Russian Official Announces Iran Deal Could be Made in 24-48 Hours

Matthew 24:6 “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Russians Announce US-Iran Deal as Tanks Roll Across Europe
  • A senior Russian official announced on Thursday that a new nuclear deal with Iran will be announced within 24 to 48 hours, signaling the Biden administration’s continued reliance on and cooperation with Moscow even as it wages a full-scale war in Ukraine.
  • The terms of the deal remain unknown as the Biden administration has sought to cut Congress out of the deal and prevent it from performing its legally mandated oversight. Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, Congress must give its approval of any new agreement with Iran.
  • Mostafa Khoshcheshm, one of the Iran negotiating team’s advisers, told the country’s state-controlled press on Thursday that “the U.S. has accepted Iran’s conditions to reach an agreement.”
  • Khoshcheshm claimed that the Ukraine conflict has forced the Biden administration to “retreat” from its tough negotiation stance.

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The White House is Running Out of Time on Nuclear Deal

Matthew 24:6 “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”

Important Takeaways:

  • 4 reasons why returning to Iran nuclear deal is bad idea
  • Ukraine isn’t the only foreign policy crisis the U.S. is facing.
  • After months of negotiations, the Biden administration may be on the verge of restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka the Iran nuclear deal), with no chance of replacing it with a “longer and stronger” deal, as the administration promised.
    • Sunset provisions: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action didn’t end Tehran’s nuclear program. It only slowed it down. The pact was more of a speed bump than a stop sign.
    • Ballistic missiles: The Iran nuclear deal also didn’t capture Tehran’s determined development of ballistic missiles — which are, by the way, a perfect delivery vehicle for a nuclear weapon.
    • Inspection regime: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action strangely doesn’t allow for “anytime, anywhere” inspections. Essentially, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors aren’t allowed to visit undeclared facilities without permission.
    • Possible military dimensions: As part of the nuclear deal, Iran was supposed to reveal to the International Atomic Energy Agency all military aspects of its earlier nuclear weapons work in order to facilitate oversight of the pact.
  • Not surprisingly, Tehran hasn’t cooperated on this issue.

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Biden to deliver free tests, military doctors to battle surging Omicron

By Jarrett Renshaw and Ahmed Aboulenein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will open federal COVID-19 testing sites in New York City this week and buy 500 million at-home rapid tests that Americans can order online for free starting in January as it tries to tackle the Omicron variant sweeping the country.

Striking a more dire tone about the risks to the one in four American adults who remain unvaccinated, President Joe Biden will lay out the initiatives in a speech on Tuesday warning of the risks from the fast-spreading variant, a senior administration official said.

The measures include activating some 1,000 military medical personnel to support hospitals that are already being overwhelmed in some areas.

“We will also note that if you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk of getting sick. This variant is highly transmissible and the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from COVID,” the official said.

With the holiday travel season already begun, new COVID-19 cases are surging in the United States, prompting local and federal officials to again confront just how far to go to combat the virus. Federal officials said that Omicron now accounts for 73% of all new cases, up from less than 1% at the beginning of the month.

The U.S. is mulling reducing the recommended 10-day quarantine time for people who catch COVID, to help asymptomatic people return to work or school, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday.

Health officials in Texas said on Monday the state recorded what ABC News reported is believed to be the first known U.S. death related to Omicron.

The highly contagious variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, and has raced around the globe and been reported in 89 countries, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.

In New York, Washington and other U.S. cities over the weekend, lines for COVID-19 tests wrapped around the block as people clamored to find out if they were infected before celebrating the holidays with family.

Facing criticism that testing resources are inadequate, Biden will announce on Tuesday that the federal government will buy 500 million at-home rapid tests and make them available to all Americans in January.

Americans can access a new website to have them delivered, but officials are still working on how many tests a household can request.

The administration will also open multiple federal testing centers starting in New York City ahead of Christmas, a senior administration official said.

More federal sites will be opened across the country in areas of high need and when requested by local and state officials, the official said.

BREAKTHROUGH INFECTIONS RISE

Biden’s COVID-19 response has been criticized for focusing on vaccines at the detriment of testing and masking, and for underestimating the impact of the politically motivated anti-vaccine movement in the U.S.

