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White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer Gives White House Briefing

Aired November 30, 2001 - 12:21   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Here is Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. I have a brief opening statement, and then be happy to take your questions. And if you'll remind me at the end, we have the week ahead.

The president is very encouraged by the progress being made on his education reform proposals that are being considered by a conference committee of the House and the Senate. The conferees met again this morning and are continuing to meet throughout the day. The president looks forward to their completing their work and sending him an education bill that he hopes and looks to being able to sign this year. The president is confident that we'll be able to have these reforms in place for America's schoolchildren in time so next fall we can begin closing the achievement gap in America and making sure that every child receives a first-rate education.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: When did the White House find that Jim Gilmore was going to resign from the RNC (OFF-MIKE)?

FLEISCHER: Governor Gilmore called the president last night and informed the president of his intent to resign. The president told him he regretted it. The president considers Governor Gilmore to be a good friend. He appreciates very much the fine job that Governor Gilmore has done at the helm of the Republican National Committee, but he also understands and respects the fact that a man wants to spend more time with his family, particularly going into a busy election year.

QUESTION: Did he urge him to (OFF-MIKE)?

FLEISCHER: The president accepted his resignation with regret and said he understood. I think the president, as you know, places a lot of value on the fact that family is important, and he understood the governor's reasons and was disappointed to hear that he was leaving, because he thinks he's done a very good with the Republican National Committee.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the White House did not urge him to step down...

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: ... and that Karl Rove doesn't control the operations of the RNC?

FLEISCHER: No, this was a decision that was made by Governor Gilmore.


QUESTION: ... no White House input whatsoever?

FLEISCHER: No, this was the governor's decision, as he expressed it to the president.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on something else related to election matters? Democratic leaders are saying that the president has done a better job managing the war than the economy, and Nita Lowey's been quoted as saying that this is George Bush's recession. What does he think about that?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the president believes that the job of leaders in Washington is to come here to solve problems and not point fingers, and that's what he is here to do and that's what he's going to continue to do, and that's why he again today calls on the Senate to complete action so that the nation can have a stimulus bill to give a boost to the economy.

QUESTION: Does the president regret the fact that leading the nation at war keeps him from becoming more involved in his domestic agenda, which does not seem to be faring very well on the Hill? He's limited himself to brief comments here and there encouraging the passage of the stimulus bill, for example, but he doesn't seem to be into it or mixing it up.

QUESTION: Is that...

FLEISCHER: Well, as the French say, au contraire.

I think the president's agenda domestically has done very well on the Capitol Hill, if you consider the fact that with incredibly narrow in both the House and the Senate, under President Bush's leadership the death tax has been abolished. All Americans have received tax rate reductions as a result of the president's proposals accepted by the Congress.

The marriage penalty has been reduced. The president has had strong success, as I just indicated in my opening statement, on a bipartisan education proposal. The House of Representatives, in a very large bipartisan vote, approved an energy plan to make America more energy-independent.


QUESTION: ... happened since the war has started.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's a question you need to address to the Congress, but there have been other developments other domestic front.

On the trade front, for example, the agreement in Doha to enter into a new round of trade negotiations throughout world, to lower tariffs and barriers on international trade. The president was heartened by that. That's been something that was not able to get done in previous administrations. It was done.

But the things that are undone, in the Senate particularly, are terribly important to the president. So there have been some successes. It's halfway through the congressional session, and the Senate has not yet recessed. So there is time for the Senate to do more. The president clearly, when it comes to the stimulus particularly, is calling on the Senate to do more and to do more quickly.

QUESTION: One more follow-up: Why isn't he, then, taking a more prominent role?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know how he could take a more prominent role than meeting every week with the leadership of the House and the Senate, bipartisan leadership. He had many Republicans down to the White House and the leadership this week from both the House and the Senate. He's had repeated meetings with the Democrats on trade and on other issues, and he will continue to do that.

