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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Holds Daily Briefing

Aired October 24, 2001 - 15:23   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, is about to step to the podium. That's the picture on the right of your screen. We expect Mr. Fleischer momentarily. We would expect some considerable amount of time will be spent discussing the news that came out about this time yesterday that there was anthrax found in a mail facility that handles White House mail.

Here is the president's spokesman, Ari Fleischer.


I'd like to give you a report on the president's day and then give you a few updates on some of the activities in fighting the war against terrorism on the domestic front, then I'll be happy to take your questions.

The president this morning had his usual intelligence briefings, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He also this morning met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then he had a meeting with members of Congress to discuss homeland security with Governor Ridge, where Governor Ridge presented them with an update on the status of the office and the activities of the office. That is the first of two such meetings; the second meeting will take place this afternoon with the president, Governor Ridge and other members of Congress.

The president also today traveled to the Dixie Printing Company in Glen Burnie, Maryland, to make the case for the House of Representatives today to take action on an economic stimulus package that will help the American people get back to work, that'll help provide a boost to the economy. Action on that is pending in the House, and the president is very hopeful that the House of Representatives today will pass the economic recovery package.

And as I mentioned, the president later this afternoon will have the second of his meetings on homeland security with Governor Ridge and members of Congress.

Three announcements on the domestic side on fighting the war on terrorism.

One, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson today announced $300 million is being released immediately through the Centers for Disease Control to supplement public health grants to the affected states and cities as a result of the anthrax attacks.

Those communities are New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Florida. And these funds will go to surveillance, detection and confirmation of anthrax cases. That way the public health response capabilities can be improved.

In addition, the secretary, along with Helge Wehmeier, the president and CEO of the Bayer Corporation, today announced agreement for a significant new federal purchase of the antibiotic Cipro at a substantially lower price. The antibiotic is expected to be available by January 1, 2002.

Under the terms of the agreement, which is valued at $95 million, Health and Human Services will pay 95 cents per tablet for a total initial order of 100 million tablets. Funds for the purchase are included in $1.6 billion emergency proposal made by President Bush and sent up to the Congress on October the 17th.

Resources on hand by January, as a result of this, will be able to treat 12 million people immediately for anthrax exposure.

And as Secretary Thompson said in announcing this, the beneficial price also means that we can have more funds available to assist state and local health responders to be ready for all eventualities.

And finally, Postmaster General Jack Potter today announced a number of strong safety measures as part of the Postal Service's four- part effort to better protect employees and workers and the public through education, investigation, intervention and prevention at the Postal Service. The preventive measures announced to day by the postmaster general are adopting and deploying new technology to neutralize anthrax that might move through the mail. This new technology, which involves radiation, is already being used successfully to fight bacteria in food.

In addition, he announced that the Postal Service will provide their employees who process mail with masks and gloves for their protection. They will also establish field command centers so employees can notify the centers if they seek admission to a hospital. In that way, the Postal Service can quickly identify any pattern of medical problems that might develop.

In addition, he announced a change in the procedures at the Postal Service that they will change the way they clean mail-sorting equipment. The Postal Service will use vacuum equipment exclusively to clean the equipment and absorb dust and other particles. Postal facilities will also use stronger anti-bacterial cleaning chemicals as part of routine maintenance.

And finally supervisors and postmasters are going to continue giving mandatory talks to employees to educate them, provide them with information they can use so they can receive the full protections they deserve.

And with that I'm happy to take any questions. QUESTION: Ari, on the radiation, are we talking about ultraviolet, or are you talking about cobalt radiation? Are these facilities that can be added on to the postal stations, or do they have to be sent out to third-party providers?

FLEISCHER: The announcement made by the Postal Service was of radiation; it is not defined beyond that. And this would be equipment that the Postal Service purchases for themselves for their own use.

QUESTION: Ari, on the same subject of Postal Service, I understand $175 million were assigned to them, but it seems like they're going to need money than that. Is the president willing to ask for more funds for the Postal Service, or will they have to go to Congress?

FLEISCHER: That figure was developed in concert with officials at the Postal Service. The president announced that yesterday, the $175 million, and we will continue to work with the Postal Service and others to meet their needs.


FLEISCHER: That's the announcement the president made yesterday, and that's based on the immediate assessment of the Postal Service's needs.

