Former USTR ag trade negotiator talks about U.S./China trade | Vilsack to be sworn in
In Today’s Digital Newspaper
• Fed Chairman Powell testifies again today, this time before House panel
• Robinhood CEO criticizes short sales
• Texas energy crisis is over, but massive bills left behind have just begun
• McCarthy on Texas power grid
• Four resign from ERCOT board after Texas power fiasco
• Rally in cryptocurrencies lost steam Tuesday•
• Prices for bitcoin and ether cryptocurrencies knocked down, but bitcoin then rallies
• Ag demand update
• Warm, dry weather for Argentina ups the importance of March rains
• Snow should protect Russian crops from frigid conditions
• Australia hopes to benefit from Russia’s new tax schemes
• Profit margins soaring for beef processors
• Packers raise bids as they work through hog backlogs
• WHIP+ amendment for 2020 crops stripped from aid bill headed to House Rules
• House will pass $1.9 trillion Covid aid measure, but hurdles still confront Senate
Biden Administration Personnel
• Senate on Tuesday confirmed, 92-7, Tom Vilsack to be secretary of USDA
• Haaland faces second day of lawmaker questions
• Veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be U.S. ambassador to UN
• Biden’s choice to head OMB languishes; panel vote postponed
• SEC, CFPB picks set for confirmation hearings
• Grassley wants USTR nominee Tai to follow through on trade deal with China
• Gregg Doud comments on trade with China
• Yellen deputy pick open to China investment ban
• Smaller European countries starting to block Chinese involvement in their economies
• Doud continues to attack EU Farm to Fork (F2F) initiative
Energy & Climate Change:
• Coalition: Carbon capture tax change would spur growth
• Untimely diesel shortage in Brazil
• Singapore port authority supports use of ammonia as marine fuel
• Mexico’s lower house of Congress gives priority to state-owned power utility
• Petrobras’s board agrees to hold extraordinary shareholder meeting
Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• Pilgrim’s Pride agreed to pay $108 million fine in fixing chicken prices
• Grocery chains coming under pressure to boost hourly employees’ pay again
• Report: Vegan milk company Oatly hopes to be valued at $10 billion in IPO
• Weekly vaccine supply to states will increase by one million doses, to 14.5 million
• FDA will allow Pfizer vaccines to be stored in standard freezers
Politics & Elections:
• Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) will not launch another Senate bid
Other Items of Note:
• Biden sign executive order directing review of supply chains for critical materials
• McConnell silent on ending ban on earmarks
• Iran open to talks with U.S. negotiators, even as Tehran violates 2015 nuclear accord
• U.S. weighing sanctions in response to a big Russian hacking attack
• Steven Mnuchin’s next job
Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed overnight, with Asian shares mostly down and European shares mostly up. A big government tax hike on trading shares in Hong Kong hit markets there and in London. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 914.40 points, 2.99%, at 29,718.24. Japan’s Nikkei was down 484.33 points, 1.61%, at 29,671.70 after being closed Tuesday for a holiday. European equities are higher as GDP results for the fourth quarter beat expectations. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward slightly higher openings.
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow ended up 15.66 points, 0.05%, at 31,537.35. The Nasdaq lost 67.85 points, 0.50%, at 13,465.20. The S&P 500 rose 4.87 points, 0.13%, at 3,881.37.
Robinhood CEO criticizes short sales. Robinhood Markets CEO Vlad Tenev said short selling the same shares multiple times is creating a chaotic dynamic for markets and investors. When a stock is being borrowed over and over it “creates some sort of runaway chain reaction,” Tenev said at the New York Times DealBook DC Policy Project virtual conference yesterday. “How many times should we let the same share be shorted? I think there’s an argument that the answer should be one.” It’s worth looking at “how things would be different if there was some limitation,” he said. Tenev was joined in the session by former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, who called for real time disclosure of shorts.
On tap today:
• Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey appears virtually before the Treasury Committee at 9:30 a.m. ET.
• Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies on monetary policy before the House Financial Services Committee. Livestream here. (10 a.m. ET)
• U.S. new-home sales for January are expected to rise to an annual pace of 850,000 from 842,000 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
• Fed governor Lael Brainard speaks on the Fed's maximum employment mandate at 10:30 a.m. ET, and Vice Chairman Richard Clarida speaks on the economy and monetary policy at 1 p.m. ET and again at 4 p.m. ET.