Typically at end of the year, once Congress finally gives itself a deadline for when they will recess, Congress is known, regardless of who controls the Congress, to hurry up and get a lot done as that deadline approaches. We'll see if that will or will not be the case with this Congress. The president hopes it will be, and he is committed to making that happen.

But if you take a look at the president's priorities and what he has proposed, the tax issue, as I discussed, has been signed and enacted into law. Education reforms are moving along very nicely. The energy plan passed by the House. The Armies of Compassion initiative to help people who are in poverty passed by the House.

There is progress to be reported in the Senate, thanks to Senator Lieberman and others.

So there still is time in this Congress and in the next session of the Congress for the president's agenda to continue. But given the fact how tight margins are, I think, the president has a lot that he can look at and say the American people can take pride in what's happening in Washington.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) does he feel responsible for fixing this recession?

FLEISCHER: The president understands this recession doesn't belong to any politician. This is a country's recession, because it's the people of our country who are unemployed as a result of an economic downturn. And this president has no interest in placing blame or pointing fingers at anybody for economic circumstances. His intention is to bring people together to solve it, not divide people by pointing fingers.

The economic facts of the recession are the following. In the spring of 2000, the economy was growing at a rate in excess of 5 percent. By the summer of 2000, the slowdown kicked in, and the economy grew by about 2 percent, that declined to about 1 percent. In the fall of 2000, President Bush took office. In January of 2001, as the slowdown was well-under way. And then as we learned just this week, the economy, it was officially announced, to be in recession in March, some 40 days after the president came into office. Those are the facts as an economist would neutrally describe them.

Regardless of those facts, the president wants to work with the Congress to come out with a solution.

And, you know, I remind you also the vice president, of course, said that while we are on the front edge of a recession, if you recall, he said that in December, and he, of course, turned out to be accurate.

QUESTION: Well, there is a tradition of the buck stopping in this building for voters when it comes to the economy. And Senator Daschle has just come out and said, "We're in a recession, which is a direct result of the president's policy."

FLEISCHER: Well, again, the president thinks the job of leaders in Washington is not to point fingers, but to find solutions. And regardless of anything that anybody may say on Capitol Hill, that won't stop the president from working with them on behalf of the country.

QUESTION: But is the president concerned, politically, that at some point, despite the dates you just rattled off, voters see him as personally responsible for the policies to get the country out of recession?

FLEISCHER: No, the president is not worried about that. The president is worried about whether or not the Senate will take action to help get the economy out of recession. And the president just cannot imagine that the Senate would leave town without getting the people's business complete.

QUESTION: Is this a blame game going on?

FLEISCHER: No, it's a solutions issue. And that's why the president is working so hard with the Senate to find solutions.

QUESTION: Ari, one more on Gilmore. What are you going to do to replace him, and what sort of person do you need?

FLEISCHER: The president will contemplate what he needs to do...


... who best to replace Governor Gilmore. He has not come to any conclusions at this time. He, obviously -- Governor Gilmore informed him last night, so, as events warrant, we'll keep you informed. QUESTION: Is a famous New Yorker possible, named Rudy?

FLEISCHER: That's redundant, to say "famous New Yorker."


Once we have something to report, I will report it.

QUESTION: Ari, can you explain why the president doesn't want the multinational peacekeeping force to go into Afghanistan now, and why the United States has no intention of participating in peacekeeping after liberating...

FLEISCHER: OK. There is a meeting under way in Bonn right now among the various coalitions that are working to form a new Afghan government. And that will result in the creation of a political entity that can govern Afghanistan, which will help being about the next step, which is how to achieve peace and bring peace to Afghanistan through an international peacekeeping effort.

The United States, right now, is focused on winning the war in Afghanistan so that conditions for peace can be achieved. That's the president's focus, as we speak. The war remains under way. And the president has said repeatedly, and repeats, that the purpose of America's military is to fight and win wars.

