The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 25, 2005

Press Briefing on the President's Meeting with African American Leaders by Jim Towey, Director, Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
Via Telephone

2:31 P.M. EDT

MR. TOWEY: Hi, this is Jim Towey. The President had a 40-minute meeting today with 20 African American leaders of the faith community and civic and other corporate leaders to discuss a range of issues of interest to them. This should be in the context of his previous meeting, January 25th, right after his inauguration, and Secretary Rice's May 23rd meeting, which was a prelude to the G8 gathering.

So the focus of this meeting centered on four issues of mutual interest. He spoke at length with them about the G8 summit and what is being done in Africa, what they've done on malaria, what the President has proposed on malaria prevention and treatment over the next five years -- an increase of $1.2 billion to reduce malaria deaths by half. He spoke at length. And Ambassador Tobias was in the meeting and the two of them discussed at length the U.S. commitment on AIDS and HIV treatment and prevention, and how 230,000 Africans are now receiving these anti-retroviral drugs.

The President also spoke of the efforts on humanitarian relief. And Secretary Rice joined the meeting at the end and briefed the group on her trip to the Sudan. The President also spoke, in fact, opened the meeting discussing the Faith-based and Community Initiative. He thanked many of the leaders who have written letters in support of charitable choice, and also groups that for the first time are able to compete on a level playing field for federal funds.

And in the context of that discussion, the President spoke of the importance of the federal funds and also spoke of the importance of faith-based and community groups being able to access some of the corporate and foundation money that is granted each year. Many large corporations have policies that explicitly rule out donations or grants to faith-based organizations regardless of their effectiveness. Some of the corporations have a strict requirement that groups have a 501(C)(3), which many churches don't have, if they're going to receive a grant. And many organizations prohibit employee matching of funds to faith-based organizations.

What President Bush announced today was his plan to have a White House summit in March to discuss these issues so that barriers that prevent faith-based organizations from accessing corporate and foundations funds be removed. These barriers are preventing many of these groups from being able to expand their capacity to help more people. They have effective programs. And I think what the President wants to do is share with corporate and foundation leaders what's been done at the federal level to remove barriers so that groups could make grants to these organizations and not fund proselytizing or worship or religious activity, but would fund effective social service programs.

The President also spoke with them about the Medicare drug prescription benefit and how this benefit will help 42 million Americans and encouraged many of these leaders to get the word out on what's at stake and how many individuals in their communities might benefit from this drug prescription coverage. So they had a good exchange on this range of issues.

Obviously, there are many, many issues of interest to the African American community, and so there wasn't an effort to try to talk about all of those issues. This was really the focus at the meeting for these four. The President wanted to be timely after his trip to Gleneagles, and I think it was a continued, very candid dialogue and discussion with leaders who are on the front lines in addressing these issues. And I think the President is very gratified by the response he had today. And we will continue the dialogue and these groups will be part of the effort to prepare for the corporate and foundation summit, the philanthropic summit that will be held in March.

Be happy to answer your questions.

Q Mr. Towey, can you tell us how many black leaders were there, and perhaps some of their names or churches?

MR. TOWEY: We can get a list out to you. Alyssa McClenning will get a list out to you of who the attendees were. Some of them were church leaders, like Pastor Ken Hutcherson or Gene Rivers. And some wear several hats. Then there were groups that were corporate leaders, and there were some from civic and community organizations -- Hope Sullivan from the Leon -- so we'll get you the list, but it was a diverse group.

These groups differ each time, there's some overlap. But we have an ongoing dialogue with these groups, and so some might have been in the first meeting with the President, some may not have.

Q Can you tell me how, if at all, this fits into the broader effort by the GOP to reach out to the black community politically and to ask the black community to give the Republican Party a sort of a second look?

MR. TOWEY: Well, my office organized this meeting, and so our office is not into the politics, it's into the compassion and efforts to try to help the poor. And the reality is, if you want to help the addicts and the homeless and the jobless and the children of prisoners, you have to have an ongoing dialogue with many of these pastors and leaders, because in their communities, these issues are acute.