The free tests are in addition to a plan to have health insurers provide free tests for Americans with coverage that is also expected to begin in January.

Biden will note that the Omicron variant is so contagious that it will infect vaccinated Americans but that they will be far less likely to get seriously sick.

So-called breakthrough infections are rising among the 61% of the country’s fully vaccinated population, including the 30% who have gotten booster shots.

Still, Biden will tell Americans that those who are vaccinated and follow guidance around using masks, especially while traveling, should feel comfortable celebrating the holidays as planned.

New COVID-19 cases rose 9% in the United States in the past week but are up 57% since the start of December, according to a Reuters tally.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased 26% this month, with hospitals in some areas already strained by the Delta variant that emerged earlier this year.

There have been almost 51 million infections and 809,268 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began, the most of any country.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Peter Cooney and Chizu Nomiyama)

Factbox: COVID-19 and the U.S. courts – challenges to Biden vaccine rules

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – Courts have recently blocked many of the Biden administration’s rules and regulations aimed at increasing U.S. vaccination against COVID-19, which has killed more than 800,000 Americans and weighs on economic growth.

The vaccine requirements have been challenged by Republican state attorneys general, businesses and religious groups that alleged the administration exceeded its authority.

Separately, courts have upheld vaccine requirements imposed by private employers, universities and state and local governments.

Below is a look at the various Biden administration vaccine regulations and the status of the legal challenges.

WORKPLACE VACCINE OR TESTING RULE

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in November issued a rule requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their staff are fully vaccinated or produce a negative COVID-19 test once a week and wear a face covering.

The requirement, which will apply to over 80 million workers, was blocked in early November by a federal appeals court for the duration of the legal proceedings. The U.S. government is seeking a review of that decision.

HEALTHCARE VACCINE MANDATE

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in early November it would require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most healthcare facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, from hospitals to home health agencies.

This requirement would apply to more than 17 million healthcare workers. A federal judge in Louisiana blocked the rule nationwide when the Dec. 6 deadline arrived for workers to get a first shot. That ruling was later reversed by an appeals court and an injunction against the rule remains in place in 25 states that sued to stop enforcement.

CMS has not provided an updated vaccination deadline for healthcare providers in the 25 states where the rule has been reinstated.

CONTRACTOR MANDATE

President Joe Biden issued an executive order in September that requires federal contracts to include clauses mandating contractors get their employees vaccinated against COVID-19, which could potentially affect millions of workers.

A federal judge in Georgia on Dec. 7 temporarily blocked the administration from enforcing the rule nationwide.

FEDERAL WORKER MANDATE

Biden issued an executive order in September requiring federal employees to get vaccinated by Nov. 22 against COVID-19 to ensure the safety and efficiency of the civil service, and 96.5% of federal workers were considered in compliance.

At least 17 lawsuits challenged the order but no judge granted a request to temporarily block the rule, generally because they determined the government could mandate a vaccine when acting as an employer.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Kevin Liffey, Mark Potter, Philippa Fletcher)

U.S. judge blocks last remaining Biden admin COVID-19 vaccine rule

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) -A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the last of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for businesses, saying the government exceeded it authority with a requirement that millions of employees of federal contractors be inoculated.

The ruling was the latest setback for President Joe Biden, a Democrat, who announced a series of measures in September aimed at increasing vaccination rates to fight the pandemic that continues to kill more than 1,000 Americans daily.

“Abuse of power by the Biden administration has been stopped cold again,” Republican South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who joined the lawsuit, said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Stan Baker in Savannah, Georgia, said Congress did not clearly authorize the president to use procurement to impose a vaccine requirement on contractors that will have “vast economic and political significance.”

The lawsuit was filed by the states of Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia as well as a trade group for building contractors.

The rule required contractors to have employees fully vaccinated by Jan. 18. Biden’s executive order applied to newly awarded contracts, although the government has been asking suppliers to agree to amend existing contracts to insert the vaccine requirement.

The contractor requirement was meant to improve efficiency among government suppliers by reducing outbreaks and was far-reaching, applying even to those working remotely.

Tuesday’s ruling by Baker, an appointee of President Donald Trump, shut down temporarily the last remaining business mandates that Biden had announced, as courts have found the government overstepped its authority in imposing the rules.

Those mandates were challenged by Republican governors, business associations and conservative civil liberty groups.

