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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 13, 2001
Press Briefing By Ari Fleischer
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give everybody a report on the President's activities for the day, and then share with you some information about what the various agencies are doing to combat this terrorist attack.
Q Can you tell us about the evacuation of the EOB?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no evacuation of the EOB.
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q And Lafayette Park?
The President today has made a series of phone calls to world leaders. He has spoken to Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, Lord Robertson of NATO, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and Egyptian President Mubarak.
As you know, earlier today he spoke with Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki to express his concerns about events up in New York and inform them, of course, that he will be going there tomorrow. The President also visited a local hospital today. I'm going to have a little bit more to say about that shortly.
And beginning in just a few minutes, the President will meet with members of Congress from the Virginia area and the New York area to talk about the ongoing efforts of the federal government to be of assistance to the families and to the victims.
Tomorrow will be a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. The President will attend a church service here at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. And the President is asking all Americans at their lunch hours to go and attend a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a place of their own choosing for worship, to say a prayer in assistance to the families and the victims of this horrible incident.
As for the activities of the federal government, let me fill you in on several activities, including the one Helen just asked about.
The Department of Defense will be announcing the names of those who were killed in the Pentagon disaster, if families have been notified, for those families that have been notified.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that they will direct all FHA approved lenders to provide relief to families with FHA insured mortgages affected by the recent attacks by providing additional mortgage flexibility and not to start or threaten foreclosure actions for at least 90 days. Secretary Martinez has also asked all major mortgage lenders, including those who are not insured by FHA, to consider providing relief to families, as well.
The Department of Treasury, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, has announced the deployment of agents from U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Border Control, and U.S. Customs, at designated airport security checkpoints throughout the country as part of the heightened security measures that have gone into effect.
The Secret Service has expanded the security perimeter around the White House, as what you have seen here, as a precautionary matter. All further questions I'll refer to the Secret Service.
The Department of Transportation, Secretary Mineta has ordered that national airspace will be reopened to commercial and private aviation. They did so earlier this morning. Airports will reopen on a case-by-case basis only after implementing a more stringent level of security.
The Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Department of Treasury, I indicated, has beefed up the security at the airports. And the President has directed Attorney General Ashcroft, and he announced it earlier today, to streamline the application, approval, and payment process for benefit claims of eligible survivors or firefighters, police officers, medical rescue personnel and other public safety officers who died in the line of duty as a result of the act of terrorism around our nation on September 11, 2001.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson is in New York. He has announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will be working with the Federal Emergency Management Administration to provide coordinating counseling service to victims, their families, and the rescue workers. And the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Whitman, is also in New York today, and she will be having a briefing at 5:00 p.m.
Finally, let me just say this: The President was very touched by his visit to the hospital today. At the hospital, he met with people who are in a burn unit now, who have survived. Some people are there as a result of the heroic actions they took in saving lives. The President met with one family where a mother stood by the bed of her son, in the company of the soldier who rescued her son. And she said, Mr. President, you have no idea how much this means to my family, that you are here.
He and Mrs. Bush were very touched by the courage they saw at this hospital, and by the determination of our nation and its military, and all the people that were affected by this, and the people in New York City. The President is also aware that people in this room haven't seen their children in days.
The President is determined, his resolve is clear and strong, and America is united.
I'm more than happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, why did -- the President is not legally bound to seek a resolution from Congress authorizing the use of military force against whoever is responsible for these terrorist acts. And indeed, he already has a resolution from Congress showing solidarity in any response that he chooses to undertake. Why does the President believe it's necessary to have a separate resolution authorizing the use of military force?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President views this as a real show of unity by the United States Congress. This is a real result of the expression of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership that met with the President two days ago to discuss Congress' role in this matter. So while the premise of your question is accurate, per the Constitution, the President as Commander-in-Chief has authority vested in him to take actions as he deems appropriate. It is also a recognition of the unity of our nation as expressed by the Congress.
Q Can I do a follow on that, Ari, please? If it is actual war, as the President and others in the administration have declared, does he indeed not need a congressional approval to wage war on anyone? And the second part of the question -- yesterday you said from that podium that the plane that hit the Pentagon was destined to hit here. And yet the plane came up from the south along I-95 and hit the west wing -- it doesn't seem to figure. Can you perhaps clarify for us?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on your first question, the answer is the same as I indicated to Mr. Roberts. The Constitution vests in the President the authority as Commander-in-Chief to take action in that capacity he deems appropriate. Nevertheless, our nation should be heartened to see the joint action with the Congress, as the United States government unites, and the President and the Congress discuss the terms of any type of joint resolution that the Congress may offer.
