CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
America's New War: White House News Briefing
Aired September 28, 2001 - 13:06 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We've got one camera there, John, on the White House briefing room. We do expect Ari Fleischer to come out any moment now. Let's see here, perhaps -- there he is, a familiar face.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.
I want to report to you on the president's day. The president, earlier this morning, called Prime Minister Howard of Australia and thanked him for the strong expressions of sympathy and support from the Australian people and from the Australian government. The president thanked the prime minister for Australia's actions to freeze the assets of terrorist organizations, and the two said they were looking forward to working together in other areas of bilateral cooperation in the counterterrorist effort.
The president also called President Arroyo of the Philippines this morning and thanked the Philippines for their immediate and strong support in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. They discussed the Philippine governments ongoing struggle against terrorism within the Philippines, and President Arroyo noted the government's determination to secure the release of American hostages who have been held in the Philippines. They discussed cooperation in the counterterrorist effort, and they also said they were looking forward to seeing each other at the upcoming meeting of the president with other APEC allies in Shanghai.
After his phone calls, the president convened a meeting earlier this morning of the National Security Council. Following the meeting, he met with the king of Jordan, where the two discussed ways to cooperate in the war against terrorism. They discussed the importance of moving forward with the peace process in the Middle East. And they also discussed the importance of the strong bilateral relations that exist between the United States and Jordan. And, of course, earlier this morning the president signed into law the Jordanian Free Trade Agreement.
The president will have a meeting mid-afternoon of his domestic consequence committee to discuss various proposals to help people who have been hit by all the layoffs in the economy, to help with the possibility of a worker relief package.
And then he will depart for Camp David late this afternoon, and he will be in Camp David through the weekend, where he will participate again in a meting of the National Security Council via teleconference.
One final note for you, then I'll be pleased to take questions. Secretary Powell and the foreign minister of Spain will be available at 4:15 this afternoon at a stakeout following their meeting at State.
With that, I'm happy to take questions.
QUESTION: You mentioned a worker relief package. Is that the same thing as what others call a stimulus package?
FLEISCHER: The president has had a series of meetings on a stimulus package.
A component that is also being explored is a worker relief component to a stimulus package.
QUESTION: Does that include such things as extending unemployment benefits?
FLEISCHER: The president is very concerned about the rising unemployment that's taken place in the country prior to September 11, but also in the wake of the attacks with all of the layoffs that have hit various communities across the country.
The president wants to address that by working with the Congress in a bipartisan way on an economic stimulus package. He's going to discuss a variety of ideas that many people, including many leading Democrats, have offered about how to help workers who have lost their jobs.
QUESTION: Would that be ready as early as next week?
FLEISCHER: You know, I'm just not going to get into guesses about the timing of it. It will be ready when the president and the Congress have reached sufficient agreement about it and the president thinks that it's right.
QUESTION: Is that something that you want -- would you want to attach that -- or as some people on the Hill have talked about -- to the airline security package, or is it something you want to do separately? Would you rather do it with a stimulus package?
FLEISCHER: Well, yesterday, in Chicago, the president made a series of announcements designed to help protect the traveling public so when they travel, for example, cockpit doors are reinforced, that the federal government takes a much more aggressive role in background checks of airport workers and setting federal standards on the screening operations that people go through when they board airplanes.
The president has viewed this as a way to send a signal that safety in the traveling public has got to come first, that safety is terribly important and that he's going to address that.
There are a variety of other ideas that the president wants to review dealing with the impact of the layoffs on workers. But the president announced yesterday a separate safety package, and he wants to make certain that the safety package is able to move through Congress.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) how it's affecting the airline industry, is it necessarily a part -- do you view that as something different?
FLEISCHER: Well, there are two real issues here. One is the safety of travelers, an ongoing concern that the president wants to move quickly to address. The other is restoring strength to the economy and helping people who are suffering, who have lost their jobs.
QUESTION: Don't want to ask you about a timetable here, though I understand it's a matter of some urgency: Can you say that Reagan National Airport will be reopened?
FLEISCHER: That is going to be a determination that's going to be made by the appropriate security people working with the Department of Transportation, the National Security Council, the Secret Service in consultation with officials here.
The president is keenly aware of the impact of leaving Ronald Reagan Airport closed. He's very concerned about the impact it has on the people who work there, their families, the economy of northern Virginia, on U.S. Air and its ability to maintain its obligations to its passengers.
FLEISCHER: There are, of course, unique security considerations that come into play having an airport located so close to Washington and to the Congress, to the White House and to the other institutions of government.
