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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
September 28, 2001
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QUESTION: Ari, on that, following that, actually the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan has denied his country is making any such offer. And the Reverend, Mr. Jackson now says, it doesn't matter who initiated this. Does the President want the Secretary of State to take any more time to meet with such a storyteller when it should be the Attorney General meeting with Jesse for questioning about the mistress money? And I have a follow-up.

QUESTION: I did not put him up to that, okay? I have nothing --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I'll leave this to the two of you to figure out. (Laughter.) Campbell.

QUESTION: Ari, I have a follow-up. My other one, my second one, Ari --

MR. FLEISCHER: How can you follow up when I didn't answer your first question? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: With another. I'm trying again. The Washington Post reports this morning that Washington's Channel 7, an ABC affiliate, has reversed its decision to bring back Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect," and, quote, "the decision follows criticism by a White House spokesmen of Maher's comments that our Armed Forces missile people are cowards and the terrorists aren't."

My question is, has anyone blamed you for your effective comment, or have all reactions been positive, as they should be?

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, Les, I get blamed every day for things I did or did not do or say.

QUESTION: But you weren't blamed for this.

MR. FLEISCHER: Not in this building, I wasn't. (Laughter.) At least not by people on the federal payroll with whom I work. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But you had a resolute refusal on Wednesday to dignify this Jackson statement.

MR. FLEISCHER: You only get two. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What's the White House reaction to the UN lifting of sanctions on the Sudan and -- the United States deciding not to block sanctions in Sudan?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United Nations Security Council voted this morning to lift the UN sanctions on Sudan, which was an action taken in discussions the UN had in support of Egypt. The sanctions that were imposed by the United Nations on the Sudan were taken as a result of Sudanese efforts in an assassination attempt on President Mubarak.

The lifting of the sanctions was done in agreement with Egypt. The United States continues to maintain its bilateral sanctions against Sudan. The two are not related. So I note that it's been supported, it was a unanimous vote in the Security Council --

QUESTION: But, in the past, we've blocked U.N. attempts to lift the sanctions. So why this time, given how critical the President has been in the past?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that the Egyptian support for lifting the sanctions played a role in the actions the United States took. And given the fact that the United States' bilateral sanctions against Sudan remain in place allowed us to be at the position we are.

I also note, of course, that the President named Senator Danforth as a special envoy to the Sudan because of his concern about the human rights violations that are taking place in the Sudan, and those concerns remain.

QUESTION: Ari, can I just follow on that, though? Isn't it also sending a message to those countries that might help in this campaign against terrorism about certain actions that could be taken, such as the U.S. not blocking these sanctions?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I don't know that, Kelly. I know that these set of sanctions were set to expire, which is also why the vote took place at the time it took place.

QUESTION: Yesterday, after the President's announcement on security at airline checkpoints, we saw the first cracks in what had been the extraordinary unity on Capitol Hill; a lot of lawmakers want the President to go the extra mile, federalize the whole work force. Is he willing to go that extra mile, to preserve that extraordinary unity at this difficult time?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President made the announcement yesterday he made because he believes it's the right policy. The President believes that there can be a substantial strengthening, a very significant strengthening of the safety for the traveling public by federalizing the background checks, the standards that the security workers operate under, and that it can be done in a way that really is very different from the way airports operated in the past -- particularly ending low-bid contracts with screeners and setting a new set of standards.

So that's why the President did it. He'll always have an eye to working with Congress, but I'm not prepared to guess where this is going to end up.

QUESTION: Ari, following Les, which I hoped never to do -- (laughter) --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he just walked out the door.

QUESTION: On the Bill Maher issue, we talked about this morning. But now, today, this afternoon, in relation to the USA Today story on the special ops, this is the second time from this podium that you have essentially cautioned the media and people to watch what they say, as you put it with Bill Maher. That has triggered a lot of comment and concern. Do you believe it is appropriate, as the President's spokesmen, exercising that authority, to issue that kind of warning?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, on two points. One, on special ops, what I indicated is there has always been an historical and delicate balance and our nation has been well served by the country and everybody, including the press, finding its way through that. So my characterization is not quite as you described it.

But on the other question about answering questions posed to me by reporters, when individual Americans say things that may not meet with the approval of people in government. You know, I've been asked from this podium, I've been asked about discrimination against Muslims; I've been asked about discrimination against Sikhs and whether the White House would speak out; I've been asked about statements made by Republican congressmen that were intolerant toward Muslims and minorities in this country. And I've never hesitated to comment or speak my mind about those issues. I was asked about what Bill Maher said and I didn't hesitate to talk about that.

It is always the right, and forever will be, of an American to speak out. It is always the right of an American to be wrong. But that won't stop me from saying, when asked by the press, if something is not met with approval from the White House as far as statements of intolerance or some of the statements you reference.

Very often, when you ask the question and the White House does not answer it, the press interprets that as a wink and a nod, saying that the White House tacitly approves it. So when you ask the question, I think you're entitled to an answer.

QUESTION: So you stand by what you said?

MR. FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said about what he said, was unfortunate and should not have been said. But I understand, of course, in all times, it's everybody's right to say things, no matter how wrong they can be.

QUESTION: So you then don't believe what you said, that Americans ought to at this time watch what they say? Do you stand by that specific part of your statement?

MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, I think that everybody always has to be thoughtful. I think everybody has to think through the repercussions, the implications of what they say. And I shared this morning, as well, but I had a message on my answering machine from somebody, a citizen who called up and said that the United States needs to round up all the Muslims, the good ones and the bad ones, because you can't tell the difference. And that's the type of thing -- people have to think carefully about the things that they do and they say.

And our nation, as it goes into an increased wartime footing, is going to be confronting issues that typically, thankfully, have not come up in the past, that make people think more carefully about what they're doing. And so that's the answer to the question.

QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you then about some statements that have been made by guests that the President has had here in the last couple days? He invited folks from the Muslim Public Affairs Council in -- at the time of the missile strikes on Afghanistan in '98, that group described those strikes as "illegal and immoral." And in particular, Mr. al Marayati, who was one of the gentlemen in the Roosevelt Room, I think it was, with the President, said that on the day of these most recent attacks, "if we're going to look at suspects we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what is happening in the Palestinian territories so they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies."

What would the President's view on those comments be? Would he agree with them?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it would surprise anybody that the President often has meetings to discuss a whole host of issues with people who he doesn't agree with everything they may have said in the course of their lives or careers.

QUESTION: What about on this particular text? Does the President believe the state of Israel is a reasonable suspect for what took place in New York or at the Pentagon?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, he does not.

QUESTION: Ari, to follow up on Jim's question about the statements that you made earlier this week about the Federal Reserve, I wanted to ask you why you felt compelled to comment on the Fed's statement, which you normally don't make any comments on the Fed. And if they gave you any clarification that it was $40 billion to $50 billion, because their statement actually was characteristically more vague than that. It just said that it was recent spending measures, and didn't actually put a number to it.

MR. FLEISCHER: Right. The question was, people attributed $100 billion to his statement. And that's what I was asked about by the press, the $100 billion figure. And I wanted to make certain that nobody thought the $100 billion was accurate.

QUESTION: -- talking about the remaining figures would be $40 billion to $50 billion.

MR. FLEISCHER: I was walking everybody through the existing stimulus that has been put into place, which is the $40 billion in spending, plus the $15 billion in the airline package.

QUESTION: But Senator Daschle says it's at $95 billion.

MR. FLEISCHER: It's $95 billion?

QUESTION: It's $95 billion.

MR. FLEISCHER: That what's $95 billion.

QUESTION: It's $40 billion plus $15 billion plus the $40 billion spent for the tax cut earlier this year.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I -- when I was asked earlier about what the size of the stimulus the President thinks is appropriate, I said, you'll hear it from the President when he decides what it should be.

QUESTION: Ari, on the airline security package, you mentioned ending the low bid system. I'm not quite clear how the President's proposals would end the low bid system.

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the standards that the President will put into place, as far as the hiring of contractors, will make clear that contracts should not be accepted on the basis of low bid. They will be accepted on the basis of a variety of factors. They'll put safety first.

QUESTION: Everybody will have the same standards, but you still have low bid.

MR. FLEISCHER: But the focus is going to be on the standards, as opposed to the price.

QUESTION: Ari, do you know where this security -- the aviation security agency is going to be? There was a lot of questions yesterday, and it was kind of unclear. One administration official was calling it an authority, he was calling it an agency. It sounds like it might be under the Homeland Security Office. But do you know any more now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that still is under review about precisely where it will be. I don't think it's going to be under the Homeland Office, I can tell you that much. But it's being looked at.

QUESTION: FAA?

QUESTION: Will it be a new agency?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a possibility, Kelly, but they're taking a look for where the most appropriate place is, so its actions can be the most effective.

QUESTION: Could it stay under FAA?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll know soon enough. I mean, those are kind of the details about where it's going to be.

QUESTION: That's a yes, though?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not indicating yes or no. I'm saying we'll know soon enough.

QUESTION: But it hasn't been ruled out?

MR. FLEISCHER: On FAA, I'll have to check and see if it's been ruled in or out.

QUESTION: It will not be under the Homeland Office?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: It will not be under the Homeland Office?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Al Gore tomorrow is going to offer a keynoter to the JJ Day dinner in Iowa. We're told that it's going to be sort of basically a message of bipartisanship. My question is, has he been in touch with the President? Has the President talked to former Vice President Gore since September 11th?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to ask. I don't have that off the top of my head. I'll have to ask. Appropriations question?

QUESTION: Besides having a deal on the overall number, the -- billion, is there an agreement that the President will officially, formally request the extra education money by letter or another vehicle?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated this morning, I don't have an answer for you about any additional funding, and the talks continue. We are very, very close on it. And while they're getting very close on the level of funding, as I indicated, there are going to be additional talks going on that are still underway. So we're very close to an agreement.

I was a tad forward-leaning this morning when I said that there is an agreement. But there has been a lot of progress made and we're really making good progress in getting there.

QUESTION: Ari, Robert Rubin was, I think most people agreed, did a very good as Secretary of Treasury and he faced, too, a very large international crisis -- the Mexican peso devaluation, the Haitian financial crisis -- and he's testified in Congress two or three times already. Has President Bush had any conversation with Mr. Rubin?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to go back and take a look, couldn't tell you.

QUESTION: Do you have a week ahead, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: We have the week ahead, let me get that for you.

Next week, the President will continue to meet with his National Security Council on a regular basis, and also with his Domestic Consequences group.

On Monday, the President will visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, headquarters, to thank the employees there for the work they have been doing, and he will tour their command center.

On Tuesday, the President will have a bipartisan breakfast with the joint congressional leadership. And on Thursday, the President will meet with the Emir of Qatar. And on Friday, he will meet with the President of Georgia, as he continues to discuss the international coalition against terrorism.

QUESTION: Any travel next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: No word on travel at this point.

QUESTION: When is the Emir of Qatar?

MR. FLEISCHER: Emir of Qatar is on Thursday.

QUESTION: Any pool events this weekend?

MR. FLEISCHER: No pool events this weekend. Okay. Thank you.

END 1:37 P.M. EDT