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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
September 26, 2001
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QUESTION: Ari, is there going to be any economic announcements tomorrow, therefore, in Chicago, along these lines of a stimulus?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would just wait until tomorrow. And you've asked me a question about airlines tomorrow, and I'm not going to go beyond that. The President may have something to say tomorrow on that topic.

QUESTION: -- just for the airlines --

MR. FLEISCHER: The event tomorrow is more focused on the airlines. But at all times, the President is concerned about the economy. He'll have remarks tomorrow, and I'll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can I just follow on that --

QUESTION: Ari, when the Republican leadership says that Larry Lindsey is pushing for a corporate tax cut, they're mistaken?

MR. FLEISCHER: Can you tell me who is saying that?

QUESTION: Dick Armey.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any conversation like that. I know that -- I've talked to Dr. Lindsey about this and what he's indicated to me is he's had a series of conversations, just as I outlined, where he is talking about the pros and cons of a variety of proposals, including a reduction in the corporate rates.

QUESTION: But he's not pushing it, he's just saying, these are our options? He's not favoring one or the other?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think Larry is well aware, as many of the advisors to the President are, that there are a series of pros and cons that come with these actions.

QUESTION: Ari, getting back to the issue of getting things back to normal, the President is going to be flying out to Chicago tomorrow. He had this meeting with the Boys and Girls Club this morning. When will the White House be back to full-speed, the typical activities before September 11th, with the public tours and things of that nature, especially since you said today is the first time for this Boys and Girls Club or any other group to come to meet with the President?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me answer that -- I mean, full-speed -- given the events of September 11th, it would be nice to slow down to full-speed. It's not a question of full-speed, it's just a question of there has been a necessary realignment of the President's time and schedule so he can focus more of his time, unfortunately, on war preparations. That is typical in any American presidency, or most American presidencies.

But there are increasing signs that the other parts of the agenda are showing back up on the President's school and other people's schedules. And you cited a couple of those examples today -- the meeting with the Boys Club today, the travel to Chicago tomorrow. The President and his wife went out for dinner last night. I mean, I think these things also marry to some degree what the American people are doing. They're increasingly getting back on with their lives.

QUESTION: Where did they go to dinner last night? And I have a follow-up to that. Where did they go to dinner?

MR. FLEISCHER: They went to a restaurant in Arlington. The press went with them. There's a pool report available on it; it was a publicly-announced trip. They went last night.

QUESTION: No wonder traffic was so bad on the way home. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Ari, a follow-up to that, though. The situation, though --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there was a report on it last night. The press went with them. The press always goes with them.

QUESTION: The newspapers haven't seen a pool report on this.

MR. FLEISCHER: I can tell you the pool went with them.

QUESTION: Okay, well, come back. As far as people coming back into the White House, this is, like you said earlier, this is a first since September 11th. Is the White House -- is the feeling here at the White House that the threat here has lessened for the American public to come back into this place, the people's house?

MR. FLEISCHER: What I indicated this morning was, it's not a first for visitors to coming to the White House on September 11th. The White House has been entertaining visitors to the White House since September 11th on a regular basis. This was the first of where the more traditional -- they're called literally photo opportunities, but the more ceremonial part of a presidency, where the President will meet with various award winners across the United States to thank them and to honor them for, in this case, being the Boys Club Youth of the Year.

The President's had a series of meetings like he's had today with the Muslim leaders, with the Sikh leaders. He's had earlier meetings with other groups throughout the period since September 11th. Those are private citizens coming to the White House for specific purposes. What took place today, though, was a return to the more ceremonial aspects of the job.

QUESTION: Will the public tours resume again soon?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll announce that whenever they do. There is no information on that at this time.

QUESTION: Ari, on the airlines, is there some sort of snag in getting the $5 billion in emergency funding to the airlines?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that OMB announced last night that that money was being released. There is a formula for its distribution, and that formula is set in law by the act of Congress which the President signed. So the money has been released as of yesterday. I'm now aware of any problems -- it was released yesterday.

