Powell returns to Congress | China info shows big grain buys in Aug. | Supreme Court
In Today’s Updates
* Fed Chair Powell returns to Congress today
* Mnuchin and Powell offered cautious optimism on the U.S. economy
* Bank of Japan’s Kuroda: not yet time to shift current monetary policy stance
* Futures still trading well below the CME cash hog index
* Brazil may import 850,000 to 1 million tons of soybeans in 2020
* U.S. orange juice futures are giving up the pandemic-related gains
* Ukraine’s corn exports lag year-ago by 67.9%
* Insurance helping commodities flow smoothly around world is seizing up
* Tea, world’s most popular beverage, is becoming more expensive
* NOAA weather upgrade
* House clears stopgap spending bill including CCC, nutrition funding
* Congressional, White House talks continue on new Covid aid/stimulus package
* Reuters: USDA making Covid aid payments to tobacco farmers from new account
* Trump criticizes China for Covid-19 response in United Nations speech
* Bill on Uighur forced labor penalties passed by House; China responds
* Swedish clothing retailer H&M will no longer source cotton from Xinjiang
* Study: China's policies harmed U.S. industries
* U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad on China and Covid-19
* Ocean shipping rates between China and U.S. are showing signs of peaking
* China data shows hefty pork imports in August, but pace is slowing
* Chinese grain buying soars in August
* Chinese ag ministry downplays grain crop damage
U.S. food & beverage industry update:
* OSHA called ‘feckless’ on meat plant virus cases
* China's central government send teams to different provinces
* British PM Boris Johnson unveils new coronavirus restrictions for England
* Johnson & Johnson begins late-stage trials on single-shot coronavirus vaccine.
* FDA dampened hopes for an imminent coronavirus vaccine
Politics & Elections:
* Romney supports considering whomever Trump nominates for Supreme Court
* Charts on Supreme Court nominations in the past
* Constitution says nothing about how many justices there must be on Supreme Court
* Senate races: The Economist’s forecasting model
* New York Times looks at how Trump could win
* Judge: absentee ballots in Wis. can be counted up to six days after Nov. 3 election
* Big gender gap evident in tight Iowa race between Trump and Biden
* If you are from Maine, you can also vote for second, third choices for president
* 'Top secret' CIA assessment of Putin and influence operation to hurt Joe Biden
* Ipsos and U.Va.'s Center for Politics interactive U.S. map
* Biden would end 'artificial trade war' that Trump launched against EU
* Rep. Pascrell Jr. will be chairman of House Ways & Means Oversight Subc.
* TVA nomination withdrawn
* Former House Ag Chairman Bob Smith (R-Ore.), 89, dies in Oregon
* Two Senate GOP chairmen release findings from investigation into Bidens
Other Items of Note:
* Sen. Tillis: Trump to extend offshore drilling moratorium
* Senators call for removal of trade program’s rice tariff barriers
* Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny discharged from Berlin hospital
Equities today: Global stock markets were mostly firmer overnight. Germany's DAX rose 1.5%, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 2.3% and the Euro Stoxx 50 rose 1.7%. In Asia, China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.2%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.1%, while Japan's Nikkei fell 0.1%. U.S. stock futures signal a higher open.
In Washington, Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged more spending to help the economy recover from Covid-19, and the Fed Chair will head back to Capitol Hill today to testify about the government's pandemic response. President Trump also confirmed the U.S. would not impose a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus after Boris Johnson walked back some eased restrictions in the U.K. Meanwhile, the House passed a short-term spending bill Tuesday night in a 359-57 vote, which would keep the government funded through Dec. 11. Besides funding most government agencies, the measure would add back dropped funding for USDA's CCC in return for expanded nutrition assistance for low-income households (sought by the Democrats). Lawmakers have said they want to get past the shutdown threat to focus on passing more coronavirus relief, which they have failed to do for months amid disagreements over the size and scope of a fifth stimulus package.
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow rose 140.48 points, 0.52%, to 27,288.18, breaking a three-session losing streak. The S&P 500 rose 34.51 points, 1.05%, to 3,315.57, and the Nasdaq rose 184.84 points, 1.71%, to 10,963.64. Both snapped four-session losing streaks.
