White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
October 4, 2001

QUESTION: Just for clarification then, when Dr. Rice informed the President, the administration was not aware that this could -- was just an -- or appeared to be just an isolated case?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, all the facts as they were being developed were shared at various points throughout the day. So it's impossible to put an exact timetable on what information was developed when. It was shared over the course of the morning and into the afternoon.

QUESTION: Ari, can you give us some more details on this $320 million in aid? How is the food going to get into the right hands? How are you going to make sure it doesn't fall into the hands of the Taliban, et cetera?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, unfortunately, there is a history of working to get food to people who live in repressive regimes. And there is always a concern to make certain that the food is kept out of the hands of the Taliban who will deny it to their people, while getting it to the people who were suffering. And in this case, the United States government will work with world food programs, with the United Nations, to get food into the regions where it can do the most good.

QUESTION: Is the idea here to, aside from feeding the people, to win the hearts and minds of Afghans who might be willing to abandon the Taliban?

MR. FLEISCHER: Two points on that. One, the purpose is to feed people who are hungry. There is a grave humanitarian crisis shaping up in Afghanistan as a result of the actions of the Taliban. And as the President said in his remarks at the State Department, one of the great things about our nation that enables us to win wars and to be such a good people is that our nation has a good heart. And you're seeing that put into place when we help feed the people of Afghanistan.

But even before September 11th, the United States was Afghanistan's largest supplier of food, because it's the right thing to do, and it's the humanitarian thing to do. So the United States has always made that distinction between the people of Afghanistan and the Taliban regime.

QUESTION: You apparently now, judging from Dr. Rice's remarks, U.S. does, in fact, embrace a notion first mentioned by Tony Blair to go in and do something in a major way to help build and develop Afghanistan to end hunger and that sort of thing, once the chips fall where they may on whatever happens in the near future?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, to repeat what I've said many times, the United States is not engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan, but the United States will help those who seek a peaceful, economically-developing Afghanistan that's free from terrorism.

QUESTION: On the stimulus package, does the President believe that the $60 billion to $75 billion should be split evenly between corporate and individual as Senator Daschle and others have recommended, for it? And also in setting these parameters, does the President believe that House Leader Dick Armey's suggestion a $150-billion tax cut package would adversely affect the economy and increase long-term rates?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has already established his range. And so you know where the President stands. And the President is going to work with Congress to find the right mix and the right balance so that enough goes to stimulate investment on the demand side by getting it into the hands of consumers, while also providing enough to get in the hands of corporations and businesses that stimulates investment so they can keep their workers employed.

QUESTION: An unrelated question. On the U.S. package, would the President like to give a holiday for payroll taxes as a way of increasing the economy?

MR. FLEISCHER: The idea of a rebate is one of the ideas that is under consideration. And the President will take a good look at that.

QUESTION: Is he inclined to be in favor --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say what the ultimate shape of this package is going to be. The President announced the parameters yesterday; he gave the three principles about stimulating consumers, helping to provide incentives for businesses, as well as the placement of aid for displaced workers. So he's going to work with Congress on a series of things that fit that bill.

QUESTION: Ari, Secretary Ashcroft today said he was disappointed with the grandfather clause. He claims that the terrorism battle is going to take longer than the time the Congress wants to put --

MR. FLEISCHER: By the grandfather clause, I presume you're referring to the House antiterrorism bill that includes a sunset. Well, the President shares that concern. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that this war against terrorism is going to last beyond the sunset. And it's important that policymakers have a realistic understanding of what this different type of war will involve, and how long it will require giving the law enforcement agencies the tools they need so we can prevent further attacks on the country.

QUESTION: Will he get involved with the Congress in trying to increase the time or changing --

MR. FLEISCHER: I just made clear the President's position.

QUESTION: Can you spell out why the administration opposes notification of a court after grand jury information is shared with intelligence agencies? Why does the administration oppose the notification --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer you to Justice particularly on that. That's a matter much more legal than I can entertain.

