THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING SYLVIA MATHEWS, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF, AND MARIA ECHAVESTE, DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF PUBLIC LIAISON
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Before Mike comes out, we wanted to spend a few minutes to talk about the President's initiative on race, which he will give a speech in San Diego on Saturday, as you well know.
I'm going to invite a couple of people who've worked very hard -- long and hard -- and have done excellent work on this process. Deputy Chief of Staff Sylvia Mathews has led the process working with Maria Echaveste, the Director the Office of Public Liaison. Sylvia will walk you through who's on the board and how we went about setting up the board, the goals of the initiative, and also some of the elements of the initiative.
So with that -- but one other note --
Q Will there be paper on it?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the paper is being xeroxed right now. It will be, when we're done, available in the bins.
On one logistical note, as we've told you, the advisory board will be here tomorrow. And Beverly Barnes, whom most of you know, who works with the Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, will be handling the inquiries for the board, because I know a lot of you will be interested in talking to them. So, if you want to get in touch with the board members over the next few days, work through Beverly.
Q Got a meeting here tomorrow with them?
MR. LOCKHART: They are traveling out to San Diego with the President, and this is a get-together tomorrow.
Q What time will that be?
MR. LOCKHART: It's late in the afternoon, I think 4:30 p.m.
Q You're all going on Air Force One?
Q We can't be on the charter and be --
Q Will there be a readout here or will there be photo ops -- what's the logistics of the meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe we'll do a pool spray at the top of the meeting and do something here. And then I'll be on the plane going out to San Diego.
Q But what about those of us -- somebody else is going on the plane but somebody is writing the story here because it's awfully late by the time you get there. Can there be a readout --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we'll try to do some sort of read out here.
Q For those of us who want to cover the news and then also be on the charter, is it possible to delay the charter?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me go and look at that, Wolf. I'll see.
Q Why does the charter have to leave so early?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me -- I'll go back and look at it, okay? I will. Okay?
With that, Sylvia.
MS. MATHEWS: Thank you. The first thing I wanted to spend just a minute on are the goals and methods of the President's initiative and review that, and then talk about the elements of the initiative and then share with you the members of the President's Advisory Board.
Q Why don't we have the members first?
MS. MATHEWS: I'm happy to do it that way if you all would prefer.
The President's Advisory Board, which is -- it has a seven-person membership -- is going to be structured to advise him over the period of the -- a year-long period for the initiative. And the Chairman of the Board will be John Hope Franklin of Durham, North Carolina, who I'm sure many of you are familiar with, a retired historian and educator.
William F. Winter of Jackson, Mississippi. Governor Winter is a former Governor of Mississippi and has served in a number of capacities both inside and out of government and is in a law practice right now.
Linda Chavez-Thompson of Washington, D.C. I think many of you know her. She is the Executive Vice President with the AFL-CIO.
Robert Thomas of Coto DeCaza, California. Mr. Thomas is the President and CEO of Nissan USA.
Angela Oh, of California. Ms. Oh is a practicing lawyer in L.A. right now. She is also a person who was very involved in the L.A. riots, in part of the reconciliation efforts that occurred there -- the multiracial issues that were occurring there between African Americans, as well as the Asian and Hispanic communities, and she's been involved in that effort in her home city.
And, finally, Suzan Johnson Cook. And some of you may have met Suzan when she was a White House Fellow. Suzan is an African American female minister in New York City. Right now, she's senior pastor of what's called The Bronx Christian Fellowship in the Bronx. She was also the first female chaplain of the New York City Police Department.
The other name that I'll go ahead and announce now -- and you'll understand how it fits in the structure as I go on -- oh, I'm sorry, I skipped over Tom Kean, who I think you all are familiar with -- the former Governor.
Q Tom who?
MS. MATHEWS: Kean. And it's spelled K-e-a-n.
The other name that I will go ahead and announce now is Christopher Edley. Chris Edley is not a member of the advisory board, but what Chris is going to do is he's going to be a senior advisor to the initiative, and he will help us with our policy development. He'll be a consultant and will come down periodically and work with our Domestic Policy Council, Elena Kagan and Jose Cerda, to organize and develop policies over the period of the year.
So those are the names, and why don't I now go to --
Q Wait a second, what's Taylor Branch's role going to be? Is he going to sort of work with the President to write his report?
MS. MATHEWS: If it's all right, can I get through the initiative and then return to the question, or -- I think that might be helpful if we could get -- we'll do it that way, then. Good.
