Biden Signs Law Banning Russian Uranium Imports

Happy Wednesday! By the end of the year, Chuck E. Cheese will scrap its animatronic Munch’s Make Believe Band at locations across the country. We used to be a real and proper country.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Georgian Parliament voted Tuesday to approve a Russian-style “foreign agents” law, which would require independent media companies and NGOs that receive 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as “bearing the interests of a foreign power.” Tens of thousands of Georgians continue to protest against the law in the capital of Tbilisi. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said she would veto the law, but the country’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, has a sufficient legislative majority to overrule the president’s veto. 
  • The Biden administration informed Congress on Tuesday that it is advancing a $1 billion arms package for Israel, despite the president having previously decided to delay a delivery of precision bombs to the country and warning that a full-scale invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, could lead to further holds on military aid. The package—which could take years to fully fulfill—reportedly includes tank ammunition, tactical vehicles, and mortar rounds. “We are continuing to send military assistance,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday. “We have paused a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs because we don’t believe they should be dropped in densely populated cities.” Israeli forces have continued to advance further into Rafah and an estimated 450,000 people have fled the city, according to the United Nations. 
  • The United Nations said one of its international workers was killed—and another staff member injured—when their vehicle came under fire in Rafah on Tuesday, marking the first time an international U.N. staffer has been killed in the current war between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli military conducted an initial inquiry into the incident and said that the vehicle was traveling in a designated active combat zone and that forces “had not been made aware of the route of the vehicle.” U.N. officials, however, said the vehicle was marked and that they had informed the military of their convoy’s movements.
  • President Joe Biden announced a bevy of new Section 301 tariffs—to be phased in over three years—on Chinese imports on Tuesday, including on steel and aluminum, semiconductors, electric vehicles, and medical equipment. The tariff rate on Chinese electric vehicles will increase from 25 percent to 100 percent next year, and tariffs on solar panel imports will double—from 25 to 50 percent—but also include duty-free exceptions for certain solar panel components. “American workers and businesses can outcompete anyone—as long as they have fair competition,” the White House said in a statement announcing the measures. “But for too long, China’s government has used unfair, non-market practices.”
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday from Kyiv that the administration plans to seize Russian assets held in the United States. “Our Congress has given us the power to seize Russian assets in the U.S., and we intend to use it,” he said, without elaborating. The Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity (REPO) for Ukrainians Act, signed into law as part of last month’s aid package, empowered the president to confiscate Russian assets for the purposes of transferring them to Ukraine. The announcement follows the European Union’s agreement last week to seize windfall profits from Russian assets to aid Ukraine. 
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday that the producer price index (PPI)—a measure of what suppliers and wholesalers are charging customers—rose 0.5 percent month-over-month in April after falling 0.1 percent in March and increasing 0.6 percent in February. Producer prices were up 2.2 percent year-over-year in April, the biggest annual rate gain in 12 months. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell suggested on Tuesday that the central bank would likely hold interest rates at their current levels at the Fed’s next policy meeting.
  • Defense lawyers for former President Donald Trump cross-examined former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen—the prosecution’s final witness—on Tuesday during Trump’s New York criminal trial. The defense tried to paint Cohen—who has posted disparaging social media videos about Trump regularly since shortly before the trial began—as motivated primarily by vengeance against his former employer, who Cohen suggested in his testimony was involved in falsifying business records to cover up the payments Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. Cohen also testified that the former president told others, “Don’t cooperate,” when Trump was under investigation by the FBI in 2018. Meanwhile, a New York appeals court on Tuesday upheld a gag order that Judge Juan Merchan imposed on Trump, finding that Merchan had correctly balanced concerns about the former president’s First Amendment rights and the rights of witnesses and others involved in the case to be “free from threats, intimidation, harassment, and harm.”
  • A federal district judge rejected a request on Tuesday from Hunter Biden’s lawyers to delay his trial on three felony gun charges, solidifying the trial’s June 3 start date. Prosecutors, led by special counsel David Weiss, have accused President Joe Biden’s son of lying about his drug use on a form he filled out ahead of purchasing a gun. After an hour of discussion, the judge said she was “not persuaded” by the case brought by Biden’s lawyers, who asked to delay the trial until September to give the defense more time to identify potential witnesses. Also on Tuesday, a three-judge federal appeals panel ruled the trial in a separate tax case against Hunter Biden in California could go forward, scheduled for later in June. 
  • Eight TikTok content creators sued the U.S. government on Tuesday over a recently enacted law that could force the popular social media app to shut down in the country if the app’s China-based owner, ByteDance, does not divest from the company. According to their lawsuit, the creators say the law—passed last month as part of a large national security and aid package—is an “extraordinary restraint on speech” and infringes on their First Amendment Rights. TikTok similarly filed suit last week. 
  • Angela Alsobrooks—the executive of Prince George’s County—won Maryland’s Democratic Senate primary on Tuesday, handily beating three-term Democratic Rep. David Trone, who spent more than $60 million of his own money to make the race the most expensive in state history. Alsobrooks will face off against former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, in the November general election. 

Nuclear Renaissance, Ahoy? 

The decommissioned Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station in Herald, California. (Via Getty Images)
The decommissioned Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station in Herald, California. (Via Getty Images)

In the days and weeks following Russia’s unprovoked February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration slapped sanctions on the Kremlin and on the Russian energy sector, in particular—which has for decades been the lifeblood of the country’s economy—in an effort to cripple Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine. The United States and its allies banned Russian oil, gas, and coal, but another product—that helped provide roughly 18 percent of U.S. electrical production in 2022—was conspicuously absent from any sanctions list: enriched uranium for nuclear power plants. 

That changed on Tuesday when President Joe Biden signed into law a ban—with some carve-outs—on U.S. imports of Russian-enriched uranium. The ban is a tricky one for a bedeviled industry that has increasingly seemed to be on the cusp of a renaissance, with Republicans and Democrats—including the Biden administration—evermore in favor of the alternative fuel after years of decline in nuclear power.

The legislation that Biden signed Tuesday—which flew through the House with bipartisan support and by unanimous consent in the Senate—starts a 90-day clock to ban all “low-enriched” uranium from Russia, the material that most nuclear power plants need to run. About 20 percent of U.S. low-enriched uranium comes from Russia, and almost all of the enriched uranium U.S. civil nuclear reactors use is imported. There’s no purely domestic source either: the only commercial uranium enrichment facility in the U.S., in New Mexico, is owned by a European conglomerate. According to a December 2023 House of Representatives report, uranium enriched in the U.S. accounts for only 30 percent of the country’s nuclear fuel requirements. 

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