Crude Oil Futures Initially Surge Following Attack on Saudi Oil Site, Then Shift Lower

Posted on 03/08/2021 8:15 AM

Controversy over stimulus aid payments to selected minority farmers


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


Market Focus:
• Brent crude oil futures rose above $70 a barrel for first time since January 2020
• Brent surges after key Saudi oil site came under attack on Sunday
• U.S. crude futures touched highest mark since October 2018
• Crude oil futures shifted lower ahead of U.S. trading start

• Fed officials continue to play down higher yields, need for policy response
• Oxford Economics: U.S. could help drive a powerful global economic recovery
• JPMorgan sees big impact from huge Covid aid/stimulus package
• Americans start millions of new businesses under Covid-19 pandemic
• Rising investor confidence pushing up borrowing costs and strengthening dollar
• Ag demand update

Strategie Grains boosts rapeseed crush forecast, lowers imports for the EU & Britain
• Truck rates hit 2.5-year high along key Brazilian shipping route
• Rains continue to limit Brazilian soybean harvest, with crop quality an increasing concern
• Pullback in beef values could spark value buying as grilling season nears
• Concern about futures’ premium to the cash market limited

Policy Focus:
NYT: Stimulus bill includes $86 billion taxpayer bailout aid for 185 union pension plans
• Last-minute changes made to Senate aid package in 58-page ‘perfecting amendment’
• Some Republicans upset over aid package payments to selected minorities
• 'Several weeks' for CFAP: Vilsack
• Equity issues may impact infrastructure reform debate


Biden Administration Personnel

• Biden announces new ag advisor at White House


China Update:
• Top Chinese diplomat urges U.S. stop “crossing lines and playing with fire” on Taiwan
• China plans to speed up development of AI, chips and other advanced technologies
• China’s exports surged in first two months of year
• Slight dip in Chinese bean imports January-February, but meat imports up sharply
• China cracking down on use of ASF vaccines
• Pineapple consumption an act of patriotism in Taiwan


Trade Stats & Policy:
• U.S. ag exports edge down but remained strong in January as imports set fresh record
• U.S., EU agree to four-month suspension of tariffs related to civilian aircraft disputes


Energy & Climate Change:

• Vilsack and USDA begin to explore carbon bank for farmers

Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• Effort to upgrade the technology of meat trading explored by WSJ
• Covid role of feds, meatpackers

Coronavirus Update:
• CDC to issue guidelines for vaccinated people in ‘next couple of days’: Fauci
• Russian iagencies mount campaign to undermine confidence in Western vaccines


Politics & Elections:
• Manchin open to at least some filibuster reform
• Biden executive order attempts to blunt GOP efforts to restrict voting
• Key N.Y. Democrats say ‘Cuomo must resign’
• Trump presses GOP entities to stop using his name, likeness

Other Items of Note:
• U.S., South Korean negotiators reach a cost-sharing accord on troops  
• USDA reopens comment period on regulation of GMO animals
• FSA extends deadline, eases documentation requirements for disaster program




Equities today: U.S. stock futures dropped particularly in the tech space, where high-growth valuations have been underpinned by low rates, but early morning action sees the Dow up just over 150 points. A selloff in U.S. government bonds extended into its sixth week. In Asia, most major benchmarks fell by the close of trading. The Shanghai Composite fell 2.3% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index declined 1.9%. European indexes are mostly higher. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at an IMF event at 10:00 a.m. ET. Oil prices rose after Iran-backed Houthi rebels yesterday said they attacked a Saudi Arabian port on the Persian Gulf.


     U.S. equities Friday: The Dow gained 572.16 points, 1.85%, at 31,496.30. The Nasdaq moved up 196.68 points, 1.55%, at 12,920.15. The S&P 500 rose 73.47 points, 1.95%, at 3,841.94.


     For the week, the Dow Jones gained 1.8% thanks to the Friday rally and the S&P added 0.8%, but the Nasdaq still fell 2.1% despite Friday's bounce, its third consecutive week losing ground, bringing it down 8.3% from its Feb. 12 high. Energy stocks, by contrast, have surged in the new year and are leading the S&P 500’s 11 sectors. The group ended the week up 10%.


