Today’s Headlines: A historic win in Georgia
The Rev. Raphael Warnock was elected the first Black senator from Georgia, giving Democrats a chance at controlling the Senate.
A Historic Win in Georgia
With control of the U.S. Senate — and much of President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda — hanging in the balance, the Rev. Raphael Warnock brought Democrats a step closer to their goal by winning one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs. CNN, MSNBC and the Associated Press called the race early Wednesday morning after Warnock amassed a lead of more than 40,000 votes over his opponent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who did not concede. Warnock will be the first Black senator from Georgia.
In the state’s other race, Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican David Perdue, whose Senate term expired Sunday, remained neck and neck, with Ossoff in the lead and thousands of votes yet to be tallied. (Here are the latest results.)
Amid a heavy overall turnout, most of the remaining uncounted votes were from around Atlanta and Savannah — areas where Democrats have piled up significant majorities. A final outcome may not be known until overseas and military ballots are counted.
Republicans have to win only one of the two runoff seats to maintain majority control of the Senate. If Democrats win both races, the chamber would be tied 50 to 50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tiebreaking vote to give Democrats control.
Trump’s Ultimate Loyalty Test
President Trump falsely asserted that Mike Pence can singlehandedly “reject” Biden’s electoral college victory when Congress meets today to officially count the election results, putting his stalwart vice president in a vise — between showing loyalty to him or following the Constitution.
Pence is tasked constitutionally with merely presiding over a joint session of Congress while it approves the final count of each state’s certified results, and has no power to change the outcome. Yet Trump and a few allies, including several senators jockeying for his favor and that of his supporters, have continued to suggest without evidence that the election was fraudulent and that Congress could overturn the result.
Aides close to the vice president have made clear that Pence will carry out his largely ceremonial role even if it means being the person who formally declares that Biden has won.
Trump plans to address fans who have gathered in the capital for a two-day “Stop the Steal” protest rally to coincide with Congress’ session. On Tuesday, hundreds of them, including armed right-wing groups, had come to the city, prompting local officials to enlist National Guard troops to keep the peace.
A Vicious Cycle for Hospitals
An astronomical coronavirus surge in Los Angeles County, where COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 11,000, has infected thousands of healthcare workers in recent weeks and exacerbated the strain on hospitals struggling to care for critically ill patients.
More than 2,200 people who work at hospitals in L.A. County tested positive for the virus in December alone, making up roughly a third of all hospital infections reported during the pandemic. Though in previous months nursing homes and outpatient clinics suffered the most illnesses, besieged hospitals and their beleaguered workers have been hit hardest by the winter surge.
It has trapped L.A.'s hospitals in a vicious cycle. The more people who are ill, the more likely others will become infected, both at and away from work. That, in turn, intensifies staffing shortages at hospitals at the very moment the public needs medical care the most. Already, hospitals have had to turn away ambulances, line hallways with gurneys and cram bodies into overflowing morgues.
The surge is so bad that health officials are urging new precautions. “Everyone should keep in mind that community transmission rates are so high that you run the risk of an exposure whenever you leave your home,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Assume that this deadly invisible virus is everywhere, looking for a willing host.”
More Top Coronavirus Headlines
— Los Angeles County’s vaccine distribution effort hit a rocky patch this week, as officials administering Moderna shots at pop-up sites allowed some people who are not healthcare workers to skip the line and get immunized weeks or months before they are eligible.
— An informal survey of Los Angeles Police Department employees found significant skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines, with just 60% of respondents saying they would accept the shots when offered.
— With travel demand expected to slow in the next few months, airlines in the U.S. have pressed the Trump administration to replace sweeping restrictions on inbound international travel with a COVID-19 testing requirement for all visitors arriving from foreign countries.
For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.
Unemployment Checks for Out-of-State Inmates
In the latest revelation of potential criminal fraud involving California jobless benefits, an analysis has found that more than $42 million in claims went to out-of-state prison and jail inmates, giving more clarity to what officials now estimate could be $4 billion in scammed coronavirus relief funds — double previous estimates.
A large number of Florida inmates, including a man sentenced to 20 years for second-degree murder, are among the thousands of out-of-state prisoners who have allegedly received California pandemic unemployment benefits, according to a December analysis commissioned by the state Employment Development Department and reviewed by The Times.
The analysis compared data on incarcerated individuals nationwide against nearly 10 million people on the state pandemic unemployment rolls, and found that the EDD approved more than 6,000 claims, totaling more than $42 million, involving individuals who were probably incarcerated elsewhere when they were paid by California.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
On this date in 1975, Jerry Brown was sworn in as governor of California for the first time, but it would hardly be the last. Brown served four terms as governor, more than anyone else — and unless term limits are changed, that record should stand. He also took a 28-year break between his second and third terms.
