The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 26, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

     Listen to the Briefing

  1. President's schedule
  2. Pakistan/coalition aid
  3. Chechnya/Russia
  4. U.N. Security Council approval
  5. CIA Director Tenet/support of the President
  6. CIA/view of bin Laden
  7. Egypt/Mubarak comments on threats to the President
  8. Airline security/President's view
  9. Afghanistan/American embassy building
  10. Iran/rejection of coalition involvement
  11. Possible tax cuts
  12. Returning to normal activity
  13. Representative Cooksey/comments on Sikh Americans
  14. Middle East/concessions to help coalition
  15. Recession possibility
  16. Farm bill
  17. Draft/possibility of its return
  18. Bill Maher's comments
  19. Jesse Jackson as envoy to Afghanistan

12:38 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me update you on the President's day, and then I'll be more than happy to take any questions. The President this morning spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Kok. The President and the Prime Minister expressed their agreement about the need for full solidarity, and the Prime Minister said that the Dutch government would be with the people of the United States and stressed that solidarity means deeds, not just words.

The President also this morning spoke with Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev. The two Presidents discussed cooperation in the common fight against terrorism. And President Nazarbayev reiterated that Kazakhstan will support the U.S.-led effort "with all available means."

The President earlier this morning convened a meeting of his National Security Council. He concluded just recently a meeting -- it may still be going on, if it's not quite concluded -- with a group of American Sikhs, another reminder to the American people of the importance of waging a battle against intolerance and prejudice in this country as we proceed with this fight against terrorism. The American Sikh community has been beset with occasional violence and it's another reminder about the need for Americans to honor our constitutional principles in respecting all Americans and all visitors to our country throughout this time.

The President will depart for the Central Intelligence Agency in the early afternoon, where he will have a briefing over at CIA, take a tour of the CIA, and thank the CIA employees for all the efforts that they are making to win the war against terrorism.

Upon his return to the White House in the mid-afternoon, the President will meet with a group of Muslim leaders to send another signal, another reminder to the American people about the need to be -- to avoid prejudice and intolerance. The Muslim American community has been very supportive and cooperative with all efforts to win the war on terrorism, and the President is very appreciative of that.

He will meet with the Foreign Minister of Egypt at 4:15 p.m. in the Oval Office. And at 4:50 p.m., the President will have a meeting of his Domestic Consequences Group to discuss economic actions that the government may be able to take to help provide a stimulus to the economy.

A couple updates on other events or briefings: Secretary Powell will also meet with the Egyptian Foreign Minister at 2:30 p.m., and then the two will participate in a joint stakeout at the State Department at 3:00 p.m. In addition to the schedule from what I announced earlier, Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller will also hold a briefing for the American people at 3:15 p.m., open to the press, of course, to continue to communicate with the American people about the efforts underway in the war against terrorism.

Q Ari, Pakistan says they've been discussing with the U.S. a broad agreement on an operational plan that includes attacks on camps in Afghanistan. Is that report inaccurate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I'm not going to characterize in any way any of the operational details about what the United States may or may not be discussing with any of our coalition friends.

Q Is the United States taking a softer line on Russia over Chechnya in return for the cooperation Putin has offered in this effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: President Putin gave a very important speech the other day. This should be noted. President Bush appreciated very much President Putin's offer of concrete cooperation in the common fight against international terrorism. And President Putin's remarks demonstrate that Russia can make a major contribution to that common struggle against international terrorism, while at the same time displaying a respect for the sovereignty and independence of Russia's neighbors.

In particular, the President noted and wants to thank President Putin for his offer to provide, as President Putin described it, permission for humanitarian overflights, information about the situation on the ground, as well as search and rescue operations, if necessary. The President looks forward to continuing to work with the Russia government together as we build this international coalition.

But the President also wants to note particularly President Putin's remarks about the situation in Chechnya in which President Putin called on Chechen insurgents to disassociate themselves immediately from the international terrorist networks, and meet for discussions to resolve the crisis in Chechnya.

The Chechnya leadership, like all responsible political leaders in the world, must immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups, such as Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization. At the same time, the United States has long said that the only solution in Chechnya is a political solution, a political process to resolve the conflict there. The President welcomes the sincere steps that have been taken by Russia to engage the Chechen leadership and, consistent with what you've heard repeatedly, respect for human rights and accountability for violations on all sides is crucial to a durable peace there.

