George W. Bush photo

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

October 31, 2001

12:52 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you a report on the President's day, some minor updates, and then I'd be more than happy to take questions.

The President this morning had breakfast with Speaker Hastert, Leader Daschle, Minority Leader Lott and Minority Leader Gephardt to discuss pending legislation on that Hill that the President has called on the Congress to take action on before Congress adjourns this fall. Those items included the aviation security package, economic stimulus package, as well as reaching an agreement on all the appropriation bills pending on the Hill.

The President had his usual round of intelligence briefings this morning, where he's monitoring the situation both in Afghanistan, as well as the anthrax events here at home. The President then convened a meeting of his National Security Council. And he gave remarks to the national Association of the Manufacturers Board of Directors, in which he called on the Congress in those remarks, publicly, to take action on the economic stimulus by the end of November, so that way working Americans can have an stimulus package passed by the Congress, signed by the President, to help them keep their jobs, as well as to help people who have lost their jobs return to work.

The President, this afternoon, will meet with Republican leadership of the House and the Senate to continue his discussions about the congressional agenda this fall.

In other notes, Andrew Natsios, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, today briefed the President on the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan and informed him of -- and the President announced an additional $11.2 million for the purchase of local wheat and other food commodities in Central Asia. That's above and beyond the $320 million the President had previously announced.

In addition, as of yesterday, the Department of Defense will surpass the 1 million humanitarian daily rations delivered to hungry people inside Afghanistan.

Two other notes, General Myers will be interviewing with al Jazeera TV today, and Attorney General Ashcroft will be briefing at 2:00 p.m. today. With that, I'll be happy to take questions.

Q:Can you bring us up to date on the anthrax cases, specifically this Delaware woman? And is it more apparent now that anthrax is being transmitted through the mail to regular customers?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in the case of Delaware, what you're asking about, there was a man, a postal worker who was discovered to have a lesion. He is already on cipro. There are no conclusions yet about whether he has or did not have anthrax. That is being investigated. The post office that he works at has been closed. They will be doing environmental sampling and testing at that post office. That post office is both upstream and downstream from the Hamilton facility. Additional post offices in New Jersey are all being tested, too.

Q:Has there been any positive tests, either on the men or on the facility, for anthrax?

MR. FLEISCHER: The environmental testing of the facility is just beginning; on the man, there are no conclusive tests.

Q:Ari, what's the President's reaction to the death of the woman in New York from inhaled anthrax?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has expressed his condolences to the families of Mrs. Nguyen. The President is concerned about this event and this case of -- fourth death by inhalation anthrax in the United States. As a result of this, the FBI, which has 7,000 agents investigating both the attack on the United States from September 11th, as well as the anthrax outbreaks across the country, has stepped up its investigation.

Specifically, in the case of Mrs. Nguyen, they are following all of her travels. They are trying to determine if she traveled anywhere domestically or foreign, who she may have come into contact with, any of the people that she has associated with, to determine if they have any information about how she could have contracted the anthrax.

They will be taking an autopsy, of course, and as a result of the autopsy, they will have a scientific analysis of the bacteria that are found in Mrs. Nguyen. As a result of that, they will be able to match that up with other decedents from the previous anthrax cases to see if it has resulted from the same type of anthrax or not. And that will be a scientific evaluation based on the autopsy.

I do also want to advise you that they have done preliminary -- and I stress this is preliminary -- tests at both the hospital at which she worked, which is Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, as well as her home in the Bronx. And there have been no positive results back from it. These are all preliminary negatives. Those are subject to change. That has been the pattern in the past. But this time I can indicate that all tests that have been are preliminary and negative at her home and office.

Q:May I follow up, please? Does this indicate that as much as we think we're learning about anthrax, that there is still a lot that we apparently don't know about how it was transmitted in this case?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, in the case of Mrs. Nguyen, we do not know how she contracted the anthrax. And that is the source of what is being investigated. As I mentioned, the logical steps that the FBI, in concert with the Centers for Disease Control, as well as New York City Department of Health officials, have taken were to go right away to her home, right away to her office, take environmental samples of both locations to determine whether there is any evidence of anthrax.

