Democrats are poised to re-elect Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker, handing her control of an exceedingly narrow majority for what may be her final term.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers of the 117th Congress will take the oath of office on Sunday, officially convening for the first time as the capital prepares for a new president, feuds over the mendacious claims of victory by the departing one and continues to battle a deadly pandemic.

In the House, Democrats are poised to re-elect Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker, handing her control of an exceedingly narrow majority for what may be her final term. After two years as President Trump’s most outspoken Democratic antagonist, she will soon be responsible for trying to shepherd through Congress as much of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s agenda as possible.

It is no easy task. With her party in control of just 222 of 435 seats, Ms. Pelosi can afford to lose only a handful of Democrats on any given vote. She will also have to contend with a health crisis that can sideline lawmakers at any moment, beginning with a few who were expected to miss Sunday’s session.

“I am confident that the Speaker’s election today will show a united Democratic Caucus ready to meet the challenges ahead, and that we are prepared to set our country on a new course,” Ms. Pelosi wrote Sunday morning in a letter to colleagues.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is preparing for a more subdued opening day as both parties await a pair of runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday that will determine which of them begins the year in control. The outcome could determine the fate of Mr. Biden’s legislative goals on climate change, taxes and health care; his response to the coronavirus pandemic; and his ability to fill his cabinet and influential federal judgeships.

Republicans currently have an edge, with 50 seats to Democrats’ 48. Democrats would have to sweep both races to draw the chamber to a tie and effectively take control when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who would cast tiebreaking votes when needed, is sworn in with Mr. Biden on Jan. 20.

With the coronavirus circulating rampantly, members-elect expected little of the usual pomp that usually accompanies Congress’s initial convening. House leaders were preparing for a drawn-out, socially distant affair, with lawmakers taking the oath of office and voting for speaker in small groups, rather than all together in the normally boisterous hall of the House.

Nor was there much promise that the partisan warfare that has seized the capital in recent years would soon subside with the new session. After they are sworn in, a growing cohort of Republican senators and House members plan to initiate a long-shot attempt on Wednesday to try to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory and deliver a second term to Mr. Trump. The attempt will fail, but only after it cleaves the Republican Party in two and further erodes confidence in Mr. Biden’s legitimacy among the president’s most ardent supporters.

Eleven Republican senators and senators-elect said they would join Senator Josh Hawley this week in challenging the results of the presidential election.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence signaled support on Saturday for a futile Republican bid to overturn the election in Congress this week, after 11 Republican senators and senators-elect said that they would vote to reject President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory when the House and the Senate meet to formally certify it.

The announcement by the senators — and Mr. Pence’s move to endorse it — reflected a groundswell among Republicans to defy the unambiguous results of the election and indulge President Trump’s attempts to remain in power with false claims of voting fraud.

Every state in the country has certified the election results after verifying their accuracy, many following postelection audits or hand counts. Judges across the country, and a Supreme Court with a conservative majority, have rejected nearly 60 attempts by Mr. Trump and his allies to challenge the results.

And neither Mr. Pence nor any of the senators who said they would vote to invalidate the election has made a specific allegation of fraud, instead offering vague suggestions that some wrongdoing might have occurred and asserting that many of their supporters believe that it has.

The senators’ opposition to certifying Mr. Biden’s election will not change the outcome. But it guarantees that an otherwise perfunctory session on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to ratify the results of the presidential election will instead become a partisan brawl, in which Republicans amplify specious claims of widespread election rigging that have been debunked for weeks even as Mr. Trump has stoked them.

The spectacle promises to set a caustic backdrop for Mr. Biden’s inauguration and reflects the polarized politics on Capitol Hill that will be among his greatest challenges.

It will also pose a political dilemma for Republicans, forcing them to choose between accepting the results of a democratic election — even if it means angering supporters who dislike the outcome and could punish them at the polls — and joining their colleagues in displaying unflinching loyalty to Mr. Trump, who has demanded that they back his bid to cling to the presidency.

