Lighthizer on Phase 1, other issues | Soybeans and sugar rally | Bayer pays
In Today’s Updates
* IMF expects global GDP to fall more in 2020 than first forecast
* Fed’s Evans says intermittent virus outbreaks will slow U.S. economy
* USTR Lighthizer remains upbeat on U.S./China Phase 1 accord, soybean purchases
* Lighthizer with Trump when president issued tweet saying Phase 1 'fully intact'
* Lighthizer labels reports China told state traders to pause U.S. farm buys 'fake news'
* Lighthizer to talk on telephone with counterpart 'in a few weeks'
* Trump orders payment program to help lobster producers
* U.S. pet food exports to China look strong
* Pentagon names 20 Chinese firms it says are military-controlled
* Sugar prices poised for best quarter in four years
* Bayer reached sweeping agreement to resolve thousands of lawsuits
* USDA, FDA say no need for food trade restrictions re: Covid-19
* RFA has met with OMB on EPA RFS proposal
* Trump administration challenges halt to waters rule in Colorado
* Senate Ag panel holds hearing on bill to push carbon markets
* U.S./EU trade tensions rise again
* Pilots want U.S. to buy plane seats
* Over $100 billion in PPP loans left unclaimed in U.S. relief aid
* U.S. food supply update
* Report: USDA didn’t comply with data quality guidelines re: pork slaughterhouses
* Update on reopening America... and around the world
* Disney delays reopening of its California theme parks
* Coronavirus update
* How Illinois and Iowa compare re: Covid lockdowns
* Possibility U.S. presidential election produces no clear winner on Nov. 3
* Voting by mail soared for Tuesday's contests
* Minnesota suing ExxonMobil, API and Koch Industries
* Sen. Joni Ernst's (R-Iowa) Democratic challenger is blasting her
* Powerful House committee chair Engel lost his race after Tuesday’s primary elections
* McGrath leads state Rep Booker in Kentucky Senate Democratic primary
* Another top White House economist is stepping down
* Senate Dems block GOP policy reform bill from any debate
* House nears vote to approve statehood for Washington DC
* U.K. trade deal with U.S. could lower standards, manufacturers warn
* Dems to hold almost entirely virtual presidential nominating convention Aug. 17-20
* NYT: Democrats are ahead in crucial Senate races
* Sabato's Crystal Ball: “The Electoral College: Trump’s Floodgates are Creaking”
Equities today: The pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 erased earlier losses to edge up 0.4%, while major Asian equity indexes ended the day lower. U.S. equity futures signal a slight follow through following more hefty losses on Wednesday amid a rise in new Covid-19 cases in pockets of the U.S. that has left businesses struggling to decide whether they should open, close or find a compromise.
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow fell 710.16 points, 2.7%, to 25,445.94. The S&P 500 declined 80.96 points, 2.6%, to 3,050.33, and the Nasdaq Composite lost 222.20 points, 2.2%, to 9,909.17. All three indexes suffered their steepest losses since June 11.
On tap today:
• The European Central Bank releases minutes from its June 3-4 meeting at 7:30 a.m. ET.
• U.S. jobless claims for the week ending June 20, due at 8:30 a.m., are expected to fall to 1.35 million from 1.508 million a week earlier.
• U.S. durable goods orders for May, due at 8:30 a.m., are expected to rise 9.8% from the prior month.
• U.S. advance economic indicators for May are out at 8:30 a.m.
• U.S. gross domestic product, due at 8:30 a.m., is expected to decline at a 5.0% annual pace in the first quarter, unrevised from an earlier estimate.
• Kansas City Fed's manufacturing survey for June is out at 11 a.m.
• Federal Reserve: The Dallas Fed’s Robert Kaplan and ECB’s Yves Mersch speak at a Reinventing Bretton Woods webinar at 9:30 a.m., the Atlanta Fed’s Raphael Bostic speaks at a Florida Chamber of Commerce webinar at 11 a.m., the Cleveland Fed’s Loretta Mester speaks to a Paycheck Protection Program webinar at noon, and the Kansas City Fed’s Esther George speaks on the economic and monetary policy outlook at 1:30 p.m. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve releases its latest supervisory stress test results for banks at 4:30 p.m.