QUESTION: Is the FBI alert that was issued about two weeks ago -- is that still in effect and at the same level?

FLEISCHER: Law enforcement agencies and the FBI remain at a heightened state of alert.

QUESTION: So the same state of alert as it was a couple weeks ago?

FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say it's a high state of alert -- it remains a high state of alert.

QUESTION: And Senator Frist today said that the grade of the anthrax suggests more than a casual scientist was involved. Does the White House agree with that?

FLEISCHER: Involved with the mailing to Senator Daschle's office? I'm not sure how to respond...

QUESTION: The one that killed the postal workers, actually.

FLEISCHER: Suffice it to say that the mail that was received in Florida was lethal enough to kill one person. The mail that was received in Senator Daschle's office also took the lives of two postal workers. And so however it's defined -- and I think the best place for those definitions to come are from the scientists involved -- it had a lethal effect.

QUESTION: Mr. Potter this morning said that there are no guarantees that the mail is safe. Does the president agree with that? FLEISCHER: The president is satisfied that every step is being taken to protect postal workers and everybody who receives mail. And those steps have been very visible, very public. I just announced several of them. That's the reason that the president has himself said that it's important for people to be on alert, to look for suspicious packages -- you see the attorney general reading off of a FBI notice about a suspicious package might look like.

The president is satisfied that every precaution is being taken.

Obviously, in a country in which more than 200 billion pieces of mail are sent every year, now we have what is a handful of cases in which anthrax has been through the mail. Just by virtue of the fact that more than 200 billion pieces of mail are sent every year and only a handful have, unfortunately, had anthrax, it is safe to conclude that the mail is overwhelmingly safe.

QUESTION: So people should feel safe opening their mail.

FLEISCHER: People should feel safe opening their mail. People should also be alert as they proceed as they open their mail.

And obviously, the cases that have been anthrax sent through the mail, all have involved high-profile, high-visible people.

QUESTION: Ari, to follow on that...

FLEISCHER: Or organizations; just want to add that.

QUESTION: Because the Brentwood facility has been contaminated and mail that goes through the Brentwood facility has been stopped to certain places, are the discussions under way, has there been a decision to stop mail delivery to certain parts of the city where that mail would pass through the Brentwood facility?

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any such conversations. But that's a question that could better and fully be answered by Postal Service officials here in the Washington area.

QUESTION: But wouldn't that be a prudent step?

FLEISCHER: Again, I have not been involved in any such conversations, so I don't think I'm qualified to answer that.

QUESTION: Ari, you said the Postal Service is going to buy these machines now to irradiate mail.


QUESTION: But some of them are in existence; it is done for mail that goes into the State Department, and shall we just say other government facilities already. Have those been provided to the district because this is a high-profile area and many targets? Is the district already using existing machines to do that now?

FLEISCHER: The postmaster general said this morning that he believes that the first purchase will be in place approximately November. And the Postal Service will be the group that make the determination about exactly where they are going to position these based on their analysis.

QUESTION: The government owns some now; any loaners? The federal government, in conjunction with the Postal Service uses these at certain facilities. Any effort to expand that to the civilian population of the District of Columbia? Its mail goes through the same facilities...

FLEISCHER: The determination about where these machines are going to be placed is going to be done by the Postal Service based on an analysis of where the needs are, and that's how they are going to respond.

QUESTION: Ari, you said yesterday that since September 11, you were taking extra precautions at the remote mail facility for the White House. Since we've learned since that all mail to that facility comes from Brentwood, had there been any effort since September 11 to also change security measures at Brentwood on the assumption that they also were receiving the same mail?

FLEISCHER: The security procedures that are made here are made because of the unique threat levels that exist at the White House, and so I can only speak to the changes that are made here that affect the remote facility that the White House uses.

QUESTION: But every bit of mail that comes to the White House facility goes through Brentwood first, right?

FLEISCHER: But I'm the spokesman for the White House. I can only answer the question about what's happened for the White House procedures, I can't speak to all the mail at any postal facility across the country.

QUESTION: Where I'm heading is, did the Secret Service make any effort to back upstream a little bit from their own facility -- your own remote facility to the next step, which would have been Brentwood?