     The 10-year Treasury yield, which had popped to 1.62% after U.S. jobs data came in stronger than expected, gave back six basis points to finish at 1.56%.


On tap today:


     • U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva speak on women in economics and finance at 10 a.m. ET.
     • U.S. wholesale inventories for January, due at 10 a.m., are expected to increase 0.9% from the prior month.
     • USDA Grain Export Inspections, 11:00 a.m. ET.
    • Japan household spending for January is out at 6:30 p.m. ET


Fed officials continue to play down higher yields, need for policy response. Treasury yields are rising because of a much stronger economic outlook, Federal Reserve officials said Friday, playing down the need for a monetary policy response. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard’s remarks, on the final day before the central bank enters a blackout period on public comment before its March 16-17 meeting, follow Chair Jerome Powell’s Thursday caution that rising yields had caught his eye and he would be “concerned by disorderly conditions in markets or persistent tightening in financial conditions.” Treasuries yields stabilized Friday after spiking higher on a stronger-than-expected payroll report for February, but remain sharply higher than a month ago, nudging up borrowing costs on everything from mortgages to auto loans.


U.S. could help drive a powerful global economic recovery. The world economy is likely to grow by around 6% this year, according to Oxford Economics, the fastest rate in almost half a century, as vaccine campaigns allow pandemic restrictions to be lifted and businesses to snap back. For the first time since 2005, the U.S. is expected this year to make a bigger contribution to global growth than China. After the 2008 financial crisis, by contrast, the global economic recovery was powered by China, as the U.S. experienced the weakest revival since the Great Depression. The U.S.’ economic resilience reflects the nation’s rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, an expected $1.9 trillion spending package, easy money from the Federal Reserve and pent-up savings.




JPMorgan sees big impact from huge Covid aid/stimulus package. “With the Senate's passage, we expect growth momentum to accelerate and forecast global GDP growth will surge to a 7.5% annualized rate in the middle quarters of the year," JPMorgan wrote in a research note. "Every $1 trillion of fiscal stimulus adds around $4-$5 to EPS, implying 6-7% upside for the remainder of the year."


Americans start millions of new businesses under Covid-19 pandemic.  More than 4.4 million new businesses have been created in the U.S. since last March, according to the Census Bureau. The number far exceeds the expected uptick that occurs during a recession, when older businesses shut and more people find themselves unemployed. “One thing we tend to see is a countercyclical self-employment pattern during deep recessions,” said John Haltiwanger, economics professor at the University of Maryland. “[People] can’t get a job so they employ themself. What’s unusual about this pandemic is the magnitude, not the direction.” The upsurge that began during the tumult of the early pandemic has continued since the start of 2021. In January, alone there were nearly half a million new business starts in the U.S. “I think the economic community has underestimated the resilience of working-class individuals,” said Swati Bhatt, economics professor at Princeton University. Link/paywall to Financial Times for details.


Market perspectives:


     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is higher and hit another 3.5-month high overnight. The yield on the 10-year Treasury was holding around 1.6% this morning on continued bets that extra government spending could overheat the economy. Investors will also have to digest decisions from the world's major central banks in the next 10 days.


     • Rising investor confidence is pushing up U.S. and global borrowing costs and strengthening the greenback, a headache for governments that have borrowed heavily in dollars.


        Dollar impacts


     • Crude oil futures have shifted lower ahead of the U.S. trading start, more than taking back earlier gains in Asian action. US crude was trading under $66 per barrel and Brent under $69.20 per barrel. Crude was higher in Asian trading, with US crude up $1.42 at $67.51 per barrel while Brent crude gained $1.48 at $70.84 per barrel.

     • Yemen’s Houthi forces fired drones and missiles at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Sunday, including a Saudi Aramco facility at Ras Tanura vital to petroleum exports, in what Riyadh called a failed assault on global energy security, Reuters reported. The Saudi energy ministry said there were no casualties or loss of property from the attacks. The attacks drove Brent crude prices above $70 a barrel to their highest since January 2020, while U.S. crude futures touched their loftiest since October 2018. Crude oil prices were already boosted by OPEC and allies' surprise decision to keep output unchanged last week. The OPEC move sparked several analysts to raise their price forecasts, with Goldman Sachs estimating Brent crude will hit $75/bbl by Q2 and top $80/bbl during Q3.


        Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the assault on the Ras Tanura export terminal, which is capable of exporting about 6.5 million barrels a day (nearly 7% of global demand). While such attacks rarely result in big damages, their frequency has created unease in the Gulf and in oil markets. “Such acts of sabotage do not only target the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also the security and stability of energy supplies to the world, and therefore, the global economy," said a spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Energy. "They affect the security of petroleum exports, freedom of world trade, and maritime traffic."


        Last month, the Biden administration said it would remove the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen from the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist lists. It also announced the end of U.S. support for offensive operations by its allies in Yemen, which has been devastated by a six-year civil war in which more than 110,000 people are believed to have died.


     • Ag demand: Iran purchased just 40,0000 MT of animal feed barley in an international tender for up to 400,000 MT. The country issued another tender for 60,000 MT of barley. Pakistan purchased around 594,000 MT of soybeans to be sourced optionally from Brazil or the U.S. and shipped in 2022 in recent weeks. Saudi Arabia bought 660,000 MT of animal feed barley in an international tender. Bangladesh tendered to buy 50,000 MT of rice. Algeria issued an international tender to buy a nominal 50,000 MT of wheat (though it often buys more than it tenders for).


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

     • Strategie Grains boosts rapeseed crush forecast, lowers imports for the EU & Britain
     • Truck rates hit 2.5-year high along key Brazilian shipping route
     • Rains continue to limit Brazilian soybean harvest, with crop quality an increasing concern
     • Pullback in beef values could spark value buying as grilling season nears
     • Concern about futures’ premium to the cash market limited




—  $1.9 trillion stimulus bill includes $86 billion taxpayer bailout aid for about 185 union pension plans, the New York Times reports (link). The pension plans, it says, “are so close to collapse that without the rescue, more than a million retired truck drivers, retail clerks, builders and others could be forced to forgo retirement income.” All told, about 1,400 of the plans cover about 10.7 million active and retired workers. Both the House and Senate stimulus measures would give the weakest plans enough money to pay hundreds of thousands of retirees — a number that will grow in the future — their full pensions for the next 30 years. “The provision does not require the plans to pay back the bailout, freeze accruals or to end the practices that led to their current distress, which means their troubles could recur. Nor does it explain what will happen when the taxpayer money runs out 30 years from now,” the NYT article concludes.


— Last-minute changes made to Senate aid package in 58-page ‘perfecting amendment.’ Some of the 11th hour changes:

  • Restores billions of dollars in aid to states and counties, restoring $10 billion in direct aid to cities and counties, bringing the total for local governments to $130.2 billion, while preserving a $10 billion fund for state broadband infrastructure.
  • Creates a new $1 billion annual program, championed by Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for communities and tribal governments that have historically been harmed by federal government policies. Wyden cited communities across the western United States, including his home state, that are situated on federal lands without a substantial local tax base to pay for gov’t services. Federal environmental and wildlife protection laws have sapped rural counties' ability to benefit from revenue-sharing arrangements involved in resource extraction, like timber, oil and gas. The fund would presumably benefit communities that have complained of the fiscal impact of Biden administration regulations prohibiting oil and gas exploration. The money in Wyden's program is available so far only for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years, so more would need to be appropriated in subsequent legislation. Of the $2 billion, $500 million would be set aside for tribal governments.
  • State and local governments could use their allotments to provide "premium pay" to essential workers of up to $13 per hour, capped at a maximum $25,000. Essential workers are defined as those "needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors" or others as designated by state and local officials as critical to "health and well-being" of their residents.
  • States would gain more federal help with Medicaid costs associated with providing home and community-based services. A 7.35 percentage-point boost in the federal matching percentage in the original version would jump to 10 percentage points.
  • State grants for childcare services would increase by $5 billion over a decade from the underlying Senate version.
  • For restaurants and bars, an extra $3.6 billion for those hard-hit businesses was freed up, bringing total grants to $28.6 billion.
  • A new workers' compensation fund for federal workers who came down with Covid-19 between Jan. 27, 2020, and Jan. 27, 2023, removed from the earlier version, was restored. Federal employees who only worked remotely during that time wouldn't be eligible.
  • Out of $26.1 billion in the bill for urban transit agency grants, a provision that would have allowed some local transit agencies to claim an additional amount was removed, presumably to more evenly distribute the remaining funds.
  • Removes language that would have restricted access to $10 billion in small-business credit allocations unless states presented plans for how minority-owned and community development financial institutions would participate. A requirement that states draw up plans for how the money would benefit "business enterprises owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals" was also removed.
  • Removes prescriptive language on $10 million appropriated for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency was supposed to use the money to identify and track species that would potentially transmit pathogens that could make humans sick, as well as "develop regulations to make emergency listings for injurious species."
  • A preliminary amendment would have removed only the requirement that the Fish and Wildlife service develop the emergency listings regulations; handwritten changes would strike all of the prescribed uses of the $10 million, however. Instead, the money would have to be used under the existing statute governing illegal trafficking in wildlife and plants, known as the Lacey Act.


