U.S., China Agriculture Chiefs to Talk Tonight: Vilsack

Posted on 03/22/2021 7:45 AM

Very aggressive China on display in Anchorage, Alaska last Thursday and Friday

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• Turkey’s stocks, bonds and lira tumble following removal of central bank governor
• U.S. equity inflows hit a weekly record of $56.76 billion in the week ending March 17
• Canadian Pacific Railway agreed to buy Kansas City Southern for $25 billion
• No. 2 official at IMF notes emerging signs of a stronger global economic recovery
• Satellite internet is coming to a backyard near you… even in farm country

• What is happening with all the Covid aid/stimulus payments?
• There are more real-estate agents than homes for sale in the U.S.
• Saudi Aramco loses title of world's most profitable company to Apple
• A look at Pro Farmer’s survey of U.S. planting intentions
• Ag demand update

Latest Argentine strike ends soon after it began
• Russian wheat prices continue to slide
• Rural main street index rockets to record high
• Follow-through selling possible for cattle futures today
• Hog rally continues

Policy Focus:
• Word about some paused CFAP payments could come this week
• NYT notes an ‘epidemic of tax fraud’
• House Democratic leaders to bring two more immigration bills to floor in April
• House sends PAYGO bill averting Medicare, farm program cuts to Senate

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• HHS Covid-19 counselor Dawn O'Connell nominated for another position

 

China Update:
• U.S., China agriculture chiefs to talk tonight,: Vilsack
• Very aggressive China on display in Anchorage, Alaska last Thursday and Friday
• Chinese imports of U.S. beans up sharply from year-ago amid Brazilian delays
• Demand for wheat fades at Chinese auctions of state reserves
• China cracking down on use of banned leanness enhancer in livestock

 

Trade Policy:
• EU levies hurting U.S. whiskey sales, with more potential impacts ahead
• U.K. talks can build on Trump plan

 

Energy & Climate Change:

• Biden administration weighs new requirements for corporate climate disclosures


Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• JBS fined $3.6 million over Covid-19 outbreak, slew of other lawsuits pending
• Covid at one year: Infections in meat sector 85% lower than general population


Coronavirus Update:
• AstraZeneca: Covid-19 vaccine found 79% effective in U.S. trial with no safety concerns
• Juice maker Bolthouse Farms paying workers a $500 bonus for getting vaccinated

 

Politics & Elections:
• Letlow wins race to succeed late husband
• Tom Reed won’t seek re-election
• Maureen Dowd’s NYT column on President Joe Biden
• Trump to return to social media with 'his own platform'
• Sens. Johnson and Grassley in holding pattern re: potential re-election races


Other Items of Note:
• Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Afghanistan as troop withdrawal deadline near  
• CBP reportedly set to release illegal migrants without a court date  
• Biden to visit U.S./Mexico border ‘at some point’
• As of 2020, 61% of judges presiding over immigration courts were Trump appointees
• Chevy Chase council wants a say on future of 4-H property

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed overnight. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward narrowly mixed openings. Turkey’s stocks, bonds and lira tumbled following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's removal of Naci Agbal after just four months as the country's central bank governor. It's the fourth time Turkey's premier has fired the head of the country's central bank since taking office in 2014. The lira responded by tumbling as much as 17% against the dollar, while the BIST 100 plunged nearly 10% (more impacts, below). Overnight the MSCI Asia Pacific Index slipped 0.2% while Japan's Topix index closed 1.1% lower.

 

     U.S. equities Friday: The Dow fell 234.33 points, 0.71%, at 32,627.97. The Nasdaq, however, rose 99.07 points, 0.76%, at 13,215.24. The S&P 500 was down 2.36 points, 0.06%, at 3,913.10.

 

     For the week, the Dow dipped 0.5%. The S&P 500 index retreated 0.8% but held above its 21- and 50-day lines. The Nasdaq lost 0.8%, but Thursday's 3% tumble pushed it below the 21-day and 50-day lines.