The litigation will likely continue for months and could revive the rules, which covered nearly 100 million workers, although some 83% of U.S. adults have received at least one shot, according to government data.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans last month shut down a requirement that businesses with at least 100 employees get workers vaccinated or have them tested weekly.

A requirement that most healthcare workers get vaccinated was blocked last week.

The pandemic has killed more than 780,000 Americans and slowed economic growth and snarled supply chains.

Mandatory vaccination has become an increasingly popular tool in fighting the pandemic and has boosted U.S. vaccination rates.

Although the Biden administration’s plans have been frustrated in court, judges have upheld mandates by private employers, universities and state and local governments.

The Biden administration’s requirement for military and civilian government employees survived court challenges.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. could tweak timing of oil stockpile release if prices fall -official

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration could adjust the timing of its planned release of strategic crude oil stockpiles if global energy prices drop substantially, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk told Reuters on Wednesday.

Turk, speaking in a video interview for the Reuters Next conference to be broadcast later on Wednesday, added that other consumer nations that had agreed to release strategic reserves in concert with the United States to tame prices could also adjust their timing if needed.

“I think each country will make decisions based on what’s useful and good for their consumers and based on where the price is,” he said.

The administration of President Joe Biden had announced last month that it would release 50 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, alongside smaller releases from China, India, Japan, South Korea and Britain, to help lower consumer energy costs.

The unusual agreement was designed to tame soaring energy prices after the OPEC producer group and its allies rebuffed repeated requests from Washington and other consumer nations to pump more quickly to match rising demand as the world began to exit the pandemic.

Oil prices have since declined, however, amid worries that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus will spread and trigger extensive lockdowns, reducing global energy demand.

After Turk’s comments, U.S. oil prices were trading at $67.51 a barrel, up $1.33, but paring gains that had been made on concerns the OPEC+ production group would not step up output any further.

“The president gave us flexibility,” Turk, one of several administration officials who meet regularly to discuss energy security, said about the U.S. planned release of strategic stockpiles.

“So if the price of oil goes down significantly, if the pain at the pump that is currently being experienced by consumers around our country, and around the world as well, dissipates for whatever reason, then we use the tools differently,” he said.

“The metric of success for any policy from our end related to these issues is what is the price at the pump? … not whether we get 50 million barrels out as quickly as we possibly can,” he said.

The Energy Department said on the day of Biden’s reserve announcement that companies could borrow 32 million barrels of oil from the SPR and that contracts for the exchanges would be awarded on Dec. 14 or before. Deliveries of the oil would take place from January to April and oil companies would have to return the oil from next year through 2024.

The department would also offer 18 million barrels of oil for a sale that had been previously approved by Congress. The sale notice would be posted on Dec. 17 or before, it said.

Turk added that the White House was still studying proposals from some of Biden’s fellow Democratic lawmakers to ban crude oil exports to keep prices down, saying it remained among the range of tools the administration could eventually use.

“We’ve certainly heard from members of Congress who feel both ways on this issue,” he said. “And so we’re putting together all that analysis, all that information to inform decision making by our secretary and ultimately by the president.”

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

White House says DOJ will defend government’s authority to promote vaccine requirement

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House said on Wednesday the U.S. Department of Justice “will vigorously defend” the government’s authority to promote its vaccine requirement in federal contracting after courts blocked the Biden administration from enforcing two vaccine mandates.

A U.S. District Judge in Louisiana on Tuesday temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

A U.S. District Judge in Kentucky blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.

The legal setbacks, spurred by Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations that have sued to stop the regulations, added to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.

They also come amid concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity around the world.

The administration’s most sweeping regulation – a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees – was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.

“We know vaccine requirements work…We are confident in the government’s authority to promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting through its vaccine requirement and the Department of Justice will vigorously defend it in court,” a White House spokesperson told Reuters on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration said a total of 92% of U.S. federal workers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and has weighed on the economy.

Earlier this week, the White House told federal agencies they could delay punishing thousands of federal workers who failed to comply with a Nov. 22 COVID-19 vaccination deadline.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Heinrich)

Judge blocks U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rule for health workers in 10 states

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Monday blocked in 10 states a Biden administration vaccine requirement, finding the agency that issued the rule mandating healthcare workers get vaccinated against the coronavirus likely exceeded its authority.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp in St. Louis prevents the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can hear legal challenges brought by the 10 states.

