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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America's New War: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Gives Press Conference

Aired October 31, 2001 - 12:52   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 are going to take you directly to the White House, where Ari Fleischer's briefing has just begun.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... all the appropriation bills pending on the Hill.

The president had his usual round of intelligence briefings this morning, where he's monitoring the situation both in Afghanistan, as well as with the anthrax events here at home.

The president then convened a meeting of his National Security Council, and he gave remarks to the National Association of the Manufacturers' board of directors, at which he called on the Congress, the remarks publicly, to take action on the economic stimulus by the end of November so that way working Americans can have a stimulus package passed by the Congress, signed by the president to help them keep their jobs, as well as to help people who have lost their jobs return to work.

The president this afternoon will meet with Republican leadership of the House and the Senate to continue his discussions about the congressional agenda this fall.

In other notes, Andrew Natsios, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, today briefed the president on the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan. And informed him of -- and the president announced an additional $11.2 million for the purchase of local wheat and other food commodities in Central Asia. That's above and beyond the $320 million the president had previously announced.

In addition, as of yesterday, the Department of Defense will have surpassed 1 million humanitarian daily rations delivered to hungry people inside Afghanistan.

Two other notes, General Myers will be interviewing with Al Jazeera today. And Attorney General Ashcroft will be briefing at 2:00 o'clock.

With that, I'd be happy to take questions. QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on the anthrax cases, specifically this Delaware woman? And is it more apparent now that anthrax is being transmitted through the mail to regular customers?

FLEISCHER: Well, in the case of Delaware, what you're asking about, there was a man, a postal worker, who was discovered to have a lesion. He is already on Cipro. There are no conclusions yet about whether he has or does not have anthrax. That is being investigated. The post office that he works at has been closed. They will be doing environmental sampling and testing at that post office. That post office is both upstream and downstream from the Hamilton facility. Additional post offices in New Jersey are all being tested, too.

QUESTION: Has there been any positive tests either on the man or on the facility for anthrax?

FLEISCHER: The environmental testing of the facility is just beginning. On the man, there are no conclusive tests.

QUESTION: Ari, what's the president's reaction to the death of the woman in New York from inhaled anthrax?

FLEISCHER: The president has expressed his condolences to the families of Ms. Nguyen. The president is concerned about this event and this case of the fourth death by inhalation anthrax in the United States.

As a result of this, the FBI, which have 7,000 agents investigating both the attack on the United States on September 11 as well as the anthrax outbreaks across the country, has stepped up its investigation.

Specifically, in the case of Ms. Nguyen, they are following all her travels. They are trying to determine if she traveled anywhere domestically or foreign, who she may have come into contact with, any of the people that she's associated with to determine if they have any information about how she could have contracted the anthrax.

They will be taking an autopsy, of course. And as a result of the autopsy, they will have a scientific analysis of the bacteria that were found in Ms. Nguyen. As a result of that, they will be able to match that up with the other decedents from the previous anthrax cases to see if it is a result from the same type of anthrax or not. And that will be a scientific evaluation based on the autopsy.

I do also want to advise you that they have done preliminary -- and I stress this is preliminary -- tests at both the hospital at which she worked, which is the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, as well as her home in the Bronx, and there have been no positive results back from it.

These are all preliminary negatives. Those are subject to change. That has been the pattern in the past. But this time I can indicate that all tests have been done, of preliminary and negative, at her home and office. QUESTION: Can I follow-up please? Does this indicate that as much as we think we are learning about anthrax that there is still a lot that we apparently don't know about how it was transmitted in this case?

FLEISCHER: Well, clearly in the case of Ms. Nguyen, we do not know how she contracted the anthrax. That is the source of what is being investigated. As I mentioned, the logical steps that the FBI in concert with the Centers for Disease Control, as well as New York City Department of Health officials have taken, were to go right away to home, right away to her office, take environmental samples of both locations to determine whether there's any evidence of anthrax.

They're checking the ventilation systems at her home, checking the ventilation systems at the office. They have shut down the hospital, Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. They are doing environmental samples throughout the hospital. So that's the process that's under way, as well as the person to person interviews that mentioned the FBI was doing to determine who else she may have been in contact with.

QUESTION: Ari, to follow on that, are there any other people who may have worked with her or knew her who have reported any, what would be called suspicious symptoms that may be short of a parallel case?

