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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Ari Fleischer Press Conference

Aired October 29, 2001 - 12:46   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: Now to the White House briefing room -- spokesman Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. I am going to give you a report on the president's day, then I have several announcements pertaining to some meetings and visits.

The president this morning spoke with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Zia. The president congratulated the prime minister on her election victory and thanked her for supporting the global coalition against terrorism. He also conveyed condolences to Prime Minister Zia over the loss of the many Bangladeshi citizens at the World Trade Center. The president stressed the importance of showing respect for the Muslim faith in America, as well as around the world.

The president also spoke to Tanzania President Mkapa this morning. The president thanked President Mkapa for his support of the anti-terrorism coalition and acknowledged the common work of the United States and Tanzania in the terrorism fight since the bombing of the embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1998. President Mkapa stated Tanzanians fully support the coalition.

The president convened a meeting of the National Security Council this morning. He also traveled to the State Department to participate in a forum on the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This was a forum designed to promote trade with sub-Saharan African nations and the United States as a result of legislation that the president signed early this year that has led to an increase in trade by some 17 percent compared to last year with sub-Saharan, something the president thinks is very important for the development of the African continent.

The president also this afternoon, at 2:00, will convene a meeting of the Homeland Security Council, and at that meeting the president is going to announce the creation of the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. The purpose of this is to have a way for the agencies to work together to prevent aliens who commit or support terror from entering the United States. The president will also direct these agencies to work together to locate, detain, prosecute or deport any aliens who may already be here. So this will be stepped up enforcement.

Several announcements -- President Bush will welcome President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to the White House on November 5. That's the president of Algeria.

The president also, an announcement concerning Japan, welcomes Japan's actions today to provide forces for surveillance, transport and other support, short of direct combat operations, in the war on terrorism. Japan is already playing an active role in diplomacy, information sharing and humanitarian assistance. This newest contribution demonstrates the enduring strength of the U.S.-Japanese relationship.

Four more -- President Bush will travel to New York to attend the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly on November 10 through 11. The general debate was postponed from September due to the terrorist attacks.

While in New York, the president will deliver a speech to the United Nations, attend a lunch hosted by Secretary General Annan, and host a number of meetings with world leaders. One of those meetings with world leaders will include President Musharraf of Pakistan, who will meet with the president on November 10 while the two are up in New York.

An update on some activities at the agencies dealing with the consequences of the terrorist attacks and actions that'll be taken to help America regain its footing and normalcy.

Secretary Evans this morning hosted the first meeting of what's called the Tourist Policy Council. It's the first meeting since 1997. Secretaries of transportation, labor, interior and HUD, along with the Small Business Administration and the Immigration and Nationalization Service, attended.

The reestablishment of this commission follows recommendations made by the travel and tourism industry to the White House following the attack on September 11 as a way to help the travel and the tourism industry recover.

Secretary O'Neill at the Department of Treasury today addressed a special section of what's called the Financial Action Task Force. That's a group of 29 nations that work together to develop guidelines for money laundering around the world.

The secretary encouraged the task force to devote its experience to disrupt the misuse of the international financial system by terrorists and those who channel funds to them. In his remarks, the secretary suggested three goals: one, the establishment of international standards for combating terrorist financing; two, to ensure that not only task force members but all countries come into compliance with the standards; and three, that regular reports be issued on the success in identifying taking action against terrorist financing.

To date, more than 150 countries are cooperating in the financial war against terrorism. More than 80 blocking orders have issued by various nations; $24 million has been blocked.

And I'm more than happy to take questions. QUESTION: Despite the previous briefing, there's still some confusion over the cases we have today. Can you tell us what you know about the identification of anthrax in the Supreme Court building, where it was found and how much of it? On the Cohen building, where exactly is that? What agency has authority over it? And can you tell us what you know about what was found and how much was found?

FLEISCHER: From the information of Health and Human Services, to the best of my knowledge, was obtained today, it's a preliminary test result, and so the Department of Health and Human Services is going to want to continue to review what they found.