FLEISCHER: To the best of my knowledge, those procedures were initiated at the remote facility here for the White House.

QUESTION: And ended there?

FLEISCHER: To the best of my knowledge, that's right.

QUESTION: Ari, these meetings with Ridge and the members of Congress, are these sort of going to be regular meetings with members or are they a one-time attempt to sell some key members on this office and the idea that you don't need any further legislation?

FLEISCHER: Well, at the meeting this morning, I think many of the members found it very constructive to have these conversations. And Governor Ridge has also spent considerable time up on the Hill meeting individually and with different groups of members of Congress to talk about homeland security and to listen to members of Congress and to gather their ideas.

One of the purposes of the meeting also, in addition to information sharing and update the members on homeland security, was it's no secret that there a number of members of Congress, some of whom came down to the White House today, who believe that legislation is necessary to give Governor Ridge more power, the power that they think he may need.

And they received a very strong message from the president today that no legislation is necessary; that Governor Ridge as all the power that he needs; that Governor Ridge, by virtue of the fact that he is in such proximity to the president, has the ear of the president, has the respect of the president, Governor Ridge has everything he needs to be able to get his job done. And that was the message that the president and the governor gave to members of Congress earlier today.

QUESTION: The White House is still in a stage where both the president and Governor Ridge are trying to define to lawmakers and to the American people what this office is all about. Where is Governor Ridge? We're in the middle of a major anthrax scare; why aren't the American people hearing from him every day?

FLEISCHER: The governor has been spending much of his time with members of Congress, today for example. I think everybody saw the governor was out here on Monday in a news conference, side-by-side with many of the officials who are working on the anthrax issue that developed here in Washington, D.C. People will continue to see the governor. And, in fact, you raised the question, many people will see him on one of America's premier networks tonight.

So he's going to be continuing to be visible. People will continue to see the governor, and he's going to be out briefing and informing people on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Which network?

FLEISCHER: That would be the Central Broadcasting System. Of course, ABC and NBC asked about CBS.

QUESTION: Columbia.

FLEISCHER: Columbia. Excuse me.


FLEISCHER: You are Columbia, not Central? You need to give up that seat. That's the Central seat.


QUESTION: Just plain old CBS.

QUESTION: Is there a lesson learned in David's question about the mail? The remote facility goes on a higher alert and does not contact Brentwood. If the Secret Service sees a suspicious person outside the gates, they call the D.C. Police and the Park Police immediately. If you go on a higher sense of alert at your mail facility and you know all your mail comes from the Brentwood facility, how could you not call the Brentwood facility, at least as a courtesy, to say, "We think something could be up; we're going on a higher state of alert; you should too"?

FLEISCHER: Again, in answer to the question, I said that "to my knowledge." And so I can't speak authoritatively for every phone call that the Secret Service ever makes. I don't know every phone call the Secret Service makes. But suffice it to say the Brentwood facility is already on an alert status as a result of the Daschle letter. The mail at that facility had stopped. And so I think in this case it's...

QUESTION: There's a lag in the dates. You say the remote facility implemented additional -- it's already a place where the mail is taken for a reason for security.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the question here was relevant after the discovery of the small level of anthrax that was found on the cutting machine at the remote facility.

QUESTION: I think the question was -- that you said yesterday that facility has gone on a higher state of alert even since September 11, prior to the discovery of any letters.

FLEISCHER: But again, to use your analogy, if somebody were to see something here at the gate it would be -- seeing something here at the gate that would trigger an involvement with the other authorities in the area -- the Park Service Police or the D.C. Police -- seeing something at the gate is the equivalent of what was discovered last night on the cutting machines

QUESTION: On this Cipro, since there's still a lot of confusion among doctors and officials, why is the government giving Cipro to those who are not positive? How are you going to know if they are exposed if they're taking the antibiotic? And what's the directive on how long they should be taking it?

FLEISCHER: Well, the action that has been recommended by local health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, is that Cipro should not be given to anybody unless there is some type of reasonable evidence that they have been in the proximity of something that could have contained anthrax. And that's why in the cases where you've seen Cipro being given to somewhere, it's where an assessment is made that there could be a risk involved to the person from possible anthrax exposure.