First, under the goals: Goal number one is to articulate the President's vision of racial reconciliation, and we think that's an important thing because it is his vision of how we want to take the country into the next century and talk about what he believes and why that's right, and that will be the focus of the speech. Part of why we're doing this briefing now is so that he has that ability in the speech on Saturday.
Goal number two is to help educate the nation, both about the facts surrounding the issue of race and the history. At this point, we have a generation -- the education has two focuses to it: the past and the future. We have a situation now where many people don't know the history of the civil rights movement, or a lot of the nation's history with regards to race relations, whether it's black, white, Hispanic or Native American. Additionally, the education part is about talking about what the future is going to look like.
If you looked at the Gallup study, I think you all probably saw some very interesting statistics. While that was black-white only and the initiative is broader than that, you saw the number of people, whites, and what they thought the racial mix was. There are some misperceptions in education there on what our racial balance is now, but also I'm not sure how many people in the United States realize that in the year 2050, we'll be at about 53 percent white and then 47 percent other minorities.
The third goal is to promote a constructive dialogue. I think that's something you all have talked and heard a lot about leading up to this effort. And one thing I would add there, it's a constructive dialogue on the difficult issues. In order to have a dialogue, we need to have a dialogue on some of the positive things, like the Tuskegee apology, but we also need to talk about some of the tough issues like the kind of issues you all face every day, whether it's in your news organizations and hiring or in your communities.
The fourth goal is to recruit and encourage leadership. In order to give the effort breadth and depth, part of what we will do is try and work to get others involved, whether it's in business or in state and local government in the states throughout the nation.
And finally, the fifth goal is to find, develop, and implement solutions in critical areas, such as education, economic opportunity, housing, health care, crime and the administration of justice. And these solutions that we're looking for are for individuals, communities, for corporations, and for state and local governments.
On the methods, just a couple of points. One is Presidential leadership. This contrasts with past issues because of the close involvement of the President. That's why he chose to do an advisory board instead of what has been viewed as a traditional commission.
Then let me just say, it has three elements really, if you think about it: dialogue, study, and action. And I can spend time, but I will wait for questions to do that.
The elements of the initiative: one, the advisory board, which we just talked about. Those people will help scope and focus the study and dialogue work that we do over the year. They will also help us with policy ideas, with outreach to the community, with working with experts, and talking to the American people.
Two, the President is going to do significant events throughout the year. I think as it has already been reported, some of those will be town halls; others of those will be events like Tuskegee, and today we're announcing that we will be going to Little Rock for the Central High anniversary.
Q When is that?
MS. MATHEWS: September -- I don't know the exact date that we're going, but we can get that for you.
The third element is the outreach and consultation of leadership, which our advisory board will help us with and our staff that we'll set up will.
And the fourth thing is the President's report to the American people. Instead of having a report from a commission, the President will be doing his own report to the American people.
Finally, something that won't be in your paper but is an important element, is that we will be selecting an executive director and a staff. The staff will be about 15 to 20 people and will be a combination of detailees, agency reps, and a few hires. That will be funded -- we're working with -- Justice is working with its appropriators right now to try and do a reprogramming of funds to do that -- to pay for that.
I think with that, I should stop and we should take questions, unless you have anything to add, Maria.
MS. ECHAVESTE: I just wanted to add that in formulating this initiative, we did engage in a process of outreach that was both wide, but also close in. Senior staff, as well as the President, talked in depth with between 25 to 35 individuals in the course of the last two and a half months. But we also spoke to over 100 people before we finalized the initiative -- getting their reaction and their thoughts about what road he should take. We have ongoing a process of contacting over 300 people around the country -- opinion leaders, constituencies, organizations, others who we hope will be part of this initiative in the course of the next year.
I think the best thing to say is that the reaction from a number of different people -- and frankly the majority -- was positive in having the President take on this initiative, but also urging the President to take on the hard issues. And that is why the initiative has taken the form that it has.
So I'll stop there.
Q What is the ultimate goal? Is it integration? A total reconciliation? And what are you really striving for in English?
MS. MATHEWS: Our hope is that in a year's time that we will have ways that both policies and people can help the nation respect each other's differences, but at the same time, grow together as one. And that's it in a simple sentence, but let me just elaborate a little bit. And that's the idea that we're going to continue to become more and more racially diverse, and as we do, we need to learn that we have to start with the respect of each other's differences before we can focus on those things that are our shared values, our shared concerns, our shared problems and do it as one nation.