So it's a real question of balancing some crucial needs that affect people's lives and livelihoods with security. Those issues are all being reviewed as we speak. No final determinations have been made.
QUESTION: Is it his personal desire to see it reopened?
FLEISCHER: The president has authorized the appropriate people to work on the issue and to bring him their recommendations. He is very aware, as I said, about the implications of leaving it closed, and he's very concerned about that.
So the review is under way, and there's nothing further I can say until the review is complete and is shared.
QUESTION: Do you think they'll have a decision next week?
FLEISCHER: I don't want to guess on the timing, but the president is aware of the need to move with dispatch because it's affecting people's lives.
QUESTION: One of the appropriate people is Secretary Mineta, who said this morning, "It will reopen." Is he wrong?
FLEISCHER: The secretary, I think, did four interviews this morning on four different morning shows. And on three of them, he indicated exactly what I just indicated. And that's the answer.
QUESTION: So he was off message on ABC.
FLEISCHER: I would comment about any one particular network, but...
QUESTION: In that interview, he was not stating the administration's position?
FLEISCHER: Let me just say that I paid careful attention to all of his interviews. I refer you to the three that I referenced.
QUESTION: He also said a decision could come as early as Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Is that...
FLEISCHER: That's all possible.
QUESTION: On the same issue, it's not only the economic impact it's having for the whole region and the livelihood of people, it's also a symbol. National Airport is the main airport of Washington. The president is speaking of people getting on the air again and flying and flying is safe again, so this is going against the message as long as it stays closed.
FLEISCHER: You know, you're right, it is a symbol. And unfortunately, in the aftermath of the attack on September 11, many Americans are taking a look at things symbolic and things real and saying, "Things are changing." And it's an unfortunate reality of what's happened since September 11.
So at the same time the president is doing everything in his power to help Americans resume their lives across the country, there are going to be issues that are also for the first time in so many of our lives that are touched by security considerations for the first time.
And the question of National Airport is directly one of them.
QUESTION: There are press reports that say that special forces from the United States and Great Britain are on the ground in Afghanistan.
Has the military war against terrorism begun?
FLEISCHER: Let me lay out one rule now and for the future: I will never comment on any military operations that may or may not be under way.
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on the National Airport. Dulles Airport is very close to Washington as well -- 20 miles or something like that. The planes involved in the incidents here on September 11 -- or the incident here on September 11, believe were traveling something like 400 miles an hour. That's also only a couple of minutes away by air from downtown Washington if somebody suddenly decides to divert from their flight path. Why aren't there special measures in place at Dulles unique to deal with the Washington area, and why is National so much greater concern?
FLEISCHER: Well, again, those are all the issues that the security experts are taking a look at. Sometimes the difference between minutes and seconds is a big difference. And so, they are looking at exactly those type of issues.
QUESTION: Ari, I have two questions. Did Secretary Mineta jump the gun on ABC this morning? Is that what you're saying?
FLEISCHER: I think I've addressed it.
QUESTION: Number two: What did the president mean by hot pursuit?
FLEISCHER: I'll leave that to others to guess at.
QUESTION: I assume by your answer earlier, there's no ordinary debate here about whether there will be that economic stimulus package. The White House agrees there will definitely be one, there's a need for it, correct?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think until the president says something you can rest assured that it's a matter that's under review. I wouldn't reach any conclusions until the president himself says something.
But the president has indicated, of course, that he remains very concerned about the economy and he is taking a look at a series of possible actions that can be taken to help people, and he's going to do that in concert with the Congress.
QUESTION: All right. And is there anything about, if there is a stimulus package, how large that should be?
FLEISCHER: There's no final determinations on that.
QUESTION: Ari, just following up your answer to this other question and the fact that you're not going to comment about any operational details from the podium. So is it fair then that the American people should have to expect that some things could be happening right now on the military front that they just won't be told about?
FLEISCHER: You know, as the president said, there are going to be elements to this war that everybody will know about, that people will be able to see and know about for themselves that will be publicly discussed.
But it is also the nature of this first war against terrorism that there may be areas that people do not know about, and I'm just not going to go beyond that in discussing anything that is operational like that. QUESTION: A general policy question on this -- do you have any assessment of whether it was proper to publish the article about alleged covert actions? And would the White House like to see the press exercise greater restraint, even if official wartime powers have not been invoked?
FLEISCHER: You know, this is always a balance of democracy. But the fact of the matter is, our democracy seems to typically get it right. And it's one of the reasons we win wars, is because we have a free people and a free press.
