House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 17, 2001
1:17 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I would like to fill you in on the President's
day and, also, I have a couple announcements to make.
President Bush this morning spoke with President Zayid of the United Arab Emirates.
The two spoke about cooperation against terrorism. The President thanked President
Zayid for his public statements of support and his willingness to help the United
The President, earlier today, convened a meeting of his National Security Council
to continue making plans. Earlier, the President visited the Pentagon to be
briefed on the status of the call-up of the Reserves and to thank the employers
and families who we know will be making a sacrifice to allow the Reservists
to come serve our nation.
The President is about to make a phone call to the Chancellor of the New York
City public schools, Harold Levy, to discuss how the federal government is prepared
to help the school children and the parents of New York City deal with this
tragedy as children go back to school.
The Secretary of Education is with the Chancellor right now. He will be there
for the phone call and he will be making an announcement about additional millions
of dollars which will be provided to New York City public schools to help them
in this effort and to help our children and to help their parents.
A little later this afternoon, the President is going to be departing the White
House to go to an Islamic center in the Washington, D.C. area, where the President
intends to speak out very strongly about the need to remind all Americans that
Arab Americans and Muslim Americans love the American flag, just like everybody
else who is a citizen of this country. And he's looking forward to that visit.
He'll spend some time with the leaders of the community, as well as various
members of the community. The President considers that a very important meeting.
Later this afternoon, the President will return for a meeting of the economic
policy team, where they will discuss the consequences of the terrorist attack
on the United States, from an economic point of view, as well as discuss the
airline industry and the position the airline industry is in at this moment.
Mrs. Bush will be in Pennsylvania for the memorial service for those who lost
their lives in the crash of the airline in southwest Pennsylvania.
Two announcements for you, and then I'll be more than pleased to take questions.
President Bush will welcome French President Jacques Chirac for a meeting and
a private working dinner on September 18th, tomorrow. The visit is part of President
Bush's continuing consultation with key allies about our global agenda, including
the war on terrorism. And I'd note that this was a previously planned meeting.
In addition, the President will welcome Amir Shaiki Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
to Washington. He is the Amir of Qatar, for a working visit on October 4th.
And with that, I'm more than happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Ari, on the economic front, the President talked about working with
Congress on an economic stimulus package. Is he specifically preparing to back
another tax cut? Does he think the country needs that right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Too soon to say, David, but the President will continue to keep
his eye on the economy, and he will continue to listen to members of Congress
in both parties about what steps, if any, they believe need to be taken to help
the economy, if any need to be taken.
QUESTION: Can you be more specific? Is that one of the ideas that's currently
being discussed, both in Congress and between Congress and the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is one of the ideas being discussed, correct.
QUESTION: And what kind of tax cut? Are we talking about capital gains --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's too soon to say. The President will have the briefing
later this afternoon, and so I would hesitate to speculate until the briefing.
QUESTION: Let me go further. Does the administration support the bill in Congress
to provide assistance to the airline industry?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the topic that will come up at the meeting this afternoon
-- the best forum that assistance, if any is to be coming, could be available.
So that's a topic the President will review, and he has -- he's very concerned
about the health of the airline industry.
QUESTION: Will there be a decision on either one of these matters out of this
MR. FLEISCHER: Let the meeting take place, and I'll try to keep you informed.
And, again, this is the beginning of a process where the President will keep
his eye on the economy, in the aftermath of the attack on the United States.
So I'll keep you updated.
QUESTION: The Taliban is now saying that it's Supreme Council will meet tomorrow
to discuss the U.S. demand to turn over bin Laden. What's the administration's
response to that? What are you looking for out of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's response will be, he will see what they say.
But this is much bigger than that. The President has made it clear, the Vice
President has made it clear, the Secretary of Defense has made it clear that
this war on terrorism is bigger than any one person. The al Qaeda organization
is a network that is represented in some 60 countries around the world, that
exists beyond any one leader. And this war on terrorism is a war that the President
said he is committed to taking throughout this organization that engaged in
this attack on our country.
QUESTION: And the Pakistani officials are saying that they told Afghan leaders,
the Taliban, they had 72 hours to turn over bin Laden. Is that a U.S.-sponsored
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything involving, any specific actions that may or may not
have been taken by our allies in this matter, I'm not going to get into. And
let me try to shed a little light on the reason for that, because there have
been many questions about what have you asked your allies to do, and I've indicated
the broad areas.
We've asked our allies to cooperate with us in military areas, in financial
areas, in economic areas, in political and diplomatic. And I understand why
you want to know more. But for me to indicate to you anything more than that
would also be an indication to our enemy about what concrete steps allies may
be taking. And one of the easiest ways for them to get around any steps our
allies may be taking is for them to know about them.
