House Passes Two Immigration Reform Measures but Roadblocks in Senate

Posted on 03/19/2021 7:28 AM

U.S. and Chinese officials both vent in two-days of talks in Alaska

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• Oil price plunge has ag commodity traders watching other impacts
• Oil prices tumbled 7.1% Thursday after France expand eCovid-19 restrictions
• Today is “quadruple witching” day for the marketplace
• Treasury yields extend surge
• BofA: If 10-year T-note climbs to 2.0%, could lead 10% correction in S&P 500
• U.S. economic recovery picking up steam

• Bank of Japan sets stage to taper bond buys
• What happens if bitcoin succeeds?
WSJ: Logjams at U.S. ports spreading beyond S. California’s choked gateways
• American ranchers about to feel a new temporary squeeze
• Ag demand update

• Pro Farmer planting intentions survey results will be released today
• Argentine exchange says mid-March rains prevented further crop deterioration
• Workers strike at Rosario port hub
• French wheat crop ratings dip, but still up sharply from year-ago

 

Policy Focus:
• In depth look at two immigration reform bills passed by House, with hurdles in Senate
• NGFA outlines ag priorities for the next surface transportation bill

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• Becerra confirmed as HHS secretary in tight Senate vote
• Senate confirms Biden’s choice to lead CIA
• Biden expected to nominate former Sen. Bill Nelson to lead NASA

 

China Update:
• First day of U.S./China talks: harsh words from both sides
• China restricting use of Tesla cars by its military and some government agencies
• Chinese court tried Canadian citizen on espionage charges, but no verdict yet
• China sharply increases imports of oil from Iran and Venezuela  
• Attaché expects China to bring in a record 100 MMT of soybeans in 2021-22

 

Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• Lawmakers call for USDA to cut inspection fees for small meat packers


Coronavirus Update:
• Covid-19 cases rising by more than 10% in 14 states this week vs last week  
• AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine cleared by EU after blood-clot concerns
• Biden to send surplus AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Mexico, Canada
• Biden announces 100 million vaccine dose goal will be met in 58 days
• Covid vaccine supply to quadruple in three months
• AMC Theatres will have 98% of its U.S. theaters open by today
• Sniffer dogs in Thailand taught to detect Covid-19
• Low-dose aspirin reduces risk of ICU admittance and death: researchers

 

Politics & Elections:
• What will turnout look like without Trump?


Other Items of Note:
• Putin responded icily after Biden said he considered the Russian leader a killer
• Biden and Harris to visit Georgia after shootings

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: Global stock markets were mostly lower overnight. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward firmer openings. Today is “quadruple witching” day for the marketplace, in which stock options, stock futures and futures options expire, and this could provide some extra volatility in the U.S. stock market today.

 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow lost 153.07 points, 0.46%, at 32,862.30. The Nasdaq dropped 409.03 points, 3.02%, at 13,116.17. The S&P 500 declined 58.66 points, 1.48%, at 3,915.46.

 

     Oil prices tumbled 7.1% Thursday following the decision in France to expand Covid-19 restrictions on economic activity in the Paris region. Energy stocks were also hit hard by the pullback in crude oil prices. The sector retreated 4.7% on Thursday. Today Nymex crude oil futures prices are higher, trading around $61.00 a barrel this morning.

 

     "If the yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbs to 2.0%, that could be enough to tip the risk market scales and lead to a 10% correction in the S&P 500. If the 10-year climbs to 2.5%, bonds may even start becoming more attractive instead of stocks," according to the latest BofA fund manager survey. "Higher growth and higher inflation is now the consensus."

 

On tap today:

 

     • Baker Hughes rig count is out at 1 p.m. ET.
     • CFTC Commitments of Traders report, 3:30 p.m. ET.