• Japan releases its Tokyo consumer price index for June at 7:30 p.m. and provisional trade figures for June at 7:50 p.m.
IMF forecasts deeper global recession from growing virus threat. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its outlook for the coronavirus-ravaged world economy, projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago. “We are definitely not out of the woods,” said Gita Gopinath, IMF's chief economist. “This is a crisis like no other and will have a recovery like no other.”
The fund said Wednesday it now expected global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April. For 2021, the fund forecast growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. The IMF warned that the rebound in global financial-market sentiment “appears disconnected from shifts in underlying economic prospects,” raising the possibility that financial conditions will tighten more than forecast in its core scenario. “This could tip some economies into debt crises and slow activity further,” the IMF said. Link to full report.
In the U.S., GDP is expected to contract 8% in 2020, compared with the previous 5.9% projection. The world’s largest economy may grow 4.5% next year, the IMF said. he euro area will probably shrink 10.2% in 2020 and expand 6% in 2021, the fund said. The IMF sees advanced economies shrinking the most, contracting 8%, compared with 6.1% previously. Emerging-market and developing economies will see a 3% contraction, compared with the 1% forecast in April. China will still manage to expand 1%, supported by policy stimulus.
Fed’s Evans says intermittent virus outbreaks will slow U.S. economy. Recurring coronavirus outbreaks will probably hold back U.S. economic growth and leave unemployment at elevated levels in the coming years, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said. “My forecast assumes growth is held back by the response to intermittent localized outbreaks — which might be made worse by the faster-than-expected reopenings,” Evans said yesterday in remarks prepared for a virtual event. “In this environment, many resources will be devoted to health and safety. I assume health solutions become widely available as we move through 2022, and I allow for a return to more normal operations by late in the year,” Evans said.
Employment in U.S. and European investment-grade companies is unlikely to rise above the pre-Covid-19 levels before the first quarter of 2021, says Citi based on an economic model analysing the effect of credit market stress on the real economy and firms' employment. Employment in high-yield companies will take even longer to bounce back, and it is likely to stay significantly below the pre-Covid-19 levels until at least the second quarter of 2021, Citi's model shows. The model projects significantly less favorable employment outcomes under credit assumptions that "are more pessimistic than the baseline, yet not at all unrealistic," the U.S. bank says.
• Sugar prices are poised for their best quarter in four years, driven by a recovery in oil markets and supply disruptions in the market for the sweetener. But traders say the rally may not last, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis (link).
• Oil extended declines after growing U.S. crude stockpiles and a surge in coronavirus cases across the nation raised concerns about demand in the world’s largest economy. Futures in New York slipped 0.6% to below $38 a barrel, after the biggest fall in almost two weeks on Wednesday. U.S. gasoline futures tumbled the most in two months amid fears that lockdowns may need to be re-imposed. U.S. crude is down nearly 1.5%, trading around $37.40 per barrel, while Brent crude is around 1% lower, trading around $40.10 per barrel.
• December corn futures appear headed for a test of support in the $3.30 area that stymied selling during May. Below that, support is layered from the April 29 low of $3.27 ¼ to the April low of $3.25 ½.
• Soybean futures, since falling to their lowest levels in nearly a year in April, have risen 6.4%. Most-active soybean futures closed at $8.71 a bushel on Wednesday — topping the forecast break-even price of around $8.50 a bushel needed by many farmers for their soybean crops to be profitable. U.S. soybeans are heading back to trans-Pacific shipping lanes and that’s driving up prices of the agricultural commodity. China has ramped up its purchases of U.S. soybeans, the Wall Street Journal reports (link), making the crop profitable again for U.S. farmers after the coronavirus pandemic slammed demand. Some traders believe the market momentum could push prices to their highest level in over a year. China is behind the growth, with purchases of nearly 5 million metric tons of American soybeans in the past month. The purchases, most of which will be delivered later this year, follow the trade pact between the Washington and Beijing that is supposed to sharply boost China’s imports of American agricultural products. Brazil’s currency also has strengthened sharply over the past month while the U.S. dollar has weakened, making U.S. exports more attractive for China.
