Start your day here: Senate Democrats force a showdown over voting rights measures

Published January 18, 2022 at 8:13 AM EST
Senate Democrats caucus at luncheon with President Biden last week over voting rights legislation and possible changes to filibuster rules.
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Senate Democrats caucus at luncheon with President Biden last week over voting rights legislation and possible changes to filibuster rules.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Voting rights and the filibuster: Democrats will begin debate today on two bills to make it easier for Americans to vote — and vow a long-shot push to change filibuster rules to get the measures to a vote.

A daring escape at the Texas synagogue: Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker ended the weekend's 10-hour standoff by throwing a chair at the gunman, giving himself and the two remaining hostages time to safely flee the building.

The UK sends arms to Ukraine: Britain says the arms shipment was in response to a “legitimate and real cause for concern” over a possible Russian invasion. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Kyiv and Berlin.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, a flurry of meetings aimed at reviving the international agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)


After visiting Ukraine, U.S. senators issue harsh warnings to Putin against a Russian invasion

Posted January 18, 2022 at 12:29 PM EST
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., gives a briefing at the presidential office in Ukraine after meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, on Monday.
Efrem Lukatsky/AP
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., gives a briefing at the presidential office in Ukraine after meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Monday.

A bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators that visited Ukraine this week issued stern warnings to the Kremlin against an invasion of the country, as many observers fear.

The seven senators — four Democrats and three Republicans — met Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a show of support for his government as some 100,000 Russian troops mass along the border, poised for a possible move.

Speaking at a news conference in the capital Kyiv, Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., said the current border buildup, Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support of separatists in eastern Ukraine “represent the most serious assault on the post-World War II order in our lifetime.”

Murphy, in a call with reporters, said Kyiv is wants increased support from the U.S. He also had strong words for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"If Putin thinks that he's going to walk into Central or Western Ukraine without a significant fight then he has fundamentally misread the Ukrainian people and their readiness," Murphy said.

Fellow Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal said Putin had made "the biggest mistake of his career in underestimating how courageously the people of Ukraine will fight him if he invades."

Blumenthal said the U.S. was prepared to "impose crippling economic sanctions."

"But more important we will give the people of Ukraine the arms, lethal arms they need to defend their lives and livelihoods," he said after the senators met with Zelenskyy.

Talks last week between the U.S. and its allies and a Russian delegation in Brussels failed to reach an agreement on Moscow's key demand — that Ukraine not be allowed to join the NATO alliance. The Biden administration has insisted the decision is Kyiv's to make and has threatened consequences if Russia should make a military move on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the troop buildup on the Russian side of the border continues even as the Kremlin has insisted that it has no plans to invade.

Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar said "Congress is looking at additional sanctions that are not yet authorized by law."

Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, also issued a statement praising Ukraine for “standing resolute in the face of Vladimir Putin’s shameful and illegal aggression.”

“It is imperative that the United States stay strong in the face of Russian aggression and stand by our friends who are fighting for freedom,” Wicker said.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was also on the trip, as were Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer.

Fashion police

A fashion designer is suing Lego over a leather jacket worn by a 'Queer Eye' miniature

Posted January 18, 2022 at 11:52 AM EST

A miniature black jacket is at the heart of a copyright infringement lawsuit facing the toy giant Lego, in which a fashion designer accuses the company of replicating a leather piece he made for one of the stars of the hit show Queer Eye.

Artist James Concannon alleges that Lego copied his design — which Antoni Porowski wore on an episode of the Netflix series — without permission for a toy set and is realizing profits as a result, according to a 15-page lawsuit filed in a Connecticut district court last month.

He is seeking to recover the damages "he has sustained and will sustain, and any gains, profits, and advantages obtained by Defendants because of their act of infringement and use, publication, and distribution of the copied artwork and design," an amount that the lawsuit says cannot yet be determined.

A Lego spokesperson told NPR over email that the company does not comment on ongoing legal processes. According to the lawsuit, its lawyers have argued that by gifting the jacket to Porowski to wear on the show, Concannon was granting Netflix implied license to use it and sub-license it. NPR has also reached out to Netflix for comment.

Concannon says in the suit that he learned that Porowski was a fan of his work — which features a "distinct propaganda-inspired aesthetic" — in 2017 after Queer Eye first requested the rights to display some of his clothing on TV. He says he and Porowski eventually became friends, and he gifted him several custom creations that he wore on the show over the years.

