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Text: President Bush on Possible Retaliation

Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2001

Following is the transcript of President Bush's news conference, accompanied by Vice President Cheney and members of Congress, on possible retaliation against the terrorists.

BUSH: I want to welcome the leadership of the Congress here, and I want the nation to know how proud I am of how they have helped unite our country. Senator Daschle and the speaker and Senator Lott and Representative Gephardt have really showed that, in times of emergency and crisis, that our government can function in a way that is just exemplary, and I want to thank them for coming down.

I'm also so pleased to accept the invitation of the speaker and the leaders to come and address the Congress tomorrow night. I look forward to the opportunity to explain to the American people who it is, who would do this to our great country; and why, why would people choose America?

A lot of our citizens have got a lot of questions about what has taken place on September the 11th and subsequent to that, and I owe it to the country to give an explanation. And I want to thank the Congress for giving me a chance. I can't think of a better place than to talk about freedom and the battle to maintain freedom in one of the greatest halls of freedom, and that is in the United States Congress.

So thank you for the invitation. I accept wholeheartedly, and I will see you all tomorrow night.

I'd be glad to answer a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, will you be able to tell Americans tomorrow whether they're going to be safe while you prepare to retaliate, or will the terrorists strike again while we prepare for war?

BUSH: I think America needs to know that we in government are on alert, that we recognize life around the White House or around the Congress is not normal or is not the way it used to be, because we're very aware that people have conducted an act of war on our country.

And that all of us urge our fellow Americans to go back to work and to work hard, but we must be on alert. And our government is working hard to make sure that we run down every lead, every opportunity to find someone who would want to hurt any American.

The American people are united. They're united in the resolve to help heal the nation. But they're also united in the understanding that we've entered into a new day, and we'll deal with it.

QUESTION: Sir, you have been stressing that this is not a war against Islam. However, there are some around the world who view the coming battle along these (ph) lines. I'm wondering how worried you are that some view as a holy war? And are declarations of Jihad, at all, affecting U.S. plans?

BUSH: I appreciate that question. First of all, it is so important for my fellow Americans, as well as everybody in the world, to understand that America will hold those evildoers accountable. We don't view this as a war of religion in any way, shape or form.

As a matter of fact, Islam preaches peace. The Muslim faith is a peaceful faith. And there are millions of good Americans who practice the Muslim faith, who love their country as much as I love the country, who salute the flag as strongly as I salute the flag.

And for those who try to pit religion against religion, our great nation will stand up and reject that kind of thought. We won't allow that to creep into the consciousness of the world.

We're going to lead the world to fight for freedom, and we'll have Muslim and Jew and Christian side by side with us.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you promised only to dig into the Social Security surplus in an emergency, a recession or a war. And in your words, this constitutes a war. How much of the Social Security surplus are you going to spend?

BUSH: We are not only--someone conducted an act of war on us, our economy has slowed way down, and this is an emergency. We've had all three, it seems like to me.

And I'm going to work with Congress to send a clear message to America, American workers, American business people, that this government will respond to this emergency. We'll respond to the emergency in terms of working on a package for the airline industry that has been severely affected. We'll respond to work to fight terrorism.

The Congress has already responded with a supplemental that will not only help fund our military but, as importantly, will send a clear message to the people of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut that we'll help you rebuild, which is exactly the subject we talked about.

The definition of how much--is enough to get America going again; is to be able to endure this emergency.

QUESTION: And if that means all the surplus, are you concerned that (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: We're reasonable people. The leaders from the Congress are very reasonable, and they are mindful about government money, as well as anybody else.

But we are dedicated, we are dedicated to saying to the American people, ``This is an emergency,'' the likes of which we have not seen in a long time in this country, and this government will come together and deal with it. And that's exactly what's going to happen.

QUESTION: But did you mean to say this time that we are in a recession (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: No, I said--well, I said--let me put it this way, tough economic times. No question it's tough times.

And I don't have all the numbers, but let me just say this. I can pick up, you know, all the statistics, but make no mistake about it, this has affected our economy in a big way.

Now, I've still got faith that we'll recover. The strength of the American economy has always been our entrepreneurial spirit in our workers, and that's still prevalent. But you've seen the statistics on the airlines, they're beginning to layoff people. Big airline manufacturing companies responding. And this government will respond.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have all the numbers at my disposal because they haven't started counting them up. But this is a shock to our economy, and we're going to respond. And that's exactly what this leadership and I have been talking about.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) full support of President Musharraf? And how hard is it going to be for him to live up to his plan, given his domestic situation?

BUSH: Well, there's no question that President Musharraf has taken a bold position, which is to say that he will work to the extent he can with America and our allies as we deal with the prime suspect in the case. And we appreciate so very much his statement of support.

I said we'll give the president a chance to perform, and I believe he has done so.

We will work and consult closely with Pakistan and India to make sure that that part of the world is as stable as it can possibly be stable.

Let me say that, in terms of foreign policy and in terms of the world, this horrible tragedy has provided us with an interesting opportunity. One of the opportunities is in the Middle East. I'm pleased with the fact that Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon have taken positive steps toward bringing peace to the region. I think we have an opportunity to refashion the thinking between Pakistan and India. I think there are some interesting opportunities to shake terrorism loose from sponsor states.

And this government, working with Congress, are going to seize the moment. Out of our tears, I said I see opportunity, and we will seek opportunity, positive developments from this horrible tragedy that has befallen our nation.

Thank you all.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company