Who says the IRS doesn't ever give you anything? The Internal Revenue Service will pay interest on refunds for taxpayers filing after April 15, even though the filing deadline has been extended into July, thanks to a quirk in the tax code. The result: Many people who chose to delay filing their tax returns will get a bonus from the government.
— RFA has met with OMB on EPA RFS proposal. Updated information now shows that the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has been in meetings with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the 2021 biofuel and 2022 biodiesel proposal from EPA. OMB now shows that RFA officials took part in a meeting that was originally listed as involving just Growth Energy, a meeting which included Emily Skor, Growth Energy CEO; Chris Bliley, Growth Energy senior vice president of regulatory affairs; Goeff Cooper, RFA president and CEO; and Jessica Bennett, RFA vice president, government and external affairs.
Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute (API) stepped OMB through a presentation which said that the proposals needed to “reflect market realities and promote a level playing field.” The group said that the implied volume for convention biofuel “can be satisfied by any renewable fuel, i.e., not a mandate exclusively for corn ethanol.” They also argued that setting standards above the blend wall “do not significantly increase ethanol blending,” adding that E15 and E85 are “not blend wall solutions.”
The group also maintained that the RFS should “not be used to make up for lost ethanol volumes,” noting that in 2019 there was record-high ethanol consumption, while production fell “due to lost exports.” EPA should “reject any calls to increase 2021 standards due to demand losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” API reiterated their view that the 10th Circuit Court decision should be applied nationally, but that EPA should not reallocate small refinery exemption (SRE) volumes.
API also stated that the biomass-based biodiesel standard should not be increased in 2022 “and a lower standard may be appropriate.” They told OMB that EPA “should focus on domestic production and realistic utilization rates.” Reports have indicated the EPA proposal includes an increase in the biomass-based biodiesel mandate, and the API presentation at the meeting appears to back that up.
Regarding the DC Circuit ruling to remand the 2016 final RFS levels to address 500 million Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) that were waived from the standard, API said the renewable volume obligations should not be increased as “there is no way to retroactively correct the volume of renewable fuel blended in 2016.” API maintains that the maximum adjustment in RINs for 2021 should be 120 million, with those spread over two years — 2021 and 2022. API further argued that the general waiver is justified.
— Joint statement from USDA and FDA on food export restrictions pertaining to Covid-19. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., issued the following statement regarding food export restrictions pertaining to Covid-19:
“The United States understands the concerns of consumers here domestically and around the world who want to know that producers, processors and regulators are taking every necessary precaution to prioritize food safety especially during these challenging times. However, efforts by some countries to restrict global food exports related to Covid-19 transmission are not consistent with the known science of transmission.”
“There is no evidence that people can contract Covid-19 from food or from food packaging. The U.S. food safety system, overseen by our agencies, is the global leader in ensuring the safety of our food products, including product for export.”
Background: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in conjunction with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has issued guidance for manufacturing facilities, including food facilities, specific to controlling the spread of COVID-19 between workers. But the Covid-19 guidelines from CDC and OSHA are separate and distinct from the food safety requirements that all U.S. food facilities must follow to ensure food safety.
China has suspended poultry imports from a Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas because of a coronavirus outbreak at the site. The Trump administration statement came as China is reportedly demanding that international shippers of meat and soybeans sign a document attesting their cargoes aren’t contaminated with the novel coronavirus, Bloomberg reported. Many companies are wary of taking that step because of potential liability.
— Bayer to pay up to $10.9 billion to settle Roundup lawsuits. Bayer and law firms representing about 125,000 plaintiffs reached a settlement worth over $10 billion in a suit about the alleged cancer-causing effects of the popular herbicide Roundup. As part of the deal, Bayer pledged $10.1-10.9 billion to settle current claims and was setting aside an additional $1.25 billion for future claims, the company said in a statement on Wednesday. Bayer said it has set aside the money to settle claims brought by lawyers representing some 95,000 plaintiffs, as well as some 30,000 more claims that haven’t yet agreed to the settlement. The set-aside includes funding a panel to evaluate whether the product causes cancer. The findings from that panel are geared to help shape the outcome of litigation going forward.
