Biden’s Presidential Transition Begins… Ready, Set, Joe | More Key Nominees Unveiled

Posted on 11/24/2020 8:06 AM

CFAP 2 payouts over $10.6 billion | Food price update | Trump seeks allies re: China


In Today’s Updates


Market Focus:
* Equity markets pop on news of presidential transition approval, likely Yellen choice
* U.S. economy more upbeat than Europe, but…
* Stalled U.S. economic recovery for small businesses
* Plummeting gold prices hit a nearly five-month low

* CFTC report on why oil prices plummeted into negative territory in April
* Travel sector extends rally before Thanksgiving
* Cordonnier cuts Argentine crop pegs, leaning down on Brazilian projections

* December rains extremely important for Brazil

* World Weather says “something is wrong in Brazil’s weather machine

* Russian ag ministry signals Kazakhstan won’t be impacted by grain export quota

* Ukraine has already used up two-thirds of its wheat export quota

* Boxed beef prices still climbing

* Frozen pork stocks down sharply from year-ago on strong demand at home and abroad


Policy Focus:
* CFAP 2 payouts over $10.6 billion


U.S./China update:
* Trump finally seeks ally support for targeting China
* Wave of defaults by Chinese state-owned enterprises
U.S. farm exports will surge to near-record $152 billion in FY 2021; reason: China
* Chinese pork prices narrowing their discount to year-ago levels


Energy & Climate Change:

* Biden names former Secretary of State John Kerry to be his ‘climate czar’
* GM will stop backing the Trump admin. in its emissions fight with California
* Ag and biofuel groups file suit to restore 500 million gallons biofuel mandates
* GAO issues report on effects of lifting crude oil export ban

Food & beverage industry update:
* Cargill CEO David MacLennan on dealing with Covid-19’s spring surge
* McCormick is nearing a deal to buy Cholula
* Study links high rate of Covid cases to meat plants
* Food fight re: U.S. dietary recommendations
* USDA again adjusts 2020 food price inflation outlook, 2021 forecast held steady

Coronavirus update:
* Death rate from Covid-19 falling in the U.S., declining by a third since April
* Side effect of Covid-19 that distorts sufferers’ sense of smell offering clues
* Vaccine distribution plan


Politics & Elections:
* GSA announces approval of Biden transition
* Biden to announce plans to nominate several individuals for Cabinet positions
* Background on Janet Yellen, Biden’s reported pick for Treasury secretary
* House Dems thinking about how to govern will small margin of control
* Sen. Feinstein to step down from spot as ranking on Senate Judiciary panel
* Superspreaders of election-related misinformation

Other Items of Note:
* Call him “Little Miracle,” or Xiao Qi Ji
* Elon Musk leapfrogs Bill Gates as the world’s second-richest person




Equities today: Global stocks rose as Trump authorized Joe Biden's transition process. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward higher openings. Joe Biden on Monday tabbed former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, a monetary policy dove, as his Treasury Secretary. The Hang Seng Index was up 102.00 points, 0.39%, at 26,588.20. The Nikkei rose 638.22 points, 2.50%, at 26,165.59 after being closed Monday for a holiday. Equities in Europe are seeing gains amid optimism about the U.S. presidential transition.


     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow rose 327.79 points, 1.1%, to 29,591.27. The S&P 500 added 20.05 points, 0.6%, to 3,577.59. The Nasdaq ticked up 25.66 points, 0.2%, to close at 11,880.63.


On tap today:


     • S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index for September is expected to rise 5.6% from a year earlier. (9 a.m. ET)
     • Conference Board's consumer confidence index for November is expected to fall to 98 from 100.9 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Richmond Fed's manufacturing survey for November is out at 10 a.m. ET.
     • Central banks: Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda speaks at a virtual conference at 7:05 a.m. ET, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde joins a virtual roundtable on the global economy at 9 a.m. ET, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard speaks on the economy and monetary policy at 11 a.m. ET, New York Fed President John Williams speaks at an online WSJ Q&A at 12 p.m. ET, and Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida speaks on an IMF virtual panel at 12:45 p.m. ET.


