Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:15 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you a fill-in on the President's day, and then be happy to take your questions. The President this morning met with Speaker Hastert, Leader Daschle, Minority Leader Lott, and Minority Leader Gephardt to continue their bipartisan discussions about the congressional agenda. They discussed making progress on the issues of the aviation security bill, the counterterrorism bill, on the stimulus and the importance of moving to get the economy recovering. They discussed -- discussions about intelligence-sharing on Capitol Hill.
Following that meeting, the President convened a meeting of his National Security Council where they met for approximately one hour. And then the President visited the FBI to make an announcement about the top 22 most wanted terrorists, which the President concluded that announcement just a short time ago.
Early this afternoon, the President will meet with NATO's Secretary General Lord Robertson to discuss coalition allied efforts in the war against terrorism. And then in a domestic event, he will do a drop-by at the White House briefing for Prison Fellowship Ministries Leadership. That's a meeting that involves the importance of faith-based solutions to help reduce recidivism among the prison population, so that when they come out they can enjoy lives of liberty that are crime-free. It's been a very successful program in many of the nation's prisons, and it's another sign of the domestic agenda that the President would like to move forward on.
And finally, this afternoon the President will participate in a credentialing ceremony for several newly-appointed ambassadors to the United States.
One brief announcement: The President will welcome President Arroyo of the Philippines to Washington on November 20th.
Two announcements. In addition, I just want to let you know Secretary Paige announced yesterday that this Friday, October 12th, America's schoolchildren will be invited to participate in what's called a Pledge Across America. That will be a nationwide, synchronized Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge will begin at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, and identical times across the time zones across the United States, so 1:00 p.m. Central Time, noon Mountain Time, 11:00 a.m. West Coast Time. The students will be asked to simultaneously take the Pledge. It's an opportunity for American schoolchildren to be a part of a nationwide display at this time, as people ask, what can we do to help the United States. This is one of the things that the Secretary of Education has asked schools to do.
He yesterday sent letters to over 100,000 school principals across the country to encourage them and their students to join in the program. President Bush will participate here from the White House, while hosting a reception for Hispanic Heritage Month, beginning at 2:00 p.m. here at the White House.
With that, I'm happy to take questions. Ron?
Q:Can you tell us about the discussions the White House has had with the networks about their coverage?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor, this morning called a group of network executives to raise their awareness about national security concerns of airing pre-recorded, pre-taped messages from Osama bin Laden that could be a signal to terrorists to incite attacks.
It was a very collegial conversation. At best, Osama bin Laden's message is propaganda, calling on people to kill Americans. At worst, he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks. Dr. Rice asked the networks to exercise judgment about how these pre-recorded, pre-taped messages will air. She stressed that she was making a request, and that editorial decisions can only be made by the media.
Q:And what was their response?
Q:Ari, do you have a sense for what it is, whether this is propaganda, or do you have suspicions that they may, in fact, be trying to convey something?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, people are analyzing that now. There are no easy conclusions to reach, but I think it's rather plain to have these thoughts, these suspicions about what it could include. That's why, as Dr. Rice indicated, at best, it's pre-taped, pre-recorded propaganda, but propaganda of a most insidious nature. At worst, it could be actually signaling to his operatives.
Q:Do you know of a real message, or a subliminal message? And what was the response of the networks?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is no hard indications, Helen.
Q:Are you just guessing that it's --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a specific level of concern.
Q:But, I mean, on what basis?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fairly obvious. The means of communications out of Afghanistan right now are rather limited. One way to communicate outside Afghanistan to followers is through Western media.
Q:Do you have the actual message that you're objecting to?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I said, it's an expression of concern.
Q:But I mean, should people -- should we all operate on your impressions? Do you have concrete --
MR. FLEISCHER: Those are decisions that the media makes every day.
Q:And what was the response of the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I won't speak for the network executives. That will be their determination to make and to share with the public.