It's a preliminary positive. Additional tests are being done over there.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: That's correct, the Cohen Building is the Department of Health and Human Services.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: I do not recall if Secretary Thompson indicated it was mailroom or some other facility. I do believe it was the mailroom, however.

The Supreme Court, as you know, was a remote facility, that was found at the Supreme Court. They have a remote mail processing center.

And your third question?

QUESTION: There's reports in the Supreme Court that was actually found in the building (inaudible).

FLEISCHER: I have not heard those reports.

QUESTION: What about the State Department?

FLEISCHER: State Department -- I would refer you to State to get additional details on that. My understanding is that it involved mail that was received at a remote facility across the street from the State Department that was brought into the State Department -- into the mail rooms at the State Department.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... contaminated mail that was brought into the mail room in the State Department?

FLEISCHER: That appears to be what it is. That's correct.

Yes, Secret Service knew about that prior to the president going over there. It did not pose any problem for the president or his traveling party. QUESTION: Prior to September 10, did the U.S., either through administration officials or intermediaries, have any discussions with Taliban representatives about turning over some Osama bin Laden for trial?

FLEISCHER: The only reports I'm aware of -- and you may want to check deeper with the State Department, because when it comes to diplomatic communications with other entities, they will have more information -- but the only one I'm aware of, it was a matter of routine for the United States, working through Pakistan, to talk to the Taliban about the conditions of the Americans who were held in Afghanistan for preaching Christianity. There have been contacts on that. Anything beyond that, I do not know.

QUESTION: So as far as you know, as part of those contacts there was no discussion about turning over bin Laden?

FLEISCHER: No, I'm referring you to State, because that's the only information I have on the topic.

QUESTION: Ari, is it the administration's belief that there is at least one more letter out there somewhere that's causing a lot of this contamination?

FLEISCHER: It's a possibility. I wouldn't characterize anything as the president's belief or not. One of the things the president has stressed is to pursue the facts wherever they may take us, and then to inform people. But clearly that is a theory that investigators have that it may be more than one letter.

QUESTION: The Cohen Building has two departments in it. It has the Health and Human Services on the one side; it's got the Voice of America, Worldnet Television on the other side. Are you saying that the mail room of Health and Human Services...

FLEISCHER: I'm saying that the secretary of health and human services informed me about it immediately prior to Governor Ridge's briefing, so information is on its way in. And I'm sure that the department will have additional information with specifics as soon as it's available.

QUESTION: Can you give us any more specifics on this task force exactly? You're moving to restrict immigration in some way?

FLEISCHER: Well, it's designed to learn some of the lessons about what happened on September 11 in which obviously aliens entered the United States for the purpose of engaging in terrorism. And so the task force is going to work with the various agencies that are involved to try to find that rightful balance between America remaining a nation that is open and welcoming to immigrants, while making certain that terrorists are not able to take advantage of our openness and the fact that we are and must remain a free society and enter the country. That's the purpose.

QUESTION: What kind of restrictions could we see in the future? FLEISCHER: Well, they're going to be working on a series of recommendations. The governor will be announcing, along with the president, the creation of this task force today, and you'll just have to wait and see what the task force specifically comes up with.

QUESTION: In view of the nation's plight, is the president really supporting rebates to the tune of billions of dollars for the biggest corporations in this country?

FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that I would characterize what is pending on the Hill in that exact manner. The president has proposed an economic stimulus plan that includes helping businesses so they don't get penalized for saving and investment in new plant and new equipment. And as you know, the tax code right now has a perverse incentive that punishes companies that invest in new plant and equipment. It's called the corporate alternative minimum tax. And as a result of the president's proposal...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) in a rebate for these corporations?

FLEISCHER: The president's proposal dealt with it on a prospective basis.

QUESTION: The president says he does not like the issue of profiling when he stood next to Muslim Americans and Arab Americans. Doesn't this immigration task force somewhat promote the idea of profiling?

FLEISCHER: No, not at all. I think it promotes the idea of catching terrorists, and that will be the goal of this task force -- to make certain that terrorists are not able to enter our country. You know, our country has had successes catching terrorists. I would refer you to the Millennium Project where terrorists tried to infiltrate to take action domestically against the United States and its citizens on New Year's Eve, 1999, turning the corner to 2000. The government was successful in catching people.