Concannon says the series sought and received permission to feature all of his works except for one: A custom leather jacket he created for Porowski in 2018.

Porowski reportedly sent him the jacket and he added his own symbols and words, including a skull on the front left, designs in a circle on the bottom right, and "Thyme Is On My Side" written across the back. It first appeared on the opening episode of Queer Eye's fourth season, which hit Netflix in July 2019.

Concannon says in the suit that he figured Netflix's not asking permission — as it did in previous and subsequent cases — was simply an oversight, and he was happy to see his jacket featured and to get credit from Porowski for his work.

"However, Concannon never granted Netflix a license to display the jacket on the show (as he had in previous instances where his works were featured on the show), and he certainly never agreed to allow LEGO — the largest toy company in the world, with over $5 billion in annual revenue — to commercially exploit his artwork for free," the lawsuit reads. "Yet that is exactly what LEGO did."

In mid-September 2021, the company began marketing a toy set based on the Netflix show. The "Queer Eye Fab 5 Loft", which retails for $99, features an apartment with a salon, kitchen and living room as well as figurines representing the show's five leads and a dog. It includes a miniature leather jacket that bears multiple similarities to the one featured on the show, from the skull and circular symbols on the front to graffiti-style writing on the back.

Concannon says Lego didn't just copy his design without permission or credit, but also used the jacket to help market the loft set — including on an image on the front of the box and in an animated video used to promote the product on social media.

He is also accusing the company of being unwilling to accept responsibility for its alleged infringement.

Concannon reached out to the company's customer service line repeatedly after seeing the toy set, saying that a switchboard operator offered to send him a free one for his six-year-old son to play with, but it never arrived. When he called back, he was told that the operator "had made a mistake, and that LEGO does not give away its sets for free."

He then sent the company a cease-and-desist letter through his attorney.

"Concannon hoped that perhaps LEGO had made an honest mistake, copied his work without realizing Concannon retained all copyrights in the Concannon Jacket, and would offer to compensate Concannon or pay him a reasonable royalty that he could use to support his family and manage his type 1 diabetes, which requires him to rely on an insulin pump," the lawsuit reads.

Instead, it says, company lawyers reportedly told Concannon's attorney that bringing a case against Lego would be an "uphill battle." They argued that by giving the jacket to Porowski knowing he would wear it on the show, Concannon was granting an "implied license" to Netflix to use however it wanted, including sub-licensing it to Lego for mass production. They also suggested Concannon was only asserting his legal rights because he was "upset that he never received his free Lego set in the mail."

"LEGO’s response to Concannon’s demand ignores basic principles of U.S. Copyright Law and demonstrates that LEGO cares more about its bottom line than the working artists who supply the creative lifeblood for industries like the one that LEGO dominates," the lawsuit says.

Lawyer and intellectual property researcher Mike Dunford — who is not involved in the lawsuit — discussed the case in a lengthy Twitter thread earlier this month, in which he said the alleged infriged-upon work is the artwork on the jacket, not the jacket itself.

"If this suit goes the distance and succeeds, it will be because the 'unique placement, coordination, and arrangement' is protectable and infringed notwithstanding the substitution of different individual artistic elements," he wrote. "That's really the whole case here."


The British government is freezing the fee citizens pay to fund the BBC

Posted January 18, 2022 at 10:55 AM EST
The BBC logo is seen at BBC Broadcasting House on January 17, 2022 in London, England.
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BBC Broadcasting House in London.

British Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced that the UK was freezing the fee that citizens with TVs pay to fund the British Broadcasting Corp., or BBC.

It means the fee won’t increase with inflation for the next two years, but the government stopped short of scrapping the fee altogether.

“We need a BBC that is forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern broadcasting, a BBC that can continue to engage the British public and that commands support from across the breadth of the UK — not just the London bubble,” Dorries told the House of Commons on Monday.

The fee will remain at £159 per household — roughly $216 — until 2024. Then it will rise in line with inflation for the next four years.

The decision was “disappointing” and meant that the iconic broadcaster would have to “absorb inflation,” according to a joint statement from BBC chairman Richard Sharp and BBC director-general Tim Davie.

