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ANNOUNCEMENTS - Press Releases

Recognizing Green Schools on Earth Day

 U.S. Department of Education)

Students gardening at an elementary school. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Ed. note: This is cross-posted at the U.S. Department of Education's Homeroom blog. See the original post here.

To celebrate Earth Day, earlier today U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 2014 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and District Sustainability Award recipients.

Joined in an online live stream by Acting Chief White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots, Secretary Duncan celebrated the 48 schools and 9 school districts chosen for their exemplary efforts in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM, and green career pathways.

Reiterating the Department’s support for green schools, Secretary Duncan praised the selected schools and districts, stating: “Today’s honorees are modeling a comprehensive approach to being green by encompassing facility, wellness and learning into their daily operations.” Duncan went on to say that the recipients “are demonstrating ways schools can simultaneously cut costs; improve health, and engage students with hands-on learning that prepares them with the thinking skills necessary to be successful in college and careers.

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Tools You Can Use: Earth Day Edition

Today is Earth Day, an important time to reflect on the importance of protecting the future health of our planet in the face of climate change.

But this challenge is bigger than one day of action, and we all have to play a role in forging a healthier, greener and better world for our children-- not just on Earth Day, but every day.

Here are some great tools to help you do your part throughout the year by saving energy and increasing energy efficiency at home and on the road.

How energy efficient is your home?

EPA's Home Energy Yardstick provides a simple assessment of your home's annual energy use compared to similar homes. Answer a few basic questions about your home to see:

  • Your home's Home Energy Yardstick score on a scale of 1 to 10
  • Insights into how much of your home's energy use is related to heating and cooling versus other everyday uses like appliances, lighting, and hot water
  • Links to guidance from ENERGY STAR on how to increase your home's score, improve comfort, and lower utility bills
  • An estimate of your home's annual carbon emissions

Get started here

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On Earth Day, a Commitment to Climate Action

Forty-five years ago, an oil well being drilled off the coast of Santa Barbara, California blew out. At the time, it was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Forty-five years ago, too, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire—again. Cities from New York to Philadelphia to Los Angeles were regularly blanketed in harmful smog.

One year later, inspired by the bipartisan efforts of Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, 20 million Americans took part in the first Earth Day demonstrations. Across the country, people gathered in the streets, in parks, and on college campuses to call for air, water, and wildlife protections. The strength of Americans’ convictions led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. As a result, our air is safer to breathe, our water is safer to drink, and more of our natural resources are protected for future generations.

Earth Day is as important now as it was then. Our health, our economy, our security, and our planet’s future are once again threatened by pollution and environmental degradation.

Our climate is changing, and that change is being driven by human activity. Every year, the United States pumps millions of tons of carbon dioxide pollution and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reinforced that these emissions will have devastating effects on our planet, from higher average global temperatures to sea level rise to more severe weather.

That’s why last year President Obama announced the Climate Action Plan, an ambitious strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to better prepare our communities for the impacts of climate change we can’t avoid, and to lead on the international stage in addressing this global challenge.

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The 2014 White House Easter Egg Roll

Watch on YouTube

Today, President Obama and the First Lady welcomed more than 30,000 guests to the White House South Lawn for the 136th annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

This year’s theme was “Hop into Healthy, Swing into Shape,” which promotes the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to help kids grow up healthy and have the opportunity to reach their full potential. The day's activities included live music performances, activity centers, cooking stations, storytelling, and, of course, Easter egg rolling.

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Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

One of my most treasured possessions, which hangs in my office in the West Wing of the White House, is a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy, sent during the immigration debate of 2007. He sent a lot of them, thanking and encouraging those of us who were fighting for reform after a difficult loss. He had a way of reminding you that the opportunity to fight for something meaningful was a gift, and to take joy in doing work that serves others.

Senator Kennedy was a giant of the Senate who devoted his entire life to serving his country. The very last time I saw him was in the hallway in the West Wing, five years ago today, as he made his way to visit with President Obama who was about to sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. National service was one of the great causes of his life, one which truly exemplifies the ideals that he lived every day of his nearly 50 years in the Senate.

The Serve America Act is the most sweeping expansion of national service in a generation. The bipartisan legislation expands AmeriCorps – which celebrates its 20th anniversary later this year – to historic levels and directs it toward tackling national priorities, investing in social innovation, and making it easier for people of all ages to participate in the ongoing process of national renewal. Senator Kennedy reminded us that “we do not have to compel citizens to serve their country. All we have to do is ask – and provide the opportunity."

I’m proud of President Obama’s efforts to advance the role of service in addressing our national challenges – by directing his Cabinet to expand their use of national service; by creating new positions through innovative initiatives such as FEMA Corps and School Turnaround AmeriCorps; and by integrating service as a strategy into other priorities such as expanding economic opportunity through Promise Zones or rebuilding Detroit.

There is more to be done, but the President and all of us here at the White House are proud to honor the five-year anniversary of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act and celebrate a hero’s legacy by enabling more Americans to serve.

Join Us to Celebrate Three Years of #JoiningForces

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden participate in a Joining Forces nurses event

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden participate in a Joining Forces nurses event in the Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa., April 11, 2012. Joing them on stage is Navy Lieutenant Commander Pamela Wall. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Three years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces, a national campaign to rally all Americans to recognize, honor, and support our men and women in uniform and their families.

And people around the country are stepping up. From a business owner making a commitment to hire veterans to a neighbor volunteering to a classroom making care packages, people across the country have found ways to show their support for service members and their families in all kinds of ways.

Celebrate the anniversary of Joining Forces with us by sharing a message on social media, and finding ways to get involved.

On Wednesday, April 23, the First Lady and Dr. Biden are heading to Fort Campbell to speak to service members, families, and employers at the Veterans Jobs Summit and Career Forum. Then, the First Lady and Dr. Biden will answer some of your questions about the initiative.

Do you have a question about Joining Forces? Tweet it, Facebook it, or Instagram it and the First Lady might answer this week. You can start asking questions right now using the hashtag #JoiningForces.

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We the Geeks: Extreme Science

Our nation is built upon a legacy of discovery, innovation, and ingenuity – forged over centuries by creative minds, inventors, and thinkers who inspire American citizens, and especially young people, to discover and solve problems in the world around them.

Throughout history, these STEM all-stars have gone to great lengths—including to the heights of Earth’s atmosphere; the depths of our oceans, and into the far reaches of space—in order to unlock new discoveries and expand the frontiers of knowledge. These “extreme” scientists and engineers conduct their work atop mountains and volcanoes, in frigid temperatures, at high speeds, and on the ocean floor – all in pursuit of new insights that will push the boundaries of science and technology.

On Tuesday, April 22 at 4:00 pm ET, the White House will host a new episode of We the Geeks on extreme science. Tune in to this Google+ Hangout to hear from some incredible scientists who are doing research at the edges of the Earth and beyond in pursuit of extreme science!

Viewers can join the conversation by asking questions on Twitter using #WeTheGeeks. And you can view the hangout Tuesday at 4:00 pm ET by visiting www.WhiteHouse.gov/WeTheGeeks.

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Weekly Address: President Obama Offers Easter and Passover Greetings

In this week's address, the President offers his warmest greetings as millions of Americans celebrate Easter this Sunday and recounts the Passover Seder he hosted at the White House earlier this week, joining Jewish families around the world in their celebration. The President looks forward to taking part with his family in the hope and joy of the Easter season and reminds all Americans, no matter their faith, of the common thread that binds us.

Transcript | mp4 | mp3

Navy Midshipmen Receive the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the Ninth Time in 11 Seasons

Watch on YouTube

This afternoon, the President welcomed the U.S. Naval Academy’s football team to the White House to receive the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy once again.

Since 1972, the trophy has been awarded each season to the winner of a triangular series between the Army Black Knights, the Navy Midshipmen, and the Air Force Falcons. Today marked Navy’s ninth time receiving the trophy in the past 11 years.

Talk about a hot streak.

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Weekly Wrap Up: A Moment of Silence for Boston, and More

This week, the President observed a moment of silence and announced that 8 million Americans have now signed up for private health insurance through the Marketplace; the Vice President joined the President to cheer on the Soldier Ride, and signed up for Instagram and took his first selfie; and more. Check out what else you may have missed in this week's wrap up.

A Moment of Silence for Boston

On Tuesday, the President, along with some of his senior advisers, observed a moment of silence to mark the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.

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The 10 Most Eggcellent Reasons You Should Tune in for the White House Easter Egg Roll

Get eggcited.

On Monday, April 21, more than 30,000 guests will hop on down to the South Lawn of the White House for the 136th Easter Egg Roll. To celebrate, we've compiled the 10 most eggcellent Easter Egg Roll GIFs, because that's how we roll.

This year's Easter Egg Roll will include more GIF-able moments and all the fun will be live streamed on WhiteHouse.gov/EasterEggRoll — featuring appearances by Ariana Grande, Jim Carrey, Robert Griffin III, Debby Ryan from the Disney Channel’s JESSIE, and Cookie Monster. Tune in and follow along using the hashtag #EasterEggRoll.

Without further ado, here are the 10 most eggcellent moments from past Easter Egg Rolls — all scrambled up in no particular order.

1. That time Bo wore bunny ears

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Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015

The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that higher tax revenues and restrained spending will produce smaller federal budget deficits in the next few years.

Obama faces Syria standstill

First Read: Secretary Kerry denies reports of a split over policy, but the stalemate over the Syrian civil war could lead to a new approach.

Fluke files to run in California

Women right's activist Sandra Fluke has filed paperwork with the California State Democratic Party to run for the Congressional seat that will be vacant following Rep. Henry Waxman's retirement at the end of the year.

Christie acknowledges federal subpoena

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Monday acknowledged that his office had been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey in relation to the bridge scandal that has rocked his administration.

Farm bill's effects to be felt far and wide

The Senate is on the cusp of passing a nearly trillion agriculture and nutrition bill that affects everything from corn subsidies to food stamps to the cost of an acre of farm land.

Yellen sworn in as Fed chair as Bernanke heads to Brookings

Janet Yellen was sworn in as the first female chair of the Federal Reserve on Monday, the Fed announced in a press release. She was confirmed by the Senate in early January after being nominated by President Obama in 2013.

Forget 2016, Christie trying to save his job

First Read: As the scandals continue to unfold, the political story has shifted from Chris Christie salvaging a possible White House run to the New Jersey governor just trying to hold on to his governorship. First Read: As the scandals continue to unfold, the political story has shifted from Chris Christie salvaging a possible White House run to the New Jersey governor just trying to hold on to his governorship.


Obama clashes with Fox News's O'Reilly over record

In a combative interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, President Barack Obama defended his record on Super Bowl Sunday, from health care to his handling of the Benghazi attack.In a combative interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, President Barack Obama defended his record on Super Bowl Sunday, from health care to his handling of the Benghazi attack.


Democratic lawmaker questions new allegation against Christie in bridge lane closings

A key New Jersey Democrat said Sunday that a new accusation about Gov. Chris Christie's knowledge of the bridge closing scandal enveloping his administration is unproven and raises credibility questions about the accuser.

New bridge allegation piles on political woe for Christie

What did Chris Christie know, and when did he know it? That's what the latest accusation in the George Washington Bridge scandal boils down to.What did Chris Christie know, and when did he know it? That's what the latest accusation in the George Washington Bridge scandal boils down to.


NC House speaker tested in first Senate debate

Republican rivals in one of the nation's most competitive Senate races are gathering for a debate Tuesday night in North Carolina, with establishment candidate Thom Tillis for the first time facing opponents who have questioned his conservatism and his integrity.

Obama surveys scene of sadness, death at mudslide

Evidence of the mudslide's power was everywhere: trees ripped from the ground, a highway paved with mud and debris, a river's course altered.

Rand Paul in Chicago: School choice is 'the great equalizer'

Continuing his outreach to minority voters, Sen. Rand Paul told an audience in Chicago Tuesday that the debate over school choice is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue, but a fight between the "dead-enders" and "those who believe in innovation."

Democrats Eye 15 Cities for 2016 Convention

President Barack Obama's hometown and Hillary Rodham Clinton's home base as a senator are among the 15 cities the Democratic National Committee is considering to host the party's presidential nominating convention in 2016, officials said Tuesday.

Justice Dept. broadening criteria for clemency

The Justice Department is broadening the criteria it will use in evaluating clemency petitions from certain federal prisoners and expects the changes to result in thousands of new applications, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday.

Japan, US struggle to bridge gap on freer trade

Japanese and U.S. negotiators are struggling to reach a preliminary agreement on a free trade pact that might have served as a centerpiece for President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo this week.

Obama visit to Asia seen as counterweight to China

FILE - In this April 23, 2013 file photo, a Japan Coast Guard vessel, left, sails along with a Chinese surveillance ship near the disputed islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea.