 

U.S. economic recovery is picking up steam as Americans increase their spending, particularly on in-person services battered by the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reports (link). Restaurant and hotel bookings are up, air tickets are selling fast, and consumers have been spending more on gyms, salons and spas than since the pandemic began. The rising number of Covid-19 vaccinations, falling business restrictions, ample household savings and injections of federal stimulus funds are fueling the surge, economists say. And, jobless claims are hovering near the pandemic’s lowest levels, adding to evidence of recent economic improvement.

 

     Want more evidence? Google said it will spend $7 billion this year on adding office and data-center space across the U.S. and hire at least 10,000 new full-time staff in anticipation of a post-pandemic recovery — and return to the office. And, FedEx said quarterly profit nearly tripled and revenue jumped 23% as the pandemic spurred e-commerce. Finally, for the first time in a long time, U.S. retailers are opening more stores than they close.

 

     Boom

     Diners
    Credit cards
     Airline travel

 

Bank of Japan sets stage to taper bond buys. The Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) two-day meeting conclusion saw the central bank lay the groundwork to taper its purchases of risky assets, saying it will allow long-term interest rates to move up and down by around 0.2% relative to its 0% target — currently the band is 0.2%. Further, the BOJ also removed its provision to buy exchange-traded funds (ETF) at an annual pace of roughly 6 trillion yen ($55.21 billion). The BOJ said it would only step in when markets destabilize under a 12-trillion ceiling set last year. However, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the moves were not setting the stage for ending its ultra-easy monetary policy. "We won't tolerate yield fluctuations that would have an impact on our monetary easing," Kuroda told a briefing. We absolutely need to make sure the effect of our monetary easing isn't hurt. We clarified that stance with our new guidance." He also emphasized that the BOJ’s focus will be on keeping borrowing costs stably low to help the pandemic-hit economy.

 

     The BOJ also said it will pay interest to financial institutions that borrow via its lending programs.

 

     Impacts: Indications are the actions are not perhaps substantive relative to BOJ monetary policy and some do not see them resulting in any significant boost to the Japanese economy. However, the central bank also emphasized that it would keep its monetary easing in place for a prolonged period based on a view that inflation is still not showing any signs of moving higher. While the actions do not constitute any tightening of monetary policy, they appear to set the stage for the BOJ to do so when they view the time as right.

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is slightly higher early today.


     • Treasury yields extend surge. Benchmark 10-year note traded Thursday above 1.7% for the first time since Covid-19 pandemic began — they are fetching 1.69% this morning. Investors and analysts focus on U.S. Treasury yields because they help determine borrowing costs across the economy. Rising yields have already hit individuals and businesses, with the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage recently topping 3% for the first time since July.

        

        T 17

 

     • Crude has fallen into negative territory after taking back a small portion of the 7% decline seen in U.S. and Brent crude Thursday. U.S. crude is trading under $59.85 per barrel and Brent under $63. Futures were firmer in Asian action, with U.S. crude moving up to trade at $60.06 per barrel and Brent was trading at $63.33 per barrel.

 

        Commodity analyst Jim Wyckoff alerts: “Grain traders need to keep an eye on crude oil prices. Thursday’s big price decline in crude fired a shot across the bow for raw commodity market bulls. If oil prices take out Thursday’s low, such would be one clue that many of the raw commodity sector markets that had been in rally modes, may have topped out, at least for the near term, including the grains.”

 

     • What happens if bitcoin succeeds? "The value proposition for bitcoin is that it will displace fiat money–the dollar, euro, renminbi and all the others – either fully or partially. ... That leaves us with two interesting questions. What happens to the holders of bitcoin? And what happens to everybody else? To begin with, the current owners of bitcoin will become the wealthiest people in the world, rivalling the kings and emperors that ruled over empires in centuries past. They literally will own all the money. They can buy anything they want. There aren't that many of them. Compared to the multitudes that own assets today via all the pension funds and mutual funds and the rest, it is a tiny group of people. So, a sharp increase in inequality is an inevitable consequence of bitcoin success," the London School of Economics' Jon Danielsson writes at the Center for Economic Policy Research (link).