On tap today:
• IHS Markit's flash U.S. manufacturing index for September is expected to rise to 53.8 from 53.1 at the end of August and the services index is expected to tick down to 54.6 from 55.0. (9:45 a.m. ET)
• Federal Reserve: Cleveland’s Loretta Mester speaks to the Chicago Payments Symposium at 9 a.m. ET, Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis at 10 a.m. ET, Chicago’s Charles Evans speaks on the economy and monetary policy at 11 a.m. ET, Boston’s Eric Rosengren speaks to the Boston Economic Club at 12 p.m. ET, Minneapolis’s Neel Kashkari speaks to the Harvard School of Public Health at 1 p.m. ET, Atlanta’s Raphael Bostic speaks about rural communities at 1 p.m. ET, and Vice Chairman Randal Quarles speaks to the Institute of International Bankers at 2 p.m. ET.
• Bank of Japan releases minutes from its July 14-15 meeting at 7:50 p.m. ET.
Powell warns recovery highly uncertain. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy has a long way to go before fully recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and will need further support. “The path forward will depend on keeping the virus under control,” and “on policy actions taken at all levels of government,” he told the House Financial Services Committee. While a financial rebound is now underway, “employment and overall economic activity, however, remain well below their pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans was more specific, saying the country risks "recessionary dynamics" without a new rescue package.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he and the White House continue to seek an agreement with both parties in Congress on another fiscal stimulus package. “The president and I remain committed to providing support for American workers and businesses,” he said in testimony Tuesday. “I believe a targeted package is still needed.”
Bank of Japan’s Kuroda says not yet time to shift current monetary policy stance. Inflation remains “distant” from the target set by the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and the central bank is not yet at the stage to look at timing and specifics of exiting their current ultra-easy monetary policy stance, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said in an online meeting with business leaders from Osaka. Once inflation approaches the bank’s target, Kuroda said they would “communicate appropriately” their monetary policy exist strategy.
Japanese exports are starting to rise, but Kuroda cautioned that there are still risks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S./China tensions and protectionism.
On digital currencies, Kuroda commented the BOJ “does not have any plan to issues central bank digital currencies (CBDC) now.” But he noted that the bank plans to be ready when the public calls for the issuance of CBDC and said they would work in close cooperation with global central banks.
• Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is near steady following solid gains this week that have pushed the USDX to a six-week high. Nymex crude oil prices are slightly firmer and trading around $40.00. Meantime, the yield on the U.S. Treasury 10-year note is trading around 0.66% today.
• Oil futures are slightly higher ahead of U.S. gov't inventory data due this morning. U.S. crude is trading around $39.90 per barrel and Brent around $41.90 per barrel. Prices were lower in Asian action, with U.S. crude down 38 cents at $39.42 per barrel and Brent crude down 37 cents at $41.35 per barrel.
• Futures are still trading well below the CME cash hog index, which is at the highest level since August 2018.
• Brazil may import 850,000 to 1 million tons of soybeans in 2020, the highest since 2003, when its production was about 50 million tons, less than half current levels.
• U.S. orange juice futures are giving up the pandemic-related gains.
• Ukraine’s corn exports lag year-ago by 67.9%. Nearly three months into the 2020-21 marketing year, Ukraine has exported 10.77 MMT of grain, which is an 11.6% retreat from shipments of 12.19 MMT at this point last season, the country’s economy ministry said today. The year-over-year decline is largely driven by a drop in corn exports. Ukraine has shipped 619,000 MT of corn so far, which compares to shipments of 1.93 MMT last year at this time. The country is a major supplier to China, who has recently brought in a lot of corn from the United States. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s wheat exports are lagging year-ago by just 80,000 MT at 7.45 MMT. Ukraine’s total exports of grain are expected to drop from 57.2 MMT in 2019-20 to 47.4 MMT in 2020-21 as crop size fell versus 2019’s record.