Q:Does bin Laden -- does the administration know whether bin Laden has a track record of doing this? Is that part of the basis on which this request is made?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speak to track records, I don't have any indication on that. But the concern, again, is communicating outside of Afghanistan right now is difficult business. While one way to communicate, though, is by taking advantage of the ease of communication -- and, again, what Condoleezza Rice was talking about was pre-recorded, pre-taped messages that are played in their entirety. She did not ask for no airing at all. I think it's appropriate information that you all will make the judgments about how much to air.
So the request really focused on how it's pre-taped, pre-packaged; you don't know when it was done and you don't know the sequence in which these things were done, if there is a sequence. And that's why Dr. Rice thought it was important to make the call. And I just want to indicate it's also fair to say, Helen, that the network executives, who are zealous defenders of First Amendment rights, also just acknowledge that this is a time of national responsibility and that they are going to look at this in a very responsible way.
Q:It seems to me that you also will be well-informed if you're able to analyze these message and so forth. It would redound to your good to know what the hell is going on.
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue is not whether or not analysts are able to see these messages, the issue is whether or not terrorists are able to see these messages.
Q:What specific suggestions did the administration make to the networks? What would you like to see aired and not aired, or how --
MR. FLEISCHER: Condi did not get at that level. She just made the networks aware of the potential security implications. But these judgments are for the networks and for the media to make.
Q:Ari, I'm told that the President made a similar request to the Emir of Qatar regarding Al Jazeera broadcasts of al Qaeda messages. Is that correct? Did you raise the issue Qatar, and are they going to do anything about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to go back and check and see.
Q:Ari, you used the term "no hard indication." So this is a suspicion, not information based on, say --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q:-- interviewing anybody who is in custody who might be asked about --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q:Some analysts say that one issue with the tapes bin Laden -- the airing of them -- is that he is able to sort of continue to create fear in the United States and a sense of insecurity, even if they can't pull off an attack. Are you saying that the White House, that that isn't part of it, this sort of propaganda side of this that he -- he is still trying to put fear in the United States through those tapes, and the administration is not reacting to that at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Dr. Rice didn't indicate anything about fear. She indicated exactly what I said, that at best, that this is a forum for pre-recorded, pre-taped propaganda, inciting people to kill Americans would find a public vehicle. And at worst, that it could actually be the sending of signals. That's what Condoleezza Rice said.
Q:And is there a concern that there might be some kind of prearranged set of language or something like that, that he would state that would supposedly trigger --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a possibility. And I do want to note, right before I came out here, I saw one notification put up by one cable station announcing a new policy as far as airing this. And so I think the media already are coming to their own conclusions and making up their mind about how to proceed.
Q:If I can just -- one more. You said the analysts -- it's not a concern that the analysts see these tapes. So has the United States intelligence community, are they ensuring that they still see these tapes, either through foreign sources obtaining the tapes if the networks are not going to show them here, or are the networks providing them to the government? How are the analysts getting the tapes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's obvious that anything that's broadcast from al Jazeera on TV, which is how this is first made public, is available to analysts.
Q:Ari, if there is there is this level of a concern, why was this a request and not a demand? And was something stronger than a request considered at the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I appreciate the opportunity to say that we are in a position to make such demands, but we're not. The media makes these decisions for themselves. That's part of the job of the media and the responsibility of the media. And that's why it is literally a request.
Q:So that type of censorship is not under consideration? I mean, you're saying this is a war and in previous wars there has been censorship. You're saying that type of thing is not now under consideration at the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, that is not censorship. This is a request to the media, and the media makes their own decisions. And I think a reasonable request.
Q:No, you said that you're not in a position to demand. In effect, this government is in a position to demand if it wants. Are you guys considering --
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. If you're asking the legal questions about prior restraint, we haven't gotten -- that's not been discussed.
Q:It's not a legal question. We're asking if real censorship -- I understand this is just a request -- we're asking if real censorship is under consideration, demands and not requests.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing that I'm aware of like that. This is why I'm telling you what Dr. Rice did, because I think you have a right to know. It was a request, and I've shared with you what she did.
Q:Ari, I'm just wondering, is this request only to American media, and therefore, the American public, or are you saying that you wish media all around the world would stop --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've reported to you what Dr. Rice did in a phone call this morning, and so you have that --
Q:I'm asking this request --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there.