They're checking the ventilation systems at her home, checking the ventilation systems at the office. They have shut down the hospital, the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. They are doing environmental samples throughout the hospital. So that's the process that's underway, as well as the person-to- person interviews that I mentioned the FBI was doing to determine who else she may have been in contact with.

Q:If I could follow on that. Are there any other people who may have worked with her or who knew her who have reported any, what would be called suspicious symptoms, that may be short of a parallel case? And, secondly, given what the government has learned from earlier on in this crisis, are there new precautions being discussed, since we're now in a period of real -- a new level of uncertainty about how this could have been spread?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, David, on the question of the people who are being talked to, her co-workers, et cetera, there is a program called Systemic Surveillance, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control in cooperation with local health authorities, where they are very closely monitoring all the emergency rooms and doctors are on full alert, if anybody were to come in with lesions, for example, if people were to develop respiratory ailments that are associated inhalation anthrax, particularly. So those monitoring systems are in place to determine whether or not any of her coworkers, anybody else, has any symptoms.

There is one person at that hospital who has a lesion. Tests are being done. The tests were just undertaken and so there's nothing even preliminary to report. If we have information on that, we will, of course, advise you. There will be a news conference at 2:00 p.m. in New York today with Mayor Giuliani, the Centers for Disease Control and New York City Department of Health officials also to provide information about this case, locally in the city.

Q:Can I just put a fine point on that? So this is at the hospital where she works, another employee has a lesion that's being tested. We don't know of any relation yet, but it's a suspicious symptom that's being looked at?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a fair way to put it; that's correct.

Q:An employee in the same area?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have details on the area; it is in the same hospital.

Q:Ari, does the continuing spread of anthrax through the mail represent -- does the administration conclude that the mail is at greater risk now, and that more steps need to be taken to protect people from the mail?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, at this point, it's too soon to reach conclusions. We know, of course, of the case of anthrax being sent in the mail to AMI in Florida, to the New York Post, to NBC in New York, to Senator Daschle's office. We do not know yet how Mrs. Nguyen contracted the anthrax. In the case of the postal worker in Belmar, New Jersey, it's a lesion, and again, there's no indication yet about whether it is positive or negative. So all these are items that are of concern that are being investigated by the authorities, but no conclusions are reached.

Q:But given that anthrax continues to turn up in post offices and with postal workers, beyond the narrow scope of where those letters actually arrived, isn't there a concern in the administration that the mail is more vulnerable and that perhaps more needs to be done to protect it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can reach the conclusion based on today's information that more postal workers have anthrax. I have not indicated that. I've indicated that it's a lesion, and there is no conclusion yet based on that. Those are the facts as we speak right now at about 12:45 p.m., 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

Q:So no greater level of concern about the mail system being more vulnerable than was originally thought to an anthrax outbreak?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to describe it as the existing high level of ongoing concern.

Q:Is the President prepared to negotiate his stimulus package to perhaps give up some of the tax cuts, maybe allow more spending?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the question of the stimulus package, the President has reminded members of Congress that $55 billion has already been spent by this Congress, with the President's support, already this fall in reaction to the events of September 11th. There's a $40 billion supplemental appropriations spending bill that has been approved, as well as a $15-billion package to help the airline industry. That $55 billion is already money spent, marked up, out the bank.

On the other side, the President believes very strongly that we need a roughly similar amount of tax cuts to help get the economy going again. And the proposal the President made to the Congress represents tax cuts from middle- and low-income workers, as well as all workers in society who pay taxes and incentives for businesses.

The President will, of course, talk to Congress about the final details of it. But you can't talk about the final details of it until and unless the Senate acts and as the President said this morning, he calls on the Senate to take action so a bill can be on his desk and signed by the end of November.

Q:Ari, does the President support retroactive changes to the alternative minimum tax? And what would the possible rationale be for that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the House passed retroactive changes to the corporate alternative minimum tax. We'll see exactly what the Senate does. I think the President is going to wait to make a final conclusion about that once it gets through the conference.

Q:He doesn't have any position on it -- was that part of what he has been urging them to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: That went beyond what the President specifically proposed. But, again, the President will wait until it gets to conference, and hope that it does get to conference.