 

     • Logjams at U.S. ports are spreading beyond Southern California’s choked gateways, and shipping officials are projecting the backups will continue into the summer, the Wall Street Journal reports (link). Delays that have stretched from docks to rail yards, truck terminals and distribution centers have rattled supply chains for companies from big auto manufacturers to mom-and-pop retailers, straining assembly lines because of parts shortages and leaving store shelves empty.

 

        Waiting boxes

 

     • American ranchers are about to feel a new temporary squeeze, courtesy of the U.S. decision four years ago to abandon membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Wall Street Journal reports (link). Beef exports to Japan — the largest market for the U.S. — will be hit with a 38.5% tariff, up from the usual 25.8%, for 30 days, after volumes sold into Japan exceeded the amounts set out in negotiations between the two countries. That isn’t a problem for New Zealand, Canada, or Australia — the main competition for U.S. ranchers. Those countries are members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which continued on without the United States. However, beef importers could delay their customs processes until after the 30-day timeline to avoid paying the higher tariffs, according to an official with the Japanese ministry.

 

        Japan's Prime Minister is coming to visit Biden in April and Japan wants the U.S. back into the TPP (now CPTPP). However, Biden has not revealed the changed he thinks are needed in the Pacific trade pact in order to get the necessary votes in Congress to clear any renewed trade accord. Authority for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA/fast track) expires July 1 and any extension will likely take time. Under TPA, Congress can vote on a trade accord up or down without any amendments.

 

        Beef exports

 

     • Ag demand: South Korean flour mills bought around 50,000 MT of milling wheat to be sourced from Australia. South Korean mills also purchased around 38,000 MT of wheat from the United States.

 

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

Pro Farmer planting intentions survey results will be released today. The results will be included in the weekly Pro Farmer newsletter and on www.profarmer.com around 2:00 p.m. ET.
• Argentine exchange says mid-March rains prevented further crop deterioration
• Workers strike at Rosario port hub
• French wheat crop ratings dip, but still up sharply from year-ago

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

— House clears two immigration reform measures, but both with tepid GOP support. In the first bill (HR 6), the House voted 228 to 197 Thursday to create a path to citizenship for around 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, including those known as Dreamers, who came to the country before the age of 19 and before Jan. 1, 2021. The bill would also provide a path to citizenship for those in the country with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a type of humanitarian designation for immigrants from countries in crisis.

 

     Only nine Republicans joined all Democrats in favoring the HR 6: Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), David G. Valadao (Calif.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Maria Elvira Salazar (Fla.), Dan Newhouse (Wash.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Christopher H. Smith (N.J.), Carlos A. Gimenez (Fla.) and Maria Diaz-Balart (Fla.).

 

     A second bill (HR 1603) cleared 247-174 and would provide a path to citizenship for farmworkers in the country illegally and their family members. USDA data show that nearly 50% of hired crop farmworkers in the U.S. lack legal status. Thirty Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill. One Democrat, Rep Jared Golden of Maine, voted against the legislation. The bill passed the House in 2019 with bipartisan support, with 34 Republicans voting for it at the time. Unlike the American Dream and Promise Act, Republican House leaders did not urge other GOP lawmakers to vote against the bill.

 

     The Farm Workforce Modernization Act provides for some agricultural workers in the country illegally to receive a temporary legal status if they’ve worked at least 180 days in the last two years. Spouses and children could also apply for temporary status under the act. Workers are also eligible under the bill to receive green cards if they pay a $1,000 fine and work between four and eight additional years in agriculture, depending on how long they had already been employed in the industry. The bill would also modernize the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program. The bill would make year-round H-2A visas available for the first time, an action that would be transformational for agricultural operations like dairies that currently rely only on temporary labor. (See below for more details of the bill.)