US rules against Mexico, Turkey in steel dispute

President Barack Obama 's administration on Monday sided with American steel producers in a politically charged international trade dispute, ruling that imported steel reinforcing bar from Mexico and Turkey unfairly undercuts U.S. prices.

Clinton White House lawyer named top Obama counsel

President Barack Obama is naming a prominent white collar defense attorney and veteran of the Clinton White House as his new top lawyer.

US weighs curbing deportations of people without serious criminal records

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is weighing limiting deportations of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who don't have serious criminal records, according to two people with knowledge of his deliberations.

Bob Dole Says US Should Send Weapons to Ukraine

Former Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole said Monday that the U.S. should send weapons, including tanks, to Ukraine to help it resist Russia's moves on its territory and to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a strong message.

IG: Agency didn’t report polygraph admissions of child molestations

The federal government’s spy-satellite agency failed to alert authorities after some of its employees and contractors admitted during polygraph tests to crimes including child molestation and lying on security-clearance questionnaires, according to a watchdog. The intelligence community’s inspector general released two reports on Tuesday saying the National Reconnaissance Office did not refer some of the cases because […]

House members have ‘serious concerns’ about charity rules for feds

A bipartisan group of House members has "substantial concerns" about new Obama administration rules for the Combined Federal Campaign.

Homeland Security considers new limits on deportations

A few items that caught our attention on Tuesday: DHS considers limiting deportations:  Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is weighing the option of limiting deportations of illegal U.S. immigrants who don’t have serious criminal records, but activists are calling on the Obama administration to go further with measures to protect the parents of any children born […]

Is your federal office joining the upcoming consolidation wave?

The General Services Administration this week identified 19 federal buildings across the nation that will absorb outside offices as part of a nearly million plan to consolidate agency work sites. The project will cost about million up front for renovations, but it will save the government an estimated million annually in rent […]

Watchdog: Budget and staffing cuts hurting IRS performance

Budget cuts have resulted in staffing reductions and increasingly uneven performance for the Internal Revenue Service, according to the nonpartisan watchdog arm of Congress. The Government Accountability Office released a report Monday showing that annual funding for the IRS has declined by about 6.6 percent since fiscal 2010 and that “the resulting imbalance between service and […]

GAO: Unregulated tax preparers putting taxpayers at risk

Should the Internal Revenue Service regulate the tens of millions of uncertified, paid tax preparers who operate in the United States? The Government Accountability Office said in a report this month that those tax-filing experts, who account for 55 percent of all paid preparers, have put their clients at risk of serious enforcement action with incorrect […]

The Contempt Act: Who would it affect from the Obama administration?

A group of House Republicans led by Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold has proposed a bill that would withhold the pay of federal officials and employees who are held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas. The measure has little chance of winning approval from the Democrat-controlled Senate or from President Obama, […]

NEH to help vets with humanities program

When it comes to working with veterans, government efforts aren’t limited to health and employment programs. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is getting into the act with an initiative to help veterans using literature, drama and history. NEH started “Standing Together: The Humanities and the Experience of War,” by funding five pilot programs […]

Does the 153-year-old Government Printing Office need a digital-era name?

The Senate may vote soon on a bipartisan bill that would give the 153-year-old Government Printing Office a new name to better reflect its digital-age work. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), would swap the word “printing” for “publishing” to make the agency the Government Publishing Office. It also […]

Feds Talk: How do they feel about political appointments?

The Partnership for Public Service this month proposed filling all of the federal government’s key management positions with senior career executives instead of political appointees. Many federal workers agree with that proposal, according to a Federal Eye survey this week. Most of the respondents expressed concerns that political appointees lack the institutional knowledge needed to […]

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Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One En Route Oso, Washington, 4/22/2014

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Oso, Washington

11:21 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY: Good morning. Welcome aboard Air Force One. As you know, we’re headed to the great state of Washington, where the President will be viewing the devastation from the recent mudslide and meeting with the families affected by the disaster there, as well as with first responders and recovery workers. What they’ve been through has been devastating, and the President looks forward to spending some time with families, with first responders, and also, obviously, looking at what happened in the aftermath of the mudslide.

After that, we head to Tokyo, Japan to begin our four-nation, multi-day Asian tour.

That’s all I have at the top. Any questions? Or should we just get back to movies and food? (Laughter.)

Q Jay, the South Korean military has reported increased activity around the site of a North Korean nuclear area. Is North Korea preparing for a nuclear test of some sort?

MR. CARNEY: Well, Mark, as I said yesterday, we closely monitor actions such as that. North Korea has a history of taking provocative actions, and we are always mindful of the possibility that such an action could be taken. Depending on what it is and what they do, if they do anything, it would most likely be in violation of numerous commitments that the DPRK is bound by. But of course, that is something that they have, unfortunately, done many times.

Q Do you have any evidence to support the concerns of the South Koreans?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not in a position to discuss the information we have and how we evaluate what’s happening in North Korea. We’ve certainly seen the public reports and the press reports. And again, I would note that there is a kind of cyclical nature to the provocative actions that North Korea tends to take, and we’ll be watching it very closely.

Q Can I ask also, in reference to Japan, the Prime Minister sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is controversial and has raised concerns among Japan’s Asian neighbors and U.S. allies such as South Korea. Does that action cause any difficulties ahead of the President’s trip to the region where, after all, one of his goals is to sort of repair relations?

MR. CARNEY: We have an enormously important alliance with Japan, and the President is looking forward to his visit there. I believe there’s been several briefings, including at the State Department, in advance of the trip so I don’t have anything specific in reaction to that, but I would refer you to the State Department and to others. And we’ll be talking to you guys, obviously, once we get to Japan.

Q Jay, on North Korea, but a slightly different front, obviously. The U.N. published a report relatively recently about the human rights violations they’ve committed, and there was a discussion about how much, for example, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. would take in terms of pressing for establishing some sort of structure on the idea that eventually people could be held accountable for that. Could you give us any sense of where that stands or whether that’s one of the topics that will be on the President’s agenda as he meets with both the Prime Minister of Japan and the President in South Korea?

MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question that North Korea is a nation that violates human rights -- the human rights of its own citizens. It’s one of the most oppressive nations in the region and on the planet. It’s also one of the most closed societies and opaque societies. It’s the kind of subject that is frequently discussed in meetings between government officials of the United States and South Korea, and I would expect that would be one of the topics of discussion when we’re in Seoul.

Q Jay, is it the expectation that if sanctions are ramped up that the Japanese would be on board and remain unified? Or is there work that the administration is going to have to do on this trip to try and ensure that?

MR. CARNEY: You refer to sanctions on Russia with --

Q Sectoral sanctions.

MR. CARNEY: Well, let me first make clear that under the three executive orders, the administration, the President have a great deal of flexibility and capacity to impose additional sanctions in a way that responds to escalation by Russia with escalated costs for Russia. And that would be up to and including, potentially, sectoral sanctions -- what are described as sectoral sanctions. But there are other kinds of sanctions that can be imposed to individuals and entities. And the importance of the executive orders is that they, taken together, allow for that flexibility.

We’ve said that Russia needs to comply with the commitments it made in the agreement signed in Geneva -- an agreement signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU -- and we are calling on all parties to comply with the commitments they’ve made. And we would note that the Ukrainian government is doing its part to deescalate the situation there by making clear that it intends to offer amnesty to those who have taken up weapons and occupied buildings if they lay down their arms and vacate the buildings, and to pursue constitutional reform, and to take very seriously the concerns of those in some of the regions outside of Kyiv and eastern and southern Ukraine in terms of their relative -- their relationship with the center.

So the Ukrainian government has acted responsibly and seriously, and we commend them for that. And we call on Russia to use the influence that Russia has on the armed militants who have seized buildings and blockaded roads and stockpiled weapons to pressure them to give up their weapons and to vacate the buildings. And we will watch very closely in the coming days to see if those commitments are honored, and then will take action as necessary, if necessary, when it comes to imposing further costs.

Q How much longer is the U.S. prepared to wait before it decides whether or not to go ahead and impose additional sanctions?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific deadline to provide to you. As I said yesterday and again today, we’re going to evaluate this in coming days. As you know, the Vice President visited Ukraine, was in Kyiv, and announced additional assistance that we’re providing to Ukraine, made clear our support for the people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian government in this challenging time. And meanwhile, we, with our European and G7 partners, are closely monitoring the situation on the ground.

Q Has the U.S. made any sort of timeline to Russia in expectation of when you would want to see progress of deescalating tensions? Does Russia know when you expect to see things change?

MR. CARNEY: I think Russia understands that the United States, the EU and our G7 partners are serious about the need for all parties to the agreement to take steps to deescalate the situation in Ukraine and that, should Russia continue to engage in provocative actions, continue to support the separatists -- the so-called separatists, or the armed irregular militias in portions of Ukraine who have seized buildings, that there will be further costs imposed on Russia.

And we’ve discussed many times what Russia needs to do, which is use their influence to help deescalate the situation. That includes their influence directly on those who have seized buildings, also to remove their troops from their position on the border in a manner that is consistent with their disposition prior to this crisis, and to take other steps to engage with Ukraine together with international partners in a dialogue building on Geneva so that we can move forward, and that the -- so the Ukrainian people can move forward with stabilizing their economy, participating in presidential elections on May 25th, and getting about the business that the Ukrainian government has committed itself to of instituting reforms and dealing with corruption and all the other challenges that Ukraine faces.

Q Can we go back to North Korea for a second? If there is any sort of a nuclear test, is there any talk of changing the President’s itinerary at all?

MR. CARNEY: We’re monitoring events closely and mindful of Pyongyang’s propensity to take provocative actions, but I’m not going to speculate about that.

Q On the mudslide, obviously the President is expressing his sympathy and appreciation for the first responders and for the families there. Is there any policy that he’s going to discuss, or specific, concrete actions the federal government is going to take in response to the accident?

MR. CARNEY: The administration remains focused on supporting the state and local efforts, and first responders. Earlier this month, as you know, the President declared a major disaster in the state of Washington and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts. This assistance is in addition to the support provided under the presidential emergency declaration granted on March 24th, 2014. And we -- the President has, rather, directed his team to stay in close touch with our federal partners as well as state and local officials leading the response.

So I think the purpose of the visit, which will include remarks delivered at the Oso firehouse, is to view firsthand the aftermath of the terrible mudslide there, and to meet directly with those who lost loved ones and have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy.

Q Has the President and Vice President spoken since the Vice President went to Kyiv?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t know that they have spoken directly; they may have. I think the Vice President was in Kyiv until very recently; I’m not sure of the timing of his departure. But the President is obviously well-briefed on and focused on developments there and on the assistance that the Vice President announced in Kyiv, and the support that we’re giving to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government.

Q Jay, there’s an economic forum I think in St. Petersburg in a couple of weeks. There’s a number of major U.S. CEOs slated to attend -- Boeing, Citi, Goldman. Is that a concern at all for the administration? And what’s kind of the outreach to private business when it comes to Russia?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of that conference so I’ll have to direct you to the Treasury Department. But I think that the administration has engaged with companies that have sought information about the steps that we’ve taken. Treasury might have more for you on that.

Obviously, how severe the sanctions will be will depend on how much Russia wants to continue to engage in activity that supports the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. So it’s hard to speculate or to know all the costs that will be imposed on Russia because, obviously, Russia does have the opportunity to avoid further costs if it participates in a positive way in deescalating the situation there.

Q How does the White House view today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the ban on -- Michigan’s ban on affirmative action at universities?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re still reviewing the ruling, which just came down. So I don’t have a specific reaction. Generally speaking, as you know, the President believes that diversity in the classroom is important for students, campuses and schools. In an increasingly multicultural society and global economy, it is more important than ever that America’s students be exposed to a wide array of ideas and perspectives to prepare them for success.

As you know, the President has said that while he opposes quotas and thinks an emphasis on universal and not race-specific programs is good policy, considering race, along with other factors, can be appropriate in certain circumstances. But we don’t have a specific reaction to the ruling.

END
11:37 A.M. EDT

President Obama Signs Indiana Disaster Declaration

Today, the President declared a major disaster in the State of Indiana and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by a severe winter storm and snowstorm during the period of January 5-9, 2014.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storm and snowstorm in the counties of Boone, Clay, Hendricks, Huntington, Jasper, Kosciusko, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Noble, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Tipton, Vigo, Wabash, White, and Whitley.

