scholars rather than election officials. A full and accurate count now would have been far better for the nation than to learn later that the wrong candidate has been certified.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who threatened to take his fight “into the streets” and trigger “a civil rights explosion” if the high court cleared the way for Mr. Bush’s election, said yesterday that he would have the disputed Florida ballots counted to prove that Mr. Gore was the real winner of its 25 electoral votes and thus should be president.
“No matter who the Supreme Court crowns, we will know before January the 20th that Gore got most of the votes,” Mr. Jackson said yesterday.
Mr. Jackson said he rejected Mr. Bush as the successor to President Clinton “with every bone in my body and every ounce of moral strength in my soul.”
Mr. Bush’s speech last night will probably not change those opinions, said one House Democratic aide. “The rhetoric was not necessarily aimed at Mr. Bush anyway; it was aimed at the process. We still think it’s an unfair process.”
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, picked up that theme yesterday, saying that he was “shocked by the partisanship that has bubbled up to the lofty halls of the Supreme Court.”
“Some forces in this country who supported Gore were sensitive to the need for a full and accurate count of the vote. But others, like those who attacked Hillary Clinton in New York, and even those who supported Bush despite concerns about his competence, were on a blind mission: to win the election at any cost,” said Mr. Rangel.
Despite the court’s definitive ruling, sweeping aside all obstacles to his formal election Dec. 18 by the Electoral College, few Democrats came forward to congratulate Mr. Bush or to call upon the country to unite behind the new president-elect. Instead, a small army of liberal Democrats, in often harsh, attack-style language, charged that the high court ruling was deeply political and raised questions about the legitimacy of Mr. Bush’s election.
Mr. Leahy advanced that view yesterday when he charged that the 7-2 majority opinion that found the recount had violated the Constitution’s equal-protection clause had “dealt the court a serious blow by taking action many Americans will consider political rather than judicial.”
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, too, said that the court’s ruling was “not reassuring” on the legitimacy of Mr. Bush’s election.
Some of the party’s most liberal interest groups also put out statements yesterday condemning the Supreme Court’s ruling in language suggesting that the election was stolen and Mr. Bush was the recipient of ill-gotten gains.
Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, said that the high court’s ruling “threatens its own credibility as well as the principle that elections should be determined by the voters.”
The Americans for Democratic Action said that the decision in Mr. Bush’s favor undermined a fundamental tenet of American democracy, “the right of every citizen to have his or her vote count.”
“Although the knee-jerk reaction of some may be that the court decision has brought much-needed finality to a chaotic situation, the harsh reality is that now no final, clear determination of the people’s choice for president will ever be reached,” the ADA said in a statement.
“It is discouraging to think that, in this momentous legal decision, perceived time constraints and political pressure carried greater weight than ensuring that the next president is the legitimate choice of the American people,” said ADA president Amy Isaacs.
While neither had much nice to say about Mr. Bush and the Supreme Court, Mr. Leahy and Mr. Durbin did acknowledge that the vice president’s crusade had failed and it was now time to move on.
“I am disappointed with the Supreme Court’s actions, but I accept the verdict of the highest court in the land, as all Americans should.,” said Mr. Leahy. Mr. Durbin, one of Mr. Bush’s severest critics, said that while he, too, did not like the court’s ruling, “this effectively brings this to an end.”