First Thing: Mitch McConnell’s comments on Black voters spark outrage | US news


Good morning.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has provoked anger after he appeared to imply that African Americans were not Americans in remarks about Black voters.

Speaking to reporters after Republicans once again blocked the Democrats’ voting rights legislation, McConnell said: “The concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.” Studies suggest that voting restrictions disproportionately obstruct people of colour.

Several Democrats called out the comments, which quickly went viral online, with Democratic Illinois congressman Bobby Rush tweeting: “African Americans ARE Americans. #MitchPlease.” Meanwhile, Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, described McConnell’s remarks as a “dogwhistle”.

  • What would the bill have done? Banned partisan gerrymandering, protected election officials from partisan interference, required early voting and same-day registration, and restored the pre-clearance provision central to the Voting Rights Act.

  • It comes amid unprecedented concern over the future of US democracy, with one in three Americans believing Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

US accuses Russia of conspiring to take over Ukraine government

A Ukrainian soldier walks on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, in Mariupol, Donetsk region, Ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier walks on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, in Mariupol, Donetsk region, Ukraine. Photograph: Andriy Dubchak/AP

The US has accused Russia of recruiting Ukrainian government officials in order to take over the Kyiv government.

Imposing sanctions on four – two Ukrainian members of parliament and two former officials – on Thursday, the US accused Russian intelligence of mounting a conspiracy against the government of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force,” the Treasury statement accompanying the sanctions said.

Russian troops have arrived in the town of Yelsk in Belarus and other areas near Ukraine’s border, local media reports, as part of joint military exercises set to begin next month.

  • What has Joe Biden said? The president said: “If any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion. Let there be no doubt if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”

  • What sanctions would be imposed? There is disagreement within Nato, with Germany refusing to send arms to Ukraine. There is also dispute in Europe about whether Russia can be cut off from Swift, the international payments system.

Capitol attack committee calls on Ivanka Trump

Donald and Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump has been asked to cooperate with Capitol attack committee. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the former president, has been asked to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack.

Trump, who has been asked to appear for a voluntary deposition, is the first member of the former president’s family who has been called upon. Along with her husband, Jared Kushner, she was a senior adviser to her father during his presidency.

The development comes after the US supreme court rejected Donald Trump’s request to prevent the release of more than 700 highly sensitive White House documents.

  • What does the panel want to ask her about? The former president’s plan to stop the certification, and his response to the Capitol attack. The questions will be aimed at whether he presided over a criminal conspiracy involving obstructing a congressional proceeding.

  • Meanwhile, the prosecutor for Georgia’s biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to support her investigation into the former president’s attempts to interfere with the state’s election results.

In other news …

Deadly explosion in Ghana leaves huge crater after a mining truck accident
Deadly explosion in Ghana leaves huge crater after a mining truck accident. Photograph: Eric Yaw Adjei/ConnectFM/TV3/AFP/Getty Images
  • Dozens of people are feared dead after an explosion caused by a truck carrying mining explosives colliding with a motorbike in western Ghana. The explosion, which destroyed hundreds of buildings, happened around midday in Apiate, near the mining city of Bogoso.

  • The US singer and actor Meat Loaf, born Marvin Lee Aday, has died aged 74, his agent has confirmed. No cause of death was shared.

  • AirTags – small wireless tracking tools – have been used to stalk individuals, police across the US have said. Apple, which manufactures the devices intended for tracking lost belongings like luggage, has said it will cooperate with police and is “committed to AirTags’ privacy and security”.

Stat of the day: an average of 16 ‘unruly’ airline passengers reported daily

An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner lands at the Miami international airport
An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner lands at the Miami international airport. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

There were a total of 5,981 unruly passenger reports last year, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, 4,290 of which were categorized as “mask-related incidents”. In a dramatic example of how the issue persists in 2022, a maskless “disruptive customer” forced an American Airlines flight en route to London to return to Miami on Wednesday.

Don’t miss this: Sonny Rollins on jazz landmark The Bridge at 60

Sonny Rollins plays his saxophone on the Williamsburg Bridge
Sonny Rollins plays his saxophone on the Williamsburg Bridge. Photograph: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

In 1959, Sonny Rollins was already one of the undisputed giants of the bebop style of jazz at 28. But despite his fame and critical acclaim, Rollins felt a sense of dissatisfaction with his playing, which led him to drop off the radar. Rather than playing to packed rooms of fans, for two years the saxophonist chose instead to tell his “multitude of stories to the sky”, playing on the Williamsburg Bridge for up to 15 hours a day. Now 91, Rollins speaks about the “spiritual” experience on the 60th anniversary of his return to the recording studio.

Last Thing: You be the judge: should my brother give me better birthday presents?

Flower graphic
Illustration: Joren Joshua/The Guardian

This week’s “You be the judge” has all the hallmarks of a classic family grudge: longstanding resentment; unbalanced levels of effort; sibling rivalry. While older sister, Elsie, buys her Ollie designer shirts and AirPods, he sends her “a cheap supermarket card with the sticker still on” (Elsie’s words). Ollie, who is in a lower paid job, argues she “can’t expect” him to match her. You decide who the guilty party is.

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