Brown was derided as “Gov. Moonbeam” in his early years, but he ended his run in 2019 as California’s senior statesman.
In his first inaugural address, Brown talked about “a big job ahead.”
“The rising cost of energy, the depletion of our resources, the threat to the environment, the uncertainty of our economy and the monetary system, the lack of faith in government, the drift in political and moral leadership — is not the work of one person, it is the work of all of us working together,” he said.
See more archival photos from Brown’s first two terms in this piece from 2010.
— Promising to help small businesses and unemployed Californians hit hard by the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom has previewed a $4.5-billion stimulus program that includes a variety of grants and tax incentives, many of which would require swift legislative approval to take effect.
— Grocery and retail drugstore employees who work in unincorporated L.A. County could see a pay bump of $5 an hour if the county Board of Supervisors approves a “hero pay” ordinance later this month.
— The holiday season, normally a mainstay of the nearly $50-billion beauty industry, lost some of its luster this year. The pandemic has hurt many businesses and workers in Little Saigon, the Orange County nail salon capital of the U.S.
— A 31-year-old man accused of stealing a lemur from the San Francisco Zoo last year has been ordered released from custody but told to stay away from the zoo.
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— Russia is likely responsible for a massive hack of U.S. government agencies and corporations, top national security agencies confirmed in a rare joint statement, rejecting Trump’s claim that China might be to blame.
— A Wisconsin prosecutor will not file criminal charges against the police officer who shot Jacob Blake in the back in Kenosha last summer, leaving him paralyzed and setting off protests. Meanwhile Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen who fatally shot two people and wounded a third amid those protests, has pleaded not guilty to charges including intentional homicide.
— The Environmental Protection Agency has completed one of its last major rollbacks under the Trump administration, changing how it considers evidence of harm from pollutants in a way that opponents say could cripple future public health regulation.
— Israel is far outstripping other countries in vaccinating its population against COVID-19 — but it’s also leaving behind the nearly 5 million Palestinians under its control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who are expected to wait considerably longer.
HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS
— The Grammys have been postponed because of COVID-19 concerns, just weeks before the event was scheduled to take place, sans audience, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
— Our experts round up 15 TV shows to watch in 2021, from Barry Jenkins’ much-anticipated Colson Whitehead adaptation to Kate McKinnon’s Elizabeth Holmes portrayal.
— Actress and model Tanya Roberts has died at age 65 after her publicist mistakenly said she was dead earlier this week.
— From “Ammonite” to “The Boys in the Band,” a slew of films up for awards consideration is examining the role of same-sex relationships during the distant and not-so-distant past with nuance and compassion. But how do you depict a gay romance historically accurate but not indulge tired tropes that reduce it to tragedy?
— Hundreds of home delivery drivers for Vons, Pavilions and other stores owned by Albertsons are about to be laid off, their work outsourced to gig delivery company DoorDash. Don’t be surprised; Proposition 22 made it almost inevitable in California, columnist Michael Hiltzik writes.
— California is scrambling to avoid blackouts. And as power supplies tighten, solar-charged batteries and efforts to reduce household energy use will be key.
— The L.A. Galaxy have hired Greg Vanney, who led the fledgling team decades ago and lifted the first three trophies it won, as its next coach to help it rebuild its legacy. After its franchise-worst six-year title drought, he’s got his work cut out for him.
— The Dodgers addressed one of their top priorities this offseason by re-signing Blake Treinen to a two-year contract with a team option for the 2023 season.
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— Coronavirus outbreaks at essential businesses make clear we need to double down on more inspections and worker protections, lest hospitals become completely overrun, The Times’ editorial board says.
— China typically jails dissidents around Christmas, when the world is distracted. In 2020, it acted like Christmas was all year, trampling on rights and freedoms with renewed vigor, particularly in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, write journalists Jessie Lau and Amy Hawkins and UC Irvine history professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom.
WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING
— In a new book, former FBI director James Comey writes that Trump should not be prosecuted once he leaves the White House, no matter how much evidence has been amassed against him. (The Guardian)
— The net worth of white Americans hit a record high last year, according to recently released data from the Federal Reserve, while other ethnic groups saw their share of the nation’s wealth decline. (Bloomberg)
ONLY IN L.A.
Rose Matsui Ochi, a trailblazing Los Angeles attorney who tapped political networks from City Hall to Congress in her fierce advocacy of civil rights, criminal justice reform and Japanese American causes, has died at 81. Ochi was the first Asian American woman to serve on the L.A. Police Commission and as an assistant U.S. attorney general. She advised mayors on criminal justice and presidents on immigration policy, drug policy and race relations. But she particularly cherished her work campaigning for recognition and redress for the mass incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II — including herself and her family.
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