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First Thing: Joe Biden says ‘Maga crowd’ could target LGBTQ+ children next

A protester holds a pro-choice sign during a demonstration at the supreme court on Wednesday.
A protester holds a pro-choice sign during a demonstration at the supreme court on Wednesday. Photograph: Allison Bailey/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Hello and good morning,

Joe Biden has warned of new attacks on civil rights as the supreme court prepares to strike down the right to abortion, telling reporters at the White House that LGBTQ+ children could be the next targets of a Trump-dominated Republican party he called “this Maga crowd” and “the most extreme political organisation … in recent American history”.

“What happens,” the president said, if “a state changes the law saying that children who are LGBTQ can’t be in classrooms with other children? Is that legit under the way the decision is written?” There are also fears contraception could come under fire next.

Biden’s remarks followed the leaked draft of a ruling by Justice Samuel Alito. One of six conservatives on the supreme court, Alito was writing on a Mississippi case which aims to overturn both Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling which guaranteed the right to abortion, and Planned Parenthood v Casey, a 1992 ruling which buttressed it.

Hundreds rallied again in Washington, DC, to protest against the draft decision, with polling showing the supreme court is out of step with the majority of Americans.

Meanwhile, Biden is facing criticism within his own party for seeming reluctant to contemplate changes needed to enshrine abortion rights in legislation: namely abolishing the Senate filibuster, the rule that requires 60 votes for most bills to pass.

  • When will the Mississippi case conclude? It’s expected to be resolved in June. The leaked draft is not final.

  • What will be the immediate impact? More than half of US states will outlaw abortion immediately or as soon as practicable. There are 26 states hostile to abortion, with 13 having passed so-called trigger laws, effectively banning abortion as soon as Roe v Wade is overturned.

  • What can you do? Essayist Rebecca Solnit writes how Americans can fight back to protect abortion rights.

Fierce fighting under way in Mariupol’s Azovstal plant, says Azov commander

Smoke rises from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol as fighting intensified on Wednesday.
Smoke rising from the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol as fighting intensified on Wednesday. Photograph: Alexei Alexandrov/AP

Ukrainian forces were fighting “difficult, bloody battles” against Russian troops for a second day, said Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov regiment, as more civilians fled the city of Mariupol on evacuation buses following weeks of brutal bombardment that had reduced much of it to rubble.

“I am proud of my soldiers who are making superhuman efforts to contain the pressure of the enemy … The situation is extremely difficult,” Prokopenko said.

On Wednesday, David Arakhamia, the head of Ukraine’s ruling party in parliament, told RFE/RL that Russian forces had entered the plant, but he said that the country’s government remained in contact with the Ukrainian troops making a last stand.

The Kremlin’s official spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, denied reports that Moscow’s forces were trying to storm the Azovstal plant.

Another 344 people had been rescued from besieged Mariupol in a second evacuation operation, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, confirmed in a national address.

In other developments, Ukraine claimed on Thursday morning it had regained control over several settlements surrounding Mykolaiv and Kherson in the country’s south, military officials said.

And an investigation by Associated Press found as many as 600 people were killed in the Russian bombing of a theatre in Mariupol in March, twice as many as once suspected.

  • How are civilians being evacuated from the Mariupol steel plant? Russia has said it will implement a daytime ceasefire for three days from Thursday to allow more civilian evacuations from the Azovstal plant.

  • What further evidence of potential war crimes has emerged? The bodies of 20 more civilians were found in the past 24 hours in the Kyiv region, according to Kyiv’s regional police chief, Andriy Nebytov.

  • What new measures are western leaders taking? The UK said it was providing $56m in funding to help the most vulnerable in Ukraine and at its borders; Biden said he would speak with other G7 leaders about additional sanctions. The European Union is proposing to ban all Russian oil imports.

  • What are Russia and its allies saying? The Kremlin dismissed speculation that it would declare all-out war in Ukraine in the coming days as “nonsense”. Brazilian presidential frontrunner, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said Zelenskiy and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, bore equal responsibility for the war.

Donald Trump Jr testifies before the committee on the events of January 6

Donald Trump Jr has met with the congressional Capitol attack committee. He stands making a speech.
Donald Trump Jr has met the congressional Capitol attack committee. Photograph: John Raoux/AP

Donald Trump’s oldest son has met with the congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Donald Trump Jr was interviewed on Tuesday as the bipartisan House committee moved closer to the former president’s inner circle of family members and political advisers.