And that's why -- take, for example, of the cases up in New York City and the news outlets that received anthrax in the mail, local workers at those outlets were given Cipro. At Senator Daschle's office, those who were in the environment in which that envelope were opened were given Cipro. In the case here at the remote facility, those who worked at the remote facility or visited the remote facility, Cipro has been made available to them.

So I think there's a pretty logical thing you can see. The determination of the health community is wherever somebody may have been exposed to anthrax they will prescribe Cipro as a prophylactic treatment. It is not recommended by the health professionals for anybody if they have not been possibly exposed.

QUESTION: They've stopped testing in some places now too. So after giving the Cipro they're not testing. So there's no way to know who's been exposed.

FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I follow your question. Did they stop testing?



FLEISCHER: In each and every one of the cases I just cited tests were done.


QUESTION: Can I ask about penicillin? You're talking about Cipro and other arrangements being made. Is there enough varieties of penicillin in the system, and is the government negotiating with manufacturers of penicillin either be generic or the regular...

FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the statements that Secretary Thompson has made on numerous occasions about the push-packs that are available throughout the country to respond to a series of emergencies on short notice. And the secretary has addressed -- and I don't know -- I do not know medicine by medicine, everything that is in those push-packs, but that's a question that the Health and Human Services Department has under it's purview, and they've given assurances about the availability of those push-packs.

QUESTION: Is the president meeting with the governor of New York through today?

FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of, not on my schedule.

QUESTION: Update on the testing of the folks out of the remote facility and here of the White House?

FLEISCHER: This morning I indicated that, as a result of all the preliminary tests that had been done, that there have been no positive anthrax cultures found. That statement holds. There have been no positive anthrax cultures found as a result of any of the preliminary tests that have been done.

I believe those tests will be final approximately Thursday, tomorrow, or Friday, and so we'll have additional updates as events warrant.

QUESTION: The number that you gave us earlier still stands, 120 out of...

FLEISCHER: The numbers I gave earlier still stand. We are in the middle of a business day. The tests are under way today of people who work at the remote facility, as well as those who may have visited that facility. And that's why I don't have a numbers update for you from what I gave this morning.

The numbers that I gave this morning were 50 individuals who work in the EEOB mail room here at the White House grounds and approximately some 150 or so individuals who work or visited the remote facility. That number is subject to change as a result of when you say the number of people who visit. That number is obviously going to show some fluctuation as visitors are identified.

QUESTION: Any source of the anthrax yet? Is it still believed that it's cross-contamination from Brentwood?

FLEISCHER: I don't believe anybody has identified what the source is. There are suspicions about what it could be. That is clearly one suspicion. But there is no information yet that is conclusive about what the source may be.

QUESTION: That was the first thing I wanted to ask you. There was a fairly small amount relatively...

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: ... found on that machine. Does that lead investigators to believe that it was cross-contamination rather than a letter addressed specifically to the White House?

FLEISCHER: As I indicated, there's no conclusive finding on that point. It is -- from everything that I have heard from the people who have been involved in this, it's been described as trace amounts.

QUESTION: Could I ask you about the economic stimulus package? The president today is calling for passage of a bill that he does not support.

FLEISCHER: Yes, he does. The president...

QUESTION: The House bill is including the...

FLEISCHER: Of course, the president supports the House bill. I've said that on numerous occasions from here. The president is very pleased with the House action, and the president is calling on the House to pass it today. He's very pleased with Ways and Means Committee action. And he's calling on the House to pass it today.

Obviously, when a president sends legislation, particularly something as important as an economic stimulus, up to the Hill, the Hill is not a rubber stamp. The Hill does not give the president carbon copy of what he asks for.

In the case of the economic stimulus pending in the House as we speak, it is much of what the president asked for; it is very similar to what the president asked for. And the president believe that this is a very strong way to begin the process. He would like the House of Representatives to pass it. He hopes that the Senate will take action on a similar package. There has been some legislation offered in the Senate and the president's opinion has much, too much spending in it that is not a stimulus package. It's a spending proposal.

And so, the president looks forward at the end of the day to House passage, the Senate passage and an agreement, and a bipartisan one, in the conference committee.

QUESTION: But the fact that he called for passage of it does not mean that he embraces a $100 billion short-term stimulus?

