On the 36th day after they had voted, Americans finally learned on Wednesday who would be their next president: Governor .George W. Bush of Texas. Vice President Al Gore, his last realistic avenue for legal challenge closed by a U. S. Supreme Court decision late Tuesday, planned to end the contest formally in a televised evening speech of perhaps 10 minutes, advisers said.
They said that Senator Joseph Lieberman, his vice presidential running mate, would first make brief comments. The men would speak from a ceremonial chamber of the Old Executive office Building, to the west of the White House. The dozens of political workers and lawyers who had helped lead Mr. Gore’s unprecedented fight today a come-from-behind electoral victory in the pivotal state of Florida were thanked Wednesday and asked to stand down.
The vice president has directed the recount committee to suspend activities, William Datey, the Gore campaign chairman, said in a written statement. Mr. Gore authorized that statement after meeting with his wife, Tipper, and with top advisers including Mr. Daley. He was expected to telephone Mr. Bush during the day. The Bush campaign kept a low profile and moved gingerly, as if to leave pace for Mr. Gore to contemplate his next steps.
Yet, at the end of a trying and tumultuous process that had focused world attention on sleepless vote-counters across Florida, and on courtrooms from Miami to Atlanta to Washington, the Texas governor was set to become the 43rd U.S. president.
The news of Mr. Gore’s plans followed the longest and most rancorous dispute over a U. S. presidential election in more than a century, one certain to leave scars in a badly ‘divided country.
It was a bitter ending for Mr. Gore, who had outpolled Mr. Bush nationwide by some 300,000 votes, but, without Florida, fell short in the Electoral College by 271 votes to 267 the narrowest Electoral College victory since the turbulent election of 1876.
Mr. Gore was said to be distressed by what he and many Democratic activists felt was a partisan decision from the nation’s highest court. The 5-to-4 decision of the Supreme Court held, in essence, that while a vote recount in Florida could be conducted in legal and constitutional fashion, as Mr. Gore had sought, this could not be done by the Dec. 12 deadline for states to select their presidential electors.
James Baker 3rd, the former secretary of state who represented Mr. Bush in the Florida dispute, issued a short statement after the U. S. high court ruling, saying that the governor was very pleased and gratified. Mr. Bush was planning a nationwide speech aimed at trying to begin to heal the country’s deep, aching and varied divisions. He then was expected to meet with congressional leaders, including Democrats. Dick Cheney, Mr. Bush’s running mate, was meeting with congressmen Wednesday in Washington.
When Mr. Bush, who is 54, is sworn into office on Jan. 20, he will be only the second son of a president to follow his father to the White House, after John Adams and John Quincy Adams in the early 19th century. Mr. Gore, in his speech, was expected to thank his supporters, defend his five-week battle as an effort to ensure, as a matter of principle, that every vote be counted, and call for the nation to join behind the new president. He was described by an aide as resolved and resigned.
While some constitutional experts had said they believed states could present electors as late as Dec. 18, the U.8.high court made clear that it saw no such leeway. The U. S. high court sent back for revision to the Florida court its order allowing recounts but made clear that for all practical purposes the election was over. In its unsigned main opinion, the court declared, the recount process, in its features here described, is inconsistent with the rninimum procedures necessary to protect the ftmdamental right of each voter.
That decision, by a court fractured along philosophical lines, left one liberal justice charging that the high court’s proceedings bore a political taint. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in an angry dissent: Although we may never know with complete certainly the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the law.
But at the end of five seemingly endless weeks, during which the physical, legal and constitutional machines of the U. S. election were pressed and sorely tested in ways unseen in more than a century, the system finally produced a result, and one most Americans appeared to be willing at least provisionally to support.
The Bush team welcomed the news with an outward show of restraint and aplomb. The governor’s hopes had risen and fallen so many times since Election night, and the legal warriors of each side suffered through so many dramatic reversals, that there was little energy left for celebration.