And secondly, given what the government has learned from earlier on this crisis, are there new precautions being discussed, since we're now in a period of real -- a new level of uncertainty about how this could have been spread?

FLEISCHER: Well, on the question of the people who are being talked to, her co-workers, et cetera, there is a program called Systemic Surveillance, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control in cooperation with local health authorities, where they are very closely monitoring all the emergency rooms and doctors are on full alert if anybody were to come in with lesions, for example, if people were to develop the respiratory illness that are associated with inhalation anthrax, particularly. So those monitoring systems are in place to determine whether or not any of her co-workers or anybody else has any symptoms.

There is one person at that hospital who has a lesion. Tests are being done. The tests were just undertaken, and so there's nothing even preliminary to report. If we have information on that, we will of course advise you.

There will be a news conference at 2:00 in New York today with Mayor Giuliani, the Centers for Disease Control and New York City Department of Health officials, also to provide information about this case locally in the city.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, can I just put a fine point on that? So this is at the hospital where she works, another employee has a lesion that's being tested.

FLEISCHER: A lesion. QUESTION: We don't know of any relation yet, but it's a suspicious symptom that's being looked at.

FLEISCHER: That's a fair way to put it. That's correct.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... in the same area?

FLEISCHER: I don't have details on the area. It is in the same hospital.

QUESTION: Ari, does the continuing spread of anthrax through the mail represents -- does the administration conclude that the mail is at greater risk now and that more steps need to be taken to protect people from the mail?

FLEISCHER: At this point it's too soon to reach conclusions. We know, of course, of the case of anthrax being sent in the mail to AMI in Florida, to the New York Post, to NBC in New York, to Senator Daschle's office. We do not know yet how Mrs. Nguyen contracted the anthrax. In the case of the postal worker in Bellmawr, New Jersey, it's a lesion, and again there's no indication yet about whether it is positive or negative.

So all these are items that are of concern that are being investigated by the authorities, but no conclusions are reached.

QUESTION: But given that anthrax continues to turn up in post offices and in postal workers beyond the narrow scope of where those letters actually arrived, isn't there concern in the administration that the mail is more vulnerable and perhaps more needs to be done...

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think you can reach the conclusion based on today's information that more postal workers have anthrax. I have not indicated that. I've indicated that it's a lesion, and there is no conclusion yet based on that. Those are the facts as we speak right now at about 12:45, 1:00, on Wednesday.

QUESTION: So no greater level of concern about the mail system being more vulnerable than was originally thought to an anthrax outbreak?

FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to describe it as it's the existing high level of ongoing concern.

QUESTION: Is the president prepared to negotiate his stimulus package, to perhaps give up some of the tax cuts, maybe allow more spending.

FLEISCHER: On the question of the stimulus package, the president has reminded members of Congress that $55 billion has already been spent by this Congress with the president's support. Already this fall, in reaction to the events of September 11, there's a $40 billion supplement appropriations spending bill that has been approved as well as a $15 billion package to help the airline industry. That $55 billion is already money spent, marked up, out the bank.

On the other side, the president believes very strongly that we need roughly similar amount of tax cuts to help get the economy going again. And the proposal the president made to the Congress represents tax cuts from middle- and low-income workers as well as all workers in society who pay taxes and incentives for businesses.

The president will, of course, talk to Congress about the final details of it. But you can't talk about the final details of it until and unless the Senate acts. And as the president said this morning, he calls on the Senate to take action so a bill can be on his desk and signed by the end of November.

QUESTION: Ari, does the president support retroactive changes to alternative minimum tax, and what would the possible rationale be for that?

FLEISCHER: The House passed retroactive change to the corporate alternative minimum tax. We'll see exactly what the Senate does. I think the president is going to wait to make a final conclusion about that once it gets to the conference.

QUESTION: So he doesn't have any position on it? Was that part of what he's been urging they would do...

FLEISCHER: That went beyond what the president specifically proposed, but again, the president will wait till it gets to conference and hope that it does get to conference.

QUESTION: Ari, you just pointed out $55 billion in spending. You said, roughly equivalent in tax cuts. That sounds smaller to my ears than $75 billion, which the president originally talked about and...