Q Does this offer by Putin reflect any input by the United States, did Bush suggest that you needed to do something on Chechnya? And do you have any idea what might happen if the 72-hour period expires without an acceptance by the rebels?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, there's been an update on that. As you may have heard, Chechen leader, Mr. Maskhadov has responded, indicated a commitment to the peace process. He has indicated a willingness, and so it's important now to let events develop in Chechnya. That is an encouraging sign.

Q And so, the administration believes, with President Putin, that the resistance in Chechnya has been infiltrated and is linked to the same terrorist networks that committed the atrocities in New York?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, there is no question that there is an international terrorist presence in Chechnya that has links to Osama bin Laden. And that's why I indicated what I indicated. That also is a point of view that was shared with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in, I believe, it was November of 1999 by a spokesman, an official from the Clinton State Department when he testified before Senate Foreign Relations. So that's been long been known; in fact, it's been referenced in the Pattern of Global Terrorism Report, which was issued by the State Department.

Q One more on this. Would, then, Chechen separatists, by the statement you ready today also calling on them to cut off links to this group -- are they on notice as the Taliban is that they will share the terrorists' fate if they don't do so?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President's words speak for themselves about those terrorist organizations that have global reach. But what's notable here is, the President is reiterating that it's important to have a political solution to the situation in Chechnya. But, undeniably, there are terrorists' organizations in Chechnya that have ties to Osama bin Laden.

Q And did he suggest this offer by Putin? Did the President and Putin discuss this offer in advance of Putin's making it? Does this reflect U.S. input?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check, Randy. Don't know.

Q Haven't we made many statements denouncing Russia for its attacks at Chechnya? And is there some image of some freedom fighters there? And all of a sudden, you're calling them terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated, the concern for human rights remains a vital part of American policy, and the only solution to the problem in Chechnya is a political one.

Q Yes. But why is it just today that you're calling them terrorists? What has changed? Is this what Putin has asked for, in exchange for his help?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, that's not the case. That's been the longstanding position.

Q I think this is the first time -- is this not the first time you've used this word at that podium?

Q It's the first time we've heard it.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that I have discussed the situation in Chechnya with the White House Press Corps prior to this. We haven't had much reason to do so. But that's why I indicated, going back to the previous administration, in testimony before the Senate, they said what they said because it's true. And the State Department publishes a report every year that included similar information.

Q Is it fair to assume that these words from you are in exchange for Putin's cooperation on the U.S. effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's an accurate statement about the situation on the ground and the importance of the speech that President Putin made. But keep in mind, President Putin called for political discussions, which leaders of Chechnya have now indicated they are willing to engage in such discussions. That's a positive development.

Q Sounds like a deal, though. It sounds like in exchange for Putin's support, we, rhetorically from this podium, are lending him support in characterizing the opposition as international terrorists.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, no such conclusion should be reached. This is consistent with actions taken by the previous administration, because it's an accurate statement about developments in Chechnya.

Q Can you give us the date of that Senate testimony?

MR. FLEISCHER: If I recall, it was November 1999.

Q Is the administration planning to go to the U.N. Security Council before for approval before any sort of military action is taken? And do you think that's something you should do? Is it necessary?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the United Nations through the Security Council has already spoken out on this matter. Number two --

Q But not on military action.

MR. FLEISCHER: Number two, in accordance with the U.N. Charter, the United States has the right to self-defense, of course. The President has spoken directly on that point. But no decision has been reached about whether or not there will be any additional requests made of or through the United Nations. There's just no determination at this time.

Q But it's something under discussion that you're talking about?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's one of many options that could be used, but there's no determination.

Q Senator Shelby continues to suggest that CIA Director Tenet should probably step down. Is the President planning today to indicate his support for the Director?

MR. FLEISCHER: Director Tenet has the full faith and confidence of the President. The President will be at the CIA. He'll have public remarks, so you'll have to hear those yourself.

Q How does the White House, CIA and so forth view bin Laden? Is he a religious leader or a political leader, or both?

MR. FLEISCHER: He's a terrorist. He's a leader of a terrorist organization that has inflicted grievous harm on our country. That is the only way to see him. The President has described him as an evildoer, and the President has said that this is a struggle between good and evil.

