May 14, 2021

Georgia, Britain, Winter TV: Your Weekend Briefing

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Here are the week’s top stories, and a look ahead.

1. 2020 may be over, but election season is not.

Control of the Senate — and with it, the fate of President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda — will be determined on Tuesday as voters in Georgia head to the polls in twin Senate runoff elections. Both the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff need to defeat the Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for Democratic control of the chamber. Above, early voting in Marietta, Ga.

While polls suggest that the state’s crucial Senate seats are up for grabs, Republicans have grown worried about strong turnout in Democratic areas and mixed messages from President Trump, who baselessly called the Senate races “illegal and invalid.”

Congress meets on Wednesday to certify Mr. Biden’s victory. Twelve Republicans, including Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn, plan to back a futile attempt to overturn Mr. Biden’s win by voting “no,” defying the results of a fair and free election. Vice President Mike Pence, who also serves as the presiding officer of the Senate, signaled his support.

The last-ditch effort comes after another failed litigation attempt. A judge dismissed a lawsuit that aimed to pressure Mr. Pence to overturn the election results.

2. The 116th Congress will end today much as it began: filled with anticipation yet bitterly divided.

Even with a few legislative accomplishments, partisan gridlock forced lawmakers to punt on their hopes that this Congress could be the one to do difficult things. Here are some of the moments that defined the 116th Congress. The 117th Congress will be sworn in today.

There was at least one element of change on Capitol Hill: The politics of debt are shifting, driven by populism and the pandemic. As public support for more generous relief has increased, some Republicans who once scolded about fiscal austerity are now embracing government spending.

Separately, the homes of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the House majority leader, were vandalized over the weekend.

3. As U.S. officials learn more about the recent hacking by Russian agents, alarm is growing over just how spectacularly America’s defenses failed.

While officials are still trying to understand whether what the Russians pulled off was simply an espionage operation or something more sinister, it’s clear the breach of upward of 250 federal agencies and businesses was far broader than first believed.

Intentions behind the attack remain unknown. Some analysts say the Russians may be trying to demonstrate their cyberarsenal to gain leverage against President-elect Joe Biden before nuclear arms talks. Above, President Vladimir Putin of Russia last month.

4. Researchers are scrambling to learn why some coronavirus patients lose their sense of smell and taste. Some experts fear huge numbers of people may lose them permanently.

Once a rare diagnosis, a loss of smell and taste is often the first — and sometimes only — symptom of the coronavirus. Most patients regain their senses, usually within weeks. But for a minority of people like Michele Miller, above, the loss persists, putting them at risk for nutritional deficits and unintended weight loss.

And in California, Los Angeles County, already in the throes of a devastating surge in coronavirus cases after Thanksgiving travel and gatherings, is being hit with a spike from Christmas festivities.

5. Desperate to control a new variant of the coronavirus, Britain quietly changed vaccination procedures to allow for a mix-and-match regimen.

If a second dose of the vaccine a patient originally received isn’t available, or if the manufacturer of the first shot isn’t known, another coronavirus vaccine may be substituted, health officials said. The new guidance contradicts guidelines in the U.S., where regulators noted that the authorized coronavirus vaccines “are not interchangeable.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is falling behind in its vaccination campaign because federal officials left much of the planning to overstretched local health officials and hospitals, like the one in Puerto Rico, above. “We’ve taken the people with the least amount of resources and capacity,” one expert said, “and asked them to do the hardest part of the vaccination.”

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6. Assassins in Afghanistan are killing civil servants, media figures, rights workers and security force members. But no one has taken responsibility.

The Afghan government would not provide the exact number of assassinations recorded in the country last year, but The Times has documented the deaths of at least 136 civilians and 168 security force members in such killings, worse than any other year of the war in the past two decades. Above, the coffin of the journalist Malalai Maiwand in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, last month.

Most officials believe that the Taliban are behind the attacks, but others fear that factions are using chaos as a cover to settle scores, in an echo of Afghanistan’s past civil war. The killings are a worrying sign of how much remains uncertain as the U.S. prepares to withdraw troops from the country.

7. Ancient pharaohs rowed the Nile. Now Egyptians have rediscovered the practice, finding a new perspective on the river that shaped their country.

The Nile birthed Egyptian civilization thousands of years ago, and still sustains it. But few Cairenes have ever seen the body of water itself because restaurants, private clubs and cruises have hidden much of the Nile from all but those who can pay.

During a year with limited travel possibilities, our World Through a Lens series offered Times readers a weekly escape. Here are some of the highlights.

8. Kai Jones skis way out of bounds.

The 14-year-old can be found vaulting off the sheer face of a boulder as he executes double back-flips and other tricks ready-made to go viral. He is already a pro and emblematic of freeskiing’s growth. (Yes, his mom gets a little nervous.)

In more traditional arenas, our college sports reporter looked at how a season of chaos will end with a powerhouse matchup. Alabama and Ohio State took different paths to the Jan. 11 national championship game, with twists that showed how much college football wanted its biggest stage to feel familiar.

10. And finally, catch up on some great journalism.

Chasing a runaway llama. The album Steve Earle never wanted to make. Your positive moments from 2020. These are a few of the highlights from The Weekender.

Our critics suggest these 9 new books and a quirky new comedy from the makers of “Bob’s Burgers”; they also rounded up 11 movies, TV shows, performances, music albums and exhibits they are looking forward to in 2021.

How well did you keep up with 2020? Test your knowledge with our end-of-year news quiz. And here’s the front page of our Sunday paper, the Sunday Review from Opinion and our crossword puzzles.

Here’s to a fresh start this week.

Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6:30 a.m. Eastern.

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