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Trump administration at odds with allies over reimposing U.N. sanctions on Iran – NBC News

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration unveiled a new set of punitive measures against Iran on Monday, even as it faced isolation on the world stage after other major powers rejected a unilateral move by the U.S. to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Tehran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Cabinet members announced new U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s Defense Ministry and its ballistic missile program, as well as the leader of Venezuela’s regime, Nicolás Maduro, for allegedly helping Iran’s weapons programs.

“Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide. No matter who you are, if you violate the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions,” said Pompeo, standing alongside three other Cabinet secretaries, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft.

As Pompeo made the announcement, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the latest sanctions at an online event that had been scheduled for the same time.

“I don’t think that’s anything new. I don’t think it will have any more significant impact on Iran,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking from Iran, told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The United States has exerted all the pressure it could on Iran. It had hoped that these sanctions would bring our population to its knees. It didn’t.”

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers lifted international sanctions on Tehran in return for limits on its nuclear program. The accord includes a “snapback” provision, allowing any country that signed the deal to declare that Iran was in breach of the agreement and to force the reimposition of an array of sanctions.

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President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018, but his administration argues that the U.S. still has the right to force the “snapback” of the U.N. sanctions. Britain, France and Germany said Sunday that the U.S. no longer had the legal authority to force the reimposition of U.N. sanctions. Russia and China also rejected the unilateral move by Washington.

“The United States certainly understands that its assertions are at odds with reality,” Russia said in response to the Trump administration’s declaration.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres informed the Security Council in a letter over the weekend that the United Nations will not support Washington’s decision.

“There would appear to be uncertainty whether or not the process … was indeed initiated,” Guterres wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News, referring to the Trump administration’s letter seeking to launch the “snapback” of U.N. sanctions.

“It is not for the Secretary-General to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists,” he wrote.

Craft said the U.S. was not bothered by opposition from other countries and accused foreign governments of backing “terrorism.”

“As we have in the past, we will stand alone to protect peace and security at all times. We don’t need a cheering section to validate our moral compass,” Craft said.

“We do not find comfort based solely on numbers, particularly when the majority has found themselves in an uncomfortable position of underwriting terrorism, chaos and conflict,” she said. “We refuse to be members of that club.”

Craft traveled to Washington to appear at the announcement of new sanctions, skipping the U.N.’s 75th anniversary celebration, which featured a theme of reaffirming “a collective commitment to multilateralism.” Her deputy spoke in her place at the celebration.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the U.S. during Trump’s tenure, culminating with a U.S. drone strike this year that killed a top Iranian military commander, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad.

Asked whether Iran planned to retaliate for the killing, Zarif refused to rule out a future response.

“The books are not closed. President Trump ordered the assassination of a national hero for Iran and a hero for the region. So the books are not closed. I’m not in the business of making threats, but the book is not closed,” Zarif said.

The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has vowed that revenge for Soleimani’s death would be “decisive, serious and real,” Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported Sunday.

Image: Abigail WilliamsAbigail Williams

Abigail Williams is a producer and reporter for NBC News covering the State Department.

Dan De Luce

Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. 

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Trump Administration Criticizes New Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Mortgage Fee – The Wall Street Journal

“The White House has serious concerns with this action, and is reviewing it,” a senior White House official said in a written statement late Thursday. “It appears only to help Fannie and Freddie and not the American consumer.”

At issue is a 0.5% surcharge that the government-controlled mortgage giants said they would begin to impose on most mortgages that are refinanced at lower interest rates.

The decision by the companies, which said the fee was meant to address heightened credit risks in the mortgage market, was met with quick opposition from the industry, which said it would raise costs for borrowers and run counter to efforts by the Federal Reserve to support lower interest rates.

Earlier on Thursday, a coalition of 20 consumer and industry groups, including the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Realtors, urged the companies and their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to rescind the fee. A senior FHFA official said late Thursday that the agency has no immediate plans to rescind the fee.

The FHFA operates independently of the White House, and technically the administration can’t force the agency to require Fannie and Freddie to rescind the fee.

Fannie and Freddie said the fee was intended to address heightened risks that the loans could go sour, but they didn’t say why it didn’t also apply to new mortgages.

On Wednesday, the FHFA said the fee came at the request of both companies, based on projected losses tied to the pandemic, and would begin Sept. 1.

Fannie and Freddie sought permission in March to impose larger fees on loans for both new-home purchases and refinances, but the FHFA vetoed the idea to ensure that the real-estate market kept functioning normally during the pandemic, the senior FHFA official said.

A spokesman for Freddie declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for Fannie didn’t respond to requests for comment after the White House criticized the fee.

Fannie and Freddie play crucial roles backstopping nearly half of the $11 trillion mortgage market, ensuring the widespread availability of the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in the U.S. They buy mortgages from lenders, package them into securities that are sold to investors and provide guarantees to make the investors whole if the loan defaults. They don’t lend to homeowners.

The fees could help bolster the companies as they prepare to raise capital and potentially exit from their nearly 12-year tenure under government control.

At their current level of roughly $150 billion a month in guarantees on refinanced loans, the new fee will increase the companies’ revenue by $9 billion a year,

JPMorgan Chase

& Co. analysts said in a research note Thursday.

Some mortgage lenders have reported record earnings in the midst of a refinancing boom, and the fee could damp their future profits. It is equal to 50 basis points, or half a percentage point, on each loan Fannie and Freddie guarantees, or roughly $1,400 on the average mortgage backed by the companies, according to industry estimates.

Industry officials said the fee isn’t correlated with the risk of refinanced loans. They said they would likely have to absorb the fee on mortgages already in their pipeline for sale to Fannie and Freddie next month. Longer term, the fee would be passed on to consumers, they said. Borrowers likely would see a modest increase in their monthly costs, since the fee would be paid over the life of their loan.