Q There's already been some criticism of the fact that the solutions come at the back end. There are people out there already saying what the President needs to do is talk about solutions to these problems on the street -- crime, justice, so forth -- now. And they want money as well.
MS. MATHEWS: I think two separate parts there. One is that we are going to start talking about those issues now, and as far as policy actions that will come over the time. The three different parts -- study, dialogue, and action -- are iterative, and they will feed into each other over the period of the year.
On the separate question of money -- did you want to --
MS. ECHAVESTE: I just wanted to add that this is a different time than it was, say, 25 or 30 years ago. There was a consensus, if you will, that there were legal barriers, things that the government needed to do. I would argue that at the moment, there is not a consensus that in fact racism still exists. There are many places around the country that believe that, in fact, we've solved all our problems. So before you start advocating particular solutions, there needs to be a process of shared views that, in fact, problems exist and how to address them.
Q Can you describe those problems? What is the problem that the President hopes to address with this? Is it racial prejudice and bigotry that he thinks is out of control or something of that nature?
MS. MATHEWS: I think that there are a number of different problems, and that's a part of what the initiative will show over time. We see problems in perception, and then you see there are really two categories: problems in perception and problems in reality. In the perception front, what's actually stereotypes and what's reality, and we saw, I think, a perception gap in the Gallup poll and we see that in a number of different places.
On the question of what's really wrong, the reality of how much racism does exist and how do we work to correct for that.
Q The Kerner Commission addressed all this 25 years ago or so, and a lot of people would say things have gotten a lot worse since then. How is this going to succeed where the Kerner Commission failed and the Lyndon Johnson initiative failed?
MS. ECHAVESTE: Well, I think for starters, the Kerner Commission, number one, focused only on African American and white relations. Notwithstanding that in different parts of the country we already had a multiethnic, multiracial community.
Number two, the Kerner Commission came as a result of a particular time in terms of violence and riots and that type of crisis. This is a different time.
And, number three, there are issues in terms of really asking -- there are some issues that relate to economics, and there will be those critics on the left who say money is what's needed, investment in the inner-cities, but there are others that would argue that, notwithstanding the strides that have been made in terms of increasing opportunities for different minorities, that there continues to be racism even, for example, a company like Texaco, where the issue wasn't getting a job, it was actually the interactions among people and what kind of atmosphere people worked under.
So those are issues that aren't necessarily solved by money, but nonetheless have to be attacked.
Q Where is the staff going to come from? Which kind of staff are you looking for? You're reprogramming people, but from what functions?
MS. MATHEWS: From all our departments. They'll come from the Cabinet departments is where they will come from. When we talked about some of the substantive issue areas, like housing, the administration of justice, health care, Secretary Shalala in our Cabinet briefing yesterday expressed her interest in ensuring --
Q So many Cabinet -- it will be sort of a subset of the Cabinet?
MS. MATHEWS: We'll have people from all -- we have to have people from a number of the departments representing those different areas to help guide the policy development as well as the dialogue and the study.
Q I don't want to be excessively negative about this, because I understand that that's unpleasant and you're trying to do something good here and so forth, but I guess the interesting thing for a lot of us is that you keep -- the folks who talk about this keep saying, well, there was a consensus 25 years ago, there's no consensus today, and that's why we have to have this big sort of discussion to figure out what to do.
I think people who cover these issues would dispute that there was any consensus about that. Why was there a year-long battle over the Civil Rights Act in 1964? So I guess some people who have been analyzing this initiative wonder whether this idea that it's so unclear what to do, we don't know what the problems are, we have to figure it out before we can act, is kind of a way to avoid doing something; it's just a way to talk about these issues without really having to decide something and actually do something, those things that are within the President's power to do, like, for example, make certain appointments, integrate the White House staff a little bit more thoroughly than it is -- things of that sort. Do you know what I'm talking about, and could you speak to that?
MS. MATHEWS: I would be interested in the consensus point. If you want to articulate what you believe the consensus is -- that there is a race problem, that there isn't or that --
Q The idea that 25 years ago it was so clear what direction the country needed to move in cannot be the case if there were just the profound legislative battles we had over every major civil rights initiative that's ever been passed in this country -- there were tremendous pitched battles. There were fist fights on the floor, off the floor, screaming fights. So clearly there was no consensus 25 years ago, and yet legislation was passed, moved forward and so forth -- and with the President's leadership.
