First Thing: Biden to warn Xi against backing Putin

Good morning.

In a phone call today, Joe Biden will warn his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that he will face “costs” if Beijing rescues fellow authoritarian ally Russia from intense western sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden-Xi call at 9am, the first since a video summit in November, will be a chance to air differences as the US spearheads an unprecedented pressure campaign on Russia, placing China in a geopolitical bind.

“It’s an opportunity for President Biden to assess where President Xi stands,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said.

Early this morning, air raid sirens sounded in the western Ukraine city of Lviv, followed by the sound of explosions and a column of smoke, a few miles from the city centre.

How are the peace negotiations going? Not well. Russia was accused by the UK, US, France, Albania, Ireland and Norway of war crimes, and Paris claimed Vladimir Putin was only pretending to be interested in negotiating a peace deal.

Did anyone survive the theatre shelling in Mariupol? Yes. It looks like the basement, which was used as a bomb shelter, held. About 130 people have been rescued so far from the basement, officials said.

What else is happening? Here’s what we know on day 23 of the invasion.

Trump White House aide was secret author of report used to push ‘big lie’

Donald Trump used a number of unsubstantiated allegations in the Dominion report in support of the Big Lie. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Weeks after the 2020 election, at least one Trump White House aide was named as secretly producing a report that alleged Donald Trump lost to Biden because of Dominion voting systems – research that formed the basis of the former president’s wider efforts to overturn the election.

The Dominion report was initially prepared so it could be sent to legislatures in states where the Trump White House was trying to have Biden’s win reversed.

But top Trump officials would also use the research to weigh other options to return Trump to the presidency, including having the former president sign off on executive orders to authorize sweeping emergency powers.

The previously unreported involvement of the Trump White House aide in the preparation of the Dominion report raises the extraordinary situation of at least one administration official being among the original sources of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Who wrote the report? The publicly available version of the Dominion report names as its author Katherine Friess, a volunteer on the Trump post-election legal team. But it was in fact produced by the senior Trump White House policy aide Joanna Miller, according to the original version of the document.

Three US soldiers alive despite Russia ‘fake news’ report, military says

Tennessee National Guard troops board a plane to go to Washington in 2020. Photograph: Mark Humphrey/AP

Three current and former members of the Tennessee national guard, who were falsely identified in a Russian media report as mercenaries killed in Ukraine, are in fact alive and well, the Tennessee national guard said yesterday.

Biden ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Ukraine prior to Russia’s invasion of the country as part of a broader effort to avoid a direct confrontation with the nuclear-armed adversary.

But the report published in Russia’s Pravda newspaper identified the Americans by name and gave military ranks for each of them, citing information from pro-Russian militia in Donetsk, Ukraine.

The report even offered an intricate explanation for how the three were identified, using items from a backpack “near the remains of one of the militants” – including a Tennessee state flag.

What has the Tennessee guard said? A statement read: “They are accounted for, safe – and not, as the article headline erroneously states, US mercenaries killed in Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Where are they? A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two of the men were still in the Tennessee national guard and in Tennessee. The other man had left the service but was alive and accounted for – and not in Ukraine.

In other news …

‘It breaks my heart to see you like this’ … Trevor Noah (right) responds to Kanye West. Composite: Jonathan Brady/PA/CBS/Getty

Kanye “Ye” West has been suspended from Instagram for 24 hours, after he used a racial slur to describe the TV presenter Trevor Noah . A spokesperson for Instagram’s parent company Meta told TMZ and HuffPost that the suspension was due to West violating the company’s policy on hate speech, bullying and harassment.

Prepare for the next surge or variant as Covid is not yet endemic in US, experts warn. Several countries in Europe are seeing another surge now and early indicators suggest the US might be next – with scientists watching the BA.2 variant especially closely.

A Californian man died nearly two years ago as he screamed “I can’t breathe” while multiple officers restrained him as they tried to take a blood sample , according to records and a video. The newly released clip shows Edward Bronstein being forced to a mat with at least five officers holding him down.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put huge pressure on an already shrinking pot of international aid . Commenting on Yemen recently, the executive director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, said: “We have no choice but to take food from the hungry to feed the starving.”

A 13-year-old was driving the pickup truck that struck a van in West Texas in a fiery collision that killed nine people, including six members of a college golf team and their coach, a National Transportation Safety Board official said yesterday. The child and a man traveling in the truck also died.

Stat of the day: carcinogenic chemical benzene found in 27% of US personal care products

Toxic benzene has been found in antiperspirants, shampoos, sunscreens, hand sanitizers, and other products. Photograph: Niyi Fote/via ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Independent testing has found hundreds of popular personal care items in the US to be contaminated with benzene, a highly carcinogenic chemical, prompting several big brands to voluntarily recall dozens of products in recent months.

The findings suggest benzene contamination is widespread and is probably in more products that have not yet been tested, says David Light, Valisure’s chief executive. To date, Valisure has tested 662 items and found the chemical in 180, or about 27%, of products.

Don’t miss this: Students had nowhere to sleep, so a San Francisco school opened the gym

An elementary school has become a community resource for unhoused families. Photograph: Marissa Leshnov for Hechinger Report

The idea of optimizing school district property for evening and weekend use isn’t new, but Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community school appears to be the first modern public elementary school to have hosted a long-term, overnight family shelter, Gail Cornwall in San Francisco, for the Hechinger Report, writes. “As far as our knowledge in the entire country, we are the first people to do it,” Hillary Ronen, the San Francisco city supervisor, said.

Climate check: success for cleanup of Nigeria’s deadly lead pollution

The cause of the poisoning was found to be contamination of soil, water and food from the processing of gold deposits. Photograph: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

For five years, Frederick Chukwuemeze had the grim task of treating children poisoned by lead in Anka, a mining town in north-west Nigeria. Since 2010, more than 600 children have died from lead poisoning in Zamfara state and hundreds more have been left with brain damage and physical disabilities as a result of hazardous artisanal gold mining.

But no child has died on his watch since October last year, thanks to a joint effort between local and international agencies that has virtually wiped out lead poisoning cases in the state.

Last Thing: Nancy Pelosi marks St Patrick’s Day with poem by Bono about Ukraine

Biden listens as Pelosi speaks at the Friends of Ireland lunch in Washington DC. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker and one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, has marked St Patrick’s Day by reading aloud a poem by Bono that referenced St Patrick’s banishment of snakes from Ireland and the current situation in Ukraine.

“I got this message this morning from Bono,” Pelosi said of U2’s lead singer. Pelosi then read out Bono’s poem. The moment has gone viral and the poem ridiculed.

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