All eyes on Georgia as vote for the Senate begins | First Thing

Good morning.

Today is the day that Georgia will vote for two Senate representatives, and in doing so, determine which party will control Congress’s upper chamber. If Democrats win both seats, the Senate will be evenly split, giving Kamala Harris as vice president the tie-breaking vote. If Republicans win even one of the races, Mitch McConnell will stay in place as Senate majority leader, making it considerably harder for the Biden administration to pass key pieces of legislation and deliver on policy promises.

Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump took to the campaign trail in Georgia yesterday, urging voters to turn out for their candidates. Biden said that the “whole nation is looking to” Georgia and that for the first time in his career, “one state can chart the course … for the next generation”.

Biden slams Trump’s ‘whining and complaining’ while campaigning in Georgia – video

While ostensibly there to support the Republican candidates, Trump seemed to go off piste at his rally, reiterating false claims that “we won the presidential election” and warning that Democrats are “not taking this White House”. The Republican party are divided over whether Trump should drop his baseless claims of voter fraud.

  • Meet the candidates: from an investigative filmmaker to a sitting Republican senator, Joanna Walters profiles the four candidates at the centre of the critical contests.

Democrats have asked the FBI to investigate the infamous Trump recording

Donald Trump looks on during a rally in support of Republicans in Georgia on 4 January.

Donald Trump looks on during a rally in support of Republicans in Georgia on 4 January. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Two Democrats have asked the FBI to launch a criminal investigation into Trump over a phone call in which he pressured Georgia’s top election official to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state. The recording may also have implications for the Georgia Senate races, with Democrats hoping to fire up their support over the issue.

Back in Washington, authorities have mobilised the National Guard to head off protests from Trump supporters, planned in the run up to the vote in Congress which will secure Biden’s election.

‘Firearms are not permitted’, police warn Trump supporters ahead of protest – video

Meanwhile, a group of top American business leaders including executives at Microsoft and American Express have called on Trump to concede the election, writing that “attempts to thwart or delay this process run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy”. But the threat to democracy runs deeper than just Trump, writes David Daley, who argues that the Republican party has gradually morphed into one which promotes rule-rigging and voter suppression.

Republican gerrymandering – the manipulation of electoral constituencies in favor of one party – in Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin has locked in Republican control of state legislatures even when their candidates win hundreds of thousands fewer votes statewide.

  • Who is Brad Raffensperger? Georgia’s secretary of state has repeatedly stood up to Trump’s attempts to get him to subvert the election, and has found unlikely stardom among Trump’s opponents. But Raffensperger is a traditional and lifelong Republican who supported Trump in 2016.

  • The leader of the Proud Boys has been arrested in Washington DC on charges of property destruction and firearms offences. The violent far right group has been among those planning protests against Biden’s presidential victory.

Coronavirus is pushing LA hospitals to the edge

Senior chaplain Nancy Many prays with a patient in a Covid-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on 22 December 2020.

Senior chaplain Nancy Many prays with a patient in a Covid-19 unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on 22 December 2020. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

Hospitals in Los Angeles are on the brink of being overwhelmed and some already have zero capacity as the coronavirus crisis in California continues to worsen. According to LA’s mayor, one person is now contracting coronavirus every six seconds in the city, while someone is dying every 10 minutes. At some hospitals, ambulances are waiting up to eight hours to offload patients. In one California hospital, it is thought that an inflatable, fan-powered costume could be responsible for spreading the virus to at least 44 emergency department staff.

New York has confirmed its first case of the new, more contagious strain of coronavirus. The strain was originally reported in England, which last night announced another weeks-long lockdown as a result of its spread. But the infected man had not travelled recently, indicating that the new strain is already spreading within the community.

  • Coronavirus can impact up to 10 organ systems, a new global study has found. Research discovered there were more than 205 symptoms across 10 organ systems in “long Covid” sufferers, dispelling initial assumptions that the virus was just a respiratory infection. Nicola Davis speaks to long Covid suffers around the world about the impact it has had on them.

  • A Wisconsin pharmacist who tried to ruin hundreds of vaccine doses told police he believed the shots would mutate people’s DNA. Police said Steven Brandenberg, 46, was an admitted conspiracy theorist.

A critical US nature reserve goes on sale to oil drillers

A polar bear sow and two cubs on the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

A polar bear sow and two cubs on the Beaufort Sea coast in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photograph: US Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Image Library/Reuters

The Trump administration will today auction off portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drillers, in what has become one of the US’s most significant environmental battles. The lands are home to species including polar bears, and have been protected from drilling since 1960. Biden might be able to discourage fossil fuel activity in the area by putting regulations in place to make this more difficult, but clawing back the land once it has been sold to energy companies will be no mean feat.

In other news…

‘The first step towards justice’: Julian Assange’s partner welcomes extradition ruling – video
  • Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage and government hacking because of the danger to his mental health, a British court ruled. Experts said the ruling highlighted the grim record of US prisons over suicide and poor mental health.

  • More than 200 Google employees have formed a union, the first group at a big tech company to do so, following years of internal protests by workers at the firm. The groups said it would work to ensure fair wages, and work without fear, abuse or discrimination.

  • Women’s rights activists have called for a boycott of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia over the detention of Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned for women’s right to drive. With Hathloul still in prison, the women have urged people not to let the country “sportswash” its record on women’s rights.

Stat of the day: France vaccinated just 516 people by the weekend, while China gave 70,000 doses in two days

France has one of the world’s most vaccine-skeptical populations, and it shows: by the weekend, the country had only managed to inoculate 516 people despite having 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. While authorities said the figures rose to several thousand by Monday, they fall well behind fellow EU countries and China, which delivered more than 70,000 shots in the first two days of 2021. This piece maps the progress of the vaccine rollout around the world.

Don’t miss this: the story of the only woman on death row

Lisa Montgomery is the only woman on federal death row, convicted of a horrific murder. But Montgomery was herself a victim of a lifetime of violent sexual abuse, and experts say that her criminal act should be considered in that light. This article, a tough read, maps the life of Montgomery, and asks what should be learned from her case.

Last thing: will Trump sit out the inauguration… in Scotland?

Donald Trump plays a round of golf at his Trump Turnberry luxury resort in Scotland in 2018.

Donald Trump plays a round of golf at his Trump Turnberry luxury resort in Scotland in 2018. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

Speculation about whether Trump will attend Biden’s inauguration, and whether he will voluntarily leave the White House at all, has only mounted in recent months. But the plot has thickened with news that an official plane previously used by Trump is due to fly to Scotland, close to his golf course there, the day before the inauguration.

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