• Two leaders of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance of farm, environmental and food retail groups speak at NASDA winter meeting, 4 p.m. ET.
Fed Chairman Powell speaks again today, this time before a House panel (link). His testimony on U.S. monetary policy to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday produced no major surprises. He said the U.S. central bank is committed to a very accommodative monetary policy as long as the economy remains negatively impacted by the pandemic. “The economy is a long way from our employment and inflation goals,” he said. Powell expects a temporary rise in U.S. inflation, maybe over the next year, but not larger or persistent price increases, adding that he believes the big stimulus packages from the U.S. government will not cause problematic price inflation. Asked about rising bond yields, Powell said that is just “a statement of confidence” for an improving U.S. economic outlook. The Fed is currently buying $120 billion of assets per month — $80 billion of Treasury securities and $40 billion of mortgage-backed debt — and has pledged to keep up that pace “until substantial further progress” has been made toward its goals of maximum employment and 2% inflation.
The potential effect on long-dormant inflation has spooked bond investors in particular, with yields rising in anticipation that the Fed might raise interest rates sooner than expected.
Texas energy crisis is over, but massive bills left behind have just begun. Residents, businesses and cities face soaring bills from the deep freeze that last week gripped the second most-populous U.S. state after California, sending electricity and natural gas prices skyrocketing and triggering blackouts that lasted in places for four days. Wholesale power prices on Texas’ main power grid hit the ceiling price of $9,000 per megawatt hour for parts of five straight days. That was exponentially higher than the average price, which was $21.18 per megawatt hour in 2020, the Wall Street Journal reports (link).
Texas electricity bills were $28 billion higher under deregulation. Competition in the electricity-supply business promised reliable power at a more affordable cost but for the past 20 years the state's consumers have paid more for their electricity.
McCarthy on Texas power grid woes. President Biden’s White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was asked about the power grid problems experienced by the Lone Star State. “What happened in Texas was not a failure of renewable energy — just the opposite,” she said. “It was the fact that they had not invested in their own systems of refineries and they did not have a grid that connected Texas with other states in a way that other states are aligned together. So, it made the response much more difficult. … Everything eventually has to be electrified. And so, we need to have a grid system that actually allows that to be seamless. Renewable energy is cheaper, so it doesn't matter if you're in a Democratic state or a Republican state.”
Four resign from ERCOT board after Texas power fiasco. Four members of the board of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) — the vice chairman and three directors — have resigned from the regulator in the wake of the power outages arising from winter storm conditions that hit Texas last week. A nominee to be on the ERCOT board also withdrew before being seated. All of those who resigned reside outside Texas. GOP Governor Greg Abbott welcomed the resignations, saying the regulator had assured the state of adequate power ahead of the storm. A state investigation into the event will “uncover the full picture of what went wrong,” Abbott said in a statement. The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) has not indicated whether it would seek to appoint new members to the 15-member ERCOT board. Sitting ERCOT board members that resigned said in a joint letter that they did so to “allow state regulators a free hand with future direction and to eliminate distractions.” The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to hold hearings on the Texas energy situation.
• Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is slightly weaker early today as the bulls have faded recently. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note is presently fetching 1.371%. Gold and silver futures are slightly higher ahead of the U.S. trading start and a second day of testimony by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Gold is trading around $1,807 per troy ounce and silver around $27.85 per troy ounce.
• Crude oil futures have shifted higher after initial losses in Asia, with U.S. crude around $62.20 per barrel and Brent around $65.15 per barrel. Crude oil prices were lower in Asian trade on a build in inventories reported by the American Petroleum Institute. U.S. crude was down 52 cents at $61.15 per barrel while Brent crude was 39 cents lower at $64.09 per barrel.
• The rally in cryptocurrencies lost steam Tuesday, knocking prices for bitcoin and ether from recent highs. But bitcoin today is rebounding.
• Ag demand: The Philippines tendered to buy around 70,000 MT of milling and 75,000 MT of feed wheat. Jordan purchased around 60,000 MT of animal feed barley to be sourced from optional origins. The country issued a new tender to buy 120,000 MT of wheat.
Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):
• Warm, dry weather for Argentina ups the importance of March rains
• Snow should protect Russian crops from frigid conditions
• Australia hopes to benefit from Russia’s new tax schemes
• Profit margins soaring for beef processors
• Packers raise bids as they work through hog backlogs
— WHIP+ amendment extending to 2020 crops has been stripped from the aid bill headed to House Rules. As congressional sources predicted to Pro Farmer recently, House leaders stripped (link) an initially successful attempt by Republicans, backed by Iowa Democrat Cynthia Axne, to extend WHIP+ coverage for the 2020 crop, hit by the derecho and other weather-related disasters. One source said, “Democrats included the amendment at the committee level to help Rep. Axne politically but then pulled the rug.”
— House will pass the $1.9 trillion Covid aid measure, but hurdles still confront the Senate, especially regarding the push for a $15 minimum wage. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is working to whittle it to $11 an hour, arguing it’s a more reasonable goal in rural West Virginia, where the current minimum is $8.75. In 2016, Manchin supported raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said yesterday she doesn’t see a single GOP vote for the legislation. Separately, President Biden, at a virtual roundtable with Black essential workers, acknowledged that the vote in Congress will be close.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL
— Senate on Tuesday confirmed, 92-7, Tom Vilsack to be secretary of USDA, a position he previously held for eight years under the Obama administration. Vice President Harris will swear him in at 6:15 p.m. ET by virtual hookup. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted with six Republicans against Vilsack, making Sanders the first senator who caucuses with Democrats to vote against a Biden Cabinet nominee. GOP Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) also voted against Vilsack returning to the USDA. Hawley has voted “no” on all of Biden’s nominees to date.
Vilsack stressed voluntary incentives to farmers to adopt more climate-friendly practices in his confirmation hearings and while campaigning on behalf of Biden during the presidential election campaign. Biden set a goal during the campaign for the U.S. to be the first country to cut its agriculture sector’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero
— Haaland faces second day of lawmaker questions. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), President Joe Biden’s choice to be Interior Secretary, will face a second day of questioning by members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her first day saw her take a less-combative view on fossil fuels, keeping to the message in her prepared remarks that were released Monday. The questions from many lawmakers — not just Republicans — sought to draw out her views on energy policy moving forward. That focus is expected to continue in her second day of testimony. Perhaps key so far is that panel Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has not yet tipped his hand on whether he will support Haaland’s nomination. In a 50-50 Senate, one vote can make a big difference.
— Veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations as soon as she’s sworn in today by Harris at 12:35 p.m. ET. The Senate confirmed Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination on Tuesday by a vote of 78 to 20.
— Biden’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, languishes. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Budget committees were scheduled to vote today on whether to send Tanden’s nomination to the full Senate. However, the Senate Homeland Security Committee postponed the hearing, Axios reports. Axios reported on Monday that House Democrats were already planning for a replacement nominee.
— SEC, CFPB picks set for confirmation hearings. Biden’s nominees to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are set to testify before the Senate next week, moving the new administration one step closer to implementing its approach to regulating Wall Street. Former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, the pick to lead Wall Street’s top regulator, and Federal Trade Commission member Rohit Chopra, the selection for CFPB, will testify virtually before the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m. on March 2, according to the panel’s website.
— Grassley wants USTR nominee Tai to follow through on trade deal with China. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he wants to make sure that the Biden administration will continue to press China to fulfill its ag purchase commitments under the Phase 1 trade deal and will press U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) nominee Katherine Tai on the topic tomorrow at her confirmation hearing. Grassley said he will also ask for an update on how the Biden administration is getting Japan, South Korea, Canada and the European Union to join with the U.S. to insist that China be a more fair and transparent trading partner.
— U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link.
— Gregg Doud comments on trade with China. Global ag markets could remain volatile, notably with China, according to former Chief U.S. Ag Trade Negotiator Gregg Doud, who recently joined the Aimpoint Research market intelligence firm. He participated Tuesday in an event about the global ag trade outlook hosted by the Farm Foundation.