QUESTION: Ari, Daschle says the worker assistance plan that the President announced today is not enough. Is this a limit, or is this just sort of a first step that the President is taking in terms of worker assistance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is the President's proposal. This is what the President believes is the best way to help workers get back on their feet and to help them as they go through any of the effects of unemployment, including loss of health care, since the attacks.

QUESTION: So he's open to other proposals, possibly, and maybe spending some more money, as well?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as always, he will work with the Congress. But this is the President's proposal; this is what he calling on the Congress to pass. The President has announced that he believes it's important to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks, and to provide $3 billion worth of national emergency grants through the states so people can get health care, so they can get job-training. The President believes this is the best solution.

And also, the President said one thing that's very important, when he said it's important also that people in Congress don't start inventing or designing new systems, new-fangled notions. There are a series of existing protections that need to be beefed up, that need to be lengthened. But the existing provisions on the books have proved before capable of doing the job to help people who have lost their livelihood. And the President is confident they will do so again.

He also thinks it would be a mistake if people try to engage in a whole series of new government programs, new creations, while there are a series of existing ones that need to be strengthened.

QUESTION: Can I follow that?

QUESTION: Along those lines, is the President concerned about what the legislative process might do to any stimulus package, and of course, whether or not it can be done in three or four weeks?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think everybody in Congress has said that they would like to get it done in that type of time frame. Congress typically adjourns sometime in the fall, and so the President will, obviously, work with the Congress. That is our system. But make no mistake; the President feels strongly about what the best package is.

QUESTION: Ari, are you saying this package the President put forward today should satisfy Democratic concerns about laid-off workers, and that therefore, the airline security bill should go forward without any further holdup?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President does think that the question of how to help people who have lost their jobs is best considered in the context of a stimulus bill and it should not be part or bogged down in an otherwise important aviation bill.

QUESTION: So this should reassure Democrats that the President is going to be faithful in addressing that thing so that the airport security should go ahead --

MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I think the substance of what the President's proposing speaks for itself, that it's very important to help people who have lost their jobs so they can have an extended period of unemployment at a time like this. People who have lost their jobs, they right away get concerned about their health care, and the President is addressing that by providing $3 billion worth of grants so that people can get their COBRA coverage paid for.

But there's also a tendency at times, too, done by both parties, to turn everything into a Christmas tree and to start funding everything for everybody in all times and for all reasons. And throughout this, it's always important to protect taxpayer money while bringing help to those in need.

QUESTION: -- any indication the Democrats are satisfied by this in the first instance?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President announced just an hour or two ago, so I think it's important to let the Democrats think.

QUESTION: Democrats are saying -- they're saying it's a good first step, but one problem they have is the unemployment benefits. They could settle with just additional 13 weeks, but they're concerned about all 50 states. So what would the President's plan do for a worker not in a state that is hardest hit, but who is laid off because of the effects of the September 11th attack? That's the question they have.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the focus of the package is on those states that are impacted the most, and that's where there is the greatest amount of unemployment as a result of this. But keep in mind, of course, you're talking about an additional 13 weeks on top of an existing 26 weeks -- that's half a year, that's six months. So it's also premature on some of those questions.

QUESTION: Let me ask you a couple of questions about the asset-freezing. Why were the Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad missing from your list of suspected terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: They're already covered on existing lists.

QUESTION: And have the Saudis complied with your request to freeze assets of 27 people and organizations?

MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to Treasury specifically for a case-by-case on all the various people that have been mentioned in the President's executive order from the Rose Garden. But suffice it to say the administration and the President are very satisfied with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: The other list that the Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are on, does it crack down as hard as the list that the President put out today?

MR. FLEISCHER: When you say, "crack down as hard," that's a hard distinction to make. I think the question is, is it effective.

QUESTION: Does it, for example, go after the banks that don't comply?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check that out, Ron. Talk to Treasury.