Q But deeper into that, do you consider him a religious leader or a political leader?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's so hard to assign any religious value to the acts that he's carried out. There is no religion that preaches or tolerates the murder of innocent civilians, as he has done to our nation. There is only one word to describe him, and that is a terrorist.

Q I mean, terrorist is an all-encompassing word. What do you think his goals are? Political, are they not?

MR. FLEISCHER: His goals are murderous, and that's how he's viewed.

Q Just to murder --

Q Actually, kind of following up on that, but maybe a little more personal, President Mubarak has basically said the President was a target in Genoa during the summit. A few weeks ago, you were concerned that Air Force One was a target of the attacks. Does the White House believe that bin Laden is trying to kill the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not going to comment on any particular threats coming toward the White House. Unfortunately, as you all who work here know, it is not an uncommon occurrence for people to threaten the government of the United States, regardless of whether it's President Bush or any of his predecessors. And that's why there are security precautions taken at the White House as a matter of routine.

But that's not what this is about. This has nothing to do with anything individual that may or may not have been directed at President Bush; this is about an attack that took place on our country.

Q Ari, on your Chicago trip tomorrow, the President is going to announce some security measures for the airlines?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been reviewing reactions that the government should appropriately take to help protect the traveling public through increased security at the nation's airports and on airplanes. The President has a visit to Chicago tomorrow where he will discuss a series of issues important to the traveling public and to the airline industry, and when the President has concluded his review, he will make the announcement himself.

Q Tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a good possibility, Elizabeth.

Q Ari, is anything off the table, though, any of the options, such as guns in the cockpit or federal employees to be the airport screeners? Are those off the table?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think at this point it's best to let the President express it for himself. He'll be doing that shortly.

Q So he's going potentially tomorrow, so is it fair to say he's pretty much decided, there's a decision-making agreement?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's likely to have a couple of additional conversations today.

Q Ari, any reaction to the burning of buildings in the embassy grounds, U.S. embassy grounds in Kabul?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no immediate -- I mean, I think it's just another sign of the fact that this is serious. That was an abandoned building, as you know. The United States left it many, many years ago, but it doesn't change anything about what the President has said or what the mission of the United States will be.

Q Ari, on Pakistan, this is not an operational question, but the Foreign Minister is quoted as saying he's asked the administration to put aside any notion of supporting Afghan opposition groups. Is this a roll-back on Pakistan's part? What is your assessment of the level of cooperation the U.S. is getting from Pakistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's been very good. And as I've indicated all week, there are going to be certain areas in which different nations cooperate in different ways. And I think you can anticipate that with Pakistan, as well as any number of nations.

Q Could I follow on that, though? Have the Pakistanis warned the administration about supporting the Northern Alliance in the overthrow of the Taliban? Have they expressed concern about the President's comments sort of encouraging the people of Afghanistan to step up -- of the Taliban regime?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, historically, there are certain facts about the relationship between the Northern Alliance and Pakistan that are indisputable. And as the United States goes about building the effort to put an end to the terrorist actions that are fostered in Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda organization, hosted by and harbored by the Taliban government, the United States will keep all these interrelationships in mind.

Q So Pakistan has legitimate interests inside Afghanistan which we will take into account?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a very complicated region of the world, Terry, where there's a host of groups and nations that have longstanding -- have various amounts of interests. And as I indicated, there is an historical relationship between the Northern Alliance and the Pakistan government, which the United States is aware of and sensitive to.

Q Ari, Iran has soundly rejected any overtures that the U.S. might or might not be making in terms of building an international coalition; in fact, calling the U.S. effort "disgusting." Any reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President has made it clear that this is a time for nations to choose about whether they are with the United States and the free world in the war against terrorism or they are not. And I will leave it at that.

Q Ari, is the President going to have any concrete requests about how he wants Egypt to be involved in this war today?

MR. FLEISCHER: He may. But, again, I'm not going to be at liberty to get into any specific requests that the United States is asking. But Egypt has been a good friend of the United States before, and the relationship remains very strong.

Q Ari, I know you don't want to comment on specific tax cuts that you're considering, or at least you didn't this morning. But would you comment on whether or not tax cuts that people are considering as part of the stimulus package potentially should be temporary, or should they again be looking at long-term tax cuts as were passed earlier?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view, it will all depend on the substance of the specific tax cut, for example. The tax cut that has been passed by the Congress and signed into law, the President obviously believes that should be permanent. The President believes that is helpful for the economy now and long-term, and plus it's the right thing to do. People should not have a marriage penalty reimposed on them for any reason, for example.