Bayer CEO Werner Baumann also said the agreement with law firms representing nearly 100,000 Roundup plaintiffs and an undetermined number of dicamba plaintiffs should allay growers’ concerns about access to the herbicides. The dicamba settlement includes $300 million for soybean growers who experienced drift damage between 2015 and 2020. Another $100 million is set aside for claims from growers of other crops, attorney fees and claims administration, said Don Downing, chair of the court-appointed plaintiffs’ executive committee.
The settlement doesn’t change anything in Bayer’s view that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe and doesn’t cause cancer. Bayer didn’t admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement and continued to defend its decision to purchase Monsanto. The company will continue to sell Roundup. “As a science-based company committed to improving people’s health, we have great sympathy for anyone who suffers from disease, and we understand their search for answers,” Bayer’s press release said. “At the same time, the extensive body of science indicates that Roundup does not cause cancer, and therefore, is not responsible for the illnesses alleged in this litigation.”
The deal likely means that Roundup will continue to be sold without warnings about the potential dangers of the product, especially after a decision in California on Monday that barred the state from labeling the product carcinogenic.
— Trump administration challenges halt to waters rule in Colorado. The Trump administration is pursuing an appeal of a court order that blocked the adoption of narrower federal protections for wetlands and waterways within the state of Colorado. Lawyers for the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers filed a notice of appeal Tuesday, taking aim at the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado decision to block the agencies’ Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The challenge will go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
— Senate Ag panel holds hearing on bill to push carbon markets. The Senate Ag Committee on Wednesday discussed a bill introduced by ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). Several panel members said any carbon credit certification system should be centered around benefiting farmers, not large companies or others seeking to buy carbon offsets, and that a program should not inadvertently incentivize corporations to buy up farmland.
Caution raised. “What we don’t want... is the third-party verifiers who are going to receive USDA certified labels, or the corporations that want to greenwash their businesses” to be the primary beneficiaries, said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). “How do we make sure that the benefit, the value actually goes to the farmers and not the middlemen or corporations?”
A companion bill is set to be introduced on Friday by House Ag members Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.).
— U.S./EU trade tensions rise again. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office, which imposed 25% tariffs on wine, cheeses, olives and other products from the European Union in October, is now considering raising levies to 100%, citing a lack of progress in negotiating a settlement and eliminating subsidies for Airbus. Importers, restaurateurs and others who buy European wines say higher tariffs would devastate an industry floored by months of lockdowns, the Wall Street Journal reports (link).
— Update on China:
- Highlights of AgriTalk's Chip Flory interview with U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer (link):
• China still is fully expected to live up to terms of the Phase 1 agreement signed January 15 and entered into effect February 14.
• Lighthizer disputed reports that China ordered state-owned buyers to pause their purchases of U.S. ag goods as “fake news” that “created a big uproar.” He noted that less than 24 hours after the reports, they made a large purchase of U.S. soybeans. “I went to the very high levels that I deal with because I was worried that there was some truth to that, but I was assured there was absolutely no truth to it,” Lighthizer said.
• Regarding comments by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that the Phase 1 deal was “over,” Lighthizer said Navarro was “misunderstood.” He also revealed that he was on the phone with President Donald Trump when Trump tweeted that the Phase 1 agreement was “fully intact.” Navarro later walked back his initial remarks to Fox News.
• Lighthizer sought to reinforce that the Phase 1 agreement was not just about China increasing their imports of US ag and other goods. “We have through this agreement for the first time ever opened up massive amounts of soybeans again. Go right down the line… dairy, etc. We have approved [many] facilities to ship with the Chinese,” he explained. “But a lot of the rest of [the Phase 1 accord] is these so-called structural changes... getting rid of SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) and other impediments to U.S. agricultural sales and we have gotten rid of them. We have 57 commitments and they've already followed through on 50 of them, so it's a massive change.”
• Lighthizer cautioned that U.S./China relationship is “going to be complicated.”
• Regarding the purchase commitments, Lighthizer said they are on a calendar year “and that puts an awful lot of pressure on the Chinese, particularly on the purchasing side, to get that done in what is a relatively brief period of time. So that was a specific point of negotiation.” The purchase commitments are “little bit backloaded just because of the seasons and the markets. But we expect them to do it all during the course of this calendar year.”
