New Texas voting laws, political maps could once again require federal approval under US House bill named after John Lewis

The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bill that could complicate both the coming round of redistricting in Texas and a voting restrictions bill currently under consideration in the state Legislature.

Known as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the bill would reinstate sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were written to protect people of color. Over the last decade, the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back some of that landmark law's provisions.

The bill passed along party lines, meaning all Democratic Texans in the U.S. House supported it and all Republican delegation members opposed it.

Should the bill also pass the U.S. Senate, it could put states like Texas that have a history of voter discrimination back under a process called federal preclearance. That would require the state to once again obtain federal approval of its political maps and elections changes, like the controversial voting restrictions bill that is currently under consideration in the state Legislature. Preclearance is meant to ensure that any new election laws or rounds of redistricting do not harm people of color.

The federal legislation is one of two bills Texas House Democrats have been advocating for since they fled to Washington, D.C., in July to block the state voting bill poised for passage in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Democratic state lawmakers lobbied Congress to pass federal legislation that would supersede attempts in Texas to restrict voting access.

The federal bill's author, Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, is a native of Selma, where law enforcement in 1965 brutally attacked the late civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis and other civil rights activists in what is often called "Bloody Sunday."

Sewell told The Texas Tribune the voting bill moving through the Texas Legislature illustrated the need for her legislation.

"The Texas Legislature's outrageous and anti-democratic attempt to erect deliberate barriers to the ballot box demonstrates exactly why federal oversight is so urgently needed," she said in a statement to the Tribune. "As states like Texas continue their assault on the right to vote, we must ensure that the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is signed into law. There is no time to waste."

The bill aims to address two U.S. Supreme Court decisions over the last decade that overturned key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. For four decades, a section of that law dictated that states with a history of discrimination had to clear certain changes to elections and political maps through the Justice Department or federal courts in a process known as preclearance.

The federal bill could allow federal officials to closely examine changes to voting laws. That could include reductions in polling locations or hours proposed in the Texas bill, which seeks to ban the drive-thru and overnight voting accommodations created in Harris County last year — which were embraced disproportionately by voters of color. The Texas legislation would also increase vote-by-mail restrictions and give more freedom to partisan poll watchers.

Republicans have touted the Texas elections bill as an election integrity measure to protect the voting process from fraud, even though there is no evidence it occurs on a widespread basis.

The U.S. House's passage of the federal bill Tuesday came amid a rare voting session in August, when the chamber is usually in recess, underscoring how important this bill is for the Democratic-controlled Congress.

The bill could also require federal approval of the coming redraw of the U.S. House districts in Texas, which occurs every decade after the completion of the U.S. census. The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature is expected to release proposed new political maps this fall. In the past, Texas' redistricting process has come under legal scrutiny for discriminating against people of color and was subject to extensive litigation.

But House Republicans characterized the federal bill as meddling in a jurisdiction that they argue should solely be in the hands of state governments.

"We're going to disenfranchise American voters by taking over the voting across America," said U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican, on the House floor just prior to the Tuesday evening vote. "The Constitution reserves those provisions to the states' legislatures. We shouldn't be doing this."

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas, a voting rights attorney prior to his congressional career, was a key strategist in pushing the bill through Congress.

Allred noted to reporters ahead of the vote that one of his constituents, former President George W. Bush, easily passed a renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2006 with overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Congress.

"Very recently, this was not a partisan issue," he said.

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Austin pushed a Republican counterargument to that point.

"While measures like pre-clearance may have been necessary almost 60 years ago when the [Voting Rights Act] was enacted, current registration and participation levels make it clear that they no longer are," he said in a statement.

This is a far more narrow bill compared to the For the People Act, another federal bill supported by the Texas House Democrats. The For the People Act would dramatically overhaul campaign finance regulations and require independent redistricting commissions, among several other measures.

Few Capitol Hill observers see any scenario in which the For The People Act will pass the Senate.

The Lewis bill also has a tough slog ahead in the Senate, but it is widely seen as the voter access proposal that has the best chance in that chamber. Texas Democrats back in Austin were pleased with a step forward in the Lewis Act.

"Texas House Democrats are grateful to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, bill sponsor Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) and all members of Congress who voted today to protect the bedrock right of our democracy - and for accelerating this bill's passage following our Caucus' work in Washington, D.C.," Texas House Democratic Chair Chris Turner said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston Democrat, expressed optimism on Tuesday that the voting bill could pass the Senate.

"There are ongoing conversations between the House and the Senate ... There've been a lot of conversations, a lot of very productive conversations, and so I am optimistic ... that we will be able to see the Senate move forward," she said.

Along with this voting bill, the House also passed on Tuesday a massive spending bill — one that some Democrats branded a "human infrastructure" bill. That legislation harkens back to the anti-poverty policies of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration and also seeks to address climate change.

Despite Democratic optimism, it remains unclear whether either bill will pass in the narrowly divided U.S. Senate.

Alexa Ura and Bethany Irvine contributed to this report.

Ted Cruz shuts down federal voting bill before US Senate leaves for recess, dashing Texas Democrats hopes

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

WASHINGTON - Despite high hopes and desperate pleas from Texas Democrats, the U.S. Senate failed to move federal voting rights legislation before leaving for summer recess. And it was a Texas Republican — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — who blocked the last attempt to vote on a bill before the Senate left town.

During that overnight final session, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, requested unanimous consent from the Senate to immediately consider the For the People Act, a sweeping overhaul of federal elections that would preempt attempts from states to restrict voting access, overhaul campaign finance laws, and end congressional gerrymandering among other provisions.

Only one senator is needed to block a unanimous consent request — a procedural move typically reserved for items that aren't controversial — and Cruz jumped at the opportunity.

"This bill would constitute a federal government takeover of elections...It would strike down virtually every reasonable voter integrity law in the country," Cruz said.

Schumer proposed unanimous consent for two more proposals that would address redistricting and campaign finance, and Cruz also objected to those as motions.

The great hope among many of the more than 50 Texas Democrats who had decamped to the nation's capital this summer was that the U.S. Senate would make tangible progress toward a federal voting rights bill prior to Congress' annual August recess period. The Texas Democrats, who busted the state Legislature's quorum to block GOP voting legislation for the past month, pinned their hopes on Congress because they are the minority party in all branches of state government.

Few Capitol Hill observers anticipated the Senate would vote on a voting access bill this week, and Schumer's motions were perceived as a symbolic nod to voting rights groups.

This quiet period comes as some Texas state House Democrats remain in Washington. The once bustling city that allowed them to hobnob with and lobby the nation's most powerful leaders is now a legislative ghost town.

Capitol Hill leaders are still expected to address voting rights legislation when the Congress returns after Labor Day, and there is some speculation the U.S. House may return to Washington a week early.

Chances are slim that The For The People Act will pass the Senate in its current form. But there remains hope among some Texas and Capitol Hill Democrats that a scaled back bill might have a shot at becoming law.