QUESTION: Going back to the Afghan relief a little bit. One way to feed Afghan refugees is via military aircraft of humanitarian Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs. Is the President in favor of doing that? Also, possibly setting up tent cities or other refugee camps in neighboring states, staffed perhaps by the military and other organizations?

MR. FLEISCHER: At this point, I'm not going to comment on some of the questions about means of delivery into Afghanistan. Obviously, anything involving that information could be misused by people who might hear what I say. So I'm going to be careful about how I indicate food aid is going to be brought into the people of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: The House leadership, the GOP leadership is coming over to meet with the President. Can you tell us what that meeting is about? Is it a follow-up to their meeting earlier with Mineta? And where is the President now on federalizing airline security?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is a follow-on to a whole year-long series of meetings that the President is going to continue to have with members of Congress. He's having a group down tonight; he had a group over for lunch today. As you know, he met with the four leaders yesterday. He's going to continue to have different members of Congress down to talk to them -- that's how you make progress on many of these issues that you're asking me about. Will Congress agree, will Congress have other ideas -- the way you get Congress to agree is to listen to their ideas and bring people together.

QUESTION: And airline security personnel, is the President more open to that idea now?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the federalization question? The concerns of the President remain about putting all screeners on the federal payroll. And let me give you a for instance about one of the items of the President's concern, and that is, as you know, when somebody is put as a member of the federal civil service, it's virtually impossible to ever take any type of action or disciplinary action if their work is not up to standards. And the President thinks it's very important that in the case of the screeners and the workers, that the managers have the ability to make certain that their work is up to all relevant standards and can take disciplinary action if appropriate or if necessary.

So there are a host of issues that can involve diminishment of safety, as people are put on the federal payroll. And these are types of things that need to be worked out with the Congress.

QUESTION: But is the President willing to compromise on that, if that's what it takes to get the airline security --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to -- let's just see what develops on the Hill.

QUESTION: Ari, in view of --

MR. FLEISCHER: Only two today, Les. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: In view of the President's gratitude to the many Americans who donated blood for the wounded at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, what is the White House reaction to the Harvard Crimson news report quoting a Harvard undergraduate organization leader named Clifford Alexander's email to all members, "On the Red Cross form you will be asked, are you a man who has had sexual contact with another man since 1973. This applies to many of you. You should lie." Since the AIDS tainted blood donations also killed Arthur Ashe, surely the White House deplores this statement urging such lying, don't you, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I'm not familiar with that report.

QUESTION: I've got it right here. You can read this --

MR. FLEISCHER: You can keep it.

QUESTION: Right there. It's on the net. If this is true --

MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have a follow-up?

QUESTION: Yes, I do, but if it's true, you deplore it, don't you, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: What's your next question, Les?

QUESTION: Last Saturday night at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, CNS reports that they videotaped President Clinton being confronted, interrupted and shouted out by a member of ACT-UP who said Mr. Clinton was a liar, responsible for his lover's death because Clinton never launched a Manhattan Project to conquer AIDS. Does the President -- the President doesn't agree with this charge against his predecessor, does he? And he deplores such behavior, doesn't he?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm also not familiar with that report.

QUESTION: Ari, after the statements President Bush made yesterday about the possibility of a Palestinian state, does he intend to speak to Yasser Arafat? I don't think he's had a conversation with him since he became President.

MR. FLEISCHER: As always, we keep you informed of all of the discussions that the President has, or wherever I can, with foreign leaders.

QUESTION: Back on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. How can you work through the U.N. food program and other NGOs when most of those organizations, if not all, have pulled their people out of Afghanistan? Reports from the region indicate there's nobody left. How do we work through those programs?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think USAID, the Agency for International Development, and the State Department addressed many of those questions in the briefing they provided earlier today. So I want to refer you to that. They're the experts.

Thank you.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

End 4:12 P.M. EDT