 

     On Friday, BofA Global Research said that U.S. equity inflows hit a weekly record of $56.76 billion in the week ending March 17, up sharply from $16.83 billion a week earlier. A new poll from Mizuho Securities also found that two out of five stimulus check recipients plan to invest at least some part of the proceeds into Bitcoin and stocks, while the Treasury distributed $242 billion in stimulus checks through March 17, or around 60% of the expected total.

 

On tap today:

 

     • U.S. existing-home sales are expected to fall to an annual pace of 6.5 million in February from 6.69 million a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Federal Reserve speakers: Chairman Jerome Powell on central bank innovation in the digital age at 9 a.m. ET, Richmond’s Thomas Barkin at a virtual National Association for Business Economics conference at 10:30 a.m. ET, San Francisco’s Mary Daly on the future of work and education at 1 p.m. ET, Vice Chairman Randal Quarles on Libor transition at 1:30 p.m. ET, and governor Michelle Bowman on the economic outlook and prospects for small business at 7:15 p.m. ET.
     • USDA Grain Export Inspections, 11 a.m. ET.
     • USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack travels to Iowa with Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, to tout the American Rescue Plan.

 

Canadian Pacific Railway agreed to buy Kansas City Southern for $25 billion, or $275 a share, in a cash-and-stock deal. That's a 23% premium to KC company’s stock's Friday close. It would create the first freight-rail network linking Mexico, the U.S. and Canada and marks the third major U.S. railroad that the Canadian company has targeted in its quest to create a transcontinental network. Keith Creel, chief executive of Canadian Pacific, said lessons were learned from the failed bids. He expects Kansas City’s support for the proposed merger and said the lack of rail-line duplication between the two companies will minimize potential regulatory concerns. “You have two like-minded companies that are committed to this and see the value,” he said. Patrick Ottensmeyer, CEO of Kansas City, said the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which replaced NAFTA in July 2020, creates a unique opportunity to ship freight through the three countries as their economies recover from the pandemic. “This company is going to have a North America rail footprint that is truly unmatched,” Ottensmeyer said in an interview with the WSJ, which broke the story. The combined railway could reduce the need for trucks to link production sites and allow cargo to avoid congested California ports.

 

     The transaction will need approval from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB), which requires major railroad combinations to demonstrate they are operating in the public interest by enhancing competition. The merger partners said they expect the STB review to be completed by the middle of 2022.

 

     The combined company, to be renamed Canadian Pacific Kansas City, would have about $8.7 billion in annual revenue and employ nearly 20,000 people. It would be run by Canadian Pacific’s Creel. Kansas City investors would own about 25% of the combined entity’s shares. Creel said there are no plans to reduce staff if the merger is approved. Kansas City is the smallest major freight railroad in the U.S. but plays a key role in U.S.-Mexico trade. Its network mainly runs up the length of Mexico through Texas to its namesake city. The combined company’s global headquarters would be in Calgary. The U.S. headquarters would be in Kansas City, Mo., while the Mexico headquarters would remain in Mexico City and Monterrey. The proposed deal must also be approved by officials in Mexico.

 

     Bottom line: The tie-up is being pitched as a net win for North America by enabling efficient integration of the continent's supply chains. Canadian Pacific Kansas City would operate about 20,000 miles of railway, employ 20,000 people and generate annual revenue of about $8.7 billion, according to a press release. The transaction is also expected to "create jobs across the combined network, while efficiency and service improvements are expected to achieve meaningful environmental benefits." It could additionally reduce the need for trucks to link production sites and allow cargo to avoid congested California ports.

 

     CP
     A Canadian Pacific grain train made its way toward Lake Louise west of Calgary in November 2019.
     PHOTO: FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

The No. 2 official at the International Monetary Fund on Saturday pointed to emerging signs of a stronger global economic recovery, but warned that significant risks remained, including the emergence of mutations of the coronavirus, Reuters reports. IMF First Deputy Managing Director Geoffrey Okamoto said that in early April the Fund would update its January forecast for global growth of 5.5% to reflect additional fiscal stimulus spending in the United States but gave no details. In a speech to the China Development Forum, Okamoto raised concerns about the growing divergence between advanced economies and emerging markets, with some 90 million people seen falling below the extreme poverty threshold since the pandemic began.

