Your Wednesday Briefing

President Biden speaking in Atlanta yesterday in support of changing the Senate filibuster rules that have stalled voting rights legislation.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

‘The moment to defend our democracy’

Speaking in Atlanta yesterday, President Biden endorsed changing Senate rules and weakening the filibuster to pass new voting rights legislation, warning of a grave threat to American democracy if lawmakers did not act to “protect the heart and soul” of the country.

“This is the moment to defend our democracy,” he said.

The procedural change has only the slimmest of chances of winning the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, which would be needed to overcome universal Republican opposition. Biden, an institutionalist who had long been leery of changing the filibuster, said such Senate traditions had been “weaponized and abused.”

Renewal of the Voting Rights Act used to be routine and bipartisan. Biden’s advisers have promised that he will continue to forcefully support voting rights bills aimed at beating back restrictive voting measures passed through Republican-led statehouses across the country.

Quotable: “I ask every elected official in America,” Biden said. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?”

Response: Republicans have argued that Democrats are exaggerating the impact of the new voting restrictions in order to justify a blatant power grab.

A line for coronavirus tests in Paris on Sunday.Credit…Francois Mori/Associated Press

Over half of Europe may soon be infected with Omicron

The W.H.O. warned of “a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region,” in which more than half of those in Europe could be infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the next six to eight weeks. In the first week of 2022, the continent recorded over seven million cases, said Dr. Hans Kluge, the W.H.O. regional director for Europe.

The agency cautioned against treating the latest wave like the seasonal flu, since much remains unknown about the new variant — particularly regarding the severity of the disease it can cause in areas with lower vaccination rates, such as some Eastern European countries.

The steep rise cited by Dr. Kluge, based on forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is a stark paradigm shift. Although the institute’s models have frequently been criticized by experts, it is clear that the virus is spreading quickly. Even if many people avoid severe illness, the virus promises to cause societal disruption across the continent.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • The World Bank said the pandemic would slow global economic growth in 2022.

  • Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, is accused — yet again — of violating his government’s own lockdown rules over a May 2020 garden party at 10 Downing Street.

  • New questions around the tennis player Novak Djokovic’s positive coronavirus test may complicate his visa case in Australia.

A Ukrainian soldier yesterday on the front line near the city of Luhansk, in the Donetsk region.Credit…Anatolii Stepanov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ukrainians are skeptical of Russia’s promises

After talks with the U.S., Russia will meet with NATO today, followed by further talks with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. The O.S.C.E. talks will include Russia and Ukraine, the first recent meeting to bring in both countries. Ukrainian analysts predict that Russia will not offer any concessions.

Ukrainian politicians are deeply skeptical of Moscow’s assertion that it has no intention of invading, given the almost 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. Preparing for the possibility that the talks will break down, the country has been pursuing a parallel track of diplomacy with Russia focused on resolving the eight-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The contradictory, sometimes menacing messages from the Kremlin have stumped Western officials and Russia experts, including some who make a living from decoding Vladimir Putin’s intentions. “The expert opinion that I can authoritatively declare is: Who the heck knows?” Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian foreign-policy analyst, said.

Latest on the border: Russian and Belarusian jet fighters carried out joint flights near Ukraine, and Russia’s western military district announced a live-fire exercise with 3,000 soldiers.


Other Big Stories

Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
  • The U.N. asked donors for $5 billion to fend off a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.

  • A lawsuit was filed against Yale, Georgetown and 14 other U.S. universities, accusing them of conspiring to reduce the amount of financial aid given to some students.

  • More U.S. temperature records were broken in 2021 than in decades, a Times analysis shows.

Around the World

  • At least 17 people, including women and children, were killed in an airstrike on a refugee camp in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray.

  • Jeffrey Moyo, a freelance reporter working for The Times in Zimbabwe, will be tried today on accusations that he helped two other Times journalists illegally enter the country.

  • Officials in the Canadian town of Wheatley, which was built on 19th-century gas wells, are still stumped by the source of a gas explosion that injured 20 people last summer.

Animal News

Credit…Cindy Liu/Reuters
  • Magawa, the rat who had a distinguished career sniffing out land mines in Cambodia, has died in retirement.

  • A new paper explores some of the mysteries of female dolphin sexuality.

  • Researchers in Britain have excavated the fossilized remains of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile believed to have lived 180 million years ago.

A Morning Read

Credit…National Library of Scotland

European royals once shared their most important secrets using a technique called letterlocking to shield their handwritten correspondence from snoops and spies. The 16th-century technique is seen as a precursor to modern encryption.

Lives Lived

David Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, has died at 65. A well-known journalist in his native Italy before going into politics, he was praised for fighting to keep the Parliament relevant.


Credit…T. Milse/Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH, via Alamy

Checking privilege in the animal kingdom

In many different species, animals often share resources such as territory, tools and shelter between generations. A trio of researchers argue that we should call this phenomenon the same thing we call it in humans: intergenerational wealth.

Hyena daughters born to high-ranking mothers inherit their status and get dibs on fresh meat; some chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys crack nuts using stone tools that their parents used before them. And it’s not just hereditary — wealth may be passed down to nonrelatives, too, like hermit crabs that seek better real estate.

To study wealth transfers between animals, scientists can ask concrete questions: Does a lizard that lives with its parents survive longer? Does a monkey with access to larger nut-cracking rocks go on to have more descendants? Biologists can explore animal privilege without tackling all the topic’s cultural complexities in humans.

By seeking similarities between privilege in people and animals, Jennifer Smith, a behavioral ecologist at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., hopes to unlock a greater understanding of inequality in the natural world.

“For me, it’s very exciting to study the rules of inequality in nonhuman animals,” she said. “To see this across so many different species was quite surprising. And we’re just touching the surface.”


What to Cook

Credit…Kate Sears for The New York Times

An actually great vegetarian burrito: smoky beans with caramelized onions, bell peppers, garlic and cheese, swaddled in a tortilla.

What to Listen To

The Weeknd’s new album is “sleek and rigorous,” our critic writes.

What to Read

Jessamine Chan’s chilling debut, “The School for Good Mothers,” imagines an experimental facility where parents go through mandatory retraining.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Flim-___ (nonsense) (four letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. Anna Martin, a Times audio producer, is the new host of the “Modern Love” podcast.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the latest Covid-19 surge.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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