Texas GOP senators vote against infrastructure bill that could give their state more than $30 billion

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed a rare bipartisan initiative Tuesday that would deploy at least $30 billion across the state to repair bridges, build roads and increase broadband internet access, without the support of either senator from Texas.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, with a $1.2 trillion price tag, had bipartisan support, but both Republican U.S Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz opposed the sweeping legislation. The U.S. House is expected to pass the bill, and Biden is likely to sign the bill once it reaches his desk. Overall, it passed the chamber by a 69-30 vote. All Senate Democrats backed the bill, along with 19 Republicans.

Cornyn praised aspects of the bill throughout the negotiations before ultimately voting against it, breaking with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he is usually in lockstep with. Cornyn cited the bill's costs and the process by which it passed through the Senate as the reasons for his opposition.

"There's no doubt the nation's transportation and digital infrastructure need improvements, and Texas stands to benefit once this bill becomes law," he said in a statement. But, while he "kept an open mind throughout the process" he voted against it.

"It isn't paid for, will add too much to the debt, and was rushed through the Senate in a week's time without adequate debate or input," he said.

Cruz also cited spending for his opposition.

"This is reckless. And it's unprecedented. … This is a trap," he said on the Senate floor Thursday. "Listen, for Democrats it's what they campaigned on. If you're a Democrat, you want to raise taxes and raise spending. You want more debt from China. That's what Democrats do."

The bill catalogued more than 2,700 pages of policies. Texas is set to receive at least $27 billion for roads, more than $500 million to repair bridges, $3 billion for public transportation, $408 million for electric car charging stations and $100 million for broadband internet, according to a White House fact sheet.

The federal bill also includes $73 billion to update the country's electricity infrastructure.

"As the recent Texas power outages demonstrated, our aging electric grid needs urgent modernization," a White House press release touting the bill said.

It remains unclear how much of those funds could be directed to Texas, whose main power grid experienced catastrophic and prolonged outages during a winter storm in February.

A key priority for President Joe Biden's administration, the bill passed its toughest hurdle — the U.S. Senate — thanks to bipartisan negotiations involving the president's team and a group of 20 senators from both parties.

Local Texas leaders closely monitored the progress of the bill from afar.

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, a Republican, said her highest priorities are relieving congestion, increasing broadband access and improving public transportation.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Parker said in a Thursday interview ahead of passage.

The explosion of Texas' population growth underscores the stakes involved with this bill.

"We're the second-fastest-growing city in the country," Parker said. "It's no secret that we have high growth and a need for world-class infrastructure."

Texas mayoral elections aren't partisan. But the support for the bill was bipartisan across the North Texas region, as Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, a Democrat, tweeted his support earlier this week.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that while the bill is expected to cost about $1 trillion, it will add about $256 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years. Neither party is immune to deficit-spending proposals: Both Cruz and Cornyn voted for massive tax cuts in 2017 that were projected at the time to add about $1 trillion to the national deficit.

The Senate passage is only the first step in both the legislative process and the yearslong process of pairing the money with actual projects.

Many of the provisions in the bill were written with climate change in mind. For instance, $12 billion will be allocated nationally toward flood mitigation, a key concern for Houstonians still rebuilding from Hurricane Harvey.

Even so, many liberals were disappointed that the bill did not go far enough in dealing with the climate crisis. As such, Democrats are expected to push an additional spending bill that could cost $3.5 trillion and will more directly address the environment and other Democratic policies, including expanding Medicare.

Cornyn told reporters Thursday that if Democrats pursue this track, they will be without Republican support.

"If they do that, they'll have to do that themselves," Cornyn said.

Former President Donald Trump unsuccessfully attempted to pass an infrastructure bill, and this legislation's bipartisan support is a rare moment of legislative consensus after years of Congressional deadlock. Trump opposed this infrastructure bill.

"This is not an infrastructure bill, this is the beginning of the Green New Deal. The bill I proposed, which Mitch McConnell couldn't do anything with, was pure infrastructure. I want what is best for America, not what's best for the Communist Democrat Party," Trump said in a Sunday statement. "This will be a big victory for the Democrats and will be used against Republicans in the upcoming elections. ... Hopefully the House will be much stronger than the Senate."



A tale of two capital cities: Texas Democrats continue fight for voting rights in Washington as Republicans push them to return

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Outside of the Texas House chamber, state Rep. Briscoe Cain is setting traps for Democrats.

The first was a case of Miller Lite placed under a brown shipping box propped open with a stick, a nod to the now-viral photograph of House Democrats smiling on a bus with a 12-pack visible in one of the seats as they left the state earlier this month to prevent passage of a GOP election bill at the Texas Legislature.

This week, Cain, a Deer Park Republican, swapped out the beer in his trap for a case of Dr. Pepper, first aid supplies, a sewing kit, a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, a can of hairspray and some Lifesavers.

"Hey Democrats, here's the Care Package you requested," Cain tweeted Monday, responding to a request from Dallas-area Democrats for goods to send the lawmakers camped out in Washington D.C. "It's right outside the House Chamber for you. Get back to work."

Cain's traps are the latest example of the political drama that both Republicans in Austin and Democrats in D.C. have engaged in over the past two weeks, with the two camps battling it out on cable news interviews and social media over the quorum bust and who is to blame for it.

A tweet by State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, related to the Texas Democrats quorum break during the special session. A tweet by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, related to the Texas Democrats quorum break during the special session. Credit: Via Twitter

Unable to pass their priority legislation, Republicans have spent their days in the special session pointing the finger at the 57 House Democrats who left, accusing them of abandoning their jobs and constituents. They've called on their colleagues to return to the Legislature to focus on issues important to Texas voters, such as providing additional money to retired teachers or increasing funding for foster care.

Democrats, meanwhile, have paraded around Capitol Hill, meeting with powerful leaders to convince Congress to pass federal voting laws. They've participated in a marathon of primetime TV appearances defending the decision to break quorum, while criticizing their GOP colleagues for pushing a voting bill they refer to as an attempt at voter suppression.

In a fiery Virginia news conference earlier this month, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson said she will "stay in the fight until I can't fight no more because I'm tired of people picking on us for no reason."

"We are Americans, and we are proud Americans, and we deserve the same rights and respect and considerations that everybody has," the Houston Democrat added. "And I'm going to fight until we get it."

But in their downtime, the Democrats are trying to find some normalcy amid a chaotic situation — one that's taken many of them away from their homes and families, while half a dozen members were sickened with the coronavirus and forced to quarantine in a hotel.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, joined other Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives, who are boycotting …U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, joined other Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives, who are boycotting a special session of the legislature in an effort to block Republican-backed voting restrictions in Washington D.C., on July 13, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Both groups of lawmakers say they are staying busy. Democrats in D.C. have met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and other party leaders in an effort to convince Congress to pass federal voting legislation. And Republicans in Austin have held multiple briefings with retired teachers in Texas and providers for the state's foster care system to discuss legislation on the governor's special session agenda.

State Rep. James White, a Hillister Republican, said the current situation has given him more time to dive into the policies on the special session agenda and to meet with stakeholders involved with the legislation.

"We're not sitting around Ranch 616, sucking down Ranch Waters," White said, referencing a local Austin restaurant that's well known for its tequila drink. "There's always real business to do."