 

Satellite internet is coming to a backyard near you… even in farm country. With a constellation of hundreds of satellites, and speeds comparable to U.S. broadband, the Starlink service lets people do their jobs being in the middle of nowhere. A Wall Street Journal item (link) says it is part of a beta testing program for a new kind of internet service from Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX. “With at least three other serious, deep-pocketed contenders in the internet-from-space race — including Amazon, OneWeb and longtime operator Telesat — getting fast, reliable internet service from any place on earth with a clear view of the sky could soon seem no more miraculous than a cell signal,” the article concludes.

 

What is happening with all the Covid aid/stimulus payments? The U.S. government this month sent a third round of relief payments to households — $1,400 to roughly 90 million adults so far, totaling about $242 billion. That is on top of $600 per recipient payments sent in December and $1,200 sent earlier last year and in all will add up to more than $800 billion.

 

     What will come of the money? The Wall Street Journal notes (link) it turns out there is a lot we already know to answer that. Americans have spent some of it, saved a lot of it and used large portions to pay down burdensome debt. “That leaves the economy primed for a consumer boom once business fully reopens and poses risks that worry some people on Wall Street, including higher inflation and an asset bubble,” the article observes. “Moreover, it leaves a different debt overhang — federal debt — that poses new uncertainties for business, households and Uncle Sam himself.”

 

     Money flows

 

This hasn’t happened very often: There are more real-estate agents than homes for sale in the U.S. The National Association of Realtors’ membership count has exceeded the number of homes on the market only once before, in December 2019. It happened again last October and has held ever since.

 

     Facts and figures: At the end of January, there were 1.04 million homes for sale, down 26% from a year earlier, and 1.45 million agents, up 4.8% from a year earlier. The Wall Street Journal says, “It is easy to understand why so many people would sign up for the real-estate profession: The pandemic eliminated millions of jobs, the booming housing market suggests there is a lot of money to be made selling homes, and in most states, it doesn’t take much more than taking a course and passing an exam to get a residential real-estate license.”

 

     Meanwhile, with prices rising and Covid-19 concerns lingering, home buyers are moving in with their parents and siblings. Some 15% of people who bought homes between April and June of last year planned to have multiple generations living there, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors. That is up from 11% of those who bought between July 2019 and March 2020, and the highest level in survey data going back to mid-2012.

 

     Available homes

 

Saudi Aramco loses title of world's most profitable company to Apple. The world's largest oil company reported its full-year 2020 results on Sunday, showing a 44% collapse in profits to $49 billion.

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is slightly down early today. The U.S. Treasury 10-year note yield is fetching 1.67% this morning. Gold and silver futures are under pressure, with silver down nearly 2%. Gold is trading around $1,736 per troy ounce while silver is around $25.82 per troy ounce.


     • Crude oil prices have firmed ahead of the U.S. trading start, with U.S. crude trading around $61.50 per barrel and Brent around $64.60 per barrel. Crude oil prices were under pressure in Asian action, with U.S. crude down 46 cents at $60.96 per barrel while Brent was down 19 cents at $64.34 per barrel.

 

     • Turkey’s currency tumbled more than 10% today, putting it on course for its biggest single-day selloff since 2018, after the abrupt replacement of the country’s top central banker late last week. Turkey's interest rate currently stands at 19%, which has attracted foreign investors to park their cash in the currency. The lira was at one point the best-performing emerging market currency of 2021, having recovered almost a fifth from a low against the greenback.

 

        Turkey currency

 

     • Pro Farmer expects total area planted to crops in the U.S. to rise to 319.4 million acres this year, up 8.9 million acres (2.9%) from last year and the highest since 2018, based on the results of the annual Pro Farmer/Doane planting intentions survey. Stronger prices and improved farm financial conditions are expected to bring more acres into production. Not surprisingly, the survey signaled there will be big increases in corn and soybean acres this year given the sharp rise in prices. Pro Farmer projects total corn and soybean plantings at a record 182.3 million acres, which would be up 8.4 million acres (4.8%) from last year. Total acres planted to the big four crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton) are expected to rise 9.5 million acres (4.1%) from last year. Link to details.

 

       PF table

 

     • Ag demand: Pakistan is thought to have bought around 300,000 MT of wheat in an international tender that closed this week.