FLEISCHER: Well, the president's original proposal was $60 to $75 billion, and included in there was a portion of spending. For example, when the president talked about national emergency grants, that's clearly a spending program. Those grants are designed to help people, for example, to get health care paid for if they've been unemployed, and so it'll constitute -- and depending on how different people want to score it -- of course, if you give tax cuts to people who pay no income taxes but they do pay payroll taxes, that, technically speaking, constitutes a spending program, even though it's typically referred to as a tax cut.

QUESTION: Well, just to put a little bit more clarity on this, $55 billion is about what the president is feeling comfortable with as far as tax cuts are concerned?

FLEISCHER: To be precise, the president has called for $60 to $75 billion worth of economic stimulus, which the president has said should be tax cuts. He did include in there a small portion of spending.

I think the problem in the Senate is they want to do it all in spending or virtually all in spending, and the president thinks that would not stimulate the economy and that it would not be helpful contributing to getting the economy growing again, particularly on a day like today, when we learn for the first time that the economy did, in fact, shrink in the third quarter in the summer of 2001.

QUESTION: Ari, Senator Daschle today heated his message that, if there's no additional spending in there for health insurance and for the unemployed, there will be no deal. So, how can you be optimistic about a deal if Senator Daschle came away from that meeting and told reporters that the White House is sending a mixed message? Back on October 2, president -- he claims that the president promised to 75 percent coverage of COBRA premiums for those that need it, and yesterday, O'Neill was threatening to veto any plans for health insurance that's included.

FLEISCHER: Well, the president is already on the record of supporting an extension of unemployment benefits beyond the existing 26 weeks to extend it another 13 weeks. So in other words, for 3 quarters of the year to 39 weeks, somebody would be able to qualify for unemployment.

In the case of what happened to New York, that means, if the attack took place September 11, people lost their jobs thereafter, that would then give them 6 months to 9 months, so that would take people into the summer of 2002 to make certain that their unemployment needs were covered under the president's proposal.

QUESTION: But what are you subsidizing for COBRA coverage?

FLEISCHER: The president's proposal to provide national emergency grants would provide coverage for people's health insurance. It's a separate program from COBRA, which is one way to do it, but they both accomplish the same goal, they both get health insurance into the hands of people who've lost their jobs and need help.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) want the states to decide that, right?

FLEISCHER: The president does think the states are one of the best ways to administer these programs, that's correct.

QUESTION: About anthrax, in the absence of some investigative breakthrough or progress, how long will it be before the public begins to lose its confidence in the government's ability to deal with these crisis?

FLEISCHER: Well, that's a hypothetical that -- I don't know anybody who could answer a question like that.

But certainly if you take look at what the public has said so far in all the media polls that I've read -- for example there was an ABC poll that came out just this week, that if I remember it right, it said that 78 percent of the American people believe that the government has responded effectively to the anthrax crisis.

I think what your seeing is a country that is going through something for the first time. We have never experienced this before. And the president has devoted every resource of the government to fighting the war abroad as well as fighting the war at home. And the president believes very strongly that the actions that have been taken by the FBI, by the Centers for Disease Control, by local health officials have actually saved lives.

Somebody is trying to kill the American people by mailing anthrax through the mail. And the president believes the actions of the government have saved lives. He regrets that these attacks have resulted in the loss of anybody's life, but that's what the president believes.

QUESTION: Have these cases made the government consider more seriously sanitizing all U.S. mail, and is that even possible?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president has already authorized an emergency appropriation for the Postal Service to help them buy equipment that can sanitize the mail. The Postal Service is moving in the priority order where they believe these machines are most likely to be needed. Those machines are coming on line.

But again, we do not yet know the cause of Ms. Nguyen receiving inhalation anthrax. In the case of the postal worker in Bellmawr, New Jersey, we still have to ascertain the information.

But even if you were to assume worse case scenario and say that they did contract it through the mail, 25 billion pieces of mail have been sent throughout this country since the initial onset of the first anthrax cases. And this would indicate that there is just a handful, some three in these cases and the previous cases of where anthrax was sent through the mail.

I think for the American people, it's frightening, it's scary. But the American people also understand the numbers of how much mail goes through this country every day. And there are precautions that people should put in place.

The postmaster general has discussed that. And he has advised all Americans to wash your hands as a matter of routine precaution when you receive the mail. If you see something suspicious, don't open it, put it down immediately. But those are the facts as they are seen and known.