Q:Ari, you just pointed out, $55 billion in spending; you said roughly the equivalent in tax cuts. That sounds smaller to my ears than $75 billion, which is what the President originally talked about.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's original proposal was $60 billion to $75 billion, and included in there was a portion of spending. For example, when the President talked about national emergency grants, that's clearly a spending program. Those grants are designed to help people, for example, get health care paid for if they've been unemployed. And depending on how different people want to score it, of course, if you give tax cuts to people who pay no income taxes, but who do pay payroll taxes, that, technically speaking, constitutes a spending program, even though it's typically referred to as a tax cut.

Q:So just to put a little bit more clarity on this, $55 billion is about what the President is feeling comfortable with, as far as tax -- is concerned?

MR. FLEISCHER: To be precise, the President has called for $60 billion to $75 billion worth of economic stimulus, which the President has said should be tax cuts. He did include in there a small portion of spending. I think the problem in the Senate is they want to do it all in spending, or virtually all in spending. And the President thinks that would not stimulate the economy, that that would not be helpful in contributing to getting the economy growing again, particularly on a day like today, when we learn for the first time that the economy did, in fact, shrink in the third quarter, in the summer of 2001.

Q:Ari, Senator Daschle today repeated his message that if there's no additional spending in there for health insurance and for the unemployed, there will be no deal. So how can you be optimistic about a deal if Senator Daschle came away from that meeting and told reporters that the White House is sending a mixed message. Back on October 2nd, he claims that the President promised a 75-percent coverage of COBRA premiums for those that need it. And yesterday O'Neill was threatening to veto any plan for health insurance that's included --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is already on the record as supporting an extension of unemployment benefits beyond the existing 26 weeks, to extend it another 13 weeks. So, in other words, for three-quarters of a year, to 39 weeks, somebody would be able to qualify for unemployment.

In the case of what happened in New York, that means if the attack took place September 11th, people lost their jobs thereafter, that would then give them six months to nine months, so that would take people into the summer of 2002 to make certain that their unemployment needs were covered under the President's proposal.

Q:Well, what about subsidizing for COBRA coverage?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's proposal to provide national emergency grants would provide coverage for people's health insurance. It's a separate program from COBRA, which is one way to do it, but they both accomplish the same goal -- they both get health insurance into the hands of people who have lost their jobs and need help.

Q:-- will leave it up to the states to decide that, right?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President does think the states are one of the best ways to administer these programs; that's correct.

Q:Ari, back on anthrax, in the absence of some investigative breakthrough or progress, how long will it be before the public begins to lose its confidence in the government's ability to deal with this crisis?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a hypothetical that -- I don't know anybody who can answer a question like that. But, certainly, if you take a look at what the public has said so far in all of the media polls that I've read -- for example, there was an ABC poll that came out just this week that, if I remember it right, it's said that 78 percent of the American people believe that the government has responded effectively to the anthrax crisis.

I think what you're seeing, Ed, is a country that is going through something for the first time; we have never experienced this before. And the President has devoted every resource of the government to fighting the war abroad, as well as fighting the war at home. And the President believes very strongly that the actions that have been taken by the FBI, by the Centers for Disease Control, by local health officials, have actually saved lives.

Somebody is trying to kill the American people by mailing anthrax through the mail. And the President believes the actions of the government have saved lives. He regrets that these attacks have resulted in the loss of anybody's life. That's what the President believes.

Q:Ari, a follow-up on that.

MR. FLEISCHER: Heidi, go ahead.

Q:Have these latest cases made the government consider more seriously sanitizing all U.S. mail, and is that even possible?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has already authorized an emergency appropriation for the Postal Service to help them buy equipment that can sanitize the mail. The Postal Service is moving in the priority order where they believe is most likely to -- where these machines are most likely to be needed. Those machines are coming on line.

But, again, we do not yet know the cause of Mrs. Nguyen receiving inhalation anthrax. In the case of the postal worker in Belmar, New Jersey, we still have to ascertain the information. But even if you were to assume, worst case scenario, and say that they did contract it through the mail, 25 billion -- with a b -- pieces of mail have been sent throughout this country since the initial onset of the first anthrax cases. And this would indicate that there is just a handful, some three, in these cases and the previous cases, where anthrax was sent through the mail.