MR. FLEISCHER: And so I reported that information about what Dr. Rice did, in fact, pick up a phone and ask for this morning among the people she called. But this is a request that, obviously, the concern here is not allowing terrorists to receive what might be a message for Osama bin Laden calling on them to take any actions. So by virtue of the fact that I am saying it here, others will hear it. I don't know if there will be any other formal communications to anybody else -- I don't rule that out. But it will all be in the same vein, that requests will be made. And I think people are going to take very seriously their responsibilities as they think through whether they want to air pre-recorded, pre-taped messages of Osama bin Laden, given this environment.
Q:You would like to see this same kind of thought about restraint, anyway, in the rest of the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Larry, what we would like to see is an environment in which terrorists are not able to receive messages because Osama bin Laden is in a position where he can't send them through routine means, most likely picking up a phone, et cetera. And we want to make certain that terrorists are not advantaged by receiving information from Osama bin Laden, wherever that source may be. We live in an open society, we live in a free society. These are requests.
Q:Let me follow up. You told us that you made this request of the American networks. Why can't you tell us what countries you've made this request of, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that we have done that, of any other countries. I can just tell you that Dr. Rice made this phone call this morning.
Q:Can you find out, though, if we have made the request of any other countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll be happy to.
Q:And, if not, why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, I will be -- Ron, I will be more than happy to share all the information about who any such requests are conveyed to. It's an important issue. I think people are going to very quickly realize it and think about it for themselves, and come to conclusions without even being asked. The more the word gets around, the better. But I'd be more than happy to share information with you, but there's just nothing to report right now, to give you a literal answer. Dr. Rice made the phone calls just hours ago.
Q:Can I clarify one thing? I believe you said that Condi was suggesting that we not run them in their entirety, not that nothing be reported from them or --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q:-- no pieces of sound be used.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q:And is a similar request going to be made to newspapers not to print these things in their entirety?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I think there is a good possibility there may be follow-on conversations, but I don't have any to report to you.
Q:Who decides that part to run --
MR. FLEISCHER: The media. Helen asked me who decides what part is run; and the answer is the media.
Q:Do you have anything more on the Negroponte letter to the Iraqi envoy to the United Nations? Was he reacting to some knowledge of a specific or possible threat, or was that really preemptive?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's -- I think preempted is a good word. It was made clear that it's important for IraQ:not to see the current circumstances as an opportunity to act against their own population or to act against any neighboring states.
Q:It was pretty strongly worded.
MR. FLEISCHER: Appropriately so.
Q:It said that IraQ:will be attacked and it will be defeated.
MR. FLEISCHER: Now, wait a minute. Where did you get that language?
Q:That was the language as I saw it expressed. It said that there will be an attack, and IraQ:will be defeated.
MR. FLEISCHER: I want to make certain that you're not confusing the letter that was sent to the Secretary General -- or the President of the United Nations Security Council that was sent by Negroponte, because that letter did not say that.
Q:If I could follow on that point, though. There's a letter to IraQ:from the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations putting them on notice. There's the broader letter which you describe as routine, to the Security Council saying the United States reserves the right to expand outside of Afghanistan. The President today releases this list of 22 people, some of whom are known not to be in Afghanistan, and says this fight will be around the world. Is he now preparing the American people that the next phase of this campaign would involve operations including military operations, whether covert or not, elsewhere?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think the President made abundantly plain to the American people and to the world in his speech to the Congress that the United States will take whatever actions are required to defend our nation. And he did not indicate whether that would be limited. Obviously, we are in a phase right now that involves the Taliban, that involves Afghanistan and the terrorists who are being harbored there. I'm not going to go beyond that and give any indications whatsoever about any possible additional operations, whether they exist or don't.
Q:Is Dr. Rice the only official who has been placing these calls or are any other officials calling to, say, not only media, but columnists? Is there anything to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm going to be more than happy to share any such information with you. Dr. Rice's is the only phone call that I'm aware of. If there are any others, I just haven't heard about it yet. That's the only one I know about.