QUESTION: Well, do you think -- does the president think that the new Afghan government will be able to keep peace in the country?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the president has discussed with Kofi Annan and with others what the future of Afghanistan will look like in terms of the decisions that get made and the help that the rest of the world can bring to Afghanistan in the area of peace. The ultimate decisions as to the aspects of who exactly will be in an international peacekeeping effort will be made by the parties in Afghanistan, and...


FLEISCHER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Why does the United States not want to participate?

FLEISCHER: Oh, I didn't say the United States won't participate. The United States is participating in helping the region. The principle way the United States is participating to bring peace to Afghanistan is by destroying the Al Qaeda and the Taliban who have brought war to that region. There are many people in Afghanistan who would like to create a more stable environment. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not among them. Having said that, again, the efforts are underway in Bonn to come out with a political solution to the future governance of Afghanistan. The United States is involved in helping to make that happen.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) follow on that? In the attempt that you talk about, that it's up to the parties to decide to create this government, and to decide when and if a force should go. And has the U.S. communicated to the parties and to the allies that it's preferred not to have a force go in until your objectives are completed?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think everybody recognizes what the president has said repeatedly, that the purpose of America's military is to fight and win wars.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) are you categorically running that U.S. troops would participate in a peace-keeping...


FLEISCHER: I think, again, the purpose of the military, as the president said is to fight and win wars, and all decisions subsequent, I would refer you to the Department of Defense for the precise use of America's military. But all this is a tad premature as well. There's a war underway in Afghanistan, and the best way to achieve an environment in which international peacekeepers can arrive at Afghanistan is for the United States to complete the mission in Afghanistan.

The mission is underway. There's no telling how long it will last. There's no telling how long Afghanistan will still be a nation that is hosting Osama bin Laden, wherever he may be, and all the top lieutenants of Al Qaeda. I want to remind you that the president announced a specific mission, and that was to defend our country, and to defend freedom by bringing Al Qaeda and the Taliban to justice. That has not yet been achieved.

QUESTION: Then no other mission for the American military beyond those objectives...

FLEISCHER: I think I've answered the question.

QUESTION: Yes Ari. The House of Representatives has approved today 371 to 11 (ph) that bars the transportation spending bill having to do with the access to Mexican truckers. The United States understands the Senate closed on it next week. Is the White House solely satisfied, because on the Mexican side, there seems to be some doubt that the law-making (inaudible) which doesn't compare to Canadians, and the way Canadians start trucking through.

FLEISCHER: The president issued a statement this morning. I would refer you to his statement, and in that statement the president said that he is very pleased as a result of the agreement entered into by the House of Representatives. It's an agreement that he can support, and this agreement also is an agreement with the Senate. It was a conference agreement on the transportation bill as you mentioned. And the president is satisfied with it, because he believes it does two things: One, it promotes safety on America's roads; and two, honors our nation's commitment to Mexico that were negotiated as part of the NAFTA Trade Agreement.

QUESTION: But why is there any concern that Mexican trucks are being treated differently than Canadian trucks in (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Again, the president is satisfied with the agreement, and obviously, it has widespread bipartisan support. Let me remind you, it was the president who fought to make certain that Mexico was not discriminated against in its ability to operate safe trucks on our roads. And as a result of the president's efforts, we've been able to achieve the breakthrough that the House just voted on this morning.

QUESTION: A question about the responsible cooperator (ph) program that the administration announced yesterday. One of the main Arab American organizations in the country said that the word cooperator (ph) is a very negative connotation of the Arabic language, that it suggests something more akin to collaborator, someone whose siphoned out, and this is likely to hinder cooperation among Arab Americans in the program.

QUESTION: Is there any thought being given to reconsider the name of this program...

FLEISCHER: This program was named by the Department of Justice. The president is very pleased with the announcement. The president thinks that will be constructive and useful in preventing future acts of terrorism. And the president, obviously, you saw him, he was there with the attorney general yesterday. So if you have any questions about the nomenclature, I'd refer you to justice.