— Some Republicans upset over aid package payments to selected minorities. The Senate-passed Covid/stimulus measure includes $4 billion for direct relief payments that will help designated farmers of color recover from the pandemic and pay off their USDA farm loan debts and related taxes, along with $1 billion to be used in part for addressing the longstanding inequality in access to USDA programs. (The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 15,000 farmers would claim the payments and get an average of about $222,000, according to a source familiar with the CBO score cited by Agri-Pulse.)


     Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the selected minority payouts were unfair to white people. During an interview on Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, Graham said: "Let me give you an example of something that really bothers me. In this bill, if you're a farmer, your loan will be forgiven — up to 120%, not 100%, but 120% of your loan —if you're socially disadvantaged. If you're African-American, some other minority. But if you're a white person, if you're a white woman, no forgiveness!" he complained. "That's reparations! What has that got to do with Covid? So, if you're in the farming business right now, this bill forgives 120% of your loan based on your race!"


     Proponents of the payments note that there were more than 925,000 Black farmers in 1920, according to the Black Farmers’ Network. There are fewer than 36,000 today. Those numbers have plummeted largely because of decades of racist practices at the USDA and from private entities, they note. According to the most recent agriculture census, Black farmers receive about $59 million in government payments; white farmers receive about $9 billion. Per capita, that’s $1,208 for Black farmers and $2,707 for white farmers.


     Senate Ag Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) strongly backs the effort. In 1910, 14% of farmers in the US. were Black, compared to 2% today, something that Stabenow highlighted. "When you look at one of the very first ways that there was racial discrimination after slavery was legally abolished, it was lack of support for black farmers," she said, adding that they "were discriminated against in terms of land ownership."


     “These farmers went through decades of discrimination,” said Dan Glickman, “who should know — he’s a former U.S. secretary of agriculture, and heavily involved in prior lawsuits addressing the bigotry,” the Kansas City Star wrote in an editorial. “It was neglected at the highest levels,” he said. “I was on the Agriculture Committee for 18 years in the House. Not one hearing on this issue.”


     Rescue plan

     Source: Center for American Progress


— 'Several weeks' for CFAP: Vilsack. Speaking to the Commodity Classic trade show, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday said it would be "several weeks" before USDA decides how to divide $13 billion in Coronavirus Food Assistance Program funding for producers. President Biden issued a regulatory freeze when he took office that included a Trump plan to disburse up to $2.3 billion of additional funds.


— Equity issues may impact infrastructure reform debate. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said he feared Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg would “prioritize urban areas over the very real needs of our rural communities.” Blomberg says that may leave Democrats with two options: Either pursue legislation through budget reconciliation so it can pass the Senate without Republican votes or delay some major equity goals. Though many Republicans have emphasized the need to put more money into fixing roads in their states and have said they would strongly oppose using the reconciliation process.


     Democrats are considering as much as $3 trillion in new spending for the cornerstone of Biden’s “Build Back Better” program. Any bill that does not use the fast-track budget rules will need to clear 60 votes in the divided Senate.