Similarly, the Democrats are mostly careful to avoid the appearances that they are treating this stay as a vacation. In the afternoons, the pool at their hotel in the hip Logan Circle neighborhood is mostly occupied by families who seem oblivious to the national political drama playing out in the hotel lobby, conference rooms and television hits taking place in their neighbors' hotel rooms.

It's not been a luxurious getaway, they and their supporters said.

"They have sacrificed to be here for us," said civil rights activist Al Sharpton in an appearance with about a dozen Texas Democrats on Wednesday. "This is not convenient to leave home. This is not a pleasure trip...this is all missing your family."

State Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock did his laundry at a nearby stranger's home who is a friend of state Rep. Julie Johnson of Farmers Branch.

"It's somewhere between taking a trip and moving," he said.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat, lamented that he was in such a rush to get to Washington, D.C. that he didn't properly pack and arrived without a suit.

"I found separates at Marshall's and put together an outfit for about $65 which is great, and I have used it over and over and over again," he laughed.

Living out of their suitcases and in the hotel, the Democrats have created something of a routine — but concerns about the resurgence of COVID-19 loom large.

The Democrats report downstairs in their hotel at 8 a.m. every morning for a COVID-19 test.

The members who test negative have breakfast together, and then they typically spend their mornings in a room not accessible to the public due to COVID-19 protocols. There they engage in virtual conversations with various secretaries of state and legislators from around the country, union leaders, civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s daughter, Bernice King, Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year prison sentence for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal conviction, and other like-minded advocates for their voting rights push.

On Wednesday, the group met at the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial for an event with Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King.

Outside of the scheduled time, the Democrats attempt to catch up on work from their jobs outside of the Legislature and take interviews with local and national press. Lately, they're fixtures on cable news, with frequent appearances on MSNBC, CNN and even Fox News. Most notably, the liberal-leaning MSNBC devoted an entire hour of prime time programming to the Texans last week.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak sickened six of the members last week, they've scaled back their trips to the U.S. Capitol. Early on, the several dozen lawmakers traveled to the Capitol in a bus. But given the heightened precautions and quarantining, the meetings are fewer and smaller.

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks during a meeting with Democratic Texas state lawmakers in the Roosevelt Room o…Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks during a meeting with Democratic Texas state lawmakers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington D.C. on June 16, 2021. The Democratic Texas state lawmakers met with Vice President Harris to push for national voting rights and election reform legislation. Credit: Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Initially, the outbreak among the Texans shocked Washington. The positive tests were the impetus for some Capitol Hill staffers and members to revive mask-wearing at the Capitol.

"Sorry, I'm washing my hands, we're doing a lot of handwashing," said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin during a phone interview last week.

At some point midday, they take a roll call attendance to ensure everyone is accounted for.

Hinojosa said it's at times been difficult to operate in the constant state of flux.

"I had this desire a few days ago for a dry erase calendar. It was this need I had to try to regain control over our time here," she said. "Having a calendar I can look at because we're building this plane as we're flying it, right? And so, our time commitments are just more fluid here."

The Democrats communicate internally via phone tree, where members are assigned to small groups to quickly disseminate information.

Talarico was on one of his now-regular evening walks last week among the monuments on the National Mall when news reached him about a shooting in broad daylight a few blocks up from the Texans' hotel. He quickly checked in with several members of his texting pod and was relieved to learn that while some Texans were close to the incident, everyone was safe.

He compared the situation to the last time Texas Democrats broke quorum 18 years ago.

"There are a lot of similarities, but that 2003 group did not have to survive a virus or a mass shooting like we have with this quorum break," Talarico said.

Back in Austin, Republicans voted overwhelmingly to issue what's known as a "call of the House," which authorized law enforcement to track down Democrats who fled. The procedural move carried little weight since the Democrats who left are beyond the jurisdiction of the state's law enforcement, though it does prevent members present in the House from leaving unless they have permission in writing from the speaker and promise to return the next day.

Rep. Charles Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, holds a sign that reads, "Here we are still on the job for the people," on the House floor on July 14, 2021 Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune

A day later, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and the remaining members posed for a portrait inside the chamber, with many of the seated Republicans smiling from their desks as rows of empty seats surrounded them.

The picture, at least from their vantage point, sent a message: Republicans had shown up to work on the issues important to Texans, while Democrats had walked off the job, fleeing the state on private chartered jets paid for by their caucus.

"We await the return of our colleagues to work on providing retired teachers a 13th check, protecting foster kids, defending taxpayers, and ensuring dangerous criminals aren't allowed lenient bail," Phelan tweeted with the photo. The 13th check refers to a one-time extra monthly payment the Legislature was planning to provide for retired teachers.

Republicans have since tried to capitalize on that messaging. Cain, the Deer Park Republican, has posted a daily photo — and, more recently, videos on TikTok — that counts how many days the chamber has gone without meeting quorum.

Another House Republican, state Rep. Jared Patterson of Frisco, is keeping track of how much Texas taxpayers are spending on the special session since Democrats' quorum bust. The price tag — it was $649,950 on Tuesday, according to Patterson — is based on items such as legislative per diems for lawmakers and other budgeted costs, the lawmaker has said.

"Texas taxpayers deserve to know what this Democratic walkout is costing them. Every day, House Democrats are costing taxpayers $43,330, or basically, a teacher's salary every day they aren't here," Patterson tweeted earlier this month.

Phelan, for his part, has called on Democrats who left the state to return their per diems — $221 every day lawmakers are in session — and released a list of members earlier this month that had not yet started the process of doing so, according to his office.

The quorum break and subsequent call of the House have upended most lawmakers' plans for the summer, such as family vacations and other scheduled trips.

State Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican, told the Tribune earlier this week that he's been busy with conference calls and virtual meetings with the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is hosting an annual conference this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also said he had to miss most of his family's vacation, which was in Colorado this year.

King, who sits on ALEC's national board, was unable to attend in-person after a call of the House was issued — a disappointment for the lawmaker who said he already had to miss this year's spring event due to the regular legislative session that ended in May.

The House has continued to meet most days since Democrats have left, though committees cannot meet and members are often released by Phelan within an hour or two as the chamber stands at ease.

Phelan's daily dismissal ritual has become a moment of levity for the remaining members as they crowd around his desk to accept their permission slips to leave. Last week, the speaker described the slips of paper as "harvest grape" on Monday, "Whataburger orange" on Tuesday and "crawfish boil red" on Wednesday.

Legislators talk amongst themselves on the House floor on July 19, 2021.Legislators talked amongst themselves on the House floor on July 19, 2021. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune

After he dismisses them, Phelan gives them instructions on when to return the following day. Recently, the speaker has mentioned that the time is in Central Standard Time, a nod to the dozens of Democrats operating in the east coast time zone.

King, who has been through a previous Democratic quorum break, said eventually the Democrats will have no choice but to return and that the Legislature will get back to business.

"I went through this in 2003 — you just have to have patient endurance," he said. "You just wait and eventually they wear out and come back."

Democrats maintain they are determined to wait out this special session. While they express confidence that donors will cover the costs incurred from the hotel and other expenses, being away from home has personal and professional consequences.