See, my point is -- so it isn't just that everybody jumped up and said, we need to pass the Civil Rights Act. They didn't do that.
MS. MATHEWS: I think though that we believe that we are showing leadership. The truth is that -- I think that while this is an issue that often is sailing against the political headwinds in a number of ways -- by going to California and choosing that as the place in which we make our speech, I think we're making a statement.
Already, we've seen ads that are cut. I think the President is showing leadership on the issue and we're starting to see reaction. We're going to have critics from the left and critics from the right. They're going to be passionate and they're going to be vocal. That's why this is a tough issue and an important issue.
As far as the action, part of the thing that we believe is an important thing to do -- there are the policy elements, and we have already started work. The Domestic Policy Council, under Elena Kagan and Jose Cerda, working with our council's office have started the interagency process with the Justice Department and Education on specifically looking at the ramifications of Hopwood and Prop 209. We are on our way on those things.
The other things in terms of action -- the issue of dialogue -- when we've discussed things with a number of people outside, the importance of having people talk about it and having the President show the leadership -- to have the American people talk about the tough issues that we all aren't willing to talk about on a day-to-day basis.
Q Sylvia, how did you figure out that this would be a year-long process? It seems like an awful long time for issues that are on the front burner for a lot of people right now. Why will it take so long?
MS. MATHEWS: As I said, it will be an iterative process. And it's our expectation that policies will be announced along the way, and we will do that along the way.
As far as deciding on a year, we wanted to get the President's report out within a year.
Q Sylvia, let me just again ask you about this. If you find, as the President talks, that he doesn't build any consensus, will you then not put out policy? I mean, is this idea that he has to build the support for it first and if that isn't there, you won't build?
MS. MATHEWS: No. We will put out the policies that we believe are best.
Q And secondly, if I could, people who met with the President the other night said that he talked about looking at polling data that showed what American whites are ready for discussing. How much has this been polled by the White House or by DNC pollsters for the White House?
MS. MATHEWS: That's a question I'll have to defer.
Q Well, why? I mean, you don't know?
MS. MATHEWS: In terms of how much -- I think understanding some of the issues that -- in terms of, do people think it is a problem and that sort of thing.
Q No, did you poll?
Q Did you do polling?
Q Or did Penn & Schoen or Greenberg do polling?
MS. MATHEWS: The issue in question of, do people consider this a problem.
Q No, the question is polling.
Q Just did you do --
MS. MATHEWS: Yes, yes, I'm answering the question with the issue that we examined.
Q Did they consider -- can you say how extensively and how many weeks you were polling on this?
MS. MATHEWS: Not extensively.
Q Not extensively?
MR. LOCKHART: I mean, I don't have any more exact numbers, but in addition to our own -- I mean, we -- Sylvia and a group were --
Q Joe, by, "our own" who do you mean? Do you mean Penn & Schoen?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'll get that answer for you. I mean, I don't know. But I know there was some look at sort of levels of perception on the issue. But also, there is a lot of information out there. Gallup is a very comprehensive, and we've looked at that. They came in and talked to us about that.
MS. MATHEWS: They came in and talked to us privately. There's a number of --
Q Did you fund it like the usual polling or was that from some other source?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll find out.
Q Sylvia, why did it take seven months for the President to nominate an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights?
MS. MATHEWS: I think in selecting a person of the quality that we believe that we have -- that we went through and examined a number of different candidates around the country to ensure that we got the best candidate.
Additionally, I think you all know that the vetting process on our candidates is an important one that we like to do before we announce the candidates. And that took a while to do. Many people in this area -- when you look at this area, it's an area where people have a lot of writings. And in order for you to do that, you need to look and examine and understand what they've written and what they've said and what they think.
Q So, basically, what you're saying is you didn't want another Lani Guinier example?
MS. MATHEWS: I think what I'm saying is, we wanted to make sure that we had a candidate that we felt was the best candidate for the job and that we believed was a person who would represent our views.
Q Sylvia, can you flesh out some more on the task force? I mean, are they going to meet regularly or are they going to all move here and work full-time? Give me some examples of what they will actually do in a real-life basis.
MS. MATHEWS: Some examples of the types of things that the task force will do -- they will, on a regular basis, communicate as a group with the executive director in helping scope the project in terms of work plans and the type of issues we need to focus on. That's one type of activity they'll do.