 

Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include:

     • Latest Argentine strike ends soon after it began
     • Russian wheat prices continue to slide
     • Rural main street index rockets to record high
     • Follow-through selling possible for cattle futures today
     • Hog rally continues

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

—  Some sources signal word about some paused CFAP payments could come this week. Details, however, are lacking.

 

— NYT notes an ‘epidemic of tax fraud’. As President Biden prepares to introduce more government spending plans, the price tag is rising. Economists are busy devising ways to pay for it all — and the New York Times’ editorial board is backing a novel approach (link) that could capture huge amounts of uncollected taxes. There are hundreds of billions in unreported taxes. A 2019 IRS analysis estimated that Americans reported less than half of all income that wasn’t subject to verification like a W-2, meaning that lots of business profits, rent and royalties go untaxed. That’s the largest reason that unpaid federal income taxes may amount to more than $600 billion this year, and more than $7.5 trillion over the next decade.
 

     Meanwhile, a new research paper (link) estimates that the top 1% of households fail to report about 21% of their income, hidden in offshore businesses, partnerships and pass-throughs. “There is more revenue than you might have thought at the very top,” Daniel Reck of the London School of Economics, the paper’s lead nongovernment author, told the Wall Street Journal (link). Here’s a way to capture that unreported income, proposed by Charles Rossotti, a former IRS chief: a new form, drawn from bank account data, that reports inflows and outflows like a 1099 statement. Filers would need to reconcile that information with their individual tax returns. “It would have the immediate benefit of scaring people into probity,” The Times’s editorial board asserts. The proposal wouldn’t increase how much anyone owes in taxes, just how much people end up paying. Take note: Rossotti, with the economist Larry Summers and the law professor Natasha Sarin, argued in an analysis in November that a $100 billion investment in the IRS over the next decade, for personnel and technology, would allow it to rake in more than $1 trillion in taxes that would otherwise go uncollected.

 

     The White House is planning to collect more taxes, which may include raising rates on income and capital gains taxes for those earning more than $400,000, as well as levies on companies and expanding the estate tax. Charles Rettig, the commissioner of the IRS, also backed calls for more funding for enforcement: “It is not just a body count of how many people we have in enforcement. We need to have specialized agents.”

 

— House Democratic leaders committed to bringing two more immigration bills to the floor in April: one to limit presidents’ authority to issue travel bans and another to ensure that legal immigrants stopped by border officials at entry ports have access to counsel, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told CQ Roll Call. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated that Congress may approve additional foreign aid spending for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to address the flow of migrants to the U.S./Mexico border.

 

— House sends PAYGO bill averting Medicare, farm program, other mandator program spending cuts to Senate. The House as expected on Friday passed a bill, 246-175, waiving statutory requirements to offset the $1.86 trillion coronavirus aid law and extending the suspension of separate Medicare cuts another nine months, as well as any potential cuts to mandatory farm program spending. Ultimately, 29 Republicans voted with all Democrats to pass the bill.

 

     The bill also would make several other changes to the aid/stimulus law, including a correction aimed at ensuring that hospitals serving a disproportionate share of uninsured patients are not penalized for receiving additional aid. The bill preserves special rules for disproportionate share hospitals in California, allowing them to claim funding up to 175% of their costs.

 


BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

—  Biden nominated HHS Covid-19 counselor Dawn O'Connell to be assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
 


CHINA UPDATE


 

U.S., China agriculture chiefs to talk tonight, Vilsack says. USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack says he will talk today with his Chinese counterpart. It appears that the meeting will be virtual. Vilsack made the remarks at an ag policy summit.

 

— A very aggressive China was on display in Anchorage, Alaska last Thursday and Friday.  A Wall Street Journal opinion item (link) is titled: China’s Warning to Biden: A lecture in Alaska shows that adversaries sense U.S. weakness.