QUESTION: Well, but this has happened twice before (OFF-MIKE) which created some ripples in the Arab world and also Infinite Justice. So there have been two gaffes of this time. This appears to be the third one. Is there any concern about this?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I would refer you to Justice to see if it fits that category.

QUESTION: On the anti-terrorism war, in a perverse way Iraq appears to have rallied both Iran and Israel, getting them to pressure the U.S. not to attack Iraq, perhaps out of fear that the retaliation would come to Iran and Israel. Is the U.S. at all deterred by their argument?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, the president is focused on the ongoing military operation in Afghanistan. And the president has said that he will focus on phase one of the war on terrorism, and I don't have anything to go beyond that.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle is calling for an investigation into the collapse of Enron (OFF-MIKE). Does the president support that?

FLEISCHER: The president understands that Congress at all times should exercise its proper oversight roles. That includes anything that in a case like this the Senate sees fit in terms of investigation into collapse of a company. That's the purview of the Congress. As I indicated, the federal government, the administration, is already doing that. The Department of Treasury and other entities are monitoring it. And so I think we're all looking with the same cause of concern.

QUESTION: Ari, (OFF-MIKE) ahead to next week and the trade vote that's coming up in the House. What are the prospects? And is the president going to (OFF-MIKE)? FLEISCHER: There will be a vote next week in the House of Representatives on trade promotion authority, which the president believes in very strongly. The president believes that by trading with other nations it not only creates jobs for America, but it helps lift up other nations, creating more wealth for the people of different lands, particularly in the developing nations.

This is always a difficult vote. It is one of the hardest bills to find support, particularly in the House of Representatives in recent years.

And there have been some very good-faith efforts made by previous presidents. President Clinton tried very hard and made a good-faith effort to get an agreement done, trade promotion authority, and was not able to do so.

The president has had a series of meetings with Democrats and Republicans to convince them of the importance of supporting free trade. It's always an uphill fight, and the president looks forward to waging it next week, because he believes it's important.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) doing it next week?

FLEISCHER: I think that you can anticipate that there will be a series of meetings. And that Calio was up on the Hill yesterday in preparation for this vote, discussing this with House Democrats. And depending on the exact events, I think you'll see the president be engaged on varying levels.

QUESTION: Any reaction to George Harrison's death?

FLEISCHER: I was just talking to the president about it. And the president is very saddened by the death of George Harrison. He considers the Beatles to be one of the greatest groups of any time in music. And he noted that two of the four Beatles have now passed away, and he's saddened by that. The Beatles were a big part of the life of all baby boomers. And he's very saddened by the death of George Harrison.

QUESTION: Was he a fan?


QUESTION: Two questions, quick. One, after 9-11, first, about 50 young children came from India, that is to (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) report, that Mrs. Musharraf, the wife of General Musharraf, was in Washington twice, recently last week, looking for a house. Is there something -- and senior U.S. officials helped her to look at some houses in Washington, D.C. and New York. Do you have something?

FLEISCHER: I have not heard anything about that, confirm that or shed any light on that. I have not heard that. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: I've not heard anything about that, so I have nothing to offer on it. I don't know if that's true or not.

QUESTION: Does the president still intend to reform Social Security during his first term?

FLEISCHER: The president noted three options that were discussed yesterday by the Social Security commission that he appointed. And the president believes very strongly that the only way to save Social Security, particularly for younger people, is through the creation of personal savings accounts.

He would very much like the Congress to take up this issue.

The timing is not clear, about when it will be best for Congress to take it up. But the president will continue to make every effort to build the case, both in the Congress and in the public, that personal accounts, which allow younger workers to invest a portion of money that is currently taken out of their paychecks with payroll taxes, could be put to a better use, so they can get a higher rate of return on their money through personal accounts.

