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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 1, 2003

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer Aboard Air Force One En Route Naval Air Station North Island

10:32 A.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning, everybody.

Q Casual Thursday, is it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Thursday at the White House is typically Aircraft Carrier Thursday, as we refer to it. We dress like this.

Let me give you some interesting facts about the Abraham Lincoln that I think will help you, then a couple other things I'd like to get into. I think I said this the other day. The Abraham Lincoln set the record for the longest naval deployment by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in history, deploying for 290 consecutive days and steaming over 100,000 miles. For a carrier battle group, this is the longest deployment in the last 30 years. The Lincoln battle group was involved in combat in support of three major operations: Operation Southern Watch, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Strike aircraft operating from three Arabian Gulf carriers -- Abraham Lincoln, the Constellation and the Kitty Hawk -- dropped over 3 million pounds of ordinance from March 19th through April 10th, 2003, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Q How much ordinance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Three million pounds. The Lincoln's air wing dropped nearly 40 percent of this total, or nearly 1.2 million pounds. These air operations helped protect our troops on the ground and win the war by destroying enemy air defense units, tanks and armored vehicles, artillery pieces, command, control and communications sites, Baath Party brigade headquarters buildings, military structures, leadership targets, fuel and ammunition stores, as well as missiles, including Al Samoud and Astros II units and other military vehicles.

Q I'm sorry, how many pounds, again?

MR. FLEISCHER: One point two million from the Lincoln air wing. It says Lincoln's Air Wing 14, to be specific.

The ship will pull into port tomorrow, as you know. And the Lincoln also supported, interestingly, one of the largest media embed operations of any ship in naval history, carrying 31 media organizations.

Q During the war? I'm sorry --

MR. FLEISCHER: That data that I just gave you covered the time period of March 19th through April 10th, 2003.

Okay. Interesting factoid -- the Vice President commissioned the USS Lincoln on November 11th, 1989, when he was the Secretary of Defense. Also, 150 babies have been born to sailors aboard the Lincoln during the course of this deployment.

Q Were they all on board?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, 150 babies were born to sailors aboard the Lincoln.

Q But none in the last month, the 10th month. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: In other words, while they were deployed, 150 babies were born back at home.

Okay. Let me try to give you a little bit of a rundown on what the President is going to do. He'll arrive at the Naval Air Station and he will have a briefing of flight procedures. And then he will land on the S-3B on the deck of the ship. He will be whistled aboard. Then he will meet on the deck with combat pilots for the F-18 squadrons. Then he'll proceed inside the ship. He'll go to the inside and receive a briefing on the Air Wing's recently completed combat missions. He'll then proceed to the tower for a lunch, and observe the launching of the Air Wing's F-18s.

After lunch, he'll go to the bridge. From the bridge, he'll proceed to air operations to observe flight operations. Then he'll proceed to the flight deck to observe flight operations. Then he'll proceed to the cabin for some down time, speech preparation, if he needs any more. He'll address the nation at 6:00 p.m. Following the address, he'll have dinner with a crew of enlisted men, and then depart tomorrow morning.

Two other items for you I want to mention. The President this morning from Air Force One, spoke to Crown Prince Abdullah about the road map and about the importance of working with the parties for peace in the region. The President will, as he said yesterday, dedicate time and energy to developing the environment for peace to take root between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I'll continue to inform you of his phone calls. This will be the only phone call for today.

The last point I'd like to make is, I've noticed just some references to pivot; this is an event today, to pivot. I just want to state that, just as the President said in the State of the Union, the President will continue to focus on two major priorities, national security and economic security. We clearly are entering into a new phase internationally that the President will describe tonight. But make no mistake, this President will continue to focus his efforts on those two national priorities, because the war on terror remains an important national priority to protect our country and protect our people. Economic security is also at the heart and soul of what he is working on. The two remain important.

Q I'd like to ask you about a couple ideas and whether they'll be components of his speech, or not. One is the lack of finding weapons of mass destruction. And the other, will there be any sort of explicit warning to other countries in his speech tonight?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the speech tonight?