Q:A former general says this is a very unusual campaign in Afghanistan because for the first time in his knowledge, we're fighting them and feeding them at the same time. A representative of the Taliban says that the humanitarian rations being dropped in the thousands over the past few days are being gathered up and burned. Is that true, or do you have any knowledge that these rations are reaching the people?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, it's a question you have to ask the Department of Defense. But I note, also, the State Department has indicated this, that there are now shipments that are making their way in on the roads, as well. And this will be a prolonged commitment by the United States government and by our allies to help feed the people of Afghanistan.
I think it's notable that the Taliban regime, one of the first actions they took since the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was to shut down all the humanitarian relief organizations that feed their own people. And that is another reminder of why this is not a war against the people of Afghanistan. And you're hearing reports now -- I've seen several on the news -- that there are many refugees who are saying they're looking forward to returning to Afghanistan and they know that they're going to be fed when they do, because they understand the motives of our country are to help the people of Afghanistan.
Q:If I could ask how often President Bush has been speaking, personally, to Tony Blair? And given the fact that six months ago they barely knew each other, could you characterize their relationship now?
MR. FLEISCHER: They've been speaking rather often, I don't have an exact, daily account of it. But they speak from time to time. Their relationship began very strong and has stayed very strong. I've been present at many of the meetings they had up at Camp David, at Chequers, and it's very interesting, because you have a Prime Minister who comes from the Labor Party, a President of the United States who comes from the Republican Party, and, clearly, in this instance their interests and their world outlook have a very strong overlap. The two stand shoulder to shoulder.
Q:Is it fair to say, since the tape of Osama bin Laden was released on Sunday and you haven't said anything until today, which is Wednesday, are you more concerned about the second videotape by the aide to Osama bin Laden, the one that aired yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dr. Rice's remarks, I believe, were focused on Osama bin Laden. I don't recall, frankly, if she also broadened it to the spokesperson.
Q:The first tape, that everyone saw on Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: What about that?
Q:Her remarks were focused on that tape, and not --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, her remarks were focused on that tape. But I don't rule out that it could be focused on any additional. The issue is pre-recorded, pre-taped information that obviously sits in a can and is released at a timing and in a manner of Osama bin Laden's choosing. It's not as if it's a live interview that any of you all would do. I think if somebody were to have a live interview, that's not -- Condi Rice made it perfectly plain that's not what she's talking about. If somebody had a live interview, in the news category that's obviously not a premeditated, pre-designed, pre-taped package message that sits in a can.
Q:If you were Osama bin Laden would you give a live interview right now on satellite feed -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie.
Q:What's the status of any other foreign policy initiatives -- Israel-Palestinian, Northern Ireland, antidrug campaign? Are they all totally on the back burner now?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, they're actually moving forward. I know the President, when he met with the members of the Foreign Relations and the International Relations Committees, he talked about progress being made in Macedonia. And so the domestic agenda is quieter, but it still proceeds, it still is important. Other areas of the world still present important issues to the United States. And in a good part during the meeting with the Foreign Relations members yesterday, International Relations members yesterday, the President discussed prospects for peace in the Middle East.
Q:Ari, two things. First, you said that it's tough to get information out of Afghanistan right now. By that, are you suggesting that bin Laden and the Taliban -- or bin Laden's network has lost the ability to use the Internet, for instance, or to pick up a satellite cell phone and use that? Secondly, unrelated question. The Vice President's whereabouts we still don't know anything about. What kind of a signal does that send to the American people and to the world, both about his safety and, frankly, about the President's safety?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the first point, about the ability of Osama bin Laden and his followers to communicate from Afghanistan, I think the most accurate way to say it is they face certain challenges in communicating out of their country, right now.
As for the Vice President, he does remain at a secure location and that's taken for security purposes. And I think that people understand that. It's a reflection of the times that we're living in. It's also a reflection of the importance of making certain that all security arrangements are considered.
Q:On the home front, Ari, Governor Ridge said Monday, we will find something for every American to do. Can you give us specifics on that? And wouldn't specifics, like a national neighborhood watch or whatever help people feel safer and more useful --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the Governor was reflecting is, he said, many people come up to him and say, what can I do. And there are a host of things that people can do. And many of them are in the area of support, such as what Secretary Paige announced the other day, that I just related to you, about the Pledge of Allegiance for all the school children. I think, frankly, for the hundreds of thousands potential schoolchildren who are going to do that, they're going to go home and tell their parents and it's going to make them feel really good about the role that they played. And that's the type of thing. There may be other activities for people to do, and I think the Governor will have further statements to make about that.
