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
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
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're referring to the Capital
Defense Initiative, correct?
Q That's right.