 

     “We’re encouraged that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act assures a future workforce for agriculture by creating both a flexible and efficient visa program that retains current workers,” National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) CEO Dr. Barb Glenn said. In a letter (link) NASDA sent to the U.S. House of Representatives, Glenn shared that in less than nine years, 5.35 million jobs will be available in the agriculture and food sectors (link or details).

 

     Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.), ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee, voted for the bill, but he hopes the Senate would improve it to better resolve the shortage of legal workers for the nation’s ranchers, farms and dairies. Sens. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) applauded House passage of the farm worker bill and said they would work together to introduce companion legislation in the Senate. They added that they want legislation that “appropriately addresses the needs of both the industry and the farmworkers that uphold it.”

 

     House Agriculture Chair David Scott (D-Ga.) applauded passage of the measure. “A stable supply of labor is essential to our U.S. agriculture industry thriving in the face of ongoing competition. I will be a passionate voice for a workable resolution to a problem that for too long has been ignored,” said Chairman Scott.

 

     Farmers use the H-2A program to bring in seasonal workers to fill shortages for labor intensive segments of agriculture like vegetable and fruit production. Agricultural employers have complained about paperwork and labor costs. Dairy farmers say the program is hard to use because they need year-round workers, and the program provides seasonal labor. The bill came to the floor with the backing of the United Farm Workers, National Council of Agricultural Employers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups. The Biden administration also backed the bill in its statement of policy (link).

 

     More details about the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. The bill would:

  • Offer five-year work visas to undocumented applicants employed in agriculture for 180 days over the last two years. Spouses and minor children could qualify for dependent worker visas good for the same length of time.
  • Allow holders of the five-year visas to gain permanent legal status if they meet certain requirements, such as paying a $1,000 fine and demonstrating a 10-year work history in agriculture before the bill becomes law. They would then have to work an additional four years in agriculture after it becomes law. Those with less than a 10-year agricultural work record before the law took effect would have to work an additional eight years to qualify for legal permanent resident status.
  • Direct the Homeland Security and Labor departments and state work agencies to develop a single online portal through which farmers can submit applications for workers.
  • Allow employers planning to apply for temporary foreign workers to first seek local workers by filing job postings on an electronic registry rather than in newspapers or other print publications.
  • Set specific H-2A minimum wage levels by job categories rather than setting a single broad agricultural minimum wage for employers using H-2A labor.
  • Allow agricultural employers to file a single H-2A application, even if they need workers for different tasks, rather than having to file separate applications.
  • Set a one-year freeze for 2022 wages tied to 2021 rates and limit wage changes from 2022 through 2030 to increases of no more than 3.25% and wage decreases to 1.5%.
  • Make it mandatory for agricultural employers to use E-Verify, the web-based system that allows businesses to confirm whether their workers are legally eligible to work in the United States. E-Verify use would be phased in.  

     An estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. lack permanent legal status, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. They include people who entered the country illegally or overstayed visas, as well as Dreamers and others with protected status that shields them from deportation. However, some reports note the actual tally is much higher than 11 million.

 

     Outlook: The bills face steep odds in the evenly divided Senate. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that Democrats control the White House and Senate, albeit with a 51-50 majority when Vice President Kamala Harris is called in to vote. "With a Democratic majority in the Senate and President Biden in the White House, when we pass it again it is with better assurance that it will become law,” Pelosi said. 

 

     Republicans are increasingly opposed to any new immigration measure, noting the worsening situation at the border and concerned about what many of them term an “open border” as then-candidate Joe Biden signaled during his presidential campaign. The U.S. is on pace to see the largest number of migrants crossing into the U.S. illegally in two decades, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday. Border patrol agents made about 97,000 arrests of migrants crossing the border illegally in February, the highest number since 2019, when the U.S. last saw a surge in migration.

 

     “There is no pathway for anything right now,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Many Republicans said pushing legalization measures now, just as a migrant surge at the southern border is straining U.S. resources, would give a green light to immigrants to come to the U.S. illegally. “This bill provides amnesty to millions of those who are illegally in this country,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) “The promise of amnesty is a magnet.”