• An obscure part of the insurance industry that helps commodities flow smoothly around the world is seizing up, presenting another obstacle to the U.S. economy’s fitful recovery, the Wall Street Journal reports (link). Trade-credit insurance, a financial tool that protects trade, has been severely cut back for U.S. companies, say insurance executives, brokers and policyholders. The WSJ article says companies are “often reluctant to move goods without this type of insurance, so shipments of metals are being delayed or dropped even as demand for raw materials revives.”
• Tea, the world’s most popular beverage, is becoming more expensive. Remote working arrangements and other home routines established during the coronavirus pandemic have led more people to reach for cups of tea, which is consumed in larger amounts world-wide than any drink other than water. But supplies of tea leaves are tightening, due to bad weather in some producer countries, labor shortages, port closures and other logistical issues. One result: Prices of wholesale tea leaves have jumped 50% since March, when they tumbled to their lowest levels in more than a decade due to oversupply.
NOAA weather upgrade. NOAA’s National Weather Service today is scheduled to announce an upgrade to its Global Ensemble Forecast System to improve forecasting capabilities for hurricanes, blizzards and other weather, according to a press release.
— Pelosi, other House Dem leaders bow to bipartisan farm-state lawmaker pressure on stopgap spending measure; House clears bill and Senate to follow. Farm-state lawmakers pressured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders to alter their previous measure which now includes $21 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and around $8 billion for nutrition spending. The House Tuesday night passed a short-term spending bill keeping the government funded through Dec. 11. The bill passed in a 359-57 vote. The Senate is expected to vote on it this week. Link to special report for details which include restrictions on CCC funds for “big oil” but Republicans blocked additional Democratic-pushed restrictions on the CCC. Regarding the “big oil” restrictions using CCC funding, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said: "There’s nothing that we can find in there for Big Oil, or small oil, or anything.” (Definition of noise in Congress.)
— Reuters: USDA making Covid aid payments to tobacco farmers from new account. USDA will be making payments to tobacco farmers under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) effort via a new account established under the office of the secretary, according to a report from Reuters. The payments of up to $100 million to tobacco farmers will not come from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funding but from this new account established in the wake of how Congress divvied up money to USDA in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. A change in law in 2004 prevented CCC funds from being used to make payments to tobacco farmers, and USDA told the news service it is tracking the money. The CARES Act provided $9.5 billion in relief funding for agriculture, allocating those funds to the office of the agriculture secretary.
— Update on China:
- Trump criticizes China for Covid-19 response in United Nations speech. President Trump used a virtual speech at the United Nations General Assembly to assail China on Tuesday, blaming Beijing for the coronavirus pandemic that has stricken the world while weighing on the global economy. “The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” Trump said. Trump, facing a re-election challenge, sought to blame China for not taking steps to protect other countries from the pandemic. “In the earliest days of the virus, China locked down travel domestically while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world,” Trump said. “The Chinese government, and the World Health Organization — which is virtually controlled by China — falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.”
- Bill on Uighur forced labor penalties passed by House. Goods imported from China’s Xinjiang region or produced from forced labor practices would be banned under HR 6210, which passed the House by a 406-3 vote. The measure also requires U.S.-traded companies to disclose whether they engaged in certain activities in the region. Under current law, it’s illegal to import into the U.S. any goods made “wholly or in part” with forced labor.
As expected, China’s foreign ministry said it lodged stern representations to the U.S. House of Representatives after the passage of the legislation. Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing that reports of forced labor were false rumors made by some in the U.S. and the West. China will take all necessary measures to uphold the rights of Chinese companies and will safeguard its sovereignty and development interests, Wang said. The situation continues to fester, but already companies in Europe and some in the U.S. are already seeking commitments from Chinese exporters that there is no Xinjiang component to textile products shipped from China. This continues to create additional strains on the Sino/US. relationship, but China has also been importing increased amounts of cotton as they seek to meet terms of the Phase 1 trade agreement with the U.., and contacts believe the imports will be used to produce textiles for export in a bid to meet contract terms relative to Xinjiang.
- Swedish clothing retailer H&M said it will no longer source cotton from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is forcing Uighurs into factory work, according to AFP (link).