Thousands of protesters in downtown Atlanta demonstrating for racial justice.
Credit…Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

For generations, the prevailing mythology of Atlanta has been that it is an undeniably Southern city that is also unlike the rest of the South, a place where the relentless pursuit of economic and social advancement meant casting aside much of the racial division and bitter history that have long dogged the region.

But lately, that notion has been tested — by the pandemic; by violent encounters between African-Americans and the police; and by the fluctuating divide between metropolitan Atlanta and the much more conservative and traditional state surrounding it.

The pandemic has laid bare gaps in access to opportunity and health care, as the virus has hit the African-American community especially hard. It has also galvanized ideological divides between the city and the state, as the mayor and governor sparred over adopting strict measures to curb the virus’s spread. Protests forced many to examine the stubbornness of institutional racism.

A meltdown during the summer primaries, with long lines and malfunctioning voting machines, stoked concerns over suppression.

Those issues are certainly not Atlanta’s alone. But again and again in recent months, the city emerged as an arena in which those tensions played out in vivid and revelatory ways.

When Georgia votes on Tuesday, representatives of very different segments of Atlanta will play leading roles in this chapter of the city’s history: the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Dr. King’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church; and Jon Ossoff, a young media executive from the Atlanta suburbs, are the Democratic candidates. Kelly Loeffler, one of the Republican senators pushed into the runoff, is a wealthy businesswoman who is an owner of the city’s professional women’s basketball team and has an estate in the affluent Buckhead section of the city.

The context of recent events has injected energy into the runoffs, which have already drawn enormous turnout. The election comes after Joseph R. Biden Jr. became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia in 28 years, a reflection of the party’s growing strength in the state, driven overwhelmingly by voters in Atlanta and its suburbs, which together make up nearly half the state vote. It also follows the protracted campaign by President Trump to overturn his loss through recounts, legal challenges and a barrage of baseless allegations of fraud.

 The most diverse Congress in the nation’s history was sworn in two years ago during the longest government shutdown.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — On Sunday, the 116th Congress will end much as it began — filled with anticipation yet bitterly divided — having lurched through a cycle of once-in-a-generation moments packed into two years. The shuttering of the government for more than a month. The impeachment and trial of a president. The deadliest pandemic in a century and a multitrillion-dollar federal response.

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.

Still, Congress made history of a different kind, ushering in a new era of governing through technology during the pandemic.

Here are some of the moments that defined the 116th Congress.

Swearing In During a Shutdown

With one of the largest classes of newly elected lawmakers in congressional history, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California became the first person in more than 60 years to reclaim the speakership after having lost it.

Within hours of her election as speaker, Ms. Pelosi began calling votes on legislation to reopen government agencies that had been closed since late December 2018, as Mr. Trump demanded more money for the border wall that had been his signature campaign promise.

But Senate Republicans refused to consider the measure, even before it cleared the House. It set the predicate that would hold firm for most of the Congress: Legislation triumphantly shepherded through by House Democrats would rarely be granted a vote on the Senate floor by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.

An Impeachment, Then an Acquittal

Ms. Pelosi would spend months pushing back on the notion of impeachment before changing course after the president was accused of wrongdoing.

But in late August, an intelligence whistle-blower revealed that during a half-hour phone call in July, Mr. Trump had pressured Ukraine’s leader to investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr., just as the president was withholding millions of dollars in military assistance for the country.

Democrats who had resisted impeaching Mr. Trump swung into action, beginning five months of hearings and investigations that would yield additional details about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine and growing calls for his removal. The House voted to charge Mr. Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors, with Republicans unanimously opposed. It was the third impeachment of an American president in history.

The outcome in the Senate was never in doubt, as most Republicans quickly concluded that his actions did not warrant his removal.

Legislating in a Pandemic

As the pandemic spread to the Capitol, lawmakers raced to complete a $2.2 trillion stimulus law.

By the end of 2020, nearly 10 percent of Congress had contracted the coronavirus, temporarily hospitalizing at least two lawmakers and forcing a number of lawmakers to quarantine.