 

     The commentary began this way: “That was some tongue lashing a senior Chinese official delivered last week in Anchorage to top Biden Administration officials in their first meeting. This is the new reality in U.S./China relations, as adversaries look to see if they can exploit President Biden as they did Barack Obama.” China’s director of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi, went on a 20-minute tear (including translation) about the superiority of “Chinese-style democracy” and America’s sins. The latter included a reference to Black Lives Matter, human-rights problems, and that the U.S. “has exercised long-arm jurisdiction and suppression and overstretched the national security through the use of force or financial hegemony.”

 

     The WSJ says: “This is only one meeting, but it was a tone setter for the world’s most important bilateral relationship. Word is leaking that the private exchanges from the Chinese side were as tough as the public remarks. The Chinese are making clear that, after the Trump years, Beijing wants a return to the policy of Obama accommodation to China’s global advances.”

 

     “The future of Taiwan may be the most fraught challenge,” the WSJ commentary concludes. “As a locus of global semiconductor production, the island is crucial to U.S. economic interests as well as being a democratic ally. Chinese President Xi Jinping has made clear that retaking Taiwan is a priority, and China’s military is building a force capable of a quick-strike invasion. Mr. Xi will be eager to trade promises about climate change for U.S. acquiescence over Taiwan. This is a dangerous moment as the world’s rogue powers look to test the Biden Administration’s resolve. The Anchorage lecture is a warning to take seriously.”

 

— Chinese imports of U.S. beans up sharply from year-ago amid Brazilian delays. China imported just 1.03 MMT of soybeans from Brazil during January and February, an 80% dive from last year when Beijing imported 5.14 MMT from the country. Delayed crop development and persistent rains have slowed harvest and export of Brazilian beans to China, to the benefit of the U.S., whose exports to China totaled 11.9 MMT during the two-month span, nearly double last year’s 6.1 MMT in shipments. China’s total soybean imports for the first two months of 2021 stood at 13.41 MMT, a 0.8% slide from year-ago. Crush profit margins remain relatively elevated.

 

— Demand for wheat fades at Chinese auctions of state reserves. China sold 1.63 MMT of wheat at its March 16-17 auction of state reserves, which represented 40.6% of the total offered. That was the lowest percentage and nominal tally of 2021. The average sales price of 2,356 yuan per metric ton was the lowest since Jan. 13. So far this year, China has sold 23.43 MMT of the 40.19 MMT of wheat put up for auction.

 

— China cracking down on use of banned leanness enhancer in livestock. China’s ag ministry says it will embark on a three-month drive to crack down on the use of clenbuterol, a banned leanness-enhancing agent, in cattle and sheep. The ministry is also encouraging local authorities to monitor its possible use in pigs. The ag ministry also issued a separate statement indicating it would work with other departments to organize investigations and “severely” punish all kinds of illegal activities involving the use of leanness enhancers.

 

 


TRADE POLICY


 

— EU levies hurting U.S. whiskey sales, with more potential impacts ahead. American whiskey makers were enjoying rising sales to Europe before 2018, with exports growing to $741 million that year, according to the Census Bureau. Those exports shrank to $469 million last year, down 37% from 2018, when the European Union imposed levies in retaliation for U.S. duties on steel and aluminum imports. Now, the EU is threatening to raise tariffs on American whiskeys to 50% by June 1 unless the two sides can negotiate a solution, and the U.K. is weighing additional measures. The woes troubling American whiskey makers reflect both the complications of global trade and the penchant by warring sides to target iconic products in disputes, the Wall Street Journal notes (link).

 

     Whiskey

 

— U.K. talks can build on Trump plan. Trade talks with the U.S. will seek to build on “well-channeled lines” established during discussions with the Trump White House while seeking to incorporate new priorities favored by Biden, the U.K.'s envoy to Washington said.

 


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


 

Biden administration weighs new requirements for corporate climate disclosures. The Treasury Department and other regulators are working on ways to reduce “greenwashing” by force companies to reveal more about their environmental impact, according to Bloomberg (link).

 


FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY


 

— JBS fined $3.6 million over Covid-19 outbreak, slew of other lawsuits pending. A court has ordered JBS SA to pay 20 million reals ($3.62 million) in damages following an outbreak of Covid-19 at a beef plant in São Miguel do Guaporé, according to a copy of the ruling seen by Reuters. This marks the first win for plaintiffs since labor prosecutors started suing the company last year regarding an alleged lack of adequate health protocols. JBS faces at least 18 lawsuits over the matter. JBS did not indicate whether it would appeal the decision and reiterated its main goal is to protect the health and security of its workforce.