 

     Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged the situation at the border complicated the prospects for the narrow legislation, let alone the more comprehensive package pushed by President Biden to provide a pathway to citizenship for all the people living in the country illegally. “If you just wanted to pass one piece of this, it makes it much more difficult,” Durbin said. “I wish we could move just one piece at a time, but I don’t think that’s in the cards.”

 

— NGFA outlines ag priorities for the next surface transportation bill. The National Grain & Feed Assn. (NGFA) this week urged lawmakers to prioritize improvements to U.S. freight transportation in the next surface transportation bill that are environmentally responsible and enhance the economic health of U.S. agriculture. In a March 17 letter (link) to each member of Congress led by NGFA and signed by dozens of agricultural producer, commodity, agribusiness, food manufacturer and food-related organizations, NGFA and the other groups noted that “Congress can achieve positive benefits for the environment while improving the economic competitiveness of the U.S. agricultural value chain.” They said any successful surface transportation legislation should include the following crucial elements:

  • Ensure rural America is not left behind in any infrastructure package. “Adequate funding, availability of programs and ranking criteria should take into account the unique needs and challenges facing rural communities and our infrastructure,” the letter stated.
  • Ensure that exemptions from hours-of-service (HOS) rules provide flexibility for agricultural haulers and farm supply transporters by passing the Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety (HAULS) Act.
  • Provide flexibility for types of fuel use.
  • Authorize a pilot program to gradually increase federal truck weight limits. Interstate highways have lower truck weight limits than many state roads, creating a barrier to economic and environmental efficiency, the letter noted.
  • Establish a tolerance to account for load shifts. “Load shifts during transport can result in tickets for drivers because a portion of the truck becomes heavier than allowed under current law even though the overall truck weight is below the federal truck weight limit of 80,000 pounds,” the groups said.
  • Maintain the ability for agricultural haulers to travel at posted local speed limits.
  • Maintain the current level of financial responsibility for trucks. “Efforts to increase liability insurance for trucks beyond the current $750,000 level would increase freight costs with no direct safety benefit,” the letter noted.
  • Ensure federal and state commercial driving license restrictions are harmonized. There are 49 U.S. states that allow 18-year-olds to obtain a CDL, but until federal law is changed, they cannot drive across state lines until they are 21. The letter recommends that Congress create a pathway for CDL holders aged 18-20 to drive across state lines by incorporating the bipartisan DRIVE Safe Act.
  • Increase flexibility of “Restricted CDL” drivers in farm-related service industries to account for weather-related disruptions.
     

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

— Becerra confirmed as HHS secretary in tight Senate vote. The Senate on Thursday confirmed Xavier Becerra, a son of Mexican immigrants who became a member of Congress and California’s attorney general, as President Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) after a bitter and major debate that centered on his qualifications and support for abortion rights. The vote was 50 to 49. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to support his confirmation.

 

— Senate confirmed President Biden’s choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, veteran diplomat William J. Burns, 64, on a voice vote after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) lifted a hold on the nomination that had forced a two-week delay. Burns said he would intensify the CIA’s focus on China, calling Beijing’s actions the “biggest political test” for the United States. Cruz said he would continue blocking other State Department nominations from moving forward until the White House imposes sanctions mandated by Congress on ships and companies involved in completing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

 

— Biden expected to nominate former Sen. Bill Nelson, 78, to lead NASA. Nelson, a Florida native, narrowly lost a re-election bid in 2018 to GOP Sen. Rick Scott. He was a leading advocate for NASA while serving in Congress, and in 1986, as a U.S. House member, he was a payload specialist aboard Space Shuttle Columbia, which spent six days in orbit. Nelson would need Senate confirmation to become the NASA administrator. The expected nomination was first reported earlier by the Verge.
 


