Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA



President Obama and his family spent the first few days of the week in Cuba, where no sitting US president has been in almost 90 years. In remarks that were broadcast live throughout Cuba, the president called for the Castro government to loosen its grip on Cuba’s people and economy and to embrace change. “It’s time to lift the embargo,” he said, “but even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba.” Read more about the visit in the New York Times.


The Senate confirmed President Obama’s pick for Education Secretary, John King, Jr. The Washington Post called the confirmation “a move that shows that education has become a rare issue on which a polarized Washington can reach bipartisan compromise.” King was the acting secretary until his confirmation, filling the role since Arne Duncan stepped down last year. Read more in the Washington Post.


This Washington Post outlines four scenarios that could lead to Judge Merrick Garland’s confirmation as the next Supreme Court Judge. The writers emphasize that even a hearing is incredibly unlikely, but it is theoretically possible. Read more here.


In the meantime, Judge Garland has been meeting with Democratic Senators and is scheduled to speak with Republican Sen. Susan Collins when the Senate reconvenes.Read more in the New York Times.


The Supreme Court decided not to review the complaint from Nebraska and Oklahoma about Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. The two states claim that the legal marijuana market in Colorado leads to increased drug trafficking on their territory, which strains the states’ law enforcement, judicial, and penal systems. The court dismissed the case with no public comment, but the Obama administration had advised them to dismiss it because Colorado’s laws do not undermine federal drug laws. This is a victory for all states with legal marijuana and those that are considering legalization. Read more in the Washington Post.


Rep. Rosa DeLauro introduced HR 4861 to authorize grants for evidence-based substance abuse treatment services. The text of the bill has not yet been released, so we will follow up with more details when it is.


House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a speech this week, lamenting the state of politics and calling for “a battle of ideas, not insults.” Speaker Ryan is in the delicate position of needing to be neutral in the presidential primary battle as a key official in July’s Republican convention, but also trying to distance the Republican party from some of Donald Trump’s ‘excessive statements.” Read more in the Journal-Sentinal.


Chicago had to borrow another $220 million to make up for a year-end budget shortfall. Although the money is not needed for the city’s pension funds until the end of the year, the city needs to have enough cash on hand now to make up for the anticipated revenue shortage in case the state does not come through with the aid the mayor has been hoping for. Read more in the Tribune.


The Illinois Supreme Court just made it even harder for the city to sort out its pension mess: the court ruled that the city cannot cut benefits and require employees to pay more into their retirement funds. Unions celebrated this ruling, but in a dissent to a separate ruling released today, Justice Kilbride pointed out that unionized state employees may not be entitled to back pay because of the current lack of appropriations. Read more in the Tribune and Capitol Fax.


The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) approved a walkout day onApril 1st, so prepare for schools to be shut down throughout the city. CTU President Karen Lewis said, “We are dying the death of a thousand cuts. We need funding from Springfield, we need Gov. Rauner to get off of his anti-union ‘turnaround agenda’ and get a budget done.” Read more in the Tribune.


The Rauner administration and AFSCME, a state worker union, are taking their fight over whether the administration was within its rights to lay off over 150 workers last year to court in Sangamon County. An arbitrator sided with the administration, claiming the union failed to prove that the layoffs violated the terms of their contract. AFSCME is appealing the arbitrator’s decision. Meanwhile, the layoffs remain on hold. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT rights organization, made waves this week by endorsing several Republican candidates over Democrats they were expected to back. Notable among the endorsements: Sen. Mark Kirk instead of Rep. Tammy Duckworth in the Senate race. Read the op-ed explaining the decision here.