Another one is, they'll be participants in the President's activities abroad as he -- out in the country -- as he's doing outreach and doing things like town halls.
Q It's not a paid position that they're doing, of course?
MS. MATHEWS: No. It is neither a paid position nor a full-time position.
Q Is it right to think of them as like a board for the executive director and the staff?
MS. MATHEWS: They are the advisory board to the President, yes. That is correct. And that's why we've called them a board.
Q Okay, but now does it -- I mean earlier it was task force -- they're like the board of directors would be for a college president or something like that. Is that a fair way of thinking about this?
MS. MATHEWS: Not being familiar with all that college presidents do, but, yes, that's a general --
Q They're going to be there giving advice and so forth. They're not actually doing study, research --
MS. MATHEWS: They will not be doing their research. That's the purpose of the staff.
Q You said you were making a statement by going to California. What statement are you making?
MS. MATHEWS: We believe that going to California -- Maria, do you want to do this one?
MS. ECHAVESTE: Yes. Going to California, as everyone knows, is a place where -- sets trends. It is the state that has a very diverse population, it is the home of Proposition 187, Proposition 209, the UC Regents. It is -- going to San Diego, generally thought of as white conservative; nonetheless, this campus happens to be among the most diverse of the UC. It's saying that we believe in taking this issue and having a dialogue about it and finding ways to confront the problems facing us.
Q Right. But the question -- when you made the statement about making a statement by going to California, it was in the context of --
MS. MATHEWS: We believe it's bold to go to California to a UC system when Prop 209 is an issue that is so relevant there.
Q So the statement is --
MS. MATHEWS: The statement is, we want to be clear that the President is -- he's expressed his view on this issue and we're going to continue to express our view on that issue and what he believes.
Q So the statement is we're opposed to Prop 209.
MS. MATHEWS: And we --
Q That's not bold -- I mean, you've said that.
MR. LOCKHART: It's broader than that. It's that this year-long initiative is not going to shy away from the controversial issues -- now, it's not going to deal with only broad, academic issues that aren't relevant to the political dialogue that's going on now. And by going to California, we're going into the place where you have one of the most active discussions going on within California, within the university system, and we're going in there and we're going to lay out what we plan to talk about for the next year.
We thought it was about the most relevant place you could go to give this, and I think there is a statement there.
MS. MATHEWS: And the future-oriented focus. The only other thing I would add is the future-oriented focus of the initiative, that the demographic changes that are occurring in the nation -- California is a place that is on the front edge of that.
Q Will he speak directly to the question of affirmative action when he speaks on Saturday in California? I mean, you've said that that's one reason he's going there. Is he actually going to talk about it?
MS. MATHEWS: It will be in the speech.
Q Can I follow? Maria, you've just mentioned the campus having a good record. As I know you know, in the last two days there's been quite a lot of racial turmoil on that campus because the Provost of Thurgood Marshall College has quit because they rejected his plan to reach out to disadvantaged blacks and Hispanics. Does that embarrass you? Does that give you pause about picking that campus?
MS. ECHAVESTE: It highlights that, in fact, the answers to what do you do in light of a UC Regents or Proposition 209 or the Hopwood case, the one response that had been considered had been, have universities make partnerships with local high schools in order to educate and prepare them for the university system, shows that UC San Diego's decision not to accept the charter high school, that those answers are not easy, but they definitely need to be considered. We don't -- shy about going there.
Q Sylvia, given the President's problems with Lani Guinier, the affirmative action review, the fact that his closest friends, like Marian Wright Edelman practically walked out on him when he did welfare reform, what makes you think that the President can succeed at this race initiative? What makes him believe that he can actually do something?
MS. MATHEWS: First, I would like to kind of go back to a little bit of the premise. On affirmative action, I think this President's stand on affirmative action, to stand up and say that he believes that amend it, not end it for affirmative action is very important. I believe that our proposed rulemaking right now on procurement that is out for comment right now will be a very important part, preserving and narrowing -- tailoring, as we've been advised by the courts to do.
So on that front -- in terms of the others that are around him and have been around him, if you look at our Cabinet and the people from Rodney Slater to Alexis Herman to Federico Pena that have been here -- and there are a number of others that we have -- within the administration we have a large group, both in the Cabinet and here in the White House -- I think that we think that the President can succeed, I think, because he is dedicating himself to it personally.