In addition, federal funding is available to the state and eligible local governments on a cost-sharing basis for snow assistance for a continuous 48-hour period during or proximate to the incident period in Boone, Clay, Hendricks, Huntington, Jasper, Kosciusko, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Tipton, Vigo, Wabash, and White Counties and a 72-hour period in Noble and Whitley Counties.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named David G. Samaniego as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION MEDIA SHOULD CONTACT: FEMA NEWS DESK AT (202) 646-3272 OR FEMA-NEWS-DESK@DHS.GOV

Remarks to the Press by Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Cabinet of Ministers Club
Kyiv, Ukraine

1:40 P.M. (Local)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. Prime Minister, let me begin by thanking you both for your hospitality, but much more importantly for the incredible leadership you’ve shown under very, very, very difficult circumstances.

We just celebrated Easter, and Easter is supposed to be a season of peace, of family, and a time when we all come together. But today there are some who are trying to pull Ukraine apart. Ukraine is in the struggle for its very future.

When I left the hotel this morning, the hotel management asked me to sign their book that they have before I left. And as I told you, Mr. Prime Minister, I signed, “Ukraine united, Joe Biden.” I wish it were that easy, just signing my signature. But the truth of the matter is we, the United States, stand with you and all the Ukrainian people on a Ukraine united. And I’ll say at the top we do not recognize -- we do not recognize -- Russia’s actions in the Crimea.

But today, as I said, there are some trying to pull Ukraine apart. And you have -- we’re in the struggle for your very future. There’s been a lot of talk about geopolitics, about East and West. But here in Ukraine, people know that it’s about something much more fundamental. It’s not about geopolitics; it’s about unity. It’s about independence. And at its most basic level, it’s about restoring respect and dignity.

For months Ukrainians braved bone-chilling, cold weather and stood down snipers’ bullets in the Maidan. And I know not every Ukrainian feels the same way about the Maidan. I understand that. But it’s my view that all Ukrainians can agree on the core idea that government exists to serve the people. The people do not exist to serve the government. And that the people of the Ukraine -- of Ukraine should have the right to choose their own future.

I offer my personal sympathies to the families of those who laid down their lives for this cause. These heroes remind us of the true cost of a better future and the nobility of those who reach for it. I came here to Kyiv to let you know, Mr. Prime Minister, and every Ukrainian know that the United States stands with you and is working to support all Ukrainians in seeking a better future.

The road ahead obviously, as we discussed at length both here and in Washington, Mr. Prime Minister, is difficult. And you should know, as I told you at the outset, you will not walk this road alone. We will walk it with you.

Today, the Prime Minister and I talked about the work before us. We discussed the most acute problem, the most acute matter facing the Ukrainian people, the ongoing threat to their country’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. I’ll say it again, Ukraine is and must remain one country from Lviv to Kharkiv down to the Black Sea -- one country, one united Ukraine.

The United States supports a strong, united Ukraine with productive and peaceful relationships with both the East and the West, with both Russia and Europe. And that's a goal that I know you share, Mr. Prime Minister. But no nation -- no nation -- has the right to simply grab land from another nation. No nation has that right. And we will never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, and neither will the world, as was demonstrated by the overwhelming vote that took place in the Security Council in the General Assembly.

No nation should threaten its neighbors by massing troops along the border. We call on Russia to pull back these forces. No nation should stoke instability in its neighbor’s country. We call on Russia to stop supporting men hiding behind masks in unmarked uniforms, sowing unrest in Eastern Ukraine. And we have been clear that more provocative behavior by Russia will lead to more costs and to greater isolation. The United States has demonstrated, as Ukraine has, that it supports diplomatic efforts to deescalate the situation.

Mr. Prime Minister, your government has taken important steps to uphold the agreement reached in Geneva just last week, including putting forward a broad amnesty bill for separatists, which you’ve done, who give up -- amnesty for those who give up buildings and their weapons. You’ve also sent senior representatives to the east to help the OSCE move the process forward. You’ve met with the head of that delegation, as I did yesterday.

We’ve heard a lot from Russian officials in the past few days, but now it’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting. Act on the commitments that they made: to get pro-Russian separatists to vacate buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically; to get out on the record calling for the release of all illegally occupied buildings. That's not a hard thing to do, and to send senior Russian officials to work with the OSCE in the east. These are commitments made; they should be fulfilled. We need to see these kinds of concrete steps. We need to see them without delay. We will not allow this to become an open-ended process. Time is short in which to make progress.

In this time of testing, the instability in the east is only one of several challenges Ukraine and the government must confront. It also has challenges in politics, economics and in energy.

Today the Prime Minister briefed me on preparations for the presidential election on March [sic] the 25th, and his aspirations for constitutional reform and a presentation on May the 15th. The United States for this election is providing substantial assistance to make sure that they are clean and closely monitored so that nobody on the 26th of May can question their legitimacy. I’m encouraged and I’m genuinely encouraged to see so many people in the east rejecting violence, choosing the ballot box over bullets to determine Ukraine’s future. And I’m all -- and I was pleased to hear about Ukraine’s significant progress on constitutional reform and decentralization.

This may be the most important election in the history of Ukraine. This is a chance to make good on the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians east and west and every part of this country. For a Ukraine that empowers local governance and respects and protects different linguistic and cultural traditions, but fundamentally holds together as a single state -- united and sovereign. There’s such possibilities ahead, Mr. Prime Minister.

Ukrainians have also made clear that after an era of staggering public theft -- not debt, public theft -- that they will no longer accept corruption from public officials. Your former leader had to run in hiding for fear that after everyone saw the excesses to which his theft had taken him and others. The fact of the matter is I’m of the view -- and it’s presumptuous to ever tell another man what his country thinks -- but I’m of the view that Ukrainians east, west, north and south are just sick and tired of the corruption.

Mr. Prime Minister, Ukraine’s new law on government procedure -- procurement I should say represents a first important step in dealing with this kleptocracy. The United States is ready to help Ukraine take further steps to build transparent institutions, to win back the trust of the people. And just as corruption can have no place in the new Ukraine, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. Let me say that again, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. No place. None. Zero. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms all threats and attacks against Ukrainian Jewish communities as well as Roma and others, as you do, as well, I know, Mr. Prime Minister.

Mr. Prime Minister, you and I also discussed the efforts to stabilize and strengthen Ukraine’s economy. Just last week the United States government signed a bill proposed by our administration for a billion loan guarantee agreement with Ukraine. The United States has also been a driving force behind the IMF, working to provide a multi-billion package to help Ukraine address the immediate needs and get Ukraine on a stronger path. I expect the IMF package to be finalized imminently, and I congratulate you and your government here in Ukraine for having made the difficult -- and they are difficult, very difficult -- economic reforms to get this done.

The Prime Minister and I also spoke about energy. An American team is currently in the region working with Ukraine and its neighbors to increase Ukraine’s short-term energy supply. And I’ve been on the telephone with many of your neighbors, as you know, talking about the way to increase that supply. And more teams are coming to support long-term improvements so that no nation -- let me be precise, so that Russia can no longer use energy as a political weapon against Ukraine and Europe.

With the right investments and the right choices, Ukraine can reduce its energy dependence and increase its energy security. We will stand with you to help in every way we can for you to accomplish that goal.

Finally, even as we pursue diplomacy we’re also providing nonlethal support to Ukraine security services to deal with the challenges that have arisen. We’re providing communications gear, bomb disposal technology, transportation and engineering equipment for Ukraine to protect against infiltrators and deal with explosive threats. And our security support now totals nearly million.

Mr. Prime Minister, I know we’ll be talking again, and I’m confident that you will continue to be as consistent and persistent as you have been in order to bring about the kind of change that's needed. We will stand with you. It’s been inspiring to watch you and your fellow countrymen. For all the obstacles placed in your way, you continue to move forward with resolve -- genuine resolve.

And I’m proud to affirm that you do so with friendship, partnership and strong support from the United States of America that will not go away. God bless your country. And God willing, we will, in fact, see a much better day for your country.

PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Let me shift to my native language.

(As interpreted) Mr. Vice President, between our two countries there is an agreement about strategic partnership. And this agreement is not only on the paper. This agreement is in action. The goal of this agreement is the development of free democratic and stable Ukrainian society and government. The goal of this agreement and objective of it is our joint work and cooperation in providing stability and peace on the continent. The goal of this agreement is to support the strategic relations between the United States and Ukraine.

We value the position of the United States and the support that the Ukrainian people receive from the United States during the past few months -- the Ukrainian people that choose their own way to manage their own country, the people of Ukraine that continues its fight for its rights, democracy and for the -- for having Ukraine as a successful country.

We separately would like to thank the administration of the United States of America, the Congress and the Senate for the allocation of billion as a financial assistance for the Ukrainian economy. Ukraine asked and adopted several necessary even though complicated decisions and difficult decisions in order to reestablish financial programs with the international financial institutions.

And when we say about the package of difficult reforms, we are saying that these reforms in the packet was not passed from the IMF. It was passed and adopted for Ukraine. Ukraine needs real reforms.

Mr. Vice President, we value the level of technical assistance that is provided by the government of the United States. I separately would like focus on the corruption issue. The government of Ukraine understands and is conscious that the money is given only to those countries that actually overcome and fight corruption. And one of the key goals and objectives of my government and the new president that should be elected on May 25th of this year is real fight against corruption and victory over corruption.

And on the other note I would like to underscore our joint vision with regard to the needs of constitutional reforms in Ukraine. And we implement -- we are planning to implement the constitutional reform, not just to meet the requirements of Geneva agreement, but rather to answer the request of Russia. The constitutional reform in the country is the way to restore the balance of power. This is the requirement of the Ukrainian people. Thus within the constitutional reform we plan to provide additional power to regions and give the Ukrainian regions opportunity to have independent financial and budget policy in order for them to have special status for national minorities and language of national minorities, including the Russian language and make sure that every citizen of Ukraine would be able to affect the local and the central government. Thus the constitutional reform should be implemented and must be implemented. And it is inadmissible when the constitution is written and drawn for specific president. Constitution should be drawn for the Ukrainian citizens and Ukrainian people.

As to our talk about the energy, Mr. Vice President, I would like to reiterate that Ukraine is ready for cooperation in the broadest sense with both U.S. and European companies. We do require investments into our energy sector, and the best response for energy independence from Russia will be the presence here in Ukraine of European and American investors, and among other issues related to review, joint-use and modernization of the Ukrainian gas transportation system.

As to the elections, we did discuss this topic, and we appreciate the support of the United States in the build-up of democracy in Ukraine. We clearly understand that whatever happens in the east, and is being supported by the Russia Federation, has, among other goals, the goal of disrupting the presidential elections, while the goal of the government is to conduct fair and transparent elections.

Even now we have two dozens of candidates who run in this election who represent the whole spectrum of the political parties of Ukraine. And each of them could receive the needed support from the voters. Ukraine does require a legitimately elected president, something that Russia does not need. We will carry out the presidential elections and the elections in Ukraine, which will be conducted with the involvement of both the OECD observers and observers from the international community, should be open, fair, transparent and legitimate. Let me reiterate Ukraine should have a new president who will support the reforms -- curbing corruption, introducing changes and amendments to the constitution of Ukraine, who will support integration with Europe, energy independence, fostering of democracy and independence of the Ukrainian state.

Separately we discussed with Mr. Vice President our northern neighbors. Let me reiterate the position of the Ukrainian government once again. Never, under no circumstance Ukraine would acknowledge the annexation of Crimea. We will require from our Russian neighbors to immediately get their special forces out of the eastern region of Ukraine, so get its military forces from Crimea, thus closing down this ignoble page in history of occupation of our territory by the Russian troops. We believe that in this century and in the modern world, no country should be allowed to behave like an armed bandit.

And it’s inadmissible, especially for those countries who are standing members of the Security Council of the United Nations. And it’s inadmissible to a country that used to be a member of G8. Russia should stick to its international commitments and obligations. We are not asking anything from Russia. What we demand from them is one thing and only, they should deliver on the international commitments, and they should not behave as gangsters in the modern century.

Ukraine has signed the first part of the political part of the association agreement with the European Union, and for us this association agreement lays the course that is required to successfully implement reforms. This is the best agenda for Ukraine. In order to implement the reforms and to make Ukraine a country that meets the highest standards of democracy, that meets the highest standards of curbing corruption, that meets the highest standards of protecting human rights and the rights of citizens.

We acknowledge the challenges that Ukraine is facing. And our government will deliver difficult but so much needed reforms for Ukraine. We would like to thank once again the government of the United States and the people of the United States for their support. You also witnessed a very difficult path in developing your nation. We are going through this path. You became a successful nation. We are becoming a successful nation. If we work together side by side so that the people in the United States and people in Ukraine will live better, and the world will feel safer, then for sure, we’ll all be successful.

Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for your visit.

END
2:06 P.M. (Local)

Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden at a Meeting with Ukrainian Legislators

Rada
Kyiv, Ukraine

10:03 A.M. (Local)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. And I want to thank my colleagues for bringing me back home. For 36 years I sat in our legislature, and I used to actually have this seat in our -- I was the chairman of our committee. Thank you for making me feel relevant again, back in a legislative body.