Back home, legislators left behind children, partners, ailing parents and pets. Two weeks in, several of the members' children have joined them in Washington.

The trip complicated the summer plans of Rep. Ana Hernandez of Houston, who shares custody of her young son with her ex-husband.

"My son flew up on Saturday, but I'm not sure at what point he'll be returning," she said. "It was a one-way ticket to Washington, D.C."

Hernandez and the other lawmakers also have day jobs outside of their legislative careers. She told the Tribune that she is able to continue to practice law from afar, thanks to the fact that many court proceedings continue to take place virtually, due to COVID-19 protocols.

But other lawmakers are not so lucky.

"Not everyone can work as effectively remotely as others so we have people who are away from a small business they run or a legal practice or whatever, and they are losing money being here," Hinojosa said. "Their families are losing income because they're here."

Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will call lawmakers back for a second overtime round to address the legislation on his agenda that the Legislature wasn't able to tackle during this first 30-day stretch.

Though the quorum bust has caused tensions among some House members, White, the Hillister Republican, brushed off the suggestion that the chamber may enter the next special session as a more polarized body than before.

"You can't walk around in this business with grudges and resentments in your pocket," he said. "I think this is a full-contact sport — this is politics — and that same member that you didn't get on House Bill A may be the member you get to pass House Bill D. You take that vote and you move on."

Join us Sept. 20-25 at the 2021 Texas Tribune Festival. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day's news, curated by The Texas Tribune's award-winning journalists. Learn more.


Joe Manchin headed to Texas fundraiser hosted by oil billionaires and wealthy Republican donors

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

WASHINGTON - West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — a key Democratic holdout over efforts to pass federal voting rights legislation — is expected to head to Texas on Friday for a fundraiser with a host committee that includes several wealthy Republican donors.

The fundraiser comes just a day after Manchin met with Texas House Democrats on Capitol Hill who are desperate for his support of the congressional efforts which could preempt the statewide GOP's push to pass bills that would restrict voting access for Texans.

Manchin is also one of two Democratic senators, along with Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have proven to be obstacles to moving voting rights legislation through the U.S. Senate. At the center of the impasse is their opposition to eliminating or changing the filibuster, which requires 60 senators to put a bill on the floor.

"We invite you to join us for a special evening supporting our friend, US Senator Joe Manchin," according to the invitation's cover letter, which went on to call Manchin "a longtime friend since his days as Governor of West Virginia."

The host committee includes titans of the Texas oil and gas industry — many of whom donate almost exclusively to Republicans. But there is a prominent Democrat included among the hosts: former Houston Mayor Bill White. White was the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor.

Manchin is the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the most powerful perch on Capitol Hill when it comes to oil and gas policy. He will be up for reelection in 2024.

Among the hosts are oil billionaires like Jeff Hildebrand, who cofounded the energy company Hilcorp and Richard Kinder, a cofounder of Kinder Morgan, an energy infrastructure company. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hildebrand to the University of Texas Board of Regents for a six-year term beginning in 2013.

The fundraiser will take place late Friday afternoon in the River Oaks area of Houston, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Texas. An invitation obtained by The Texas Tribune encouraged donors to contribute $5,800 to Manchin's reelection campaign and $5,000 to his leadership PAC. Organizers anticipate more than 150 people to attend, according to a source familiar with the event.

Manchin's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Many of the hosts are prolific donors to past GOP nominees, including former President Donald Trump, and to organizations like the Republican Party of Texas, the Republican National Committee, state parties, GOP candidates across the country and to Republicans in U.S. Senate and House leadership. Hosts have also contributed to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan.

Even so, some of these donors have made occasional contributions to Democrats who are either moderate or serve on committees with oversight of the energy sector. Energy is a key driver of the Houston economy.

Some of the Democrats over the years who are on the receiving end of these donations include U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, the West Houston congresswoman who serves on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, former U.S. Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and former U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinksi, of Illinois.

"We basically are just getting some people together to show our support," said Darren Blanton, a Republican donor who planned to attend the event.

He pushed back on the notion that this is a wholly Republican event.

"It's just people that respect and support him," he said.

Democrats flew to Washington, D.C. on Monday in a bid to break the House's quorum and prevent the passage of the GOP's priority voting bill.

In their time in Washington this summer, Manchin and his staff have been receptive to the state's Democratic legislative and Congressional delegations, taking meetings the Texans both in June and this week. Texas Democrats interviewed after a June meeting praised Manchin for being receptive to their arguments.

They vow to stay outside of Texas until the special legislative session ends Aug. 6, but Abbott has said he'll continue to call special sessions until the bill is passed.

Democrats have said they chose the nation's capital for their decampment largely so they could urge Congress to take federal action, given that Republicans have majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and are poised to push through their priorities.

Carla Astudillo contributed to this report.

As Texas Republicans line up for 2022 primaries, Democrats are waiting on Beto O'Rourke and redistricting

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Texas' Republican statewide primaries are heating up as challengers emerged in recent weeks for both Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. But for all the Republican maneuvering, Democrats are remaining quiet about primary plans.

Texas Democrats are in a holding pattern as they plan for the 2022 cycle for two main reasons. First, the party establishment is waiting on former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke to announce whether he will run for governor.

Secondly, and crucially, incumbents and potential candidates across the state are awaiting the release this fall of new district maps to decide whether they'll retire, run for reelection or consider a statewide bid. The new maps will come from the decennial redistricting process where lawmakers redraw the boundaries of the state's congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts.

"There's a lot of planning and strategizing behind the scenes," said Royce Brooks, the executive director of Annie's List, the Texas Democratic women-in-politics group. "Whatever Beto decides to do is the domino that affects everybody."

For months, O'Rourke has traveled the state, knocked on doors, appeared at rallies and met with voters. The former Democratic presidential candidate has said he's not ruled out a run against Abbott.

A number of national Democratic operatives and officials said that given his near-win in 2018 against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, O'Rourke has earned the right of first refusal to be the party's nominee for governor. It doesn't hurt that he also has demonstrated the ability to fundraise at the top of the ticket and enjoys national name recognition.

In an interview Thursday, O'Rourke said he was not concerned about keeping other potential statewide candidates in suspense until he makes his decision.

"The filing deadline's not until December," O'Rourke said.

More than a dozen Democrats interviewed for this story speculated that O'Rourke will run, while quickly adding that they have no direct insight into his thinking. Most said they drew these conclusions from watching his travel schedule over the spring.

Over the past month, O'Rourke made stops in Houston, Prairie View, Brenham, Longview, Wichita Falls, Dallas, Denton, Texarkana, San Angelo, Austin, Marshall, Henderson and Center. Many of these cities and towns are in off-the-beaten path corners of the state, an echo of his oft-touted 254 county tour during the 2018 campaign.

O'Rourke said he hopes anyone thinking about running in 2022 would be singularly dedicated right now to the voting rights battle, referring to efforts by Republicans in the Texas Legislature to overhaul elections laws that he and other Democrats say amounts to voter suppression.

"Really anyone who cares about this state and the state of our democracy should be focused on this issue. It's existential for America and for Texas."

