Stimulus, Coronavirus Variants, Pope Francis: Your Weekend Briefing

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Here are the week’s top stories, and a look ahead.

1. A divided Senate approved $1.9 trillion in aid for an ailing nation.

The package would inject vast amounts of federal resources into the economy, including the largest antipoverty effort in a generation. Republican opposition was unanimous.

“Help is on the way,” President Biden said in remarks at the White House. “It wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed, urgently needed.”

The resulting package dropped or curtailed major progressive priorities to accommodate moderate Democrats. The version passed by the chamber still needs to pass in the House a second time, which is scheduled for final approval on Tuesday. The bill would then go to Mr. Biden for his signature.

A few of the crucial provisions include:

  • Another round of one-time direct payments of up to $1,400 for millions of Americans; an extension of the $300 weekly unemployment benefits through Labor Day; and a benefit of $300 per child for those age 5 and younger — and $250 per child ages 6 to 17.

  • $45 billion in rental, utility and mortgage assistance; $30 billion for transit agencies; and billions more for small businesses and live venues.

  • $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments; $130 billion to primary and secondary schools; $14 billion for the distribution of vaccines; and $12 billion to nutrition assistance.

Our personal money team answered all your questions.

For Mr. Biden, the plan is the first major legislative initiative of his presidency and a declaration of his economic policy: that the best way to stoke faster economic growth is from the bottom up. But the bitter fight to get there also showed the gulf between the parties was too wide to be bridged.

2. A more contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in the U.K. is spreading fast in the U.S., even as the overall number of cases is leveling off there.

One analysis suggests the possibly more lethal British variant, known as B.1.1.7, accounts for more than 20 percent of new U.S. cases as of this week. Still, experts note that the low total case counts in states with a high share of B.1.1.7 are an encouraging sign.

Some state officials have continued to lift restrictions steadily, despite worry over variants and warnings from top federal health officials, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, that doing so could be premature. On Friday, he said that the country had plateaued at between 60,000 and 70,000 new cases per day, and he warned that the U.S. could be headed for yet another surge in cases.

And while U.S. virus supplies ran short last spring, forcing health workers to wear trash bags as P.P.E., one firm profited by selling the overburdened federal stockpile drugs for a different threat: anthrax.

3. “It’s still a nightmare.”

That’s Mercedes Reyes, whose daughter Clarissa died of Covid-19 at 27. Mercedes is one of millions of Americans who are adjusting to a new reality without their loved ones, a loss that would have been unimaginable only a year ago. We spoke to the people the pandemic left behind.

“When she passed I told her, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t be here with you, they didn’t let me be here with you — I’m sorry, my daughter; I love you and we meet again,’” Ms. Reyes recalled.

One in three Americans has lost someone to the coronavirus. Our series, Those We’ve Lost, is putting the names and faces to the numbers.

4. Democrats want a stronger edge in the Senate beyond the 50 seats they now hold. Ohio could be crucial.

The surprise retirement of Rob Portman, a moderate Republican senator, and conservative infighting have raised Democratic ambitions in the state, a longtime political bellwether that is increasingly tilting red. But Ohio is not alone. To claim a larger majority, Democrats will have to go on the offensive next year across the industrial Midwest.

In Georgia, Republicans are taking aim at the role of Black churches in elections. Critics say the proposed voting restrictions are racist.

5. Jury selection is set to begin on Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd.

Prosecutors and Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer are scheduled to narrow a pool of possible jurors down to 12, a process that is expected to take several weeks. Then the trial, which will be broadcast live from Minneapolis after jury selection, will begin in earnest.

Mr. Chauvin is facing second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck as he gasped for air. On Friday, an appeals court ruled that a judge must reconsider whether to add a third-degree murder charge, a move that could delay the start of the trial.

Such a charge would give prosecutors an additional avenue to win a conviction. If convicted of the second-degree murder charge, Mr. Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison.

6. Pope Francis is concluding a historic trip to Iraq.

The three-day tour will end with an open-air Mass before 5,000 faithful in Erbil. Earlier, the pope made stops in Mosul and Qarosh. Above, an interreligious prayer at the ancient archaeological site Ur.

On Saturday, Francis met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the reclusive spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims, and urged solidarity among members of various faiths, a central theme of his papacy and of his visit.

“This trip is emblematic,” he said, calling it “a duty to a land martyred for many years.”

7. One year ago this week, the world began to shut down.

The pandemic closed borders and halted air travel as cities around the world went into lockdown. Today, the losses in life, health and people’s livelihoods continue to mount, and the travel industry — including all who depend on it — is limping along.

We looked at how six places dependent on the industry have adapted to the disruption, like Apollo Bay in Australia, above.

A year without tourism has had profound effects on the natural environment. Which effects will remain, and which will vanish?

8. Daniel Kaluuya has emerged as one of the most consequential leading men of his generation.

The “Get Out” actor plays Fred Hampton, the rising star of the Black Panther Party who was murdered by the police in 1969, in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a role for which he won a Golden Globe and is now a front-runner in the Oscars race. Getting to this point required him to dig deeper than ever.

“People can say whatever they’re going to say about the performance, and I’ll still feel free,” Kaluuya said. “I gave it everything I had. I gave. I gave. I gave.”

We also reviewed “Coming 2 America.” Our critic describes it as “a genial, mostly inoffensive, sometimes quite funny sequel to a beloved comedy from way back in the 1980s.”

9. Antlion larvae are famously ferocious. So why is this larva playing dead?

A new study shows that pretending to be immobile — sometimes for an hour or more — can help larvae outlast hungry predators. Researchers found that “playing possum” increased the survival rate of antlions by about 20 percent. The research sheds new light on a widespread behavior whose effectiveness has been mysterious to researchers.

In other discoveries, scientists have identified the largest glow-in-the-dark species with a spine — on land or in the sea — that has ever been found: The species, kitefin sharks, which grow to almost six feet in length, emit blue-green light.

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