QUESTION: Has the President had any communication with Representative Cooksey regarding his comments on Sikh Americans? And does he have a message for lawmakers and members of his party in particular about this issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message is to all Americans. It's important for all Americans to remember the traditions of our country that make us so strong and so free, our tolerance and openness and acceptance. All Americans -- and we come from a very rich cultural heritage, no matter what anybody's background in this country. And that's the strength of this country, and that's the President's message that he expressed in his speech to Congress and as he has done when he visited the mosque a week ago Monday, and in the meetings that he's hosting here at the White House today with Muslim Americans and Sikh Americans.

QUESTION: Did he speak to Representative Cooksey, and what were his reactions upon hearing those?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President was very disturbed by those remarks.

QUESTION: Ari, does the President believe that in order for the coalition in the Middle East, those who are supporting the United States, to hold together, Ariel Sharon and Israel have to make concessions towards peace, as well as Chairman Arafat? I mean, is there a direct linkage to the peace process and maintaining any coalition in this war effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that all the parties in the Middle East have to take advantage of what is happening today and see this as a moment to realize the repercussions of going down the wrong road, and that's a road that has led to terrorism and to conflict and in the Middle East has led to war. And that's why the President feels so strongly and has said this to leaders, that they should seize this moment and renew their efforts to accomplish a lasting peace in the Middle East.

And toward that, of course, there was a meeting this morning between Foreign Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat, where they agreed to sustain their cease-fire and to resume security cooperation. And the President welcomes that announcement and that development from this morning. That's something that the President and Secretary Powell have been encouraging the parties to do on a rather repeated basis.

The President welcomes a reiteration of both sides to their commitment to implement the Tenet and the Mitchell plans, and this meeting this morning constitutes an important first step toward the development of a more concrete and lasting approach to restoring trust and confidence in the region.

QUESTION: Ari, can I come back to the Chicago trip? Putting aside the issue, the specifics of what the President is going to announce tomorrow, does the President have a message behind this trip of whether it's now safe for Americans to fly again?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's trip is designed to talk to the airline workers and to thank them for returning to the flight schedules that they have returned to, to thank them for doing their part to combat terrorism and to get America moving again. He may have some additional things to say on some of the policy items that we've been discussing.

But I do know that typically in America, there are some 5,500 to 6,500 flights a day in our commercial industry. There are now, today, or at least as of yesterday, 4,500 to 5,500 flights taking off and landing safely every day across our country.

We're not back at exactly where we were prior to September 11th, but there are an awful lot of flights flying every day, safely taking Americans to where they want to travel, and that's an encouraging sign. There are just increasing signs of life in America is getting back to normal, as normal can ever be at a time where the President will still remind the American people that threats remain and the nation is preparing for war.

QUESTION: -- Americans not to be afraid of flying?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think every American is going to come to their own judgment. And for some Americans, obviously, the 4,500 to 5,500 flights a day, many Americans have already come to the conclusion it's safe to fly, and they've safely flown. Other Americans are going to approach this on their own time, at their own pace, and the President understands that. So that's an individual decision people are making, but according to how many flights have been taking off and landing every day, that's a decision people are increasingly feeling comfortable with. The President will continue to remind people that it's important to remember the threat is not eliminated.

QUESTION: But they're only flying at 30 percent capacity, though, Ari, and that's the problem. I mean, the flights are in the air --

MR. FLEISCHER: No doubt about it. It's exactly right. The flights -- when I give the numbers about the flights taking off and landing safely, that's not an indication that each of the flights is 100 percent occupancy. There is no question about that, and that's one of the reasons the President is going to travel to Chicago tomorrow and talk to the people in the airline industry, because they're hurting as a result of the lack of passengers.

QUESTION: The question is, I think, what is the President going to say to people to try to reassure the public that it is safe for them to get back on those planes? I mean, the planes are in the air, but what can he say to tell people, look, we're doing everything we can and it is now safe to get back in the air?

MR. FLEISCHER: And that's one of the reasons that the President has been focused on development of a security package to help increase security and protection for the traveling public of both airports and airlines. And he'll have more to say on that directly, himself.