On September 11, obviously, attacks got through. It's very important for the American people that the government dedicate the proper amount of resources and the proper diligence while maintaining our open policies as a nation as we move forward, and that's the purpose.

QUESTION: We keep hearing about this Millennium -- how things were thwarted. Could you give a specific example of what was thwarted, because many people are saying that it was basically nothing happened. There was just a bit (inaudible) about it.

FLEISCHER: Exactly.

QUESTION: I mean nothing happened because nothing was going to happen, and the federal government is saying it was thwarted. What was thwarted?

FLEISCHER: Yes, let me on that refer you to the FBI who will be more than happy to give you the details of what it was. QUESTION: Does the president this week have any plans on meeting with any of the postal workers here, in New Jersey, New York? He's met with SES people and other people.

FLEISCHER: All I can say is we'll keep you advised of the schedule.

QUESTION: Ari, on the task force, is the goal of the task force to apply a tighter screen, to take enforcement action, or just to make recommendations on what to do?

FLEISCHER: Well, the task force is getting created today, and so as the task force meets and comes out with its recommendations, I wouldn't be surprised to see if it's a series of both type things. It'll be some concrete actions that agencies can take unilaterally. There may be legislative proposals that they suggest to the Congress. Be likely to be some combination of both. Just depends on what recommendations they come up with.

QUESTION: Do you have a feeling for how serious this problem is? I mean, they talked to, what, 500 people in this investigation, feel like those 500 people are linked to terrorism and maybe shouldn't be here, or does it just say the 19 that were involved.

FLEISCHER: Well, it is a problem in that we are an open society, and the president is determined to make certain we remain an open society, and he wants to make certain that we are a society that continues to welcome immigrants. But there's a balance that must be found, while welcoming immigrants, because they strengthen our country and always have, making certain that we make sure that any loopholes are closed so that people who would do harm to the United States, who are on known terrorist lists, for example, are not allowed into the country.

QUESTION: When you said a minute ago that the president's proposals on tax breaks for corporations dealt with them a prospective basis, does that mean he does not support the proposals on the Hill to give retroactive tax breaks? And I'd follow that.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's all going to depend on what comes out in the final mix through the conference committee. I don't think the president is prepared at this point to go down every ticker of the proposals that are on the Hill.

FLEISCHER: As you know, they all get lumped together into one big package, and presidents don't have line-item vetoes. They have to look at the package in its entirety, and that's what the president looks forward to doing.

But the point is that the president strongly supports, this fall, enactment of legislation that will help get the economy moving again. This is a very important economic week for the country. A series of reports are going to come out this week on the gross domestic product for the third quarter -- the preliminary estimate of it.

They'll be additional information on Friday about unemployment for the nation, and the president does not think Congress should go home without addressing fixing our economy and giving it a boost, so people don't lose their jobs and providing that stimulus.

QUESTION: Secondly, on that front, how confident is the president that giving money to corporations will help get the economy going, when he himself has identified demand as one of the problems?

FLEISCHER: No.

QUESTION: He's out there telling us to go spend money.

FLEISCHER: First of all, it's not a question of giving money to anybody. Taxes in this country are made by the people who earn that. And so they send their money into the government. When the government gives it back, that's when the people keep the money that they themselves made, whether they are a corporation, a small business, an individual.

And the package the president sent up to the Congress, after some $55 billion worth of spending, was done by the Congress with the president's support. Now the president has proposed a package of a similar number that would focus on tax cuts, including tax cuts for low to middle-income people who don't pay income taxes, but who do pay payroll taxes. That would accelerate some of the income tax rate cuts that were scheduled for 2006 and 2004 to go into effect faster, as well as help for businesses.

Because let me remind you that, when businesses buy plant and equipment, that helps create jobs for the people who make that plant and equipment.

QUESTION: Is there any evidence that they'll do that, given that consumers aren't buying at the level the president desires?

FLEISCHER: It's always a combination of both. I mean, that's why the president's plan helps to stimulate demand by giving individuals tax rate reductions while helping businesses so they have incentives to invest in new plant and new equipment and, thereby, hire workers.