And the other thing I would say is that there isn't a silver bullet, this isn't an easy problem. We recognize it and we recognize the difficulties that we're going to face in trying to do it. But we also believe that it is the time -- at a time when the nation is in reasonable -- is economically healthy and a time when we're on the verge of some big changes as far as our demographics, that we need to do this, and that's why we're doing it now.
Q Could you talk a little bit about the process of boiling down the list of possibilities for this panel -- what were the criteria and who were some of the people who signed off on these people, other than the President?
MS. MATHEWS: The process started with a very long list of I'd say probably about 250 names. And what we attempted to do was find people from different walks of life who could contribute both their ideas and the people that they communicate and have contact with. We wanted -- John Hope Franklin, as you all know, is 82, but Suzan Cook is very young.
We wanted to get a mix because part of the initiative will focus on youth. We wanted to get people from different backgrounds. Suzan comes from a religious background. Thomas comes from a business background. We tried to get a mix of people in terms of views and perspectives. Governor Winter is a Southern governor; Governor Kean is from the North. And what we tried to do was get a balance of people that represented a number of different things so we could have a good mix of advice going in to the President.
Q Who did you run these names by? I mean, were they among the people who met with the President the other night? Did you run the names by them, or who exactly has signed off?
MS. MATHEWS: Some of those people we consulted early on with our names.
Q So did you consider people who were just simply opposed to affirmative action or government preference policies, or does the President want people who already basically support his premises?
MS. MATHEWS: Those names were considered, but what we tried to do was put together a group that we feel could advise us on the policies and issues that we want to pursue.
Q Basically agree with the President?
Q Why bother having that board if you've already decided -- that you want these people to support what you already believe.
MS. MATHEWS: I think that what we're talking about when we talk about affirmative action is a pretty fundamental core, one of the policy areas that we'll be looking at. So in that area -- and actually, I think the truth is, we didn't ask that question when we asked the members to serve. Do you --
Q Why not?
Q They knew their record.
MS. MATHEWS: I'm answering the question of, did we have people -- is the question, do we have people on the board who support --
Q -- like a full debate. I mean, did you take -- there's plenty of prominent people who made it clear they're opposed to affirmative action. I mean, did you seek out those kinds of people, or was it clear that you want essentially people who basically agree with the President's approach to advise on more narrow questions rather than the whole spectrum?
MS. MATHEWS: On the issue of Prop 209 and affirmative action specifically, there were names on the list that are opposed to our position that we originally put together. However, on that particular issue, we did not directly ask people -- do you support that, do you not support that.
Q But you ruled out the people you knew who were opposed. Is that correct?
MS. ECHAVESTE: This commission is more --
MS. MATHEWS: It wasn't based on --
MS. ECHAVESTE: -- it's not a commission, it's an advisory board. You're thinking of a commission --
Q But you ruled out the people you knew were opposed. Isn't that correct?
MS. MATHEWS: They're going to be part of the dialogue.
Q But they won't be on the advisory board.
MS. MATHEWS: At this point, all the people -- the people that are mainly vocal against affirmative action are not a part of the advisory board.
Q Did you consult with any people like that in the process? Can you identify any people that were consulted with?
MS. ECHAVESTE: I just don't have my list of names, but we did talk to people who thought -- who had different views about how to deal with racism in this country that -- where the answer isn't in affirmative action, but economic opportunity, as a way of dealing with those issues. We did talk to people like that.
Q Sylvia, you are talking about healing racial divide. What American are you specifically hoping to target or to bring into the fold with this whole initiative?
MS. MATHEWS: I think that it is our hope that the initiative will reach everyone. When we say "race," we are referring to whites, Hispanics, blacks, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. We believe it's very important for whites in the country to be a part of the initiative.
Q Are you looking more so to get more white people to understand there is a problem, especially since you said earlier that the majority here in America is white?
MS. MATHEWS: We're looking for both. We're looking for both people of color as well as whites to look and examine the issue and see. That's part of why in the study section we talked about stereotypes versus reality, to understand which groups have --we're going to look at which pieces are right and which are reality.
Q Is there concern that the California affirmative action will spread through the country -- it's contagious?
MS. ECHAVESTE: I wouldn't use the word "contagious"; the fact is is that a lot of people all over the country are saying that affirmative action is not needed, that in fact, racism and discrimination is no longer a problem.
Q I mean, in the states and so forth, infecting the college preferences?
MS. ECHAVESTE: Absolutely.