- Study: China's policies harmed U.S. industries. China's economic planning and targeted subsidies have increased the competitiveness of Chinese firms in the global economy to the direct detriment of U.S. industry, according to an academic study. Researchers found for every 100 factories opened in China, 12.5 U.S. factories in the same industry closed. Researchers at Columbia University and Boston College found that the opening of new factories and companies negatively affected U.S. employment. Link to report.
- U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad on China and Covid-19: “I think President Trump believed the Chinese when they said what they said about the virus. ... And then he and the rest of the world have found out that what they said was not true, and misinformation and cover-ups occurred... “It’s really, I think, the communist system of China and their unwillingness to admit wrongdoing that caused this whole thing to happen,” Branstad added. “And that’s the tragedy of it.” Branstad made the comments to CNN in an interview last Friday.
- Ocean shipping rates between China and the U.S. are showing signs of peaking near record highs, following recent government intervention on both sides of the Pacific and operator commitments to boost capacity. Link for details.
- China data shows hefty pork imports in August, but pace is slowing as efforts to boost pork output continue. China imported 350,000 tonnes of pork in August, twice the level from August 2019, according to Chinese customs data. Imports were down from the July record of 430,000 tonnes. For January-August, Chinese pork imports have hit 2.91 million tonnes, 133.7% higher than year ago. Meanwhile, the state-run Xinhua New Agency reported that while Chinese pork prices rose by 52.6% from year ago in August, the increase was at a slower pace than July. The report noted China has pushed through policies to boost supply and has released large amounts of state-owned pork into the market to stabilize supplies. The country has also deployed efforts to boost production, with Kong Liang, deputy director of the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Bureau in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, stating that more than 9,000 new pig farms have come into production and over 11,200 large-scale farms have re-opened.
- Chinese grain buying soars in August. Chinese customs data shows the country imported 1.02 MMT of corn in August, a 340% surge from year-ago levels. That propelled its year-to-date (YTD) corn imports to 5.59 MMT, which is a big 50% jump from last year at this time. The country’s wheat imports were also up sharply for August at 700,000 MT, a 471% year-over-year gain. So far this calendar year, the country has imported 4.99 MMT of the grain, a dramatic 137% jump versus year-ago. Another standout is China’s sorghum imports. Beijing imported 640,000 MT of the grain last month, pushing its YTD purchases to 2.93 MMT, up 130.9% and 489.5% from year-ago, respectively.
- Chinese ag ministry downplays grain crop damage. Chinese Ag Minister Han Changfu says the country should bring in a bumper grain crop in the weeks ahead thanks to good growing conditions and a rise in planted acreage. Analysts have recently speculated that typhoons and flooding may have cut the country’s corn crop by up to 10 MMT (nearly 4%) relative to the latest government estimates. But Han downplayed the damage, saying that knocked over corn would mainly increase the difficulty and cost of harvesting, but would not impact overall output. He also said corn in northern areas of the country was showing “better than usual” growth. But Chinese estimates are always suspect and Chinese corn futures have climbed to record-highs on concern about crop losses.
- U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link.
— Food and beverage industry update:
- OSHA called ‘feckless’ on meat plant virus cases. A faster and more forceful response by U.S. officials could have prevented the large outbreaks of Covid-19 at meat plants that sickened thousands and killed dozens of workers, according to a letter from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The pair slammed the “feckless” response by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which this month had fined Smithfield Foods $13,494 and JBS Foods $15,615 for not protecting workers at two meat plants in South Dakota and Colorado.
— Coronavirus update:
- Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are now at 31,615,836 with 971,116 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). The U.S. case count is at 6,897,432 with 200,814 deaths.
Link to Covid Case Tracker
Link to Our World in Data
- China's central government has sent teams led by senior officials to different provinces to inspect their readiness to prevent a second wave of COVID19 as winter draws near, Beijing Youth Daily reports.
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of new coronavirus restrictions for England, including earlier pub-closing times, as his government tries to quell a second wave of infections while avoiding another economically damaging nationwide lockdown. The problem faced by Johnson is one that is playing out across Europe as a wave of infections takes hold.