I think for the American people it's frightening, it's scary. But the American people also understand the numbers of how much mail goes through this country every day. And there are precautions that people should put in place. The Postmaster General has discussed that and he has advised all Americans that, wash your hands as a matter of routine precaution when you receive the mail. If you see something suspicious, don't open it, put it down immediately. But those are the facts as they are seen and known.

Q:Can I follow up on that, too, please? If we determine, though, that these cases were contracted in a way not through the Postal Service facility, but through mail received at their homes, is that a step that the government would then want to take?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I cannot deal in hypotheticals. As soon as the facts are learned, the government will take all actions appropriate based on those facts. But it's just too soon to reach any conclusions about that. And as soon as those conclusions are reached, they will be shared. But you cannot develop that case at this time.

Q:Ari, can I ask you a little bit, back on the economy, about the ripple effects of numbers that were released today and the decline in the U.S. economy? Obviously, there are a lot of emerging markets that are hurting in their exports to us right now, including some that we're trying to hold together in the coalition -- Pakistan, particularly. Has the President begun to spend much time on the question of how you revive the vulnerable economies that are key to his coalition?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President in his meetings with different leaders has talked about that. In his meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi, he did talk about helping the Japanese economy to recover, and congratulated the Prime Minister for the reform plan that he is trying to put through.

But the President believes that there are several things that can be done here in America to help the world economy grow. That includes passing the stimulus, because as the American economy grows, history shows that the American economy does tend to lead the world and help other nations to grow -- particularly our neighboring nations, and other nations we do a lot of trade with.

Also, passage of what used to be called fast track or trade promotion authority for the President is an important part of world growth. The President believes that's a helpful way to create high-paying jobs for people in this country, as well as to bolster other economies at a time of international economic difficulties. So those are two specifics.

Q:Ari, how would you characterize the meeting this morning between the President and the congressional leaders? There's been a lot written about the gang of five, and how well they get along. And yet, if you look at the statements this morning, there seems to be a harder edge, with the President saying, get going, get something done. Senator Daschle's comments being also a much harder edge. Was it a testy morning? How did that meeting go?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was -- I think it was cordial and businesslike. I mean, this is what I think the American people want to hear and see from their leaders. They want to hear and see them meeting. They understand that there are differences between the Democrats and Republicans still, even after September 11th. But they want to see those differences resolved, and they want to see them resolved as amicably as possible.

And I think that's the tone and the spirit of those meetings. Certainly, after the meeting, Congressman Gephardt went up to the Congress and held a news conference to promote the aviation bill that he believes in, as is his right to do. This remains a democracy, where differences are resolved and resolved peacefully and resolved through votes. And, frankly, that's one of the reasons our nation wins wars, because this is how settle our domestic disputes, is through a voting process. So the President is understanding.

Q:Yes, first, on the economic stimulus, and then on aviation security. On economic stimulus, they had this meeting where they all sat down and tried to work things out. Did anyone identify any middle ground, or does the President stick to his position and the Democrats stick to theirs? Did anyone suggest a compromise that would ease the process through conference?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was not a negotiating session; I think it's premature for that. It's hard to negotiate the final product until the Senate acts. Once the Senate acts and the economic stimulus can move to a conference, then there can be a more fruitful discussion about how to bring everybody together. But, obviously, at this time, the House of Representatives has acted on an economic stimulus. Now it's the Senate's turn, in the President's opinion.

Q:Now, on aviation security, though, you're taking a somewhat different approach. You're getting ready to have another vote, and the White House, as I understand it, is lobbying people trying to work against the idea of federalizing, even as the White House has clearly signaled the President will sign whatever bill comes to him.

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, it's the same in both cases. In both cases -- and this is traditional with the way Congress works, and this is not new to President Bush; this is the way most Presidents have typically worked closest and best with the Congress -- is you make whatever influence you can make in the House and in the Senate, but much of the real heavy lifting comes once the House and the Senate have acted in the conference committee that meets to resolve the differences.