—  Biden announces new ag advisor at White House. The White House on Friday tapped Kelliann Blazek as special assistant to the president for agriculture and rural policy. Blazek most recently was director of Wisconsin’s Office of Rural Prosperity. She previously was counsel to Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), taught at George Mason University’s law school and worked at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the White House said. Blazek worked at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition before joining Pingree’s staff and also has taught at the George Mason University law school. The White House said Blazek will serve on the Domestic Policy Council. She was among 21 appointees announced on Friday.



Top Chinese diplomat urged the U.S. to stop “crossing lines and playing with fire” on Taiwan, as part of a broad series of warnings to President Joe Biden against meddling in Beijing’s affairs. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at his annual news briefing on Sunday there was “no room for compromise or concessions” in Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over the democratically ruled island. Wang’s response on Taiwan was one of several in which he hit out at the U.S. for “willfully interfering in other countries’ internal affairs in the name of democracy and human rights… It is important that the United States recognizes this as soon as possible,” Wang said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. “Otherwise, the world will remain far from tranquil.”


— China plans to speed up development of AI, chips and other advanced technologies. The five-year economic plan unveiled in Beijing promises more spending and changes to regulation and policies to support development. China’s leaders are pushing to rival the U.S. in developing an independent supply chain, following a bruising few years under Trump administration restrictions on Chinese companies such as Huawei Technologies. Huawei lost ground last year to Western rivals in cellular-equipment markets outside China.


— China’s exports surged in the first two months of the year from last year’s coronavirus-induced lows, as demand in the U.S. and Europe for made-in-China goods continued to rebound. A year-over-year jump was no surprise to economists, given that China’s economy was flattened during the early months of 2020 as authorities locked down Wuhan, the city where Covid-19 first emerged, and shut down much of the country to contain the pandemic. This so-called low base effect is expected to give a lift to China’s other major economic data points for the first quarter of the year, which are typically tracked in year-over-year terms, the Wall Street Journal reports (link).


China trade


— Slight dip in Chinese bean imports January-February, but meat imports up sharply. China imported 13.41 MMT of soybeans during January and February, a 100,000 MT (0.8%) retreat from last year’s record imports from the period, according to China’s customs administration. Typically, crushers shift their purchases to Brazil early in the year, but slow harvest kept China buying U.S. soybeans later than typically occurs. The modest pullback from year-ago was encouraging considering fears Chinese purchases would taper this season as its hog herd is rebuilt to pre-African swine fever levels. China imported 2.04 MMT of edible vegetable oils the first two months of the year, a 48% surge from year-ago amid strong demand and high domestic prices.


— China cracking down on use of ASF vaccines. China said it will crack down harder on the illegal production and sale of ASF vaccines. There is still no approved vaccine for the virus. There have been reports ASF is again spreading across China in both a natural mutation and in a form delivered via these illegal vaccines. These new strains of ASF are said to be less deadly, but also harder to detect. China’s ag ministry is urging local governments to identify any positive samples of the virus and report any strains with artificial gene deletions to provincial veterinary authorities. Farmers are banned from sending infected pigs to slaughterhouses. Localities are also being urged to increase punishment for illicit activities related to fake vaccines, with drug companies to be fined a maximum amount, and operation licenses to be revoked and those in charge banned from producing veterinary products for life. China will also offer a 30,000-yuan ($4,600) reward to anyone informing authorities about ASF vaccine use. China will also launch an educational campaign for farmers about the dangers of the illicit vaccines.


— Pineapple consumption has become an act of patriotism in Taiwan since China banned its pineapple imports this month.


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




U.S. ag exports edge down but remained strong in January as imports set fresh record. U.S. agricultural exports totaled $15.47 billion in January, down slightly from the monthly record of $15.91 billion registered in December. But it still marked a fourth straight month of U.S. ag exports topping $15 billion, something that has not been seen based on data going back to the 1970s.


     Ag imports rose to $12.83 billion, a new record, and up from $11.65 billion in December.


     That left a trade surplus of $2.65 billion for January.


