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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 20, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

  1. Update on Events for the Day
  2. President's Meeting with Philippine President
  3. NAEP Scores
  4. White House Tours Closed for Christmas
  5. Justice Department/New Name/RFK
  6. Possible Airline Strike
  7. Number of Casualties in War on Terrorism
  8. Reaction to Secretary Powell's Speech
  9. Weapons of Mass Destruction
  10. Economic Stimulus
  11. Congressional Black Caucus/Haiti
  12. Congress/Domestic Priorities
  13. Immigration Bill
  14. Chief of Staff Card
  15. Faith Based Initiative

12:15 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President's schedule today. The President this morning had his round of intelligence briefings, followed by an FBI briefing. Then he convened a meeting of his Homeland Security Council.

In mid-morning, the President visited a local charity, So Others Might Eat, where he encouraged Americans to give at this time to charities, a reminder to the American people that at this time as the holiday approaches, he thanked so many Americans who have given to the charities that have been helping people get through the disaster of September 11th. But he also wanted to remind Americans that there are many other charities who are in need, whose work is unrelated to the events of the 11th, who focus on help for the homeless, and provide care and shelter for those who are in need, and urged Americans to give. He also announced a $1-billion program from the Housing and Urban Development Department, to help the homeless.

The President, in the early afternoon, will meet with the President of the Philippines, President Arroyo, to discuss ongoing collaboration in the war on terrorism. And then, in mid-afternoon, the President will participate in the dedication of the Department of Justice Building in honor of Robert F. Kennedy, our 64th Attorney General. Today, of course, would have been Robert F. Kennedy's 76th birthday. And the President will look forward to that event. He will be joined there by many members of the Kennedy family, staffers who worked at the Department of Justice and the Attorney General's Office under then-Attorney General RFK, as well as many other people from the Washington community, the civil rights community, and the law enforcement community, will join the President for that event.

One other note, and then I'll be happy to take questions. The Department of Education earlier today released the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, science scores for 2000. This is a follow-up to the previous report of math and reading scores issued by NAEP earlier this year.

The report shows that there is no change in students' average scores in grades 4 or 8 since 1996. The scores are flat. It also shows that the only change in average scores occurred in grade 12, where scores declined. The President is committed to making certain that every child in America receives a first rate education. And he believes that today's release of these tests show again the importance of Congress getting together in the Conference Committee and sending him an education bill that improves schools, public schools, principally for all children in America, so all children can learn, both in math, reading and in science. He's pleased with the progress that's been made in the Conference Committee. And he is very hopeful that he will be able to sign an education bill soon. It remains a top priority for this President.

With that, I'm happy to take questions.

Q Is there any reconsideration of the decision to keep tourists out of the White House, given the President's call for Americans to return to some sense of normalcy?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President and the First Lady both regret very much that in the wake of the attacks on September 11th public access to the White House has been curtailed. It's been that way since the 11th, and the President wishes it was not so.

As a result of the security procedures that have been in place since the 11th, it will not be possible, even during this time of year, of the holidays, to open the White House for public tours, which would include the holiday tours, which have always been a special part of the White House. It's a fact that the President regrets very much; but unfortunately, and the President noted this last night, evil does not take time off for the holidays. The nation still is a terrorist threat, and the White House is a target of terrorist activities, of course. And therefore, the same precautions that have been put in place since the 11th remain in place.

Q But is there any sense on his part, that he's sending a mixed message by telling Americans it's okay to travel again, they should go back to their lives, and at the same time, upping the ante here at the White House, increasing security, and taking these fairly extraordinary measures?

MR. FLEISCHER: It doesn't represent an increase so much as it's a continuation. It's not all of a sudden a drop in guard because the holidays have approached, and opening the White House, because it has been closed to public tours since the 11th.

But I think to answer your first question, I think you should go back and take a look at what the President said in his speech in Atlanta, where he talked about Americans getting used to both factors, which is an ongoing part of life today in wartime, that the American people do understand the importance of going back to their daily lives, their normal routines, while at the same time, being on a heightened state of alert, being more aware, and recognizing that not only the White House, but other federal facilities and important facilities around many people's communities have stepped up protections and stepped up security.

Q So the Secret Service is actually saying it cannot secure the White House, given the fact that we can apparently secure airports and airplanes now?

