House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
September 13, 2001
3:15 P.M. EDT
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.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the evacuation of the EOB?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no evacuation of the EOB.
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
QUESTION: And Lafayette Park?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll be explaining everything.
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
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
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
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
I'm more than happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
On the second question, I think we've really exhausted that topic. I've got
nothing further to add.
QUESTION: 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 --
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
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.
QUESTION: 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
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I typically don't deal in hypotheticals. I certainly will
not deal with them now.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service will have the most authoritative answer on
that, but my understanding is it's not permanent.
QUESTION: 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?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me check on the public tours. I don't know what the status
of that is.
QUESTION: 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
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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: Is that true also for Lafayette Park?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe the perimeter --
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: Well, what does it mean? Can people be in Lafayette Park, anybody?
MR. FLEISCHER: You have to check with the Secret Service.
QUESTION: Why? The order is coming from here.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the Secret Service knows exactly how the perimeters work.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.