WASHINGTON -- Dispatched to Capitol Hill by Al Gore, Joseph Lieberman stood Tuesday with supportive Democratic lawmakers and declared the Florida Supreme Court would be "the final arbiter" of the election dispute.
"We have always said that the final arbiter of the contest over the election in Florida would not be any of the candidates for president or vice president, or not even the secretary of state of Florida, but the Florida Supreme Court," Lieberman told reporters.
On the morning after twin disappointments from the U.S. Supreme Court and a Florida circuit court judge, Lieberman portrayed the state's high court as not only the Democrats' last chance for jump-starting recounts of the presidential vote, but their best one.
"This is the court that we took our substantive argument to; they responded favorably. Their judgment has been frustrated by the actions of various parties along the way," Lieberman said.
It was the Florida Supreme Court, its seven justices appointed by Democratic governors, who ordered the results of manual vote recounts Gore is counting on to overtake rival George W. Bush be included in the state's certified election result, which gave Bush a 537-vote lead.
Lieberman met behind closed doors with the House's 209 Democrats at the same time Bush running mate Dick Cheney was to meet with House Republicans in a building next door.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Dick Gephardt told reporters that Gore and Lieberman "enjoy strong support with our caucus for what they're doing to try to get every vote counted in Florida."
Later Tuesday, Lieberman, who was re-elected to his U.S. Senate seat from Connecticut in the same Nov. 7 vote that offered him as Gore's vice presidential running mate, was to meet with fellow centrist Democrats in the Senate.
Lawmakers who spoke with Lieberman by conference call on Monday reported no whiff of surrender. "We're down but not out," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. "We continue to support Al Gore."
But some acknowledged that the clock is now working against Gore's chances of winning the presidency.
"I'm with him as far as he wants to go," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. But "if you put money on the vice president's chances right now, you'd probably want points."
Ron Klain, lawyer and longtime associate of Gore, described the vice president's mood Tuesday as "very resolute, very strong, I thought, very inspiring. ... In many ways, this most difficult moment has been his finest hour."
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned aside a ruling that had favored an extension of state deadlines to allow manual recounts and a Florida circuit court judge refused to overturn Bush's victory in the state where his brother, Jeb, is the governor.
Gore's lawyers immediately appealed the circuit court decision and asked that the appeal go directly to the Florida Supreme Court.
Gore kept a low profile Monday, convening a 55-minute meeting at the White House with an inner circle of advisers doing the hopeful work of putting a presidential transition in place for him. He had no public reaction to the twin court rulings. "He was watching TV like everyone else," said spokeswoman Julia Payne.
In Florida and at Gore's recount headquarters in Washington, advisers emphasized that the appeal in state court would be Gore's last stand.
"When the Florida Supreme Court makes its decision on this matter, we will accept that," said attorney David Boies.
Spokesman Mark Fabiani said Boies reflected Gore's own thinking. "The last stop in Florida is the Florida Supreme Court ... the final word on these issues," Fabiani said.
The Gore camp hoped to build political pressure on Bush to swear off any appeal of what the Florida Supreme Court rules. The last major ruling by that panel of seven judges appointed by Democratic governors went Gore's way and prompted Republican accusations of partisanship.
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