 

— Covid at one year: Infections in meat sector 85% lower than general population with urgent need to accelerate vaccination, according to the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). Nearly one year after the first reported cases of Covid-19 among meat and poultry workers, comprehensive protections have brought case rates to just 2.67 cases per day per 100,000 workers — more than 85% lower than rates in the general population (18.25 cases per day per 100,000 people) and more than 98% lower than the May 2020 peak in the sector (98.39 cases per day per 100,000 workers).

 

     Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts will discuss the latest Covid-19 data, effectiveness of protection measures implemented since spring 2020, and the sector’s advocacy for urgently expanded vaccinations during an executive roundtable March 23 at the Annual Meat Conference. Also participating in the roundtable will be: Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of Albertsons Companies Susan Morris, President of Cargill Protein North America Jon Nash, President of The GIANT Company Nicholas Bertram, and President and Chief Operating Officer of the OSI Group David McDonald.

 

     Potts commented: “Frontline meat and poultry workers were among the first impacted by the pandemic, but comprehensive protections implemented in the sector since spring 2020 work. The critical next step is to ensure immediate access to vaccines as this dedicated and diverse workforce continues feeding Americans and keeping our farm economy working.”

 

     According to data from the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), there were just 4.81 new reported cases per 100,000 meat and poultry workers per day in February 2021, compared with 26.15 cases per 100,000 people in the general U.S. population (New York Times).

 

     Independent scientific research proves the effectiveness of Covid-19 prevention measures implemented in the sector since spring 2020, the Meat Institute said. The University of Nebraska Medical Center (link) found that the combination of universal masking and physical barriers reduced cases significantly in 62% of meat facilities studied. An analysis (link) published in the Lancet in June 2020 found that distancing of 3 feet and use of facemasks each reduce transmission by about 80%, and use of eye protection reduces transmission by about 65%.

 

     A February 2021 Meat Institute survey of more than 250 facilities employing more than 150,000 workers found broad implementation of multilayered Covid-19 protections including:

  • Covid-19 hazard assessments; designated Covid-19 coordinators
  • Entry screening measures and controls
  • Increased sanitation and disinfection practices
  • Training and education materials on Covid-19 symptoms and prevention, in multiple languages
  • Mandatory face coverings
  • Increased flexibility in leave policies
  • Physical barriers in food production and other areas (e.g., break rooms, cafeterias)
     

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 123,247,535 with 2,716,275 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 29,819,107 with 542,359 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 124,481,412 doses administered, 41,858,674 have been fully vaccinated, or 12.79% of the U.S. population.

 

— AstraZeneca says Covid-19 vaccine found 79% effective in U.S. trial with no safety concerns. The company also said in a statement that the vaccine was found to be 100% effective in preventing serious cases of the disease and hospitalizations. AstraZeneca said it will submit the findings to the Food and Drug Administration in a bid for emergency use authorization in the United States. Meanwhile, the EU is reportedly poised to withhold doses of the vaccine from Britain, escalating a dispute over supplies.

 

— The production end of the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain is speeding up. Drug makers Moderna, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are using experience gained since the start of manufacturing to nearly triple their output of doses from last month to this month, the Wall Street Journal reports (link). That will push more vaccines into the immunization pipeline and draw greater attention to the final stages of vaccination that have proven challenging for many U.S. states. The global supply of Covid-19 vaccines also is increasing, although access to supplies varies widely by country. To boost factory output, the manufacturers have started making certain raw materials on their own, Pfizer has figured out how to stretch scarce supplies of special filters and Moderna shortened the time needed to inspect and package vials. Companies have also started teaming up with other firms to further increase production.

 

— The juice maker Bolthouse Farms is paying workers a $500 bonus for getting vaccinated, while Krispy Kreme is giving employees four hours paid time off to get a shot — and customers a free doughnut if they have proof of immunization. Source: WSJ, Insider.