So I wish somehow there was a way that I could share this information with people
here and with the American people. But, as you know, any answer I would give
to that would also be directly provided to our enemy. And I will not do that.
QUESTION: Ari, two things. One is, we're hearing reports of an American airliner
that had to make an emergency landing in Chicago today. The FBI came on board,
apparently, and took away three gentlemen. What kind of state of alert is the
White House had, and law enforcement, about people who may still be flying,
that may be a danger? And, secondly, has the President rescinded the order for
the military to shoot down commercial airliners, if necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point, I'm not going to address the exact status
of the defense operations to protect the American people. Suffice it to say
the United States remains on a very heightened status of alert to protect the
traveling public. But that's an operational question so, therefore, I'm not
going to get beyond what I have said.
On the first part of it, the President has tried every day in every way to warn
the American people that this is a war and we are an open society. Obviously,
the events of September 11th, a terrorist organization was able to penetrate
our country and to attack. And being an open society, everybody does still need
to be vigilant; people still need to take care and to remember that we are in
a war footing. And it is a different time and a different era, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Does law enforcement, Ari, in the United States, does law enforcement
believe that there may be a number of suspects still at large in the U.S. that
may have participated in the Tuesday attack and may be planning future attacks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Concerns remain dealing with ongoing security. And that's why
I think you've seen steps that are being taken by the Department of Transportation,
the Federal Aviation Administration, to do everything possible to secure the
traveling public, particularly in the air. So there's a reason for the stepped-up
vigilance and for the stepped-up security. It's because there are causes for
concern that remain.
QUESTION: There's a news report today that there's a division among the President's
advisors about whether or how much to help the airline industry. As the President
goes into this meeting, what is the current thinking about that? And is ironing
this out one of the purposes of the meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, as you can imagine in any major issue where it
involves the health of an American industry, there are lots of factors that
need to get considered. And the President will have a good opportunity today
to start to address what the facts are. And as I indicated earlier, the meeting
hasn't taken place yet. It will take place mid-to-late this afternoon, and you
may want to check back with me after that.
QUESTION: Ari, the IMF cancelled their meetings today, and the Emir of Qatar
is coming. Do you think the WTO ministerial should proceed as planned?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information about that. That, of course, is in Qatar
and that's an entirely different security situation. So you can't put everything
in the same category. Of course, the meeting that was cancelled is right here
in Washington, D.C., and that meeting would have involved bringing down police
from New York, bringing down police from Philadelphia. Obviously, there is a
major strain on the police departments along the east coast and they've made
QUESTION: What items on the President's legislative agenda are now on the back
burner, shelved for the year?
MR. FLEISCHER: None. It was interesting -- none. It was interesting, at the
meeting last week with the Cabinet, the meeting of the Cabinet was called for
the purpose of discussing what the Cabinet members, again, in collecting information
from Cabinet Secretaries about the status of combatting the attack on our country
and dealing with it. At the end of the meeting, however, the President called
on all the members of the Cabinet to take action on our domestic agenda.
The President reminded them that a patients' bill of rights remains important;
that there are a series of initiatives that are pending up on the Hill that
remain important. And he called on them to get done, including education reform,
which the President reminded them remains a top priority domestically.
QUESTION: He doesn't expect to get it, surely?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Helen, I think it's interesting, the Congress still
has a job to do and we still are a constitutional system and that's what has
kept us strong and that's what is going to enable us to win. So there is a domestic
agenda, the President is committed to it. I think it's fair to say that you'll
hear less about it because of the dominance, obviously, of dealing with an attack
on our country.
But the President told the Cabinet members to be dedicated to it and members
of our staff are.
QUESTION: A couple of times in the past two or three days the President has
talked about the need to rebuild New York, the need to do it as quickly as possible.
It is his opinion that the World Trade Center, or something similar to it, should
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say, John. And that's the type of conversation
the President is going to want to have with New York officials and, of course,
with the many private organizations who are headquarter in the World Trade Center.
But, obviously, the President has a real keen eye out for how to help New York
and how to bring New York -- rebuild New York. But what form that will take,
it's too soon to say, this is six days after the attack.
QUESTION: But is he of the mind, though, that if you did not rebuild that building,
or a reasonable facsimile thereof, that it would be bowing to the terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think, again, the President is going to have serious discussions
at the appropriate time with the Mayor of New York, with the Governor of New
York, with the appropriate people who are responsible for such an endeavor.