     So far in fiscal year (FY) 2021, U.S. ag exports total $62.05 billion against imports of $47.46 billion for a surplus so far of $14.59 billion. USDA is currently forecasting FY 2021 ag exports at $157 billion and imports at a record $137.5 billion, which would leave a trade surplus of $19.5 billion. The situation with ag exports clearly reflects China’s stepped-up purchases (and shipments) of U.S. ag goods and has translated into U.S. ag exports above $15 billion for four straight months. But the rise in imports to a new record has come earlier than usual — typically the high-water marks for imports come during the March-May timeframe. That suggests expectations are that the monthly trade data ahead will see the gap between export and import values continue to narrow.


— U.S., EU agree to four-month suspension of tariffs related to civilian aircraft disputes. The U.S. and European Union (EU) Friday (March 5) announced they are suspending for four months the retaliatory tariffs put in place over the long-running civilian aircraft disputes on subsidies to Airbus and Boeing that were found in violation of WTO rules. The suspension is aimed at facilitating a resolution between the two sides on the issue. The suspension includes tariffs that hit several U.S. and European products, including agricultural products and spirits. The announcement of the suspension also included mention that the two parties would also seek to discuss issues on trade relative to China. This echoes a deal announced Thursday (March 4) that suspended tariffs between the U.S. and U.K. in the civilian aircraft dispute and marks some of the first trade-related actions by the Biden administration.




— Vilsack and USDA begin to explore carbon bank for farmers. The Biden administration has begun an intense examination of how to structure a carbon market that would encourage broad participation by U.S. farmers, including whether to guarantee a minimum price for credits given for reducing emissions, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday. “We will be exploring in depth how we could structure appropriately a carbon bank that would be designed for and benefit farmers,” Vilsack said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Would it require a price guarantee on carbon? Would it require a program that invests and provides resources for the capital costs associated with capture of carbon?”




— Effort to upgrade the technology of meat trading is the topic of a Wall Street Journal article (link). At Tyson, a robot is being developed to place poultry products into trays. “The multibillion-dollar market for poultry and meat will soon join the electronic revolution,” the item notes. The changes include robotic arms to package poultry and digital platforms for sales teams to identify consumption trends. Employees are also now equipped with data they can look up on smartphones that gives updates on warehouse inventory, transportation and even animal welfare. Urner Barry, founded in 1858, upgraded its electronic platform called COMTELL over a year ago. It supplies brokers, restaurateurs and supermarkets with prices on over 15,000 products ranging from chuck roll to West Coast chicken drumsticks.


— Covid role of feds, meatpackers. USDA's inspector general will review the department's actions that may have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus at meatpacking plants and other agricultural processing facilities. Link for details.




 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 116,911,000 with 2,594,813 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 28,999,540 with 525,035 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 90,351,750 doses administered, 30,686,881 have been fully vaccinated, or 9.37% of the U.S. population.

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data


— CDC to issue guidelines for vaccinated people in ‘next couple of days’: Fauci. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to put out guidelines for what’s considered safe for people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in the “next couple of days,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday. The White House chief medical adviser said the federal guidelines will be available “imminently” after officials delayed their release last week. “When you’re talking about benchmarks of people who are vaccinated and how a vaccinated person can interact with an unvaccinated person or with unvaccinated people, those guidelines are coming out from the CDC really imminently. I would imagine, within the next couple of days for sure,” Fauci told CBS anchor Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation. As far as when the entire country can resume normal life, Fauci said Americans will “need to hang in there a bit longer.”


— Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Western vaccines, using online publications that in recent months have questioned the vaccines’ development and safety, the Wall Street Journal reports (link). In addition, Russian state media and Russian government Twitter accounts have made overt efforts to raise concerns about the cost and safety of the Pfizer vaccine, in what experts outside the U.S. government say is an effort to promote Russia’s rival Sputnik V vaccine.