 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

— Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) apologizes for sexual misconduct and won’t challenge Gov. Cuomo in 2022. Two days after a former lobbyist accused him of sexual misconduct in a Washington Post report, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) on Sunday publicly apologized, vowed not to seek reelection and abandoned a possible run against New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Reed said in a statement that he was “struggling” in early 2017, when the incident occurred, and entered treatment for alcohol abuse that year. Reed recently has been weighing a bid to unseat Cuomo (D) and had called for the governor to be impeached amid allegations that he sexually harassed multiple women, mostly state employees.

 

— Julia Letlow wins special election in Louisiana to replace her late husband. Republican candidate Julia Letlow won a special election to replace her late husband in Congress on Saturday, eliminating the vacancy left after Luke Letlow’s covid-19-related death last year. Letlow will represent the 5th Congressional District as soon as the House returns from its work period next month.

     In the state’s 2nd Congressional District, meantime, Democratic state senators Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson were headed to an April 24 runoff, with liberal activist Gary Chambers falling just short.

 

     Going into Saturday, there were five vacancies in the 435-member House — two in formerly Republican-held seats and three in seats once held by Democrats in a chamber only narrowly controlled by the Democratic Party. New Mexico will elect a replacement for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on June 1, while northeastern Ohio voters will nominate candidates to replace newly confirmed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on Aug. 3, with a special election to follow in November. On May 1, voters in northern Texas will pick a replacement for the late Rep. Ron Wright, a Republican whose widow is seeking his old seat.

 

— Maureen Dowd’s NYT column on President Joe Biden generally viewed as a “goofball and windbag” by the “cool kids” in the Obama White House, getting the last laugh now. “President Biden is being hailed as a transformational, once-in-a-generation progressive champion, with comparisons to L.B.J. and F.D.R. aplenty, while Obama has become a cautionary tale about what happens when Democrats get the keys to the car but don’t put their foot on the gas,” Dowd writes (link). “The collective smirk was wiped off the face of Obamaworld this past week, as former aides expressed their irritation at the retrospective dissing, and while Biden’s inner circle enjoyed an unfamiliar sensation: schadenfreude. Now the friendly fire once aimed at Biden is coming toward Obama.”

 

— Trump to return to social media with 'his own platform': senior adviser says. Former President Donald Trump, who was barred from using a multitude of social media websites, is reportedly set to return through the creation of "his own platform." Trump is expected to make his comeback in the next two to three months, Jason Miller, a former spokesman and senior adviser for his campaign, told Fox News' Media Buzz. The new social avenue will "completely redefine the game," Miller said.

 

— Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are in a holding pattern relative to potential re-election races in 2022 that could help determine which party controls the upper chamber through the next presidential election. Both senators are up for re-election next year. Johnson and Grassley are taking their time with their decisions, saying that it could be months before they reveal their intentions, with Grassley signaling a likely October or November decision. The Hill reports (link) that “Republicans familiar with their thinking say they are both quietly laying the groundwork for reelection campaigns, while cautioning that one or both could still sit out the midterms.” A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll released last week found that 55% of Iowans want Grassley to step down after his current term ends, while only 28% are hoping that he runs again. AgriTalk radio will have Grassley on the program today and this will likely be one of the topics addressed. Grassley already noted that “You don’t make a decision to run based upon anything other than taking your work into consideration, taking your family into consideration and visiting with a lot of Iowans.”

 

     Both parties are expecting competitive Senate races in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and even Ohio, despite its rightward drift in recent years. Grassley’s campaign filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, a prerequisite for a re-election bid. Johnson, meanwhile, shut down speculation about a potential gubernatorial bid this week, saying that if he runs “for anything, it's not going to be for governor.”

 

     Among those seen as prospective replacements for Grassley should he choose to retire are his grandson, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, and Gov. Kim Reynolds. There’s also talk of a potential bid by former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a staunch Trump ally and former U.S. attorney in Iowa. One other Republican, state Sen. Jim Carlin, has jumped into the race for Grassley’s seat.

