Bush Prepares for Transfer of Power

W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 14, 2000 -- — With the 2000 election finally decided, President-elect George W. Bush is looking ahead to his stewardship of a deeply divided nation as he prepares to take the reins of government.

“The transition is well under way,” said Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, the head of Bush’s transition team, at a news conference this afternoon, where he accepted the keys — actually, a “smart card” — to the government transition offices in Washington. “We’re going to move as rapidly as we can.”

Amid the chaos and uncertainty of the monthlong recount controversy, the Republican nominee and his team of advisers have been methodically preparing to take power. The Bush camp can now move forward with its White House transition plans with the certainty that the Texas governor will take the oath of office as the 43rd president of the United States.

The day after Al Gore conceded the race for the White House, and Bush delivered his first speech as president-elect, Democratic congressional leaders consoled the vanquished and congratulated the victor, whom they urged to make good on his promise of bipartisanship.

“Democrats are ready to meet with President-elect Bush and Vice President-elect Cheney,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. “The campaign is over; it’s time for the work of governing to begin.”

“While the election ended up in a virtual tie, the American people do not want gridlock,” added House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. “If the president-elect is, as he says, truly committed to uniting this country, I believe in my head and in my heart Republicans and Democrats can accomplish great things in the next two years.”

Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert sounded a similarly hopeful tone.

“I think we’re starting out fresh,” he told reporters. “The elections are behind us … Now is the time to work together and try to find areas that we can agree on and have good bipartisan support on.”

At his news conference this afternoon, Cheney said GOP efforts to reach out to congressional Democrats would have been “awkward while there was still contest under way,” but added, “those constraints are now off, and we’re able to be much more aggressive in that regard.”

From Austin to Washington

When Bush is sworn in on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, it will mark the first time the GOP has had control of the House, Senate and the presidency since the Eisenhower administration.

The Bush camp is literally and figuratively moving to Washington, as Bush prepares to head to the nation’s capital Monday and Cheney accepted the transition keys from General Services Administration head Thurmand Davis this afternoon. The Bush camp’s transition efforts have been temporarily based in offices in McLean, Va.

In his first full day as the president-elect, Bush spent some time on the telephone with several foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spain’s King Juan Carlos, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Mexico’s Vincente Fox and Canada’s Jean Chretien. He also spoke to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who wants to meet with him personally, and to former President Jimmy Carter. He also went to church with his wife, Laura.

He will travel to Washington to meet with GOP and Democratic congressional leaders on Monday.

This morning, Cheney spoke on the phone with his former counterpart on the Democratic ticket, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, in what Cheney described as “a very pleasant conversation.”

Cheney added that Lieberman gave an “eloquent speech, certainly in keeping with his stature and reputation” while addressing the Senate this morning.

“I congratulate Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney and I wish them well,” Lieberman — who lost the vice-presidency but won re-election to the Senate from Connecticut — said in his floor speech. “[They] are in my prayers … as they begin now to assume the awesome responsibilities that go with the leadership of this great country.”

From a practical standpoint, Bush will have the immediate task of filling nearly 3,000 jobs in his administration, a third of which will require Senate confirmation. From a political standpoint, Bush will face an even more daunting challenge, as he assumes the responsibilities of the Oval Office without the benefit of a clear mandate from the electorate.

A high priority for Bush will be naming his Cabinet and staff appointments, some of which he has already decided upon. (See sidebar, below.) The Texas governor will likely start formally announcing appointments on Saturday from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, said his spokeswoman, Karen Hughes. She confirmed that he will meet with Democratic Sen. John Breaux in Austin, but she would not say whether the senator from Louisiana is being considered for a cabinet post.

Bush’s best-known Cabinet member will almost certainly be retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bush has made it clear he would like Powell to be secretary of state.

Bush has also indicated he will make a commitment to bipartisanship by appointing at least one Democrat to his Cabinet.

Speeches of a Lifetime

As he addressed the nation Wednesday night, Bush called for reconciliation after a tumultuous, five-week post-Election Day battle for the White House.

”Our nation must rise above a house divided,” Bush said. “Americans share hopes and goals and values, far more important than any political disagreements. Republicans want what’s best for our nation and so do Democrats. Our votes may differ, not our hopes. I know Americans want reconciliation and unity.”

Even the venue for his remarks — the chamber of the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives — was meant to emphasize his call for bipartisanship.

“Here, in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent,” said Bush, who spoke slowly and methodically as he read the television prompter cuing his speech. “We had spirited disagreements, and in the end, we found constructive consensus. It is an experience I will always carry with me, and an example I will always follow.”

Vice President Al Gore effectively delivered the office to Bush in a concession speech an hour earlier, thus ending an unprecedented legal fight for the White House.

“Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road,” Gore said of his former foe. “Certainly neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended, resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.”

Bush and Gore plan to meet in person for the first time since the end of the campaign next week, as do Cheney and Lieberman. Bush will also meet with the man he is now preparing to succeed, President Clinton.

Clinton spoke out on the election for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended Gore’s campaign. The president said from London he was proud of both men.

“I don’t think that now is the time to do anything other than follow Vice President Gore’s lead,” Clinton said as he departed British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s residence this morning. “I think we ought to use this opportunity to let the country come together and try to get the new administration off to a good start.”

ABCNEWS.com’s Julia Campbell, Peter Dizikes and Carter M. Yang and ABCNEWS’ John Berman and Eileen McMenamin contributed to this report.