"Given the breadth of services we provide, the Licence Fee represents excellent value for money. There are very good reasons for investing in what the BBC can do for the British public and the UK around the world,” the statement went on.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his conservative government have long accused the BBC of political bias, and as recently as last week they slammed the broadcaster over its coverage of a garden party Johnson attended that may have run afoul of COVID-19 lockdown rules.

The government will also conduct a mid-term review of the BBC’s royal charter, which is up for renewal in 2027.

Fauci says COVID-19 won't go away like smallpox, but will become endemic

Posted January 18, 2022 at 10:40 AM EST
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, testifies at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, last week in Washington, D.C.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, testifies at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last week in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top White House medical adviser, says that the COVID-19 pandemic won’t end with the elimination of the virus. Instead, he says that a less dangerous and disruptive strain of the virus will likely take hold and become endemic.

Speaking Monday at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, Fauci said scientists don’t know how exactly the pandemic will finally play out, and that it’s important “to be openly honest about that.”

However, he said “if you look at the history of infectious diseases, we've only eradicated one infectious disease in man, and that's smallpox. That's not going to happen with this virus.”

“But hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn't disrupt our normal social, economic and other interactions,” said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“I think that's what most people feel when they talk about in endemicity, where it is integrated into the broad range of infectious diseases that we experience,” such as the flu, he said.

Fauci’s remarks come as the omicron variant of the coronavirus is causing a huge worldwide spike in new cases. The sheer number of people who have become infected with the variant has overwhelmed medical resources in many parts of the world, even though omicron has proven to be less deadly than its delta predecessor.

Some 5.4 million new cases of coronavirus infection were reported last week in the U.S. alone, according to data tallied by Johns Hopkins University. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 852,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Worldwide, the disease has claimed more than 5.5 million lives.

Let the games begin

After a dramatic prelude to the Australian Open, it's finally time for some tennis

Posted January 18, 2022 at 10:30 AM EST
A blue tennis court sits in the middle of a dark stadium, with a blue sky and pink clouds above.
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Britain's Liam Broady and Australia's Nick Kyrgios play in round one at the Australian Open on Tuesday in Melbourne.

The biggest drama of the Australian Open may have played out, but the actual tennis tournament is only just beginning.

Novak Djokovic was deported back to his native Serbia late Sunday — after a dizzying back-and-forth ending in a failed legal challenge — because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

The tournament, which marks the first of the year's four Grand Slam events, kicked off in Melbourne on Monday. It will run until Jan. 30.

And while its defending champion is absent, there are plenty of other huge names on the roster — and tennis fans are hungry to see them in action.

"There's been such a distraction in the leadup to this tournament that I think there's a sense on the ground that spectators just want to see some tennis now," Tom Maddocks of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation tellsMorning Edition.

The number of in-person spectators is limited for the second year in a row, with the Victorian government recently capping venue capacity at 50% in response to the omicron surge. But Maddocks says thousands of fans made their way through the gates during the first two days, and brought their energy with them — "They do call this 'The Happy Slam' for a reason," he adds.

The Djokovic saga did more than underscore political divisions and transfix audiences worldwide. It also affected the way that the tournament is organized.

The reshuffled order of play was released late Sunday, just hours ahead of when players were expected on the court. As is customary, a so-called "lucky loser" took Djokovic's spot (though Italian player Salvatore Caruso may have taken the title literally, and lost in the first round).

Djokovic's absence means that there are a few rising stars in men's tennis who are now really in contention, according to Maddocks.

The first few days are really about the locals, and Maddocks says there are a number of Australians to watch. He's also keeping an eye on Rafael Nadal, who made it to Melbourne after contracting COVID-19 in December.

The fan-favorite is Russia's Daniil Medvedev, the World No. 2 who beat Djokovic at the U.S. Open in September (winning his first major championship and famously ending Djokovic's bid for a rare calendar-year Grand Slam).

Nick Kyrgios — an Australian player who Maddocks describes as a "great big personality and entertainer" who "can be divisive" but is "very much loved" — will face off against Medvedev on Thursday after advancing to the second round.

On the women's side, Australia's Ashleigh Barty (who is No. 1 in the world) could be looking at a 4th-round clash with Naomi Osaka, the defending champion and fan favorite who took time away from the sport last year to focus on her mental health.

Here are five matches to watch on Day 3. You can find live scores and the full schedule on the tournament's website.