Other ideas that are new will be considered, and there are some suggestions that some of those be temporary, and I think the President will weigh any reason for something to be temporary, as opposed to permanent, in the context of whatever that new idea may be.

Q Okay. And are reports correct that the White House has been specifically pushing for a cut in corporate taxes?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's one of the options that's under review.

Q Have you been pushing for that on the Hill? Supporting that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House isn't pushing for anything on the Hill because the President hasn't given any indications yet about any determinations or decisions that he has made. There have been a series of conversations with people on the Hill where the pros and cons of various proposals have been walked through, including a reduction in the corporate tax rate, but that falls under the category of a series of tax items that have been discussed with the Hill. But I think that's what you're hearing.

Q Ari, is there going to be any economic announcements tomorrow, therefore, in Chicago, along these lines of a stimulus?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would just wait until tomorrow. And you've asked me a question about airlines tomorrow, and I'm not going to go beyond that. The President may have something to say tomorrow on that topic.

Q -- just for the airlines --

MR. FLEISCHER: The event tomorrow is more focused on the airlines. But at all times, the President is concerned about the economy. He'll have remarks tomorrow, and I'll just leave it at that.

Q Can I just follow on that --

Q Ari, when the Republican leadership says that Larry Lindsey is pushing for a corporate tax cut, they're mistaken?

MR. FLEISCHER: Can you tell me who is saying that?

Q Dick Armey.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any conversation like that. I know that -- I've talked to Dr. Lindsey about this and what he's indicated to me is he's had a series of conversations, just as I outlined, where he is talking about the pros and cons of a variety of proposals, including a reduction in the corporate rates.

Q But he's not pushing it, he's just saying, these are our options? He's not favoring one or the other?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think Larry is well aware, as many of the advisors to the President are, that there are a series of pros and cons that come with these actions.

Q Ari, getting back to the issue of getting things back to normal, the President is going to be flying out to Chicago tomorrow. He had this meeting with the Boys and Girls Club this morning. When will the White House be back to full-speed, the typical activities before September 11th, with the public tours and things of that nature, especially since you said today is the first time for this Boys and Girls Club or any other group to come to meet with the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me answer that -- I mean, full-speed -- given the events of September 11th, it would be nice to slow down to full-speed. It's not a question of full-speed, it's just a question of there has been a necessary realignment of the President's time and schedule so he can focus more of his time, unfortunately, on war preparations. That is typical in any American presidency, or most American presidencies.

But there are increasing signs that the other parts of the agenda are showing back up on the President's school and other people's schedules. And you cited a couple of those examples today -- the meeting with the Boys Club today, the travel to Chicago tomorrow. The President and his wife went out for dinner last night. I mean, I think these things also marry to some degree what the American people are doing. They're increasingly getting back on with their lives.

Q Where did they go to dinner last night? And I have a follow-up to that. Where did they go to dinner?

MR. FLEISCHER: They went to a restaurant in Arlington. The press went with them. There's a pool report available on it; it was a publicly-announced trip. They went last night.

Q No wonder traffic was so bad on the way home. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, a follow-up to that, though. The situation, though --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there was a report on it last night. The press went with them. The press always goes with them.

Q The newspapers haven't seen a pool report on this.

MR. FLEISCHER: I can tell you the pool went with them.

Q Okay, well, come back. As far as people coming back into the White House, this is, like you said earlier, this is a first since September 11th. Is the White House -- is the feeling here at the White House that the threat here has lessened for the American public to come back into this place, the people's house?

MR. FLEISCHER: What I indicated this morning was, it's not a first for visitors to coming to the White House on September 11th. The White House has been entertaining visitors to the White House since September 11th on a regular basis. This was the first of where the more traditional -- they're called literally photo opportunities, but the more ceremonial part of a presidency, where the President will meet with various award winners across the United States to thank them and to honor them for, in this case, being the Boys Club Youth of the Year.

The President's had a series of meetings like he's had today with the Muslim leaders, with the Sikh leaders. He's had earlier meetings with other groups throughout the period since September 11th. Those are private citizens coming to the White House for specific purposes. What took place today, though, was a return to the more ceremonial aspects of the job.