So we have -- I have never looked at the politics of it, and I think President Bush said from the beginning he was going to reach out to these groups and of course that defied the stereotype of Republicans. But the reality is, the President has a record now in Africa on the faith-based initiative with minority home ownership, with education. So these are -- it's shown that the President has kept his word, that he's going to continue to have this discussion. And I think the President made it really clear early in his remarks that the meeting wasn't about politics. And I think everyone in that room was there because they have mutual interests on issues.

And so there's -- I think the President is going to go about doing what he thinks is sound policy and the right thing for America, and if -- and there will be another day to sort out the politics for that.

Q I asked you this before, but I wanted to kind of maybe ask it a little more sharply. But you said that it's not about politics, but on some of these issues, like Africa and when it comes to aid to Africa and even the faith-based issues, you could use the help of members of Congress, including the Congressional Black Caucus, which has positions on some of these issues. Why not reach out to them and invite them to a meeting like this?

MR. TOWEY: Well, I think, Peter, the President, he had a discussion earlier with the Congressional Black Caucus. I remember when they gathered in the Cabinet Room and met with the President. He meets with members periodically -- I think in Indianapolis. So he'll meet with some of the membership. I went and did an event with Congressman Ford in his district. I think our office has been reaching out to members of the caucus.

And the reality is the President said he was going to make an outreach to the groups that are on the front line dealing with these issues. I don't think it's exclusively that approach. He is working with members of Congress, and I think there's -- you know, when Secretary Rice came in the room, and there's Claude Allen, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor, the President is fulfilling and keeping his word, which is what he said he would do when he was appointed, that he'd have a representative government, and that he would make African American issues a priority of his. And he continues to do that. So I think that the President has been reaching out to members of Congress, and is trying to avoid the great political debate. And he was in Indianapolis on July 14th, trying to just focus on the issues.

Q Jim, if I could follow up, I haven't seen the list, obviously, but assuming there were no NAACP members there -- if there were, correct me -- but if not, why not?

MR. TOWEY: I don't know if there were NAACP members or not, but there were no organizational members. I think our efforts to reach out, we invited the head of the National Urban League. We tried to reach out to a good cross-section of folks. But the reality is, when you talk about religious -- and the faith-based initiative, the NAACP has not supported charitable choice. But you do find many of the people on the front lines doing the work, such as these pastors, do support charitable choice. And so I think there are issues that within the African American community there may be a difference of opinion. And the President, I think, is willing to reach out and continue a dialogue that's going to achieve goals of mutual interest.

So I don't -- I think the President has been very open to casting a very broad net to discuss with groups, but he is trying to keep the politics out of it, and I think that's -- in this town, it's not so easy. But the President has tried to focus on the substance. He's not asking anybody in there, did you all vote for me last election, he's reaching out, saying, what can we do to get the Medicare prescription drug benefit information out there to the people in your churches and in your organizations. And so -- and there were a number of people today in the meeting that -- you'll get the list of them, but some of them that represent the fraternal -- the Pan-Hellenic group, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the chairman of that. You've got a lot of groups there that are not traditionally in meetings with politicians to begin with. The President wants to reach out to them, hear their ideas, and also find ways that we can work together on Africa issues and AIDS and faith-based initiative and other issues.

Q Was there any additional money for Africa discussed in the meeting, or just a review of what was mentioned at the G8?

MR. TOWEY: Why don't I say what was in the meeting, and then John can follow up, just about in general, about the aid. In the meeting, there was a sense of appreciation for what America did at the G8. Secretary Rice talked a little bit about that, and also about her trip to the Sudan and what America is doing there with its humanitarian relief and what it's doing after the agreement that was brokered earlier to bring some peace to that troubled region.

And so this was a large part of the discussion. And there was a recognition that the U.S. has made significant commitments to Africa and that there was a sense, too, by some of the members that we -- that there's such great need that we need to do more and there was a discussion about how to do that.

John, I don't know if you want to add to that.

Q We can't hear anybody.

MR. TOWEY: I'm sorry, I guess what's happened is he couldn't be heard.

Q Now he can be heard.

MR. TOWEY: Can you hear him now?

Q Yes.

MR. TOWEY: I'm sorry, John. You may want to start at the top.