Q:And on the aviation security bill, it's was passed 100-0 by the Senate. The White House has signaled it will sign whatever bill comes to it. What possible success could you have in lobbying people against federalization, given those circumstances?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would point you to tomorrow's vote, and the proof will be in the pudding. Either the President's message will have been successful, or it won't be. And that will be up to the House of Representatives to decide when they vote tomorrow. But the President has been meeting with members of the House this week to talk to them, both Democrat and Republicans, about passage of an aviation security bill.

Q:Is the President inclined to issue a veto threat on either of those bills if they come in, in a form vastly different from what he has requested?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not issued any veto threats in either case.

Q:If I can follow on that, I find it interesting you didn't dispute his premise that the White House has signaled it will sign any aviation security bill that comes to the President's desk.

MR. FLEISCHER: These are hypotheticals. You have to let the process work. And the House has to vote tomorrow. If the House passes the Senate bill, then you have identical legislation. If the House passes a different bill, then it will go to a conference committee, and I think the likelihood there is, you will see some type of compromise emerge.

With the economic stimulus, if the Senate doesn't act, then the nation doesn't have an economic stimulus. And the President
would think that would be harmful to people who have lost their jobs. And that's why he called on the Senate to enact the stimulus as he did. So it's the same process in both places. We'll see what the conference emerges.

Q:Monday, you suggested that Andy Card wasn't exactly articulating as precisely as he might have wished the administration position on whether or not it would sign whatever legislation came out of the House. You led us to believe on Monday that that was clearly a hypothetical, and the President's strongest preference was for the House bill to pass and that whatever emerged from conference looked more like a House bill than a Senate bill.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, what I indicated was it's a hypothetical and we'll just have to see what emerges and what comes through the Congress -- through the conference.

Q:Ari, I wanted the White House's opinion on this. President Chavez of Venezuela went on Venezuelan television, I think Monday night or this week, asking for the bombing in Afghanistan to stop, and saying that you cannot answer terror with more terror. At the same time, he showed on television photographs of dead Afghan children that had been killed by errant bombing, and asked what thought did they have that barbaric acts that others committed.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in response to these horrific attacks on the United States, the United States exercises its powers under the United Nations Charter and other treaties to act in self-defense. And President Chavez's remarks are not in accord with Venezuela's own position in the United Nations, in the Organization of American States, or in the Rio Treaty consultations. So the President has taken the action he has taken with the support of most, if not all, of the world. And the President regrets these remarks, but they are not, as I said, in accord with Venezuela's own position in those international bodies.

Q:Does the President have any frustration of the fact that you can't seem to nail the cause of this -- or the source of the anthrax? And does it all stem from the first batch, or is it a continuing thing? Is there any way to determine that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, the President, I think like every American, wants this to get solved and solved right away. But he also understands that our nation has enemies. And even though in this case we don't know if they're foreign or they are domestic, there are people who are mailing anthrax through the mail in an attempt to murder American citizens. And at that point, it's a crime matter, it's an investigation. And the President understands that investigations take time to finally catch the people who are responsible.

The resources of the FBI are fully dedicated to this. I was told this morning that, for example, in the District of Columbia, where the FBI has a field office of some 650 people here in Washington, D.C. 500 of those 650 people are now dedicated to trying to prevent further attacks as a result of September 11th, or focus on anthrax. They're singly focused on those two missions.

Q:Is there no way to tell whether this is a continuing process on the part of the enemy, per se?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, until we catch the person or the people who are doing this, you just can't say if somebody else is going to a postal facility and mailing anthrax through the mail. Nobody can know that information. Hopefully, by people being vigilant, it puts more people on alert, and we will be able to catch these people or the person who was doing this. But nobody can make a prediction about that.

Q:Ari, the FAA has established no-fly zones over nuclear facilities in the country. Is that going to be a permanent decree, or is this directly in response to the threat alert that the Attorney General --

MR. FLEISCHER: There was a previous no-fly zone implemented over nuclear facilities. It's been expanded, and that was as a result of the recent warning that went out by the FBI. I cannot tell you for sure what the duration of that will be. That will be as events warrant.

Q:Is that based on specific threats to those facilities, or is that a general precaution?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's based on a general precaution, as the threat warning that went out from the FBI two days ago mentioned.