We're making no changes to the current Social Security system for today's retirees and people nearing retirement.

QUESTION: Ari, what progress does the president expect from his meeting on Monday with Ariel Sharon?

FLEISCHER: The president is looking forward to his meeting Monday with Prime Minister Sharon. Peace in the Middle East is always an important issue for President Bush.

And he's looking forward to having a direct conversation with the prime minister about how the Mitchell accords can be implemented. Mitchell agreements, or Mitchell accords, require a period of political dialogue -- security dialogue to be followed by a political dialogue, so that peace can be achieved in the Middle East.

And he looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sharon how that can be achieved.

QUESTION: The prime minister has shown no interest in the cease- fire they're trying to get?

FLEISCHER: It's been a very difficult situation in the Middle East, and that's another reason the president is looking forward to the meeting.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) At the end of the day (ph), President Bush met with the chairman of the International Olympic Games Committee (ph), (inaudible) here at the White House. I'm wondering, did they also discuss the issue of the Olympic Games in Greece in 2004 and (inaudible)? FLEISCHER: I was not present for that meeting. I was in the meeting with the U.S. Olympic Committee and not present for the following meeting, which was with the International Olympic Committee. So I'd have to take a look and see if Greece was discussed. I do not know.

QUESTION: Is President Bush satisfied by the cooperation of the Greek government with the U.S. government for safe Olympic Games in Athens and for the fight against terrorism?

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry. Repeat your question.

QUESTION: The question is, is President Bush satisfied by the cooperation of the Greek government with U.S. government for safe Olympic Games in Athens and for the fight against terrorism?

FLEISCHER: If the question is dealing with the security of Athens for the Games, that's a very important topic. And, as you know, the United States has good experience in these matters, and will work, has been working, closely with Greece to ensure the safety for the Games. And we'll continue to do so. It's an important issue.

QUESTION: Ari, the president said that education was his top priority of the term, and you said that he's encouraged by the work of the conferees. Can you offer us any more examples of how he personally is engaged this week as they're trying to work out the details?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president's been repeatedly engaged on this issue from the beginning of the year. He's had numerous conversations and meetings with Senator Kennedy, with Senator Gregg, with Congressman Boehner.

I remind you, one of the very first things the president did was visit a school in Washington, D.C., upon taking office, and he was greeted at the school by Senator Kennedy, by Congressman Boehner, the chairs of the Education Committees, Congressman Miller in the House. And the president invited them back to ride to the White House with him. That was the beginning of what became a very deep dialogue about how to improve education in America, and the president's continued to have those conversations.

The education negotiations are being led by Margaret Spellings, the president's domestic policy adviser, and she's reported to the president some strong progress and good advances, and the president looks forward to the Congress completing its work on education. They're getting very, very close. The president hopes that nothing will get in the way of them finishing.

QUESTION: Does the White House have a response to the GAO report on the proposed nuclear storage facility in Nevada saying that more research needs to be done before that plan is put forward?

FLEISCHER: The secretary of energy is continuing to work on the process toward deciding whether or not this facility would be recommended for opening. On the report, I'd refer you to DOE. My understanding is that Department of Energy believes that the GAO report contains significant flaws, and I think the Department of Energy would be pleased to discuss those with you.

QUESTION: Ari, back on the trade issue, much of the opposition in past administration and in this administration is the fact that American jobs could be lost. Some people are saying that. And in the prior administration, the Clinton administration, there were some kind of safeguards as far as education and things of that nature to help for those who may have lost jobs or could lose jobs to move into another phase. Is there some kind of safeguard or safety net that the president is coming up with like President Clinton tried to do with this trade bill?

FLEISCHER: OK, two points on it. Number one, it's the president's belief that in total jobs will be created for the American people as a result of passage of free trade agreements.

If there are any sectors that are adversely affected, the president believes it's very important to have a program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, the TAA program. That's a program that the president supports. It's existing law of the land. And I refer you to the trade representative's office, they may have additional specifics about the exact bill that is pending before the House.