Whether or not O'Rourke at the top of the 2022 ticket would be helpful to down ballot candidates is a point of debate in Democratic circles.

More than a handful of Texas Democrats worry his September 2019 statement — "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," will hurt candidates running for the state Legislature and Congress. O'Rourke made the comment after a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso which led to the deaths of 23 people.

But other Democrats shrug off that thinking, suggesting that Texas opinions on guns are changing, that any Texas voter who might not vote for O'Rourke over that statement would never vote for a Democrat anyway, or that he is in a league of his own within the Texas Democratic world.

Assuming he jumps in, he is one of the few Texas Democrats who's a proven fundraiser. During his 2018 Senate run, he raised $80 million and while running for president in 2019, he raised $19 million.

State office fundraising is easier than it is for the Senate or to be president, as donors are restricted from giving more than a few thousand dollars to federal candidates.

Beyond O'Rourke, there is some chatter that former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro or U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro might make a run for governor. Otherwise, the field of potential candidates are a mix of current and former state legislators.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo remains a much pined-for candidate, particularly among female Democratic operatives, but so far she has not expressed interest in running statewide next year.

And there are some Democrats who have announced runs for statewide offices, but few are well-funded. Two candidates that have earned the most notice are Mike Collier, who ran for lieutenant governor two years ago and is making another run, and former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, who is running for attorney general.

Down the ballot, Texas Democrats are bracing for the worst this fall, when the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature releases its redistricting maps for state House and Senate and for the U.S. House.

For the federal races, Republicans will have a freer hand than in decades past in map-making unless Congress is able to reinstate provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which required states and jurisdictions that have a history of voter suppression to clear changes to their voting rules and political maps with the federal government to ensure they didn't harm voters of color. The provisions called "preclearance" were gutted in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There is some glimmer of hope that Congress might pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would re-instate preclearance, but for now, that is a long shot possibility.

"What's frustrating is if the John Lewis Voting Rights Act was adopted and signed, then preclearance would be re-established, and Republicans wouldn't be able to discriminate in the way they intend," said Matt Angle, the director of the Democratic group the Lone Star Project.

Rebecca Acuña, the 2020 state director for the Biden campaign, said she holds out hope that Congress will pass a bill to reinstate preclearance.

"Dems are focused on protecting voting rights and still watching to see what redistricting looks like, but the world is watching Texas and Texas Democrats," Acuña said.

In a traditional election cycle, candidates tend to roll out their campaigns over the spring and summer of the off-year, but this year potential candidates are still watching and waiting for the new district maps.

The entire Texas election calendar could also be moved back, due to the delayed census amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effect on reapportionment and the Texas Legislature's ability to draw maps.

Some statewide Democratic candidates could emerge after the maps are finished. If a Democratic incumbent finds themselves in a carved up district where he or she has no chance at reelection, the notion of running statewide — still an incredible challenge for Democrats — actually could be an easier lift than reelection.

Beyond who's running for what, there is a mixed mood among Texas Democrats.

For some, Republican legislative advances on reproductive health and gun policy exacerbate the disappointment of 2020, when despite expectations and excitement, Democrats made almost no gains in the state beyond President Joe Biden keeping former President Donald Trump to a six-point victory in Texas.

"There's a very steep uphill climb here when you look at everything from access to abortion to reproductive rights, access to health care, voting rights and ballot access," said Aimee Boone Cunningham, a prominent Austin-based activist and former chairwoman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board of Directors, reflecting a level of Democratic exhaustion that can be found around the state.

"The Republicans are engaged in this sustained and unrelenting assault on these basic tenets of our democracy, and that should be scary, and it should be discouraging. But that doesn't mean we can't and won't fight back, but anyone who isn't scared right now isn't paying attention," she said.

There are also structural concerns ahead beyond redistricting.

Most parties in power at the presidential level lost legislative seats during the first midterm of an administration. On Capitol Hill, the sentiment is all but certain that Republicans will recapture the U.S. House and many of their top targets are in Texas.

There is nowhere the GOP is more on offense than in South Texas, where the Democratic bastion swung hard toward Republicans in 2020.

Outgoing Harris County GOP Chairwoman Lillie Schecter is on the optimistic side of things. She points to recent reunions of Democrats, who mostly avoided social contact during COVID-19 pandemic last year. She cites friends seeing old friends as a source of growing enthusiasm within her party.

But she said her focus will be "to hold our ground and not cede any [of their 2018 and 2020 gains] next election cycle."

"I love the idea of offensive opportunities, but I've been around for a long time to have '10 and '14 [Republican waves] ingrained in my heart and so my number one objective is to hold ground."

Former Texas Democratic operative Jason Stanford described this coming cycle as potentially as unstable as he's seen in years. He points to actor Matthew McConaughey's own deliberations about running for governor as a third party candidate or Independent.

"It's looking like Abbott, McConaughey and Beto," he said. "That's some chaos to game out. People underrate chaos in this kind of thing…They like to plan a win but to some extent it has to be luck."

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas Republican arrested for DUI after cops find his Corvette 'parked under a minivan'


"State Rep. Dan Huberty arrested for DWI after accident Friday night" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was arrested in Montgomery County after crashing his Corvette into a minivan and failing a sobriety test Friday night, according to the Montgomery County Police Reporter, which posted a video of the arrest to YouTube. The video shows police detaining Huberty and towing the Corvette away.

That local news outlet reported that Montgomery County Precinct 4 constables responded to an accident in Porter and arrived to find a Corvette "parked under a minivan." The three people in the minivan suffered minor injuries, according to the report, and the driver of the Corvette, identified as Huberty, was unharmed. The Corvette was impounded and Huberty was arrested for DWI, according to the report.

"Last night I was driving under the influence of alcohol and involved in a minor automobile accident in Montgomery County," Huberty, who has been a member of the Texas House since 2011, posted Saturday on Facebook. "Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. I regret my actions and apologize to my constituents and my family. I am seeking treatment options to begin today.

His bail was set at $1,500 and he was bonded out within hours of his arrest, according to the report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/24/dan-huberty-texas-rep-dwi/.


The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Republican US Rep. Kevin Brady will retire from Congress at the end of his term

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, announced Wednesday morning that this will be his last term serving in the U.S. House.

First elected in 1996, Brady is one of the most senior members of the Texas delegation and a powerful player within the House Republican conference. The announcement was widely expected as he was facing a term limit in his role as the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, which legislates tax law.

"I am retiring as your Congressman. This term, my 13th, will be my last," he announced during remarks at the Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Conference. "I set out originally to give my constituents the representation you deserve, the effectiveness you want and the economic freedom you need. I hope I delivered."

Brady is the second Texas member of Congress to announce that this would be his final term. Last month, Democratic U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville announced his own retirement.

"Is this because I've lost faith in a partisan Congress and the political system? Absolutely not," Brady said. "I work with some of the most dedicated people in the nation — talented, hardworking and serious about their responsibilities — in both parties. And after 25 years in the nation's Capitol, I haven't yet seen a problem we can't solve or move past. Not one. Especially when we put our ideas and our best intentions together.