I’m honored, and I mean this sincerely, I’m honored to be with you all, all members of the Rada representing the whole of Ukraine.

I signed the book in the hotel as I was leaving today. The management asked me to sign their book, and I signed, “Ukraine united, Joe Biden.” And as I look here, this is Ukraine united -- center, south, east, west. And as someone who has held high public office in my country for now 40 years and just because I’ve been around, literally met every major leader in the world in the last 40 years, I don't -- I want you to know I do not underestimate the incredible pressure you all are under. I do not underestimate the challenge that you all face. And I do not underestimate the frustration you must feel when someone like me comes along and says this is a great opportunity for you. (Laughter.) As my mother would say, but for the honor, I’d just as soon as pass the opportunity.

But the truth of the matter is your fellow countrymen expect a whole lot of you right now. Their expectations are high. The demands on you are -- my guess is are fairly extreme. And in addition to that, we have -- there is -- John Kennedy, President Kennedy wrote a book that became very famous called “Profiles in Courage,” and it listed those men and women in our country who had taken political positions that were overwhelmingly interest of the United States of America, but not in their personal interests. That's a profile in courage. I hope none of you have to appear in the first edition of the “Profiles in Courage in Ukraine,” but my expectation is some of you are going to have to make some really difficult, difficult personal decisions.

But you’re facing such unrest and uncertainty, and we can speak a little bit more about that today. But I also think -- it’s easy for me to say -- there’s an expression in English, it says, an expert is anyone from out of town with a briefcase. Well, I don't have a briefcase, and I’m not an expert. But I have an opinion, and I speak for the President of the United States, and he shares the same opinion. And that is that this is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution. This is a genuine opportunity to get right what is always difficult to do the first time when coming out from under the oppression or control of another power.

You’re a month away from -- I would respectfully suggest, although I will be probably criticized by the press for saying it, what hopefully will be and may be the most important election in Ukrainian history, and that is that you have an opportunity, a chance to bring about an era of reform and democratic renewal that you all hoped for two, five, 10, 15 years ago to lay the groundwork for an even more united and more prosperous Ukraine.

In speaking with your acting President, I was referencing the personal bravery and heroism of Ukrainians is well known. You are a strong, strong, strong people. And I’m not being solicitous. I mean it is real. And you face very daunting problems and some might say humiliating threats that are taking place indirectly. And -- but the opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, getting it right, is within your grasp. And we want to be your partner, your friend in the project. And we’re ready to assist.

I have an expression I use as I’ve gone around the world through my career is you never tell another man or woman what’s in their interest. They know their interest better than you know their interest. And so I want you to know that we are not suggesting we have the answers for you, but we’re merely suggesting that we stand ready to stand with you in every endeavor that you undertake to generate the united prosperous and coherent Ukraine you’re all fighting for.

And to the extent that we can be of small assistance in you holding a free election on May the 25th, we want to be part of that. To the extent that we can help in stabilizing and strengthening Ukraine’s economy by helping you withstand the unfair economic pressure being thrust upon you, we stand ready to do that, and I say the American people stand ready -- not just Barack Obama and Joe Biden -- but the American people.

As you all know well we have a significant Ukrainian-American population. We stand with you. And it is not just a foreign policy judgment, it is a personal -- it’s an emotional commitment, as well, by millions of Americans.

And as you attempt to pursue energy security, there’s no reason why you cannot be energy secure. I mean there isn’t. It will take time. It takes some difficult decisions, but it’s collectively within your power and the power of Europe and the United States. And we stand ready to assist you in reaching that. Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas. It would be a very different world you’d be facing today. It’s within our power to alter that. It will take some time, but it’s within our power. Very difficult decisions, but within our power.

Also to be very blunt about it, and this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament, but you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now. It’s not just the United States. You need a court system that not only you and your people, but the rest of the world assumes can actually adjudicate fairly disputes among people. But you have a chance. You have a chance. The constitutional reforms that you are envisioning now are ones that some of you have fought for in various ways your entire career, a balance of power between the parliament and the President. You’ve tried it two different ways. I think you’ve figured it out for you -- not what we think -- what you think is the correct balance.

The decentralization and empowering of local communities -- we call that devolution of power back home -- local communities able to elect their own local officials, control their own budgets, elect their councils. And as I said, maybe if you look around the world at every country that has in the last 30 years come out from under the yoke of another, the hardest thing to put in place is, as I find it around the world, is a court system, is a judicial system. In a sense it maybe is the single most important thing that can occur in any country. And it’s hard. It’s really difficult.

But it’s totally within your power, and sometimes -- presumptuous of me to say this -- but sometimes it’s -- a crisis spawns the commitment, and the desire, the willingness to make some of these bold decisions.

So it is -- I don't want to exaggerate our role or exaggerate what we -- how strongly we feel, but the United States supports the rights, the freedoms and the fundamental dignity of the people of Ukraine, all the people of Ukraine.

And you may have different traditions. It’s not quite the same, but we understand different traditions in our country -- not as deeply as you do, but we are the most heterogeneous democracy in the world. We’re soon going to get the point where over 50 percent of the United States of America is made up of people of non-European stock; the majority of the American people are not of European origin in 2020. We understand. We have millions of Muslims. We have hundreds -- but it’s not quite the same. We’re not up against a border. We’re not sitting against a border of another powerful nation.

And so -- but, we, in fact -- these different traditions, different languages, and sometimes different perspectives, but the one thing I’ve observed, even with what’s going on in the east, is that there is a much greater desire to call oneself a Ukrainian than to call oneself anything else. And that’s a major, major, major unifying power, no matter how different the traditions are.

So I’m confident -- presumptuous of me to say this -- I’m confident that in your constitutional reforms, you will find a way to guarantee those traditions and at the same time strengthen Ukrainian unity. And to the extent that the United States of America can be of assistance in that effort, we stand ready to do that.

I thank you -- and I mean this sincerely -- for the honor of being able to speak here in the Rada, or at least a committee room of the Rada.

END
10:15 A.M. (Local)

Presidential Proclamation -- Earth Day, 2014

EARTH DAY, 2014

- - - - - - -

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

Over four decades ago, Americans from all walks of life came together to tackle a shared challenge. Pollution damaged our health and livelihoods -- from children swimming in contaminated streams to workers exposed to dangerous chemicals to city residents living under a thick haze of smog. The first Earth Day was a call to action for every citizen, every family, and every public official. It gave voice to the conservation movement, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and pushed our Nation to adopt landmark laws on clean air and water. This Earth Day, we remember that when Americans unite in common purpose, we can overcome any obstacle.

Today, we face another problem that threatens us all. The overwhelming judgment of science tells us that climate change is altering our planet in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind. Already, longer wildfire seasons put first responders at greater risk. Farmers must cope with increased soil erosion following heavy downpours and greater stresses from weeds, plant diseases, and insect pests. Increasingly severe weather patterns strain infrastructure and damage our communities, especially low-income communities, which are disproportionately vulnerable and have few resources to prepare. The consequences of climate change will only grow more dire in the years to come.

That is why, last year, I took executive action to prepare our Nation for the impacts of climate change. As my Administration works to build a more resilient country, we also remain committed to averting the most catastrophic effects. Since I took office, America has increased the electricity it produces from solar energy by more than tenfold, tripled the electricity it generates from wind energy, and brought carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades. In the international community, we are working with our partners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the globe. Along with States, utilities, health groups, and advocates, we will develop commonsense and achievable carbon pollution standards for our biggest pollution source -- power plants.

We are also taking on environmental challenges by increasing fuel efficiency, restoring public lands, and curbing emissions of mercury and other toxic chemicals. We are safeguarding the water our families drink and the waterways and oceans that sustain our livelihoods. This February, we proposed new standards to protect farm workers from dangerous pesticides. And because caring for our planet requires commitment from all of us, we are engaging organizations, businesses, and individuals in these efforts.

As we mark this observance, let us reflect on the mission of the first Earth Day and recall our power to forge a cleaner, healthier future. Let us accept our responsibilities to future generations and meet today's tests with the same energy, passion, and sense of purpose.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 22, 2014, as Earth Day. I encourage all Americans to participate in programs and activities that will protect our environment and contribute to a healthy, sustainable future.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-first day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/21/14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY: Before I take your questions I just wanted to congratulate on behalf of the President and everyone here at the White House Meb Keflezighi, who just won the Boston Marathon -- first American to do so in 31 years, which is quite an accomplishment and a great year to do it. (Applause.)

Q Pretty cool.

Q Well done.

MR. CARNEY: That's absolutely true. And that's all I have at the top, so I'll go to Julie.

Q Thanks, Jay. A couple of questions on Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia are trading blame over who’s responsible for the shooting yesterday in eastern Ukraine. Can you just give us what the U.S. assessment is of what happened there?

MR. CARNEY: Julie, what I can tell you is that we continue to monitor events in eastern Ukraine closely. We've seen differing reports about what happened in Slovyansk yesterday but cannot independently confirm responsibility for these actions. Overall, we are concerned about the situation there, and we urge paramilitary groups throughout the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine to lay down their weapons and depart the buildings that they have occupied, as was called for in the accord signed in Geneva last week. We continue to call on Russia to use its influence over these groups to press them to disarm and to turn occupied buildings over to the authorities.

We commend the government of Ukraine for continuing to demonstrate restraint, and are hopeful that all parties in the Rada will shortly be able to agree on an amnesty bill to help deescalate the situation in the east. As we have said, if there is not progress within days we remain prepared, along with our European and G7 partners, to impose additional costs on Russia for its destabilizing actions.

So when it comes to that specific incident, we're still unable independently to confirm who’s responsible for what happened there, but there’s no question that there’s been a great deal of destabilizing activity and that Russia has influence over the groups that have engaged in that activity, who have seized buildings. And we continue to call on Russia to use that influence to pressure those groups to disarm and to return the buildings to authorities.

Q You mentioned a couple of steps that you commend Ukraine for taking in order to live up to the conditions of this accord. But do you have any indication that Russia is taking the steps that it agreed to under that agreement?

MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, they signed the agreement and they have committed themselves by signing to use their influence to stabilize the situation in Ukraine or to urge those over whom they have influence to disarm and to return buildings that they have occupied back to the authorities. And we continue to press them to do that. As we have made clear, should Russia continue to engage in destabilizing actions in Ukraine, there will be costs. There has been already. And should they escalate their destabilizing activity the costs will escalate.

So we're in a place now with the Vice President in Kyiv and meeting with Ukrainian government officials where we are demonstrating our support for that government, for the process that they have undertaken of both reform and near-term elections, and we are continuing to call on all parties to honor the agreements they made in Geneva.

Q But at this point, do you see any sign that Russia is doing that, is honoring the agreement they made?

MR. CARNEY: What we continue to see is a situation in eastern Ukraine that remains very volatile and tense and that requires that steps be taken to stabilize it because of the potential for it to become worse and more chaotic. What we hope to see from Russia is the use of its influence on those groups that clearly respond to that influence. And we have been very clear that we firmly believe that Russia has supported the so-called separatists in eastern Ukraine that have popped up with arms to seize buildings, to stockpile weapons, to erect roadblocks. And Russia needs to abide by the agreement signed in Geneva and to take steps to help stabilize the situation.

Q Can you just be any more specific about this coming days timeline? Officials have been using that since Thursday when this agreement was signed and we’re now at Monday. How much longer do you let this play out without seeing some kind of concrete sign that it’s holding and that progress is being made?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an end date for you. We are in a situation where we have potential new sanctions that we could impose, as we mentioned last week, and we are closely monitoring events in eastern Ukraine and monitoring compliance with the agreement signed in Geneva, and we will be evaluating compliance in coming days.

Roberta.

Q What role did the White House play either in the timing or the substance of Friday’s announcement on Keystone?

MR. CARNEY: The Keystone process is run out of the State Department, in keeping with past practice by administrations of both parties going back many decades -- or much time. As I understand it -- and for details you need to go to the State Department -- the issue here has to do with a court decision in Nebraska and its impact on the ability for the state process to continue, for agencies to be able to comment. And absent a definite route through Nebraska, the decision, as I understand, by State is that that can’t continue until the situation in Nebraska is resolved.

Q And is the President frustrated at all at these delays, this indefiniteness in the process?

MR. CARNEY: The President wants the process to be conducted in a way that’s consistent with past practice and consistent with the interests that have to be examined when you’re talking about an international border being crossed by a pipeline. There have been a series of moments along the path here where politics has played a role in delaying the process, as you know -- actions that Congress took, for example. And then there have been other instances where either local or state concerns slow down the process, or, in this case, action by a state court had an impact on the process itself.

What the President has insisted on all along is that this process be run out of the State Department in accordance with established tradition for matters like these, and that’s been the case here.