MR. SIMON: The mute button was pressed, I apologize.

Q I just wanted to know, was there any new money mentioned or talked about?

MR. SIMON: And just in terms of new resources for Africa --

Q And who's talking here?

MR. SIMON: This is John Simon, the Senior Director for Relief, Stabilization and Development.

Q Spell your last name, please.

MR. SIMON: S-i-m-o-n.

Q Okay, thank you.

MR. SIMON: In terms of resources, over the last two months the President has announced a dramatic increase in resources for Africa. When the Prime Minister of the UK was here on June 7th, the President announced $674 million in additional funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa. That's in addition to $1.4 billion that the United States was already spending, to bring the total to more than $2 billion.

Shortly thereafter, there was the debt relief deal that the G8 announced. The President was one of the prime drivers to achieve, along with the Prime Minister. And that is going to relieve, when it's fully implemented, almost $60 billion in debt owed by African countries to the international financial institutions.

Then on June 30th, the President announced three initiatives: the malaria initiative, $1.2 billion over the next five years; the African education initiative, $400 million over the next four years; and the women's justice initiative, another $55 million over the next three years. And then just recently at the AGOA forum in Dakar, Secretary Rice announced a new trade initiative that would double our existing trade for African enterprise and development.

Q I was wondering if you could talk just a bit more about the encouragement of corporate donations? I'm wondering whether this is something that's been mentioned before, but it's a new push on this topic?

MR. TOWEY: The President, in his speech at Notre Dame University, May, 2001, stated his intention to have this kind of gathering. Then September 11th took place, then the corporate governance scandals took place. And so it was postponed. And the President had some discussions in January with a number of African American and other faith-based and community leaders and decided that now would be a good time for us to announce that we're having it in March of 2006.

So this is simply fulfilling what he had mentioned at the beginning of his first term and -- but the reality is, you do see a number of large corporate givers that explicitly rule out grants to faith-based organizations. I think we can all understand their reluctance, just as we see within government a reluctance to fund a faith-based organization because you don't want money to go to preaching or proselytizing.

But what we have today in America are organizations that can segregate their funds, and that the corporate or foundation or government money can go to the social service, itself. And so the President wants to see the focus on effectiveness -- not on religion, but on results. And the reality is, while we have removed barriers at the federal level, within corporate boardrooms and foundation boardrooms there are still barriers in place.

So this will be an opportunity for us. And I think if you want to know the goals of the summit, we simply want to see ways to forge more effective partnerships with the private sector to open up their resources to faith-based and community groups, and to educate these givers about what their benefits are, because they can leverage the experience and the volunteers and resources of these small community organizations. And so we're -- we think we can highlight the importance of what these resources can do to address the needs of our poor. And I think this will be a way to level the playing field out there with the private resources that we're seeing now. You have 28 governors with faith-based offices now in America. Over 10 of them are Democrats, and so we're seeing a change underway where I think government is not fearing faith-based organizations. And we want to urge those corporations and foundations that have excluded these groups from their grants process to take a second look.

Q What are some of those major organizations?

MR. TOWEY: We just had a survey that said the top 50 -- it was an Internet search, Peter. One of the things we're going to do over the next nine months is to -- to answer that question you just gave more specifically -- but some of the top 50 Fortune 500 corporations, 17 percent of their foundations had published policies prohibiting giving to faith-based organizations. And some -- four out of seven who mentioned faith-based organizations in their employee matching programs, mention them to say they're prohibited from matching employee's contributions.

So I think that we should be looking at ways to fund effective social service programs. And the reality is many of them are these neighborhood healers, as President Bush refers to them. So we're excited about how this summit might forge even more effective partnerships. I urge you to talk to Wintley Phipps, U.S. Dream Academy, about some of his experiences in trying to access corporate foundation money.

Q Was he at this meeting?

MR. TOWEY: He was in the meeting, yes. He was seated directly next to the President. And then -- so the President's meeting -- just in closing, Secretary Rice and the President's meeting and Ambassador Tobias' meeting, I think, will be just an ongoing dialogue as we continue to work on these issues of mutual concern.

Thanks very much.

Q Thank you.

END 2:48 P.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document