CHINA UPDATE


 

First day of U.S./China talks: harsh words from both sides. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in opening the talks Thursday, detailed Washington’s problems with China, citing cyberattacks, China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and threats against Taiwan. These activities, he said, “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.” Yang Jiechi, a member of the Communist Party’s ruling body, responded that the U.S. should examine its problems with racism and stop promoting its version of democracy around the world. “The United States does not represent international public opinion and neither does the western world,” said Yang in a quarter-hour-long statement.

 

     Point, counterpoint continued. Blinken answered by saying that while the U.S. “is not perfect,” it deals with its challenges openly. As reporters were being ushered from the room, Yang called for them to wait and protested the comments, waving his finger and saying the American officials were speaking in a condescending manner.

 

     Exchanging views a first step. “Even if we cannot work things out anytime soon, such exchange of views will help boost trust and dispel misgivings,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the Communist Party leadership’s No. 2 official, said at a news conference last week.

 

— China is restricting use of Tesla cars by its military and some government agencies, citing national-security concerns, the WSJ reports, citing people familiar with the effort.

 

— In a case at the center of a diplomatic standoff with the U.S. and Canada, a Chinese court tried a Canadian citizen on espionage charges Friday, but didn’t yet deliver a verdict.

 

— China has sharply increased its imports of oil from Iran and Venezuela in a challenge to two Biden administration foreign-policy priorities, according to U.S. officials, undermining key diplomatic leverage Washington needs to restart long-stalled negotiations. China is expected to import 918,000 barrels a day from Iran in March, which would be the highest volume since a full U.S. oil embargo was imposed against Tehran two years ago.

 

— Attaché expects China to bring in a record 100 MMT of soybeans in 2021-22. China will likely import a record 100 MMT of soybeans in 2021-22 and 99 MMT in 2020-21, “reflecting a steady recovery in feed demand from the livestock and poultry sectors,” a U.S. ag attaché in the country says. China’s soybean production is expected to hold steady at 18.6 MMT. Therefore, the post says, “China will continue to rely on oilseed imports from Brazil, the United States, Argentina, and Canada to meet [growing oilseed] demand.” While the volume of China’s state-managed soybean reserve is not publicly available, the attaché says industry sources indicate the central government likely set aside 7 MMT of imported soybeans for the reserve in 2019 and likely added more in 2020. Industry reports indicate around 1.2 MMT of imported beans were sold from the reserve for crush in 2020, along with 1.1 MMT of domestic soybeans.

 

 


FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY


 

— Lawmakers call for USDA to cut inspection fees for small meat packers. Reducing inspection fees for 5,200 small and very small meat packing establishments is needed as those facilities have seen a sharp rise in activity in the wake of large facilities slowing or shutting down operations in the pandemic, according to a bipartisan and bicameral group of four lawmakers. Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.) and Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to take the action that is provided for via provisions they inserted in the December Covid aid plan.

 

     Currently, small meatpackers have to pay overtime inspection fees to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) if they process livestock more than 40 hours per week. The lawmakers inserted the provision in the Covid aid provision to allow USDA to reduce the fees for very small establishments by at least 75% and for small meatpackers by at least 30%.  75% and to small establishments by at least 30%. “By quickly implementing the provisions in our legislation, you can provide immediate relief to these facilities working to keep food on American’s tables,” the lawmakers said.

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 121,848,070 with 2,692,244 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 29,667,305 with 539,698 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 115,730,008 doses administered, 39,081,330 have been fully vaccinated, or 11.95% of the U.S. population.

 

     Covid-19 cases are rising by more than 10% in 14 states this week compared to last week, with half of those states rising by more than 20%. One month ago, on February 17, there were only three states showing increases of 10% or more.