• Regarding Phase 2 negotiations, Lighthizer said, “We've always taken the position that how Phase 2 goes depends really on how Phase 1 goes.”
• Lighthizer revealed he will be talking via telephone with Vice Premier Liu He “in the next few weeks.” However, he pointed out that was “not the only communication we have.”
- President Trump ordered a payment program be established to help lobster producers amid ongoing trade tensions. Under a memorandum Trump signed Wednesday, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue would establish a program to “provide assistance to fishermen and producers in the United States lobster industry that continue to be harmed by China’s retaliatory tariffs.” China put tariffs on U.S. lobster imports as Trump ramped up his own levies on Chinese-made goods but separately under the Phase 1 trade deal, China agreed to make some lobster purchases. The memorandum calls for tracking progress of those commitments and, if they aren’t met, imposing retaliatory tariffs on Chinese seafood. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said China agreed to some exclusions of its lobster tariffs equal to $150 million. The payment program would be on top of that. “The assistance program is designed to make whole America’s lobster fishermen for the harm they have suffered at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party’s unfair retaliatory tariffs,” Navarro said. “The action will also help ensure China fulfills its purchase commitments under the Phase One deal even as it seeks to address the harm our lobster fishermen are now experiencing from the ripple effects of the Canada European Union Trade Agreement — U.S. exports to the EU are down dramatically and Canadian exports are soaring.”
Maine splits its electoral votes based on results in congressional districts, and in 2016, three went to Hillary Clinton and one to Trump. Hanging onto that one vote — or picking up more — could be crucial in a close election. Asked about the political implications of such a move in an election year, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) praised the administration for the move. King said he won’t “bite the hand that feeds you” and said that he supports the administration’s action.
- U.S. pet food exports to China look strong after U.S. and Chinese envoys reached consensus. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service agents developed a protocol for exporting U.S. pet foods to China, which went into effect on June 15.
- Pentagon names 20 Chinese firms it says are military-controlled. The Pentagon put China Railway Construction Corp. and China Aerospace Science and Industry on a list of 20 companies it says are owned or controlled by China’s military, opening them up to potential additional U.S. sanctions. The move’s implications were not immediately clear, but it came as relations between the two superpowers continue to deteriorate, and as China has become an election year issue in the U.S.
— Update on next aid package
- Pilots want U.S. to buy plane seats. American Airlines’ pilots are calling on the U.S. government to pay for enough plane seats to allow social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the move would help support carriers through the worst collapse in industry history. The estimated cost of the proposal would be about $1.9 billion a month for the 10 largest U.S. carriers as they operate an average 40% of their normal flying capacity, the Allied Pilots Association said in a statement. That would rise to $3.8 billion when the airlines reach 80% of normal schedules and decline as immunity to the virus rises, the union said.
— Update on implementation of CARES 1:
- Over $100 billion in PPP loans left unclaimed in U.S. relief aid. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) had more than $100 billion in funding left as of last Saturday, with only days remaining until the SBA stops taking new applications on June 30.
— Food supply/industry update:
- USDA didn’t comply with data quality guidelines when writing a controversial rule to overhaul safety inspections at pork slaughterhouses, according to a report from the department’s internal watchdog. USDA’s Inspector General (IG) released a report (link) detailing several shortfalls in how the department formulated a controversial regulation that allows meatpackers to accelerate their pork processing lines to high speeds that labor advocates warn are dangerous for plant workers. The IG’s office said USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) didn’t fully adhere to requirements for data quality and transparency, and specifically “did not take adequate steps” to determine whether the worker safety analysis in question was reliable.
FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker responded that the auditors placed “distorted emphasis” on minor errors and omissions in preliminary rulemaking documents. Kiecker also said the findings that FSIS didn’t comply with data quality guidelines “are false because they are premised on a mistaken assumption about the purpose of the preliminary [worker safety] analysis.” USDA is asking the judge to stay proceedings to allow FSIS to revisit the rule.
Adam Pulver of Public Citizen Litigation Group, who is representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the 2019 rule, said the report “makes clear that the USDA used unreliable data and failed to share data with members of the public in order to hide the data’s flaws from scrutiny.”