U.S. economy vs Europe. The U.S. economy continues to recover from the downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to business surveys that show services and manufacturing activity growing despite a rising number of infections. The U.S. performance contrasts with surveys showing the European economy is set for a fresh contraction in the final quarter of 2020, as lockdowns aimed at containing the coronavirus have led to a sharp decline in activity in the dominant services sector. Data firm IHS Markit said its composite index of U.S. business activity, which covers both the services and manufacturing sectors, showed the strongest rate of growth since March 2015. An increase in new orders helped drive the gains, while business confidence also improved.


     U.S. and EU compare


Stalled U.S. economic recovery for small businesses. "Between the end of April and late June, firms gradually reopened and restored their employees’ hours. By July, this recovery flatlined. Since then, there has been neither a net reopening of previously closed firms nor hours growth among those that did reopen. Close to one-quarter of firms that shut down in March have never reopened, and a similar fraction of firms that did reopen have since closed again. As Covid-19 case counts started to rise again in late October, total hours fell for several consecutive weeks, the first time this has happened since April. Shutdowns, layoffs, and hours cuts have all risen in each of the last three weeks," Alexander Bartik, Marianne Bertrand, Feng Lin, Jesse Rothstein and Matt Unrath write at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (link).


Market perspectives:


     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is lower early today. Prices Monday hit a seven-week low. The other important outside market sees January Nymex crude oil futures prices firmer, hitting a nearly three-month high overnight and trading around $43.50 a barrel. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note futures is currently trading at 0.86%.


     • Oil futures are moving higher. U.S. crude is trading around $43.55 per barrel and Brent crude around $46.45 per barrel. Crude oil prices rose in Asian action, with U.S. crude up 46 cents at $43.52 per barrel while Brent crude was up 39 cents at $46.43 per barrel.

     • Plummeting gold prices hit a nearly five-month low of $1,803.50 overnight, basis December Comex futures.


     CFTC report on why oil prices plummeted into negative territory in April didn’t single out any likely cause. Link for more.


     •  Travel sector extends rally before Thanksgiving. Pandemic fatigue appears to be setting in before the holidays. More than 3 million people passed through U.S. airports last weekend, according to the TSA, marking the busiest weekend since mid-March, when the coronavirus began spreading across the nation. Likewise, the American Automobile Association has forecast that 45 million to 50 million people will take to the highways over the holiday, compared with 55 million in 2019.


Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):

Cordonnier cuts Argentine crop pegs, leaning down on Brazilian projections
• December rains extremely important for Brazil
• World Weather says “something is wrong in Brazil’s weather machine
• Russian ag ministry signals Kazakhstan won’t be impacted by grain export quota
• Ukraine has already used up two-thirds of its wheat export quota
• Boxed beef prices still climbing
• Frozen pork stocks down sharply from year-ago on strong demand at home and abroad




—  CFAP 2 payouts over $10.6 billion. Payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) now total $10.62 billion as of Nov. 22 with 668,067 applications approved.


     Acreage-based payments account for the largest share at $5.23 billion, followed by livestock ($2.86 billion), sales commodities ($1.47 billion), dairy ($1.02 billion) and eggs/broilers ($30.9 million).


     Payments for corn ($2.89 billion), cattle ($2.32 billion), sales commodities ($1.4 billion), soybeans ($1.1 billion) and milk ($1 billion), are at $1 billion or more, followed by wheat ($580.6 million), hogs/pigs ($474.3 million) and upland cotton ($241.1 million).


     By state, Iowa still leads at $994.1 million, with Nebraska at $723.4 million, Minnesota at $691.5 million, Illinois at $672.1 million, California at $669.3 million, Kansas at $553.3 million, Texas at $515.8 million, South Dakota at $482.5 million, Wisconsin at $456.2 million and North Dakota rounding out the top 10 at $393.9 million.


     Signup for CFAP 2 continues through Dec. 11 and USDA continues to solicit producer enrollments. 


     Payments under the CFAP 1 effort stand at $10.46 billion, with USDA seeking to wind that program down.


     CFAP info




— Trump finally seeks ally support for targeting China. Senior Trump administration officials say they are pushing for new hardline measures against Beijing. The most ambitious effort would create an informal alliance of Western nations to jointly retaliate when China uses its trading power to coerce countries, administration officials told the Wall Street Journal (link). They say the plan was sparked by Chinese economic pressure on Australia after that country called for an investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. Under the joint retaliation plan, when China boycotts imports, allied nations would agree to purchase the goods or provide compensation. Alternatively, the group could jointly agree to assess tariffs on China for the lost trade.


