The Spin: A look at how impeachment is playing (or isn’t) beyond cable news | Lightfoot, Preckwinkle reject Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccination plan | Obama center foe takes his complaint to Biden

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Lisa Donovan, Chicago Tribune
·11 min read
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As the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump unfolds in Washington, Daily Southtown columnist Ted Slowik took the public’s temperature on the historic proceedings. Nothing bursts the political bubbles all at once more than when the collective responses seem to be a shoulder shrug, as Slowik largely found.

There’s no shortage of opinions on the airwaves. Depending on your cable news station of choice, it’s already a foregone conclusion the president will be acquitted either because there’s no evidence of wrongdoing or there are not enough Republican senators who will to join the 50 Democrats in the chamber to reach the 67 votes needed to convict.

Herb Caplan, head of Chicago’s Protect Our Parks and staunch foe of the putting the proposed Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, registered his complaints with the Biden administration in a new letter. Caplan argues the just-completed federal environmental assessment, which marked the final hurdle planners needed for groundbreaking, was inadequate. Alternate sites should have been considered, he says.

In a rare joint news release issued this morning, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot say don’t count their jurisdictions as part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s accelerated COVID-19 vaccine timeline.

The governor, coming off some bad national and local press about Illinois’ slow rollout of the vaccine, announced yesterday that residents younger than 65 with preexisting health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Feb. 25. Right now, vaccine demand is outstripping supply to the currently eligible: residents 65 and older and front-line essential workers. But the governor said he’s expecting an increase in vaccine shipments and for more pharmaceutical companies to see their vaccines approved, jump-starting the supply chain.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle, foes in the 2019 Chicago mayoral race who still seem chilly toward each other, issued a joint statement saying the supply-demand issue would make it virtually impossible to expand vaccine eligibility in the state’s most populous region.

Welcome to The Spin.

‘What trial?’: Taking the public’s pulse on the Trump impeachment trial

Daily Southtown columnist Ted Slowik writes: “People in south and southwest suburban public squares Wednesday seemed to shrug off the historic second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.”

“Some indicated that they cared about democracy, justice and accountability for the Jan. 6 violence that left five dead, including a police officer,” Slowik writes. “It was just so exhausting following Trump, they said. Even without his tweets anymore, they felt fatigued about politics in general, they said.” Trump has been banned from Twitter.

Slowik asked one man about whether he was keeping an eye on the proceedings.

“No,” he said. “I may try to catch 45 seconds on CNN tonight.”

Slowik surmises, “That’s about all many people need, a quick summary of the day’s events so they can continue going about their daily lives.” Read his full column here.

Letting the air out of the political bubble: Joe Walsh, the onetime controversial conservative radio host, former Republican Illinois congressman and ex-Trump supporter, says he’s got a dose of reality for Democrats, particularly on the left-leaning cable news stations, puzzling over how some GOP senators could consider voting to acquit Trump.

Walsh, who spends a lot of time bashing Trump after a faltering attempt to challenge him in the last presidential GOP primary, tweeted last night: “People on CNN/MSNBC/Twitter keep asking how any GOP Sen could watch this & still acquit Trump. Here’s how: Most Americans aren’t watching, millions of Americans can’t stand CNN & MSNBC, & most Americans don’t tweet. We live in political bubbles. It’ll be easy for GOP to acquit.”

Fox News abruptly cuts off impeachment manager during testimony: “The political math doesn’t add up,” Fox’s Jesse Watters said after the network pulled away from video of a Democratic impeachment manager presenting yesterday dramatic video footage of the violent mob storming the U.S. Capitol and elected officials and others running for cover. Watters also said: “Democrats don’t have the votes, yet they’re still pressing ahead.”

Timeline: Democratic House managers wrapped up their opening presentation against Trump. The former president’s defense team will make the case for acquittal starting tomorrow. Read the latest here.

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Opponent of building Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park takes his complaint to the White House

The staunchest foe of the decision to locate the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park is saber rattling more legal obstruction, this time over last week’s conclusion of a yearslong federal review into the project.

Herb Caplan, president and founder of Protect Our Parks, said on Thursday he sent a letter to President Joe Biden’s administration complaining that the federal environmental assessments were wrong to not consider relocating the presidential center entirely from the historic Jackson Park. His group is demanding the city, U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of the Interior launch a more exhaustive environmental review into the effects of the project on Jackson Park and neighboring areas.

The federal review process had slowed down the arrival of the Obama center for four years before concluding last week and determining the project’s construction would not pose a “significant impact” on the environment. The Obama Foundation announced groundbreaking could begin as early as August.

But Caplan remains persistent in stopping construction on the park designed in 1871 by Frederick Law Olmsted. Should the Biden administration not respond to his satisfaction and agree to another environmental review, Protect Our Parks would consider another lawsuit, Caplan said.

“From the start, we realized that they were proceeding on an erroneous basis,” Caplan told The Spin. “We think that the legal issue that we’re raising is sound.”