Q The speech tonight.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to describe it any beyond what I've already described it. You'll know soon enough; the President will address it. He'll have a lot to talk about, but I'm not going to preview every aspect of it. We will have excerpts available mid-afternoon.

Q Mid-afternoon east coast or west coast?

MR. FLEISCHER: Mid-afternoon east coast.

Q Filing center?

MR. FLEISCHER: They'll, of course, be distributed at the filing center in California.

Q The filing center and to us both.

MR. FLEISCHER: You mean on the ship?

Q Yes.

MR. DECKARD: We don't think -- we don't know at this point.

Q If there's any way, even verbally, because some with sat phones and stuff filing from the ship, it would be very helpful if we could also --

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll make every effort to distribute it in both places. It's possible it will only be distributed on shore, just due to logistics issues on ship. But we're going to make every effort to do it in both places. I can't guarantee it.

Q Ari, do you know the names of the pilots who are flying the President to the carrier?

MR. FLEISCHER: I do not believe the briefing material had their names.

Q It's true that he made a request to fly the F-18, but for security reasons that was vetoed?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that the President requested it. I know we looked at different scenarios. I'd have to check to see specifically if the President himself requested that. But we did explore numerous scenarios.

Q Has he said anything about the trip, what he's looking forward to, what he thinks about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, yes. I mean, even coming back from Ohio, last week in the helicopter, the President was talking about how he's looking forward to this. This is, as Commander-in-Chief, as somebody who has extraordinary respect for the men and women of our military, and as somebody who a long time ago in a very different atmosphere did a little piloting himself, he has really been looking forward to this.

It's an important moment for the nation to discuss the military operation, the meaning of it internationally, the meaning of it for America's national security. It's also, personally, a very exciting moment for him as the President. Just like for everybody who sees what our military can do, there is a lot of excitement to boarding a jet, flying onto an aircraft carrier, visiting first hand with the men and women in the military who have done so much for our country. And it's an exciting tour, and he'll see some exciting things.

Q Has he flown since his Air National Guard days?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he won't be -- the pilot of the Viking will be flying the Viking. I can't make any guarantees on whether he will or will not take the joystick for any portion of his flight. That remains -- I make no guarantees about whether he will or will not take the joystick for any portion of the flight. That remains an open question. I think the best clue will be if you see the plane flying on a straight line, you'll know that the Navy pilot is in charge. If it does anything else, it's an open question.

Q Ari, can we get back to Scott's question? Can you tell us, at least, if he's going to touch on the issue of WMD?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into any more details of the speech than I've given out already. We've given out plenty. You'll know soon enough when you hear him himself.

Q As much as you said it's not a pivot, that certainly was the code word used by all of the lawmakers yesterday in that gaggle. They used it over and over again, a pivot back to domestic issues. So why shouldn't we view -- he's focused on this, but it's true that the administration now is going to be much more intensely focused on domestic issues and eventually the reelection campaign, is it not?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the nation continues to have two top priorities, national security and economic security, in the President's judgment. Clearly, we are emerging from a phase of intense focus on war in Iraq to a phase where there will be much more focus on the economy; properly so. So the phrase is a good way to describe an increased focus, because the Iraqi operation is winding down, to the point where the President can give the speech tonight. But the reason I wanted to state that was because it remains an important part of the President's job to provide for national security; it always will. And the President will talk about the ongoing war on terror tonight in his speech, because it is ongoing. We still have enemies that want to do harm to our country. That is not over.

Q Can you check on whether he does take the joystick or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll all find out.

Q I'd be grateful if you could find out for us whether he at all took over the plane.

MR. FLEISCHER: Believe me, I want to find out myself.

Q He's not going to land it, though.


Q At some point, will you be able to tell us who the pilot was and anything about the quarters in which the President will stay overnight?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I can work that.

Q Is he in the cabin? Is he in the captain's cabin?

MR. FLEISCHER: Do you know of any -- emerging Deputy Deckard has information.