And as typical with trade promotion authority legislation, as the vote gets closer the bill moves around a little bit, as provisions are added or subtracted. And the trade representative's office will have any of those details.


FLEISCHER: Yes. I was asked that just a few minutes ago. I refer you to my earlier answer.


QUESTION: To many at the Pentagon a major battle this week takes place in Philadelphia. Is the president going to the Army-Navy game?

FLEISCHER: I announced that this morning, that the president will be going to the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia tomorrow. Who's he rooting for? Oh, either one of the two teams, I don't recall.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) troops in the war get to see the game?

FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD about what they do as far as communications. Typically, they do make arrangements for the service men and women serving around the world to watch the various games, but I'd refer you to them for specificity.


QUESTION: On Trade Promotion Authority, has the president made any calls this week at all on that or met with anybody this week?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, he met with the congressional leadership. I don't recall if that topic came up. And then, of course, he met with a group of House and Senate Republicans. And I'd have to ask with specificity to see if that topic came up.

QUESTION: Isn't that a very minimal -- you know, the House is returning, I think, Tuesday night.

He hasn't made any calls on the bill this week. Isn't it a very minimum level of involvement?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's also helpful to talk to the people who are the whips to determine who best he needs to talk to.

As you know, any time a vote approaches, their list develop of who is for you, who is against you, whose in the middle, and you talk to leaders to ascertain how best to spend your time.

So, it's all part of the same process of using the president's sum wisely to win a vote. And as I indicated earlier, as the vote approaches, the president will decide exactly what level to engage, and we'll give you reports.

QUESTION: Ari, has the president sent somebody yet to the family of (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: He has. It's a private message to the family; it's a message of condolences, but it's a private message. The president believes its best to treat these matters with the dignity that comes from privacy.

QUESTION: I need a follow-up. On Gillmor, what is your response to Republican aid? You said that Gillmor's resignation comes in part because because he had a rocky relationship with senior political advisers here in the Bush White House?

FLEISCHER: No, I just don't think that's accurate. As I indicated, President Bush had a very good conversation with him last night, and I'll refer back to what I said at the beginning of the briefing about President Bush.

QUESTION: Ari, back on relations with Congress. Senator Daschle had very sharp words today, and he responded to those very mildly. But the president's top economic adviser Larry Lindsey, the other day, in an interview in the Washington Times, had some extremely corrosive things to say about Senator Daschle. Does the president stand by that?

FLEISCHER: I have not seen that report, and so I hesitate to comment on something without specifics in front of me.

QUESTION: Is there an increase in partisanship over the recession...

(CROSSTALK) FLEISCHER: Again, the president believes that the job of leaders in coming to Washington is not to point fingers, but to get the people's business done and to solve problems. And that's the president's focus.


FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to comment on anything that I haven't seen and the specifics that would count. And I haven't heard or seen any.

QUESTION: Wasn't it the president who this week (OFF-MIKE) called for an economic stimulus plan, 415,000 people have lost their job, wasn't he pointing fingers at the Democrats?

FLEISCHER: The president was stating the economic truth, that since the president on October 5 called for passage of the stimulus, 415,000 jobs have been lost. In fact, it's more than 415,000, as the president put it.

QUESTION: You're saying that was not intended to lay blame at the Democrats who control the Senate?

FLEISCHER: No, the president has been working very productively to try to get the Senate to pass a stimulate, but it doesn't change economic facts or circumstances. I mean, there are certain things that are called facts and figures and numbers, and no one can dispute the recession began...


QUESTION: Why is when the president does it it's turning up the heat on the Senate, but when they do it it's putting, you know...


FLEISCHER: Well, I think the words that were described were the president has mismanaged the economy, was the allegation that was made. That's a different statement. That's a little more editorial than a statement of neutrality that since the president called for on October 5 -- do you dispute that since October 5 more than 415,000 jobs were lost or was that wrong?