Q:-- shopping malls and unattended bags in airports --
MR. FLEISCHER: At that level, if you're asking on the security front, it's vigilance. It's people being aware of their unusual circumstances that were not previously there. You know, many nations in Europe, for example, have more history, more practice with this. Israel, for example, has more history, unfortunately, more practice with this. And so it can be
types of things on a security front, but it's also types of things -- you know, everybody sending a letter to our servicemen and women who are now abroad. If Americans of all ages send somebody a letter, that's a time-honored American tradition, and it sure makes the troops feel good.
Q:On the subject of the broader war against terrorism, which officials who stand behind this podium are only too happy to remind us of on a daily basis, it would be difficult for this country to launch similar operations against other countries as it has against Afghanistan; it would be difficult to build that propaganda wheel. So do you foresee future action as being held in conjunction with local governments and law enforcement?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand your question.
Q:Future actions in the broader war against terrorism. It would be difficult for them to take on the same appearance as they do in Afghanistan. So, do you envision future actions to combat terrorism in other countries as being done in conjunction with local governments and law enforcement?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated earlier, I'm not going to speculate about any potential actions in any other countries.
Q:Ari, first of all, have there been any other new anthrax cases that you're aware of at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: The investigation is continuing in Florida, and my most recent update continues to indicate that there is the one person who died last week of anthrax. There is a second person who has an exposure to anthrax that was diagnosed in one nostril, and that is the latest status report that I have received.
Q:Just more broadly speaking, though, because of these reports and because of a lot of false alarms, there is enormous fear out there. Is the administration trying to, in any way, coordinate how you get this information out to the public? Is that something that would fall under Ridge's job, for example, especially given what people are seeing coming out of the administration now is what appears to be a clamp-down on information, with phone calls to the media, with the attempt to crack down on --
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't confuse the two. There will be a clamp-down on information if it's classified. Classified information should not be in the public realm, and the administration will work very hard to make sure that it's not.
Totally different situation when it comes to, for example, the issue you raised involving public health. There is a very, very proactive effort to get information into the hands of people in Florida, for example, who work in or who visited the AMI building. There have been a series of announcements made by federal health officials and local health officials on the ground down there. Every effort is being made and will continue to be made to get information to anybody who has any questions at all -- any parents who are wondering what to do about children, any questions that parents or visitors have. All those issues are being aggressively and publicly addressed in Florida, and will continue to be.
As you pointed out, at a time like this there will also be false alarms. Despite any false alarms, the government will continue to investigate and to work with people and to help everybody get to the bottom of it. And that is the system that is set in place by the Centers for Disease Control, working with the Federal Department of Health and Human Services under Secretary Thompson. Governor Ridge is also involved in those efforts.
Q:Yesterday, the President made clear his point about leaks. He's had breakfast today with congressional leaders. Is the President willing to go from eight to a higher number of congressmen and senators getting the information? And, if so, when would this occur?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me try to bring you up to speed on where we are. That issue did come up in the meeting with the four congressional leaders. And I think it's fair to say, message received. There's no doubt about it that the importance of keeping classified information classified has been stressed, and the President hopes that it will be closely, exactly adhered to.
Having said that, the President did say this morning that he does want to make certain that the members of the Armed Services Committee, for example, can be briefed by Secretary Rumsfeld; that the members of the Foreign Relations Committees can be briefed by Secretary Powell, et cetera. It's important that members of Congress have information that they need to do their proper oversight activities; while at the same time, the President will continue to remind members of Congress about the importance of keeping classified information classified.
Q:On the same subject, he had the two highest-ranking members of both the Houses on the Intelligence Committee. Does this mean the same thing applies to Armed Forces and --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated, there will be briefings by the Secretary of Defense to members of the Armed Forces Committees.