FLEISCHER: I think, as everybody who follows the congressional process knows, there are several steps to it, and today is the beginning step in the House. There will be a final step in the House, which is called final passage, and that will be a reflection of changes that are likely to be made in a conference committee, and the president is very pleased with the way this process is beginning.

QUESTION: Do you have a commitment from Senator Daschle about when that bill will be brought up on the Senate side?

FLEISCHER: I think you'd have to talk to Senator Daschle about the schedule of the Senate floor.

QUESTION: On the airline security package or aviation security package, there is a surcharge -- some would call it a tax. Is the president prepared to sign something that includes this individual surcharge or tax on each trip somebody takes?

FLEISCHER: Yes, the president is favorably inclined toward that provision.

QUESTION: What I was wondering, would he sign the House bill if that got to him or this, sort of, a tactical move...

FLEISCHER: That's a hypothetical. Now you're suggesting that the Senate may be a rubber stamp for the House.

QUESTION: So what does it mean to say that he supports the bill then if you can't tell us that he would sign it?

FLEISCHER: It means that the president supports the bill. He's very pleased with the fact that the House is going to pass an economic stimulus package that lowers individual income tax rates for working Americans; accelerates the existing tax cuts that provides tax relief for low-income Americans who do not pay income taxes, by giving them rebates; that provides faster expensing, that way businesses can have more of an incentive to invest in plant and equipment, which creates jobs; and finally, the fourth major component of that is the elimination of the corporate alternative minimum tax, which has served as a real disincentive for businesses to invest in plant and equipment.

Finally, it also includes a proposal that's similar to what the president announced, which are national emergency grants to help workers in states where there is high unemployment, principally in New York and others that have been impacted as a result of the attacks, so workers can receive health care and other help as they go through unemployment.

QUESTION: Does it mean that he's putting the onus on the Democrats to change the bill to the way that he wants it?

FLEISCHER: No. It means that Congress is going to do what Congress does, and that's the House pass, the Senate pass, and they meet in conference.

QUESTION: On the surcharge, earlier this year you defined any measure that would raise revenues as a tax increase.

FLEISCHER: Nobody ever defined it that way.

QUESTION: Yes, you did. You said if it raises revenues, it's a tax increase.

FLEISCHER: No, actually there is already on airline tickets a fee. That's a standard part of airline ticketing.

And this clearly is a fee to provide additional security. And that's the purpose of it. This is to provide funding for air marshals. This is to provide funding for cockpit doors. The president can already fund those through the emergency appropriation; this can also help provide more stringent oversight and a federal role in the screening, and then the standards that are set for security personnel.

But I don't even think you're going to see any disagreement on that amongst some of the staunchest Republicans on the Hill. I defy you to find that statement, because it has not been made.

QUESTION: On the Homeland Security Office -- has the House -- Graham (ph) came out and said he was holding off on his legislation. Have you gotten similar signals from the House? Are they going to also hold off on legislation to establish congressional authority for the Homeland Security...

FLEISCHER: Well, I can't say the House has entered into any agreement on that. I said that the president made his case. The issue came up and the president made his case.

QUESTION: Does Graham (ph) endorse his case?

FLEISCHER: I'll just have to refer you -- members of Congress will speak for themselves about what their intentions are.

QUESTION: There are so many voices, so many people within the government who are addressing the anthrax situation, and yet it is Governor Ridge who's head of homeland security. So despite his appearance, which we'll eagerly consume tonight on television, what is he doing?

FLEISCHER: The governor is involved in... (LAUGHTER)

I guess we know which network did not get the interview tonight.


QUESTION: I think we had him last week.


FLEISCHER: Aside from recovering from the interview he had with your network...

QUESTION: Yes. But seriously, I mean there's so many disparate voices on this.


QUESTION: What is he doing?

FLEISCHER: He's talking to many of those voices. The governor's job is a very busy coordination job. And one of the issues that came up at the meeting today was that one of the reasons the president has suggested to members of Congress that they do not need to make this a statutory post, that he does not need Cabinet rank, for example, there does not need to be a Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security is because there is such overlap among the various agencies, because every agency of the government has security concerns.

They have different divisions across various agencies, whether it's the Department of Defense, whether it's the CIA, whether it's Department of Interior, whether it's Department of Treasury.