Q:Thank you. Following up to the question about postal safety, how effective are these irradiation machines? Has it been proven that they actually could irradiate the anthrax spores? And if the machines are installed in all the post offices, will the federal government pay, or does the post office have to increase fares to pay?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you may want to address directly to the Postal Service. What they have advised me is these machines are highly reliable, but they cannot give a guarantee, as the Postmaster General said, that they can guarantee the safety of every piece of mail that goes through the Postal Service.

Q:Ari, there has been some criticism of the war the last couple of days, especially, some comparisons of the administration's actions to those that were taken during Vietnam. And I wonder if you could respond to a couple of the criticisms -- one, that supposedly the lesson learned out of Vietnam, that was that if we go into battle, we would do so massively, decisively, up front and quickly. Does the President believe that that doesn't apply in this case? Does he believe that he is applying that in this case?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll tell you what the President believes on that matter. As the President explained in his speech to the American people the week after the terrorist attack, he understands that this is the first war of the 21st century. This is a new type of war, that this is totally different from anything our nation has faced before. And he understands that there will always be people who fight the last wars, whether they are Kosovo, whether they're the Persian Gulf, or whether they're Vietnam. He's not. He's learned lessons from those. But this war is totally unlike those which have come before.

In this case, it is not as if there was a -- back to the Cold War -- it's not as if there is a Soviet flotilla that we know is coming across the ocean. It's not as if there are airplanes that have taken off that we identify and we can see. This is a war of terror. And the terrorists try to prey on our country through the unknown, through that which can never be known. And that's why they were successful in turning an airplane, something that's a symbol of peace and transit in our country, into a weapon. So to compare it to those, the President just does not believe is adequate.

On the question of Afghanistan, I'm not going to get into operational issues, but from the President's point of view again, he's told the American people, and he believes the American people accept this and understand this, that it is not like any previous war; that when you're dealing with people who hide out in caves, when you're dealing with people who don't have standing armies -- which, as Colin Powell said -- in the Gulf War required an overwhelming presence to go and to get those armies; it's very different from that.

Q:But is that accurate? I mean, we're dealing -- those people that you're talking about are protected by the Taliban army, which is a standing army. And the question a lot of people have is, why aren't we going after that army which we are, indeed, fighting, massively? We seem to be engaged in a similar type of incrementalism -- we're stepping up, we're starting to put people on the border, stepping up the air attacks -- similar type of incrementalism that we saw in Vietnam.

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Rumsfeld has addressed that, and action is being taken on that front. But, to summarize, the President understands that this is unlike all previous wars. And he is not fighting any of the last wars. There may be people who analyze this while looking at all the last wars; this is unlike any of them.

I think that there were some people who, despite what the President said, still were hoping that this could be like Kosovo, that this could be like the Persian Gulf, that it could be over relatively quickly. The President has never been one of those people. Some analysts have still kept that in mind. The President is not one of those people.

Q:Two questions. The U.S. is dropping cluster bombs on Afghanistan. These are bombs that are yellow in color, the same as the food rations, and they're the size of a soda can. Public interest groups that crusade against land mines -- including Princess Di's Memorial Fund and the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines -- are calling on the United States to stop using them because of the threat they pose to Afghan civilians. Is the President aware of this controversy over cluster bombs, and is he going to do anything about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer you to the Pentagon on all operational matters. The President is aware of the conduct, how the war is being conducted, and the President supports the actions, of course.

Q:The second question -- in today's New York Times, on the economic stimulus package, says that a group of Texas energy companies will get big checks from the government under this package. And he says they're disproportionate in size. So, for example, while General Motors, which has 380,000 employees, will get a check for $800 million, TXU, which is the former Dallas Power & Light, which has only 16,000 employees, will get a check for $600 million. And he points the finger at Vice President Cheney, saying that a group of Texas energy companies, including TXU, Enron, Chevron and Texaco, will get these big checks. The question is, what role did Vice President Cheney have in developing this economic stimulus package?

MR. FLEISCHER: The economic stimulus package or the energy package? I thought that's what you addressed the question to at the beginning.

Q:These are tax rebates, the corporate tax rebates.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the President has proposed the economic stimulus package to apply universally to low- and middle-income taxpayers, to other taxpayers, in the case of expensing, which he's proposed, and in the case of corporate AMT, for all corporations that currently are treated under the tax code unfairly because they're penalized for their investment plans. That was a proposal that was made by the President. The Vice President, of, course, concurs with it. And that's where we stand.