Q:I mean, the number of people who can receive this information. He had the ranking Democrat, ranking Republican on each committee of Intelligence. Does this mean the same rule will apply to Foreign Relations and to Armed Forces?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think when Secretary Rumsfeld goes up, he will be talking to all members of the committees.
Q:When the members emerged, their perception was that the administration was going to be much more careful in what information it shared; that if it was classified or sensitive, they would share that information if it was past-tense information, what happened earlier today or yesterday. And the President made clear he would be much more reluctant because he doesn't trust them to share "this is what's going to happen tomorrow" information. Is that fair?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak about past tense; I haven't heard that. But I can suggest to you that secrets will be kept secret. And the President knows that he will work with the Congress so that objective can be achieved. And he was satisfied with the meeting this morning; the leaders were satisfied with the meeting this morning. So I think it's fair to say that from the members' point of view, and the President's, this issue has been addressed. And I hope there is a new sense of awareness throughout the government about the importance of keeping information classified.
Q:Ari, is there also a new memo going out from the President -- the one he sent out was fairly stern and very specific --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is no memo forthcoming.
Q:Wait. That one shared very specifically this policy will be in effect until you are told by me that it is not.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he actually wrote in there "until further notice." And the President met this morning with the four leaders of Congress and gave them some notice.
Q:That memo was written to Treasury, State, Central Intelligence, FBI, all --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has many means of communicating with the people who work for him.
Q:So should we take from that then that the full select committees on intelligence will now be briefed?
MR. FLEISCHER: The briefings will proceed as I just indicated in performance with the President's wishes and as he expressed to the members this morning at the meeting.
Q:Does that mean the full select committees on intelligence?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think just watch events unfold on the Hill and you will see. And as I indicated this morning, the leaders seemed to be satisfied.
Q:Last night, the House Ways and Means Committee, on a largely partisan vote, approved trade promotion authority bill. Is the White House concerned that if this bill hits the House floor it's going to do serious damage to your bipartisanship?
MR. FLEISCHER: Trade promotion authority is a vital goal for this President. The President has always believed that trade promotion authority, while an issue that has not lent itself to full bipartisanship, but certainly can't pass without a healthy level of bipartisanship, is important because it creates jobs, a home for America's workers; that it's important for developing nations so that they can have trade that helps them to develop their resources at home and their economies at home. So the President is committed to passage of trade promotion authority.
In the past when it's passed, it always has been bipartisan. I remind you when President Bush proposed it and it last passed in the Congress, it was a very bipartisan effort. Even though it was opposed by most Democrats, there were a sufficient number of Democrats who successfully made it a bipartisan vote. And the administration will continue to work with those Democrats to make that happen.
Q:You say you regard it as a vital goal. Is it a vital goal of the anti-terrorism campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was an important foreign policy goal before September 11th; it's an important foreign policy goal now.
Q:To follow on Jim's question, is it fair to say now that the President has served notice that this policy is no longer in effect, or will there be some classified information that will be provided only to the eight members of Congress that he mentioned?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that the message the President said about the importance of keeping classified information classified remains fully in effect; that the message on the bottom of the memo about further notice -- I would draw your attention to the subsequent statements made by the President.
Q:What happens if somebody does leak after this, if Congress has been put on notice? What happens now --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals. I'll just hope it doesn't happen.
Q:Ari, can I ask about the stimulus package? Leader Gephardt told us this morning that the goal is now to get money into people's pockets in time for the holidays. Is that the President's goal, too?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would be very supportive of that. The President thinks it's important for the stimulus to pass and pass quickly, and to pass in a manner that gets relief to people quickly.
Q:Ari, just to follow up on that. Mr. Gephardt also said that what the White House and Congress were talking about are $300-$400 rebate checks that would go to people who pay payroll taxes, but not income taxes. Is that indeed --
MR. FLEISCHER: At the meeting this morning they did not get into that level of specificity. As you remember, the President, when he -- when the President addressed the issue and announced his stimulus package on Friday, one of the items the President did say that he thought should be in here was tax relief for low and middle-income Americans.
Q:Is that specific idea under active consideration?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say the President is looking forward to working with the Congress to see what they develop that fits the parameters that he laid out.