— Update on reopening America... and around the world:
- Disney is considering postponing the July 24 release of “Mulan,” according to reports, a rescheduling that could call into question hopes across Hollywood and the movie-theater industry to have cinemas up and running next month.
- Disney also delayed the reopening of its California theme parks, which had been scheduled for July 17, as new cases in the state spiked this week.
- Google mobility data shows visits to restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, theme parks, museums, libraries and movie theaters is on the rise nationwide but appears to have peaked or plateaued in states with rising infection rates.
— Coronavirus update:
- Summary: Covid-19 cases are at 9,440,535 with 482,923 deaths, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). U.S. cases now total 2,381,369 with 121,979 deaths.
- Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the state is seeing a "massive outbreak" and hospital systems are under serious strain. Cases jumped the most on record in Florida on Wednesday, yet Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said stay-at-home measures should be a "last resort." California Governor Gavin Newsom also stopped short of any form of new lockdown.
“There’s no denying the flare-ups, even if some in the media almost seem to enjoy the rise in cases and hospitalizations in Arizona, Florida, Texas and other hot spots in the South and West,” the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial on the topic (link). “Fears of a resurgence of the novel coronavirus are dominating the news and spooking financial markets. The flare-ups bear watching, and preparing for, but the original lockdowns were never going to eradicate the virus short of unacceptable economic pain. The unhappy but inevitable truth is that Americans will have to learn to cope with the virus, which means trial and error and more individual responsibility,” the WSJ commentary said.
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said yesterday that anyone coming from eight states undergoing a sharp rise in cases — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah — would have to quarantine for two weeks when entering the state, or face a fine. He also delayed the reopening of malls, gyms and movie theaters. The New York City Marathon, which would have celebrated its 50th race in November, was canceled.
- Illinois has had a relatively stringent lockdown policy compared with neighboring Iowa. The result plays out across the Quad Cities, a river-straddling metro area of around 420,000 that includes Scott and Muscatine counties on the Iowa side, as well as Rock Island and Henry counties in Illinois. The difference has created a clear shift in spending patterns and potential longer-term consequences, according to the Wall Street Journal (link).
- India will carry out a massive survey for the coronavirus targeting the entire population in New Delhi of 29 million. The capital has reported more than 70,000 cases.
- A recent outbreak in Beijing appears to have been brought under control, with China reporting 19 newly confirmed cases amid mass testing in the capital.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
- Minnesota is suing ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and Koch Industries, contending they knowingly misled the public about the role fossil fuels play in driving climate change. he lawsuit does not seek to hold them liable for climate change, but seeks an injunction against them to prevent spreading climate misinformation and asks the companies to relinquish illegal profits, fund a climate education campaign and hand over internal documents.
- Sen. Joni Ernst's (R-Iowa) Democratic challenger is blasting her in tweets and a new radio spot for her votes to confirm EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who she says has undermined the federal biofuels program by issuing dozens of exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard. Businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, the Democrat trying to unseat Ernst, launched the radio ad Wednesday as part of a statewide buy slamming Ernst for backing Wheeler, who she referred to as a "fossil fuel lobbyist" because of his past work. The attacks followed tweets in which she called for Wheeler to resign and asked Ernst to join her demand.
- A powerful House committee chair lost his race after Tuesday’s primary elections. Middle school principal Jamaal Bowman bested House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) in the Democratic primary for New York's 16th Congressional District. Engel, first elected in 1988, received endorsements from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), and the Congressional Black Caucus. Bowman was endorsed by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I) and Elizabeth Warren (D) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D). Engel is the fourth incumbent to lose a re-election bid this cycle.
Meanwhile, hotel executive Suraj Patel is neck-and-neck with House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.),. Full results will not be available in New York until later this month; the state will only begin counting absentee ballots next week. But the results from in-person voting are encouraging signs for Bowman and Patel, both progressive insurgents and political newcomers.
- Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath is leading progressive state Rep. Charles Booker in the Kentucky Senate Democratic primary, although full results won’t be available for at least another week. The winner will compete in November against Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Booker thus far received 36.5% of the vote to McGrather’s 44.7%. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Booker. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and VoteVets were among McGrath's endorsers. The race won’t be called until June 30, when the remaining absentee ballots will be counted.
