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Background Briefing on State of the Union Initiatives

White House Press Release
Friday, February 4, 2005; 8:17 AM

Following is the transcript of a background briefing with a senior administration official, by teleconference, on the president's initiatives in the State of the Union speech.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. Just to start out again, the President last night gave a very confident, strong vision for America. And what we're going to talk about is some big ideas -- just to mention them -- of course, the big ideas the President focused on were Social Security, education and job training. He also focused on the energy issues as they face us, and that is making sure that we are focusing on renewable sources of energy, clean and affordable energy, as well as the use of technology.

The areas that we're going to spend much of our time focusing on with you this morning are in two other areas -- first, focusing on reaching people at risk. The President cited three new policy proposals that we're going to talk about, one in the area of criminal justice reform. And that is with the DNA and death penalty work. Secondly, to focus on reaching at-risk youth, particularly those involved with gangs. And lastly, he focused on other challenges confronting us in at-risk -- namely, focusing on HIV/AIDS and the need to bring attention to the fact that we need to be targeting resources in the Ryan White Reauthorization Act to those populations at greatest risk, and particularly African American men and women.

And then, lastly, we're going to talk in the area of at-risk about the compassion agenda that the President continues to focus on and the role that the faith community and community-based organizations can play there in perpetuating a society that focuses on family, faith and freedom. And then, lastly, the President talked about the culture of life and, namely, calling for Congress to prohibit actions that would promote cloning, in terms of reproductive health, as well as focusing on getting attention to a ban in the Congress on this very issue.

So, with that, let me just dive right in and ask my colleague to say a word or two, as well, about compassion. And then we'll open up for questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. As you may know, in past State of the Union's the President has used that occasion to announce new faith-based and community initiatives that would address the needs of target populations and mobilize armies of compassion to respond in ways that can transform lives, as, for example, the mentoring of the children of prisoners; the access to recovery drug treatment program that was announced in the 2003 State of the Union; and in the 2004 State of the Union, the prisoner reentry initiative, a four-year, $300-million effort to provide transitional housing and mentoring and job-training skills for some of the 600,000 inmates who return to society ever year.

Last night the President outlined a new proposal dealing with youth that are in danger of becoming involved in gangs, and trying to find ways to redirect these youth into programs that would provide positive options and alternatives. This will be part of his budget that will be released on Monday, but this initiative will seek to target some of the worst neighborhoods in our country where gang activity is prevalent and where many of our urban youth are at risk of involvement.

Just in general statistics, the Department of Justice estimates that there are approximately 750,000 gang members in the country, of which about a third are under the age of 18. Roughly half of those gang members are estimated to be Hispanic, and about a third are African American. There's also an interesting dimension when you talk about female members of gangs. Roughly two out of five gangs have female members, and there's often reports that show that many times some of the female gang activity is extremely violent and dangerous and destructive. So this is an initiative that is very important in many urban communities, when you talk to law enforcement, of course. They recognize that we need to try to redirect these children's lives. And so the faith-based and community initiative the President announced last night will seek to mobilize organizations that are in touch with these youth and redirect them.

I wanted to say very briefly that Mrs. Bush is going to be engaged in a much broader outreach to our youth. In fact, today she is visiting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia to talk about some of these issues. Her interest is, of course, much broader than the matter of the gang prevention initiative. Her interest is looking at a broad range of programs that will involve parents and pastors and coaches and community leaders like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, who have ongoing activities to provide positive youth development and opportunities.

She will be traveling next week, as well, and will be traveling throughout the year to try to showcase and highlight some of the model programs and innovative efforts underway in America to address the at-risk youth of our country, especially some of the concerns of boys, which she has spoken at length about in the run-up to the inauguration and the days since.

So I think this faith-based and community initiative that the President launched in his first week of office will continue to be a part of his compassion agenda as he continues to reach out to Americans, particularly those in distressed populations.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the criminal justice area, the President announced two initiatives, two issues, that he focused on. One is a continuation of what he has talked about, spoken about, and actually supported in the past, and the other is a new focus. The first being a DNA initiative, where the President really is calling for us to strengthen our confidence in our criminal justice system, making sure that it's fair and accurate in terms of imposing penalties on criminals who come before the system -- has called for eliminating the DNA backlogs that exist. He's called for getting more research in developing faster, less expensive ways of analyzing DNA evidence. And in this regard, the President has called for, in the budget which will come out again on Monday, a billion-dollar DNA initiative.

In the '06 budget, the President is calling for $236 million in federal funding, and this funding will be utilized for helping to solve crimes and to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction. This will be done primarily through the elimination again of the DNA -- backlog of DNA samples, in strengthening lab capacity, expanding some of the testing of convicted offenders, and then also of training law enforcement in DNA techniques.

The second initiative, which is the new initiative mentioned last night, of the President, would provide additional training for defense counsel, prosecutors, and judges for state capital cases. Again, the concern here is to ensure that we are adequately providing training and ensuring that all involved with the capital case are able to handle the trials appropriately, and that is both sides -- the prosecution, the defense, as well as the judges.

The President is proposing a $50 million, three-year initiative. The first year, the initiative would be $20 million in '06, and it will be provided to train private defense counsel and public defenders, but also to work with state and local prosecutors, as well. And in addition, once these lawyers are trained, they will undergo additional training so that they can serve as advisors to other lawyers in particular capital defense cases.

With that, let me stop there. The President had mentioned a number of other issues that we'll be prepared to talk about if you desire to do so, but these are the major ones that were mentioned last night. The President talked about reforming immigration to safeguard the liberty of America. He talked about providing affordable and environmentally-responsible energy. These are some of the others. He also talked about, in the health arena, the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act and focus on HIV/AIDS. And he, in talking about some of the health reforms, he talked about the need for health savings accounts, associated health plans, as well as reforming our medical liability system, as well.

So we'll just open it up at this time to questions that you may have.

Q This $50 million that's part of a three-year initiative, is that part of the legislation passed last year, the Justice for All Act? And secondly, can you give us a little more detail of how the training would work?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're referring to the Capital Defense Initiative, correct?

Q That's right.

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