THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE TRAVEL PRESS POOL Greenleaf Senior Center Washington. D.C.
10:45 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: (in progress; answering question about the report on race in America) -- problems that are still out there that have to be -- I believe should be addressed, and I hope they will be. But I think -- looking at this in a positive frame of mind and hope to goodness that there will be a real common commitment that goes way beyond party interest.
Q Are you encouraged, sir, by what you've seen so far?
THE PRESIDENT: Now, you guys know I'm not going to get into that. I'm on my way out the door, man, I shouldn't be talking about that -- (laughter.) I just want to focus on the things that I said today -- and the message I sent to Congress. I think that there are a lot of problems. I hope that the President-elect will appoint a high-level election commission -- I think it would be good to have former Presidents share it -- to deal with all the voting rights issues that are out there. I hope that there will be something done on -- some more done on the criminal justice system to give people of color, all racial and ethnic backgrounds a sense that the system is more fair -- and to make it more fair. And I gave some specific recommendations there. I'd really like to see some -- I hope there will be some action on that.
Q Sir, more generally, going into your last week as President, what are your thoughts?
THE PRESIDENT: That we've still got a few things to do.
Q What are those things?
THE PRESIDENT: We're working on -- obviously, we're still involved in the talks on the Middle East. And we're working with Secretary Babbitt to try to finalize some more resource preservation action. And I have -- as always happens at the end of a President's term, to see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, literally, of requests for consideration for executive clemency of some kind or another for people who have been incarcerated, or who are out and asked for pardons so they can get their voting rights back.
That's one thing I'd really like to see the Congress do. There's some legislation in Congress which would restore people's voting rights after they serve their sentences and I think it would be a very good thing to pass.
We did that in Arkansas 24 years ago, so that now when someone serves their sentence, including the probation, they automatically get the right to vote back. It's a very cumbersome process. A lot of people, particularly less well-educated people, without much money, they have no idea how to get a federal pardon or that they can get it. And the system often takes years and years and years. And I think it would seem to me that most Americans would agree, when someone serves their sentence and pays their debt to society, we all, the rest of us, have a vested interest in their becoming law-abiding and contributing citizens.
And I think that there may be other reasons people want to or need to apply for a federal pardon, but I don't think the right to vote is one of them. So that's one thing I would really like to see done. As I said, we amended the Voting Rights Act in Arkansas -- or constitutional amendment -- when I was Attorney General in 1977, to do that.
And I regret that we couldn't pass the legislation this year. But I think that there's a lot of bipartisan interest in it, especially among people who have thought about it and have personal contacts. If you look at this whole federal pardon process, part of -- a big reason people do it is to get the right to vote back. And they understand that the pardon is not really a pardon saying it's okay what you did. That's not what this is about. It's about basically saying this person has lived a good enough life that they ought to be given a chance to be a full citizen.
So, when it comes to voting, I don't think they ought to have to get a pardon, I think they ought to just change the law -- completed their sentence, including the parole period, they automatically get their right to vote back. And I think most Americans would support that. I've never had a word of criticism in my home state about it in 20-some years.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:55 A.M. EST