International Dispatch
From Beijing

Hong Kong is culling 2,000 hamsters after a COVID outbreak at a pet store

Posted January 18, 2022 at 10:20 AM EST
People walk by a closed store called "Little Boss" with pictures of a hamster, rabbit and other animals on the sides of the building.
Bertha Wang/AFP via Getty Images
People walk past a pet shop where an employee and a customer later tested positive for Covid-19 after handling hamsters in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on Monday.

No more hamsters: That's what Hong Kong authorities are cautioning after discovering one COVID-19 case potentially linked to the furry rodents. Animal-to-human transmission of COVID-19 is unproven, but authorities are taking extreme precautions.

After a Hong Kong shopkeeper fell ill, contact tracers discovered positive virus samples in the cages of Dutch hamsters the shopkeeper had imported.

Authorities caution this could be the first documented case of animal-to-human transmission in Hong Kong. The World Health Organization says there is a low chance of that happening.

But Hong Kong is taking no chances. It says it will kill 2,000 hamsters, stop all hamster imports and ban their sale going forward. It will also test more than 100 customers who bought the animals after Dec. 22.

Antisemetic Violence

Synagogues have to balance security with remaining open and welcoming, a Texas rabbi says

Posted January 18, 2022 at 10:10 AM EST
A stone building with a Star of David carved onto the top. The sign out front reads "Congregation Beth Israel".
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Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Monday in Colleyville, Texas.

What security measures need to be in place for someone to worship safely?

The nation's attention has been on that question this week after a gunman held four people hostage for 10 hours in a Texas synagogue on Saturday. But for many American Jews, added security measures have been seen as essential to worship for years, and with them come the question of how to implement the measures while remaining open and welcoming.

As antisemitism has risen in recent years across the U.S., many synagogues have responded by upping safety measures and training congregants on how to respond to possible threats. For many, Saturday's attack recalled the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn., when 11 worshipers were murdered.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was one of the captives held at Congregation Beth Israel over the weekend. He says instruction from the FBI and other groups on how to respond to an active shooter situation helped him and the other congregants escape safely.

"Over the years, my congregation and I have participated in multiple security courses from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and Secure Community Network. We are alive today because of that education," said Cytron-Walker in a statement on Sunday.

"I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools, and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses."

Cytron-Walker says he threw a chair at the gunman and quickly ushered the two remaining hostages out of a nearby door and to safety; another hostage had been released earlier in the day. All four of the captives escaped unharmed. The alleged gunman, Malik Faisal Akram, died on the scene.

Rabbi Andrew Marc Paley of Temple Shalom in Dallas toldMorning Edition his synagogue has given serious thought to safety measures as well.

Congregations must navigate a delicate balancing act between having strong security and still being open and welcoming to all types of people, Paley told NPR's Steve Inskeep. Paley says his synagogue coordinates with local authorities and has regular security on the grounds.

"We want to be welcoming, we want to encourage people to come in, we want to be a sanctuary, and at the same time, cognizant of the fact that there are real threats to real communities," Paley said. "And so balancing how that's done, under what circumstances, is tricky. It's not always successful. Sometimes we are on the side of being overly cautious, but being overly cautious saves lives. "

Faith communities and others across the country are decrying the attack over the weekend as blatantly antisemitic, at a time when cases of hate-fueled assaults on Jews are rising. The Anti-Defamation League reports antisemitic incidents are being recorded at record levels and Jews are consistently the most targeted religious group in the country.

In 2020, the Anti-Defamation League tracked a 40% increase in reported antisemitic incidents at Jewish institutions including synagogues, community centers and schools, compared to 2019.

There's some progress in restarting the Iran nuclear deal, but still a long way to go

Posted January 18, 2022 at 9:50 AM EST
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, late last month.
ALEX HALADA/AFP via Getty Images
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, late last month.

A flurry of diplomatic meetings aimed at restarting the Iran nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump withdrew from continues, with Tehran demanding the removal of sanctions and guarantees that the U.S. won’t back out again.

The original 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, involved not only the U.S., but China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom. It sought to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting Western sanctions. Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, re-imposing U.S. economic sanctions.

NPR international correspondent Peter Kenyon, speaking withMorning Editionhost A Martinez on Tuesday, said the U.S. withdrawal from the original agreement “is a massive issue for the Iranians, and they are now demanding binding guarantees that it won't happen again.”