Doud talked about “the volatility that we are going to see going forward as a result of China and everything else going on.” He said looking ahead two to three years it is impossible to say with a degree of certainty whether China might be importing 30 million tonnes of corn or just 5 million tonnes — despite hefty imports recently, and lofty expectations going forward. Doud said feedgrains and oilseeds, the recovery and transformation of China’s hog herd from the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak remain key trends to watch. “China lost about 40% of their hogs due to African swine fever and as they come back online it's not going to be a smooth line,” he explained. He reiterated what he has said before, that a consistent trend in China will be the ongoing shift from backyard operations towards more western-style confinement ones. He again predicted China’s move to ban the feeding of hogs with food scraps, instead shifting to other feeds, will be a huge factor for grain and oilseed import demand — especially for corn and soybeans. The change is “maybe one of the biggest things that ever happened in the history of world agriculture,” he said.
Doud said China’s beef, pork and poultry imports have grown dramatically over the past two years, and overall ag exports grew from $136 billion in 2018 to around $170 billion in 2020. The recovery of China’s hog herd, however, could have wide-ranging impacts given its sheer size — about half of the global total. Doud said the recovery will have a major influence on demand for not just soybeans, but corn, and other feedgrains like sorghum.
Another major point Doud noted was his view that infrastructure will prove to be a key factor for U.S. exports relative to volume and competitiveness. Recently, U.S. ag exports have seen a major boost from a weaker dollar, putting exports on better footing relative to competitors like Brazil. “If you talk to the grain companies, our infrastructure for all intents and purposes — we may squeeze a boat in here or there — but we have really maxed out our infrastructure here in the last few months in what we can sell to China or to anybody for that matter,” Doud detailed.
Brazil and others are “not going to back down in terms of production,” Doud added, saying that the U.S. has a window of opportunity to respond. But he cautioned that infrastructure could be a factor for whether the U.S. maintains its strong position in soybeans, corn and other markets.
Doud also discussed the Phase 1 deal with China but focused his comments almost entirely on the market access side of the agreement. He stressed implementation of nearly all the 57 market access commitments, placing emphasis on the approval of more U.S. facilities to export to China. “Before we started [Phase 1] negotiations, we had about 1,500 facilities in the U.S. eligible to export agricultural products to China,” Doud said. “So that would have been beef processing facilities, dairy facilities, pet food facilities… 1,500 of those. Today, we now have well over 4,000 facilities in the U.S. eligible to export their products to China.” The result is the U.S. has “access to China now that we never had before, and this is a major change,” Doud said. “The improvements in market access that we now have in place are going to treat us well here going forward.”
Asked about China’s failure to reach the Phase 1 purchase goals for 2020, Doud said it ultimately comes down to U.S. competitiveness. A point that Chinese negotiators repeatedly made as the deal was hashed out, Doud informed, was “at the end of the day, you still have to be price competitive.”
He also noted the two sides spent a considerable amount of time talking about ethanol, with trade in the corn-based fuel something Doud said he believed China was truly interested in. “My sense is that China really is trying to think through this whole notion of infrastructure for the use of ethanol,” Doud said. “You know, it took us a long time to build that infrastructure in the United States.”
— Yellen deputy pick open to China investment ban. President Biden’s choice to be Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s No. 2 indicated the U.S. is open to using a Trump-era investment ban to strike China for violating international trade rules. “It’s critical that we use Treasury’s tools to hold China accountable for actions they take that are not consistent with international law and that put our national security at risk,” Wally Adeyemo told the Senate Finance Committee yesterday.
The U.S. is committed to engaging in multilateral tax talks at the OECD and G20, Adeyemo also told senators. “Our goal will be that we protect American tax revenues and ensure that American companies can compete on a level playing field,” Adeyemo said. He was asked about his approach to international talks on a global tax overhaul. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is trying to find agreement among nearly 140 countries on an overhaul of the global tax system to address concerns about how tech giants are taxed.
— Smaller European countries are starting to block Chinese involvement in their economies, drawing closer to positions advocated by the U.S. The shifts have been prompted by a mix of national-security concerns and disappointment with the performance of Chinese contractors. Several of the canceled projects fell within China’s world-wide infrastructure initiative, Belt and Road. Link or details via the WSJ.