MR. DECKARD: The quarters where the President is staying are the captain's quarters. The captain has an "at sea" cabin, an -- where he stays when he's at sea. And then he has another cabin where he stays when they're in port. That's his "in port" cabin. Since we'll be at sea, the captain will stay at his "at sea" cabin, and the President will be staying in his "in port" cabin.

MR. FLEISCHER: Because he is an important man, so he stays in the "in port" cabin.

Q Do you know of any precedent for a Navy One?

MR. FLEISCHER: I believe this if the first time he's on -- that an aircraft has been dubbed Navy One.

MR. DECKARD: We can't guarantee that, but to the best of our knowledge.

Q What's your best guess of how far offshore the carrier is when we land?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have accurate information on it. I was trying to assess it, could not get --

Q Could we say hundreds?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't get accurate information. I've been asking for it. I don't have it yet.

Q How about the number of miles we cover overnight?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that, either.

Q Does the Secret Service have any security concerns about this tailhook landing, or does anybody have any concerns?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of safety, if it wasn't safe, the President of the United States would not be doing it. Anything the President does, whether it's in his daily routine at the White House, daily travel across the country or international travel or travel to visit an aircraft carrier tonight, is, as a regular matter, reviewed thoroughly by all security personnel, including the Secret Service, including the military. If it was not safe, it would not be done, as a matter of practice. So he wouldn't do it if it wasn't safe, and I remind you it's done every day, many times a day, by Navy pilots whose mission is to fly on an aircraft carrier. That's what they do for a living.

Q Has he ever landed on an aircraft carrier before himself like this? Is he taking any Dramamine or anything?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that he's taking anything new because of this. No, I'm not aware of that. You know, I know that in the course of his presidency we have previously been on two aircraft carriers -- or at the side of one. There was the event at the Ronald Reagan and then he gave a speech from -- I believe it was the Enterprise in Norfolk News. I believe that was the name of the aircraft carrier.

Q It was in port, but we were on board.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. One was in dry dock, the other was in port. But this is the first time in the administration he's been on board an aircraft carrier at sea. I have no information on whether he has been on one previously in anything he has done. I have no reason to think he would have.

Q And it's his first arrested landing then.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me -- to be 100 percent thorough, we'll have to note that down, too.

Q When was the last time he piloted a jet?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't want to go so far as to say he's actually piloting it. Even if he takes the joystick, there's still a pilot and co-pilot on board.

Q But when was the last time that the President in civilian or as a National Guard --

MR. FLEISCHER: Lucky Duck is on the case.

MR. DECKARD: That's why I came back here earlier, asked you if you all had these --

MR. FLEISCHER: I tried to get this earlier.

Q Will he speak on the deck, or will he be in a bay?

MR. FLEISCHER: He will speak on the deck.

Q On the deck. And what about the Middle East? Will he touch on that at all in this speech?

MR. FLEISCHER: Very lightly.

Q Has he had any meetings last night or this morning about what's going on in the Middle East? Has he had any kind of updates, or --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he gets briefings every morning about the international situation, whatever it may be.

Q Nothing unusual, though?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing anybody brought to my attention.

Q Did he have his meeting with Rumsfeld last night?

MR. FLEISCHER: Rumsfeld is out of the country.

Q Oh, that's right. You know, during the war with Iraq he was having his --

MR. FLEISCHER: When he spoke to General Franks on the phone on Tuesday, Secretary Rumsfeld was also on that call.

Q So is he out of the routine of meeting with Rumsfeld first thing in the morning and Rumsfeld last at night?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check on phone calls, because, of course, anywhere the Secretary of Defense is it's an easy phone call. I just -- I don't track every phone call he makes.

Q But do you think that can -- that was your all's kind of standard, daily schedule. Have you all moved away from that, another sign that --

MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, the Secretary left on a pretty lengthy trip several days ago. And the President traveled, himself, to Ohio. To the best of my knowledge, the 5:00 p.m. call stopped at some point some time ago. Obviously, the daily national security meetings has gone back to its normal pace, which is more typically three national security council meetings a week. So it's back to a routine pattern, is how I would put it.

