White House Press Briefing, January 15, 2004
|Thursday January 15,
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
9:36 A.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, poolers. Let me run through the President's day. He had his usual briefings before departing this morning for New Orleans. When we arrive in New Orleans, the Freedom Corps greeter there will be Tenisha Stevens. She is an active volunteer with Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where we are headed later. She participates in tutoring programs for at-risk youth in grades 1st through 6th. And she also volunteers with the homeless prevention program at the church.
Then the President will go to Union Bethel AME Church. Let me give you a little bit of information on the church. It was organized in 1865 and has been at this site since 1886. And it serves a low-income section of New Orleans. It opened a child care center in 1941, and they continue to manage their child development center and also offer homelessness prevention programs, a youth enrichment program and a scholarship program. And Union Bethel ministers to approximately 1,500 people.
And just one item of note, since it is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday today, 75th birthday, he spoke at Union Bethel Church on December 14, 1961.
The President will participate in a roundtable with some faith-based and community leaders, and then make remarks. And I have a special guest gaggler with me here this morning and I will come back to him in a minute, after I finish the schedule, and let him talk to you a little bit more about where we are and the progress we are making on the President's faith-based initiative.
Following his remarks there, the President will participate in a Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon in New Orleans. Then we will depart New Orleans and go to Atlanta, Georgia. The Freedom Corps greeter there when we arrive is Billiee Pendleton-Parker -- that is hyphenated. She is an active volunteer with Hands On Atlanta, which is a nonprofit that helps people and community groups find ways to participate in volunteer activities, with more than 400 service organizations and schools.
Then the President looks forward to participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He will be joined there by Mrs. Coretta Scott King and some other members of the King family. And then the President will make remarks at a Bush-Cheney 2004 reception in Atlanta, before arriving back at the White House later this evening.
And with that, let me turn it over to Jim Towey, the Director of our Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Office, and he will talk to you a little bit more about the President's faith-based initiative and what he's going to be talking about today. Then he'll be glad to take any questions you have on that, and then I'll take the other questions.
MR. TOWEY: Thanks, Scott. The President is continuing on this very key domestic policy priority of his by starting off this year going to Union Bethel Church, where they've had a fine reputation for caring for the poor in their community. They've also received federal money in the process, in doing this work to turn around people's lives. The President has always felt the faith-based initiative and its power was in the fact that it could change people's lives. And in the roundtable today he will hear stories from several individuals who were touched by faith-based organizations and now find their lives on track.
The President has very -- with great steadfast resolve, pushed ahead with the faith-based initiative from the first week that he's been in office. Last year, there were four regulatory changes that were finalized, in addition to five new regulations that were proposed -- all of which seek to level the playing field, so that faith-based organizations can compete fairly for grants from the federal government.
So the President has undertaken a three-pronged approach to advancing his faith-based initiative. His first approach, which I mentioned, is the regulatory approach. And there he has not only issued an executive order seeking equal treatment for the faith-based groups, he's now seeing the first fruits of those efforts. He'll hear at the roundtable today from Donna Blackburn, whose Safe House for Battered Women and Their Children had been told they couldn't apply for federal funds because they had religious activities taking place on the site of the property. And through the regulatory changes that were made at HUD, she was told in 2003 now she could apply, and she's received a grant now for this program -- which, of course, doesn't mean that federal money can ever fund religious activity; the President has made very clear no public money promoting any religious activity. But the fact that a faith-based organization may have something separating time and place on the site shouldn't be a bar to participating.
In addition to the regulatory efforts -- and today the President will announce the Department of Justice has finalized its equal treatment regulations, and so those will be in place, affecting $3.7 billion in programs.
QUESTION: Billion or million?
TOWEY: Billion -- $2.7 billion in federal programs. This follows the final actions that were taken in September of 2003, where $8 billion in HUD programs and $20 billion in HHS programs are now under the coverage of equal treatment or charitable choice regulations, depending on the agency.
Q: The $8 billion was from where?
MR. TOWEY: The $8 billion was at HUD, covering eight programs. The $20 billion covered three programs at HHS, governed by charitable choice statutes. Of those $31.7 billion in programs at Justice, Labor -- I mean, Justice, HUD and HHS, approximately $10 billion of those are grants -- of that funds, $10 billion go out the door in grants.
The President, in addition to the regulatory efforts, is working with Congress. When Congress returns next week, the omnibus spending bill includes $100 million for his drug treatment initiative that he announced in the State of the Union last year.
Q: How much?
TOWEY: -- $100 million. It includes $48 million for the Compassion Capital Fund, a program he created to help provide technical assistance to groups like the church he's going to today, that know how to provide compassionate service, but don't know how to deal with the federal government. And so the Compassion Capital Fund has already been funded twice; $30 million in 2002, $35 million in 2003, and now, pending, $48 million. And in September, $30 million went out the door in grants to 81 organizations.