Protect Our Parks also sued the city in 2018 to halt the Obama center on allegations that officials lacked authority to transfer public parkland to a private nongovernmental entity such as the Obama Foundation. A federal appeals court ruled last year the plaintiffs did not suffer actual harm and many of their grievances were outside its jurisdiction. Caplan said he is in the midst of petitioning to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Officials with the Department of the Interior and Obama Foundation declined to comment, while the Department of Transportation did not respond to an inquiry about receiving Protect Our Parks’ letter. (Alice Yin)

Just how far Caplan will get by complaining to Biden about the Obama president center’s location is unclear. Obama and Chicago-born former first lady Michelle Obama picked the spot and Biden — Obama’s vice president and friend — getting involved might be awkward.

Cook County, Chicago reject Pritzker’s expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility; first South African variant identified in state

As my colleagues Dan Petrella and Jenny Whidden noted yesterday, “Illinois residents outside Cook County who are younger than 65 and have preexisting health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Feb. 25 under the current phase of the state’s vaccination effort” per Gov. Pritzker’s order.

Chicago, which gets its own vaccine supply separate from the state, quickly opted out yesterday and this morning Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle sent out a joint statement explaining that doing so would add more than 1 million additional people to those eligible in phase 1b, Petrella and Whidden note.

“The result would be that those currently eligible, including seniors, frontline essential workers and those in our most heavily COVID-burdened communities, would have an even harder time getting a vaccine,” the statement said. Read the rest of the story here.

Federal disaster teams have been called in to help with COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Illinois, including Cook County, the Tribune’s Jenny Whidden reports. It comes as Illinois surpasses 1.5 million inoculations and the first South African variant identified in state, she notes. Full story here.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s infectious disease expert, predicts ‘open season’ for COVID-19 vaccines by April. The Associated Press has the details here.

Related: Mayor Lightfoot’s plan to turn Chicago’s Board of Health into advisory body advances — With the board’s authority being yanked away, some aldermen are concerned “the change will make city policymaking less democratic and centralize more power at City Hall,” the Tribune’s John Byrne writes.

Early estimates on what Illinois may get in Biden’s proposed COVID-19 relief package

Illinois and local governments are in line to get an estimated $13.2 billion in aid under President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package, according to data compiled by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Democratic Illinois U.S. Reps. Danny Davis of Chicago, Robin Kelly of Matteson and Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Schaumburg, Democrat, sit on the committee, which will debate the local government funding at a hearing tomorrow.

Broken down, state government would get an estimated $7.5 billion while municipalities would receive $5.68 billion. A h/t to Capitol Fax, which first reported this yesterday.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has this explainer on the how the proposed relief package will work its way through Congress. The timeline is to get the package to the House floor for a full vote the last week of February and advance it to the Senate by March, though some pundits are skeptical about whether it will happen that quickly.

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, of Peoria, was among the Republicans on the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, who signed a letter asking the Biden administration about “the number of jobs expected to be created by the President’s proposed $1.9 trillion Covid-relief legislation.” Read the letter here.

With an unemployment spike during the pandemic, lawmakers say it’s important for the government to pave the way for getting Americans back to work. The latest: “The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to 793,000, evidence that job cuts remain high despite a substantial decline in new confirmed viral infections,” The Associated Press reports.

“LaHood, a six-year House member...was named Thursday to head the 2022 fundraising efforts for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the chamber’s GOP election efforts,” the Tribune’s Rick Pearson writes.

As noted in The Spin yesterday, the NRCC has identified several dozen Democratic-held House seats believed to be ripe, after narrow victories last year, for a possible Republican victory in 2022. The list includes three seats in Illinois held by 6th District U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, of Downers Grove, 14th District U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, of Naperville, and 17th District U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, of East Moline.

CPS schools reopen, again, with celebration and contention, as alderman calls CTU fight a ‘hostage takeover of our children’

Chicago Public Schools students began returning to the classrooms amid the pandemic, the result of a hard-fought deal between CPS, which is controlled by the mayor, and the Chicago Teachers Union. But the tension between the CTU and City Hall continues,

As my Tribune colleagues wrote this morning: “Appearing at a news conference with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson on Thursday morning to celebrate the reopening of school at Brown Elementary on the Near West Side, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, offered his own description of that struggle.”

“It gives me a great pleasure and honor to be here now that we are done with our hostage takeover of our children here in the city of Chicago,” Burnett said.

On Twitter, the union responded to the alderman’s quote. “We hope @AldermanBurnett isn’t suggesting that teachers ... and other rank-and-file educators demanding safety in a pandemic are terrorists.” Read the full story here.

Other city news — Lightfoot: Mercy Hospital bankruptcy ‘tragedy’ for city. Read the Tribune story here.

Chicago’s government watchdog highlights failures by the city to monitor and enforce its recycling program for bigger buildings: Inspector General Joe Ferguson testified about the noncompliance citywide during a joint City Council committee hearing. Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly said if the city is serious about boosting participation, more inspectors will have to be hired. Read more here.

Seeing green? In a December report, Ferguson laid out enforcement. He noted that the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation is supposed to give any building not in compliance 30 days’ warning, WMAQ-Ch. 5 reported at the time. After that, Streets and Sanitation is supposed to issue fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 daily.

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Twitter @byldonovan