QUESTION: May I follow up on that, too, please? If we determine though that these cases were contracted in a way not through the Postal Service facility, but through mail received at their homes, is that a step that the government would then look to take?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I cannot deal in hypotheticals. As soon as the facts are learned, the government will take all actions appropriate based on those facts. But it's just too soon to reach any conclusions about that. And as soon as those conclusions are reached they will be shared. But you cannot develop that case at this time.

QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you a little bit back on the economy about the ripple affects of the numbers that were released today and the decline of the U.S. economy? Obviously, there are a lot of emerging markets that are hurting in their exports right now, including some that we're trying to hold together in the coalition, Pakistan in particular. Has the president begun to spend much time on the question of how you revive the vulnerable economies that are key to this coalition?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president, in his meetings with different leaders, has talked about that in his meeting with Prime Minister Koizumi, he did talk about helping the Japanese economy to recover and congratulated the prime minister for the reform plan that he is trying to put through.

But the president believes that there are several things that can be done here in America to help the world economy grow. That includes passing the stimulus, because as the American economy grows, history shows that the American economy does tend to lead the world and help other nations to grow, particularly our neighboring nations and other nations we do a lot of trade with.

Also passage of what used to be called fast-track or Trade Promotion Authority for the president is an important part of world growth. The president believes that's a helpful way to create high- paying jobs for people in this country, as well as to bolster other economies at a time of international economic difficulties. So those are two specifics.

QUESTION: Ari, how would you characterize the meeting this morning between the president and the congressional leaders? There's been a lot written about the "gang of five" and how well they get along. And yet, if you look at the statements this morning there seems to be a harder edge -- the president saying, "Get going. Get something done." Senator Daschle's comments being also much harder edge. Was it a testy morning? How did that meeting go?

FLEISCHER: No. I think it was cordial and businesslike. I mean, this is what I think the American people want to hear and see from their leaders. They want to hear and see them meeting. They understand that there are differences between the Democrats and Republicans still, even after September 11.

FLEISCHER: But they want to see those differences resolved, and they want to see them resolved as amicably as possible. And I think that's the tone and the spirit of those meetings.

Certainly, you know, after the meeting, Congressman Gephardt went up to the Congress and held a news conference to promote the aviation bill that he believes in, as is his right to do.

The remains a democracy, where differences are resolved and resolved peacefully and resolved through votes. And frankly, that's one of the reasons our nation wins wars, because this is how we settle our domestic disputes, is through a voting process, so the president is understanding.

QUESTION: First on the economic stimulus, then on aviation security. On economic stimulus, they had this meeting where they all sat down and tried to work things out. Did anyone identify any middle ground or did the president stick to his position and the Democrats stick to theirs? Did anyone suggest a compromise that would ease the process through the Congress?

FLEISCHER: No. It was not a negotiating session, and I think it's premature for that. It's hard to negotiate the final product, until the Senate acts.

Once the Senate acts and the economic stimulus can move to a conference, then there can be a more fruitful discussion about how to bring everybody together. But obviously, at this time, the House of Representatives has acted on an economic stimulus. Now it's the Senate's turn, in the president's opinion.

QUESTION: Now on aviation security, though, you're taking a somewhat different approach. You're getting ready to have another vote. And the White House, as I understand it, is lobbying people, trying to work against the idea of federalizing, even as the White House has clearly signaled the president will sign whatever bill comes to him.

FLEISCHER: Actually, it's the same in both cases. In both cases, and this is traditional with the way Congress works, and this is not new to President Bush. This is the way most presidents have typically worked closest the best with the Congress is you make whatever influence you can make in the House and in the Senate. But much of the real heavy lifting comes, once the House and the Senate have acted and the Conference Committee that meets to resolve the differences.

QUESTION: But on the aviation security bill, you've got -- it's passed 100-0 by the Senate. The White House has signaled it will sign whatever bill comes to it. What possible success could you have in lobbing people against federalization, given those circumstances?

FLEISCHER: I point you to tomorrow's vote, and the proof will be in the pudding. Either the president's message will have been successful or it won't be and that'll be up to the House of Representatives to decide, when they vote tomorrow.

But the president has been meeting with members of the House this week to talk to them, both Democrats and Republicans, about passage of aviation security bill.

QUESTION: Is the president inclined to issue a veto threat on either of these bills, if they come in a form vastly different from what he has requested?

