(CNSNews.com) - President Clinton Friday said he believes the INS correctly "followed the law and procedures" in deciding to let Elian Gonzalez return to his father in Cuba - after Vice President Al Gore Thursday said he thinks it's a question for the family courts to decide.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Clinton refused to commit himself on whether he would rescind the INS decision, which gave Elian's father the sole right to decide where his son will live. The father has insisted from the beginning that he wants his son to return to him in Cuba.
Said Clinton, "I believe that they [the INS] followed the law and the procedures. This is a volatile and difficult case. Those who want to challenge it will have to follow the law and the procedures. I think that's the only way to do this. We need to keep this out of the political process as much as possible within the established legal channels."
But Vice President Al Gore, campaigning in New Hampshire late Thursday, indicated he is siding with Elian's Miami relatives, and thus he appears to be at odds with his boss, President Clinton.
The issue is a particularly difficult one for Gore in this election year, given the large block of Cuban-American voters living in Florida - a community that has risen up in protest over the idea that Elian would be returned to Cuba, when his mother died at sea trying to get him here.
Speaking at a Manchester, New Hampshire news conference, Gore said the family's appeal of the INS decision to return Elian should be moved out of the administrative law process and handled under "the due process normally followed for determining child custody cases. What are the best interests of the child? When that question is posed in other cases, courts competent to make that determination are given the responsibility for the decision. That's what I think ought to be done."
Reporters pressed Gore further about the Elian Gonzalez matter, especially in the wake of the demonstrations it spawned Wednesday in Miami .
"Let's see how it plays out," Gore said.
Gore then said he believes the question would best be resolved on American soil: "If the father comes to free soil and says -- without fear of intimidation, without the paid demonstrators hired by Castro chanting outside his window, without the full control of a dictator hanging over his head, but really in freedom without that intimidation -- and says, 'This is what I think is in the best interests of the child', then that settles the case," Gore said.
Asked whether he personally thought Elian would be better off here or in communist Cuba, Gore gave this response: "That should be determined not in the political process, but according to due process."
Florida Governor Jeb Bush late Thursday sent a letter to Clinton urging him to rescind the INS decision.
In another development, CNN is reporting that the House Government Reform and Operations Committee plans to subpoena six-year-old Elian himself to hear his side of the story.
Asked about that report, a spokesman for Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) told CNSNews.com that "Right now, the committee is in the process of examining all the options at their disposal, so nothing has been etched in stone as far as what they're going to do."