The younger Trump is of likely interest to the committee because of his proximity to his father on the day of the riot. Donald Trump Jr was seen backstage at the rally on the White House Ellipse that took place shortly before supporters of the then president marched to the Capitol and breached the building.

Trump Jr is one of nearly 1,000 witnesses the committee has interviewed as it works to compile a record of the worst attack on the Capitol in more than two centuries.

Meanwhile, the justice department has alleged in court papers that a militia group leader tried to ask Trump to authorize them to stop the transfer of power.

Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers militia group leader charged with seditious conspiracy over the January 6 attack, asked an intermediary to get Donald Trump to allow his group to forcibly stop the transfer of power.

In other news …

‘This is horrible for me’: Amber Heard testifies in Johnny Depp defamation trial.
‘This is horrible for me’: Amber Heard testifies in Johnny Depp defamation trial. Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters
  • Amber Heard took the witness stand in court on Wednesday in Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against her. “This is horrible for me,” she said. Heard testified to the jury about the first time Depp allegedly hit her, repeatedly. “I’ll never forget it. It changed my life.”

  • The premier of the British Virgin Islands, who is accused of cocaine trafficking, and whom US prosecutors described in court as “corrupt to the core”, has been given a $500,000 bond that would allow him to be released from prison as he awaits trial.

  • Real Madrid staged a stunning late comeback against Manchester City on Wednesday night, progressing to the final of Europe’s top soccer tournament, the Champions League. Karim Benzema’s penalty sunk their opponents.

  • Rescuers in central China have pulled a woman alive from the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier. She is the 10th survivor but potentially dozens are still missing.

  • Oil giant Shell has almost tripled its quarterly profits, as the surge in oil and gas prices drive up earnings and intensify calls in the UK for a windfall tax on excess profits.

Stat of the day: US is recycling just 5% of its plastic waste

Most of the recyclable plastic ends up in landfills, according to a new report.
Most of the recyclable plastic ends up in landfills, according to a new report. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Around 85% of US plastics end up in landfill, 10% are incinerated, and just 5% to 6% are actually recycled, according to a report by the Last Beach Cleanup (LBC) and Beyond Plastics. That’s compared with recycling rates of 66% for paper and 50% for aluminum cans. The LBC founder Jan Dell said plastic producers had duped consumers by adding triangular “chasing arrows” shapes on to products without actually recycling. “They leveraged the heartstrings of consumers and said this stuff was recyclable.”

Don’t miss this: were crop circles actually great art?

Time for a reappraisal? … a crop circle in Wiltshire.
Time for a reappraisal? A crop circle in Wiltshire. Photograph: Krzysztof Dac/Alamy

Dismissed as the work of pranksters, these mysterious flattenings were anonymous, anti-capitalist and awe-inspiring – stunning examples of non-profit art for all, writes Benjamin Myers. Their scale was staggering: at their largest, some designs measured 900ft (270 metres) across, almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall. They were completely at odds with the messages being relayed from politicians and businesses in the 1980s: profit at all costs.

Climate check: populations of up to 48% of bird species declining

A closeup profile portrait of an Australian brushturkey.
The most threatened families of birds are those which are larger and take longer to reproduce, including the Australian brushturkey. Photograph: thomasmales/Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are about 11,000 species of bird spanning the globe, but the populations of half of them are falling, while just 6% are increasing and 39% are flat. That’s according to a review published in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources. This is due to the destruction of wild habitat, pesticides and other pollution, overhunting and the effects of alien species and disease. Bird populations in the US and Canada have fallen by 3 billion since 1970.

Last Thing: I thought it was weird to have a favourite spoon. Then I realised I wasn’t alone ...

Wooden spoons.
‘Every time I go in that drawer, I feel so sad… There was so much love in that spoon.’ Photograph: ATU Images/Getty Images

I have started getting feelings for my spoons, writes Adrian Chiles. I have 17 wooden spoons. Sorting through them, I realised I do have a favourite. It’s more of a spatula than a spoon, but it suits me very well. I had always looked out for it without knowing I was doing so and felt a twinge of disappointment if it didn’t come to hand. If ever I lost it for good, I now understood, I would miss it for ever.

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