FLEISCHER: The president has not issued any veto threats in either case.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... premise that the White House has signaled that it will sign any aviation security bill that comes to the president?

FLEISCHER: These are hypotheticals. You have to let the process work. And the House has to vote tomorrow. If the House passes the Senate bill, then you have identical legislation. If the House passes a different bill, then it will go to a conference committee, and I think the likelihood there is you will see some type of compromise emerge.

With the economic stimulus, if the Senate doesn't act, then the nation does not have an economic stimulus. And the president would think that would be harmful to people who have lost their jobs, and that's why he called on the Senate to enact the stimulus as he did today.

So it's the same process in both places. We'll see what the conference emerges.

QUESTION: Monday you suggested that Andy Card wasn't exactly articulating as precisely as he might have wished the administration's position on whether or not it what sign whatever legislation came out of the House. You led us to believe on Monday that that was clearly a hypothetical and the president's strongest preference was for the House bill to pass and that whatever emerged from conference look more like the House bill than the Senate bill.

FLEISCHER: What I indicated was it's a hypothetical, and we'll just have to see what emerges and what comes through the Congress -- through the conference.

QUESTION: Ari, I wanted the White House's opinion on this. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela went on Venezuelan television, I think Monday night of this week, asking for the bombing in Afghanistan to stop and saying that you cannot answer terror with more terror. At the same time, he showed on television a photograph of dead Afghan children that had been killed by errant bombing and asked what fault did they have for the barbaric acts that others committed.

FLEISCHER: Well, in response to these horrific attacks on the United States, the United States exercised its powers under the United Nations charter and other treaties to act in self-defense. And President Chavez's remarks are not in accord with Venezuela's own position in the United Nations, in the Organization of American States or in the Rio Treaty consultations. So the president has taken the action he's taken with the support of most, if not all of the world, and the president regrets these remarks, but they are not, as I said, in accord with Venezuela's own position in those international bodies.

QUESTION: Does the president have any frustration in the fact that you can't seem to nail the cause or the source of the anthrax? And does it all stem from the first batch or is it a continuing thing? Is there any way to determine that?

FLEISCHER: The president, I think like every American, wants this to get solved and solved right away. But he also understands that our nation has enemies. And even though, in this case, we don't know if they're foreign or if they are domestic, there are people who are mailing anthrax through the mail in an attempt to murder American citizens.

And at that point, it's a crime matter. It's an investigation. And the president understands that investigations take time to finally catch the people who are responsible. The resources of the FBI are fully dedicated to this.

I was told this morning that, for example, in the District of Columbia, where the FBI has a field office of some 650 people here in Washington, 500 of those 650 people are now dedicated to trying to prevent further attacks as a result of September 11 or focus on anthrax. There are singularly focused on those two missions.

QUESTION: No way to tell whether this a continuing process on the part of the enemy (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Until we catch the person or the people who are doing this, you just can't say if somebody else is going to a postal facility and mailing anthrax through the mail. Nobody can know that information.

Hopefully, by people being vigilant, it puts more people on alert, we will be able to catch these people or the person who is doing this. But there's nobody who can make a prediction about that.

QUESTION: The FAA has established no-fly zones over nuclear facilities in the country. Is that going to be a permanent decree or this directly in response to the threat alert that the attorney general...

FLEISCHER: There is a previous no-fly zone implemented over nuclear facilities. It's been expanded, and that was as a result of the recent warning that went out by the FBI. I cannot tell you for sure what the duration of that will be. It'll be as events warrant.

QUESTION: Is that based on specific threats to those facilities or is that a general precaution?

FLEISCHER: No, that's based on a general precaution as the threat warning that went out from the FBI two days ago mentioned.

QUESTION: Following up on the questions about postal safety, How effective are these irradiation machines? Has it been proven that they actually could irradiate the anthrax spores? And if the machines are installed in all the post offices, will the federal government pay or does the post office have to increase fares to pay?

FLEISCHER: That's a question you may want to address directly to the Postal Service. What they have advised me are, these machines are highly reliable, but they cannot give a guarantee.

As the postmaster general said that they can guarantee the safety of every piece of mail that goes through the Postal Service.