Q So politics is not playing a role in this current delay?

MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a State Department process, it’s a State Department decision, so I would refer you to the State Department.

Q On Ukraine, you talked earlier about Russian support for these separatists who are occupying buildings and then these towns. What about evidence that they might actually be Russian? We’ve heard that Ukraine gave the OSCE photographs -- photographic evidence, they say, of actual Russians who participated in earlier events in Crimea or even Chechnya. Has the U.S. seen these pictures, validated them? What’s the response to these photos, which certainly suggest they’re not just supporting the separatists but --

MR. CARNEY: Sure. Well, there’s been broad consensus in the international community about the connection between Russia and the armed militants in Ukraine. And the photographs that you referred to that Ukraine has submitted to the OSCE I think reaffirm that connection. We have noted in the past reporting that -- public reporting that indicates Russian personnel being involved in some of the activity. The actions of the militants bear striking similarities to actions taken in Crimea. And I think President Putin himself noted the other day that Russia -- not just to separatists -- but Russia itself participated in that. So we don’t have any doubt about the connection there, and I think that the photographs that are reported on today simply reaffirm that.

Q So Russia then becomes -- if the separatists are still occupying these buildings and there’s no marked change since this truce, this accord, are the Russians -- do you guys believe that the Russians are negotiating in good faith? It has to be about negotiations and not a military solution, so if the Russians are not just supporting separatists but separatists may be Russian, how are you approaching the Russians on it?

MR. CARNEY: We’ve been very direct with Russia and that was the case in Geneva. Russia understands that the international community holds one view about the actions that Russia has taken and supported in Ukraine, and that we stand prepared, together with our partners, to impose further costs on Russia if Russia does not take action to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine and to cease promoting destabilizing activity.

And in the coming days, if Russia doesn’t abide by the commitments it’s made and we don’t see steps taken to reduce the instability in the region, steps taken to use the influence that Russia has on the militants to get them to disarm and to turn back over the buildings that they’ve seized, then we’re prepared to impose further costs.

Q And also on Yemen, do you know a sense of timing on how long it will take before you’ll know if the bomb-maker, al Asiri, was killed in these strikes?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re aware of the reports and I’d point you to the Yemeni government and what the government itself has said. In statements to the press, the Yemeni government has confirmed that air strikes were carried out these weekend against al Qaeda militants in remote training camps and in a convoy. According to the Yemenis, these individuals were planning to target civilian and military facilities in al-Bayda and elsewhere.

Now, I can’t speak to specific operations, but we have a strong, collaborative relationship, as you know, with the Yemeni government and work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from AQAP. So in terms of more details about the strikes that the Yemeni government has discussed, I would refer you to the Yemeni government.

Chuck.

Q Just to follow up, you keep saying that you need to see evidence of Russia not fulfilling its promises and what was agreed to. All there has been rhetorically is just the opposite. It’s been Putin saying he doesn’t even understand why parts of Ukraine were even handed over in the first place. I mean, he’s been very provocative. If anything, it’s been reescalating not deescalating. So I guess what is the “okay, enough” as of now?

Q What are you waiting for?

Q What is the cutoff line here?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have a specific deadline for you except to say that the agreement was signed in Geneva; we are closely monitoring events in eastern Ukraine.

Q Is this days?

MR. CARNEY: The situation in coming days, you can expect that we will move forward with the imposition of further costs on Russia if Russia does not take action to comply with its commitments in Geneva.

Q What is the action that you guys are waiting for -- pulling troops back?

MR. CARNEY: To see that there are actions taken that help stabilize the situation. And that would mean militias -- armed militias disarming, removing themselves from buildings that they have seized and occupied.

The other side of the story, which is very important, the Ukrainian government, again, showing great restraint and professionalism, is taking steps that it can to help reduce tensions and deescalate, and that includes actions in the Rada to offer amnesty to those who have participated in these actions.

Q By saying what you just said, this means that Lavrov’s claim that somehow this was -- that the Ukrainian government was behind this recent incident is --

MR. CARNEY: Again, we don't have -- as I said regarding the incident in Slovyansk, we don't have independent confirmation of exactly what transpired there. But broadly speaking, we have seen obviously a great deal of activity seemingly coordinated -- almost indisputably coordinated in eastern Ukraine when it comes to armed groups seizing buildings, occupying them, declaring themselves autonomous or independent and then absolutely in violation of Ukrainian law and constitution.

Q Can you give us some -- moving to the announcement today at the Justice Department about the expanded potential executive -- of what applications for clemency to the President -- that make it to the President’s desk -- can you fill in some of the gaps of some of the criteria that is going to be included in that?

MR. CARNEY: Well, probably the gaps would best be filled over at the Department of Justice. What I can tell you, as we've said before, the President wants to make sure that everyone has a fair shot under the clemency system, and he has asked the Department of Justice to set up a process aimed at ensuring that anyone who has a good case for commutation has their application seen and evaluated thoroughly.

The number of commutations that are granted will depend entirely on the number of worthy candidates. And in terms of how many deserving candidates are out there, I couldn't begin to speculate. But there’s a process in place that reflects the President’s belief that everyone should have a fair shot under the system for consideration.

Q Under this same thing, is there any -- does the President want a process to reconsider the classification of marijuana?

MR. CARNEY: Our views on that have not changed and I don't think this is a related --

Q There’s no ongoing effort to change it from being a Schedule 1 controlled substance?

MR. CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of. I'd refer --

Q That would have an impact on how many -- this does have some impact on --

MR. CARNEY: For details you should go to DOJ. And I don't want to venture too far out here because I'm not a lawyer or an expert in this, but this has to do with the Fair Sentencing Act the President signed into law in 2010 and the observation that the President has made, and others of both parties have made, about the inconsistency between current law and sentences that many are serving now. And the President simply wants a process by which everyone who might potentially have clemency available to him or her get the consideration that they deserve.

Q Is there any interest in -- does the administration want the Justice Department to look into reclassifying marijuana?

MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything new on that issue since the last time we talked about it.

Jon.

Q Back to the Keystone decision. It's obviously a decision that has big political ramifications. Was there any communication between the White House and the State Department before the State Department moved forward and decided to delay the decision?

MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a process run out of State. State has made an announcement related to --

Q I'm just asking if they talked to State before --

MR. CARNEY: -- the Nebraska court decision. I don't have any conversations that I'm aware of. This process is run out of State and this is in reaction to, as I understand it, a Nebraska Supreme Court decision which could ultimately affect the pipeline in that state -- the pipeline route. And again, they have the details and the expertise over at State in the running of this process, but it stands to reason that if you're in the middle of a process by which agencies -- and you're at the stage where agencies are supposed to comment on a pipeline route and that route itself may be in doubt because of a state Supreme Court decision, it stands to reason that more time is needed for that to be resolved before the process at State can be concluded.

Q So the President is happy with the decision the State Department took?

MR. CARNEY: Again, I know there’s a great urge, and has always been, to make this about politics, but we've seen along this process -- along the way here, along the route, a series of actions taken in keeping with past practice where the reviews are done out of the State Department. We are at a process where agencies were able to weigh in and then we have a state Supreme Court decision. The State Department has more details or can brief you more fully on it, but that obviously has a potential impact on the pipeline route, and therefore, the decision that the State Department made was made.

Q Does the President have any power in this area? Could he overrule the State Department? Could he tell them to speed this up? Does he have any personal views on this? Is he glad to see it pushed until after the elections, or would he like to see this thing finally resolved? I mean, he’s had the answer I think -- the questions on this for years now.

MR. CARNEY: The President has been consistent in always wanting the process to be conducted on the merits and in keeping with past practices of administrations of both parties. And we have seen attempts to inject politics into this, actions by Congress, for example, that have actually served to delay the normal process that the State Department runs, again, in administrations of both parties.

So obviously nobody, as I understand it, at the State Department or here could anticipate the Nebraska Supreme Court decision. That decision was made; there’s an assessment made by those who are running the process that it could have an impact on the pipeline route, so State Department made the decision that it made.

Q But does he have the power --

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have -- I haven’t talked to him about it.

Q But does he have the power? I mean, could he call the State Department and say --

MR. CARNEY: I’d refer you to State for how the process works. It’s obviously his administration, but his interest is not in ruling by fiat, but for letting the process be properly managed and completed.

Q And then can I get you just to respond -- obviously there have been some Democrats who are I guess furious about this delay. Senator Begich of Alaska said, “I am, frankly, appalled at the continued foot-dragging.” Mary Landrieu said, “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary, and unacceptable.” Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, said it is absolutely ridiculous that it has been delayed yet again. Your response to these Democratic senators?

MR. CARNEY: My response to any questions about this or statements about this is that it is a process run by the State Department, as has been the case in previous administrations of both parties. There was a decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court -- not here in Washington, but by the Nebraska Supreme Court -- that affects potentially the pipeline route, and the State Department that’s running the process has made a decision about the impact of that decision on the process itself. So I would refer you to the State Department.

Q You’d refer these senators to the State Department?

MR. CARNEY: I mean, those are just the facts, Jon. The process has to be compliant with past practice.

Major.

Q I know you said earlier that we haven’t been able to -- this administration hasn’t been able to independently verify all the facts of what happened this weekend, but do you know enough to say that there is nothing that you know so far that would justify Russian forces coming in to protect Russians in Ukraine, as some in the areas where this violence occurred have asked for?

MR. CARNEY: That would be, as a general matter, significant and dangerous escalation of the situation. We have made clear that that kind of action, direct military intervention by Russia in Ukraine, in eastern Ukraine, would be a serious escalation of the situation there and would be met with a serious escalation of the cost to Russia. So that’s our view on that as a general matter and a specific matter.

We’re still assessing the events of the weekend, but there’s no question that the overall situation has been greatly worsened by the intervention of armed militants who have seized buildings, stockpiled weapons, blockaded roads, and done so in the name of either joining Russia or being independent and being generally pro-Russia. And our whole position has always been that Ukraine’s future has to be for Ukraine to decide and it should not be dictated to by outside states -- in this case, Russia. The Ukrainian parliament and government --

Q -- use it as a pretext to expand Russian action inside Ukraine?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I can’t speak to how it might be viewed in Moscow, but that is, of course, a very serious concern as a general matter, that pretext of the kind that we’ve seen, some of them fairly blatant and transparent, only serve to further destabilize the situation in Ukraine.

Q You said a moment ago when asked what has Russia done to comply with the agreement, you said, well, they signed it. Is it possible that it was signed knowing full well that the separatists or the provocateurs or whatever you want to call them inside of Ukraine would say, well, we don’t recognize the Ukrainian government in the first place, therefore, it’s not binding, therefore, signing it had no practical effect for the very government you’re hoping will help enforce it?

MR. CARNEY: I mean, people -- they might have rationales for why they act, but that’s not -- such action wouldn’t be lawful in Ukraine under the Ukrainian constitution, under Ukrainian law. Certainly, intervention by another state in violation of a sovereign state’s territorial integrity would be a transgression of international law, as we saw in Crimea.

So, I mean, I’m sure there are all sorts of unsustainable rationales for why these kinds of things are done and some of them are just pure propaganda. But what we’ve seen out of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian parliament are steps that have been designed to demonstrate restraint and demonstrate a resolve to work with those regions of Ukraine that may want greater autonomy. And the Ukrainian government has committed itself to a process of constitutional reform. There are national elections scheduled for May 25th and the Rada itself has moved along in a process that could result in the passage of legislation that would allow for amnesty to participants in this activity. So I think, again, what you have seen on the Ukrainian side of this is a series of steps clearly designed to deescalate the situation, and we have not yet seen that from the other side.

Q You said a moment ago, in the coming days the cost might go up for the Russian government. Would it be reasonable to interpret that as by Friday?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to put a timeline on it, Major. I will simply say that we will assess Russia’s actions in keeping with the commitments it made in Geneva and then evaluate those actions, and in coming days make a decision about whether or not further costs will be imposed because of Russian actions that destabilize Ukraine.

Q The State Department said they’ve been investigating a chemical weapons attack in Syria, a new one. How serious is this situation and how does it affect ongoing administration policy here?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita. We are examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat very seriously and we are working to determine what happened. We will continue consulting and sharing information with key partners, including, of course, at the OPCW.

So this is a matter that’s being investigated and we’re working to determine what happened. And once that has been established, we can talk about what reaction, if any, or response, if any, there would be from the international community.

Q What does it tell you in the context of what the administration has touted has been general success of getting the Syrians to dismantle --

MR. CARNEY: Indications of use -- we are still establishing what happened and who was responsible. We’re examining allegations that the regime was responsible. We continue the process with our partners that Syria committed to -- the Assad regime as well as Russia committed to that has led now to more than 65 percent of the Syrian regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons being removed for destruction, and that process continues.