"As you may not know, because House Republicans limit committee leaders to six-year terms, I won't be able to chair the Ways and Means Committee in the next session when Republicans win back the majority. Did that factor into that decision? Yeah, some.

"But as I see it, our committee leader term limits ensure lawmakers who work hard and who work effectively someday have the opportunity to lead, to bring fresh, new ideas to every committee we have. In my view, it's a good thing."

Brady, a South Dakota native, ran the local chamber of commerce in Montgomery County for nearly two decades. He ran for and won a seat in the Texas House in 1990 and came to Congress in 1996.

In his time on Capitol Hill, Brady has had no reservations about engaging in partisan fights, but he mostly carried himself with a sunny disposition. So much so that after he unsuccessfully ran for Ways and Means chair his first bid, the man who won the gavel — future House Speaker Paul Ryan — threw his support behind Brady during Brady's second and successful run in 2015.

The pinnacle of Brady's career came in late 2017, when he spearheaded the successful Republican push to drastically reduce taxes. That win came after Republicans failed to unwind former President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law.

The tax overhaul was the party's most significant legislative achievement in the Trump era, but it is also expected to increase the federal deficit.

Brady was also a fixture on the Congressional Republican baseball team. Brady left the GOP team's final morning practice a few minutes early in 2017, narrowly missing a shooter who injured his close friend and roommate, then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

Brady's retirement will set off a scramble to replace him.

The population center of his district is Montgomery County, a potent Republican stronghold in the northern Houston suburban region. In its current form, the 8th District extends north into the Piney Woods. It will likely see some changes in this year's round of redistricting.

It is difficult, however, to see any scenario in which this seat becomes competitive territory for Democrats. Brady never won reelection with less than 59% of the vote, and he frequently won in more recent cycles by 50-percentage-point margins. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump carried the 8th District by a 42-point margin over future President Joe Biden.

Brady's retirement underscores a decline in clout over the years for Texas House Republicans and the inevitable rebuilding phase through which the Texas GOP delegation is undergoing.

Only five years ago, seven Texas Republicans ran House committees. Most have retired. Rep. Michael McCaul was term-limited from his position as chair of the House Homeland Security Committee but is now the top Republican at the Foreign Affairs Committee.

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions led the House Rules Committee but lost reelection in 2018. He has since returned to Congress in another district but, for now, remains a rank-and-file member.

With Democrats in control of the U.S. House, there is one current chair from Texas. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, leads the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Should Republicans take power in the House in 2022, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth could be postured to run the House Appropriations Committee.

As for Brady, he said he remains optimistic about the country's future.

"In the end, I'll leave Congress the way I entered it, with the absolute belief that we are a remarkable nation: the greatest in history," he said. "Despite what the media and the social media bombard you with each day, we are not the hateful, racist, divided nation that we are peddled about. They are dead wrong. Turn off all that noise and you'll hear the true heartbeat of America."

MLB took its All-Star game out of Georgia to protest voting laws. Now Ted Cruz wants to strip it of its anti-trust immunity

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday called for the removal of Major League Baseball's immunity from anti-trust laws in response to the league's decision to pull the 2021 All-Star game from Atlanta over Georgia's new voting restrictions.

"If they're gonna play partisan enforcer, they shouldn't expect to see special goodies from Washington when they are dishonestly acting to favor one party against the other," Cruz told reporters in a news conference alongside fellow Republican U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah.

In late March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a bill that shrinks the window for voters to request absentee ballots, imposes new voter ID requirements, and bans the handing out of water and food to people waiting in line to vote. Cruz pointed out in his Tuesday remarks that the Georgia bill expands early voting times.

MLB's anti-trust exemption reduces the possibility of a competing league from emerging and threatening its status as the preeminent professional baseball league. MLB is unique compared with its peers in other sports in that it benefits from a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that treats the league as a sport and not a business.

"Major League Baseball has had an exemption from the anti-trust laws for nearly 100 years," Cruz said. "It was made up by the U.S. Supreme Court."

"The NFL doesn't have that exception. The NBA doesn't have that exception," he added. "Somehow those sports leagues manage to do just fine, but baseball gets this very special carve-out of corporate welfare from Washington. They don't have to play by the same rules everybody else does."

This is the latest move in a tidal wave of Republican fury aimed at the league. Days after the announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott declined to throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers season-opening game.

A similar proposal is making the rounds among House Republicans. Without Democratic support, though, it is unlikely either bill will make it to passage. Moreover, President Joe Biden previously expressed support for the MLB's actions.

In his Tuesday remarks, Cruz repeatedly condemned MLB's business practices as "woke," a slang term indicating a heightened sense of social awareness.

"This was not about voting. This was about virtue signaling, and this was about punishment," he added. "Major League Baseball made the decision that the more than half of its fans who happen to be Republicans are now disfavored and that voter fraud is not a concern legislatures should focus on."

But Democrats charge that the new wave of bills across the country that will restrict voting are solutions in search of a problem. Voter fraud is rare in the United States, and Democrats argue that the motives here are about depressing minority turnout at the polls.

And thanks to a mass misinformation campaign on the part of former President Donald Trump and many Republicans, many Americans falsely believe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election. That belief led to the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

This battle over voting rights between Republicans and corporate America is all but certain to expand to other states, including Texas.

Texas Republican lawmakers are pursuing their own sweeping changes to voting, including making it illegal for local election officials to proactively send applications for mail-in ballots to voters, even if they qualify, and restricting the distribution of polling places and voting machines in diverse, urban counties.

Texas-based American Airlines and Dell Technologies recently voiced opposition to those Republican efforts.

Disclosure: Dell has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

After saying he has 'no plans' to run for governor, Beto O’Rourke quick to clarify he might

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke has not ruled out a run for governor after all.

Earlier Friday, The Dallas Morning News published remarks O'Rourke made on an upcoming morning program that roused the Texas political class and suggested he no longer was interested in running for governor.

"I've got no plans to run, and I'm very focused on the things that I'm lucky enough to do right now — organizing, registering voters and teaching," O'Rourke said on NBC DFW's "Lone Star Politics," which will air Sunday. "I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing now."

The O'Rourke camp then quickly reached out to The Texas Tribune to clarify his sentiment.

"What I said today is what I've been saying for months: I'm not currently considering a run for office," he said in a statement. "I'm focused on what I'm doing now (teaching and organizing.) Nothing's changed and nothing I said would preclude me from considering a run in the future."

The El Paso Democrat flirted with a run earlier this year when he said in an interview that running against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott was "something I'm going to think about." Last month, he stoked more rumors of his interest in the seat when he reemerged as an organizing force amid the Texas winter storm.

He's also been a vocal critic of Abbott's on various issues, including the winter storm, the 2019 mass shooting by a white supremacist in El Paso and Abbott's lifting of the state mask mandate.

O'Rourke is coming off an unsuccessful campaign for Democratic presidential nominee in 2019, and a narrow loss to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

There will be no U.S. Senate race this year, so the person Democrats nominate for the gubernatorial race will have outsized impact on down-ballot races. The Democratic party came out of the 2020 election with dashed hopes, despite high expectations.