In addition to those two programs, the mentoring of the children of prisoners, a very important priority of the President. He sees over two million children in America that have a mom or dad in prison. He started this program last year; $9 million went out the door in grants, many to faith-based organizations. And Congress now will deliberate appropriating $50 million in this omnibus spending bill.
In addition to that, the President -- the third prong, besides regulations and congressional activity, is with information efforts, trying to inform the public, here's what's available, these barriers have been removed, it's now -- we're moving toward a level playing field. And so we have White House conferences. We've had nine to date that over 11,000 people have attended. There will be one in Phoenix in February, Los Angeles in March, and then a national conference later this year in Washington.
Q: Phoenix in February --
TOWEY: Phoenix, February 12th; March 3rd in Los Angeles. These conferences bring together groups that want to know more about how they can expand their work to treat more addicts, house more homeless, train more jobless people. And many of these programs operate out of facilities like you're going to see today in the inner city. If you exclude these groups so they can't receive federal funds, you often deny these neighborhoods federally-funded programs because they're often the only social service provider.
McCLELLAN: Any questions for Jim?
Q: Can you provide a little more details about the $3.7 billion, the grants that are being -- I'm sorry, the regulations that are being announced today by DOJ? You said it affects $3.7 billion worth of programs. Just a specific line or two about what these regulations do.
TOWEY: The regulations implement President Bush's equal treatment executive order that he signed December 12, 2002. So it communicates to all of their Department of Justice programs that faith-based organizations shall not be excluded from applying for grants like any other organization.
Principally, the $3.7 billion affects the Office of Justice program efforts. Those are programs for domestic violence programs -- there's a laundry list of OJP programs you can get off our website at fbci.gov. And like I said, of that $3.7 billion, roughly about a billion goes out the door in grants.
So these equal treatment principles the President espoused, he feels there's been -- now we're seeing the first fruits of it. Like I said, Donna Blackburn was told in 2001, you can't apply, because of these HUD regulations that prohibited any religious -- any religious influence of your program. Now she's applied, and now she's received a grant. We're seeing this all over America. There's a change underway.
McCLELLAN: We also are going to have a factsheet for you here shortly on the faith-based initiative. Anything else for Jim?
Q: Do you have the names of these programs and the individuals? Will that be on the factsheet, too, the programs you're --
McCLELLAN: We'll get you the information on the participants and individuals. Anything else for Jim?
Okay, thank you, Jim. I appreciate it. Anything for Josh? I guess that leaves me.
Q: Scott, what about the criticisms of some black leaders in Atlanta, saying that it's inappropriate to be raising money in conjunction with these events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King? How do you answer those?
McCLELLAN: One, we are pleased that Mrs. King and the King Center welcome the President's visit today as he pays tribute to Dr. King's legacy and his vision and his lifetime of service. This is a way to pay tribute to Dr. King's legacy. Dr. King had a tremendously positive influence in shaping the world we live in today for the better, and this is a way to honor a lifetime dedicated to fighting for opportunity and equal justice for all people. So the President looks forward to going to the King Center today and laying a wreath at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday.
Q: Will he be commemorating the national holiday, as well? Monday, will he be doing events related to --
McCLELLAN: That's the week ahead. We'll let you know.
Q: In connection with this story.
McCLELLAN: I think you can expect that the President will certainly commemorate it -- commemorate it in the form of a proclamation that calls on all people to remember Dr. King's legacy on Monday, which is the federal holiday, recognizing --
Q: Will he be doing a survey, any kind of, you know, volunteer act or service act, which many people are commemorating the holiday with?
McCLELLAN: One way to honor Dr. King is to participate in service activities on that day. And what the Freedom Corps greeter, in fact, that he will be visiting with in Atlanta, does that each year. She honors Dr. King by participating in service activities on Monday. But we'll keep you posted on next week tomorrow.
Q: African Americans are more likely to be without health insurance, more likely to be unemployed. Usually when the unemployment rate is 5 or 6 percent, it's nearly double that in some black communities. Does the President have proposals that he's going to announce today, in addition to laying a wreath? Is he going to say something, is he going to do something about trying to get more health insurance, more jobs?
McCLELLAN: One, he already has. Two, the event that he is participating in today is a wreath-laying ceremony. It's a solemn moment, a nice way to honor Dr. King. And you all -- the pool will be there to cover it.
Q: He doesn't see this as an opportunity to lay out an agenda that would help black Americans?
McCLELLAN: The President has pursued a bold agenda that increases opportunity for all Americans. I think I would start with one of the most important initiatives he has worked to implement, and that is the No Child Left Behind Act. These were the most sweeping reforms to education in years. And it will help ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn and succeed. The President believes in every child, and believes that every child can learn and succeed, but that we need to insist on high standards and accountability from our public schools. And the President -- the President's plan insists on results. And, as you often hear him say, this is an approach that rejects the soft bigotry of low expectations.
I would also point out that the President -- and, in fact, traveling with us today is the Secretary Designate Alphonso Jackson from the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- the President is pursuing a bold proposal to close the minority homeownership gap. And we are moving forward on that initiative. And when it comes to the economy, the President has taken decisive action to create an environment for more robust job growth --
Q: Why is --
McCLELLAN: -- economy even more for all Americans.