But the U.S. has insisted that it’s impossible to make such a guarantee because the JCPOA doesn’t have the force of a formal treaty. Further, it’s extremely unlikely that the deal would ever reach that level, as treaties require a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate.

Money is another likely issue, Kenyon says. “When the original deal took effect, billions of dollars flowed into Iran to the consternation of critics in the West,” he says. “It’s possible another influx of cash could be highly attractive to Tehran and might help them get back into compliance with the deal, even without guarantees.” Iran has billions of dollars of oil revenue that the sanctions have frozen in foreign accounts.

On Tuesday, France said some progress in talks was made last month, but that the sides were still far apart.

Speaking to reporters last week, State Department spokesman Ned Price said such “modest progress” is “not sufficient” to revive the 2015 deal.

A senior Iranian official, speaking to Reuters, says Washington “should give assurances that no new sanctions under any label would be imposed on Iran in future.”

“We need guarantees that America will not abandon the deal again," the official said.

Although Saudi Arabia is not a direct party to the JCPOA, the Arab country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said that a restriction on Tehran’s ballistic missiles should be part of the deal. That’s something President Biden says he wants to talk about with Iran, once a deal is restored and put back in force.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold talks in Moscow on Wednesday with Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August.

A Kremlin statement carried by the official TASS news agency said the two sides planned “to discuss a whole range of issues on bilateral cooperation, including the implementation of joint projects in trade and in the economic field, as well as relevant global and regional issues.”

Indonesia will name its new capital Nusantara when the government leaves Jakarta

Posted January 18, 2022 at 9:41 AM EST

Indonesia plans to name its not-yet-built capital city Nusantara, as the legislature approves a sweeping new law that will see the central government leave Jakarta. The new capital will be created in eastern Borneo.

The name was selected by President Joko Widodo himself, according to Minister of National Development Planning Suharso Monoarfa. Nusantara comes from the Javanese language; it has traditionally been used to refer to “outer islands,” or an archipelago, according to the Antara national news agency.

It’s a historic day for Indonesia, Monoarfa said as he discussed the plan in front of TV cameras and journalists. Lawmakers endorsed the move less than two years after Widodo proposed building a new seat of government on Borneo.

Indonesia wants to move its capital because Jakarta faces a number of problems — many of them man-made. For one thing, the coastal city is sinking, mainly because its massive population has forced too much groundwater to be extracted. It also suffers from relentlessly gridlocked traffic and pollution, as well as other environmental challenges.

In contrast, the new site was selected because of its central location in Indonesia, as well as a lower risk from earthquakes and volcanoes. But critics have warned that creating a new capital city on the island of Borneo will require eliminating forestland and wildlife habitats. The capital is expected to require 256,000 hectares, or roughly 632,590 acres.

The new law is designed to ensure that the government follows through with Widodo’s plan even after he leaves office, laying out plans for the next decade — and outlining the decade after that, as well.

Cost estimates for the undertaking have been projected in the tens of billions of dollars.


Antony Blinken is visiting Ukraine amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia

Posted January 18, 2022 at 8:20 AM EST
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sits facing sideways against a gray backdrop.
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a conference in October in Mexico City.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Ukraine and Germany this week in what the State Department calls"part of the diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension caused by Russia’s military build-up and continued aggression against Ukraine."

The just-announced visit comes amidst U.S. warnings that Russia is trying to create a pretext to invade Ukraine, an accusation Russia's top diplomat denied on Monday. Tens of thousands of Russian troops are still massed at the border with Ukraine, and last week's international efforts to defuse tensions ended without a resolution.

"The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners about a united approach to address the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the interests of security and stability," the State Department said in a statement.

Blinken will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv on Wednesday in a show of U.S. support for Ukraine's sovereignty.

He will also meet with employees and families of the U.S. Embassy there "to communicate the Department's efforts to plan for contingencies, should Russia choose to escalate further."

Blinken will travel to Berlin on Thursday to meet with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and, later, the Transatlantic Quad.

The department says he plans to "discuss recent diplomatic engagements with Russia and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including Allies’ and partners’ readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia."

Blinken told NPR last week that there was still time for the countries to reach an agreement, but that the U.S. is "fully prepared" if Russian President Vladimir Putin chooses confrontation. He has repeatedly warned Russia of the consequences it will face if it invades Ukraine after all.