O'Rourke suggested suggested Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins as other potential gubernatorial candidates in the television interview. Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro is another oft-mentioned potential contender, and Austin-based actor Matthew McConaughey is also publicly mulling a run.

"My plan right now is to run for reelection," Hidalgo told Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on his "Point of Order" podcast last month. Asked if she would rule out running for something else in 2022, she said, "I wouldn't say it's something that I'm actively pursuing right now."


Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

George W. Bush on Capitol insurrection: 'I was sick to my stomach'

Former President George W. Bush said in a new interview that the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection left him "disgusted."

"I can't remember what I was doing, but ... I was sick to my stomach ... to see our nation's Capitol being stormed by hostile forces," he told Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. "And it really disturbed me to the point where I did put out a statement, and I'm still disturbed when I think about it."

"It undermines rule of law and the ability to express yourself in peaceful ways in the public square," he added. "This was an expression that was not peaceful."

The interview in partnership with The Texas Tribune was part of this year's SXSW Online 2021 festival and kicked off Bush's promotional tour of his new book, "Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants." In the wide-ranging discussion, which was recorded Feb. 24 and streamed online Thursday, Bush commented on the current state of politics and continued his advocacy for an overhaul of the country's immigration system. (Video of the interview is not available for replay.)

Back in November, Bush issued a congratulatory statement on the day television networks declared Biden the election's winner, but in this interview he explicitly said the 2020 presidential election was not stolen.

"I think the election, all elections have some kind of improprieties," he told Smith. "I think ... the results of this election, though, were confirmed when Joe Biden got inaugurated as president."

When pressed to answer directly over whether the election was stolen, Bush simply answered, "No."

Even so, the former president said that while he is concerned about the scale of anger toward the government, he took heart in the high voter turnout rates in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

"It shows the vibrancy of democracy," he said. "That's a telltale sign that people want to get engaged in the system and that they were willing to go vote."

"Look, politics has always been rough ... And right now we're at a period of time, though, when there's a lot of anger in the system, which then causes people to worry about the future of our democracy," he said. "I think it's going to eventually work its way out of the system.

"History and the United States has shown these populist movements begin to fritter over time, and so I'm optimistic about democracy."

Asked if the Trump-led federal government put democracy at risk in the aftermath of the 2020 election, Bush had another one-word answer: "No."

"What's putting democracy at risk is the capacity to get on the internet to spread ... all kinds of stuff," he said. "But checks and balances work. It's a, you know, a balanced system. The courts work. The legislative process needs a little work, particularly on immigration reform ... No, I thought the system worked fine."

In the interview and in his new book, Bush continued his advocacy of an immigration overhaul. His attempt to change the system in the second term of his presidency was one of his greatest domestic disappointments, but one on which he spent a great deal of his political capital.

He said he deliberately postponed the book's release to avoid injecting immigration into the fall election season.

"If I'd have been a more of a selfish guy, I would have tried to get the book out before Christmas of last year in order to enhance sales," he said. "But I wanted to avoid the election season because one of the problems is immigration has become overly politicized, and it's really a rebuke of Congress' inability to come together to get something done on immigration."

Bush, who took up painting in his retirement, painted portraits of immigrants and included written profiles of each one. The 43 subjects include former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, retired Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, Gilbert Tuhabonye, who leads an Austin-based running club, and Bush family housekeeper Paula Rendón, whom Bush considered to be "a second mother."

The book will be released on April 20, and a companion exhibit of Bush's portraits will debut on the same day at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. The book's thesis argues that American immigrants make a positive difference in the communities where they live.

"The immigrant stories in America often are about somebody's come, makes enormous sacrifices so their families can realize the blessings of this country," he said.

It is a message that is often at odds with his party's rhetoric since former President Trump took control of the GOP. Bush said he's "deeply concerned with the rhetoric around immigration" and stressed that Texas and American economies are reliant on a labor force that includes a strong immigrant component.

"There needs to be an overhaul, which means that we need to get politics out of the system and get sober-minded people focusing on a) what's best for our economy and b) what's best for our country," he said.

Bush acknowledged the disappointment of not accomplishing an overhaul that included a pathway to citizenship, but called it "a political pipe dream" to try to send so many people back to their original countries.

"Rather than ignore the situation, we've got to address it, and I do believe there should be a path to citizenship," he said. "[But] I think Congress is going to have to be mindful that those who are undocumented don't get to jump ahead of the line of those who are documented and have played by the rules."

"It's very hard, but that's not to say one shouldn't try."

Bush said he has spoken with Biden and is so far pleased with his first two months in office.

"He's an experienced guy, and you know, I had a good conversation with him," Bush said. "I said, 'Anything I can do to help, if I feel comfortable with it, let me know.'"

"He's off to a good start it looks like," Bush added. "Hopefully, this anger will work its way out of the system."

As for advice for the new president, Bush encouraged Biden to tune out criticism.

"There'll be a lot of critics, and just do what you think is right. And you shouldn't tailor policy based upon the internet noise or the editorials. He ought to surround himself with a good team, listen to them and make decisions in a crisp way."

The Texas Tribune livestream of this event was presented by Stand Together and Common Ground.Tribune events are also supported through contributions from our founding investors and members. Though donors and corporate sponsors underwrite Texas Tribune events, they play no role in determining the content, panelists or line of questioning.

Disclosure: SXSW and the George W. Bush Institute have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas Republican blasted for hijacking hearing on discrimination with praise for lynchings

U.S. Rep Chip Roy, R-Austin, on Thursday criticized a hearing intended to address discrimination against Asian Americans as an attack on free speech, as he used the forum to denounce the Chinese government over the coronavirus pandemic.

His comments drew sharp rebukes from his Asian American colleagues and other Democrats who said Roy and other Texas Republicans have used rhetoric about China that stokes racism toward Asian communities.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee held the hearing to discuss discrimination just two days after police say a white man went on a shooting rampage targeting Asian women in Atlanta. The hearing, scheduled before the attack, was intended to address the acceleration of violence against Asian Americans in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic overtook American life.

"My concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society, free speech and away from rule of law and taking out bad guys," Roy said. "And as a former federal prosecutor, I'm kind of predisposed and wired to want to go take out bad guys. That's bad guys of all colors. That's bad guys of all persuasions."

Roy called the Chinese Communist Party "the bad guys," "patently evil" and listed a series of policy criticisms with the Chinese government, including its treatment of the Uyghurs, the theft of American intellectual property, the build up of its military and China's lack of transparency over the origins and spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Some of his colleagues reacted with fury.

"Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country you want, but you don't have to do it by putting a bullseye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids," U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, a New York Democrat, said to Roy, while accusing him of veering wildly off the topic of violence against Asian Americans.

Meng, first elected in 2012, has spearheaded efforts to stop discrimination against Asian Americans amid the pandemic. Last month, she reintroduced a new version of her previous resolution that condemned discrimination against Asian Americans and implored "media outlets, scientists and national authorities to avoid naming infectious diseases for locations to avoid stigmatizing groups of people."