Q:Ari, the Secretary of Defense said the other day, sort of a blanket statement, that any and all civilian casualties are ultimately that -- have ultimately been caused by the terrorist attacks, themselves. It's sort of a sweeping statement that's somewhat at odds with the comprehensive body of international law. I wonder if you can share -- it's not an operational question -- share with us the President's thinking about these civilian casualties and the price that the United States pays as they pile up across the Islamic and the Arab world and the broader world.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make two points. Number one, as the President said in his speech to the American people the week after the attacks, war could have been avoided. If only the Taliban had agreed to the President's demands that they turn over Osama bin Laden, turn over his top lieutenants, turn over the people who are responsible for attacking our country, this could have been avoided. And so, the decision to go to war was really made by the people who attacked our nation. And our nation is acting in self-defense.

And we're acting in self-defense in the finest traditions that set our nation apart from most other nations. Our nation is going through a massive effort to make certain that everything is done with an eye toward humanitarian needs. And that's why at the beginning of this, when I talk about massive effort, I'm referring specifically to the food deliveries. More than a million drops of food, rations of food to help people in Afghanistan.

Our nation can take a lot of pride in the fact that our military planners and the people who carry out their missions try as hard as possible, more than most, to avoid civilian casualties. But civilian casualties are also, unfortunately, a reflection of war, and this war was caused by the results of the people who attacked our country.

Q:Ari, Egyptian presidential advisor Osama Baz (phonetic) is quoted a saying, continuing to bomb Afghanistan at its current levels during Ramadan would be an affront to Muslims everywhere. And my question: Does the White House believe he has somehow forgotten Mohammed's victory at the battle of Bottir (phonetic) during Ramadan, as well as the Egyptian attack on Israel on Yom Kippur during Ramadan?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no question when Secretary Rumsfeld was asked the similar question, which is now a daily question, he gave the answer -- that the United States will take whatever actions are necessary to defend itself, and he did cite the case that there have been many wars fought between Muslim nations and Muslim nations during Ramadan, as well as wars that have been fought in Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance during Ramadan.

Q:It's reported that Michael Bloomberg, the Republican nominee for mayor of New York, has only been a Republican for one year. And 90 percent of his political contributions went to Democrats like Barbara Mikulski. And my question is, while it is understandable that the President in New York did not campaign for him, why has he declined to help genuine Republican gubernatorial nominees in New Jersey and Virginia, whose elections are a lot more important than any baseball game, as demonstrated by George Bush, who gave up baseball for governing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, on the baseball game, let me mention, too, the President told me this morning that his trip to New York and the reaction of New Yorkers was something that he found overwhelming. He thought, particularly at a time of war, to visit a city like New York, that has been through as much as it has, he said as he explained it to me, the ripples of applause that went through Yankee Stadium, the shouts of "U-S-A, U-S-A," was inspiring not only for himself, but as a symbol for our nation about how New York, the home city where most of the damage was done, feels.

But Les, the President is focused on the war effort. The President is focused on the healing of the nation and on the unity of our nation. And the President understands that at all times, war and peace, that one of the great strengths of democracies are elections. The political process will go forward. And so at the appropriate time, the President will engage.

Q:One appearance with Earley? I mean, does he want Warner in Richmond?

MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to go down there and give him your endorsement. (Laughter.)

Q:On trade promotion authority, is the President planning to set up a time frame to get approved the trade promotion authority, like he does with the stimulus package? And secondly, Secretary General of the United Nations are saying that the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan is kind of obstacle for delivery of food and medicine to the Afghan people. My question is, has the President take that concern by the United Nations?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the biggest obstacle to getting food and medicine to the people of Afghanistan is the Taliban. It is the Taliban who is making the people of Afghanistan starve, through the actions that they have taken, and through the hostile regime that they have set up, which denigrates its own people, and has been seizing food that is destined for the people of Afghanistan, making people pay outrageous taxes to try to get food into the country. The United States is trying to circumvent the Taliban by dropping food directly to the people of Afghanistan.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:28 P.M. EST

George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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