— A wave of defaults by Chinese state-owned enterprises is sending shockwaves across China’s roughly $4 trillion corporate debt market, of which SOEs account for more than half. Link to Financial Times item (paywall).


— U.S. farm exports will surge to a near-record $152 billion during the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1, according to USDA. China was forecast to import a record $27 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2021. The revised higher USDA estimate for U.S. farm exports is only $300 million below the record set in FY 2014. The forecast was fueled by rising corn and soybean prices and strong demand by China. Prospects of a successful coronavirus vaccine are also “adding to hopes that GDP growth may return strong in 2021,” USDA said.


— Chinese pork prices narrowing their discount to year-ago levels. Chinese pork prices climbed 0.2% between Nov. 16 and Nov. 20, according to an average pork price index tracked by the country’s ag ministry. But prices are down 13.2% from year-ago levels, a 7.1-point narrowing from the previous week. High domestic pork prices due to a shortage of the meat after African swine fever has resulted in China ramping up imports of pork and other proteins as it rebuilds its hog herd.


U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link




— Joe Biden named former Secretary of State John Kerry to be his “climate czar,” a new role that would not require a Senate confirmation. Environmental activists and lobbyists pressed Biden to elevate a government official to address climate change full time and to coordinate federal agencies' response to it. Kerry’s title will be special presidential envoy for climate, and he will sit on the National Security Council (NSC), the Biden transition team said Monday afternoon. “This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the transition team said.


— GM will stop backing the Trump administration in its emissions fight with California, saying its goals for green cars are aligned with the state and the incoming Biden administration.


— Ag and biofuel groups file suit to restore 500 million gallons biofuel mandates. A coalition of ag and biofuel groups filed suit Monday (Nov. 23) asking the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia to enforce a 2017 decision requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to restore 500 million gallons of biofuel in its 2016 renewable volume obligation (RVO) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The coalition includes the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Growth Energy, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), National Biodiesel Board (NBB), American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), National Farmers Union (NFU) and National Sorghum Producers.


     “It is simply unconscionable that EPA would so brazenly ignore a federal court’s order. The agency must do right by America’s farmers and biofuel producers and supporters,” the group said in a statement. “Together, our coalition represents millions of rural families, who should not have to resort to more court proceedings to hold EPA accountable to the law. It’s well past overdue that EPA restore the 500 million gallons and focus on restoring integrity to the Renewable Fuel Standard.”


     They are asking the court to compel EPA to issue a 500 million gallon “curative obligation” to remedy the lost biofuel volumes and do so no more than 6 months after the court’s order. They asked that refiners be given no more than three months to fulfil that obligation and that EPA not be allowed to extend those deadlines.


— GAO issues report on effects of lifting crude oil export ban. After Congress lifted the crude oil export ban in a budget deal in 2015, the U.S. oil export market expanded dramatically — from 465,000 barrels per day to 10 countries in 2015 to nearly 3 million barrels per day to 43 countries as of last year. That’s according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (link) released Friday. The expanded export market in turn further incentivized domestic oil production, which increased by roughly one-third over the last four years, and allowed the U.S. industry to charge higher prices, according to the report, which was requested by Democratic Sens. Tom Carper and Ed Markey.


      Lifting the export ban had little effect on U.S. refined products, however, the GAO found, saying lifting the export ban likely reduced U.S. refiners’ profit margins, in part because they had to pay higher prices for domestically produced crude.


     Jones Act impacts. GAO also found that lifting the export ban decreased demand for so-called Jones Act tankers, or ships that move cargo between U.S. ports. As exports rose, U.S. producers largely used foreign vessels to ship their product because their operating costs are typically cheaper, the report noted.