Q Ari, the President said this morning that he wanted to give Pakistan the opportunity to demonstrate that it can cooperate in this coalition he's trying to develop. State Department sources are telling ABC that the administration has asked the Pakistani government for permission to transit through its airspace in the event of a military operation, to close its borders with Afghanistan, and to stop providing fuel to the Taliban government. Why? And what would happen to Pakistan if it did not comply?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President indicated that Pakistan has a chance to cooperate with the United States government. And the President is pleased to see that Pakistan may take this chance. Secretary Powell indicated earlier today that the United States government has friendly relations with Pakistan. I want to broaden your question and try to explain it to you in a broader context. When the President talked to these leaders --
Q Did the administration made those requests?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know I'm not going to share with you any private information that the President or others in the government expressed on any communications, if they did. I'm not saying they did.
Q There are government officials sharing that information, and it's pretty significant. Are we looking to transit through Pakistani airspace?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with any type of specifics about the actions we are taking or are not taking with regions around the world and nations around the world.
But let me say this: As the President calls world leaders, and as they join him in combatting terrorism, the actions that the President is discussing with these leaders involve all forms of cooperation. It can be diplomatic cooperation, it can be military cooperation, it can be financial cooperation. It can be political cooperation. All of those are areas that are part of the coalition-building that the President is discussing. Secretary Powell indicated earlier today that that is the purpose of all the phone calls. It can include any of those options.
Q And the President seemed to put Pakistan on notice. What if they don't comply? He said, we'll see what they mean by their agreement to cooperate. What if they don't?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I typically don't deal in hypotheticals. I certainly will not deal with them now.
Q Ari, if I can follow on that, though, in a sense, though, is the message that actions speak louder than words here? That the Pakistani government can say that it's pledging to stand united with the U.S. government, that it will do what it takes, but is it your sense or the White House's sense that we want to see what the Pakistani government will do, and that actions are more important than a statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the beginning of a process that can be lengthy. And the cooperation around the world is going to take many forms with the government of the United States. And the President, as you've seen by his actions today and the phone calls that he's making -- which, incidentally, he will continue to make -- are aimed at the various specific areas I mentioned. And the President understands that this is a process that will take some time. And he will proceed throughout that process with resolve.
Q How significant, though, for the Pakistani government to come forward with such a statement? Was the U.S. putting some pressure on the Pakistani government, are you with us or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to let the State Department discuss that specific by specific, country by country. Suffice it to say the President, as a general matter, is very pleased with the conversations that have been happening with leaders around the world. The world is uniting against terrorism. And the President sees this as a real opportunity for the world to do something that can save generations and protect generations from something that obviously has wreaked havoc on our nation, and has killed thousands.
Q Ari, could you tell us about what is happening in Lafayette Park? And could you also tell us whether the White House, the Secret Service, thinks that tourists and the American public are safe visiting the White House right now? And indeed, are they safe visiting downtown Washington, D.C., and other parts of the city?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, they are safe visiting the White House. Yes, they are safe visiting Washington, D.C. Suffice it to say, it is not business as usual. And that is one of the reasons why the Secret Service has expanded the perimeter around the White House. But it is not business as usual. The President said to the American people the other day that the government will take all appropriate precautions. And that's what you're seeing.
Q Thank you. Is that a permanent expansion, and will we be seeing permanent road closures in addition to Pennsylvania Avenue? What can you tell us about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service will have the most authoritative answer on that, but my understanding is it's not permanent.
Q Ari, you reopened the White House yesterday to public tours and wanted to get that word out. Are you now rethinking that decision for some reason?
Q When Mr. Wolfowitz talked about putting an end to states that harbor terrorists, did he mean to say that U.S. policy is to wipe out governments that sponsor terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can only say, in the President's words and as the President said, the U.S. will use all our resources to conquer the enemy. And anybody who chooses to be America's enemy will have to think about what that means.
Q Ari, to clarify, we have people telling our reporters that they have been evacuated from the White House. Is that inaccurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no evacuation underway. If anybody in the OEOB is listening, there is no evacuation underway. These are security precautions, as I indicated, for precisely the reasons I indicated.
Q Is that true also for Lafayette Park?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe the perimeter --
Q I mean, why don't you just say what's happening? Are people being moved out of the OEOB? No? And Lafayette Park?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I just said no. The perimeter is being expanded, but that deals with entre to the White House, but the White House will continue to have visitors. For example, there's a congressional delegation visiting now.
Q Well, what does it mean? Can people be in Lafayette Park, anybody?