Q Jay, a couple of minutes ago you said in the coming days you can expect we’ll move forward to impose higher costs on the Russian economy. And then just to Major, you said we’re going to evaluate whether or not --

MR. CARNEY: Yes, sorry, the second -- I don’t have a transcript of what I said. We will make a decision about --

Q Whether or not you’re going to impose the costs?

MR. CARNEY: Again, depending on Russia’s actions.

Q I know, but -- okay, so you haven’t decided.

MR. CARNEY: I think I was pretty clear about that.

Q It sounded pretty definitive before that you were going to impose higher costs. Now you haven’t decided yet whether you’re going to?

MR. CARNEY: We have an agreement that was signed by Russia, that committed Russia to take steps to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine, and that includes using its influence on these armed militias -- militants, rather, to disarm and to return buildings that they’ve occupied back to the authorities in Ukraine. So we are evaluating the application -- or implementation of the commitments made in Geneva, and we’ll take steps in coming days as dictated by compliance with those agreements.

Q Okay. So it sounds like higher costs or further sanctions are ready to go if you decide the Russians haven’t complied. Is that what you’re saying?

MR. CARNEY: If progress is not made in coming days, we will impose further costs.

Q And are these further costs by economic sector or are they more individuals? Or could you describe what they would be?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to foreshadow -- as I think Ambassador Rice said on Friday, I’m not going to foreshadow specific sanctions that are under consideration, or individuals or entities that might be under consideration. We have said all along that the three executive orders that the President signed give him and the administration broad flexibility in the imposition of sanctions and the ability to escalate costs in response to escalation by Russia or other individuals and entities that violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

So I think the way to look at this is that the response by the United States and our partners will depend upon the degree of escalation by those violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. So if there is no progress made on the commitments reached in Geneva in coming days, we will impose further costs.

Q Okay. But one of the -- part of the things to factor is how willing Europe, in particular, even more than the U.S., is willing to pay a price of its own, because these sanctions are not without some kind of a blowback. How confident are you that European allies are willing to shoulder the burden of the effect of further sanctions?

MR. CARNEY: I think what you’ve seen, Mara, is a great deal of consensus and unanimity among European nations and the United States and others in how we view the action that Russia has taken in Ukraine, in condemning it and in calling for steps to deescalate the situation there, and also to impose cost, as as the EU and separate European nations have done, as has the United States.

Leaders of various partners in Europe have spoken to the very question that you’ve asked and made clear that there have to be costs that will be imposed on Russia should Russia choose to escalate. And we will work in concert with our European partners and allies and our G7 partners to do just that, as appropriate, depending on the degree to which progress is made or not made in the coming days.

Wendell.

Q The decision to offer expanded clemency criteria for non-violent drug users, was this discussed between Justice and the White House?

MR. CARNEY: Wendell, the President wants to make sure that everyone has a fair shot under the clemency system. He has asked the Department of Justice to set up a process aimed at ensuring that anyone who has a good case for commutation has their application seen and evaluated thoroughly. In terms of how many deserving applications are out there, I couldn’t begin to speculate, but there is a process in place that ensures -- or that hopefully will ensure that everyone has a fair shot under the system.

The President continues to believe that a resolution is needed for the many offenders who are serving unfairly long sentences under outdated guidelines, and that the clemency process is not an appropriate vehicle to address that injustice in a comprehensive way. That should be done through bipartisan legislation like the measures currently working their way through Congress. And as you know, this is an issue on which there is a bipartisan coalition that believes action needs to be taken and there are measures in Congress that reflect that.

Q The use of chemical weapons apparent, possible use of chemical weapons in Syria -- is this an indication that the President has been unable, basically, to get the Assad regime to keep from going over this red line he drew?

MR. CARNEY: Again, Wendell, we have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month in an opposition-dominated village. We’re examining allegations that the government was responsible and we’re working to determine what exactly happened.

As you know, the United States and other nations are participants in an agreement that commits the Assad regime to relinquishing its stockpiles of chemical weapons and relinquishing them for destruction. And that process continues, and we’re now, I believe, at roughly 65, 67 percent of those weapons being turned over for destruction. But this specific incident is obviously, as a general matter, something that is of concern and that’s why we’re investigating what happened and allegations of who is responsible.

Q And the action in Yemen -- what does this say to the President’s stated desire to actually reduce the use of drones? And can we presume that this group pose a new threat to the U.S. and its allies?

MR. CARNEY: Well, let me answer that in a couple of ways. First of all, I can’t speak to specific operations, as you know. But we have a strong collaborative relationship with the Yemeni government and work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from AQAP. We support the Yemeni government’s efforts to tackle terrorism within their own borders; and beyond that, for details of these reported incidents, I would refer you to the Yemeni government.

Again, without speaking about specific operations, I can tell you that in May 2013, President Obama spoke at length about the policy and legal rationale for how the United States takes direct action against al Qaeda and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, including with drone strikes. And as the President made clear, we take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international laws, and that they are consistent with U.S. values and policy.

Mr. Knoller.

Q Jay, is there something that prompted President Obama to think that the applications for commutation of sentence were not getting due consideration?

MR. CARNEY: Well, these are issues that the President and his administration have been working on for a long time. In 2010, Mark, as you know, the President pushed for and signed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce disparities that punished crack cocaine offenses far more harshly than powder cocaine offenses. And since taking office, the administration has supported criminal justice reform at the state and local level.

Last summer, the Attorney General announced a series of changes to enforce our drug laws more fairly, effectively, and efficiently. And last December, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight individuals who are serving unduly harsh sentences issued under an outdated sentencing regime. So that’s basically a chronology that answers your question -- that this is a process that’s been in place and of interest to the administration and the President since the beginning, and reflected in the signing of the law in 2010 and the actions that he has taken since.

So making sure that everyone has a fair shot under the clemency system is what’s behind his request to the Justice Department that they set up a process aimed at making sure that anyone who has a good case gets consideration.

Q Is he satisfied with the recommendations he gets from the pardon attorney on both commutation and pardons?

MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him, but the process works in the way that it has and I’ve certainly not heard a suggestion that the process doesn’t work appropriately.

Roger.

Q Thank you. Mr. Biden is over in Ukraine. He’s going to be offering a package of technical assistance. Can you describe a little bit what that’s about, what that means, and would it include people from the Defense Department?

MR. CARNEY: Roger, what I can tell you is that the Vice President is in Ukraine to demonstrate our solidarity with the Ukrainian people and to discuss how the U.S. can support the international community’s efforts to stabilize and strengthen Ukraine’s economy and assist Ukraine in moving forward on constitutional reform, decentralization, anticorruption efforts, and free and fair presidential elections on May 25th. He’ll also be consulting on the latest developments in eastern Ukraine and on steps to enhance Ukraine’s short- and long-term energy security.

I don’t have anything to announce ahead of the Vice President in terms of specific assistance that we’ll be seeking to provide Ukraine. As you know, we have taken steps already to assist Ukraine through a package of loan guarantees passed by Congress. We’re working very closely with our partners on the IMF to ensure that assistance is provided to Ukraine as they seek to stabilize their economy in this very difficult time. And that kind of coordination will continue.

Q Can you say how many people it might be?

MR. CARNEY: No, again, I think I would wait for the Vice President to speak about his meetings and any assistance he might be offering.

Jon-Christopher.

Q Does the Vice President have any special message to deliver to the people from Belarus or Moldova as well as the Baltic countries while he is there?

MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s there, principally, Jon-Christopher, to demonstrate the United States’ support for Ukraine in all the ways that I just described. We have also made clear because of the events in Ukraine that we strongly support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nations. In addition to that, we have taken steps with our NATO partners to reassure NATO allies, like Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, who are NATO allies. And I’m sure you’re aware of the actions that we have taken as an alliance to demonstrate that reassurance both in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as we well as in Poland. And that process continues.

So I think that there are slightly different answers to the questions that you asked. But as a general principle, I think that this whole situation in Ukraine has demonstrated the world’s commitment to sovereign nations’ territorial integrity, and that there are costs that will be imposed on nations that violate the territorial integrity of another nation, another sovereign nation.

Q Jay, South Korea’s media are counting reports of increased activity at the North’s nuclear test site. Have we seen that? Is there a concern here perhaps that North Korea is maybe doing something -- planning something and maybe even while the President is in the South later this week?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on those reports. Obviously, we monitor that kind of activity very closely, and we note a pattern of provocative actions from the regime in the DPRK that has been consistent unfortunately for many years. But I don’t have anything specific on those reports.

We obviously look forward to -- the President does -- his visit to Seoul, where the alliance that we share will be reaffirmed once again. And the importance of that relationship will be reaffirmed while the President is there.

Q Over the weekend, a very senior Pakistani journalist was shot at while he was coming from the airport. Of late, there haVE been increasing attacks on journalists inside of Pakistan. Is the President worried or concerned about increasing attacks on journalists inside the country?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we condemn Saturday’s vicious attack in Karachi on television journalist, Hamid Mir -- the latest in a series of worrisome attacks on journalists in Pakistan. Freedom of the press, including ensuring that journalists can safely carry out their vital mission, is of paramount importance to freedom of expression and to the healthy functioning of any democracy. We wish Hamid Mir a speedy recovery, and we urge the government of Pakistan to bring all those responsible for these attacks to justice.

Q Jay, ever since the Syrian crisis started, President Obama has called on President Assad to step down; very often he said he lost his legitimacy. He obviously hasn’t done that. And on top of that, they announced elections on June 3rd. Is he making a mockery of the President’s statement?

MR. CARNEY: No, he’s making a mockery of his own pretensions to being a democratically elected leader. A presidential referendum, which is what this would be, is a parody of democracy and would have no credibility or legitimacy within Syria or outside of Syria.

Q And does this show any chance of reconciliation in terms of any peace talks with the opposition?

MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, would this --

Q Yes, would this announcement of elections -- because he seems adamant that --

MR. CARNEY: This announcement that has no credibility and would be a parody of democracy? I don’t think that’s the way for the process to move forward.

Q No, but my point is the U.N. says that the only way to end the Syrian crisis is through a political transition. So now that you don’t have this opportunity by him announcing the election, so what’s the outcome for the Syrian crisis?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the process that can lead to the political transition has to be a negotiated process and resolution through or with the opposition, and it would not include a referendum of the nature that has been announced that bears no hallmarks to true democracy, but is a sham, really.

So the need for a political resolution remains. It’s the only way that the Syrian people can achieve a future where they have more freedom and are subjected to less tyranny. And we continue to support the opposition; we continue to support the Syrian people through the substantial humanitarian aid that we provide; and we continue to push for a process whereby a negotiated settlement that leads to a political transition can be reached.

Q Before the break, Speaker Boehner was asked about the unemployment extension that passed the Senate and said that it’s up to the White House essentially to come up with a new proposal on jobs before he’ll consider an unemployment extension. He said he told the President that in December and he’s been waiting and hasn’t heard a real jobs proposal since then. What’s the outcome here for those 2 million people who aren’t getting their checks?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’ve noted that more Republicans have made clear their support for extension of vital unemployment insurance emergency benefits since the last time we discussed this in this room. And we continue to press Congress to take action to restore those benefits.

I don’t have the latest on how that effort is progressing on Capitol Hill, but our position remains very clear, which is that these are benefits that should be extended. Extending them would be, of course, hugely impactful to the families who receive them directly, but also of great benefit to the economy. And Congress ought to take action.

Q Is the White House willing to consider offering some kind of a deal with Speaker Boehner on some of his priorities for those --

MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have an update. What we’ve seen in the past in these kinds of situations generally are an attempt to throw spaghetti against the wall on sort of ideological things that have nothing to do with making sure that these benefits get to the people who need them.

Thanks very much, everybody.

END
2:04 P.M. EDT

FACT SHEET: U.S. Crisis Support Package for Ukraine

President Obama and Vice President Biden have made U.S. support for Ukraine an urgent priority as the Ukrainian government works to establish security and stability, pursue democratic elections and constitutional reform, revive its economy, and ensure government institutions are transparent and accountable to the Ukrainian people. Ukraine embarks on this reform path in the face of severe challenges to its sovereignty and territorial integrity, which we are working to address together with Ukraine and our partners in the international community. The United States is committed to ensuring that Ukrainians alone are able to determine their country’s future without intimidation or coercion from outside forces. To support Ukraine, we are today announcing a new package of assistance totaling million to help Ukraine pursue political and economic reform and strengthen the partnership between the United States and Ukraine.

Elections and Constitutional Reform: Constitutional reform and free and fair elections are keys to Ukraine’s democratic development. Assistance in this area is a down payment on the country’s democratic development. We stand ready to provide further assistance to the new government after elections.