- Johnson & Johnson (J&J) begins late-stage trials on a single-shot coronavirus vaccine. The first coronavirus vaccine that aims to protect people with just a single shot has entered the final stages of testing in the U.S., in an international trial that will recruit up to 60,000 participants. Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of J&J, said there may be enough data to have results by the end of the year on whether the vaccine is safe and effective, adding that the company plans to manufacture 1 billion doses next year.
- Stricter vaccine standards. Tougher FDA standards for emergency use authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine will extend the review timeline and make it unlikely that a nod could happen by election day, the Washington Post reports (link). The agency is tightening the criteria to boost transparency and public trust amid perceptions that the review process is being politicized. Just over 50% of people would get the vaccine if it was available today, down from 72% in May, according to Pew Research Center.
POLITICS & ELECTIONS
— 2020 Presidential Election Interactive Map
— The Green Papers
— Real Clear Politics
— Presidential debates: Scheduled to occur Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.
— VP debate: Scheduled for Oct. 7.
— Days until election
- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that he supports considering whomever Trump nominates. “My decision regarding a Supreme Court nomination is not the result of a subjective test of ‘fairness’ which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” he said in a statement. “It is based on the immutable fairness of following the law, which in this case is the Constitution and precedent. The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own.”
This comes after Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), one of only two GOP incumbents up for re-election this fall in a state Trump lost in 2016, announced on Monday night that he will vote to confirm a “qualified” Trump nominee.
Four Republican senators would need to break ranks to derail a pre-election nomination process, and the latest news means that it’s likely to be only two: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), who is the only other Republican up for reelection in a state Trump lost last time, and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Both Collins and Murkowski say they support abortion rights.
As for Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted to confirm Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, announced that he will oppose a vote before the election.
Trump made it official on Tuesday, telling reporters that he will announce his pick to replace Ginsburg on the court on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.
- “We’ve got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement before the election,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Monday night: “The nominee is going to be supported by every Republican in the Judiciary Committee, and we’ve got the votes to confirm the judge … on the floor of the Senate before the election.”
Since 1969, Republican presidents have named 14 justices to the high court, compared with four from Democrats.
- Constitution says nothing about how many justices there must be on the Supreme Court, and over time, the number has fluctuated. The court started out with six justices, expanded to seven and has gone as high as 10. Congress set the Supreme Court to be nine justices in 1869, but if a president and Congress agree, they could change the law to expand the court or shrink it. In 1863, the Republican Congress expanded the court to 10 justices to give President Abraham Lincoln an extra appointment. A few years after, Congress reduced the court to seven justices to prevent President Andrew Johnson from making any appointments, and then expanded it to nine in 1869 to give President Ulysses S. Grant vacancies. It has stayed at nine ever since. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried in the 1930s to get Congress to expand the court. But as a Washington Post article notes, “Roosevelt’s idea hit a wall in Congress. But in a roundabout way, he got what he wanted: The court saw its majority imperiled, and two justices began switching their votes to support New Deal legislation. 'It’s called ‘the switch in time that saved nine,’” said Russell Wheeler, a Supreme Court expert with the Brookings Institution. “They switched their approach to New Deal legislation, and that saved the idea of nine justices.”
- Senate races: The Economist’s forecasting model. Almost as important as America’s presidential contest is the fight for the Senate. If Joe Biden wins the presidency, a Republican-held upper chamber of Congress could block his legislative agenda and judicial nominees. Today, the Economist launched a forecasting model of the battle for Congress. It finds that Democrats are almost sure to hold the House of Representatives but are only modest two-in-three favorites to win back the Senate. Democrats hold clear leads in Republican-held seats in Colorado and Arizona, and smaller ones in Maine and North Carolina; a Democratic incumbent trails in Alabama. If polls prove right in all of those races and no other seats change hands, it would yield a 50-50 tie. However, there is a long list of additional Republican-held seats where Democrats trail, but by small margins. The main reason the model gives Democrats a narrow edge is that it expects a few of these underdogs to pull off an upset.
- The New York Times looks at how Trump could win. “If recent polls are perfectly accurate, Joe Biden will win comfortably, taking both the Upper Midwest and several Sun Belt states. But they may not be,” the NYT notes. “The state-by-state polls could be off in a systematic way, as they were in 2016, when they underestimated Trump’s white working-class support. Pollsters have tried to fix that problem, and there is no reason to believe they have failed, as the Times’ Nate Cohn says. But polling is an inexact science, made harder by the decline in landline phones.”