     GAO on oil exports




— Cargill CEO David MacLennan discusses how he steered one of the world’s biggest food suppliers through Covid-19’s spring surge — and is bracing for another. MacLennan said the Minnesota-based company has reconfigured its operations and its supply chains during the pandemic and now isn’t seeing disruptions, “certainly not like there were back in April and May.” MacLennan says one beef facility is running at 98% of capacity but that Cargill isn’t experiencing the kind of big spikes in cases that it did in the spring, even as coronavirus cases are growing at rapid rates around the U.S. The company has adjusted its supply chain repeatedly during the crisis, and expects some changes to outlast the pandemic. Even in a safer world, he says, people will be more likely to entertain at home in smaller groups, in ways that call for more home meal preparation. Link to WSJ item.


— McCormick is nearing a deal to buy Cholula, the maker of one of the fastest-growing hot sauces, that would value the hot-sauce brand at around $800 million. The seasonings company has agreed to a deal with L Catterton, the private-equity firm that has owned Cholula since 2019. McCormick already acquired Frank's RedHot, best known for its buffalo wing sauce, back in 2017, as consumers look for low calorie condiments and millennials flock to spicy flavors. In fact, retail sales of hot sauces in the U.S., including Sriracha and Tabasco, are on track to near $1 billion this year, which would be just shy of ketchup sales, according to estimates from Euromonitor.  Details


— Study links high rate of Covid cases to meat plants. A new study estimates the total excess Covid-19 cases and deaths associated with proximity to livestock plants to be 236,000 to 310,000 (6% to 8% of all U.S. cases) and 4,300 to 5,200 (3% to 4% of all U.S. deaths), as of July 21, 2020, with the vast majority likely related to community spread outside these plants.


     Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, the study also found poultry plants that received permission to increase line-speeds saw more county-wide cases, according to researchers. “Of the 120 poultry plants in our sample, 48 plants currently have waivers, 16 of which were issued in 2020,” the study authors wrote. “Among plants issued a waiver in 2020, the relationship is even greater in magnitude. This finding suggests a potential pathway between a livestock plant’s operating procedures and Covid-19 transmission.” Tyson Foods plants in Henderson County, Kentucky, and Corydon, Indiana, received waivers in April from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to increase processing line speeds from 140 birds per minute up to 175 birds per minute. That decision came even as dozens of workers at the Henderson County plant were testing positive for Covid-19.


     Calling the illnesses and deaths preventable and employees and inspectors feeling the brunt of the pandemic, Food & Water Watch (F&WW) said the “groundbreaking study” shows it is not time to allow meat companies to operate faster lines. “The last thing we need right now are faster hog, beef and poultry line speeds with more contaminated products and more food workers at risk,” said Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Unlike Trump, the Biden administration should scrap these efforts and actually work to protect public health instead of industry profits.”


— Food fight: As the U.S. government revises its dietary recommendations, opposing groups are fighting over the healthiness of carbohydrates. Low-carb advocates believe the current guidelines — which recommend Americans get about half their calories from carbohydrates — are partly to blame for America’s high rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.  Link for details from the WSJ.  


— USDA again adjusts 2020 food price inflation outlook, 2021 forecast held steady.  Food prices at U.S. grocery stores and restaurants are now forecast to increase slightly more in 2020 than previously expected, as some food price categories continue to decline slowly from their spike earlier this year at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).


     For 2020, ERS now sees food-at-home (grocery store) prices rising 3.0% to 4.0%, up from ERS’ previous forecast for a rise of 2.5% to 3.5%. For 2021, ERS forecasts grocery store prices will increase 1% to 2%, the same as its October estimate.


     Food-away-from-home (restaurant) prices are seen increasing 2.5% to 3.5% in 2020, ERS said, up from the prior forecast of a 2% to 3% increase.  For 2021, the food-away-from-home price increase is seen at 2% to 3%, the same as last month’s forecast.


     Continued upward pressure on restaurant prices is in line with pre-pandemic trends which saw restaurant prices “steadily increasing,” and slightly above the rise expected for grocery store prices, ERS explained.


     Overall food price inflation is seen at 2.5% to 3.5% for 2020, and 2.0% to 3.0% for 2021 — both unchanged from ERS’ October forecast. “Forecast ranges for 10 of the 22 CPI categories for 2020 have been revised upward this month. Forecasts for all categories remained unchanged for 2021,” ERS detailed. “Forecast price ranges for poultry, other meats, fresh vegetables, dairy products, and the category of beef and veal have been revised upward this month.”