"I'm not going to telegraph with specificity what we would do, except to say that when it comes to sanctions, when it comes to economic and financial measures, as well as measures to, as necessary, reinforce Ukraine defensively, reinforce NATO defensively, we are planning and putting together things that we have not done in the past," Blinken said. "And I think Russia's well aware of many of the things that we would do if they put us in a position where we have to do them."

Here's more recommended reading and listening to bring you up to speed:

U.K. sends anti-tank weapons to Ukraine as fears of a Russian invasion persist

Posted January 18, 2022 at 8:13 AM EST
A Ukrainian soldiers use a launcher with U.S. Javelin missiles during military exercises in Donetsk region, Ukraine, last week. The United Kingdom now says it is supplying unspecified anti-tank weapons to Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion.
Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Service
Ukrainian soldiers use a launcher with U.S. Javelin missiles during military exercises in Donetsk region of Ukraine, last week. The United Kingdom now says it is supplying unspecified anti-tank weapons to Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion.

Britain says it is sending short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine to help defend against a possible Russian invasion.

U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the arms shipment was in response to a “legitimate and real cause for concern.” For weeks, Russia has stationed some 100,000 troops, with tanks and artillery, along the border with Ukraine in what many observers fear is a prelude to invasion. The Kremlin has denied that it plans to invade.

"We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armor defensive weapon systems," Wallace told parliament. Without specifying the exact type of weapon, he said the first systems were delivered on Monday along with a small team of British personnel to provide training on how to use them.

"Ukraine has every right to defend its borders and this new package of aid further enhances its ability to do so,” he said.

Convoys of tanks and troops are on the move, apparently heading to the Ukrainian border, theNew York Times reports Monday.

Last week, talks with Russia failed to break the impasse, as the U.S. and its allies rejected Russia’s key demand that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO. However, the door was left open for future talks on arms control and missile deployments.

Speaking on Monday, Wallace said he’d invited Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, to visit London to discuss the crisis. "The current gap is wide but not unbridgeable,” he said. “I still remain hopeful that diplomacy will prevail.”


Where voting rights — and the filibuster — stand in the Senate this week

Posted January 18, 2022 at 8:09 AM EST
Four people wearing formal attire stand on a stage with a backdrop of civil rights protesters, with a slogan and wooden podium reading "Deliver for Voting Rights."
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Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, speaks during a press conference at Union Station on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday in Washington, D.C. She is joined by (from left to right) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., and the family of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Martin Luther King III, Arndea Waters King and Yolanda Renee King.

Senate Democrats are plowing ahead with a showdown over voting rights legislation and the filibuster. They're facing a ticking clock in this election year, and staunch opposition from Republicans as well as two of their own.

To recap: The Senate is set to meet today to debate two measures that Democrats say will make it easier for all Americans to vote. Here's more on what's in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, which the House has already approved.

All 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats have expressed support for the two bills, but Senate rules require 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a vote. Every Republican senator is opposed to the legislation, meaning the narrow Democratic majority would have to change these rules to end the filibuster in order to pass it. Learn more about the filibuster here.

Democratic leaders like President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have recently called on the Senate to change these rules to pass the voting rights bills. But two of their own — Sens. Krysten Sinema of Arizona Joe Manchin of West Virginia — say they are opposed.

Democrats will be stymied, in the words of NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Here's what else she toldMorning Edition.

A sense of urgency

Democrats are running out of time to get legislation passed in this election year. They previously promised voting protections (like ensuring access to mail-in ballots and making Election Day a federal holiday) and Snell says they need to make sure they prove that they tried — and show exactly who stopped them from succeeding.

As far as the filibuster, Democrats have long said they couldn't make changes, despite calls from progressive activists to do so. Snell says these votes are partly an attempt to blunt some criticism, while taking a chance to make Republicans fight publicly about election security and keep the focus on former President Donald Trump's continued lies about the 2020 election.

The hurdles ahead

Democrats have a plan to start debate on the voting rights bills, but still need 60 votes to end that debate and hold a final vote. Schumer plans to bring up filibuster reform, with more specific proposals to come.

Unanimous Democratic support is needed to pass any changes. Sinema has said she opposes changes, while Manchin has signaled he might be OK with some. But, Snell says, there's no incentive for him to vote for those changes right now when they've "got no chance of actually happening."