QUESTION: Ari, there's been some criticism of the war in the last couple of days especially; some comparisons of the administration's actions to those that were taken during Vietnam. And I wonder if you could respond to a couple of the criticism. One that supposedly the lesson learned out of Vietnam was that, if we go into battle, we would do so massively, decisively, up front and quickly. Does the president believe that that doesn't apply in this case? Does he believe that he is applying that in this case? FLEISCHER: I'll tell you what the president believes on that matter. As the president explained in his speech to the American people the week after the terrorist attack, he understands that this is the first war of the 21st century. This is a new type of war, that this is totally different from anything our nation has faced before. And he understands that there will always be people who fight (sic) the last wars, whether they're Kosovo, whether they're the Persian Gulf, or whether they're Vietnam. He's not. He's learned lessons from those. But this war is totally unlike those which have become before.

In this case, it's not as if there was a -- back to the Cold War -- it's not as if there's a Soviet flotilla that we know is coming across the ocean. It's not as if there are airplanes that have taken off that we identify and we can see. This is a war of terror, and the terrorists tried to prey on our country through the unknown -- through that which can never be known. And that's why they were successful in turning an airplane -- something that's a symbol of peace and transit in our country -- into a weapon. So to compare it to those, the president just does not believe that it is adequate.

On the question of Afghanistan, I'm not going to get into operational issues. But from the president's point of view, again, he's told the American people and he believes the American people accept this and understand this, that it is not like any previous war. That when you're dealing with people who hide out in caves and when you're dealing with people who don't have standing armies which, as Colin Powell said in the Gulf War, required an overwhelming presence to go and to get those armies. It's very different from that.

QUESTION: But is that accurate? I mean, we're dealing -- those people that you're talking about are protected by the Taliban army, which is a standing army. And the question a lot of people have is, why are we going after that army, which we are indeed fighting, massively? We seem to be engaged in a similar type of incrementalism -- we're stepping up, we're starting to put people on the border, stepping up the air attacks -- a similar type of incrementalism that we saw in Vietnam.

FLEISCHER: Secretary Rumsfeld has addressed that. And action is being taken on that front. But to summarize, the president understands that this is unlike all previous wars. And he is not fighting any of the last wars. There may be people who analyze this while looking at all the last wars. This is unlike any of them.

I think that there were some people, who despite what the president said, still were hoping that this could be like Kosovo, that this could be like the Persian Gulf, that it could be over relatively quickly. The president has never been one of those people. Some analysts have still kept that in mind. The president is not one of those people.

QUESTION: Ari, two questions. The U.S. is dropping cluster bombs on Afghanistan. These are bombs that are yellow in color, the same as the food rations, and they're the size of a soda can. Public interest groups that crusade against land mines, Princess Di's memorial fund and the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines are calling on the United States to stop using them because of the threat they pose to Afghan civilians. Is the president aware of this controversy over cluster bombs and is he going to do anything about it?

FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer you to the Pentagon on all operational matters. The president is aware of (inaudible) conduct, how the war is being conducted. And the president supports the actions, of course.

QUESTION: The second question, I have a second question. Paul Krugman in today's New York Times on the economic stimulus package, says that, "A group of Texas energy companies will get big checks from the government under this package." And he says, "they're disproportionate in size." So for example, on General Motors, which has 380,000 employees, they will get a check for $800 million. TXU, which is the former Dallas Power and Light, which has only 16,000 employees will get a check for $600 million. And he points the finger at Vice President Cheney, saying that, "A group of Texas energy companies including TXU, Enron, Chevron and Texaco will get these big checks."

The question is, what role did Vice President Cheney have in developing this economic stimulus package?

FLEISCHER: The economic stimulus package or the energy package? I thought that's what you...

QUESTION: The stimulus package, these are the tax rebates, the corporate tax refunds.

FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the president has proposed the economic stimulus package to apply universally to low- and middle- income taxpayers, to other taxpayers. In the case of expensing, which he has proposed, and in the case of corporate AMT, for all corporations that currently are treated under the Tax Code unfairly, because they are penalized for their investment plans, that was a proposal that was made by the president. The vice president, of course, concurs with it. And that's where you stand.

QUESTION: Ari, the secretary of defense said the other day, sort of a blanket statement, that any and all civilian casualties have ultimately been caused by the terrorists attacks themselves. And so sort of a sweeping statement that is somewhat at odds with a comprehensive body of international law on that.