     “Many prices have been relatively slow to retreat from the highs reached due to the pandemic, so some forecasts have been revised upward this month,” ERS said, echoing what it said when it raised its food price inflation forecast last month.


     Overall, ERS said “meat prices have been slow to decline following the highs reached at the onset of Covid-19,” though it noted some categories posted price decreases in the second half of 2020 and others moved higher. Beef and veal prices fell 1.4% from August to September and another 0.3% from September to October. Meanwhile, prices for other meat categories were more mixed, with pork prices falling 1.4% from August to September before increasing 0.9% from September to October. “Prices for poultry, other meats, and the category of beef and veal have been especially slow to decline from the highs reached this spring; thus, forecasts for each of these categories have been revised upward,” ERS said. To date, ERS said beef and veal have seen the largest price increase among food categories, up 10% compared with 2019.


     ERS raised the 2020 inflation forecast for the meat category to 7% to 8% in 2020, an increase from the 6.5% to 7.5% rise seen in its October forecast.


     Dairy product prices are now forecast to rise 3.5% to 4.5% for 2020, up from the 3% to 4% increase ERS forecast in October.


     For fresh vegetables, ERS noted a 1.1% increase in prices between September and October, putting the year-over-year rise at 4.2% in October. “The price spike from September to October was primarily driven by a 7.2% increase in the price of fresh lettuce over the same period,” ERS explained. By contrast, fresh fruit prices are down 1% year-over-year. Fresh vegetables prices are now pegged to increase between 2% and 3% in 2020, up from the 1.5% to 2.5% increase forecast in the October update.  “The price increase in vegetables is predicted to drive an increase in the category of fresh fruits and vegetables between 0.5% and 1.5% in 2020, despite price decreases in fresh fruit,” ERS said.


     Overall, fruit and vegetable prices are expected to rise 1% to 2% in 2020, up from just 0.5% to 1.5% seen in the prior month forecast.


     Bottom line: Food price inflation is still seen moderating slightly in 2021 after slightly above average increases now expected in 2020, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Food price inflation is seen slightly higher in 2020 than 20-year averages of 2% for grocery store prices and 2.8% for restaurant prices. For 2021, increases are expected to be just below those historical averages as food inflation begins to return closer to trend.


     Still, rising Covid-19 cases and new restrictions could ultimately impact the forecasts, not only for 2020 but 2021. While at least three vaccines have shown positive results in clinical trials, experts say it could be well into 2021 before they are available widely. It remains to be seen whether improved social distancing and worker protection measures — and potentially, priority access to any vaccine — can head off food acute supply chain disruptions seen acutely at the beginning of the pandemic.




 Summary: Sources: Johns Hopkins University as of 6:30 a.m. ET; Hospitalization figures from the Covid Tracking Project as of yesterday.

      • 59,300,863: Confirmed cases world-wide, and 1,398,838 deaths
      • 169,190 : New U.S. cases recorded yesterday
      • 12,421,216: Total confirmed cases in the U.S.
      • 889: Deaths in the U.S. recorded yesterday
      • 257,707: Total U.S. deaths
      • 85,836: People currently hospitalized in the U.S.

      Link to Covid Case Tracker
      Link to Our World in Data


— Death rate from Covid-19 is falling in the U.S., declining by a third since April — a signal of advancements in treatment of the disease. The recent improvement could prove short-lived if cases in the U.S. continue to surge, public-health experts say.


— Side effect of Covid-19 that distorts sufferers’ sense of smell is offering clues to how the coronavirus attacks the nervous system. Link to details via WSJ.


— Vaccine distribution plan. Buoyed by promising results from major clinical trials of three coronavirus vaccines, public health officials are preparing for the daunting task ahead of delivering those shots to tens of millions of Americans.


     Vaccine distribution




— General Services Administration (GSA) officially “ascertained” that Biden is the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, clearing the way for a federally supported transition to begin. President Trump gave his approval without conceding the contest, vowing to continue “the good fight” to challenge his defeat in key states, even as Biden locked up 306 electoral votes to his 232.


—  Biden today will announce plans to nominate several individuals for Cabinet positions. They include Alejandro Mayorkas to be his secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Avril Haines to be his director of national intelligence. In confirmed, they would be the first Latino to run Homeland Security and the first female intelligence chief.