 

     Grassley last won re-election in 2016 by 24 points and has emerged as a staple of Iowa politics, making him a tough opponent for Democrats to beat. However, his seat would undoubtedly become more competitive should it be vacated. Democrats lost a competitive Senate race by over 6 points in 2020 (won by Joni Ernst), and former President Trump won the state twice. If Grassley chooses not to run, it would be the first open seat since 2014 when Tom Harkin retired, and only the second such occurrence in nearly 40 years.

 

     Democrats are still waiting on the sidelines to see what Grassley does. Among the possible Democrats jumping into the race: Rep. Cynthia Axne (D-Iowa) and Christie Vilsack, wife of USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack.

 

     In Wisconsin, Democrats have a decent chance to pick up the seat, although their field is still emerging. Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry is running, as is Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, a former lieutenant governor nominee who lost a House bid in 2016. Several other Democrats are considering Senate bids, including state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).
 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Afghanistan as troop withdrawal deadline near. Austin stopped in the country as the United States appears increasingly likely to extend the U.S. troop presence there beyond a May 1 deadline that the Trump administration agreed to last year with the Taliban. Austin is the first senior official in the Biden administration to travel to Afghanistan. The unannounced visit comes as the Biden administration wrestles with how to end its role in a war that is nearly 20 years old without allowing security to disintegrate.

 

— Challenging a crisis: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities are reportedly set to release migrants who crossed into the country illegally into the United States without a court date. The move, which would focus on illegal immigrants in Texas's Rio Grande Valley, would send individuals into U.S. cities without first obtaining a Notice to Appear (NTA), according to Fox News, which cited a senior CBP source. The onus on securing a court date would fall on the migrants themselves, and the situation has purportedly "become so dire that BP [Border Patrol] has no choice but to release people nearly immediately after apprehension because there is no space to hold people even to do necessary NTA paperwork," the official said. The Rio Grande Valley is grappling with a surge in immigration and its facilities are at 700% capacity as migrants have flooded the U.S./Mexico border since President Biden assumed office in mid-January.

 

     On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the Biden administration will "not abandon" its "values" and "principles" to take a more humanitarian approach to the U.S./Mexico border situation, even as the top official admitted the surge is highest in two decades in earlier statements. “We will not abandon our values and our principles," he said during a segment of CNN's State of the Union. "We will not abandon the needs of vulnerable children, that is what this is all about. We are executing on our plan; it does take time. It is difficult. Our plan includes the deployment of the Federal Emergency Management Administration to assist HHS in building its capacity more rapidly to shelter the children, but it is taking time, and it is difficult because the entire system was dismantled by the prior administration.”

 

     Biden to visit U.S./Mexico border ‘at some point’. President: Biden said yesterday he plans to visit the U.S./Mexico border “at some point” for a first-hand look at conditions as the entry of migrants seeking refugee status in the U.S. rises sharply. The comment, made to reporters at the White House, came after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he’s not worried about setting a precedent on open borders by allowing thousands of unaccompanied minors to enter the country. “At some point I will, yes,” Biden said about a border visit. Asked if he wanted to see first-hand what’s happening at overcrowded migrant processing centers, he added, “I know what’s going on in those facilities.”

 

— As of 2020, 61% of judges presiding over immigration courts were Trump appointees, who are more likely to rule in favor of deportation (69% of the time) than judges tapped by prior presidents, whether Republican or Democrat, going back to Ronald Reagan.

 

— Chevy Chase council wants a say on future of 4-H property.  Members of Chevy Chase Town Council (Maryland) plan to form a task force to ensure they have a say on the future of the National 4-H Conference ahead of a potential sale later this year. Representatives for the National 4-H Council briefed members of the town council during a virtual Zoom session last Wednesday evening after residents weighed in by email and the jurisdiction's Listserv on what public amenities and uses they would like to see integrated into future plans for the 12.28-acre site. The 4-H has retained CBRE to market the property for sale, with a prospective purchaser being selected in the second quarter and a closing before the end of the year. The property is assessed at about $19.9 million, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. Commercial uses are not permitted by right on the property, and several of the town's elected officials asked whether a condition could be imposed on the sale requiring future owners to maintain its residential zoning.

 

     4H building
     The 4-H center is located along Connecticut Avenue south of East West Highway and east of the Bethesda Metro station.
     Source: DC Aerial Photos Inc

 


 

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