— Manchin open to at least some filibuster reform. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) opened the door Sunday to reforming the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass most bills in the Senate, possibly by making it harder to invoke the maneuver. That could mean requiring opposition members to actually speak on the floor for the duration of the filibuster. But he repeated his opposition to eliminating the maneuver, as some of his colleagues have urged. “The filibuster should be painful,” Manchin said on Fox News Sunday, one of four network interviews he did. “It really should be painful, and we’ve made it more comfortable over the years,” Manchin said of invoking the filibuster to slow legislation. “Maybe it has to be more painful, maybe you have to stand there. There’s things we can talk about.” Making the filibuster more difficult to use would encourage Democrats and Republicans to work together more, Manchin suggested. “I’d make it harder to get rid of,” he said. “I’m supporting the filibuster. It’s part of who we are as a Senate. But it should be painful if you want to use it.“


— Biden executive order attempts to blunt GOP efforts to restrict voting. President Biden signed an executive order Sunday mandating federal departments and agencies increase efforts to help Americans register to vote, as the White House looks for ways to offset alleged Republican efforts to toughen voting standards. The executive action directs federal facilities to accept requests from states — which each run their own voter processes — to become registration sites and calls for a modernization of the website. The effort aims “to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote, and improve access to voting,” Biden said in taped remarks to the annual Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast. The executive order also calls for the Pentagon to give service members an opportunity to register to vote or update their information and asks agencies to examine how they might allow federal employees the option to take leave to vote or volunteer as poll workers. And the Biden administration will examine ways to improve voting access for eligible federal prisoners, as well as Native Americans.


N.Y. lawmakers approve bill to strip Cuomo’s pandemic-era powers. The New York legislature approved a bill to repeal pandemic-era emergency powers afforded to the scandal-plagued Governor Andrew Cuomo. The measure, which received final passage from the Assembly on Friday evening, revokes temporary powers given to Cuomo in March that allowed him to supersede the legislature, as well as local laws, to issue hundreds of sweeping emergency directives on everything from closing businesses and schools to mandating the use of masks. The governor is expected to sign the measure after saying he helped negotiate it. A growing list of state lawmakers, including in his own Democratic party, have called for Cuomo’s resignation. The third-term governor has apologized for making women feel “uncomfortable,” and has acknowledged mistakes in reporting of the nursing-home data but has refused to step down.


— Calls grow for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. New York state’s Senate majority leader called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign as he faces accusations of inappropriate workplace behavior and a federal probe into his administration’s handling of Covid-19 in nursing homes. Link to New York Times article. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday said he has “full faith” in the state attorney general’s investigation into the sexual-harassment allegations against embattled Cuomo — although he refused to say whether the governor should resign.



— Trump presses GOP entities to stop using his name, likeness. Former President Donald Trump sent cease-and-desist letters demanding that Republican National Committee (RNC), the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) stop using his name and likeness to raise funds, a Trump adviser told The Epoch Times.


     Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview that aired Sunday that he thinks former President Trump can make the GOP “bigger” and “stronger,” or he “could destroy it.”




— U.S., South Korean negotiators reach a cost-sharing accord on troops. The U.S. and South Korea agreed on a new accord that would resolve a yearslong dispute on how to share the cost of American troops based on the Korean Peninsula. The new accord, which would last through 2025, would provide for a “meaningful increase” in the South Korean contribution, said a State Department spokesperson.


— USDA reopens comment period on regulation of GMO animals. USDA has now reopened the comment period on its notice of proposed rulemaking USDA published in December which stated USDA would be the agency responsible for regulating animals produced via genetic modification. The comment period on USDA’s notice ended Feb. 28. But USDA today published a notice in the Federal Register (link) that they have reopened the comment period and it will now close May 7 on the proposed rulemaking “establishing regulations for the movement of certain animals modified or developed by genetic engineering.” The action by USDA took some by surprise as it marked the agency wresting control of the issue from FDA. It is not clear whether the re-opened comment period reflects any potential shift back to FDA on the topic.


— As expected, FSA extends deadline, eases documentation requirements for disaster program. Producers now have until April 9 to sign up for the Quality Loss Adjustment program, which offers aid for crop quality losses due to qualifying natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding or drought in 2018 and 2019. FSA extended the deadline from March 5 to give growers a way other than paperwork to demonstrate the price they received for grain sold to the feed market and show quality losses. Over 8,100 producers have signed up since FSA began taking applications Jan. 6. Link for details.



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