In a coda to a contentious, confusing and drawn out presidential election, members of the Congressional Black Caucus today tried to stop the formal recording of the Electoral College tally during a joint session of Congress.
As Vice President Al Gore presided over the session, black lawmakers who supported him for president objected vociferously to the proceedings. One after another, the representatives rose to prevent the electoral votes from Florida from being counted.
Each time, Gore was forced to deny their motion, filed under an 1887 law, because their written objection did not include a signature from both a House member and a senator.
One after another, the caucus members arose and asked that the House withdraw from the joint session. Again, Gore denied the motions because no senator had agreed. One after another, lawmakers also objected to the proceedings because a quorum was not present in the chamber. The vice president shut down the complaints.
I am objecting to the idea that votes in Florida were not counted, said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., who called it a sad day when a congressman could not find a single senator to sign his parliamentary objection.
With a shrug of his shoulders, his hands outstretched with the palms face up, Gore said, The chair thanks the gentleman from Illinois, but, hey.
When Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., responded to Gore's inquiry about having a senator's signature, she said she did not care about that. The rules do care, Gore said.
When Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., stood to repeat an objection that had been made by several of his colleagues, Gore warned him of his answer, This is going to sound familiar to you.
Usually, the recording of Electoral College votes by the Congress is no more than a footnote in history. The Electoral College votes were cast on Dec. 18. Texas Gov. George W. Bush received 271 votes and Gore, 266. To win, a presidential candidate must receive 270 votes out of 538 cost by representatives in every state and the District of Columbia.
Saturday, Congress ratified the electoral tally, formally certifying Bush's win. Altogether, 20 objections were offered by the House Democratic lawmakers, who were not allowed to make speeches or describe their complaint in any detail. After they had exhausted their objections, more than a dozen congressmen walked out of the chamber in protest.
The event was a solemn and formal affair as senators massed in the upper chamber and marched over to the House, led by Gore. Several pages helped carry the antique wooden box into which the states' certificates were stuffed.
From the House platform, with Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., sitting behind him, Gore called out the states in alphabetical order. He handed the electoral vote certificates for each to one of four lawmakers appointed to examine them and read them aloud.
Republicans tried to smooth over the friction and asked Democrats to accept the results of the election.
We are ready to lead and govern in a bipartisan way, said Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark. We should work together in a positive way.
Even Gore tried to assuage his supporters when he spoke to members of the black caucus on Wednesday, just prior to the swearing in of the House and Senate.
I believe very deeply that we all must respect and, wherever possible, help President-elect Bush, Gore said, though he urged lawmakers not to abandon their principles.