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Inflation, Beijing Olympics, Dry January: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Wednesday.

Lawmakers have waited months for inflation to fade, but continued virus waves have exacerbated the issues. Economic policymakers are now poised to respond. Jerome Powell, the Fed chair, emphasized on Tuesday that the central bank was prepared to raise interest rates several times this year to cool demand.

2. The Jan. 6 panel asked to interview Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, about his contact with Donald Trump on the day of the Capitol riot.

The request made McCarthy the highest-ranking lawmaker the panel has pursued in its inquiry. In particular, the panel said it was interested in a phone call that McCarthy had with Trump as his supporters stormed the building. McCarthy previously described the call, in which he asked Trump to send help to the Capitol, as “very heated.”

Also on Capitol Hill: Congressional Democrats will pursue a procedural shortcut to force a showdown on stalled voting rights legislation. Under the plan, the House would package two major pieces of voting rights legislation into an unrelated bill in an effort to avoid a filibuster.

But both the voting rights bills and an effort to reform how Congress counts electoral votes miss a crucial target: election subversion, Nate Cohn writes in an analysis.

3. China is carrying out sweeping lockdowns to keep Omicron from spreading ahead of the Beijing Olympics next month.

For the 20 million people in China confined to their homes in at least five cities, a spate of Covid outbreaks comes even before the arrival of thousands of athletes, journalists and officials for the Games. One especially worrying flare-up of 137 cases is in Tianjin, a port city just 70 miles from Beijing.

The surge underscores the challenge organizers face in trying to hold the Games with extreme restrictions — and raises the prospect of more supply-chain disruptions. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 4.

In other international developments, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, facing calls to resign, apologized in Parliament for attending a Downing Street garden party in May 2020 while the country was under a strict coronavirus lockdown.

4. The White House said it would distribute millions of free coronavirus tests to schools.

Five million rapid antigen tests will be made available to K-12 schools across the country each month, but states will have to apply for them. The White House also promised to make lab capacity available for five million free P.C.R. tests each month.

For a select group of white-collar professionals, tests are free and readily available.

The White House is also considering a program to offer “high-quality” masks to Americans. Officials offered no details about what type of masks might be distributed, how many or when.

5. Russian and NATO officials said they remained far from agreement after four hours of talks in Brussels.

“Our differences will not be easy to bridge,” the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said at a news conference after negotiations aimed at persuading Moscow to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine, where 100,000 Russian troops are massed at the border.

Russian representatives did not commit to pulling back its troops, nor did they reject the demand, officials said. The U.S. and NATO allies offered Russia a series of further meetings on European security, and Russia indicated that, for now, it was not closing the door to diplomacy.

Vladimir Putin’s next move on Ukraine is a mystery, but that’s by design, our reporter writes in an analysis: He relishes keeping his rivals on edge.

6. The Novak Djokovic saga continues to unravel.

Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s tennis player, acknowledged that a travel document he presented to Australian border officials last week contained false information, specifically a claim that he had not traveled to any other countries in the 14 days before arriving in Australia. He also said that he had participated in an interview and a photo shoot even after testing positive for the coronavirus, an apparent violation of rules in his native Serbia.

Australian officials have said they are looking into whether Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, poses a risk to public health and should be deported. Meanwhile, Djokovic practiced at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, where he hopes to play in the Australian Open. The tournament starts Jan. 16.

7. The N.F.L. teamed up with the gamer Ninja. M.L.B. recruited influencers to produce TikTok content for the World Series. The N.B.A. co-founded an e-sports league and tied it to individual franchises.

Pro sports are chasing Gen Z where it plays. For the major sports leagues, attracting young audiences is a matter of survival: 27 percent of Gen Zers said that they disliked sports altogether, compared with just 7 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of boomers.

“What we know is that if you don’t acquire a fan by the time they’re 18, you’re most likely never going to get them,” the chief marketing officer of the N.F.L. said.

8. What do you do with a connection that’s both natural and supernatural? If you’re Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar, you make seven movies together.

Their latest, “Parallel Mothers,” is one of their greatest, starring Cruz as a mother with a terrible secret. Cruz says making the film is the hardest thing she’s ever done. “To be able to express one feeling and its opposite feeling at once is incredibly difficult,” Almodóvar said, “and Penélope prevails, even though it’s not in her nature.”

Now that the Screen Actors Guild has issued its nominations and the Golden Globes have … well, live-tweeted … this awards season’s acting races are starting to come into focus. These impressive performances have been largely overlooked.

9. Dry January seemed like a good idea to some. Less so after the Omicron variant began to surge.

Some are staying resolute in their plans to give up drinking for a month, some are giving up and others are opting for something in between, like “Try January” — giving up alcohol, but finding a more benevolent replacement.

In other habitual news:

10. And finally, is gruyère still gruyère if it doesn’t come from Gruyères?

In Europe, gruyère, a mild, smooth and nutty cheese, must have a slightly damp texture and be the shape of a wheel; fruity notes must dominate. And, according to Swiss guidelines, gruyère must be made in the region around Gruyères, Switzerland, which has produced the cheese since the 12th century.

Tell that to American cheese producers.

After a long-running legal tangle, a federal judge sided with U.S. cheese producers and said gruyère could be produced anywhere. The judge said that the term gruyère had become generic to cheese purchasers in the U.S., and under U.S. law, trademarks cannot be given to generic terms.

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