Q Can I try a question that I asked in a briefing again? Is the President prepared to deal with the possibility that this full discussion, as often occurs in, say, employment, in workplaces, that this could exacerbate racial problems at least in the short term, and what would he be willing to do about them?
MS. MATHEWS: I think that as we discussed before, that the President is ready for a difficult discussion. I think as was reported today and has been reported before, that sometimes people's efforts on this front do create strains and stresses, and I think we're ready for taking that on. I think we've already seen the advertising that's occurred both in Washington and San Diego, which are signs. We are, as I have said, going to have critics from the left and the right. And that's because it is a very important issue that many people feel very passionately about. And we're already hearing that, and I think we're ready to take that.
Q You said you talked to some people who disagree with the administration position. Was Ward Connerly one of them? And what is your reaction to the fact that he -- while he's running these radio ads against the President -- will be there at the commencement address Saturday?
MS. ECHAVESTE: He's a UC Regent.
Q Is he somebody you talked to?
MS. ECHAVESTE: No.
Q What do you say to a lot of these civil rights leaders who are very upset that they are not on this advisory board, like Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume, and people of that nature?
MS. ECHAVESTE: Part of the reaction we got when we were doing our outreach was the fact that a lot of people said, don't try to do a committee, don't try to do a group. You'll never figure out who should be on it. The fact is, the President cannot take on this issue alone and -- he is a full-time a President. And when a small advisory group that can help guide and help us identify the key issues -- what we should focus on when we're traveling around the country, what is the way to go -- and that was the decision that was made.
MS. MATHEWS: And we'll be consulting with those people. I think you all know Reverend Jackson was in last week and Kweisi Mfume was in as well this week. So the effort is not limited to the advisory board.
Q Sylvia, does the President still --
Q -- the main concern is the fact that they deal with civil rights and issues like this on a daily basis --
MS. ECHAVESTE: And they have the expertise. And we will be working with them. Think of it as -- the way we think of it is it's a year-long process in which, at different points in time, different groups of people will be convened, a conversation had, at which, certainly in the process here in the White House that we had -- there was, in fact, different views around that table that was very enlightening and eye opening.
Q Sylvia, does the President believe that the fundamental conclusion of the Kerner Commission is still accurate today; that there are two societies in this country -- one black, one white, separate and unequal?
MS. MATHEWS: I think that he would say that we have made some progress, but that there is still a long way to go. And I think the other thing that he would say is, it's not a black and white; it's a black, white, Asian American; that it's a different --in that sense, it's also different from Kerner; that it's not just two -- it's 100. And that that's a part of why the initiative is so important at this time.
Q Was the Justice Department civil rights jobs, did that -- did you make a concerted effort to get that filled prior to the announcement this weekend? Does that explain the timing of that?
MS. MATHEWS: We've be working on that for a while. We were pleased that we were able to announce it before we go to California.
Q Can you elaborate on just what the President's role is envisioned to be? You talk quite a bit about the board here. Is he going to be -- does he see himself as a mediator, a conciliator, a moderator? What exactly is his ultimate role in this process?
MS. MATHEWS: I think the President will have a number of different roles. We will depend on his intellectual leadership as we go through our processes with the executive staff as well as the White House staff. He will be the person that will be on the line in terms of his events -- leading dialogue in different settings, such as town halls. He also will be the President speaking to these issues in terms of like how he will do in the speech in California, which are three different ways that the President will be involved and engaged in the process.
Q Sylvia, do you all have a sense yet of what kind of venues you're going to do the town halls in, and when the first one will be?
MS. MATHEWS: No, we've had a number of requests that I think once we get -- we want to consult with the advisory board as well as the executive director. We've had a number of requests from everyone from communities to news organizations.
Q When do you anticipate -- how long a time before you do the first town hall?
MS. MATHEWS: I think that will be dependent on the President's schedule.
Q Is there some core set of beliefs that the President has at this point that he will just want to do that he thinks is right and that maybe he wants his advisory board to help him find a way to implement it -- but coming into this? And if so, can you tell us, what the core is of the beliefs he has, and in terms of -- I mean, very specifically, something that should be a piece of legislation, something that could be remedied by one way or the other? Where is his ferment here going into this?
MS. MATHEWS: I think sort of two different answers to that question -- the speech. (Laughter.) We'll let Mr. McCurry -- that will come out in the speech. All right.
MR. LOCKHART: The Little Rock Central High visit in September 25th.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:54 P.M. EDT