The bigger issue: “the campaign isn’t over, and Trump could gain support in the final weeks. One possibility is that the coming Supreme Court confirmation battle will sway some conservative voters who are dissatisfied with Trump. If the campaign were a referendum on his presidency, they might vote for Biden. If the confirmation battle instead gets them thinking about whether they’re conservative or liberal, they could come home to Trump.”
- A federal judge ruled that absentee ballots in Wisconsin can be counted up to six days after the Nov. 3 election as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, meaning the outcome of the race in Wisconsin might not be known for several days after polls close. After similar rulings in Pennsylvania and Michigan, none of the big three swing states from 2016 seems likely to have solid results on election night. A Wall Street Journal editorial (link) concludes that, “This increases the chances of post-election litigation, or worse, especially if some of those late ballots would have been rejected otherwise. In 2016 Mr. Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748. Judge Conley stayed his order for a week, recognizing 'the likelihood of appellate review.' Six weeks before Election Day, judges are rewriting state election laws on the fly. Buckle up.”
The following from Ballotpedia are the eight changes to election procedures in just the last week (organized by state, alphabetically):
— Louisiana, Sept. 16: Chief Judge Shelly Deckert Dick of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ordered election officials to make available the same Covid-19 absentee ballot application used in the state’s summer elections. This application allowed voters to select Covid-19-specific reasons for requesting an absentee ballot.
— Michigan, Sept. 18: Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Michigan Court of Claims extended Michigan's absentee/mail-in ballot receipt deadline to November 17 for ballots postmarked on or before November 2. Stephens also authorized voters to allow anyone of their choosing to return their ballots between 5:01 p.m. on Oct. 30 and the close of polls on Nov. 3.
— New York, Sept. 18: The League of Women Voters and New York election officials reached a settlement agreement regarding ballot curing provisions for the general election.
— Ohio, Sept. 16: Judge Richard A. Frye of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ordered Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) to stop directing counties to provide no more than one absentee/mail-in ballot drop box per county. However, Frye immediately stayed his order in anticipation that LaRose would appeal, leaving the limit in place.
— Pennsylvania, Sept. 17: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the mail-in ballot receipt deadline and authorized the use of drop boxes for returning mail-in ballots in the Nov. 3 general election.
— South Carolina, Sept. 16: South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed legislation extending absentee voting eligibility to all qualified electors in the November 3 general election. The legislation also established Oct. 5 as the start date for in-person absentee voting (i.e., early voting).
— South Carolina, Sept. 18: Judge J. Michelle Childs of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina issued a preliminary injunction barring election officials from enforcing the state's witness requirement for absentee ballots in the general election.
— Wisconsin, Sept. 21: Judge William M. Conley of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin issued an order extending the absentee/mail-in ballot receipt deadline to November 9 for ballots postmarked on or before Election Day. Conley immediately stayed his ruling, giving the defendants seven days to file an emergency appeal.
- Big gender gap evident in tight Iowa race between Trump and Biden. In a Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, 47% of likely voters in Iowa supported both Trump and Biden, a tie in a state Trump won in 2016. But beneath that is a major gender gap, with men supporting Trump 57% to 36% and women preferring Biden 57% to 37%.
- If you are from Maine, you can also vote for second, third choices for president. Maine voters will get the chance to mark their second and third choices for the White House under a new voting system approved by the state Supreme Court, but they’ll only be added in if neither Trump nor Biden gets to 50% in the first ballot count. Maine switched to a ranked-choice voting system after two decades in which competitive three-way races led to governors without a majority of support.
- A 'top-secret' CIA assessment dated Aug. 31 concludes that Vladimir Putin is "probably directing" a Russian foreign influence operation to hurt Joe Biden, WashPost columnist Josh Rogin reports. The article begins, “We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November." Link to article.
- Ipsos and U.Va.'s Center for Politics released an interactive U.S. map that goes down to the county level to track changes in public sentiment that could decide the presidential election. The 2020 Political Atlas tracks President Trump's approval ratings, interest around the coronavirus, what's dominating social media and other measures, with polling updated daily. Link for details.