MR. FLEISCHER: You have to check with the Secret Service.
Q Why? The order is coming from here.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the Secret Service knows exactly how the perimeters work.
Q Is there credible information of a new threat, or what prompted them to do this on day three?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is just ongoing security issues per the Secret Service.
Q I mean, they had a broader perimeter on the first day. Then they came back. Now they're expanding it back out. Is this a result of some new information?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you look across cities across the United States, if you look at all the actions that have been taken, as the President said, it's not business as usual. Security has been beefed up around the nation as a result of decisions that local security forces make as they see fit.
Q Is this a result of new information, or just a -- they decided for today to expand it to Lafayette Park?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the Secret Service can explain their reasons with better precision that I can, but the President did tell the nation, it will not be business as usual, and I think what you're seeing is a sign of that.
Q I know you don't want to go back to this subject, but the President, when he was asked today about the threat to Air Force One, said, I will not discuss the intelligence that our country has gathered. And yet, you and other senior administration officials have discussed the intelligence. Does he have a problem with that? Is there some sort of different policy? Is this something that he has authorized you to share with us?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President said is he is not going to discuss the sources and the methods for how any information is collected. And that's exactly in keeping with what I've done and what I've said.
Q But, Ari, prior to your statement yesterday on that subject, no other law enforcement -- no law enforcement agency involved in this -- the FBI, the Secret Service, any of the branches of the military -- gave any hint that Air Force One had been a target. And so, clearly, once you put that out there, people are going to want to know more information about whether or not that's a credible assertion. And what can you tell us?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that people understand it's credible.
Q Ari, this morning you would not -- you could not nail down what was the purpose of the President's phone calls regarding coalition. But this afternoon you come back with an answer that the President is really asking world leaders for military, financial, so forth, help. Is that right -- do I have that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly what I said.
Q Okay. Is there a coalition now being formed formally?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can say "formally." The President -- this is exactly what you would expect; this is what Presidents do. At a time like this, the President of the United States, as the leader of this country, talks to his colleagues around the world, Prime Ministers and Presidents.
Q What is he asking? Is he asking for specific sums and men in uniform, and so forth, to join in an effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's asking for what I just indicated.
Q It's more than moral support then?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a fair statement.
Q It's practical action in response to terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, when the President spoke in the Oval Office he seemed to go beyond just terrorists and those who harbor terrorists to say those who encourage their actions. And I wonder, who did he -- I wonder, what did he mean by that, and who -- which of the world leaders was he trying to send a message to, or did he discuss that with? Because it seemed to go beyond what he's already said.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think when the President talks about those who carried out this act and those who harbor them, obviously those who harbor them have encouraged them. So it's one in the same.
Q If I could finish, how many world leaders has he spoken to since the beginning, and can we get a list of all those?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've been announcing them day by day. I'd have to go back and just pull it, but that's publicly available -- you've got it all. I mentioned yesterday he spoke to President Putin twice, President Jiang, Blair, Chretien, I believe Chirac, Schroeder. So you can do the math.
Q Okay. Since I have you attention, just one last bit --
MR. FLEISCHER: Three questions.
Q When do you think Washington will return to normal? And what is normal, now that this has happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think for the American people -- not just for Washington, but for the people of New York City and for the people of Washington -- it's going to take some time. There was an attack on the soil of the United States of America, and people should not expect this to be over, overnight.
Q Secretary Powell has said that bin Laden is the prime candidate for these terrorist attacks. Is that the view of the White House? And secondly, can you straighten out for us whether or not the administration intends to use military personnel as sky marshals, or in any other way, to secure civilian aircraft flights?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your first question, I think what the Secretary said was -- he was asked a question about is bin Laden a suspect, and he indicated yes. I don't think he said "prime," but I'd have to check the record on that. But he did indicate yes.
On the question of the military, Jim, I just -- I'll have to find out from the Department of Transportation. When you asked me this morning I tried to refer you to Transportation. I don't have that information here.
Q Well, Secretary Mineta said they were going to use the Delta Force. And then an administration official said Mineta was "flat wrong," that that was not going to happen, and the Pentagon indicated they might use military people to train. Almost everyone seems to have a slightly different version of whether or not military people will be used in civilian law enforcement.
Q Two questions. Do you have any special words for what the United Kingdom has done. The statements they've made are very strong, and today they played "The Star-Spangled Banner" when they had the changing of the guard.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. And I noticed today also, the United States is not the only nation that mourns. The United Kingdom has lost the lives of many of their citizens. Other nations also had their citizens working at the World Trade Center. And so it's a further expression of the wonderful solidarity that the world is showing with the United States. I think it's very touching for the United Kingdom to play America's National Anthem.