QUESTION: I wonder if you could share (inaudible) question -- share with us the president's thinking about these civilian casualties and the price that the United States pays, as they pile up across the Islamic and the Arab world and the broader world?

FLEISCHER: Let me make two points. Number one, as the president said in his speech to the American people the week after the attacks, war could have been avoided. If only the Taliban has agreed to the president's demands, that they turn over Osama bin Laden, turn over his top lieutenants, turn over the people who were responsible for attacking our country, this could have been avoided.

And so the decision to go to war was really made by the people who attacked our nation and our nation is acting in self-defense. And we're acting in self-defense in the finest traditions that set our nation apart from most other nations.

Our nation is going through a massive effort to make certain that everything is done with an eye toward humanitarian needs. And that's why, at the beginning of this, when I talk about massive effort, I'm referring specifically to the food deliveries. More than a million drops of food -- rations of food to help people in Afghanistan. Our nation can take a lot of pride in the fact that our military planner and the people who carry out their missions try as hard as possible -- more than most -- to avoid civilian casualties.

The civilian casualties are also, unfortunately, a reflection of war, and this war was caused by the results of the people who attacked our country.

QUESTION: Egyptian presidential adviser Osama Baz is quoted as saying, "continuing to bomb Afghanistan at its current levels during Ramadan would be an affront to Muslims everywhere." And my question, does the White House believe he has somehow forgotten Mohammed's victory at the battle of Badr during Ramadan as well as the Egyptian attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, during Ramadan?

FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question, when Secretary Rumsfeld was asked a similar question, which is now a daily question, he gave the answer, that the United States will take whatever actions are necessary to defend itself, and he did cite the case that there have been many wars fought between Muslim nations and Muslim nations during Ramadan as well as wars that have been fought in Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance during Ramadan.

QUESTION: It's reported that Michael Bloomberg, the Republican nominee for mayor of New York, has only been a Republican for one year and 90 percent of his political contributions went to Democrats like Barbara Mikulski. And my question is, while it is understandable that the president in New York did not campaign for him, why has he declined to help genuine Republican gubernatorial nominees in New Jersey and Virginia whose elections are a lot more important than any baseball game, as demonstrated by George Bush who gave up baseball for governing?

FLEISCHER: On the baseball game, let me mention, too, the president told me this morning that his trip to New York and the reaction of New Yorkers was something that he found overwhelming. He thought, particularly at a time of war, to visit a city like New York that has been through as much as it has, he said, as he explained to me, the ripple of applause that went through Yankee Stadium, the shouts of U.S.A., U.S.A., was inspiring not only for himself but as a symbol for our nation about how New York, the home city where most of the damage was done, feels.

But Less, the president is focused on the war effort; the president is focused on the healing of the nation and on the unity of our nation. And the president understands that at all times, war and peace, that one of the great strengths of democracies are elections, and the political process will go forward. And so at the appropriate time the president will engage.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) early? I mean does he want Warner in Richmond?

FLEISCHER: You may want to go down there and give your endorsement.

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the president planning to setup a time frame to get approved the trade promotion authority like he does with the stimulus package?

And secondly, secretary general of United Nations is saying that the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan is kind of an obstacle for delivery of food and medicine to the Afghan people. My question is, has the president taken that concern by the United Nations?

FLEISCHER: Well the biggest obstacle of getting food and medicine to the people of Afghanistan is the Taliban.

It is the Taliban who is making the people of Afghanistan starve through the actions that they have taken and through their hostile regime that they have set up which denigrates its own people and has been seizing food that is destined for the people of Afghanistan, making people pay outrageous taxes to try to get food into the country.

The United States is trying to circumvent the Taliban by dropping food directly to the people of Afghanistan.

Thank you.

WOODRUFF: I think the news that came out this briefing came toward the beginning, when Ari Fleischer revealed that they had done preliminary tests at the eye, ear and throat hospital in New York where the woman who came down with inhalation anthrax worked. She died very early today -- a 61-year-old woman. They've done preliminary tests at the hospital and at her home. So far, he says, there have been no positive results, but again, he emphasized those results are early and subject to change.

He also said that there is another individual who works at the hospital who does have a lesion. I believe he used word "suspicious." He said they have done tests, but there are no results back yet. But I don't believe we knew until Ari Fleischer put that word out, early in the briefing, that one other person who worked at that eye, ear and throat hospital in New York has what is called a suspicious lesion.

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