Q Will the public tours resume again soon?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll announce that whenever they do. There is no information on that at this time.

Q Ari, on the airlines, is there some sort of snag in getting the $5 billion in emergency funding to the airlines?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that OMB announced last night that that money was being released. There is a formula for its distribution, and that formula is set in law by the act of Congress which the President signed. So the money has been released as of yesterday. I'm now aware of any problems -- it was released yesterday.

Q Has the President had any communication with Representative Cooksey regarding his comments on Sikh Americans? And does he have a message for lawmakers and members of his party in particular about this issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message is to all Americans. It's important for all Americans to remember the traditions of our country that make us so strong and so free, our tolerance and openness and acceptance. All Americans -- and we come from a very rich cultural heritage, no matter what anybody's background in this country. And that's the strength of this country, and that's the President's message that he expressed in his speech to Congress and as he has done when he visited the mosque a week ago Monday, and in the meetings that he's hosting here at the White House today with Muslim Americans and Sikh Americans.

Q Did he speak to Representative Cooksey, and what were his reactions upon hearing those?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President was very disturbed by those remarks.

Q Ari, does the President believe that in order for the coalition in the Middle East, those who are supporting the United States, to hold together, Ariel Sharon and Israel have to make concessions towards peace, as well as Chairman Arafat? I mean, is there a direct linkage to the peace process and maintaining any coalition in this war effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that all the parties in the Middle East have to take advantage of what is happening today and see this as a moment to realize the repercussions of going down the wrong road, and that's a road that has led to terrorism and to conflict and in the Middle East has led to war. And that's why the President feels so strongly and has said this to leaders, that they should seize this moment and renew their efforts to accomplish a lasting peace in the Middle East.

And toward that, of course, there was a meeting this morning between Foreign Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat, where they agreed to sustain their cease-fire and to resume security cooperation. And the President welcomes that announcement and that development from this morning. That's something that the President and Secretary Powell have been encouraging the parties to do on a rather repeated basis.

The President welcomes a reiteration of both sides to their commitment to implement the Tenet and the Mitchell plans, and this meeting this morning constitutes an important first step toward the development of a more concrete and lasting approach to restoring trust and confidence in the region.

Q Ari, can I come back to the Chicago trip? Putting aside the issue, the specifics of what the President is going to announce tomorrow, does the President have a message behind this trip of whether it's now safe for Americans to fly again?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's trip is designed to talk to the airline workers and to thank them for returning to the flight schedules that they have returned to, to thank them for doing their part to combat terrorism and to get America moving again. He may have some additional things to say on some of the policy items that we've been discussing.

But I do know that typically in America, there are some 5,500 to 6,500 flights a day in our commercial industry. There are now, today, or at least as of yesterday, 4,500 to 5,500 flights taking off and landing safely every day across our country.

We're not back at exactly where we were prior to September 11th, but there are an awful lot of flights flying every day, safely taking Americans to where they want to travel, and that's an encouraging sign. There are just increasing signs of life in America is getting back to normal, as normal can ever be at a time where the President will still remind the American people that threats remain and the nation is preparing for war.

Q -- Americans not to be afraid of flying?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think every American is going to come to their own judgment. And for some Americans, obviously, the 4,500 to 5,500 flights a day, many Americans have already come to the conclusion it's safe to fly, and they've safely flown. Other Americans are going to approach this on their own time, at their own pace, and the President understands that. So that's an individual decision people are making, but according to how many flights have been taking off and landing every day, that's a decision people are increasingly feeling comfortable with. The President will continue to remind people that it's important to remember the threat is not eliminated.

Q But they're only flying at 30 percent capacity, though, Ari, and that's the problem. I mean, the flights are in the air --

MR. FLEISCHER: No doubt about it. It's exactly right. The flights -- when I give the numbers about the flights taking off and landing safely, that's not an indication that each of the flights is 100 percent occupancy. There is no question about that, and that's one of the reasons the President is going to travel to Chicago tomorrow and talk to the people in the airline industry, because they're hurting as a result of the lack of passengers.

Q The question is, I think, what is the President going to say to people to try to reassure the public that it is safe for them to get back on those planes? I mean, the planes are in the air, but what can he say to tell people, look, we're doing everything we can and it is now safe to get back in the air?

MR. FLEISCHER: And that's one of the reasons that the President has been focused on development of a security package to help increase security and protection for the traveling public of both airports and airlines. And he'll have more to say on that directly, himself.