And in that interesting historical and delicate balance, people do their part. They understand the implications about what they do, they say, they write, they publish.
And history, I think, is a good guide. I think there are challenges today in the modern communications era that didn't exist in World War II, for example, where things said today are instantly heard and can be heard by enemies around the world.
But it's an interesting question of delicacy and balance. I've made some concerns known to the media, which I'll continue to make known on a private level, about things that are done or said, and I think we're all going to work our way forward in this together.
QUESTION: Then was the paper wrong to publish that kind of articles that could put the American forces in danger if they indeed are there?
FLEISCHER: That's not a judgment for me to make, and answering that question would be giving an indication whether it was accurate or not, and I won't do that.
QUESTION: My impression was that you had been saying that you wanted to wait several more days, in keeping with Greenspan's advice, to see whether or not some stimulus was actually needed. The sense I get from you now is that that judgment has been made and that you were deeply involved in preparations looking at all of the options, and that you've actually decided that, in fact, some stimulus will be necessary. FLEISCHER: Well, the president is looking at options. He is reviewing with his staff and with Cabinet secretaries a series of possible steps to take. And he also has been discussing it with leaders on the Hill, with Senator Lott, Speaker Hastert, Congressman Gephardt, Senator Daschle. And he's going to continue to do that.
So it's a process. He hasn't reached any conclusions yet, but he is reviewing a series of actions that may be taken. And the reason is because there are a lot of people in this country who are hurting; who are out of jobs and who need help.
FLEISCHER: And there is an economy that the president is always going to focus on, in times of war or peace, that he wants to make certain is strong.
QUESTION: So, in a sense, you have rolled in all the concerns on Capitol Hill about finding some sort of relief for laid-off workers. That has now become part of your thinking, on an economic stimulus.
FLEISCHER: Well, you've said we've rolled in all the concerns. The president is taking a look at a lot of options.
QUESTION: But I mean, action on that front is now seen as part of any stimulus package?
FLEISCHER: I think it's all possible.
QUESTION: Right. Now the Senate was talking about $21 billion in assistance for laid-off workers. Is that somewhere in the realm of anything the White House could contemplate?
FLEISCHER: Yes. I'm not going to speculate about any numbers. The president's going to continue to explore these options and see where -- see what determinations he makes.
QUESTION: You had indicated, I think, earlier in the week that you thought, in the $100 billion that was identified by Greenspan and others, as the amount needed for any stimulus, that you thought about $50 billion, $55 billion had already been spent in terms of emergency spending and the airline bill. Is that your thinking, that there's another $40 billion or so that would come and no package should really exceed that amount?
FLEISCHER: Well, that was actually what the Federal Reserve said in a statement they issued. There was some confusion about what some people interpreted Chairman Greenspan to have said, when he went up to the Hill, and some people are suggesting this $100 billion figure. The Federal Reserve, subsequently, put out a clarification to correct of any the misinterpretations others made.
QUESTION: Do you share that view?
FLEISCHER: You know, I think you'll get the number when the president is ready to report a number.
QUESTION: Is there any ongoing discussion with Reverend Jackson on going to Afghanistan and getting the Americans out? I don't think he feels designated to negotiate, when two people keep saying no negotiations? I don't think that's a problem. Would you be very unhappy if he went?
FLEISCHER: Well, Reverend Jackson has talked to Secretary Powell and to Condoleezza Rice and the administration's position is clear: The United States government is not going to negotiate or have any discussions with the Taliban.
QUESTION: We heard that in Iran-Contra too about 10 times, a thousand times before...
FLEISCHER: Helen, you can come to conclusions about what you're hearing today and I'm sure you will.
QUESTION: OK. FLEISCHER: But I repeat: The government is not going to negotiate with the Taliban and enter into negotiations with him. And Reverend Jackson can be very helpful in reminding the world about the importance of fighting terrorism.
QUESTION: When you say that, you know, the U.S. government is not going to negotiate, does that mean that there's no diplomat -- no room for diplomacy here?
FLEISCHER: That's correct. That's correct.
QUESTION: No room for diplomacy?
FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: So no additional delegations from Pakistan to go to talk to the Taliban? You wouldn't support...
FLEISCHER: The president could not have said it any plainer in his speech to the nation. It's time for additions, not words. And the Taliban is harboring terrorists, and the president has said that he will protect this country after it's been attacked by those who engage in terrorism and those who harbor terrorists. And he meant it.