Q Ari, just one more. Can there be war without a formal national enemy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President has indicated, this is a different type of enemy in the 21st century. The President said, this enemy is nameless; this enemy is faceless; this enemy has no specific borders. This enemy does not have airplanes sitting on tarmacs and it does not have ships that move from one port city to the next. It is a different kind of enemy. Having said that, the President also knows that our nation's military is capable of carrying out whatever mission is assigned to it to conquer any enemies.
Q Ari, could I just clarify the answer to John's question -- is it the White House view that whatever action is taken and whatever the scale and duration of the action, that you need no further approval from Congress. You'd like something from Congress, but you don't need anything else from Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll say it for the third time -- the Constitution vests in the President as Commander in Chief the authority to take actions he deems necessary to protect and defend the United States. The President is also very encouraged as the result of working with Congress on this joint resolution, which is a real show of unity from the Congress. And the White House will work with Congress on that language.
Q So that's a yes, right? That's you need no further approval?
Q Just to follow on that note. The War Powers Act does call for approval if troops are going to be put in harm's way.
MR. FLEISCHER: As with many previous administrations, there are questions about the constitutionality of some aspects of the War Powers Act, and this administration shares those questions.
Q Yes, but in most of those previous cases, we're looking at largely air assaults. But is it your position that --
Q Ari, can you tell us anything about the special security precautions tomorrow for the President's trip to New York? Are there going to be fighter jets on each wing of Air Force One, for example, like there were on Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, I do not know the answer to that question, and if I did I'm not sure I'd be able to share in all cases. But suffice it to say that the President has full confidence in the Secret Service and those who protect him.
Q Will he travel with his whole contingent? Will he -- the usual presidential motorcade that we see, the enormous beast that lands in a place and takes over town -- will he do that in New York tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, Terry, it will be a smaller enormous beast.
Q Ari, when he's going to travel -- you said that we wouldn't go to New York as long as his being there would create a hindrance to those trying to rescue workers, people cleaning up the debris.
MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly right.
Q When they're still pulling people alive out of that rubble, how do you keep him out of the way and from being a distraction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because in conversations with Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki, they talked about how it would be appropriate -- it would be appropriate and meaningful for the President to go to New York. And so all factors are taken into consideration. And of course, the President wouldn't go under any other circumstances.
Q So are you saying he'll keep his distance from actual "ground zero"?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll see. Just as when he visited the Pentagon yesterday, you'll see tomorrow.
Q What is he going to do there --
Q You talked about the business -- or the individuals with mortgage help, et cetera. What about the businesses that have been wiped out? Where is the administration thinking of putting some help in that direction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, also, as a result of the $20 billion supplemental appropriation bill that is moving its way through Congress, that will provide the means to give assistance to many people -- businesses, otherwise, all who have suffered in this.
Q Ari, Secretary Powell is saying bin Laden is a prime suspect. Is the administration, the U.S. confident, or does the U.S. know of his whereabouts, where he is?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to give any answers to that question.
Q Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. has had an executive ban in place on assassinations. Is the President considering lifting that?
Q Ari, on that point, is there anything, any restriction, that the administration believes is hampering the intelligence community's efforts to deal with terrorism? Are there any restrictions, either self-imposed by the agency or by the intelligence community, or by Congress, that you think need to be eliminated?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard of any such conversations. As always, on all these matters, as the President indicated today, the government will keep you informed of any steps it thinks are necessary. But I have not heard anything.
Q On the $20 billion supplemental, OMB, as you know, says there's only $1 billion left in fiscal year 2001 that's on budget, or that's not Social Security. Is it accurate to say that that money can still be expended and be considered, without use of Social Security surplus funding, depending on the timing of when that funding is released?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's been a virtually universal, if not universal, recognition by members of the Congress and by the President that our national security will always come first.
Q I'm sorry, just for clarification purposes then, this is considered a severe emergency and, therefore, it's money that's being taken from the Social Security surplus fund under that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated two days ago that this was a severe emergency.
Q OMB was giving differing advice, and it depended on the time that the money is actually spent. And it does not necessarily mean you even have to use those funds. I'm just trying to get that clarified.
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated this is a severe emergency. I also said that the fiscal year, of course, does not close until September 30th, so we will know more at that time. But national security will come first.
