Wednesday, June 24
- The White House announced that President Obama intends to send an ambassador to Syria. The post has been vacant since 2005 when President Bush withdrew the ambassador in response to the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the decision to send an ambassador was the result of the President’s broader policy of engagement with the Middle East, and not in response to any positive developments within Syria.
- Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced plans to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. More than sixteen million students use the form to apply for government-backed education loans. The changes would reduce the number of screens necessary to complete the online form and allow a new web application to automatically complete parts of the form based on information individuals had already submitted to the IRS. The administration also plans to ask Congress to pass legislation that would remove more than half of the financial questions from the form.
- President Obama extended economic sanctions on North Korea. The President used his powers under § 1622(d) of the National Emergencies Act to extend the restrictions on property dealings, which would have expired on June 26. In a letter to Congress, President Obama cited the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and the continuing national security threat posed by North Korea as justification for his action.
Thursday, June 25
- Senator Charles Grassley suggested that the Obama administration may be attempting to interfere with the independence of the inspectors general of several federal agencies. Senator Grassley has requested clarification of five separate incidents, including the firing of Gerald Walpin, the inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
- President Obama announced the nominees for several ambassadorships and foreign affairs posts. The President will nominate three career foreign service diplomats for ambassadorships to Latvia, Benin and Zimbabwe; however, the President continues the practice of rewarding supporters with ambassadorships by nominating three major campaign fundraisers for posts in Austria, Italy and Finland.
- The President and Vice President met with a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders to discuss immigration reform. President Obama said he is committed to immediate action on this issue, and has directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to begin discussing options with Congress. He also announced an update of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website that will make it easier for visa applicants and their families to receive updates on their application status.