Q Exactly.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is a total difference between securing the White House and securing airports. I think that the airports don't have high fences around the terminals the way the White House does, in recognition of the fact that the White House has always been a different type of target and obviously, with terrorists who have sought to do harm to our nation, interested in continuing to do harm, government facilities such as the White House or some other primary locations.

Q Do you have any proof of that statement?

MR. FLEISCHER: That the White House is an object of attack? Helen, I think that goes without saying when you take a look at the threats that have been faced at the White House and the nature of terrorism.

Q Are you saying it's a continuing threat?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's always safe to say in this country that the White House is a target of those who would do our country harm.

Q Ari, no one belittles the danger to the White House with the President here, but the surprising fact seems to be that you cannot secure the White House. The Secret Service and the entire federal government cannot secure what some people would argue is the most important building in the United States right now.

MR. FLEISCHER: I would just -- want to remind you that the White House does have visitors, but the visitors are pre-cleared and pre-screened, as everybody in this room knows from personal experience. That applies to all of you in this room.

Reporters, for example, cannot just show up at the White House and report to work; they have to have provided the White House with a rudimentary amount of information and that then is cleared. So all visitors are cleared. The distinction being opening up the gates of the White House to those who are not cleared, i.e., wide open public tours. And the distinction there is the ability just to do that informational review to make certain that people coming to the White House have passed that check to make sure they don't have --

Q But they're not cleared at airports. I mean, they don't go through security checks, background checks. The FBI doesn't give everybody who buys an airline ticket a background check. So if you can secure airports, presumably, why can't you secure this place?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the nature of the White House is different from the nature of an airport. You can't compare the two. And it's not fair to say that they are two, or one in the same. They are not. And I think most Americans understand as they go about their daily lives and live in their communities, are an open society.

There have been many federal facilities, military bases, the White House, that are not as open as general society, and that's always been the case in this country, and I think people recognize that.

Q Did the President make the decision on the basis of --

MR. FLEISCHER: It was a recommendation by the Secret Service that was accepted by the White House. I think the decision was made, frankly, at the staff level, Helen.

Q Two things, actually. How long will it be in effect? Is this just an ongoing closure and --

MR. FLEISCHER: It is ongoing.

Q It is ongoing? And, number two --

MR. FLEISCHER: And there has been no change September 11th. The question I was asked is, will the White House take down those security protections that have been put in place since September 11th because it's the holidays? And as the President said himself said last night, evil does not take a break or take a rest for the holidays.

Q But I was just following on John's question, though. You know, the White House is certainly different, but in terms of people, visitors that come here normally for tours, they go through the metal detectors, they follow the same procedures that we all go through on the nation's airlines. So what's the difference there, what's happening at the nation's airlines, versus what would be happening at the White House to make sure people are not coming into the White House with any explosives or any dangerous substances?

MR. FLEISCHER: Suffice it to say that it is the judgment of the professionals who are engaged in the security business evaluating the unique risks that are posed at the White House with the nature of the threat to the White House that a security situations still exists in allowing uncleared individuals to enter the White House.

Q Ari, has anyone thought of going halfway, such as limiting the number of tickets so you don't have as many people in line, but half the number of tickets, or a third the number of tickets where people give their Social Security number, they're cleared 24 hours in advance, like they do for Christmas parties here, so that some members of the public can at least get some tickets?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, there will be members of the public as far as invitations to -- and I think you've heard this -- it was in the newspaper this morning -- about the firemen, policemen, others who have been involved in the activities surrounding New York, to try to make the White House as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible. That will be happening.

Q Ari, is the Director of Homeland Security going to look at this issue? And by "ongoing," does this mean now that the public can expect there to be no public tours for the entire time President Bush is in office?

MR. FLEISCHER: The matter has been settled, the matter has been decided, and again, this is something that the President regrets very much; the First Lady regrets it very much. No one wants to be in a position where the public is not welcome in the people's house. This building does belong to the country, it belongs to the people.

But I think the people are also the first to recognize that these are extraordinary times. Our nation is at war. There are people who would do damage if they could, and that this is a balancing that society is going through in protecting people's rights to open access with ongoing security concerns.

Q So, "ongoing" means for the rest of the time President Bush is in office?

MR. FLEISCHER: Until further notice.