Democrats moved to allow the House to vote remotely for the first time in the history of the chamber, instituting a system that would allow a lawmaker to have a colleague cast a vote for them by proxy if they were unable to travel.

A Stimulus Deal Almost Derailed

Republicans’ showing in the November elections

left Mr. Biden, who was declared the victor soon after, with a slim majority in the House and Democratic control of the Senate contingent on the outcomes of two runoff races in Georgia.

The political stakes of the contests helped shift the monthslong debate over providing pandemic relief to millions of unemployed Americans, small businesses, schools and hospitals across the country, prodding leaders into negotiations over another package.

Shortly after the election, a group of moderates began work on a compromise framework. They finally yielded a $900 billion deal that passed both chambers days before Christmas after several near-misses.

Still, Mr. Trump threatened not to sign it, plunging the fate of the legislation into uncertainty and holding out the possibility of yet another government shutdown. Four days before the new year began, he signed it into law.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s nominee for Treasury secretary, Janet L. Yellen, started giving paid speeches in February 2018.
Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s choice for Treasury secretary, Janet L. Yellen, collected more than $7 million in speaking fees over the past two years from major corporations and Wall Street banks that have a keen interest in the financial policies she will oversee after her expected confirmation to lead the Treasury Department.

Ms. Yellen’s paid speaking appearances — which included $992,000 from the investment bank Citi for nine appearances — were among the lucrative payments from a range of Wall Street, Big Tech and corporate interests to three prominent prospective members of the incoming Biden administration.

The payments, revealed in disclosure statements covering the previous two years and released in recent days, have caused consternation among progressive activists concerned about the influence of special interests around Mr. Biden, who they see as part of a Democratic establishment that has not sufficiently embraced liberal priorities.

Mr. Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, was paid nearly $1.2 million by a consulting firm he helped found, WestExec Advisors, where he advised a range of corporations including Facebook, Boeing, the private equity giant Blackstone and the asset management company Lazard.

Mr. Biden’s choice for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, was paid $180,000 to consult for the data-mining company Palantir, which has raised liberal hackles for providing data and surveillance services to law enforcement, including the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Along with their disclosure statements, Ms. Yellen, Mr. Blinken and Ms. Haines each filed ethics agreements pledging to avoid involvement in specific matters that could affect any holding they still own, or with which they had worked in the past year, unless they receive a written waiver from ethics officials.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, made a video appearance on Wednesday with European leaders to approve the investment deal.
Credit…Pool photo by Johanna Geron

A trade pact with 14 other Asian nations. A pledge to join other countries in reducing carbon emissions to fight global warming. Now, an investment agreement with the European Union.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has in recent weeks made deals and pledges that he hopes will position his country as an indispensable global leader, even after its handling of the coronavirus and increased belligerence at home and abroad have damaged its international standing.

In doing so, he has underlined how difficult it will be for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. to forge a united front with allies against China’s authoritarian policies and trade practices, a central focus of the new administration’s plan to compete with Beijing and check its rising power. The image of Mr. Xi joining Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France and other European leaders in a conference call on Wednesday to seal the deal with the European Union also amounted to a stinging rebuke of the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate China’s Communist Party state.

The deals show the leverage Mr. Xi has because of the strength of the Chinese economy, which is now the fastest-growing among major nations as the world continues to struggle with the pandemic.

It was also yet another demonstration of how China pays little or no diplomatic cost for abuses that violate European values. The Europeans finalized the investment agreement, for example, a day after the European Union publicly criticized the harsh prison sentence handed down to a Chinese lawyer who reported on the initial coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

China had to make only modest concessions to overcome increasingly vocal concerns about China’s harshest policies, including the crackdown on Hong Kong and the mass detentions and forced labor of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the western Chinese region.

China’s vast economic and diplomatic influence, especially at this time of global crisis, means that countries feel they have little choice but to engage with it, regardless of their unease over the character of Mr. Xi’s hard-line rule.

The investment agreement must be ratified by the European Parliament before it can take effect, and it faces signification opposition that could derail it.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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