     On Monday, Biden named two seasoned aides, Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff, to head up White House legislative affairs.


     Biden is poised to pick Michele Flournoy as his nominee for Pentagon as early as today, say three people familiar with the decision told NBC.


— Yellen to Treasury. Joe Biden plans to nominate former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, an economist at the forefront of policymaking for three decades, to become the next Treasury secretary. The 74-year-old labor economist will lead his administration’s efforts to further the recovery from the destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic and shutdowns.


     Sen. Elizabeth Warren called her an “outstanding choice” who is “smart, tough and principled.” Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president and Trump economic adviser, said Ms. Yellen was an “excellent choice.” Stock markets jumped after news leaked of her likely appointment.

     "Investors shouldn’t worry that [Yellen] will make off-the-cuff remarks that will spur volatility. She’s the ultimate steady hand," Ian Katz, a financial policy analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, said in a note. "This is not a good time to have fiscal policy switch from being accommodative to creating a drag. That’s what happened [in the 2008 financial crisis], and it retarded the recovery," Yellen told the WSJ last month.


     “When unemployment is exceptionally high and inflation is historically low, as they both are now, the economy needs more fiscal spending to support hiring.” —Yellen, with Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in an Aug. 2020 NYT Op-Ed (link).


     “Few people in any era have served at the highest levels of economic policymaking for as long, and with as much distinction.” — The NYT’s Upshot’s Neil Irwin, in a story today (link) about the challenges she faces as the country’s “chief financial diplomat”.


     A good record for accuracy. When the Wall Street Journal analyzed more than 700 predictions in speeches and testimonies by Fed policymakers between 2009 and 2012, Yellen’s were the most consistently accurate. Link for details.


     On U.S.-China trade: "I do think the United States has real issues in terms of its trade relations with China and many valid concerns that are certainly on the table for discussion," Yellen said in an interview alongside the World Bank's David Malpass.


     Climate change: "What I see is a growing recognition on both sides of the aisle that climate change is a very serious concern, and that action needs to occur," Yellen, who's long-supported a carbon tax, told Reuters.


     Capitalism: "There really is a new kind of recognition that you’ve got a society where capitalism is beginning to run amok and needs to be readjusted in order to make sure that what we’re doing is sustainable and the benefits of growth are widely shared in ways they haven’t been," she said to Reuters.


— House Democrats start thinking about how to govern will small margin of control. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has instructed committee chairmen to ensure that the bills they advance are bipartisan or can win the support of a broad spectrum of Democrats, reflecting the slimmest House majority in decades. Hoyer does what the incoming Biden team to raid Capitol Hill for Cabinet picks. “My view is that we need to keep every member we have,” Hoyer said. “We’ll see what happens. But I would prefer that we didn’t take members out of the Congress.” So far, only Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) is set to join the administration and his district is solidly Democratic.


— Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced she will step down from her spot as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee after receiving criticism for her handling of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court last month. Feinstein said she needs to focus on “two existential threats” facing California: wildfire and drought. “After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” she said in a statement. Feinstein, who at 87 is the oldest sitting senator, said she intends to remain a member of the Judiciary panel as well as the Senate Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees.


     Shortly after Feinstein’s announcement, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he will seek to replace her atop the panel. Although Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has more seniority, he serves as ranking member on the Senate Appropriations committee, giving Durbin the edge to replace Feinstein. Durbin is also the Senate Democratic whip, which is the No. 2 position in the caucus and comes with its own security detail.


— Superspreaders. New research shows how a handful of social media personalities became “superspreaders” of election-related misinformation. Link to NYT article.




— Call him “Little Miracle,” or Xiao Qi Ji, the name chosen by the public after some online voting for a popular 3-month-old baby panda in Washington. The National Zoo certified the 135,000 virtual ballots on Monday.


— Elon Musk leapfrogs Bill Gates as the world’s second-richest person. The Tesla CEO is now worth $128 billion on paper, Bloomberg reports (link), following a surge in the electric carmaker’s share price. (In January, Musk was ranked 35th.) Jeff Bezos remains on top, with an estimated $182 billion.



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