  • The United States is contributing an .4 million package to support the integrity of the May 25 elections. These funds are being used to advance democratic processes – not to support a particular candidate or electoral outcome. These efforts include voter education programs, transparent election administration, effective oversight of the election process, election security and a redress of infractions, and a diverse, balanced and policy-focused media environment.
  • The United States is contributing support and monitors to the OSCE’s election observation mission and other monitoring groups. U.S. funded programs will provide at least 250 long-term observers and over 1,700 short-term observers.
  • We are also sending additional experts to provide advice on issues such as constitutional checks and balances, local governance, public participation, and the establishment of an independent, transparent judicial system.

Economic Assistance: The United States has already signed a billion loan guarantee to help Ukraine meet its financial obligations and protect vulnerable citizens from the impact of economic adjustments. We have also supported Ukraine’s work with the IMF to secure a loan program worth - billion. As these U.S., IMF, and European funds begin to flow, we will have technical experts from the U.S. Treasury Department on the ground to help the Ukrainian government allocate them effectively to stabilize the economy and ensure all the regions benefit. Currently, there are three banking advisors in Kyiv and we will be deploying public debt management and macroeconomic advisors in the coming week. We are also committed to providing additional technical assistance in the areas of budget and tax administration.

Energy Security: Over the coming weeks, expert teams from several U.S. government agencies will travel to the region to help Ukraine meet immediate and longer term energy needs.

  • Today, a U.S. interagency expert team arrived in Kyiv to help Ukraine secure reverse flows of natural gas from its European neighbors. The team will continue on to Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia in the coming days to work on the details of these arrangements. Reverse flows of natural gas will provide Ukraine with additional immediate sources of energy.
  • U.S. technical experts will join with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and others in May to help Ukraine develop a public-private investment initiative to increase conventional gas production from existing fields to boost domestic energy supply. A technical team will also engage the government on measures that will help the Ukrainian government ensure swift and environmentally sustainable implementation of contracts signed in 2013 for shale gas development.
  • Department of Energy and USAID specialists will travel to Ukraine next month to provide advice on how to maximize energy efficiency, which could deliver potentially huge cost savings to Ukraine and rationalize energy consumption.

Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption: The United States is committed to helping Ukraine break the cycle of corruption that acts as a tax on business, an impediment to economic growth, and a drain on public trust in government. Technical advisors from the Departments of State and Justice have already been advising the government on anti-corruption measures. Today we are expanding this assistance program with additional commitments.

  • Attorney General Holder will co-host an international conference in London April 29-30 to help identify, trace, and recover proceeds of corruption stolen by the former regime. This is part of an ongoing effort, including work by an FBI investigative team on the ground in Kyiv to help the government of Ukraine recover assets stolen from the Ukrainian people.
  • The United States will provide advice and assistance to help modernize Ukraine’s government procurement in accordance with international standards, including the creation of a vetted anti-corruption unit. We will offer technical assistance to that vetted unit to help build a sustainable anti-corruption regime within Ukraine, as we have done with substantial results in other parts of the world.
  • Specialized teams of prosecutors and investigators will help the Ukrainian government with other forms of technical assistance to put in place the proper legal and regulatory framework to fight corruption. The teams will also serve as a resource to ensure follow-through and effective implementation.

People-to-People Ties: To further strengthen ties between the people of Ukraine and the United States, we are announcing our intent to establish a new bilateral visa regime that will extend the standard validity of visas for businesspeople and tourists from 5 years to 10 years on a negotiated reciprocal basis.

Security Assistance: In addition to the million package, today we are announcing the provision of million of non-lethal military assistance to allow the Ukrainian armed forces and State Border Guard Service to fulfill their core security missions. The additional supplies include:

  • Explosive Ordnance Disposal equipment and handheld radios for Ukraine’s Armed Forces.
  • Engineering equipment, communications equipment, vehicles, and non-lethal individual tactical gear for Ukraine’s Border Guard Service.

This is in addition to the million of Meals Ready to Eat and nearly million of health and welfare assistance the United States is already providing to Ukraine. The United States will continue to actively review requests for additional support as Ukraine’s government further modernizes its armed forces and deals with evolving threats.

Background Press Briefing on Vice President Biden's Trip to Ukraine

Aboard Air Force Two
En Route Kyiv, Ukraine

2:00 P.M. (Local)

MR. SPECTOR: Just a reminder at the top this is on background as a senior administration official. He will give some brief remarks at the top and walk through the schedule, and then he’ll take a few questions afterwards. And again, senior administration official on background.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody. We’re about an hour and a half out of Kyiv, and I just wanted to lay out for you what the Vice President will be doing while he’s here, and then speak to some of the themes from the trip and then answer some of your questions.

When we arrive today, he’s got an opportunity to meet with our embassy team that has been pretty much working around the clock for the last few months, even long before February 21st; and then he will sit down with a CODEL led by Congressman Royce to have the chance to speak with them before they have their series of official meetings on Tuesday as well. So he’ll get brought up to speed on developments on the ground today from our ambassador and our team, and then he’ll go into his meetings tomorrow.

He starts in the morning with a meeting with acting President Turchynov, and then he will do a meeting with Rada representatives from every corner of the country -- from the center, the west, the east, the south -- from multiple generations of Ukrainian politics; some familiar names and then some younger faces and voices. And the key message of that meeting from him is one of national unity and a successful constitutional reform effort that takes into account the perspectives and aspirations of all Ukrainians.

But in addition to sending that message, he’s also going to want to hear from them -- all of them -- about what they would like to see both in the immediate term, and then over the medium to long term.

He will then meet with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk where he’ll cover the full range of issues confronting Ukraine today. And then he’ll finish with a meeting with a couple of dozen or more members of civil society from a variety of backgrounds who work on a variety of issues from democracy to anti-corruption, to youth issues, to cultural issues. He’ll have an opportunity to address not just them but a broader segment of the Ukrainian public in public remarks there that will be open to the media before going behind closed doors to have conversations with the assembled group about the way they see things and what the United States can do to support them.

So that's the schedule. In terms of what the Vice President is trying to accomplish, first and foremost, he wanted to come Kyiv to send a very clear message of the United States’ support for Ukraine’s democracy, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. And he wanted to have the opportunity to speak to all Ukrainians from the center, from the west, from the east and from south. He will call for urgent implementation of the agreement reached in Geneva last week, while also making clear as we have done for the last few days there will be mounting costs for Russia if they choose a destabilizing rather than constructive course in the days ahead.

He will speak to government leaders both the Prime Minister and the acting President, but also members of various factions in the Rada, as well as with civil society about how the United States can support constitutional reform, including the government’s decentralization proposals and how we can support their effort to bring about free and fair elections, international monitors supporting international standards on May 25th. He will speak to officials about steps towards economic stabilization in Ukraine. He’ll discuss forms of U.S. assistance, including the loan guarantee that was signed this past week, but also and especially the IMF agreement. We hope that the final elements of that will come together imminently, and that the IMF board will be able to meet relatively soon to complete that process and begin dispersing the money.

He will speak about both the short- and long-term energy situation in Ukraine. As he arrives, there will also be a team on the ground from the United States, a team of experts working on the reverse flow issue. That team will be in Kyiv and then will travel also to Slovakia, Poland and Hungary to help address the issue of reversing the flow of natural gas to provide Ukraine with some measure of short-term supply of natural gas as they look to replenish their stores.

But also he’ll discuss with them medium- and long-term strategies to boost conventional gas production, and also to begin to take advantage of the unconventional gas reserves that are in Ukraine.

Then, of course, as you might anticipate from his meeting with civil society, he’s looking to lift up the voices of Ukraine civil society as they seek to ensure there isn’t a repeat of the past, that they look to a future with less corruption, less coercion, less division.

And then finally let me just say I don't want to preempt him but he will be discussing various forms of assistance that the United States will be offering in some of these areas. And we’ll have an opportunity to go through some of those forms of assistance and what’s behind them after he’s had the opportunity to consult with leaders there. So I’ll look forward to coming back to briefing you in greater detail on that over the next 24 hours or so.

Q Are you talking about --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q -- beyond economic assistance?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there’s a package of economic and energy and governance assistance that he’ll be discussing. And we, as you saw, just recently announced a latest tranche of security assistance, nonlethal security assistance. And he’ll have the opportunity to speak with the government about what more is needed and what more we could provide in the period ahead.

Q So there’s a package that includes economic, energy and discussion of further security assistance. Is that right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the package I’m describing includes economic, energy and governance assistance. On the question of security assistance, that's something we’ll be consulting with the Ukrainian leadership about.

Q What kind of energy assistance can the U.S. provide broadly?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have a wide range of technical expertise and then forms of technical assistance in four areas. The first is how to address this immediate reverse flow issue, and we already have a team on the ground to deal with that. The second is technical assistance to help them be able to boost production in their conventional gas fields, where presently they aren’t getting the maximum of what they could be. Third, technical assistance relating to a regulatory framework, and also the technology that would be required to extract unconventional gas resources; and Ukraine has meaningful reserves of unconventional gas according to the latest estimates. And then finally various forms of technical assistance relating to energy efficiency, where experts have shown that the Ukraine could substantially lessen its energy dependence and deny any country the capacity to use energy as a political weapon through a combination of all those things, but in no small part through greater energy efficiency and use of its existing energy.

Q The economic assistance, does that mean money?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the biggest piece of business beyond the billion loan guarantee and bringing to closure the IMF and helping also to shepherd the European money will be teams that we can put on the ground to help ensure that that money is allocated in an effective way. Technical assistance teams from the Treasury Department and elsewhere. And when I say effective, I mean in keeping with what the IMF and Ukraine have agreed, but also in keeping with everyone’s desire to ensure that all parts of Ukraine benefit from this assistance -- the east and the south, as well as the center and the west.

Q The violence that broke out on Sunday, in the context of the international agreement, there seemed to be a lot of finger-pointing between Russian and Ukrainian officials about what happened. Do you have a sense of who is to blame and whether -- how that might affect that agreement?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The situation regarding the incident outside of Slavyansk is still very murky. What the Ukrainian government says is that it was a provocation by the pro-Russian forces manning roadblocks there, and that they have no evidence that there was any either Ukrainian security service involvement or involvement by people coming from Kyiv or elsewhere. We have nothing to suggest that there was either, but we don't have 100 percent of the facts on that, and part of the reason for that, of course, is that it has been difficult for monitors to travel in and around Slavyansk because the pro-Russian separatists there with Russia standing behind them have not permitted the type of international observation that should be permitted. And we think that the best way to ensure that those kinds of incidents don't happen again would be for the Russian government to follow through on its commitment to use every influence it has to get these pro-Russian separatists to lay down their arms, to de-occupy buildings, to take down roadblocks and to allow the political process to run its course.

Q You’ve talked about cohesion, that that's part of the Vice President’s message through all of this. You guys haven’t really talked to that up till now. And so can you talk about what the thinking is behind that, and why he’s going to be going with that message at this particular time? And kind of what the expectations are in terms of getting different factions on board? Is he planning on having some kind of specific takeaway? Or is it more of a general discussion?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me start by staying obviously Ukraine’s future -- its political decisions, its economic decisions -- are up to Ukrainians. And the United States wants to support its free choices in that regard, not to try to dictate any outcomes.

But his focus on unity comes from sort of three bases. The first is that the Ukrainian government itself has placed an increasingly high premium on pressing for a sense of national unity and has conducted increasingly vigorous outreach to the east and the south, including just this past Friday, when Prime Minister Yatsenyuk spoke about decentralization proposals, spoke about cultural and linguistic traditions. And the Vice President wants to support that.

Second, there are currently ongoing threats to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the most effective response for Ukraine to that is for the whole country to pull together to push back on those threats and to say we want to take our country forward in a way free from violence, and at the ballot box rather than with arms.

And then third, Ukraine faces substantial urgent challenges right now on a number of different levels. And only if every aspect of the country gets united behind a game plan to tackle those challenges will they be able to make progress. That's true with respect to stabilizing the situation on the ground. It’s true with respect to following through on constitutional reform and elections. It’s true with stabilizing a very fragile economy. And it’s true with dealing with an energy situation that remains precarious. So for all of those reasons, the Vice President feels that the United States’ support for efforts to pull the country together are especially important at this time.

Q We’re not going to hear at all from him today, right? The Vice President.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You’re not going to hear from him today. You’ll hear from him multiple times tomorrow.

Q Did the President task him with a specific message? Or can you talk at all about kind of what President Obama said -- told the Vice President before he left and kind of whether he’s carrying a message from him, or what his goals are in that sense?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Most of what I’ve laid out here is the product of conversations between the President and the Vice President in the run-up to the trip in terms of the issues we’re emphasizing and what we’re trying to accomplish. I don't want to get into their private conversations, but he will speak directly with the Prime Minister about the President’s perspective on this, and also about the President’s commitment to support the government and to support the broader effort at following through on these various lines of effort.