But what the President is making clear is not only for the symbolism of rebuilding
New York in the wake of attack, but for the humanity of it and for the deserving
nature of helping New York, he is intent to get it done.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Helen's question. The President would like
those issues addressed this year, patients' rights, education and everything
that was on the plate, trade promotion authority, still this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was his charge to the Cabinet members.
QUESTION: Now, wouldn't that foster some disunity on the Hill? I mean, a lot
of those are very contentious issues and he's looking for a united Congress.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Keith, I guess that's one way to look at it. I don't
think that's the way the President looks at it. And I think that in the wake
of this there is a different mood in the Congress, and in the Presidency about
working with each other and cooperating with each other. So I've made no such
presumption. The issue should be, proceed with the people's business on the
domestic front and work together.
QUESTION: Can you give us any kind of summary about the Pentagon meeting the
President had today?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President received an update about the status of the call
up of the Reserves, the number of people involved, the activities that they
will be working in. The President, of course, listed many of those activities
-- you heard him, himself, when he was talking about engineering roles, he went
through -- protecting the harbors. He went through the whole list of activities
which the Reserves are helping in. And also talked about the employers and the
families, the difficulty that a call-up can impose on them. And the President
expressed his gratitude for those who provide such a vital service.
It's interesting because the Reserves really do play a tremendous role in our
nation's ability to defend itself. It's not a passive role, it's not a small
role -- it's an integral role. And that's what they talked about.
QUESTION: Ari, you know the eyes of the world are on Wall Street today. It's
been closed for six days, after the terrorist incident. Is the President being
appraised -- I know Secretary O'Neill was over there for the opening, but is
the President being appraised continually of the behavior of the markets, not
just the averages?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I did not ask him when we went over to the Pentagon
if he was aware what stocks were trading at, at that moment. But, of course,
the President is keenly aware of the first day of the markets opening, and the
importance of the markets working and functioning. It's a terribly important
topic. That's why Secretary O'Neill has been so involved in it and will continue
QUESTION: Will he be at the meeting this afternoon, the economic meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary O'Neill? I believe the meeting is of the White House
staff that works with all the Cabinet Secretaries. But, again, the meeting will
be in a couple of hours.
QUESTION: Ari, can you elaborate a little bit on the President's remarks today
about wanted dead or alive? I mean, could you explain his intent? Is he essentially
issuing an appeal for anyone to hunt down and possibly kill bin Laden?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can elaborate. I think they were pretty plainly
QUESTION: How about in addition to that, then, if we want to go through the
same imagery, is there any consideration of a federal bounty, a reward?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that I've heard about like that.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, yesterday afternoon the President used the term,
find the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. Was he talking about a form
of justice in which you police, the international community polices, brings
them to an international sense of justice in terms of judicial justice, or is
he talking about specifically just military strikes, obliteration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, and the President said that again today, he said that remark
in the context of justice. He added that, as you heard, in his comments. I think
that justice comes in many different shapes and forms. And the President has
stressed his opinion about a couple of those different shapes and forms that
it could come in.
QUESTION: The comments that the President and his senior advisors have made
about the increased security, the increased awareness that we will have to follow
now have been careful to note that we don't want this country's freedoms to
be eroded by the terrorist attack, we want to remain America. And, yet, the
presence of five or four Middle East nationals on a domestic flight is exceptionally
Are the rules different for non-Americans? Should that trigger now questions
-- Middle East nationals on domestic flights in large numbers, should that trigger
questions? And are non-Americans in this heightened sense, this more aware time,
to undergo more close scrutiny than members of the Arab American community --
non-Americans to undergo more scrutiny than they did in the past?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when you look at the fact that there are lines,
sometimes people are told to get to their flights four hours early, that way
they can all go through the same security review, I think it's perfectly clear
that these provisions apply to one and to all. As a matter of law enforcement,
anybody who is believed to be violating the laws of the United States will be
held accountable and responsible. And the laws target law-breakers.
QUESTION: -- whether we can be more focused on non-Americans in this time. I'm
trying not to get to profiling; I'm trying not to get to the diminution of civil
liberties. But is the scrutiny more on non-Americans than it can be on Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the scrutiny is on those who violate the law. And
whether that's in the form of immigration, whether it's in the form of anything
else that would give the law enforcement community reason to believe that there
are threats. But I remind you, again, that the precautions that have been put
in place apply to one and to all.
And, again, the President -- also, there's a reminder here when he goes to the
mosque this afternoon that it still is a time to remind all Americans about
the role of civil justice in our society, about the role we all play as individuals
in treating our neighbors fairly and in making no presumptions about guilt.
And that's one of the reasons the President is going. He wants to stand shoulder
to shoulder with the American Arab community and Muslims to say that they, too,
are patriots and they, too, are victims of this attack.