FLEISCHER: Well, it's a question of fact.

QUESTION: No, it isn't. No, it's a question of blaming others, and you deny that there's been sort of pointing fingers coming from the...


FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: OK. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Ari, do you share Prime Minister Sharon's assessment that Chairman Arafat was directly responsible for the attack yesterday?

FLEISCHER: The president views this as another example of why it is so important to reduce the violence and begin the peace process, that the violence and the deaths are very difficult for all concerned in the region. He understands the difficulty, the pain that is being suffered in Israel, and the United States condemns the bus attack yesterday. But that will not stop the United States or the president from working with the parties to try to bring about a solution, and that's why the president looks forward to the meeting.

QUESTION: Is the mail flowing freely now in the White House? You said yesterday it would probably start again...

FLEISCHER: Yes, I do not have a report for you on the mail yet. As I indicated, today is the day we were told that the mail will begin, and we're looking forward to it.

QUESITON: Ari, what message is the president trying to send by (OFF-MIKE)?

FLEISCHER: I think it's a combination of messages. One, you know this president is a sports fan. He enjoys getting out and going to ball games. Two, the president has tremendous admiration for the men and women of our military who are helping to defend our nation.

And the president, I think, can get both messages across. He can have an enjoyable Saturday, watch a little football, and also express his appreciation to the people who serve our country so valiantly.



FLEISCHER: Does he have a favorite Beatle?


FLEISCHER: I did not ask the president that.

All right, on the week ahead...


FLEISCHER: We've already had the magic "thank you."


FLEISCHER: And you've already had a question.

QUESTION: No. Paula.

FLEISCHER: Well, the magic "thank you" came in before Paula's. I appreciate your being Paula's spokeswoman, however.


QUESTION: Let her speak.

FLEISCHER: Martin Ohler (ph) said let her speak? QUESTION: People who call...

FLEISCHER: Who was the -- never mind.


On Monday, the president will meet with the prime minister of Israel in the Oval Office. Also on Monday, the president will meet with Sweden's prime minister here at the White House.

FLEISCHER: On Tuesday, you can look forward to -- the president will travel. We will announced the location early next week. The president, during his course of that travel, a day trip, will discuss ways to protect America's workers and create growth and to help stimulate the economy in the aftermath of the attacks of our country on September 11.

On Wednesday, in Washington, the president will meet with the president of Norway.

And on Thursday, the president will meet with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, with the president of Bolivia.

And that evening, the president and Mrs. Bush will participate in the Pageant of Peace on the Eclipse near the White House.

Currently, no public events scheduled for Friday.


FLEISCHER: We'll get times out in the week ahead that you'll receive later today.

Thank you everybody.

WOODRUFF: Ari Fleischer with the Friday briefing at the White House. Not a great deal to say about Afghanistan, but on a couple of domestic points, to Democratic criticism of -- that the president, is largely responsible for the state of the economy, Ari Fleischer said the job of a leader is to solve problems, not to point fingers. This in response to criticisms from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and from others.

On the announced -- surprise announced resignation of the chairman of the Republican party, Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, Fleischer said the president got a call last night from Governor Gilmore. He said the president's accepting the resignation with regret, but he says -- but he said the president understands the governor wants to spend more time with his family. There had been reports that there had been a rocky relationship, if you will, between the head of the Republican National Committee and some senior members of the Bush administration, but Ari Fleischer said flatly that is not true.

And just quickly, the president will go tomorrow to the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. Fleischer said he's not going to say who the president is rooting for, and he said with regard to the death of Beatle George Harrison, he said the president is very saddened by that.

He considers the Beatles one of the greatest music groups of all time. He noted that two of the four Beatles, mentioning John Lennon as well, two of the four Beatles have now passed away. He referred to them as a big part of the life of Baby Boomers in this country, and he said the president himself was a fan.




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