— Doud continues to attack EU Farm to Fork (F2F) initiative, labeling it a misconceived effort. The former chief U.S. ag trade negotiator at the USTR said, “I don't call it the Farm to Fork Initiative, I call it the farm to empty fork initiative, because that's what we're talking about in Europe,” he noted. Biotechnology remains a key for boosting ag production while reducing the industry’s environmental footprint. Doud said the effort is “straight up protectionism” and it appears the EU wants to “use the lack of technology as a way to move forward and say that's good for the climate — that’s not good for the climate.” Without new technologies, Doud said farmers would be forced to use older, less environmentally positive techniques. But he noted the EU appears poised to ban many of those tools as well.
Meanwhile, USDA economist Sharon Sydow told the Farm Foundation on Tuesday that the EU F2F plan will have potential impacts on the U.S., particularly if those policies “are not just translated into trade policies in the EU but somehow are then translated to other countries who are very dependent on the EU market, that really starts to have some significant impacts on the U.S. and on prices and really on food security as well.” The points raised by Sydow were also cited in a recent Economic Research Service report on the F2F effort (link).
ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
— Coalition: Carbon capture tax change would spur growth. More U.S. carbon-capture projects could be deployed if they could claim a federal tax credit as an estimated tax payment, a coalition of business and environmental groups said today in a report (link). The option “is the most important next step Congress and the administration can take to enable economywide deployment of carbon capture technologies to meet midcentury climate goals,” the Carbon Capture Coalition report said. The coalition, which includes project developers and energy and industrial companies, issued the report as a federal policy action blueprint for the 117th Congress and the Biden administration.
— Untimely diesel shortage in Brazil? Brazilian fuel distributors are working to secure diesel supplies for March and April after the country’s state-run oil company Petrobras said it would not fully meet demand. ANP, the country’s national oil industry regulator, confirmed to Reuters distributors are looking for alternative diesel supplies, but the agency downplayed concerns about diesel shortages is the midst of harvest. Outgoing Petrobras Chief Executive Roberto Castell Branco has resisted importing fuel to sell at a loss and has instead worked to raise prices at the pump. But those efforts angered President Jair Bolsonaro, who named a replacement Friday. "Either there's going to be a shortage of product or Petrobras will need to get heavily involved to supply the market and suffer the losses," Thadeu Silva, head of oil and gas at consultancy StoneX INTL, told Reuters.
— Singapore port authority supports use of ammonia as marine fuel. The push to comply with targets to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50% in 2050 compared with 2008 levels is prompting more action on alternative fuels, with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) backing an effort to use ammonia as a marine fuel. Yara International ASA, a Norwegian chemical company, as joined what is dubbed the “Castor Initiative” to develop ammonia propulsion ships. The Singapore authority said it would help the consortium as it gathers insights on safety and ammonia bunkering and gain access to research capabilities. To meet the 2050 target, the MPA said that “zero-carbon vessels need to enter the world fleet by 2030.” MPA is a potential key in the situation as they are the largest bunkering hub in the world.
— Mexico’s lower house of Congress passed a bill that gives priority to the state-owned power utility over private generators, threatening to overturn the electricity market.
— Brazilian oil giant Petrobras’s board agreed to hold an extraordinary shareholder meeting to assess President Jair Bolsonaro’s controversial appointment of an army general to the company’s helm. However, ANP said they see "no risk of shortage" in March and April but are monitoring the situation.
FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY
— Grocery chains are coming under pressure to boost hourly employees’ pay again, as municipalities push continued aid for frontline workers during the pandemic. Seattle, Long Beach, Calif., and other cities have passed new rules requiring supermarkets to provide employees temporary bonus pay. Others, including Los Angeles, are considering similar mandates designed to help employees who risk exposure to the coronavirus. Grocery executives say rules to raise wages—in some cases by as much as $5 an hour—will increase expenses by about 30% in stores and squeeze already thin profit margins. Some chains including Kroger say they will close some stores in areas with new wage mandates, while others say they are boosting food prices or may cut back on services like checkouts, the Wall Street Journal reports (link).