In terms of what this government has been doing or attempting to do on the economy, on the elections, on constitutional reform, on all the areas that we’ve been discussing, it’s been a very encouraging set of steps that they’ve been trying to take in the face of pretty enormous challenges. And I think the President and the Vice President want to make sure that the Prime Minister understands that the United States wants to find every way that it can to support those efforts.

Q -- been vigorous outreach from the Ukrainian government to the south and the east. Can you give a few examples of the kind of outreach that you think has been very effective and other steps that the U.S. would like to continue to see progress on?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I said increasingly vigorous, and that's important because it’s been building over time. And we want to continue to encourage that. Obviously, the leadership in Kyiv has a lot to deal with, but this is as much at the top of the list as anything else. And what I mean is both private conversations among leaders in Kyiv and those representing political interests in the south and the east. I mean officials who have been appointed by this interim government who are out in the oblasts in the east trying to speak with people across the political spectrum there to figure out how we can design -- how they can design a decentralization process that really works. I mean the Prime Minister himself addressing directly the concerns of some of the citizens in the east and south, including his comment -- or his pledge regarding the Russian language.

I’m referring also to the work of the constitutional commission, which is a balanced group that reflects significant representation from the south and the east, and is focused on these questions of decentralization and empowering local communities.

So at a variety of different levels you’re seeing more robust interchange within Ukraine, and that's all to the good. We believe that that has to be sustained and deepened in the days ahead.

Q We talked a little bit about some of the increase in violence that has been seen in Ukraine in the recent days. This past weekend, the Ukrainian Prime Minister said that really the only person responsible for containing that is Putin. Do you expect that we should hear some sort of direct message to President Putin from Vice President Biden during this trip, any sort of direct message -- either from the President or just from the administration in general?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, President Obama spoke with President Putin last week and was able to deliver the message in the most direct fashion possible -- person-to-person. And what he told President Putin is the same thing that we’ve been saying publicly which is that really Russia has a choice to make here. They can contribute to a de-escalation process as a responsible actor, which they have not been -- and going back to their illegal annexation/occupation of Crimea, have proven to be just the opposite of that; or they are going to face increasing costs. And that's something that the President has been very clear about; the Vice President will continue to be clear about. And we’ll continue to consult with our European partners about.

Q Does the administration have any sort of updated timeline on that as to when you say these dire consequences, when we would see that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I didn't say what you just said. But in terms of the timeframe, Geneva was decided Thursday. The OSCE has been working over the weekend. We haven’t seen the kind of progress that, of course, we would like. We’d like to see every building vacated as soon as possible. And we’ve seen certain activities that have been discouraging like the shooting at the roadblock outside of Slavyansk. But I’m not going to put a precise timetable on it. I will just say that this is not going to be an open-ended process. This is going to be a situation where we take stock and determine in the relatively near term what our next step should be.

Q What does that mean? Because you guys were indicating as recently as Friday that it would be days. So when you say --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nothing has changed since Friday.

Q Okay, so days would mean by the end of this week, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Like I said, I’m not going to put a precise timeframe on it, only to say that we’re heading into Monday here. And what we said on Friday was that we would be looking at this in the coming days to determine whether there was progress or whether there wasn’t. And that still stands.

Q Could you just say how this trip came about? Obviously the Vice President has a long history of diplomatic relations with Ukraine. Was this something that was his initiative? Did the President ask him to go because of those relationships? Or how did that come?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The reason I’m pausing here is it’s one of those -- it’s one of those conversations where it’s a little hard to say whether the President asked him or he said I want to go. It grew out of a conversation that the two of them had, and both of them agreed that it was important for the U.S. to send a high-level signal of support for all of the lines of effort that this government is undertaking.

Obviously, the most pressing and acute right now is the security situation. But these other lines of effort are also existential for Ukraine. Its politics, its economics and its energy also matter acutely, and so they felt it was important to have somebody with deep ties to and a deep passion for the U.S.-Ukraine relationship to come and send that message both privately and publicly. And there’s no better messenger for that than the Vice President. So that's what brings us here, and we’ll make sure that over the next 24 hours we keep you guys up to date in terms of how those conversations are going and how a very fast moving situation is unfolding on the ground.

Obviously as we’ve been flying things have been happening in Ukraine. It’s early afternoon now. So we’ll make sure that we stay in touch here over the next 24-36 hours.

Q What’s been happening -- is there anything significant that’s happened while we’ve been in the air? I’m just sort of curious.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nothing that I would come back here to announce.

Thanks, guys.

Q Thank you very much.

END
2:23 P.M. (Local)

Remarks by the President and the First Lady at the Easter Egg Roll

South Lawn

10:34 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Well, hello everybody. Is everybody having fun? (Applause.) Happy Easter. This is the biggest event that we have at the White House all year long and it is our most fun event, because we have a chance to see families from all across the country coming through here. My main and only job, other than officiating over the roll at some point, is to introduce, alongside the Easter Bunny, the person who makes this all possible -- we love her dearly -- my wife, the First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, honey. Hey, everybody. Happy Easter Egg Roll Day. Isn’t this exciting? It is so wonderful to have so many of you here today. We are celebrating the 136th Easter Egg Roll. The theme of this year’s roll is “Hop Into Health, Swing Into Shape.” Yes, I love it.

And it’s going to be a great day. We have beautiful weather, because the Easter Egg Roll is blessed. And we’re going to have fun stuff going on. We’ve got the Egg Roll. We’ve got some storytelling. We’ve got entertainment. We’ve got wonderful athletes and performers like Cam and so many others. We’ve got obstacle courses and yoga and face painting and egg hunts. It’s just going to be terrific. As Barack said, we love this event. This is the largest event that we do here on the South Lawn. We’re going to have more than 30,000 people on the lawn today.

And we’re just thrilled that this theme is focusing on one issue that is near and dear to my heart, and it’s making sure that our young people are active and healthy. So while you’re here, parents, look around. You’re going to learn how to make healthy snacks that the kids will actually eat. I’m going to be over there on the chef’s stage doing some demonstrations.

And I want to make sure that kids know that healthy eating and being active can be fun, because what today is about is having a whole lot of fun. And I hope you all do that, because we want our kids to be the healthiest and the strongest they can be, so they can do well in school and live up to all of their God-given potential. Isn’t that right, parents? That’s what we want for you all. (Applause.)

And we want to thank the Easter Bunny, as always, for being here. And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the hundreds of volunteers who make today possible. (Applause.) Thank you to our volunteers who have been out here setting up the South Lawn, who are going to make sure you guys get through these activities and have a great time.

So you all just enjoy. That’s all you have to do from this point on, is have fun. And we’ll be down there to participate in the Egg Roll. The President is going to read. I’m going to read a little bit. So we’ll meet you down on the South Lawn, okay?

All right. Have a great time. Bye-bye. (Applause.)

END
10:39 A.M.

Weekly Address: President Obama Offers Easter and Passover Greetings

WASHINGTON, DC – In this week’s address, the President offered his warmest greetings as millions of Americans celebrate Easter this Sunday and recounted the Passover Seder he hosted at the White House earlier this week, joining Jewish families around the world in their celebration. The President looks forward to taking part with his family in the hope and joy of the Easter season and reminds all Americans, no matter their faith, of the common thread that binds us.

The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, Saturday, April 19, 2014.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
April 19, 2014

Hi, everybody. For millions of Americans, this time of year holds great meaning.

Earlier this week, we hosted a Passover Seder at the White House, and joined Jewish families around the world in their retellings of the story of the Exodus and the victory of faith over oppression.

And this Sunday, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and I will join our fellow Christians around the world in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, the salvation he offered the world, and the hope that comes with the Easter season.

These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago. And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today. They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God’s children, our responsibilities to one another.

For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal. We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him. We recall all that Jesus endured for us – the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross – all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life. And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly “the least of these” among us, just as He loves every one of us.

The common thread of humanity that connects us all – not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To remember, I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. Whatever your faith, believer or nonbeliever, there’s no better time to rededicate ourselves to that universal mission.

For me, Easter is a story of hope – a belief in a better day to come, just around the bend.

So to all Christians who are celebrating, from my family to yours, Happy Easter. And to every American, have a joyful weekend.

Thanks, God bless you, and may God bless this country we love.

###

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO MESSAGE: Celebrating Easter and Passover

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

______________________________________________________________________________

EMBARGOED UNTIL 6:00 AM ET, SATURDAY, April 19, 2014

WHITE HOUSE VIDEO MESSAGE: Celebrating Easter and Passover

WASHINGTON, DC – In this week’s video message, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Communications to the First Lady Mara Cristina Gonzlez Noguera commemorates the celebration of Passover and Easter.

Remarks of Mara Cristina Gonzlez Noguera

Spanish Weekly Address

The White House

Hi, everybody. For millions of Americans, including many Hispanic families, this time of year holds great meaning.

Earlier this week, we hosted a Passover Seder at the White House, and joined Jewish families around the world in their retellings of the story of the Exodus and the victory of faith over oppression.

And this Sunday, the President, the First Lady, Malia and Sasha, will join our fellow Christians around the world in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, the salvation he offered the world, and the hope that comes with the Easter season.

These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago. And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today. They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God’s children, to one another.

For countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal. We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him. And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly “the least of these” among us, just as He loves every one of us.

The common thread of humanity that connects us all – not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. To remember, I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. Whatever your faith, believer or nonbeliever, there’s no better time to rededicate ourselves to that universal mission.

Easter is a story of hope – a belief in a better day to come, just around the bend.

So to all Christians who are celebrating, Happy Easter. And to every American, have a joyful weekend.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless this country we love.

###

The audio of the address and video of the message is available online HERE.

PR Fiasco: #MyNYPD Hashtag Backfires as Black Twitter Highlights Police Brutality

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US Supreme Court Upholds Michigan’s Ban on Affirmative Action

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Oprah Winfrey’s Ex-Stepmother Throws Shade Ahead of Eviction from TN Mansion

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Cumberland Mall Shooting Victim Violet Lambert Dies, Suspect Commits Suicide

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AC Bongoville Goalkeeper Sylvain Azougoui Dies After Being Kicked in Head in Gabon

Sylvain Azougoui of the AC Bongoville soccer club died after being kicked in the head during a championship game against Centre Mberi Sportif in Gabon. He was 30. According to media reports, Sylvain Azougoui had just stopped a shot to the goal but the attacker lost his balance on the wet grass and stepped […]

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Haitian National, Jean Lounis, Killed by Mob in Dominican Republic for Allegedly Stabbing Daughter

MOB JUSTICE: Police say a Haitian man, identified as Jean Lounis, died after being attacked by a mob in Santo Domingo. He allegedly stabbing his 4-month-old daughter during an argument with the baby’s mother, Patricia Philomar, late Saturday. When the mother ran away to call police, Lounis allegedly stabbed his daughter and carried her outside […]

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Police: Correctional Officer Javier Acevedo, Police Officer Wife, Dead in Murder-Suicide

Cook County Sheriff’s correctional officer, Javier Acevedo, killed his wife, Chicago Police Officer Veronica Acevedo, then turned the gun on himself in what appears to be a murder-suicide in their Southwest Side home Sunday. Cook County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cara Smith said someone inside the home, located in the 5300 block of South Austin Avenue, called 911 […]

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CNN Asks if Ku Klux Klan Can Rebrand Itself in Aftermath of Frazier Glenn Cross Shooting

CNN has a serious credibility problem and it’s only getting worse. Ashley Fantz penned an article asking if the Ku Klux Klan can rebrand itself as a civic organization. WTF? Are we asking if al Qaida can rebrand itself too? CNN actually went out and spoke with marketing experts to ascertain if there’s hope for […]

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Tragedy: Aniya Tinglin and Half-Brother, Visiting from Jamaica, Killed in Queens Home Blaze

SHOCK: Aniya Tinglin and her half-brother, Jai’Launi, both four, were killed after a fire broke out at a home in Queens, NY. The fire reportedly began in the basement of th ehome. A family friend said the children and their family were visiting New York from Jamaica. Aniya and Jai’Launi were pronounced dead at St. John’s […]

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COMMENTARY CHARACTERS

GOD’S SOFTWARE FOR CHILDREN - Excerpt from the book "Its Mom" Sharon P. Carson - Amazon.com

Our children are given to us as gifts from God. They come to us like a newly manufactured computer with no installed software.

Parents are given the responsibility of installing the right programs in their children, and the most important program they need is not Microsoft Word but rather “The word of God”.

Parents should install this program in their children and pray that it will remain saved in the hard drives of their minds and spirits and that they will have enough memory to allow it to work throughout their lives because at some point parents will have to click RUN and let their children go.