George Walker Bush, claiming the mantle of president-elect forthe first time, appealed for national unity and reconciliation in a televisedspeech last night.
Bush, winner of the closest presidential election in more than a centurydespite having lost the popular vote, was conciliatory as he repeatedly calledfor bipartisan cooperation in the wake of a bitter postelection fight.
"I was not elected to serve one party but to serve one nation," the54-year-old Republican said. "Whether you voted for me or not, I will do mybest to serve your interests and I will work to earn your respect."
His remarks followed a graceful concession speech by Al Gore earlier in theevening. The vice president implored Americans to "put country before party"and "stand together behind our new president."
The two men delivered their twin addresses about 24 hours after the U.S.Supreme Court effectively delivered the presidency to Bush by barring afurther recount of Florida's disputed ballots.
Both spoke of the need to reach across party lines, and each suggested thatthere may have been a divinely guided purpose behind their struggle over thepast month.
"I believe things happen for a reason," said Bush, who will be sworn in asthe 43rd president next month. "I hope the long wait of the last five weekswill heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of therecent past."
Both also alluded to a period of far greater national division - the yearssurrounding the Civil War.
"Our nation must rise above a house divided," said the Republicanpresident-elect, recalling a phrase that Lincoln quoted from the NewTestament.
"I know America wants reconciliation and unity. I know Americans wantprogress. And we must seize this moment and deliver."
Bush, who used the words "bipartisan," "cooperation" and "reconciliation"more than a half-dozen times in an 11-minute speech, described himselfrepeatedly as an optimist. He said he was upbeat about prospects of changingthe tone in Washington - a line he used often in his campaign speeches.
Much of his speech was a reprise of the promises and applause lines fromthe campaign, including a pledge to make "compassionate conservatism" the"foundation of my administration."
Bush also tried, as did Gore, to place the election impasse into a broaderhistorical perspective. Bush recalled Thomas Jefferson's victory after anElectoral College tie two centuries ago and promised to be guided by aJeffersonian sense of purpose as "the work of healing our nation" begins.
The Texas governor, who, along with his wife, Laura, was cheered bysupporters at the Texas State Capitol, did not refer directly to thenarrowness of his victory. But he did speak at the outset about the "long andtrying" period that took "longer than any of us could have ever imagined" tofinalize the result of a "difficult," "hard-fought" contest.
Bush becomes only the fourth man in U.S. history to win the election whilelosing the popular vote. His four-vote victory margin in the Electoral Collegeis the narrowest since 1876.
To underscore his oft-stated contention that he is "a uniter, not adivider," Bush was introduced by the state's highest- ranking Democrat, JamesE. "Pete" Laney, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
Bush said that he decided to speak from the Democrat-controlled Housechamber, because it is a place where "Republicans and Democrats have workedtogether to do what is right ... an example I will always follow."
He thanked Gore for his "gracious" concession call, "that I know wasdifficult to make," and saluted the vice president and his supporters "forwaging a spirited campaign."
Less than an hour earlier, Gore spoke eloquently about the need for thenation, and especially the 50 million Americans who voted for him, to unitebehind the new president.
"I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor mustnow be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country," saidGore, borrowing from Stephen A. Douglas' concession speech to Lincoln afterthe 1860 election.
Gore said, "I strongly disagree" with Tuesday night's Supreme Court opinionthat ended his five-week fight to contest the results in Florida. But he saidhe accepted it "for the sake of our unity and the strength of our democracy,"and offered his concession.
The vice president, while acknowledging his disappointment, vowed to "neverstop" fighting for America and described his defeat as a battle lost, not awar. He was joined by his running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman ofConnecticut, their wives and children.
A few minutes before Gore stepped before the cameras in his ceremonialoffice next door to the White House, he telephoned Bush to congratulate him onhis victory. They are expected to meet face to face on Tuesday, when thepresident-elect visits Washington.
It was the third time that the two men had spoken in the past 36 days. Thevice president had phoned Bush early on Nov. 8 to concede the election, thenfrantically called again a few minutes later to retract it.
Last night, Gore joked at the start of his speech, "I promised him that Iwouldn't call him back this time."
After his remarks, Gore waded through a crowd of supporters outside the OldExecutive Office Building who chanted "Gore In Four, Gore In Four," referringto a possible rerun for the Democratic nomination and rematch with Bush.
Politicians in both parties say Bush's success will depend on his abilityto build bipartisan coalitions around each of his initiatives.
"It's going to be tough, but we're going to make a yeoman's effort to dealwith it," said Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Senate majority leader.
Yesterday, leaders in both parties began issuing calls for nationalreconciliation. The task will be to move beyond the bitterness of apost-election struggle that was unprecedented in modern presidential politics.
But the divided electorate that produced a virtual dead heat in theBush-Gore contest is also sending a new Congress to Washington that may be themost evenly split in history.
"It was a tie election," said Sen. John B. Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat anda leader of the bipartisan Centrist Coalition in the Senate that hopes to playa pivotal role in the next Congress.
Once Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney take the oath of office onJan. 20, Republicans will control the House of Representatives, the Senate andthe White House for the first time since 1953.
Cheney's tie-breaking vote will allow Republicans to gain nominal controlof the Senate, which is split evenly between the parties for the first timesince the 19th century. The Republicans' nine-vote edge in the House is theirsmallest since taking control of that chamber in the 1994 election.
Bush is expected to move quickly in announcing his Cabinet choices andnaming key members of his White House staff, perhaps as early as today.
Because of the long count in Florida and Gore's legal challenge to thecertified result in that state, the normal period of transition between theelection and the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration has been cut in half.
Bush initially claimed victory in the presidential race on Nov. 26, afterhe was certified the winner in Florida by 537 votes. But federal officialsrejected his request to begin receiving millions in transition funds from thegovernment, and he had declined to refer to himself as president-elect untilthe last legal cloud was removed from his election.
The General Services Administration is expected to turn over the transitionmachinery today to Bush's team, which has been operating for several weeksfrom rented space in the Washington suburbs, not far from Cheney's home inMcLean, Va.
Among the first Cabinet choices Bush will likely announce is his selectionof retired Gen. Colin L. Powell as secretary of state. Powell, who would bethe first African-American to hold that office, served as chairman of theJoint Chiefs of Staff under Bush's father.
Bush is also expected to say that two of his key Texas aides,communications director Karen P. Hughes and political strategist Karl Rove,will be joining him in Washington. He has already named a chief of staff,Andrew Card, an auto industry lobbyist who was transportation secretary inBush's father's administration.
In a matter of days, Bush will be resigning as Texas governor - the onlypublic office he has held - after slightly less than six years in the job. Hewill be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, who will serveout the remaining two years of Bush's second term.
Bush becomes only the second president's son to win that office. The firstwas John Quincy Adams, who served a single term in the 1820s.
He also is the first Republican to capture the White House since his fatherdid it 12 years ago.
Bush's victory won't become final until members of the Electoral Collegemeet on Monday to cast ballots and Congress counts the votes on Jan. 6.
His total of 271 electoral votes is just one more than the number needed toassure him the presidency. Gore finished with 267, the most ever by a losingcandidate.
Some Democrats have talked about trying to persuade Bush electors to switchtheir votes and back Gore instead, on the grounds that he won the popularvote. Gore has publicly disavowed those efforts.
It would be unprecedented for so-called "faithless electors" to determinethe outcome of a presidential election, though there have been scattered casesover the years of electors who did not vote for the candidate to which theywere pledged.
For the past month, Bush campaign officials have remained in close touchwith Republican electors in a determined effort to prevent any surprises.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun