Op with Congressional Leadership
White House Oval Office
September 19, 2001
4:39 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I want to welcome the members of the leadership of the Congress
here, and I want the nation to know how proud I am of how they have helped unite
our country. Senator Daschle and the Speaker and Senator Lott and Representative
Gephardt have really showed that in times of emergency and crisis, that our
government can function in a way that is just exemplary. And I want to thank
them for coming down.
I'm also so pleased to accept the invitation of the Speaker and the leaders
to come and address the Congress tomorrow night. I look forward to the opportunity
to explaining to the American people who it is and who would do this to our
great country, and why -- why would people choose America?
A lot of our citizens have got a lot of questions about what has taken place
on September the 11th and subsequent to that. And I owe it to the country to
give an explanation. And I want to thank the Congress for giving me a chance.
I can't think of a better place than to talk about freedom and the battle to
maintain freedom in one of the greatest halls of freedom. And that is in the
United States Congress.
So, thank you for the invitation. I accept wholeheartedly, and I will see you
all tomorrow night.
I would be glad to answer a couple of questions. Ron?
QUESTION: Mr. President, will you be able to tell all Americans whether they're going
to be safe while you prepare to retaliate, or could terrorists strike again
while we prepare for war?
THE PRESIDENT: Ron, I think America needs to know that we in government are
on alert; that we recognize life around the White House or around the Congress
is not normal, or is not the way it used to be, because we're very aware that
people have conducted an act of war on our country; and that all of us urge
our fellow Americans to go back to work and to work hard, but we must be on
alert. Our government is working hard to make sure that we run down every lead,
every opportunity, to find someone who would want to hurt any American.
The American people are united. They're united in their resolve to help heal
the nation. But they're also united in the understanding that we've entered
into a new day, and we'll deal with it.
QUESTION: Sir, you've been stressing that this is not a war against Islam. However,
there are some around the world who view the coming battle along religious lines.
I'm wondering how worried you are that some view this as a holy war. And are
declarations of jihad at all affecting U.S. plans
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that question. First of all, it is so important
for my fellow Americans, as well as everybody in the world to understand that
America will hold those evil-doers accountable. We don't view this as a war
of religion, in any way, shape or form. As a matter of fact, Islam preaches
peace. The Muslim faith is a peaceful faith. And there are millions of good
Americans who practice the Muslim faith who love their country as much as I
love the country, who salute the flag as strongly as I salute the flag.
And for those who try to pit religion against religion, our great nation will
stand up and reject that kind of thought. We won't allow that to creep into
the consciousness of the world. We're going to lead the world to fight for freedom,
and we'll have Muslim and Jew and Christian side-by-side with us.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you promised only to dip into the Social Security surplus in
an emergency, a recession, or war. And in your words, this constitutes a war.
How much of the Social Security surplus are you prepared to spend?
THE PRESIDENT: We are -- not only has someone conducted an act of war on us,
our economy has slowed way down and this is an emergency. We've had all three,
it seems like to me. And I'm going to work with Congress to send a clear message
to America, American workers, American business people, that this government
will respond to this emergency.
We'll respond to the emergency in terms of working on a package for the airline
industry that has been severely affected. We'll respond to work to fight terrorism.
The Congress has already responded, with a supplemental that will not only help
fund our military, but as importantly, will send a clear message to the people
of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut that we'll help you rebuild.
And this is exactly the subject we talked about. The definition of how much
-- is enough to get America going again as to be able to endure this emergency.
QUESTION: And if that means all the surplus, are you prepared to spend all the surplus?
THE PRESIDENT: We're reasonable people. The members here, the leaders from the
Congress are very reasonable. And they are mindful about government money as
well as anybody else. But we're dedicated, we're dedicated to saying to the
American people, this is an emergency, the likes of which we have not seen in
a long time in this country, and this government will come together and deal
with it. And that's exactly what's going to happen.
QUESTION: Sorry to ask another one, but did you mean to say just now that we are in
a recession? You said, it looks to me like we've got all three.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I said -- well, I said -- let me put it this way -- tough
economic times. There's no question it's tough times. And, Ron, I don't have
all the numbers, but let me just say this: I can pick up all the statistics,
but make no mistake about it, this has affected our economy in a big way. Now,
I've still got faith that we'll recover. The strength of the American economy
has always been our entrepreneurial spirit and our workers, and that's still
prevalent. But you've seen the statistics on the airlines -- they're beginning
to lay off people. Big airline manufacturing companies responding. And this
government will respond.
Now, I don't have -- don't get me wrong, I don't have all the numbers at my
disposal because they have to start counting them up, but this has shocked our
economy. And we're going to respond. And that's exactly what this leadership
and I have been talking about.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you feel like you've got the full support of President Musharraf?
And how hard is it going to be for him to live up to his pledges, given his
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there's no question that President Musharraf has taken
a bold position, which is to say he will work to the extent he can with America
and our allies as we deal with the prime suspect in the case. And we appreciate
so very much his statement of support.
I said we'll give the President a chance to perform, and I believe he has done
-- done so. We will work and consult closely with Pakistan and India to make
sure that that part of the world is as stable as can possibly be stable.
Let me say that, in terms of foreign policy and in terms of the world, this
horrible strategy has provided us with an interesting opportunity. One of the
opportunities is in the Middle East. I'm pleased with the fact that Chairman
Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon have taken positive steps toward bringing peace
to the region. I think we have an opportunity to refashion the thinking between
Pakistan and India. I think there's some interesting opportunities to shake
terrorism loose from sponsor states.
And this government, working with Congress, are going to seize the moment. Out
of our tears I said I see opportunity, and we will seek opportunity, positive
developments from this horrible tragedy that has befallen our nation.