QUESTION: Would he object if Jackson went and got the young people who have been -- people who have been jailed, got them out?
FLEISCHER: I've addressed the question.
QUESTION: Ari, do you feel that the worker relief program should include a component that involves job training as well as health benefits?
FLEISCHER: Again, there is a series of things the president's looking at, that's under review, and until the president makes those determinations I'm not going to speculate.
QUESTION: And also, on the stimulus package, there's a school of thought that if you're going to do anything it should provide relief for corporate as well as for individuals. Specifically, on individuals, for payroll cuts, because many people were not eligible for the first round of rebates; is that something the president is open-minded about?
FLEISCHER: That's another idea that has been floated around on the Hill, and the president's aware of that. These are all good attempts to get me to speculate about the specifics of what the president's reviewing, and I just won't.
QUESTION: About the specifics, what prism of principles is the president applying to all these good ideas that are coming into the White House?
FLEISCHER: The president is taking a look at it in the context of what will be real and meaningful to help the economy and to help workers get jobs. That's the first principle that the president is applying. And of course in war and peace it's always important, the president believes, to keep an eye on the wise use of taxpayer dollars.
QUESTION: Ari, a follow-up to Helen's question: When President Clinton was president, Jesse Jackson went to Kosovo, got the three soldiers out. The administration was very upset with him. What are the thoughts of a civilian dealing with a government-to-government -- a higher level government-to-government situation now than just leaving it alone?
FLEISCHER: Yes, I mean, really, I think we've exhausted the topic. I've said what the administration has to say about the possible visit.
QUESTION: Reverend Jackson now is putting out a statement -- a written statement to try to prove that the Taliban did get a hold of him, and he's still thinking it could his moral obligation to go there.
QUESTION: Could he be a fly in the ointment in the situation?
FLEISCHER: I've addressed the question, and I think he'll figure out what he does.
QUESTION: Ari, on that, following that, actually the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan has denied his country is making any such offer, and the Reverend Mr. Jackson now says it doesn't matter who initiated this. Does the president want the secretary of state to take any more time to meet with such a storyteller when it should be the attorney general meeting with Jesse for questioning about the mistress money?
FLEISCHER: I think I'll leave this to the two of you to figure out.
QUESTION: My second one...
FLEISCHER: How can you follow up when I didn't answer your first question?
QUESTION: I'm trying again. The Washington Post reports this morning that Washington's Channel 7, an ABC affiliate, has reversed its decision to bring back Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect." And quote, "The decision follows criticism by a White House spokesman of Maher's comments that our armed forces vessel people are cowards and the terrorists aren't." My question is, has anyone blamed you for your effective comment or have all the actions been positive, as they should be?
FLEISCHER: I get blamed every day for things I did or did not do or say.
QUESTION: But you weren't blamed for this.
FLEISCHER: Not in this building, I wasn't. At least not by people on the federal payroll with whom I work.
QUESTION: Your resolute refusal to...
FLEISCHER: You only get two.
QUESTION: What's the White House reaction to the U.N. lifting sanctions on Sudan and the United States deciding not to fly -- sorry -- not to block sanctions to Sudan?
FLEISCHER: Right. The United Nations Security Council voted this morning to lift the U.N. sanctions on Sudan, which was the action taken in discussions the U.N. had in support of Egypt. The sanctions that were imposed by the United Nations on the Sudan were taken as a result of Sudanese efforts in an assassination attempt on President Mubarak. The lifting of the sanctions were done in agreement with Egypt.
The United States continues to maintain its bilateral sanctions against Sudan; the two are not related. So I note that it has been supported, it was a unanimous vote in the Security Council...
QUESTION: But in the past we've blocked U.N. attempts to lift the sanctions. So why this time, given how critical the president's been in the past?
FLEISCHER: Well, again I think that the Egyptian support for lifting the sanctions played a role in the actions the United States took, and given the fact that the United States' bilateral sanctions against Sudan remain in place allowed us to be at the position we are.
I also note, of course, that the president named Senator Danforth as a special envoy to the Sudan because of his concern about the human rights violations that are taking place in the Sudan, and those concerns remain.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up? Isn't is also sending a message to those countries that might help in this campaign against terrorism, about certain actions that could be taken, such as the U.S. not blocking these sanctions?
FLEISCHER: No, I don't know that. I know that these set of sanctions were set to expire, which is also why the vote took place at the time it took place.