Q And the Homeland Security Office is not going to address this at all?

MR. FLEISCHER: And the President, of course, hopes that as quickly as possible. The White House, as well as other entities throughout society, will be open to the public on a much more readily available basis. But so long as we are in a war situation, and so long as the threat assessment remains high, this is the condition for the time being.

And again, this is something the President regrets very much. If you recall what he did on opening day here at the White House, he greeted visitors as they arrived through, shook the hands of as many people as he possibly could, opening the White House to the public, which is a White House tradition. He regrets very much that a time-honored tradition has to change in times of war.

Q Ari, there's a very tight bubble, it seems to me, here. And when -- for the public tours, the Secret Service, all throughout -- they are the ones who are conducting the tours. Why is it that the President is not anywhere near when those tours are happening? He's either away, over here in the West Wing, or up in the Residence. The public does not see him. Why is it that the American public still cannot go through with Secret Service there, with the checks of magnetometers and things of that nature, organic and metal detectors, why can the public not come through here?

MR. FLEISCHER: You're re-asking the question that we've been discussing for ten minutes. I've shared all the information I can on the topic.

Q Ari, is part of the problem simply you can't staff it enough, you don't have the personnel in the White House to actually do this job? Presumably, if you can bring in unlimited numbers of --

MR. FLEISCHER: John, there are a variety of factors, and staffing of course is one of the factors, as you noted that the perimeter of the White House has been pushed out greatly as a result of the time of war. Public traffic on streets around the White House has been eliminated, and in the case of one major street behind the White House, following Pennsylvania Avenue. Of course that creates additional security perimeters. And there is a staffing issue, but it's something that the White House and the President, particularly, and the First Lady, regret very much.

Q Ari, I wonder if you could better explain the President's rationale for renaming the Justice Department building in honor of Attorney General Kennedy. This is a person obviously with some undeniable accomplishments, but also a record as Attorney General of certain abuses, including the wiretapping of Martin Luther King, abuse of the IRS, and so on.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Attorney General, Robert Kennedy successfully led the Department of Justice in important struggles that have come to symbolize the Department's capacity to do good. And the President thinks that it's fitting to name the building in honor of the former Attorney General whose work, whether it was against organized crime or for civil rights, stands out as singular achievements in American history.

Q Did he consider the abuses like the wire tapping of Dr. King, and so on, in making his decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is naming it after RFK for the reasons I just mentioned.

Q Ari, over the weekend there were reports in the British press that a catastrophic error by U.S. Air Force bombers killed 150 Afghan civilians. Do you have -- does the administration have any numbers on how many civilians have been killed by U.S. bombs since the bombing started?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make two points on that. One is I don't think you'll ever witness a nation that has worked so hard to avoid civilian casualties as the United States has. It is part of the training, part of the mission, part of the professionalism of the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces that they work so hard to conduct a war that -- works so hard to protect innocent lives on the ground. If you're asking any more specific operational questions, including numbers, you need to talk to DOD.

Q The second question, in his book, "Veil," Bob Woodward reported a couple of years ago that a CIA-sponsored car bomb killed 80 innocent civilians in Beirut. You talk about terror and the war on evil -- is the war on terror and evil, does that include U.S.-sponsored terror and U.S.-sponsored deaths, civilian deaths?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to accept the premise of that question. If you're talking about the United States acting in self-defense -- and I'm not referring this to the question of anything that was written in Mr. Woodward's book -- but if you're suggesting that an equivalence between the United States protecting itself in the war on Afghanistan and terrorism practiced against the United States, I don't accept the premise of that question and the moral equivalence that you're suggesting.

Q Ari, a couple of quick questions on President Arroyo's visit. She's meeting with the President later; she's already met with the Defense Secretary, meeting later with the Secretary of State -- seems to be getting sort of the royal treatment, high profile visits with the President on down. Are you showing her as an example of those who help the U.S. in the fight against terrorism, comparing to others who are not?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Philippines is a very important country, and the Philippines has been very helpful to the United States in the war on terrorism. The Philippines have their own unique problems presented by terrorists. The Abu Sayyef group that operates in the Philippines, for example, and President Arroyo is committed to working very hard to protect her people from the terrorism that is found in the Philippines, as well as making inroads and working cooperatively with other groups to ensure stability within the Philippines.

