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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
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.

QUESTION: No?

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 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.

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 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.

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 don't?

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 that?

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 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.

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.

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