— Pilgrim’s Pride pleads guilty on broiler price fixing charge. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $107.9 million fine yesterday to settle federal charges it had conspired to fix chicken prices and passed costs on to consumers and other buyers. This was part of a plea agreement reached in October. Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the U.S.’s biggest poultry producers that is primarily owned by the meatpacker JBS SA, is the first U.S. poultry company to settle charges that it and others conspired to reduce production from 2012 to 2019 in order to boost broiler prices. ten other industry executives have pleaded not guilty on the price fixing allegations. Prosecutors estimated the illicit activity impacted at least $361 million in broiler chicken sales, but the court levied a lighter fine than federal guidelines recommended due to the company’s “substantial assistance,” said U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore, who presided over the case. Tyson Foods Inc. is also cooperating under a corporate leniency program.
— Vegan milk company Oatly reportedly hopes to be valued at $10 billion in its IPO.
— Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 112,205,251 with 2,487,497 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 28,261,619 with 502,681 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 65,032,083 doses administered, 19,882,544 have been fully vaccinated, or 6.08% of the U.S. population.
— Weekly vaccine supply to states will increase by one million doses, to 14.5 million, the White House said. Meanwhile, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson say they will produce enough doses by the end of next month to vaccinate about 130 million people in the U.S. — roughly half of all adults. Because of the dire need to vaccinate more people, we have ramped up production of doses,” Pfizer Chief Business Officer John Young told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, noting that the company has invested significantly in domestic manufacturing sites. Young added that Pfizer has shipped approximately 40 million doses over the first two-plus months and is on track to make a total of 120 million doses available for shipment by the end of March. 80 million more doses are expected by the end of May.
The U.S. is receiving more help in the form of a third vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. FDA today released its review of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, saying J&J’s vaccine is safe and effective. That is the next step toward potential authorization, with the company set to have 20 million doses distributed by the end of March.
Meanwhile, Novavax is also advancing toward authorization of a vaccine.
— FDA will allow the Pfizer vaccines to be stored in standard freezers, expanding the number of sites that can administer the shot. The company has said the shots can last for two weeks in standard freezers.
POLITICS & ELECTIONS
— Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) will not launch a bid for the Republican nod to take on Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) in 2022. Perdue made the revelation in an email to supporters, saying his decision was “personal” and not a political one. Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) indicated on Monday that she is exploring a rematch against Warnock. Former Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) is also a possibility.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
— President Biden plans to sign an executive order today directing a broad review of supply chains for critical materials from semiconductors to pharmaceuticals and rare-earth minerals, aiming to spur domestic production while strengthening ties with allies. A chip shortage is squeezing auto makers in the U.S. and world-wide.
— McConnell silent on ending ban on earmarks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t take a stance yesterday on whether lawmakers should revive the use of earmarks in a limited way, or whether Republicans should participate in that process if Democrats bring it back. “You’d have to ask Sen. Shelby about that,” McConnell told reporters. “I did notice the House was going back in that direction. I don’t have any thoughts about it at the moment.” House and Senate Democrats have said they plan to allow members to request specific funding projects in their districts or states, though leaders have yet to provide details on how it’ll work. Shelby has spoken positively about earmarks but said the decision will be made by Democrats because they control the Senate. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is Snate Appropriations Vice Chairman.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he was confident a major infrastructure bill could get the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate if lawmakers are allowed to earmark projects. “We can create much more bipartisan appropriation bills and infrastructure bills with earmarks,” he said.
— Iran said it was open to talks with U.S. negotiators, even as Tehran took another step to violate the 2015 nuclear accord by limiting international monitoring of its nuclear activities. In a separate move that could help smooth the resumption of talks, South Korea said it was consulting with the U.S. to release Iranian cash it has withheld since 2019 due to sanctions.
— The U.S. is weighing sanctions in response to a big Russian hacking attack. The Biden administration is said to be considering ways to punish Moscow for the sweeping SolarWinds cyberattack against government and company networks, the Financial Times reports (link/paywall). Lawmakers and corporate executives said at a Senate hearing that the full scope and scale of the infiltration were unknown and that the attack may be continuing.
— Steven Mnuchin’s next job. The former Treasury secretary is starting an investment fund that will be backed by Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, the Washington Post reports (link). It would focus on areas like fintech and entertainment.