QUESTION: On the foreign terrorist tracking task force, what are the lines of authority there? Who is going to chair that? What will Governor Ridge's role be in that?

FLEISCHER: There will be a fact sheet distributed at the time of the announcement, and that'll answer all the questions. I don't have it with me.

QUESTION: If I could follow on that, Ari. You pointed out that the government was able to stop a series of incidents over the millennium. I'm wondering if the goal of the foreign terrorist tracking task force might be to deal with immigration policy that would -- for example, Mohammad Atta, we understand, could have been denied entry into the country. Would you expect recommendations that concern immigration policy in addition to dealing with people we already suspect are terrorists? Presumably, we have... FLEISCHER: Their charge is to focus on terrorists, and of course, they will do so with an overview of the fact that the nation must remain a country that is welcomed to immigrants and is an open society.

You know, we, historically, have benefited in fighting wars from the work that immigrants have done for our country. And so the president is very cognizant of that, and the president wants to make sure that as we move to make certain terrorists don't enter the country and that, if any terrorists are found here, we're able to take proper action. He wants that done in the context of being a nation that continues to be open.

QUESTION: We should not expect recommendations that deal with immigration policy?

FLEISCHER: Well we'll just have to wait and see what they do.

QUESTION: On the point Governor Ridge told us a few moments ago, that all options should be on the table, and when talking broadly about immigration, he didn't in any way discourage us from thinking that student visas, political asylums, some other means of access to this country through immigration system might very well be a big part of what the task force considers and makes changes to.

FLEISCHER: As I indicated, we'll just have to see what the task force comes up with.

QUESTION: Is the president generally concerned about issues on the improper use of student visas, political asylums -- other means of access to the country where people oversee...

FLEISCHER: The president is concerned about any which way that somebody could come into this nation as a terrorist and commit terrorist acts, regardless of what way they're able to slip in.

QUESTION: Is the White House dealing with the airlines in terms of -- there have been so many instances in this country where, if you have dark skin and you're on a plane, you could be ejected because (inaudible) What are doing about that?

FLEISCHER: I think there's no question that the president has made a determined effort from day one when he visited a mosque to remind the American people about the need to remain an open and tolerant society.

As I indicated before, many of the people who have helped us to win wars we fought before were immigrants to this nation. And they are just as American as everybody else whose been in this nation maybe one day or one generation or five generations longer than they have. So it's always a question of balance.

QUESTION: You're in contact with the airlines to put a halt to this?

FLEISCHER: I think everybody's heard the president's message, and let me remind you, too, that the government has prosecuted people, who, in the mailing of anthrax, conduct hoaxes, and I'm not aware of anybody saying that we're not going after people because of one background of somebody.

That is a broad effort. Anybody who breaks the laws of this country needs to be found and needs to be punished, and that's the president's approach.

QUESTION: Laura Bush said recently that she was offered vaccines and precautionary antibiotics for bioterrorism, given her openness. Can you tell us yet whether the president has been offered any of these?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to go beyond anything the president indicated last week.

QUESTION: Ari, on the task force, how soon does the president want the recommendations? And will there be any policy -- will there be an interim policy while he awaits the recommendations?

FLEISCHER: I've not heard a specific definition on it. That may come out in the fact sheet. And so the event will be -- that's a pool event at the bottom, and so the press will have access to the meeting and access to all that information.

Also, can't give it all out now because otherwise you might not come to the event. So it's after 2:00.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Does the president have any plans to travel to New York in the next 48 hours?

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: As always, we will keep you posted of the president's travels. And I just do want to remind you that the White House will be forthcoming and provide travel information. And until then, I've not given any indications.

QUESTION: Ari, are there any special or growing concerns about Pakistan. Musharraf has pushed us to stop bombing by Ramadan. We know that there are people massed on the border saying they want to go in and help the Taliban. As well, there are questions about the Pakistan intelligence service and have they been helping the Taliban. Are there growing concerns here or anything special that you're doing as it relates to Pakistan to keep them in the coalition?