The ruling is the second legal setback for the Biden Administration’s requirements aimed at increasing the use of vaccines to halt the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal appeals court in New Orleans earlier this month blocked a sweeping workplace mandate that requires businesses with at least 100 employees to get their staff vaccinated or tested weekly.

Republican state attorneys general sued the administration in early November over the CMS rule, seeking to block the requirement because they alleged it would worsen healthcare staffing shortages.

Schelp said CMS had significantly understated the burden of its mandate on the ability of healthcare facilities to provide proper care.

Schelp’s ruling applied in the 10 states that brought the case: Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

On Nov. 4, CMS issued the interim final rule it said covers over 10 million people and applies to around 76,000 healthcare providers including hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis centers.

Providers that fail to comply with the mandate could lose access to Medicare and Medicaid funds. Medicare serves people 65 and older and the disabled. Medicaid serves the poor.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. Gulf of Mexico auction attracts pent up demand from oil drillers

By Nichola Groom

(Reuters) -The Biden administration’s auction of oil drilling rights in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico generated more than $190 million in high bids, bringing in more money for taxpayers than any government offshore lease sale since early 2019.

The Department of Interior auction came days after the U.S. joined a global agreement that for the first time asked governments to accelerate emissions cuts by phasing down coal and fossil fuel subsidies.

It was the first auction under President Joe Biden, whose administration paused drilling sales under a promise to end development on federal properties. But Biden lost a court fight to oil-producing states that sued to reinstate the sales.

The sale’s total high bids – $191,688,984 — was announced by U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Gulf of Mexico Director Mike Celata on a live webcast. The bureau, an arm of the Interior department, had offered almost all available unleased Gulf of Mexico blocks, or 80 million acres. About 2% of that acreage, or about 1.7 million acres, sold.

The total high bids was far higher than the $121 million the government received at a sale held by the Trump administration a year ago, but the price per acre sold was around $112 compared with $233 at last year’s auction.

Major bidders included Exxon Mobil Corp, which snapped up nearly a third of the tracts for $14.9 million, and Chevron Corp, which was the auction’s biggest spender at with $47.1 million in high bids. Anadarko Petroleum Corp, owned by Occidental Petroleum Corp., BP and Royal Dutch Shell were also among the top five bidders.

Anadarko placed the highest single bid — more than $10 million — for a tract in the deep water Alaminos Canyon.

The sale was the first opportunity to test the oil and gas industry’s demand for Gulf acreage with energy prices at multi-year highs. U.S. crude futures on Tuesday settled at $80.76 a barrel, up 95% in the last 12 months.

Despite the court-ordered resumption of auctions, Interior spokesperson Melissa Schwartz said the agency was “conducting a more comprehensive analysis of greenhouse gas impacts from potential oil and gas lease sales than ever before.”

Environmental groups strongly opposed the sale and had called on Biden to cancel it over the last week.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; additional reporting by Sebastien Malo in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler, David Gregorio and Aurora Ellis)

U.S. calls on nations to set bold targets for offshore wind

(Reuters) – A top Biden administration official on Thursday challenged nations to join the United States in setting aggressive goals to expand electricity production from offshore wind.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued the call during an appearance at the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow.

The administration of President Joe Biden has moved swiftly this year to support a nascent offshore wind industry in the United States, a key part of its plan to decarbonize the power sector by 2035 and address global warming.

But it has stumbled in its effort to restrict fossil fuel development on federal lands after a court in June ordered the government to resume drilling auctions that were paused by Biden in January.

“We are in an exciting time – and the Biden-Harris administration is taking bold action to advance clean energy to make people’s lives better and build a more sustainable future,” Haaland said. “Together, we need to set ambitious goals and commit the resources to get it done.”

The White House earlier this year set a target of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy along every U.S. coastline by 2030. That would be enough electricity to power 10 million homes.

The 30-GW goal is roughly the amount that already exists in Europe’s two-decade old industry, but is a tall order for a nation that currently has just two small offshore wind farms.

Interior permitted what is expected to be the first major U.S. offshore wind farm, the 800 megawatt Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, in May.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Marguerita Choy)