QUESTION: Yesterday, after the president's announcement on the security at airline checkpoints, we saw the first cracks in what had been the extraordinary unity on Capitol Hill. A lot of lawmakers want the president to go the extra mile and federalize the whole work force. Is he willing to go that extra mile to preserve that extraordinary unity at this difficult time?
FLEISCHER: Well, the president made the announcement yesterday he made because he believes it's the right policy. The president believes that there can be a substantial strengthening -- a very significant strengthening of the safety for the traveling public by federalizing the background checks, the standards that the security workers operate under, and that it can be done in a way that really is very different from the way airports operated in the past -- particularly ending low-bid contracts with screeners and setting a new set of standards.
So that's why the president did it. He'll always have an eye to working with Congress, but I'm not prepared to guess where this is going to end up.
QUESTION: On the Bill Maher issue -- we talked about this morning. But now today, this afternoon in relation to the USA Today story on the special ops, this is the second time from this podium that you have essentially cautioned the media and people to watch what they say, as you put it with Bill Maher. That has triggered a lot of comment and concern. Do you believe it is appropriate, as the president's spokesman exercising that authority, to issue that kind of warning?
FLEISCHER: Two points: one on special ops -- what I indicated is there has always been a historical and delicate balance and our nation has been well-served, the country and everybody including the press, finding its way through that. So my characterization is not quite as you described it.
But on the other question about answering questions posed to me by reporters when individual Americans say things that may not meet with the approval of people in government -- and I've been asked from this podium, I've been asked about discrimination against Muslims, I've been asked about discrimination against Sikhs and whether the White House would speak out. I've been asked about statements made by Republican congressmen that they're intolerant toward Muslims and minorities in this country and I have never hesitated to comment or speak my mind about those issues. I was asked about what Bill Maher said and I didn't hesitate to talk about that.
It is always the right, and forever will be, of an American to speak out. It is always the right of an American to be wrong. But that won't stop me from saying, when asked by the press, if something is not meet with approval from the White House, as far as statements of intolerance or some of the statements you reference.
Very often, when you asked the question and the White House does not answer it, the press interprets that as a wink and a nod, saying that the White House tacitly approves it. So when you ask the question, I think you're entitled to answer.
QUESTION: So you stand by what you say?
FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said about what he said. It was unfortunate and should not have been said. But I understand, of course, and all times, it's everybody's right to say things, no matter how wrong they can be.
QUESTION: So you -- then you don't believe what you said that Americans ought to, at this time, watch what they say? Do you stand by that specific part of your statement?
FLEISCHER: You know, I think that everybody always has to be thoughtful. I think everybody needs to think through the repercussions, the implications of what they say.
And I shared this morning, as well, but -- you know, I had a message on my answering machine from somebody, a citizen who called up, and said that the United States needs to round up all the Muslims -- the good ones and the bad ones -- because he can't tell the difference. And that's the type of thing people have to think carefully about the things that they do and they say.
And our nation, as it goes into an increased wartime footing, is going to be confronting issues that typically, thankfully, have not come up in the past that make people think more carefully about what they're doing. And so, that's the answer to the question.
QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you then about some statements that have been made by guests that the president has had here in the last couple days? He invited folks from the Muslim Public Affairs Council. In the time of the missile strikes on Afghanistan in '98, that group described those strikes as, quote, "illegal and immoral."
And in particular, Mr. Al-Marayati, who was one of the gentlemen in the Roosevelt Room, I think it was with the president, said on the day of these most recent attacks, "If we're going to look at suspects, we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list, because I think this diverts attention from what's happening in the Palestinian territories, so they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies."
QUESTION: What would the president's view on those comments be? Would you agree with them?
FLEISCHER: I don't think it'd surprise anybody that the president often has meetings to discuss a whole host of issues with people who he doesn't agree with everything they may have said in the course of their lives or careers.
QUESTION: What about on these particular attacks? Does the president believe the state of Israel is a reasonable suspect for what took place in New York or at the Pentagon?
FLEISCHER: No he does not.
QUESTION: Ari, to follow up about the statements that you've made earlier this week about the Federal Reserve, I wanted to ask you why you felt compelled to comment on the Fed's statement -- which you normally don't make any comments on the Fed -- and if they gave you any clarification that it was $40 billion to $50 billion. Because their statement actually was characteristically more vague than that, and just said that it was recent spending measures, and didn't actually put a number to it.
FLEISCHER: Right. The question was, people attributed $100 billion to his statement, and that was what I was asked about by the press -- $100 billion figure. And I wanted to make certain that nobody thought the $100 was accurate.