FLEISCHER: Well, President Bush has always been working very closely since the beginning of this with President Musharraf and Secretary Powell has been in regular touch. The president will continue to have close cooperation with Pakistan to work with them as we together fight terrorism. It's a volatile region, of course, and the stability of the region is very important, and that's always foremost in the minds of the planners and of the people who are conducting the policies. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Is the administration at all looking into the possibility that some industries, some companies have taken advantage of the current economic climate to fatten the number of people they're laying off?

FLEISCHER: Actually, if you heard in the president's remarks last week in the East Room, I think the president went out of his way to note that there were several industries that have kept people working, and they serve as examples to other industries who are able to keep people on the payroll at this time of difficult economic circumstances throughout the country. The president recognizes that the private sector has a right to make hiring and firing decisions, but the president did compliment the auto industry for the actions that they are taking.

QUESTION: But has the administration looked into the possibility of price-gouging in the fuel situation earlier this year? Does it have any plans to look into the possibility of what I have posed there, that some companies are taking advantage of this to cut their payrolls?

FLEISCHER: Well, price-gouging is an entirely different topic, and that remains an issue that the United States government has a series of agencies set up to make certain that does not occur. It's notable that despite the fact that we do have a volatility in the Middle East, the price of oil has come down.

QUESTION: Talking about the employment roles, is there any effort to see...

FLEISCHER: I would refer you to what the president said last week. The president expressed himself very clearly, complimenting those industries that have taken those steps. But again, you know, in this country, the government is not the entity that does all the hiring and firing.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Again, I would just refer you to what the president said last week. I think he addressed that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: You must have had a very important meeting, because I addressed that at the top of my briefing in a statement.

QUESTION: Ari, since it is likely that the economic stimulus bill from the Senate is going to look quite different from the bill that's been marked up by the House. I was wondering if the president has laid out any realistic markers yet that would guide a conference committee beyond the sort of general statements that you've been making the last few days?

FLEISCHER: What I think you're seeing is a healthy process working. This is the way our system works. The House passes legislation, the Senate passes legislation, as is their prerogative to do. And the president looks forward to the Senate passing it. He hopes they will. There is a possibility they won't do it this fall, and the president thinks that would be a very bad mistake. That would hurt workers at a time they need help, so.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) passive observer, though?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think what's important is that bill makes it to conference. That typically is the way that presidents have been able to work the closest and work the best with the Congress. But the first step is for the Senate to pass it.

The president clearly did lay out the four components of what he believes a stimulus package should be. I walked you through them earlier in the briefing. So he has laid out the parameters. He has laid out his principles with several specifics, four specifics, and now it's up to the Senate to act.

QUESTION: Prior to September 11, the president appeared to be leaning toward liberalizing the immigration laws, particularly in regard to the establishment of the guest-worker program with Mexico. Is that dead now, particularly in light of the atmosphere?

FLEISCHER: No, it's not dead, but clearly, the two principle people who are involved in drafting the new immigration policy to Mexico are Attorney General Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell, and as a result of the war and the result of the anthrax and other duties that both of them have, it has not moved at the pace the president had hoped it would move, and I think that's understandable.

QUESTION: Ari, on the truck issue -- since September 11, we haven't really very much about what the president wants to do on the Mexican trucks coming into the country in full operations by January.

FLEISCHER: The president's position on not allowing Mexican trucks into the country remains the same as it was, that it's important for the trucks to be operated safely in the United States, for them to enter legally and for the government to hire additional inspectors on the borders so that way they can inspect the trucks.

QUESTION: But isn't it some kind of a phase-in now rather than just trying to get an all over...

FLEISCHER: Well, the action now is in the Congress, and the president's hoping that Congress will take action.

Yes?

QUESTION: Ari, as we head into the flu season, can you tell us exactly what the administration wants the American people to do?

On Friday, Secretary Thompson said that they didn't want younger, healthier people running out to get the flu vaccine in order to avoid confusing symptoms with anthrax. And over the weekend, there are reports that they did want everyone to get vaccinated, even more urgently than in years past. There's some confusion here. Can you tell us exactly what the administration wants?