Q Related to Jim's question, to your knowledge, how many administration officials, White House staff, or in the agencies and departments are traveling commercially this week or next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can tell you I know on last Friday, OMB Director Mitch Daniels flew home commercial to Indiana, came back, I believe, on Sunday. I'm flying commercial somewhere today for Yom Kippur. So it's been across the government there have been a series of travels. I think you'd have to talk to each of the different agencies to get the specific information.

Q Cabinet Secretaries also are routinely now traveling commercial?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you'd have to talk to each agency; I don't keep track of all their travel. So you'd have to talk agency by agency. I can tell you about Mitch, because I just heard Mitch say that, that he flew home commercial last Friday, just as I'm flying home to New York commercial today.

Q Can I just follow up with one more on the CIA -- Director Tenet, the President, of course, having full faith and confidence in him. But in terms of the agency, the President has not, of course, wanted to look back, he's wanted to look forward. But doesn't he believe the fact that the U.S. had no specific warnings of these attacks that they're somewhat of an indictment of U.S. intelligence operations?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President views it as a reflection of the fact that we are an open society, a free society; that the CIA has in the past been very successful in catching and preventing acts of terrorism. Obviously, the attacks took place on September 11th, they were not detected and they were not caught ahead of time. But the President's focus right now is on winning the war on terrorism. And I reiterate, he has full faith and confidence in Director Tenet.

Q Ari, an IMF official today made the statement that a recession in the United States was a done deal. Now, he took back that formulation but, obviously, that was his outlook. Does the White House agree with this, that a recession in the short term at any rate, is going to be inevitable in the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President remains very concerned about the state of the economy, and that's one of the reasons he's having the meeting today, to talk to his advisors about what steps can be taken to help promote economic growth.

Now, the President continues to believe that the tax cut is the right policy; the Federal Reserve rate cuts have been the right policy and that will have a helpful combination in bringing the economy back. But there's no doubt about it, the attack on our country September 11th has had an adverse effect on the economy. I'm not going to go beyond that. That's an economic definition of a recession and that will be determined by the data as it comes in.

Q The House next week is planning to move a farm bill, which, as I understand it, could add some $73 billion, $74 billion over the next 10 years. Does the White House support that bill?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take that question and get back to you on the farm bill, Keith.

Q Ari, back to the airline security thing and Americans getting more comfortable with flying. There have been several incidents since the September 11th attack where people have intentionally breached security to prove the point that it is still ineffective. My question is, is that inappropriate or is ignoring that reality and arresting people who do that casting a false sense of security.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that at a time when the people at the airports are working very hard to secure the airports for the traveling public, I think it's not appropriate for anything to engage in anything symbolic of that nature. It's a distraction that prevents the people who are doing their jobs from being able to carry out their mission if people are doing it for the purpose of doing something symbolic.

Having said that, the President understands that we do need to increase security at airports and give more protections to the traveling public, and he'll have more to say on that point shortly.

Q -- about the war, just for a second. Since September the 11th, have there been any serious -- underline the word serious -- discussions at the National Security Council meetings about bringing back the draft? And how does the President feel about the possibility of the draft?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I've asked that question, and the answer that I've gotten directly from DOD is no, there has been no consideration of that.

Q As Commander-In-Chief, what was the President's reaction to television's Bill Maher, in his announcement that members of our Armed Forces who deal with missiles are cowards, while the armed terrorists who killed 6,000 unarmed are not cowards, for which Maher was briefly moved off a Washington television station?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not discussed it with the President, one. I have --

Q Surely, as a --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there.

Q Surely as Commander, he was enraged at that, wasn't he?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there, Les.

Q Okay.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the press reports about what he said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate. And that's why -- there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party -- they're reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.

Q The Washington Times reports that the Reverend Jesse Jackson has nominated himself to go to Afghanistan. My question is, does the President believe this would be useful, or would it be better for the cause of justice that since the former head of United Way is in federal prison for spending tax-exempt funds on his mistress, that the Reverend Mr. Jackson at least be investigated by the Department of Justice?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've got no comment on Mr. Jackson's possible -- the Reverend Jackson's possible travel. I would just reiterate what the President has said, the he will not engage in any negotiations or discussions.

Thank you.

END                   1:10 P.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document