Write to Andrew Ackerman at andrew.ackerman@wsj.com

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Trump administration to review DACA and reject new applications – CNN

(CNN)The Trump administration will not accept new applications for the Obama-era program that shields from deportation certain undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children and will limit renewals to one year instead of two while it reviews the program, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

The announcement, which comes more than a month after the Supreme Court blocked President Donald Trump’s attempt to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, seems intended to buy time while the administration decides its next steps.
Trump has repeatedly railed against DACA as part of his anti-immigration agenda but three years into his administration has been unable to end the program as promised following a series of lawsuits. The latest attempt to place limits on the program in the run up to the 2020 election is likely to fuel uncertainty in the lives of thousands of immigrants who are beneficiaries of the program or planned to apply for it.
The move is certain to face legal challenges. A federal judge had said earlier this month that the administration must begin to accept new applications for DACA.
“The administration is now undertaking a comprehensive review of the DACA program and the justifications that have been offered for winding DACA down, including its illegality and the negative effects the program has on what I call ‘immigration behavior,’ including smuggling and illegal crossings,” a senior administration official told reporters.
The White House arranged a phone briefing with reporters under the condition the official be granted anonymity.
“When the administration next acts on DACA, it will be the basis of the comprehensive review of the substantive legal and legal policy justifications offered for winding down the program,” the official added.
In the meantime, the administration will reject all initial requests and application fees for new filings “without prejudice” to future applications.
The administration will adjudicate all applications for renewal on a “case-by-case basis” consistent with immigration law, but will provide renewals for one year, rather than the current two years. And all applications for advanced parole “will be rejected absent extraordinary circumstances”
In a 5-4 ruling in June, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to terminate DACA, a program established in 2012 that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation and allows them to work in the US.
The delay has since left thousands of immigrants who are eligible for the program in limbo and has sparked outrage among lawyers who allege the government is defying court orders.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf detailed the changes in a memo released Tuesday. It’s the third memo the Trump administration has issued in an attempt to rescind the program, though Wolf stopped short of terminating it altogether for now.
“I have concluded that the DACA policy, at a minimum, presents serious policy concerns that may warrant its full rescission,” Wolf wrote, adding that the onus remains on Congress to act.
Wolf justified the decision to reject new applicants by arguing that any reasons to keep the program are “significantly lessened, if not entirely lacking” with regard to people not already enrolled.

Legal and legislative challenges

At a hearing in Maryland last Friday, Justice Department attorney Stephen Pezzi acknowledged a “regrettable lack of clarity” on the US government website regarding the current status of the program.
Pezzi said at the time that new applications are being held — not rejected — while the policy is being considered and that the Justice Department is unable to “get ahead” of the Department of Homeland Security.
DACA-eligible immigrants have been waiting in the wings for the go-ahead to apply after the Supreme Court ruling and related ruling from Maryland.
Arlette Morales sent in her DACA application weeks ago. “I have a lot of hope that they’ll accept it … but I also have to be careful, because they might not,” she told CNN. “It’s really hard. It’s really unpredictable.”
Congress is the only body that can provide a permanent solution for DACA recipients through legislation. Last year, the House of Representatives introduced and passed the “Dream and Promise Act” that would, in part, provide a pathway to citizenship for beneficiaries of the DACA program. The Senate has not taken it up.
For years, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have tried — and failed — to pass legislation addressing this slice of the undocumented population.
In 2001, Sens. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, and Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, introduced the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act,” also known as the DREAM Act. It sought to provide young undocumented immigrants a pathway to legal status and earned the group of undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children the moniker “Dreamers.”
Since then, there have been several iterations of the measure that — while different to some degree — seek to put the group on a path toward legal status. But the give-and-take between Democrats and Republicans over “Dreamers” has made it difficult to achieve a bipartisan compromise.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already indicated she’s unwilling to negotiate on certain points.
“Our advocates for comprehensive immigration reform do not want us yielding on any of those points. We should have comprehensive immigration reform. We will move in that direction,” Pelosi told reporters in early June. “But we are not going to endanger families or have increased surveillance in our country.”

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Trump administration invests $472M more in Moderna vaccine candidate – POLITICO

A view of Moderna headquarters. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Trump administration is going to pump another $472 million into expanding Moderna’s clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of its coronavirus vaccine candidate.

What happened: Moderna announced Sunday that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, known as BARDA, is pouring the additional dollars the day before the phase three trial of the vaccine candidate is slated to start.

The funding will help the biotechnology company expand the trial to 30,000 people in the U.S., according to Moderna, and comes on the heels of months of discussions with FDA and the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, an interagency effort to accelerate the timeline for a vaccine.

The background: The federal government has been increasing its investments in developing, testing and speeding production capacity for Covid-19 treatment and vaccines. Earlier this month, it provided $450 million to manufacture a promising treatment and $1.6 billion to Novavax to run a late-stage trial for its vaccine candidate.

Previously, Moderna had received up to $483 million from BARDA, bringing the total award to $955 million — almost $1 billion. The study is being done in collaboration with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is directed by Anthony Fauci.

The politics: Phase three trials are the final step in determining how safe and effective a vaccine is, and the new investment comes as the Trump administration hopes for a high-profile rollout of initial vaccines in as soon as three months.

Even though there are still many unknowns about whether promising vaccines being tested will actually work, Trump himself has been very optimistic in his public comments. “We’re very close to the vaccine — I think we’re going to have some very good results,” Trump said Tuesday.

The political stakes are huge. Trump has banked on finding a vaccine to turn the tide on the virus. Only one in three Americans surveyed supported his administration’s response to the virus — a new low, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Sunday.