FLEISCHER: Those judgments will be made by the appropriate health officials and people working with their individual doctors. That's not the type of statement you should expect to come from the White House podium.

QUESTION: Last week, the president said he wanted to see checks mailed to people who didn't get one this summer. The IRS commissioner says that's impossible. Is the president still committed to that? Or is he willing to wait several months or have that money rolled over in tax refunds next year?

FLEISCHER: The point the president is making is he believes it is important to get tax relief to lower- and middle-income people -- who do not pay income taxes, but who do pay payroll taxes. And the president has offered that in the proposal that he has sent up to the Hill. He believes that rebate value of that check will have a stimulative effect on the economy, just as it did for upper-income workers. But the president is flexible on the exact means by which that can be accomplished.

QUESTION: The task force is focused on foreign or non-citizens' immigration and what-not. Does this mean that you believe the source of these attacks, say anthrax attacks, are foreign and not domestic? And what will the administration do about, say, home-grown terrorists like white-supremacy groups, et cetera?

FLEISCHER: No, it's no indication one way or another about whether the president thinks the anthrax attacks are foreign or domestic. As you've heard repeatedly, the government has not been able to rule out or in whether the source is domestic or foreign. But the president does know that terrorists have entered our country illegally and in some cases legally, and he wants to make certain if somebody is a known terrorist, they should not get access to American soil.

QUESTION: About the home grown groups, Ari, the white supremacists and whatnot, are they also under the domain of this task force?

FLEISCHER: No, the task force deals with immigration. But clearly the FBI, in its efforts to target and to find and to prosecute, to arrest those who are responsible or the person who's responsible for the anthrax attacks, are looking everywhere domestically, as well as internationally. And whoever did it, the president believes, will get arrested for murder and will be tried.

QUESTION: Ari, two of the parameters the president for the stimulus package also seem to be agreed upon by Senator Daschle. Both believe that any final package should be short term and should be stimulative. Two specific provisions in the House bill, the capital gains provision and the rebate for AMT credits, have been criticized for not meeting those tests. Will the president sign a bill that contains those two provisions given that they're questionable in terms of meeting the tests?

FLEISCHER: Well, the first test is to get this bill to the conference. And the president wants to make sure that the Senate takes actions. Obviously, nothing can get to Congress and there can be no stimulus to help the economy if the Senate doesn't take action. So that must come first. And then the president will work with the Congress. You know what his four principles, his four specifics are. The president would like those to be what he can sign, but he also recognizes that Congress doesn't do everything presidents say.

QUESTION: Also, on the anthrax issues...

FLEISCHER: On the which issue?

QUESTION: The anthrax issue. Given how it's considered one of the most menacing public health issues we've had in the United States, why has the surgeon general not had a more prominent role in addressing this issue?

FLEISCHER: I believe the Surgeon General has had prominent role. I've seen him on several of the T.V. shows. There have been many people who've been playing a big role including -- the Director of the NIH was on this weekend as well. So I think the government is calling on the advice and the expertise of a host of people.

QUESTION: Secretary O'Neill said Friday that the economy has almost gotten back to where it was on September 10, though the economic data was mixed, and he said he was poised to begin a rebound in the first quarter of 2002. Does the president share that rather optimistic attitude about where the economy is right now? And if so, what's the need for a stimulus?

FLEISCHER: The president makes no such predictions, because the president is not an economist. But there is a growing body of evidence in the economic world that what had previously been called a u-shaped recovery, which kind of comes down not as lows -- lack of economic growth, and then it takes us time to come back up, may indeed be a v-shape, where it goes down to an even lower amount of growth, and then it comes back up sharper and faster. There's a growing body of economists who believe that may be the case, but again, the White House doesn't engage in the prediction business.

QUESTION: To follow up Ari. With the announcement shortly here about 2001 fiscal budget surplus, estimated to be down about $30 billion, Mitch Daniels (inaudible) next to you -- we're going to be in real unified deficits. How big a deficit problem does this country face considering all the things that have to be done -- the federal spending dealing with September...

FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say. I think it's very likely that the information released later today about the size of the surplus for 2001 is going to show that the government has enjoyed the second largest surplus in the history of this country. It is less than it was in 2000 but still remains the second largest ever.

Clearly, the president wants to have growth. Growth, the president believes, is the answer to building surpluses back up. The president knows that an economy that's growing at 3, 4, 5 percent a year, fills the coffers of the Treasury Department, and that's how you get out of any deficits and back into surpluses, if deficits emerge.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) immigration, so are you going to move on two tracks here, moving to liberalize immigration from Mexico, but restricting it in other ways or are you just going to let the earlier effort sort of sit on the backburner for a while?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think it's just too soon to say. The president hasn't even announced the task force yet. And so, I wanted to share it with you. He hasn't even announced it yet. I think you just have to let the task force get up and running.

QUESTION: Is the president going to meet with Chairman Arafat in New York, when he goes to New York?

FLEISCHER: As always, if we have anything to announce, we'll let you know.

QUESTION: And then a follow-up on that. Foreign Minister Peres said that the United States changed its demand that Israel withdraw from the Sector A -- Zone A areas immediately to soon, because Foreign Minister Peres says he talked to the president, said it (OFF-MIKE) Israel had no intention of staying. Is that an accurate description?

FLEISCHER: Let me just characterize to you what the president's response is to Israel's withdrawal. The president believes that it's a step in the right direction, and he would like to see it completed in its entirety.

He also condemns the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for their attack in Hadera yesterday. And he does note that the Palestinian Authority did condemn that attack, but the president again calls on Chairman Arafat to make a 100 percent effort to reduce the violence in the Middle East.

QUESTION: What happened to the demand that Israel withdraw immediately?

FLEISCHER: I've address the question in the totality.

QUESTION: Let me see if I can get you to quantify something. Is this administration any closer to identifying the source of the anthrax or who is responsible for sending it? Have you come any closer to making that identification than you were back when the very first case became apparent in early October?

FLEISCHER: I don't know how to quantify that. I mean, this is an investigative matter, and the investigators pursue their leads and pore through their evidence. They make judgments and I suppose, like in any investigation, it's fair to say that some days they make steps forward; some days they're not able to make steps; some days they may have steps that don't go forward. So I think it's just an investigative matter and the right people are doing the investigating.

QUESTION: Do you have any better understanding of where it came from or who was responsible than you did back in early October?

FLEISCHER: My statement on Friday that the government still does not know whether the source is domestic or foreign stands.

QUESTION: Back to the (OFF-MIKE) the presidency, and (OFF-MIKE) Bush has always said that he wants legal immigration to proceed. I'm asking if after the events of September 11, is there a delay in processing either, you know, residency or citizenship? Or will this continue at the same pace the president wanted before?

FLEISCHER: I don't know the answer to that. And if you're asking how the INS is processing its forms, you really need to ask them.

QUESTION: But the president remain committed to legal immigration, is that correct?

FLEISCHER: That's what I said.

QUESTION: You said a minute ago that immigrants have offered as much to this country as any other Americans, but we're not talking at this point about immigrants. We're not talking about Americans. We're talking about resident aliens, some legal and some not. Do you still not draw a distinction between those two groups?

FLEISCHER: The president's point is that anybody who is in this country as a result of our immigration policies that are engaged in terrorist acts or came here for the purpose of engaging in terrorism -- he knows that the American people want those people to be caught before they can take another terrorist attack.

Thank you.

WOODRUFF: White House spokesman Ari Fleischer seemed to be putting a premium on speed and brevity today in his answers to the White House press corps, talking to them for about 30-35 minutes. Just a very quick recap of some of what we thought were the important points.

He talked about the fact that this afternoon at 2:00, the president will preside over the first meeting of the Homeland Security Council. At that meeting, the president will announce the creation of a new task force for tracking the terrorists.

Ari Fleischer said, among other things, the president will direct different agencies of the government to either detain or prosecute suspected individuals. And he said, in general, efforts to go after these people will be stepped up.

And, again, that announcement coming at the Homeland Security Council meeting. The president will be presiding over it. It gets under way in just about 40 minutes.