Many of these agencies have law enforcement roles within what they do. Interior, for example, with the dams and some of the reservoirs, things of that nature. Defense is fairly obvious. Treasury has Secret Service, which has tremendous resources across the country. CIA, with their ability to gather intelligence, et cetera.

All of those entities still need to be coordinated here at the White House, just as the National Security Council has very successfully coordinated various defense-related entities across different agencies here at the White House.

The nation is at war. The war has two home fronts. One is abroad in Afghanistan. The second is here, defending the homeland. To defend the homeland it's going to require a coordination of all those various agencies.

But to directly answer your question, he spends a lot of his time working with those agencies, coordinating what they're doing, bringing people together, so that there can be a joint response to various issues, just as you saw he did on this podium on Monday when he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with officials from the District of Columbia, from the Centers for Disease Control, from all the various agencies that were effected. That's how he spends his time. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) here at the White House or is the president more confident that the government is able to prevent the spreading of this anthrax scare further?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president is very confident that he has the right man for the job, and that Governor Ridge is leading an effort here in the government to do everything possible to protect Americans from further attacks.

I can't go so far as to say that the nation is no longer at risk or a threat because there's been a hiring of a good man for an important job. But the president has every confidence in Governor Ridge. And that, too, by the way, was something that members of Congress from both parties emphasized today at the meeting, that they thought the governor was the right man for that job.

QUESTION: Ari, is there anything the administration can do or plans to do to get Israel to back off a bit? And how much is the latest escalation of violence threatening the coalition on terror?

FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the president met with Foreign Minister Peres yesterday and he expressed his condolences about the assassination of the Minister Zeevi. And he also did urge Israel to withdraw from Area A in the West Bank, Zone A in the West Bank. And he has made his point, and he hopes that it will be listened to.

He's also called on Chairman Arafat to make a 100 percent effort to do everything possible to reduce the violence and to arrest those responsible for the assassination.

QUESTION: The Israel thing didn't work out too well, though; there's more violence there today. And is it threatening the coalition, is the second part.

FLEISCHER: You know, I think that it's always in the interest of anybody, whether they are in the coalition or not in the coalition, for there to be peace in the Middle East, and that's why the president has been working so hard to convince both parties to reduce the violence, to withdraw from the West Bank, to make a 100 percent effort, and to then follow through on the Mitchell accords.

QUESTION: And is the president meeting with Sharon on the 11th?

FLEISCHER: You mean at the meeting up in New York?

QUESTION: I'm not sure. I just know he's in town.

FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on that right now.

QUESTION: Is there a time when we can expect the vice president to no longer work out of his secure location? And could that send a message of calm to the public?

FLEISCHER: Well, the vice president is in the White House today. And he's been here on a regular basis recently.

I'm sorry.

QUESTION: To stay?

FLEISCHER: Is he staying at the White House? Well, if the president invites him to spend the night, I'm sure he could.


FLEISCHER: He's been here on a regular basis since last week. I don't remember the exact date he came back to the White House. But he's been working at the White House on a regular basis.

QUESTION: What's happening to all the mail that's sent to the White House now? And would you recommend to American people that they send e-mails instead to lessen the workload or not send letters to the White House?

FLEISCHER: Well, as a result of what's happened, and also as a result of existing security precautions that have been in place, particularly since September 11, I can just say that precautions have been in place dealing with the mail, and I'm going to just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Ari, there are some in Congress and elsewhere who support the idea of a national ID card to be issued to all U.S. citizens. What's the president's thinking on that idea?

FLEISCHER: That's not a topic that I've heard discussed with the president, and so I'm not aware of how he would think about that. But I'm not aware of any discussions involving that.

QUESTION: In an era of bipartisanship after the war, when it comes to judicial nominations, Senator Daschle basically told the president yesterday that it was his way or the highway. When is there some sort of compromise going to come? Does the president expect, in the next couple of months, maybe after the appropriations bills are passed, that there will be some meeting of the minds here about going forward? And what sort of message does this send in case there, for example, was a Supreme Court vacancy at this time?

FLEISCHER: The Senate did yesterday pass four judges, and I believe they also passed, I believe it was 14 -- perhaps 18 U.S. attorneys.

Having said that, the traditions of the Senate, going back many a year, in particularly a president's first year in office, almost everybody that the president has nominated up to the August recess has been confirmed. And that is a long-standing tradition.

