|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 13, 2003
Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Pierce City, Missouri
11:28 A.M. CDT
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no opening statement. You know the schedule. We're on our way to Missouri to visit with the victims of the tornado. And I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Will the FEMA Director Brown be there?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is, I believe, currently, his title is Deputy Director, and he will be there, yes. That's Mike Brown, I believe.
Q What's the President ordering the government to do as a result of the bombings last night? What are we thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the following actions have been taken. The State Department has sent people to the hospitals to identify whether or not United States citizens are present. The State Department has established a monitoring unit that is up and running. They also have an 800 number for families to contact, or offices to contact to identify whether any loved ones have been found. And an FBI team is being dispatched to Saudi Arabia.
MR. FLEISCHER: An FBI team is being dispatched.
Q Do you know if there are any American officials or military people among the ones who are dead?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not have any specific information about any individual. That will all be forthcoming through the State Department.
Q -- how the President has been briefed? Was it part of his usual --
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of the President's briefings, immediately after the President finished his speech in Omaha yesterday, the President went behind stage, was shaking hands with police officers, and then completed the event and started walking into the limo. He was intercepted on his way to the limo by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and by the National Security Council aide who always travels with the President. That's where the President received his first information about the explosions in Saudi Arabia.
The President said, "Keep me informed." And then the President departed in the limousine, got aboard Air Force One; he called Dr. Rice, received additional information from Dr. Rice. Then he arrived into Indianapolis. The first reports were still sketchy at this point about exactly what transpired and how much damage was done, casualties or the extent of casualties, whether any Americans had been injured.
Then the President went up to his room after his first event, at the hotel; spoke again with Dr. Rice. And then he turned in for the evening. The first thing this morning, the President got additional information, a morning update from Dr. Rice. He also spoke with Chief of Staff Card. He had his usual intelligence briefing. And the President has been monitoring events as events warrant.
Q Is he going to try to speak to Secretary Powell?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll keep you filled in. Clearly, the way ? typically, the way these things work is when the Secretary is traveling and the President is traveling, the Secretary keeps Dr. Rice informed who, in turn, keeps the President informed.
Q Does the President believe al Qaeda is involved in this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to engage in any speculation. Obviously, we have some suspicions. But as for the President, the President will await the word of the experts who review these matters.
Q -- any thoughts of Iranian ties, that some of the possible suspects may have ties to Iran? Is that something you're looking into?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are numerous reports; they will all be thoroughly looked through. I'm not going to speculate about any one or other report.
Q Ari, is there a concern that Saudi Arabia may not have done enough to protect ?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're working closely with the Saudis on this. These terrorists have targeted the United States and other countries. It's likely several other nations have been hit by this attack. Saudi Arabia is the host country and we are working closely with the Saudis.
Q Does this affect in any way the military pull-out? Will it speed it up or will it slow it down?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this has no impact on our military operations.
Q What about the road map?
MR. FLEISCHER: Road map is worth pursuing, separate and apart from this, because it helps ? it will help create an environment for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.
Q When you said earlier, obviously we have suspicions ? did you mean to include al Qaeda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to on the record speculate about who it may be. We have suspicions. The matter is being investigated, and when we have something to say conclusively, it will be said.
Q -- that from the characteristic it was al Qaeda operation.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- that's one of the suspicions.
Q Has the President been kept informed of this fiasco down in Texas?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know.
Q About the legislature -- does he know anything about, do you think?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not talked to the President about it. I've talked to the President about the situation in Saudi Arabia and the situation with the tornado victims.
Q -- does not feel the Democrats are acting badly because they are not refusing to vote on reapportionment?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't talked to the President about it.
Q There have been a lot of reports over the recent weeks that there was a ? al Qaeda was planning a major attack. Do you think this might be the one that was talked about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is now under investigation, and I just am not going to speculate about things that are unknowable this quickly after the attack took place. We will investigate it. As the President said, justice will be done.
Q Had the President received a fairly specific recent warning about Saudi Arabia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, everybody knew about the seizure of the explosives in Saudi Arabia. And there are areas that obviously are targets of terrorists. Americans who work in several nations have long known that terrorists may try to target that region. This is why, as the President said to the country today, this is an ongoing war on terror. Make no mistake, America still has enemies who want to bring us harm, however and wherever they can. They will attack innocents of many countries in pursuit of who knows what. These are mindless, senseless killings.
Q Could this attack change the focus of the war on terror? Could it identify a new target?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a reminder to the American people that the war is ongoing. And this is why our operations will continue unabated, to round up, to arrest, to bring to justice, to work closely with allied nations in the war against terror.
Q Does it do anything to firm -- to confirm beliefs that Osama bin Laden may still be alive?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think based on some of the audios that we received earlier, we've shared with you previously on the record that it would appear that he is alive. So I -- that's old information.
Q How about effective or active?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, since I'm not speculating about who did it, I can't answer that question.
Q What was the upshot of the President's meeting with Senator Bayh this morning? He did meet with him, didn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Oh, didn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I mean, I don't know if they shook hands or did something like that. I couldn't see that.
Q Bayh said they spoke.
