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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 17:23 GMT
Paul Reynolds quizzed on Bush

After a month of uncertainty in the US over the election of a new president, George W Bush is set to lead the country for the next four years.

The BBC's Washington correspondent, Paul Reynolds, who has followed every twist and turn of the US election, joined us for a Live Chat on Tuesday.


Michael Hengels:
What do you think of the Electoral College?

Paul Reynolds:
Like most things in the United States we have to explain in terms of the constitution. The Electoral College goes back to the early days and was designed to give power to the individual states. It obviously has problems when the popular vote exceeds the Electoral College votes as happened this time and it really needs to be looked at again. Some people suggest a candidate winning the popular vote should get more votes in the Electoral College.

What does the US think of Bush?

Paul Reynolds:
Half the US voters like George Bush and half did not. So clearly the country is divided. It is up to him now to make his case as president. He has a big challenge obviously.

Donald Shelley, Grimsby, England:
How can the new president unite the nation when around half of the voters didn't even turn out?

Paul Reynolds:
This is obviously a big problem but I think that George Bush is the kind of character who might be able to soothe ruffled feelings. You have got to remember also that in Britain as well governments sometimes come to power without the majority on their side. Everything therefore then depends on how they govern. I should add though that the Democrats will seek their revenge on Bush in due course.

Michael Hengels:
Is George W. Bush going to make many minority and Democrat cabinet appointments just for show?

Paul Reynolds:
He has already made three minority appointments, not all in the cabinet with the Colin Powell, Condi Rice and Martinez Gonzales though the key point about these people is that they are Republicans and that will be Bush's criteria. He got a very bad result from African Americans in the election and clearly needs to reach out to them.

Mike Bales, Omaha, Nebraska, USA:
Why do you believe that so many people across America and around the world already taking so many cheap shots at Bush and saying how bad of a president he is when he hasn't even been sworn in yet?

Paul Reynolds:
We get criticised from both sides. Some people say that the media is taking cheap shots at Bush, others that the media is not critical enough. It depends of course on your point of view. Bush did not help himself as we know when he displayed a certain ignorance of world affairs but he is not to be underestimated. His opponents have always made that mistake. I have found him to be not intellectually smart but very street-smart. In my view he is not unlike Ronald Reagan when he displayed a certain ignorance of world affairs but he is not to be underestimated.

Jonathan Handyside:
Do you think any reform in the Electoral College system is likely any time soon?

Paul Reynolds:
The problem with Electoral College reform is that the small states do not want to change. It gives them extra power. Reform therefore is going to be very difficult if not impossible. There is one idea that I mentioned above and that is to give the candidate with the popular vote extra votes in the Electoral College.

Andrew, Auckland, New Zealand:
Aren't you just guessing? Is there REALLY serious disunity in the US? I doubt it. The same corporations paid for both candidates so what's the fuss?

Paul Reynolds:
I did not say there was serious disunity I said the country was divided - just look at the figures. As for the corporations paying for the election this is also a serious issue which many reformers want to tackle. Like Senator John McCain but they are finding it very difficult.

Chris, Yorktown, USA:
The USA continues to pursue a low cost energy policy, yet it is in effect at war with Iraq, holder of 30% of world reserves of petroleum and refuses to negotiate a position for the reduction of pollution emissions while refusing to authorise exploration of the Alaskan reserves. Any chance of the Bush administration getting to grips with these apparent contradictions?

Paul Reynolds:
Bush intends to explore and drill for oil within the United States much more. He is an ex-oil man himself. As for Iraq, it does now export petroleum. I see no prospect of Bush easing up on Saddam Hussain. All western countries which use high amounts of energy face these kind of contradictions and the United States faces them most of all. I doubt if Mr Bush has an easy answer.

Morten Lillesand, Stavanger, Norway:
In case George W. Bush proves to be a weak leader and with contradicting interests to Europe, wouldn't this strengthen the EU internally and also increase the importance of Europe as a global lead country?

Paul Reynolds:
The European Union is not a country! Norway knows that very well. The strength of European unity does not depend on the weakness of an American president. There is nothing to stop the EU from taking further steps towards integration except the wishes of its own member states. I think this will be a slow process.

Michael Hengels:
How much will Mr. Cheney control the Bush administration?

Paul Reynolds:
There is joke here, perhaps not in good taste that George Bush will only be a heartbeat from presidency given Mr Cheney's influence and medical record. Mr Cheney will clearly be more influential than most vice-presidents but Bush obviously has confidence in him.

Jez Connelly:
Will Hillary run for president in 2004?

Paul Reynolds:
She says not. She was asked the other day is there any question and she ruled it out. She said that she would serve a full term as a United States senator and that is six years. So maybe look to 2008? But who could look that far ahead.

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