But she is going to be welcomed here in Washington, and the President will be pleased to receive her. She is meeting with others, which is not unusual, too. Many visiting heads of state receive a similar level of visit.

Q What's the U.S. team in the Philippines doing to help the country deal with Abu Sayyef?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's been widely reported that there have been teams sent there to help train and work with the Philippines military to help them so that they can prevent future acts of terrorism against a nation that has experienced a lot of acts already.

Q What about the American hostages in the Philippines?

Q United's mechanics have rejected arbitration. Does the President plan to intervene to avert a strike?

MR. FLEISCHER: The National Mediation Board last night recommended to the President that he create a presidential emergency board. And the President is deeply concerned, especially at this time of year, about any disruption in airline service to the traveling public. He is also concerned about any negative impact a strike would have on the economy. And so, therefore, the President is prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the traveling public during the holiday season.

I think it would be very unfortunate if an airline went on strike in the middle of Christmas. And the President is prepared to take what action he needs to under his authority to protect the traveling public.

Q So when will he convene the --

MR. FLEISCHER: As a result of the recommendation the President received last night from the National Mediation Board, he now has 30 days. And hopefully, during that 30-day period, the parties themselves will enter into an agreement. The President has any time during this 30-day period to call for a presidential emergency board which, if and when the President invokes that, would stave off a strike with its destabilizing influence on travel and on the economy. So it's a 30-day window -- in other words, it's a 30-day window.

As I said, the President is prepared to do what it takes to protect the traveling public.

Q What about the American hostages in the Philippines?

Q Don't kick this one to the Pentagon, because it's a question of policy. Why have we got no casualty figures on our side or anybody else's side in this war so far?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I know that Secretary Rumsfeld has been giving the casualty figures for the Americans. He was asked that yesterday and that has been something that he has routinely provided.

Q He has been giving them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. It was the Pentagon who announced the crash of a helicopter and the servicemen who were injured in that.

Q No, I mean the overall -- overall since the start of the hostilities.

MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of for the Americans?

Q And the other side.

MR. FLEISCHER: He has been providing that information.

Q How many? Do you know?

MR. FLEISCHER: You would have to check with DOD.

Q What has been the reaction to Secretary Powell's speech yesterday? And does the White House believe that terrorism would diminish if the Israeli-Palestinian problem were solved?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the reaction, the President is heartened to see the reaction, both in Israel and by the Palestinian Authority to Secretary Powell's speech. The President has long held that the best way to achieve a peace in the Middle East is by the parties seizing the moment and coming together, particularly in the wake of September 11th, which is a reminder to the nations in the Middle East about what violence and terrorism can do and how the only answer can be through a political solution and through peaceful negotiations.

The President has been heartened by the reaction. As for the question of whether or not peace in the Middle East will eliminate all terrorism, certainly peace in the Middle East can have a stabilizing influence on the region and throughout the Middle East.

But I think it's also fair to say that when you take a look at people like the al Qaeda organization, Osama bin Laden, even if a beautiful peace broke out in the Middle East tomorrow, there would be terrorists who would seek to continue their evil practices the day after tomorrow. So there are some who it doesn't matter what takes place anywhere in the world, their intent is to do evil and to inflict terror on people, even with the peace in the Mid East.

Q Last week, President Bush and President Putin pledged to take steps to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. But critics have said that that pledge is not accompanied by concrete steps, an outline of actions that would lead to that result. What's your response?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it is a top priority for the administration. The administration has been working very diligently with Russia, for example on our support of the Nunn-Lugar legislation, that would help Russia to dismantle many of their existing nuclear weapons, therefore keeping out of the hands of terrorists. Aid to the economies of the world, so that people who are involved in nuclear science can have opportunities to make a living without being subjected to the opportunities that some terrorists have sought through bribery and through other means, to induce them to work for terrorist organizations. They're all part of that.

So it is a top priority for the President, for President Putin. And of course on the question of biological and chemical weapons, Under Secretary Bolton addressed that yesterday in his speech in Europe, in which he named several nations that have been seeking to acquire biological and chemical weapons, in contravention, in some cases, to the very treaty they themselves signed, pledging not to seek such weapons.