Q: Why is Jackson here? Some might see that as a -- kind of a cynical rolling out a black administration official when you're going to events where there are going to be a lot of black folks. Is that it?
McCLELLAN: I haven't heard anything like that. But as you are well aware, the President, in New Orleans, will be talking about his faith-based initiative, and I think you just heard from Jim Towey that HUD has been very involved in reaching out to faith-based and community organizations to help people in need. And certainly, the President's faith-based initiative that he's talking about today is an effort to reach even more people to save and change lives for the better. And it's an important initiative. So the President is pursuing a bold agenda to improve the quality of life for all Americans and provide opportunity for all Americans. It's a compassionate conservative agenda that reaches out to people from all walks of life.
Q: Will he be mentioning Dr. King in his remarks in New Orleans or in --
McCLELLAN: Stay tuned to his remarks. This is his birthday, and I expect you will hear more from the President about that.
Q: I had one other question on education. College tuition is skyrocketing in many parts of the country and middle-class voters, that's a big concern for them.
McCLELLAN: What is?
Q: College tuition going up very sharply. Does the President plan to unveil something in the State of the Union, or any time prior to, that would address that?
McCLELLAN: He already has made some proposals regarding higher education. One, of course, he's been pursuing expanding the Pell Grants to help more low-income Americans go to college, and make college more affordable and accessible for all. And the President is strongly committed to working to make college affordable and accessible. And that's one important initiative right there that he is pursuing.
He's also -- when you talk about employment, one thing that we have moved forward on aggressively, too, is job retraining initiatives through the Department of Labor. The President has worked to expand our help to community colleges, which play an important role in helping retrain people for today's economy and get them -- and find them jobs.
Q: Zell Miller tonight, what are you looking for him to add to the campaign?
McCLELLAN: Well, I think that I'll let you talk to the campaign about endorsements that may be forthcoming later today from some Democrats. But you should address those questions to the campaign.
Q: Scott, has the political season started yet for the President?
McCLELLAN: The President remains focused on our nation's highest priorities. As you have seen, he has continued to work to move forward on a number of important priorities recently, including his temporary worker program, including the bold new course he laid out for NASA yesterday and our space program.
Q: Does speaking at several fundraisers a week constitute the nation's highest priorities?
McCLELLAN: Obviously, there is -- the President recognizes that there is an election. But his focus is on the people's business. I mean, I think I just dismiss that whole characterization outright. Obviously --
Q: You mean it's inaccurate that he's speaking at several fundraisers a week?
McCLELLAN: Obviously he has to -- well, the way you characterized it previously. That's not the way you characterized it. I think you characterized it in different terms prior to that. Obviously, the President has to -- is going to reach out and build support for his campaign. But his focus remains on our nation's highest priorities and doing the people's business.
Q: Are we going to see a return to the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism? Did we ever step away from it? How would you respond to people that read this as, right before the election we're suddenly going to start rolling out compassionate conservatism again, as if it was forgotten for a long time? What would you say to that interpretation?
McCLELLAN: The President has been pursuing a compassionate conservative agenda since day one of this administration. And I just went over a number of initiatives that we have acted on, on behalf of the American people, from education to addressing homeless -- or closing the homeownership gap, to his faith-based initiative. These are initiatives the President focuses on all the time, and he will continue to focus on, because they are important priorities for the American people.
Q: How do you respond to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that ran yesterday that said that the President wasn't invited to this event in Atlanta and -- does he need to be invited to something like that?
McCLELLAN: I think the way I just did. I noticed that there was an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today, as well, that might be of interest for you to read. We are pleased that Mrs. King and the King Center welcome the President's visit today. This -- the President looks forward to this opportunity to honor the legacy and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Q: Some of the critics are saying that part of his legacy is that he was for non-violent resolution of conflict, and are saying, well, the United States was the leader in the war in Iraq.
Q: That Bush led the war in Iraq, you know.
McCLELLAN: Who are those critics?
Q: The black leaders who are organizing the protest.
McCLELLAN: I think that, one, as I said a minute ago, this is about paying tribute to someone who had a tremendously positive influence in shaping the world that we live in today. That's what this is about, and that's where the President's focus will be, on honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. And certainly the policies that I have gone over with you all just in this gaggle reflect the President's commitment to building upon a legacy of fighting for opportunity and equal justice for all people.
Q: Scott, can you do just one quick readout on his preparation for the State of the Union, how often he's been working on it, and if you would be so kind as to indulge us with any ideas of what we may be hearing in this speech?
McCLELLAN: You all will get that information. It's still a little bit early for all that. He is, obviously, working on his speech and continues to work on it. And as we get a little bit closer to the State of the Union, then I will --
Q: How much closer, for our purposes?
McCLELLAN: I will provide you with all that -- with all the things related to the State of the Union.
Q: Thank you.
McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 9:59 A.M. EST
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