- Joe Biden would end the 'artificial trade war' that Donald Trump launched against the EU if he wins the Nov. 3 elections, according to the Democratic presidential candidate’s top foreign policy adviser. Antony Blinken said the U.S. needed to “improve our economic relations” with the EU given the bloc’s importance as a market, and because it was detrimental to fight with U.S. allies. “We need to bring to an end an artificial trade war that the Trump administration started,” Blinken said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday. U.S. trade relations with Europe have deteriorated under Trump, who has accused Europe of being “almost as bad over the years as China” on trade. He said there was “a persistent growing imbalance” in agricultural trade because of EU rules that “prevent us from selling goods where we are very competitive”. But he added he recognized the EU view that when including services — where the U.S. has had a trade surplus with EU — the relationship was more balanced.
- Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) will be chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee for the remainder of the 116th Congress, succeeding Rep. John Lewis, who died in July.
- TVA nomination withdrawn. The White House in a statement yesterday said it is withdrawing the nomination of Katherine A. Crytzer to be inspector general of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which was sent to the Senate in April.
- Former House Ag Chairman Bob Smith (R-Ore.), 89, dies in Oregon. Smith won election to Congress in 1982 and served through 1995. Smith retired from Congress in 1999 and was succeeded by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).
- Two Senate Republican chairmen released findings from their investigation into the Bidens. The report argues that Hunter Biden's work for a Ukraine gas company "did interfere with the efficient execution" of Obama-era policy. The controversial report, from Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), comes only weeks before the November election and days before the first debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden — raising concerns among Democrats that the two are trying to interfere in the presidential election and bolster Trump in the final stretch of the campaign. Link to The Hill article on the topic.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
- Sen. Tillis: Trump to extend offshore drilling moratorium. President Trump will extend the announced offshore drilling moratorium to cover the coast of North Carolina, according to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “Over the last several years, I have listened to mayors and elected officials from Brunswick to Currituck County and have been adamant that any decision on new energy production off North Carolina's coast should be made with the input of our local communities,” Tillis said in a statement. “Following the announcement of an offshore drilling moratorium, I urged President Trump to include North Carolina. I want to thank President Trump for including North Carolina in the moratorium and listening to the concerns of North Carolinians on the coast.” The presidential memorandum would withdraw new leasing for offshore oil and gas developments for the next 12 years — between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2032.
- Senators call for removal of trade program’s rice tariff barriers. Members of the U.S. Senate are urging the Trump administration to reform the largest and oldest trade preference program to level the playing field for American rice producers. The program — the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) — provides duty-free treatment to goods from developing countries to promote economic growth in those nations. In recent years, highly subsidized rice growing competitors have taken advantage of this program to increase rice exports to the U.S. at the expense of American producers, rice proponents note. In a letter (link) to U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer —authored by Sen, John Boozman (R-Ark.) — the members shared their support for the USA Rice Federation’s petition to remove all rice tariff lines from the list of commodities eligible for duty-free import under GSP. “We understand GSP is meant to be a win-win for both the U.S. and our trading partners, but unfortunately in the case of rice, our biggest competitors on the world stage have taken advantage of the program for far too long. Over the past several years, we have seen an annual uptick in rice imports from countries that have GSP eligibility. Coupled with our competitors’ high and rising domestic subsidies, these unfair advantages are having negative implications for our rice farmers, millers, merchants and allied businesses, who are losing domestic market share. As you continue your efforts to promote fair and free trade, we encourage you to remove rice from the GSP eligibility list,” members wrote in the letter. Besides Boozman, the letter is signed by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been discharged from a Berlin hospital after being treated for what scientists said was exposure to the nerve agent Novichok. He was discharged Tuesday night after spending 24 days in the intensive-care unit, Berlin’s Charité Hospital said Wednesday. He had been receiving treatment in the German capital since late August after falling ill while traveling in Russia. The hospital said doctors believed Mr. Navalny could achieve a complete recovery, but it was too early to say if he would suffer long term effects from the poisoning.