And given the fact that there are numerous judicial emergencies that have been declared, that there's a shortage of judges on the benches, given the importance of winning the war on terrorism and avoiding bottlenecks in the courts as federal cases are brought, the president does think it is terribly important for the Senate to take action on the judges before they adjourn.

QUESTION: How about the nomination of John Walters to drug czar? That was made a long time ago and he's still waiting.

FLEISCHER: That too is a priority for the president. He is hopeful that the Senate will take action on John Walters as the drug czar. Afghanistan happens to be one of the largest producers of drugs in the world, and the president thinks it'd be very productive to have a drug czar put in place.

QUESTION: The president said earlier in Baltimore that he'd like to accelerate another round of rebates. The IRS commissioner said yesterday that logistically that would be very difficult to accomplish before the end of the calendar year in time for the holiday season that the president says he wants to give extra money in people's pockets. How do you get this done?

FLEISCHER: Well, the faster Congress gets it done, the easier it'll be. So the answer to that really lies in the hands of Congress. If Congress wants to join the president in getting more money into the hands of low-income people of all Americans, so they can have that rebate to help stimulate the economy quicker and also in time for the holidays, then Congress needs to act and act soon.

QUESTION: Ari, the president keeps talking about he's going to get the evildoers -- we're going to get the evildoers. Realistically, what is the timetable, do you think, for the federal government to be able to bring someone in custody or have a suspect for these anthrax letters? And also, I mean, what is the reality with that compared to the Unabomber situation, when the Unabomber was found by accident because of a mess-up on his part?

And also has the president called any of the families of those victims from the Brentwood post office?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to engage in guesswork about when an investigation is going to find the people who did it. Obviously I'm not some crystal ball that nobody has.

But it's fair to say that the FBI and local law enforcement are dedicating every resource to that task. That is obviously, when the United States is under anthrax attack, people have been mailing anthrax to various people. Nothing could concern the law enforcement community more than that. And they are dedicated to that.

And hopefully everybody hopes that they will have a breakthrough, and they will be able to find whoever is behind this, and arrest whoever it is, and do so quickly. But I can't engage in any guesses on that.

QUESTION: Is the operative word "hope"? You said "hope," is that the operative word?

FLEISCHER: I think from my point of view, somebody who is not a professional investigator, I hope that they will be able to find whoever did it immediately -- as fast as possible.

The investigators are working this as thoroughly, as methodically. They're good at what they do. And the president does have confidence that whatever time it takes, they're going to be successful.

QUESTION: Has he called the Brentwood victims yet? Has he called the families?

FLEISCHER: I don't have the information on who the president's called.

QUESTION: I have had several calls, some from people in aviation, who ask why, when you check-in your suitcase at airports, such check-in bags are not run through any machine or searched liked carry-on luggage. And I'm wondering is the president aware of this and concerned?

FLEISCHER: I'm not sure the president is aware of who's calling you.


FLEISCHER: I don't know about the individual cases of anybody who's calling you, what's happening to their baggage. I can tell you that, as I've flown commercial numerous times, prior to and after September 11, and on all my carry-on baggage has been searched -- has gone through machines.

QUESTION: But did the U.N. general secretary at any time after September the 11th tell President Bush, "We have told the Taliban that they must immediately arrest those responsible for World Trade Center and Pentagon murders, so that there is no need for you to make war"?

FLEISCHER: I don't speak for the secretary general, so I can't tell you what he has said.

Thank you.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer taking questions on a range of subjects, a lot them having to do with anthrax, some of them having to with the homeland security chief, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge -- questions about whether he has enough authority.

I should say that Ari Fleischer started off the briefing by announcing that the United States has worked out an arrangement with the Bayer company, the makers of ciprofloxacin, which is the antibiotic being given to most of the people who either were exposed to anthrax or who might have been exposed to anthrax.

And the deal they worked out is that the United States' government will buy it for 95 cents a tablet, which is less than what it normally would have sold for -- the government trying very much there -- the administration trying very hard there to get the price down -- Ari Fleischer also talking about new steps taken by the Postal Service and by the government to use new cleaning equipment, beefing up -- in effect, beefing up safety measures at postal facilities around the country in the light of the anthrax outbreak around the country.




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