Q On the economic stimulus package, does the administration believe that the centrist coalition plan under development would be an acceptable compromise, or just a good foundation for --

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary O'Neill had a very fruitful conversation the other day with a group of Senate Democrats who are willing to think differently about taxes and spending. And the President is very pleased by the possibility of making progress with a groups of centrist Democrats who think that the best way to have an economic stimulus is through tax cuts, not spending increases. The President understands that there will be some, out of deep, heartfelt belief, who think that the best way to stimulate the economy is through more spending.

The President simply disagrees with those Democrats. The President does look forward to working with all Democrats, but principally those who will be willing to work in a bipartisan way to pass a stimulus that provides tax cuts, to get the economy moving again.

So I think what you've seen is one piece of ongoing conversations that will continue to take place between this administration, at the President's direction, and Senators who want to pass a bipartisan tax cut, so that the economy can get a shot in the arm. The economy needs one.

Q My understanding that it does have spending in it, but just less of a spending level than the Senate Democrats have approved.

MR. FLEISCHER: And the package that the President proposed to the Congress also had a level of spending, but it was very reasonable. The President's package was primarily a stimulative package to help get the economy going again, because the President believes that it's important to spend money as he has proposed for national emergency grants to help people get access to health care; that he's proposed extensions of unemployment insurance so people who lose their jobs can get unemployment checks. But the President thinks that the American people, first and foremost, want paychecks, not unemployment checks, and that's the focus of a stimulus package.

You had a question about the Philippines. I will try to advise after the meeting takes place with the President about what topics come up, and we'll just see if that topic comes up. I would not be surprised if it does.

Q Ari, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are predicting horrendous outcomes in Haiti. Two weeks ago they wrote the President requesting a meeting with him concerning Haiti policy. Last week and this week they've been speaking on the House floor, complaining about the United States blocking loans that were already approved by the Inter-American Development Bank for Haiti, that are being blocked by the United States. At the same time, AP is reporting the boat people have begun to attempt to come back, and at last count there were about 115 people missing, presumed drowned, who left Haiti October 31st.

Is the President willing or considering meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, or as some of them suggest, the United States is too preoccupied with Southwest Asia to consider events that are going on in their back yard?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has met with the Black Caucus before, and the President is very attentive to the concerns raised by individual members of the Black Caucus; will continue to have conversations with different members to talk about topics of interest. Certainly, the stability of Haiti is an important part of America's foreign policy and will continue to be one.

Q You talked earlier about the education conference, and this morning the President talked about the need for compromise on the faith-based initiative. What hope, what concrete signs does he have that Congress will be able to focus on these other domestic priorities after Thanksgiving, particularly when they're so keyed in to the stimulus and 9/11 related measures?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question that Congress still has a job to do domestically, and the President is here to help. There are many issues that are still pending in Congress. In many cases, the House of Representatives has passed legislation and everyone is waiting for the Senate to do the same. The President is hopeful that the Senate will do the same, and he's prepared to work diligently with the Senate.

The question of faith-based legislation that you raise, that's another one where it passed with a healthy, not an overwhelming, but a healthy bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives. And the President is looking forward to seeing the final product that comes out of the Senate. But in the conversations that administration staff has had with Senator Lieberman and with Senator Santorum it looks like there is a very good product emerging from the Senate, which gives optimism to the possibility of getting faith-based agreement done, that may or may not be able to get signed into law this fall. It depends on the conference committee, it depends on whether the Senate schedules it for a vote.

But there are other examples. The House of Representatives, for example, has passed energy legislation, to help make the country more energy independent. We're still waiting for the Senate to take up that legislation. The stimulus -- the House has passed an economic stimulus. It's important for the Senate to follow suit. Terrorism insurance, that's another issue where it's important for the Senate to take action to help protect Americans and consumers and companies so they have stability and reliability in the insurance market, in an atmosphere now where insurers are questioning whether they will issue insurance, given the terrorist risks and threats to our country.

So there's a series of items, and education is one where progress has been made. There has been several pieces of good news coming out of the Conference Committee. And I think it's just important to keep an eye on Congress, to see what they do. And the President will continue to work closely with them. Even at a time of war, Congress has a job to do on the domestic agenda.

Q Mid-level Mexican officials are here in Washington, D.C., meeting with their U.S. counterparts at the State Department as we speak, apparently resuming the immigration talks. What has been discussed today?