MR. FLEISCHER: It could have been a greeting behind stage --
Q Is he still a gettable vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's up to Senator Bayh. I'm not in a position to speak for him. I think it's going to be a very close vote.
Q Are we going to hear from the President about his reaction to what he sees on the ground in Pierce City?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, you will. We're still working on the exact venue and we will -- yes, you will.
Q Not there -- not at Springfield, it will be down there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, at the site of the tornado. He'll take a helicopter tour, and then he will receive a briefing from FEMA officials. Then he will meet with tornado victims and many of the first responders in the area. And then he will take a walking tour. So you'll all be there for the walking tour portion, and then we're working on other ways that, either one way or another, for you to hear what the President thinks.
Q Can you characterize what he may be saying or what he would be saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep in mind, this is a President who, as a governor, saw the damage that Mother Nature could do, and then as President, has also, obviously, seen damage that comes from Mother Nature. And if you remember when he went to Arizona and saw victims of the fires in Arizona -- these are difficult moments because the President is meeting with people who have literally had their homes utterly destroyed, and these people are very sad, they're despondent. The community is responding and helping them. The first responders are on the scene. FEMA is on the scene. They're getting every bit of assistance they can from the federal government and local government. But these are people whose lives have just been turned upside-down in one brief flash. So it's a difficult time for them, and the President is really there to comfort and to console.
Q -- Missouri as an example of all the tornado places? Was there a particular reason Missouri was chosen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Many different communities have been afflicted by the tornadoes that have hit, and he is going here, and his thoughts will be with people everywhere, not just here.
Q Does the President have any reaction to the fact that the Senate took up the wrong bill yesterday when they tried to start the tax debate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say the President is focused on the final outcome. He's confident that this speed bump on the way to tax relief for the American people will be cleared, and the Senate and the House will soon focus on the important conference report.
Q Ari, on the briefings you mentioned the President received, do you have the rough times of the last time last night and the first time this morning? Approximately?
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't know with precision, so I'd have to get it. I know Joe Hagin gave an updated, in-person briefing at about 8:00 p.m. last night. And then his conversation with Dr. Rice was after that. And then this morning's times, I'd have to figure it out.
Q -- factsheet here on the seniors that was passed out, we don't have any income numbers in those little anecdotes here. Why is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you. We work with the local people in advance, and sometimes they have that information and sometimes they don't.
Q That would help judge the impact of the tax cut, too, in knowing what the income level was.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll take a look and see if there's anything I can update it with. I just don't know.
Q Ari, the President looked angry today when he talked about the bombing and the war on terrorism in general. Is it something that hit him hard? He seemed pretty light-hearted --
MR. FLEISCHER: He is angry. Terrorists attacked our fellow citizens and took innocent lives. And this is why this President has repeatedly said to this country that this is a war against terror. And he is determined to wage it. That terrorists will not be able to attack us with impunity, that we are engaged in a battle and the enemy struck against us yesterday. And he is determined to wage this war for whatever period of time it takes, so we can prevail.
Q Is he disappointed that more security precautions were not taken, after -- you had the Kobalt Towers -- that something like this could happen again?
MR. FLEISCHER: This just took place. All these facts are going to be investigated and we will work with the Saudi authorities, work with the various nations who had residents living there, to ascertain all the events that took place.
Q Is the United States satisfied with the Saudi cooperation thus far?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
* * * *
MR. DECKARD: A string of tornadoes and other severe weather led President Bush to declare federal disasters in states across the Midwest and South, including Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Missouri.
Pierce City is a town of approximately 1,400 people, located in Lawrence County, in southwestern Missouri. Pierce City is one of several cities severely damaged by the tornadoes and flooding that began on May 4th. On May 6th, President Bush declared 39 counties in Missouri, including Lawrence County, a major disaster area, thus making federal aid available in affected residences and businesses. A total of five people in Lawrence County were killed by the storm, including one from Pierce City.
The disaster declaration made assistance available in three catagories: individual assistance -- that's assistance to individuals and households; public assistance, which is assistance to state and local governments, for the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged public facilities; and hazard mitigation, which is assistance to state and local governments for actions taken to prevent or reduce long-term risks to life and property from natural hazards.
In addition to the generalized assistance available, agriculture producers are eligible to apply for and receive emergency loans to cover losses to crops and/or losses to structures critical to the farm business. Producers have to meet certain eligibility criteria for these loans, and are limited in the amount of assistance they can receive.
Also, the State Department has set up a hotline, and that phone number is 202/647-7318.
Q And these are new declarations, Josh, or are these previous in the past few weeks? I think they're previous, this is sort of a compendium of the last few weeks. Alabama was announced just the other day, maybe yesterday. These are not new, is my question.
MR. DECKARD: Oh, you mean new as of right now? No, these have been announced.
Q -- have a casualty count?
MR. DECKARD: No.
Q -- from this community said 18 dead. Do you have any idea, or is there anybody you can ask, from whether this community or this county that there were 18 casualties, around Pierce City?
MR. DECKARD: We'll get it. A total of five people were killed in Lawrence County. Five people in Lawrence County were killed, and one from Pierce City.
12:07 P.M. CDT