QUESTION: When you were talking about -- the remaining figures would $40 billion to $50 billion.
FLEISCHER: I was walking everybody through the existing stimulus as it has been put into play, which is the $40 billion in spending, plus the $15 billion in the airline package.
QUESTION: Senator Daschle says it's at $95 billion.
FLEISCHER: It's $95 billion?
QUESTION: It's $95 billion.
FLEISCHER: That what's $95 billion?
QUESTION: It's $40 billion plus $15 billion, plus the $40 billion spent for the tax cut earlier this... FLEISCHER: And that's why when I was asked earlier about what the size of the stimulus the president thinks is appropriate, I said, "You'll hear it from the president when he decides what it should be."
QUESTION: Ari, the airline security package -- you mentioned ending the low-bid system. I'm not clear how the president's proposals would end the low-bid system.
FLEISCHER: Because the standards that the federal government will put into place as far as the hiring of contractors will make clear that contracts should not be accepted on the basis of low bid. They'll be accepted on the basis of a variety of factors that put safety first.
QUESTION: But everybody will have the same standards, but you could still have low-bid.
FLEISCHER: But the focus is going to be on the standards as opposed to the price.
QUESTION: Ari, do you know what this security -- the aviation security agency is going to be? There was a lot of questions yesterday, and it was, kind of, unclear. The administration official was calling it an authority, he was calling it an agency. It sounds like it might be under the homeland security office bit. Do you know any more now?
FLEISCHER: Yes, that still is under review about precisely where it will be. I don't think it's going to be under the homeland office, I can tell you that much. It's being looked at.
FLEISCHER: That's a possibility. But they were taking a look at where the most appropriate place is, so its actions can be the most effective.
QUESTION: Could it stay under FAA? FLEISCHER: We'll know soon enough. And those are, kind of, the details about where it's going to be.
FLEISCHER: No, I'm not indicating yes or no, I'm saying we'll know soon enough.
QUESTION: So it hasn't been ruled out?
FLEISCHER: On FAA, I'll have to check and see if it's been ruled in or out.
QUESTION: But it's not going to be under the homeland office.
FLEISCHER: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: It will not be under the homeland office?
FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: Al Gore, tomorrow, is going to offer a keynoter to the J.J. (ph) Day dinner in Iowa, but we're told that it's going to be, sort of, basically a message of bipartisanship. My question is, has he been in touch with the president? Has the president talked to former Vice President Gore since September 11?
FLEISCHER: I'll have to ask. Don't have that off the top of my head. I'll have to ask.
QUESTION: Besides having a deal on the overall number of the $686 billion, is there an agreement that the president will officially, formally request the education money by letter or another vehicle?
FLEISCHER: As I indicated this morning, I don't have an answer for you about any additional funding. And the talks continue. We are very, very close on it. And while they're getting very close on the level of funding, as I indicated, there are going to be additional talks going on that are still under way. So we're very close to an agreement. I was a tad forward leaning this morning when I said there is an agreement. But there's been a lot of progress made and we're really making good progress in getting there.
QUESTION: Ari, Robert Rubin I think most people agree did a very good job as secretary of treasury and he faced two very large international crises: the Mexican peso devaluation, the Asian financial crisis. And he's testified in Congress two or three times already. Has President Bush had any conversation with Rubin?
FLEISCHER: I'll have to go back and take a look. Couldn't tell you.
We have the week ahead. Let me get that for you. Next week the president will continue to meet with his National Security Council on a regular basis, and also with his domestic consequences group.
On Monday, the president will visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, headquarters, to thank the employees there for the work they have been doing, and he will tour their command center.
On Tuesday, the president will have a bipartisan breakfast with the joint congressional leadership.
And on Thursday the president will meet with the emir of Qatar.
And on Friday he will meet with the president of Georgia as he continues to discuss the international coalition against terrorism.
No word on travel at this point.
QUESTION: When is the emir of Qatar?
FLEISCHER: Emir of Qatar is on Thursday.
QUESTION: Any pool events this weekend?
FLEISCHER: No pool events this weekend.
WOODRUFF: Probably the most important piece of new information to come out of this briefing from White House spokesman Ari Fleischer is that the president now giving serious consideration to some sort of, not just a stimulus package, which they've already been talking about, but relief for workers laid off in the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11th. Ari Fleischer not willing to talk about a number, an amount of money, but saying the president is very concerned about people losing their jobs, about what this has meant to the lives of people across the country. And the president having a meeting this afternoon with the so-called domestic consequences group.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com