Q Ari, the word "war" is being bandied around here so much. But that word, in and of itself, carries such a constitutional connotation, et cetera, and creates a confrontation with Congress, or whatever. Is it possible we'll see a ratcheting down of the rhetoric with the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're going to see consistent actions by the administration, and statements of resolve and determination by the President, just as you've been seeing.
Q Ari, the 1991 war resolution that Congress passed put some limitations on what the President could do. Would that be -- something like that be satisfactory to this President Bush? Or would you like something that's more open-ended?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're dealing with hypotheticals here. Congress, today, is considering a joint resolution to express its support for the President as a show of unity. And we're talking with the Congress very productively about the appropriate language to use in that. And that's where the administration is focused today.
Q So you would see this as more a general resolution of support, and not the kind of thing that his father sought, his father got from Congress in 1991?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, to be parliamentary, it is a joint resolution.
Q Well, it's not binding.
Q Did you understand my question? I mean, I'm saying -- it's one thing to pass a, you know, "resolved, we support the President," and quite another to pass what was enacted in 1991, which said the President can take military action under these conditions.
MR. FLEISCHER: This is all very public. This is a joint resolution that is going to move on Capitol Hill. And you'll be able to review the language of it yourself. And I think there are going to be some comparisons that may be apt to 1991, others that will not be. This is 2001, and this is different.
Q Did the White House suggest language for this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. We're working with Congress on the language.
Q Ari, as law enforcement officials proceed in trying to apprehend individuals inside the United States who may have knowledge or have been involved in the attack, what is the President telling law enforcement officials in terms of what actions can they take? Should people be prepared to see, say, phone taps that haven't been used in the past? What kind of civil liberties does the President think should be -- or defended?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to talk to the Attorney General about the actions that they are taking. They will be in accordance with the law, of course.
Q Ari, earlier today, White House officials expanded on the threat against Air Force One, saying that there was a telephone threat to the Secret Service, that Air Force One was on a target list. As the three successful attacks were all sneak attacks with no prior warning, why did you put credence in the telephone threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you're getting into evaluations that involve the area of how the administration -- in this case Secret Service, the White House -- obtains information. And I think we've exhausted that.
Q Earlier today, the President said that fighting terrorism would be the main focus now of the administration. I'm curious, what does that do now on the pipeline to other priorities -- education and so on?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you talk to the American people, you would hear from them directly, and from their hearts, that our nation has no higher priority than the security of our people. Make no mistake: American soil has been attacked. And I think the American people fully understand and appreciate what the President said. It is a reflection of what the American people are thinking and are feeling, and the President shares those thoughts.
Q I'm sure he's aware of -- but his own thinking. How does he now sort of program or sequence some of these other items on his agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the domestic agenda will continue. The President will continue to work with Congress. I think that the pace of action will be determined by the Congress, and, of course, the administration will remain engaged with the Congress on all these issues. In fact, there is a meeting that will begin shortly, if it hasn't begun already, that I will need to go to with congressional leaders and the President.
Q Ari, just to follow that, does the President believe as a general rule that Congress ought to -- you know, in the interests of unity, ought to set some of these controversial issues aside, and do them maybe next year, specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think what you're going to see is Democrats and Republicans alike uniting on all kinds of areas. I can't guess with specificity what the domestic future will look like. But based on the meeting the President had with the congressional leaders yesterday, I think it's fair to say that there is a different domestic mood.
Q So they should put those things aside, then, is that correct? Do them next year, and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our nation's leaders in Congress remain men and women of principle, and they will take the actions that they think are in the national interest. And I think as events unfold on the domestic front this fall, leaders of Congress and the rank and file of Congress will show those principles, and our government will unite.
Q Ari, former President Bush spoke today, and expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of our human intelligence. Does the President, the current President Bush, share his father's concern about failures in human intelligence? And if so, what does he plan to do about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Joe, at an appropriate time, the President will be more willing to look back. But his focus right now is on what needs to be done in the wake of the attack on the United States.
Q To what extent was the former President serving as a proxy for this President when he made those remarks? And was there any coordination?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, if I'm not mistaken, all the former Presidents issued statements and had things to say. And former President Bush, even though he is the father of the present President Bush, is fully able and does express his own opinions.
Q But to what extent was he expressing opinions of this President?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President is focused on the terrorist attack and what to do about it. He is not focused on the past.
Q But Ari, does he believe, though, as his father said, that he thinks the CIA's hands happen to be tied, and that it needs, the agency needs to be able to deal with those "unsavory elements" to get the really good --
MR. FLEISCHER: My answer is the same as I indicated earlier. Thank you, I've got to get into the meeting. Thank you.