He also disclosed the president will go to New York City on November 10 and 11 for meetings at the United Nations. And, among other things, he will meet in New York with the president of Pakistan, General Musharraf.

Finally, on the question of anthrax, Ari Fleischer didn't have much new to say except to confirm what we've been hearing in the last few hours. And that is at the Supreme Court, there has been at a remote facility -- we learned this a few days ago -- anthrax, in trace amounts, turned up.

Today, we heard separately from the Supreme Court spokeswoman that a small amount has been found in the Supreme Court building itself in the mailroom. And also we know preliminary tests showing anthrax at one of the building used by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Our White House correspondent -- chief White House correspondent John King joining us now.

John, Ari Fleischer said -- basically repeating what they've said before. They don't know the source, whether it's domestic or foreign. They're not ruling either one out. And possibly, there could be another letter or more out there.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He said that was the theory, Judy, that there could be a second letter out there. The only letter they know of in the Washington area right now: the one with the very potent anthrax sent to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Ari Fleischer saying there is a theory there could be a second letter. The Homeland Security director, Governor Tom Ridge, saying earlier in the day -- the government will leave no stone unturned in trying to track down A: those responsible, but B: to answer the question as to whether there might be more anthrax-laced mail somewhere in the mail system in the Washington area or elsewhere around the country.

The White House putting on more and more of these briefings, trying to answer the criticism that it's not providing information to the American people, or sometimes conflicting information to the American people.

Certainly, no one will take comfort in the fact that they have yet to determine whether even the source of the anthrax is foreign or domestic or whether there could be or might not be more anthrax-laced mail in the system. All of this -- part of the wide ranging briefing, as you heard. It went on for quite a bit, so I won't.

But Ari also talking about there -- the president's response to the Israeli withdrawal -- partial withdrawal -- from Palestinian territories. That is a complicating factor as the president tries to keep this coalition together. Many moderate Arab nations -- urging the president to put more pressure on the Israeli government -- that one subplot. The debate over the stimulus plan as well -- what will the president do to help the economy in these very difficult times. That is a debate that is making its way through the Congress and becoming increasingly partisan, differences between the Republicans and the Democrats and between the administration and some Congressional Republicans, for that matter.

So Mr. Fleischer fielding a lot of questions, as Governor Ridge and others did earlier in the day. Certainly the headline is: As these anthrax cases expand, not at any rapid rate, but one new one in New Jersey today, more traces found at some mailrooms here in Washington. The government still says it has no idea the source -- the investigation continues -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, the president himself presiding over this meeting of the Homeland Security Council.

What signal are they trying to send with this?

KING: Well, this is the first formal meeting of this group. Governor Ridge is the leader of the group. But certainly, the president chairs the big meetings just as he does, now daily meetings anything but routine -- now daily meetings with the National Security Council. The Homeland Security Council, modeled to be the domestic version of that, if you will.

In the National Security Council, you have the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the military representative through the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the national security adviser here at the White House.

This -- the domestic version of that now. Goal No. 1, right now of course, is tracking the source of that anthrax and trying to find out who is responsible. This new task force Ari Fleischer was talking about will raise questions about immigration policy and also border control policy. How do people get in and out of the United States? Is there a database of suspected terrorists?

Certainly the president chairing the first meeting is not out of the ordinary. He is the chairman of the group. But the public attention on it today -- again, it comes at a time some people have raised questions about the administration's handling of the anthrax scare.

The administration defending its response, simply saying this is a -- these are unchartered waters. The information that comes in is sketchy. Sometimes the information itself is contradictory, so the administration's line is, "You can't blame us for putting out information that occassionally contradicts itself when the information coming in does." They say they're doing the best they can.

We will see and hear from the president in just a little more than an hour. He is sure to be asked, especially, about the anthrax cases. WOODRUFF: All right.

John King at the White House.

And I think surely an example of that was when Ari Fleischer was asked about the Supreme Court -- the anthrax trace found in the Supreme Court mailroom. And he said he hadn't had that information yet and we know that the Supreme Court spokeswoman had just put it out.

There's just so much information coming so fast from so many sources.

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