 

— AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine cleared by EU after blood-clot concerns. The European Union’s health agency said the Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca PLC was “safe and effective” and didn’t increase the risk of blood clots, a decision that prompted four major bloc members to say they would resume inoculation campaigns. France, Italy, Spain and Portugal said they would start vaccinating residents again after the European Medicines Agency on Thursday said new expert analysis concluded that the benefits of using a Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca outweigh its potential risks. AstraZeneca said after the EMA’s announcement and a similar judgment from British health authorities that the opinions affirmed the vaccine’s benefits. “We trust that, after the regulators’ careful decisions, vaccinations can once again resume across Europe,” said Ann Tayler, the company’s chief medical officer.

 

— Biden to send surplus AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Mexico, Canada. President Biden’s administration plans to send millions of doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to Mexico and Canada, the White House confirmed Thursday, a development that comes as the U.S. faces a surge of migrants at the southern border with Mexico. The U.S. plans to loan 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed. The vaccine has not been authorized for emergency use in the United States.

 

— Biden announces 100 million vaccine dose goal will be met in 58 days. President Biden announced that today, 58 days into his presidency, the country will reach 100 million coronavirus vaccine shots, a goal he hoped to achieve in his first 100 days. Biden said that the shorter timeline meant there would be enough doses for every American before the summer and that 65% of people age 65 or older, the most high-risk population, have received at least one shot. He also said that he’d have an announcement next week about the “next goal to put shots and arms,” and again urged Americans to remain vigilant in these next few months and to keep wearing their masks. “This is a time for optimism, but it’s not a time for relaxation,” he said. “We’re going to come through this stronger with renewed faith in each other and our government to fulfill its most important function protecting the American people.”

 

— Covid vaccine supply to quadruple in three months. The U.S. Covid-19 vaccine supply will “in essence” quadruple in the next 90 days and that would provide enough shots for every American by June 1, the Biden administration’s vaccine czar David Kessler told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Thursday. “I believe we will be shifting from a supply issue to a demand issue pretty soon,” he said. But Kessler cautioned the administration can only give states three weeks’ notice of vaccine supply due to a complex and delicate manufacturing process. “Biologics have to be made carefully,” Kessler told lawmakers.

 

— AMC Theatres said it will have 98% of its U.S. theaters open by today, including more than 40 locations in California. Movie theaters have been among the hardest-hit businesses by the pandemic.

 

— Sniffer dogs in Thailand taught to detect Covid-19 in human sweat proved nearly 95% accurate during training and could be used to identify coronavirus infections at busy transport hubs, the head of a pilot project told Reuters (link).

 

— Low-dose aspirin may help avoid Covid's worst outcomes. A new study is adding to the growing body of evidence that low-dose aspirin helps lessen the harsher effects of contracting the coronavirus. The study (link), conducted by George Washington University researchers and published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia, examined the records of 412 patients admitted to U.S. hospitals with Covid-19 from March to July of last year. Of those, nearly 24% had taken aspirin seven days or less before of hospital admission or within 24 hours after admission. More than 40% of those patients had improved results in key areas compared to patients who did not take the cheap, widely available drug. "Aspirin may have lung-protective effects and reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, ICU admission, and in-hospital mortality in hospitalized Covid-19 patients,'' the report concluded.

 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

— What will turnout look like without Trump? That’s the topic Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report tries to assess. She writes: “Trying to model the make-up of a midterm electorate is always a challenge. Figuring out which voters will be engaged, which ones will 'drop-off', and which ones will be newly added is critical to effective campaigning. From 1978 to 2010, midterm turnout was fairly static, ranging between 45.5% and 51.9%. For example, according to U.S. Census data, 49.4% of the voting-age population turned out to vote in 1986. By 1990, turnout had dropped one-tenth of a percent to 49.3%.
 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— Biden ordered flags at the White House and on federal property to be flown at half-staff “as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence” from the Atlanta-area spa killings. Biden and Vice President Harris will meet with Asian American leaders in the city today. Whether the Atlanta shootings constitute a hate crime remains an open question for investigators.

 

— Vladimir Putin responded icily after President Biden said he considered the Russian leader a killer. A barrage of criticism from the Russian government threatens to further strain ties.

 


 

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