Asian Americans have been victim to a rise in racist attacks since the onset of the virus, which was first detected in China. One of the sharpest jumps came in Meng's hometown of New York City. The attacks continued into 2021, and in his first week on the job, President Joe Biden issued an executive order "Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States." The Uyghurs are a Central Asian ethnic group that the United Nations has stated are persecuted by the Chinese government.

Roy condemned the Atlanta attack during his remarks, but made a reference to lynching in the process.

"The victims of race-based violence and their families deserve justice, and as the case for what we're talking about here with the tragedy of what we just saw occur in Atlanta, Georgia," he said.

"I think there's an old saying in Texas about — find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree. You know we take justice very seriously and we ought to do that, round up the bad guys," he added.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, who sits on the Judiciary committee with Roy, later tweeted: "The largest mass lynching in US history was against Chinese immigrants. I served on active duty in the US military to defend @chiproytx's right to say stupid, racist stuff. I just wish he would stop saying it."

Lieu stressed that the hearing was "not about policing speech," as Roy suggested, but about "Americans of Asian descent who are being targeted in the United States."

He took aim at officials who have referred to COVID-19 with terms like "Kung flu"and "Wuhan virus," nicknames for the virus popularized by former President Donald Trump.

"You can say racist stupid stuff if you want, but I'm asking you to please stop using racist terms like 'Kung Flu' or 'Wuhan virus' or other ethnic identifiers when describing this virus," he said.

"I am not a virus, and when you say things like that, it hurts the Asian American community. Whatever political points you think you are scoring by using ethnic identifiers in describing this virus, you're harming Americans who happen to be of Asian descent, so please stop doing that."

U.S. Rep. Sylvia R. Garcia of Houston, went after Texas' two Republican senators for their past comments. Garcia criticized U.S. Sen. John Cornyn for comments from March 2020 in which he blamed the Chinese government for allowing the practice of wet markets and the consumption of exotic animals. She also brought up a joke U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz made last spring that Trump "wasn't serving bat soup in the Wuhan province," a reference to a debunked myth that the outbreak began after a woman in China ate bat soup.

Later in the afternoon, Cornyn responded to Garcia in a previously scheduled conference call with reporters.

"I condemn all violence. I don't care who it is against," he said. "Any violence perpetrated against any other human being, I condemn."

But he added that Garcia's attack on him was "just a political message."

"It's kind of her attempt at cancel culture. I wish we could have a serious adult conversation about where the virus did come from," Cornyn said.

Cruz's office said Garcia's comment "undermines genuine efforts to combat violence."

"Pretending the coronavirus that has taken the lives of millions of Americans did not originate in and spread from China to further a vicious, partisan narrative is simply irresponsible," a Cruz spokesperson said in an email.

Joe Biden says Texas voters should oust Ted Cruz in next election

With criticism toward U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz swelling in recent days, President-elect Joe Biden declined at a Friday afternoon news conference to call on the Texas senator to resign, but did suggest that he should be voted out in 2024.

"I think they should be just flat beaten the next time they run," Biden said, when asked if Cruz and another Republican senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, ought to step down. "I think the American public has a real good clear look at who they are. They're part of the big lie, the big lie."

The comments come as Cruz, along with Hawley, have become focal points of criticism after rioters took over the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Both men led efforts within their chamber to reject the certification of votes in some states, and they continued to do so after the attack. Prior to the riot, Cruz called for "an emergency audit" to be conducted before the Congress signed off on any certifications and supported lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results.

"If he's [Trump] the only one saying it, it's one thing, but the acolytes that follow him, like Cruz and others, they are as responsible as he is," Biden continued. "And so it's not about whether or not they get impeached. It's about whether or not they continue to hold power because of the disgust the American people have for their actions. There are decent people out there who actually believe these lies."

Biden portrayed Cruz's actions as analogous to those of Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler's top propagandist. In this comparison, Biden cited the Nazi leader's lies over how many people were killed in the Allied bombing of Dresden.

Cruz's office did not back down.

"This type of rhetoric is disgusting, dishonest, and bad for the country," a Cruz spokesperson responded.

Cruz later tweeted: "Really sad. At a time of deep national division, President-elect Biden's choice to call his political opponents literal Nazis does nothing to bring us together or promote healing. This kind of vicious partisan rhetoric only tears our country apart."

In recent months, Cruz has positioned himself as one of the most prominent and vocal Trump supporters casting doubt on the election. Two days after Election Day, Cruz charged that Philadelphia officials were not allowing election observers to watch the counting of votes in the swing state, even though Trump's lawyers conceded that they had been allowed in the room.

In December, Trump asked Cruz if he would be willing to argue a long shot case filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to invalidate the election results in states like Pennsylvania in the event that it reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Cruz agreed, but the high court ultimately said Texas did not have standing to bring the case.

Biden sought to draw a difference between Cruz and Hawley and other Republicans in the Senate.

"We need a Republican party. We need an opposition that's principled and strong," Biden said. "And I think you're going see them going through this idea of what constitutes the Republican party. And to hear some of my colleagues, Republican colleagues talk about how shameful it is, of the way Ted Cruz and others are dealing with this, how they're responsible as well for what happened."


Ted Cruz objects to certification of Arizona's electoral votes, initiating effort to challenge Joe Biden's victory

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday objected to the counting of Arizona's electoral votes, starting a process of challenging President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the Electoral College.

Cruz stood during a joint session of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate to register his objection alongside U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona. Gosar spoke first, saying he objected to the counting of the votes. Vice President Mike Pence then asked whether the objection was in writing and signed by a senator and Cruz answered, "It is."

The basis of the objection was on the grounds that the votes "were not under all of the known circumstances, regularly given." Neither Cruz nor Gosar elaborated on their decision. The two chambers of Congress then recessed to their respective chambers to discuss the objection.

The proceeding Cruz engaged in is ceremonial and his objection is doomed to fail in both the House and the Senate. Democrats control the U.S. House, and a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate is expected to knock down his objections in that chamber as well. The state's other senator, John Cornyn, announced he would not join this effort, but a number of Texas House Republicans announced in recent days they would object.

The basis of these objections are allegations of widespread voter fraud in contested states. There is no credible evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. President Donald Trump and many of his supporters have alleged that the election was stolen from him. Lawsuits seeking to overturn the results have failed repeatedly in the courts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — a close ally of Cornyn's — took the Senate floor during the Arizona debate and delivered an uncharacteristically emotional speech opposing the effort by Cruz and his colleagues.

"We are debating a step that has never been taken in American history, whether Congress should overrule the voters and overturn a presidential election," McConnell said. "I've served 36 years in Senate, this will be the most important vote I've ever cast."

"Nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale, the massive scale, that would have tipped the entire election," he added. "Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence. The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken. They've all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever. This election actually was not unusually close."


Ted Cruz calls on the Supreme Court to hear Trump's election challenge after Barr says no evidence of widespread fraud

On the same day that U.S. Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, nine Texas Republicans in Congress signed a letter chastising Barr for a "shocking lack of action" in response to unproven allegations that fraud occurred.

Keep reading... Show less

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.