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."

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