Q Can you preview tomorrow at all for us, run down of the events and the message in the speech?

MR. FLEISCHER: Tomorrow the President will focus on national security and economic security. That will be his message in his stops. He'll have breakfast -- he'll begin tomorrow with an early morning breakfast with the battle group commander and senior officers aboard the --

Q I'm sorry, what commanders?

MR. FLEISCHER: He'll have breakfast with battle group commanders and senior officers aboard the Abraham Lincoln. Then he'll depart the Lincoln, arrive at the Naval Air Station North Island, depart there aboard Air Force One for Mountain View, California, where he will visit United Defense Industries Ground System Division Facility. He'll take a tour, he'll make remarks at United Defense Industries. And then he will depart there. He will, upon departure, meet with the arriving Prime Minister of Australia. Prime Minister and Mrs. Howard will join the President at that time. And I believe they will travel on Air Force One --

MR. DECKARD: That is correct.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- to Waco, with the President, and then depart for the ranch. And he will have a social dinner tomorrow evening with the Prime Minister of Australia and Mrs. Howard. Deputy McClellan will give you the week ahead tomorrow.

Q Obviously, the setting for the speech tomorrow night is an area that's been devastated by recession. Did that figure in to his selection of that place tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will continue to travel to areas of high unemployment to make the case that he has a plan, that people are hurting and the plan needs to be passed.

Q Is Mrs. Bush going to meet with him this weekend?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Mrs. Bush will be there.

Q Ari, is this -- what is the plant we're going to tomorrow? Is it a weapons plant? What are they --

MR. FLEISCHER: The plant we're going to tomorrow -- correct me if I'm wrong, Lucky Duck -- the plant manufactures Bradley vehicles, Bradley fighting vehicles. I didn't bring all my briefing material with me.

MR. DECKARD: Let me double-check on that.

MR. FLEISCHER: If that's incorrect, we'll update the transcript. But otherwise noted, it's correct.

Q What was it? I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Bradley fighting vehicles, if I recall.

Q Ari, is the dinner tonight with how many soldiers -- I mean, how many sailors, and have they been selected by --

MR. FLEISCHER: Very good, sailors, not soldiers -- very, very good. I just show a group of enlisted crew for dinner. I don't think I have more specific information than that. Oh, 150 attendees at dinner tonight.

Q So the enlisted tonight, the officers for breakfast?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, typically what happens is there would be 150 people in a room, and he'd be at a table with a smaller number. You've seen that before in lunches or dinners.

Q But it's basically the enlisted group tonight and the officers in the morning.


Q Can you talk to us about the speech prep? Who helped write it, how long have you all been working on it? How long will it be?

MR. FLEISCHER: The principal author was the speechwriting shop, led by Michael Gerson, and other speechwriters contributed. Dan Bartlett was involved, Karen Hughes was involved. The President rehearsed it yesterday at Tele Prompter in the family theater. He's been looking at drafts of it since early this week.

Q When did he decide that this was the moment, this was the time to make this declaration?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think he hadn't heard from Franks yet, but in terms of the planning and the sense of the timing of it, he started looking at this last week. And unless something intervened that would change the plans, this started to get locked in. It locked in with a phone call from General Franks. But the planning for it began last week.

Q How long? About how long is it?

MR. FLEISCHER: The planning?

Q The speech.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry. The speech is 15 minutes without applause.

Q Ari, on the planning, this is a very complicated, logistically. Can you tell us anything about who in the White House has been working on this, some of the stuff that went into trying to plan something of this magnitude?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's the usual, well-practiced crew, led by press advance, led by the advance office. Joe Hagen, of course, is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, plays a crucial role in all of this. Joe flew out to Hawaii to meet the plane -- to meet the aircraft carrier late last week, to begin some of the planning, in the event we could make it happen. And so it does take quite a bit of work.

Q Is he still on it?

MR. FLEISCHER: He came back to Washington, and he went back out again. So Joe will be there.

Q Will there be anybody else on the aircraft carrier, pre-positioned from the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, of course, the regular advance team, just like they go out to a city ahead of time before a President arrives.

