WASHINGTON - Closing the book on the tumultuous 2000 election, a good-natured Vice President Al Gore methodically blocked his supporters' attempts yesterday to prolong the drama and proclaimed George W. Bush the nation's 43rd president.
Although Gore appeared to have accepted his fate, Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried repeatedly to challenge the assignment of Florida's 25 electoral votes to Bush.
"I must object because of the overwhelming evidence of official misconduct" in his state, said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, a Florida Democrat, before he was shouted down by Republicans yelling, "Point of order! Point of order!"
More than a dozen Democrats followed suit, seeking to force a debate on the validity of Florida's vote on the grounds that all votes may not have been counted and that some voters were wrongly denied the right to vote.
Republicans objected, saying debate was not allowed during the session. But it was Gore, in his role as president of the Senate, who repeatedly stopped the Democrats' efforts, banging his gavel to interrupt his supporters. And as Gore politely knocked down one Democratic objection after another, the mood turned almost farcical.
"The chair thanks the gentleman from Illinois. But, hey," Gore told Illinois Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., signaling that there was nothing left that could be done to reverse the closest presidential election in the nation's history. Democrats and Republicans chuckled.
Gore said the protesting Democrats - who included several who are not Black Caucus members - could not challenge the Florida count unless they presented a written objection signed by at least one member each from the House and Senate.
Defying the exasperated hoots of their Republican colleagues, the 15 Democrats slipped in arguments about the Florida election process before they were forced to acknowledge that they had not persuaded a senator to sign onto the objection.
"The objection is in writing, and I don't care that it is not signed by a senator," said angry Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat.
"The chair would advise that the rules do care," Gore replied.
After Florida's votes were assigned to Bush, the Black Caucus members, led by Waters, walked out of the half-filled chamber.
After about two hours of the official reading of the votes, Gore announced the expected result: 271 electoral votes for Bush, or one more than the number needed to win, and 266 for Gore.
The last vice president to read out the state-by-state account of his failure to win the White House was Richard M. Nixon, who lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Hubert H. Humphrey, defeated by Nixon in 1968, delegated the job to another senator.
"May God bless our new president and our new vice president, and may God bless the United States of America," Gore said, ending the joint session of Congress.
Bush, continuing his transition preparations in Austin, said: "I am honored. And I guess I better go write an inaugural speech."
The president-elect added, "It's a humbling experience to become the president of this great land. And I want to reiterate what I said before: I'm going to be the president of everybody, whether they supported me or not. And people need to know that; people need to know that this is going to be an administration that will make decisions on what's best for America."
Congressional Black Caucus members, bitter over what they call an illegitimate election, said they would keep the heat on Bush, focusing first on defeating the nominations of former Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general and Linda Chavez to be labor secretary.