Q:He likes that idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President was very clear that he supports tax relief that helps low and middle-income Americans. That can be accomplished in a number of ways. He's not going to tie the hands of Congress on it, he's going to work with Congress on it. But the President also made clear -- and these are bipartisan ideas -- that such ideas as faster expensing for businesses, so that way they can make investments that help create jobs is important. And there are a lot of Democrats who support that. Relief from the corporate alternative minimum tax, which punishes businesses for investing in plants and equipment, all of which helps create jobs -- there's a lot of Democrat support for that, as well.
So the President is optimistic that Congress will move and will move quickly so the economy can receive an extra jolt, because the President believes it needs it.
Q:The President wants to get his airline security bill passed as quickly as possible. How does he hope to pass it quickly if Republicans in the House won't bring it to the floor?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as always, there are going to be issues with the Congress. There are a series of actions that Congress started to take up that are moving at congressional pace and speed: the aviation security bill is one; the stimulus has just started up on the Hill; the counterterrorism bill, certainly, has been discussed for quite a while up there. There is a whole series of initiatives that move at congressional pace.
The President, by having these meetings with the members this morning, hopes to move the pace along a little faster.
Q:There's a real fundamental, ideological problem with the airline security bill with Republicans. What is the President doing to try to get them to overcome that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that both parties have ideological issues that they bring to bills that are presented before them. Many of the Democrats --
Q:Airline security in particular, though?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the federalization of the workers. I think there is no question that there is a group of members of Congress who want to put all the airline workers on the federal payroll. There are others who are suggesting that there may be better ways to accomplish the same goal without making everybody a federal employee. And, as usual, the President is going to work with Congress and to try to move it along.
Q:Ari, all of these bills do require a lot of bipartisan work, and that's been an important goal of the President, especially since September. But there was a feeling, especially yesterday, on Capitol Hill that the release of the memo and the tightening of information with Congress had created a lot of ill will, and some people saying, this is ricocheting all over the place, it's busting unity that's been on the Hill, even though it might have been fraying before yesterday. But does the White House have some concern that the impact of that memo might have poisoned the waters a little bit, by the time --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, I think the members of Congress know that they have many important responsibilities and that they will work with the White House, work Democrats with Republicans, Republicans with Democrats, on behalf of those responsibilities. That includes taking action so the domestic agenda can move forward, so aviation security can pass, so counterterrorism activities legislation can pass. And I think members understand that.
I think members also are pained by what happened. I think they recognize that they put the President in a difficult spot. Imagine if the case had been that as a result of a CIA briefing to a committee, information was revealed that was classified and the President didn't care or said nothing. I think that also would suggest that classified information is not being handled in a manner that it should be because of the serious nature of classified information. And many members on the Hill are very concerned about the fact that classified information was leaked. They understand that there are important issues involving sharing information with the Congress, and they want to see this matter worked out as well as the President does.
Q:Two questions about the agreement between the President and the Hill leaders on information. Number one, does it also include administration officials below the Secretary level, such as Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, who was scheduled to testify before Senate Armed Services before all this came up? And, number two, does it also encompass committees such as the Appropriations subcommittees that have jurisdiction over State and Defense, the Judiciary Committee?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I said -- and I think we've pretty well exhausted this topic -- as I said earlier, the President discussed these matter with the congressional leaders. The President is satisfied; the congressional leaders seemed to be satisfied; and I think this matter will run its course and take care of itself.
Q:Ari, going back to this letter issue, since it's caused a little bit of a rift, what was the mood going into this meeting this morning? And was he happy that he had to open the circle up a little bit more after he closed it down?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the meeting discussed many issues. I have to tell you that from the report I have, the discussion of the memo was five minutes of an hour-long meeting. Yesterday, when all the members of the Foreign Relations Committee that were here, it was a 45-minute meeting, and the discussion of the memo took about two minutes. So I think you could say there is a disproportionate focus in the media than some of the members when they meet with the President.
Q:Well, what was the tone of that five minutes? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The food was good. I don't know, I wasn't in there for the meeting, so I couldn't share that. Thank you, everybody.
END 12:54 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/271727