Q I'm sorry, I meant senior aides, because we saw Condi and Card, but we didn't see --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, and, in fact, the crew that's traveling with the President is a slimmed-down crew. We always travel pretty small to begin with. A senior staff contingent with the President typically is not a large footprint. This will be even smaller. Very few staff will sleep aboard the ship. A bunch of the staff who is going out there to make the events today and tonight happen will then fly back to land.

Q Do you know who will sleep on the ship?

MR. FLEISCHER: Chief of Staff; National Security Advisor; of course, Secret Service; the Mil Aide; I will. Am I missing anybody?

MR. DECKARD: Secretary Card.

MR. FLEISCHER: I said that.

MR. DECKARD: I'm sorry. I'm pretty sure that Harriet and --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct, Harriet Miers is sleeping on the ship.

Q Isn't that everybody who is here, all the senior aides?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, but for example, Dan Bartlett, who would typically go out on a trip like this, graciously did not go, just because of the space accommodation issues.

Q Is the President going to wear the suit and tie all the way to the carrier, or is he going to change?

MR. FLEISCHER: He will be in a flight suit for the flight.

Q Is he working out on the plane here?

MR. FLEISCHER: He hasn't yet. No, I don't think he plans to work out on the plane.

Q Who's showing -- do you know who is showing the speech tonight, which networks?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard from the networks yet. I presume all are, but I have not been officially notified.

Q Will there be any other speech following this, or do you all view this as his -- as much as he's not declaring victory, but the final statement on Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: This will be, unless there is something else of a significant event that crops up. The President began this with a speech to the nation in the Oval Office. And the President will end it with a speech tonight from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

There will continue to be resistance. You can continue to see Saddam Hussein Baath Party loyalists who attack our forces, such as the grenade attack at Fallujah. But this is the bookend of the Oval Office address, and an interesting bookend at that.

* * * * *

MR. FLEISCHER: In response to your question --

Q Ari, tell us about the plane.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for asking that late-breaking question. This just in. The Viking is an airborne refueler. It is capable of bombing, but its principal use in the theater was to provide airborne refueling to the combat missions that were carried out over Iraq.

Q In his briefing about the plane, will he be taught about the ejection procedure?


Q Do you know what the top speed of this thing is?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. These are all the kinds of questions I was trying to figure out earlier.

Q Is he strapped into a parachute then, his flight suit?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know how it technically works.

Q How is he going to eject? He must have something.

MR. FLEISCHER: Sometimes the seat does what it needs to do, they don't have to do it as a pilot.

* * * *

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, to follow up the questions you asked me earlier -- the top speed of the Viking is 450 knots. The President's aircraft will fly at 360 knots. The landing will be done at 120 knots.

I was correct about UDI, they manufacture Bradley fighting vehicles.

The last time the President piloted a jet was in the Guard. And this will be his first time that he's landed on an aircraft carrier.

And as I recall, you also asked me if I could tell you who is number one in women's lacrosse -- and as shown on page 13c of today's USA Today, Middlebury is number one in women's lacrosse.

Q Yoo-hoo!

Q Do you have an exact year on the Guard, the last time he flew a jet?

MR. FLEISCHER: When he was in the Guard.

Q Do you know now how many miles offshore the ship is, by any chance?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that.

END 11:02 A.M. EDT

* * * * *

12:02 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, to follow up the questions you asked me earlier. The top speed of the Viking is 450 knots. The President's aircraft will fly at 360 knots. The landing will be done at 120 knots, 120 knots will be the landing.

I was correct at UDI, they manufacture Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The last time the President piloted a jet was in the Guard. And this will be his first time that he's landed on an aircraft carrier.

And as I recall, you also asked me I could tell you who is number one in women's lacrosse, and as shown in page 13C of today's USA Today, Middlebury is number one in women's lacrosse.

Q Do you have an exact year on the Guard, last time he flew that jet?

MR. FLEISCHER: When he was in the Guard.

Q Do you know now how many miles offshore the ship is, by any chance?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that.

END 12:04 P.M. EDT