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to ask State. If it's a meeting between Mexican officials and State, you need to ask State.

Q Can I follow up on -- question, if I can? By my count, the President's met with the Congressional Black Caucus once.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

Q Is it going to be more than an annual affair? Are we, in fact, blocking loans to Haiti? If so, why? And are we witnessing an increase in attempts of Haitians to get to this country, and what are we doing about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me try to get back on more of the substantive details on that question, and I'll try to post that later in the day on that.

Q As far as international terrorism is concerned, where do we stand, because a lot of universities and businesses are losing because of the September 11th attacks. And also, is the President still behind that bill he sponsored, the immigration bill, 245I, I245 -- so because a lot of international tourism, tourists and businessmen are still in fear, like we are here, most people are.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's been no change, as far as I've heard, in anything dealing with the 245I status. The President continues to know that America is a nation that must welcome immigrants. Immigrants have been a proud part of America's history. They always have been, in the President's opinion, and always will be. And it's often from the immigrant community that many of the answers to some of the most vexing problems that America is -- Americans have faced has been found, thanks to people who arrived on our shores recently, as well as people who have been here for many a generation.

It is a question also has been found, thanks to people who arrived on our shores recently, as well as people who have been here for many a generation.

It is a question, also, of enforcing the nation's laws so that people who come to this country for opportunities, students who come here who swear on a visa application that they're coming here to go to school, they do go to school. That's part of the balance in making America honor its traditions of being a welcoming nation, while making certain that people who come here don't take advantage of America's openness, that don't come here for reasons and then lie and then go on to do other things -- particularly if it can affect the security of our country.

So it's a question of finding that balance. But the President understands clearly, as somebody who was a border government, for example, and worked so closely with Mexican officials about how America benefits from immigrants coming to our shores, but he wants to make sure it's done properly and legally.

Q Robert Novak reported in his column recently that Andrew Card had told a public gathering that he is not going to remain in his job much longer. And Novak reported that this was the result of Card having said in advance that the President would sign the aviation bill, regardless of what provision it contained about the screeners and that there was unhappiness at the White House about Card sort of committing the President to that.

Does Mr. Card have the full confidence of the President and is he going to remain in his job?

MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. One, obviously, the Chief of Staff spoke accurately for the President when he said that; the President just signed it. But, two, I think what -- how all this got started is some remarks that the Chief of Staff gave up in a speech in Boston, where perhaps the person who wrote the story heard it for the first time, what everybody in this White House has heard going way back even to the transition.

Chief of Staff Card gave us all a speech at transition headquarters before we even entered the White House, at about January, I think it was 16th or 17th, in which he told all of us that the average tenure for a White House staffer is about 18 months to two years. That's just the history of how the White House works for all staffers, it seems. And he just used that as an indication of historical tenures in the White House. I don't think he --

Q When is he leaving? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: He was not addressing that at anybody in particular, including himself.

Q When is he leaving? We saw him here. Was he drawing up his resume?

Q Or yourself? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Can't get rid of me that easy. (Laughter.)

Q Hey, Ari, do you know anything about a report, Maryland State Police saying that two U.S. military jets escorted a helicopter out of restricted airspace over Camp David?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard that report. I'll try to see if I have anything for you on that.

Q Ari, back on faith-based legislation, has the White House decided to postpone part of the President's faith-based initiative in order to help the Senate get through the tax cut for charities, as the President was talking about?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's faith-based initiative had several programs in it. One piece of it was expanding the charitable provisions that allow taxpayers to take a deduction for giving to charity. That would impact an estimated 84 million taxpayers. That was one component.

But one of the main components that remains a central piece to the plan, something that Senator Lieberman has spoken of very powerfully in support of, is a eliminating federal discrimination against entities that do charitable work that are faith-based.

There have been many provisions of federal law that make it nearly impossible for many faith-based organizations to qualify for federal grants. And the legislation moving through the Senate will eliminate that discrimination against faith-based groups from the government. And that has always been a core component of it; mentoring of children of prisoners has been a core component of it, that remains in there as well.

But the President wants to get an agreement that can be signed into law and he's going to work with Congress diligently, both House and Senate, to accomplish that goal.

THE PRESS: Thank you.