QUESTION: Related to Jim's question, to your knowledge, how many administration officials, White House staff, or in the agencies and departments are traveling commercially this week or next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can tell you I know on last Friday, OMB Director Mitch Daniels flew home commercial to Indiana, came back, I believe, on Sunday. I'm flying commercial somewhere today for Yom Kippur. So it's been across the government there have been a series of travels. I think you'd have to talk to each of the different agencies to get the specific information.

QUESTION: Cabinet Secretaries also are routinely now traveling commercial?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you'd have to talk to each agency; I don't keep track of all their travel. So you'd have to talk agency by agency. I can tell you about Mitch, because I just heard Mitch say that, that he flew home commercial last Friday, just as I'm flying home to New York commercial today.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up with one more on the CIA -- Director Tenet, the President, of course, having full faith and confidence in him. But in terms of the agency, the President has not, of course, wanted to look back, he's wanted to look forward. But doesn't he believe the fact that the U.S. had no specific warnings of these attacks that they're somewhat of an indictment of U.S. intelligence operations?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President views it as a reflection of the fact that we are an open society, a free society; that the CIA has in the past been very successful in catching and preventing acts of terrorism. Obviously, the attacks took place on September 11th, they were not detected and they were not caught ahead of time. But the President's focus right now is on winning the war on terrorism. And I reiterate, he has full faith and confidence in Director Tenet.

QUESTION: Ari, an IMF official today made the statement that a recession in the United States was a done deal. Now, he took back that formulation but, obviously, that was his outlook. Does the White House agree with this, that a recession in the short term at any rate, is going to be inevitable in the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President remains very concerned about the state of the economy, and that's one of the reasons he's having the meeting today, to talk to his advisors about what steps can be taken to help promote economic growth.

Now, the President continues to believe that the tax cut is the right policy; the Federal Reserve rate cuts have been the right policy and that will have a helpful combination in bringing the economy back. But there's no doubt about it, the attack on our country September 11th has had an adverse effect on the economy. I'm not going to go beyond that. That's an economic definition of a recession and that will be determined by the data as it comes in.

QUESTION: The House next week is planning to move a farm bill, which, as I understand it, could add some $73 billion, $74 billion over the next 10 years. Does the White House support that bill?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take that question and get back to you on the farm bill, Keith.

QUESTION: Ari, back to the airline security thing and Americans getting more comfortable with flying. There have been several incidents since the September 11th attack where people have intentionally breached security to prove the point that it is still ineffective. My question is, is that inappropriate or is ignoring that reality and arresting people who do that casting a false sense of security.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that at a time when the people at the airports are working very hard to secure the airports for the traveling public, I think it's not appropriate for anything to engage in anything symbolic of that nature. It's a distraction that prevents the people who are doing their jobs from being able to carry out their mission if people are doing it for the purpose of doing something symbolic.

Having said that, the President understands that we do need to increase security at airports and give more protections to the traveling public, and he'll have more to say on that point shortly.

QUESTION: -- about the war, just for a second. Since September the 11th, have there been any serious -- underline the word serious -- discussions at the National Security Council meetings about bringing back the draft? And how does the President feel about the possibility of the draft?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I've asked that question, and the answer that I've gotten directly from DOD is no, there has been no consideration of that.

QUESTION: As Commander-In-Chief, what was the President's reaction to television's Bill Maher, in his announcement that members of our Armed Forces who deal with missiles are cowards, while the armed terrorists who killed 6,000 unarmed are not cowards, for which Maher was briefly moved off a Washington television station?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not discussed it with the President, one. I have --

QUESTION: Surely, as a --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there.

QUESTION: Surely as Commander, he was enraged at that, wasn't he?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there, Les.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the press reports about what he said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate. And that's why -- there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party -- they're reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.

QUESTION: The Washington Times reports that the Reverend Jesse Jackson has nominated himself to go to Afghanistan. My question is, does the President believe this would be useful, or would it be better for the cause of justice that since the former head of United Way is in federal prison for spending tax-exempt funds on his mistress, that the Reverend Mr. Jackson at least be investigated by the Department of Justice?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've got no comment on Mr. Jackson's possible -- the Reverend Jackson's possible travel. I would just reiterate what the President has said, the he will not engage in any negotiations or discussions.

Thank you.

END 1:10 P.M. EDT