- In Virginia, Dr. Cameron Webb, a former adviser to the Obama administration, won by a landslide in a crowded field in the state’s fifth district. Dr. Webb would become the first African-American doctor in Congress if he wins the general election. He will face Republican nominee Bob Good, who defeated incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman in a GOP nominating convention earlier this month.
- Voting by mail soared for Tuesday’s contests, continuing a trend throughout the pandemic. In Kentucky, 889,679 voters requested absentee ballots, according to Kentucky’s secretary of state, who said turnout was on track to be high compared with past primaries. Fewer than 670,000 voters cast ballots in total in the state’s 2016 primary, according to state data.
Election watchers way the slower vote counting signals this will likely be the case following Nov. 3 elections in those races too close to call, possibly including the presidency.
- Another top White House economist is stepping down. The White House said Wednesday that Tomas Philipson, the acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, will depart next week, leaving the three-member panel with one remaining. Philipson’s departure comes days after his predecessor, Kevin Hassett, completed a three-month stint advising President Trump on the economic response to the coronavirus pandemic. Monday was Hassett’s last day on the job. Andrew Olmem, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, left his job last week.
- Signal or noise? A minority of the Senate, 45 Democrats, voted Wednesday to close off any debate on a police reform bill, not even allowing the Senate to debate or offer amendments to Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) proposal. In a commentary on the development, the Wall Street Journal said: “The calculation is pure election-year cynicism: Block the Senate from passing a bill that Republicans could campaign on, then denounce Republicans for refusing to pass the bill that House Democrats will pass this week that would micromanage local police departments. Blame Republicans for opposing reform when Senate Democrats were the real opponents. Much of the press corps will play along by reporting on the House vote but treating the Senate vote as a GOP failure. The election-year calculation will go largely unmentioned as Democrats maneuver to return the Senate to Democratic Party control in 2021. It’s no accident that California Senator Kamala Harris led the filibuster as she campaigns to be Joe Biden’s running mate.” Harris said that Democrats would “not take crumbs on the table when there is a hunger that America has for real solutions to a very real problem.” Sen. Scott said Democrats had “decided to punt this ball until the election.” The House, which Democrats control, is set to pass its own legislation today, but Senate Republican leaders have said they will not take up the bill.
- More noise from Congress as the House nears a vote to approve statehood for Washington, DC. The measure is unlikely to become law because President Trump and Senate Republicans oppose the U.S. capital becoming the 51st state.
- U.K. trade deal with U.S. could lower standards, manufacturers warn, but Britain’s trade secretary Liz Truss insists no deal will be better than a bad deal. British manufacturers have raised fears the U.K. will be flooded with “cheap, poorer quality goods if Washington forces companies to submit to U.S. standards as part of the negotiations on a U.S./U.K. trade deal,” the Financial Times reported (link). Liz Truss, international trade secretary, told MPs on Wednesday that the U.K. will not lower its standards in order to strike quick deals before the Brexit transition period concludes at the end of 2020. “To coin a once familiar phrase, no deal is better than a bad deal,” she said in a reference to the maxim of former prime minister Theresa May.
- Democrats plan to hold an almost entirely virtual presidential nominating convention Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee, using live broadcasts and online streaming. Party officials confirmed that Joe Biden will accept the presidential nomination in person, but it is murky whether there will be a significant audience there to see it.
- NYT: Democrats are ahead in crucial Senate races. The Republicans’ Senate majority appears to be in danger, according to New York Times/Siena College polls of battleground states (link). To retake Senate control, Democrats would need to win five of the 11 races that currently appear competitive (as well as the vice presidency, which breaks Senate ties). The NYT polled three of those races — in Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina — and the Democratic candidate is leading all, although by only three percentage points in North Carolina (link for background). It won’t be easy for Democrats, because nine of the 11 races are in states that President Trump won in 2016. But his unpopularity has made it imaginable, NYT writers note. In a separate story (link), Nate Cohn looks at Trump’s deficit in six swing states, including Florida.
- Sabato's Crystal Ball: “The Electoral College: Trump’s Floodgates are Creaking.” The election-watching experts say Florida, Pennsylvania shift toward Biden, “but he’s still shy of the magic number 270 in our ratings.” Link for details.