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America Strikes Back: Presidential Press Conference Was A Show of Confidence

Aired October 12, 2001 - 05:16   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.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, well, last night President Bush gave his first nationwide news conference. It is supposed to be a sign of confidence that a president will take questions from the press corps, especially during these very turbulent times.

So let's check in with Major Garrett. He is reporting live at the White House this morning -- Major, in terms of -- all right, we're going to get to Major Garrett in just a moment.

But right now I want to bring you up to date on a couple of bills, actually, one in particular that was passed yesterday by the Senate. It is an anti-terrorism bill. It passed late last night. It would authorize such things as roving wiretaps, subpoenas for people's e-mail, more surveillance on anybody who might be a suspected terrorist. Non-citizens, for example, who are suspected of terrorism could be detained for up to seven days under this bill.

It was passed with only one dissenting voice, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who questions whether this goes far and beyond the ability of the government to monitor people's civil liberties.

Right now we want to go to Major Garrett, though, about the president's news conference -- good morning, Major.

President Bush certainly had a lot of interesting things to say and he started with a warning to the American people that though this campaign has so far been very successful over Afghanistan, this is going to be a long campaign and a long war.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Carol. The president said, as he has before, that this is a different type of war, one that is going to require a good deal of patience from the American public.

Just briefly on that counter-terrorism piece of legislation, the president praised the Senate's action. The White House is hopeful that the House will follow suit as early as today and those two bills can be swiftly recalled and sent to the president's desk for his signature, possibly as early as next week.

The president took a lot of questions in his first prime time news conference, the first from the East Room in a good long -- well, the first from the East Room in this Bush presidency and the first in prime time in nearly six years.

The president gave a lot of news. He said he does not know if Osama bin Laden, for example, is alive or dead, but he is very confident that the U.S. military has the al Qaeda organization, in his words, "on the run." And the president also tried to confront what he considers to be the question uppermost on the minds of Americans, at least as it relates to the military campaign in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: People often ask me how long will this last? This particular battlefront will last as long as it takes to bring al Qaeda to justice. It may happen tomorrow. It may happen a month from now. It may take a year or two. But we will prevail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Carol, a key phrase in the president's formulation there is this particular battlefront, an indication the president and his advisers do believe there will be other battlefronts. And the president was asked about other battlefronts, at one point whether or not Iraq might be a nation that could come under U.S. scrutiny. The president said, in fact, Iraq is already under U.S. scrutiny. In his words, "we're watching Saddam Hussein very, very carefully."

But the president also took pains to stress, as he has before, that this is not a war either against Islam or against the Afghan people and at the end of the press conference, he did something presidents almost never do. He ended with a concluding statement where he announced that he would like every child in America to send the White House one dollar, a dollar that the White House will then pass on to relief organizations to provide food and medicine in the brutal winter months ahead for Afghan children.

Here's what the president had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This is an opportunity to help others while teaching our own children a valuable lesson about service and character. I hope school classes or Boys and Girl Scout troops, other youth organizations will participate in any way to raise the money to send to the children. Wash your car. Do a yard for a neighbor. And I hope the adults will help them, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: And the president even provided the direct address where children and adults and any organization that so chooses can send the money to the White House. Here it is: America's Fund for Afghan Children, c/o The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C., 20509-1600.

Senior administration officials say the White House will do everything within its power to keep costs down, get those envelopes full of money sent straight over to the Red Cross and other relief organizations involved in the humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.

Again, this is a very clear signal from the White House that not only does the president want to remind Americans over and over again this is not a campaign against the people of Afghanistan, but he wants American children and their parents to understand it, as well, not only understand it, but do something to participate -- Carol.

LIN: Major, I don't think I've ever heard a U.S. president ask for money from the public, much less kids. It's interesting.

GARRETT: There's an interesting history there, Carol, if you'll allow me just for a second.

LIN: Sure.

GARRETT: The origins of this program date back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1938 he asked American children to send one dime each to the White House to help eradicate polio. That became the beginning of something we're all very familiar with now, the March of Dimes. The president will deliver a speech today to the March of Dimes about this very subject -- Carol.

LIN: Oh, well, thank you, Major. Certainly before my time and really interesting to know that it's got a bit of history.

Major, very quickly, the president has said in the past couple of days that he wants Americans to remain on alert. In light of this new FBI warning, did anybody ask him at the news conference what Americans should be looking for and who they should report the information to?

GARRETT: It was exactly, he was asked exactly that question. The simple answer, look for anything suspicious, anything out of the ordinary, anything that raises an eyebrow for you or your friends and if something does, don't be afraid, don't be bashful. Call the FBI. Call the local police. That's what the president asked every American to do.

LIN: All right, thank you very much. Major Garrett reporting live this morning from the White House. That's interesting.

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