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Top Texas elected official's 2021 priorities: Pandemic, power grid and Star Spangled Banner Protection Act

Patrick said in a statement that he is "confident these priorities address issues that are critical to Texans at this time" and that some of them changed in recent days due to the storm, which left millions of Texans without power. After his top priority — the must-pass budget — Patrick listed his priorities as reforming the state's electrical grid operator, as well as "power grid stability."

Patrick's specific plans for such items remain unclear, however. Almost all of his priority bills have not been filed yet, and the list he released refers to the issues in general terms.

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View the full list of Dan Patrick's priorities here.
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The priorities echo much of the agenda that Gov. Greg Abbott laid out in his State of the State speech earlier this month, including his emergency items like expanding broadband access and punishing local governments that "defund the police." Fourth on the list is a cause that Patrick himself prioritized recently — a "Star Spangled Banner Protection Act" that would require the national anthem to be played at all events that get public funding.

However, besides the fresh focus on the electrical grid, perhaps the most notable takeaway from Patrick's agenda is how far it goes in pushing several hot-button social conservative issues. Patrick's eighth and ninth priorities have to do with abortion — a "heartbeat bill" that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as well as an "abortion ban trigger" that would automatically ban the practice if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Abbott said he wanted to further restrict abortion in his State of the State speech but did not mention those two proposals specifically.

Abortion is not the only politically contentious topic on Patrick's list. As his 29th priority, Patrick put "Fair Sports for Women & Girls," an apparent reference to proposals that would ban transgender girls and women who attend public schools from playing on single-sex sports teams designated for girls and women. He also included three items related to gun rights: "Protect Second Amendment Businesses," "Stop Corporate Gun Boycotts," and "Second Amendment Protections for Travelers." It was not immediately clear what specifically those three bills would entail.

Coming in at 10th is another proposal that was left unmentioned in Abbott's speech despite popularity with the GOP base: banning taxpayer-funded lobbying. That is considered one of the big pieces of leftover business for conservatives after the 2019 session.

While the new state House speaker, Dade Phelan, has been a proponent of outlawing taxpayer-funded lobbying, it remains to be seen how receptive the lower chamber will be to the rest of Patrick's agenda. The House, especially under previous Speaker Joe Straus, has a history of slowing — or stopping — at least some of Patrick's most controversial ideas. Phelan has not released a similar list of priorities.

To be sure, though, Patrick's list covers all five emergency items that Abbott designated in his State of the State speech, when the governor vowed to use this session to aid Texas' recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Patrick said in a statement that he backs Abbott's priorities "as well as other legislation to make sure the Texas economy continues to come back stronger than ever following the pandemic."

Patrick's priorities drew the swiftest pushback from abortion rights advocates. Dyana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said Patrick was elevating the wrong issues, especially after the winter storm.

"Just when we think state leaders can't go any lower, Dan Patrick throws out this list—nothing more than a political stunt and a weak attempt to save face with his base, while Texans still need essential health care and critical community support," Limon-Mercado said in a statement.

For Patrick, the priority list marks something of an end to a relatively quiet start to the session for the typically outspoken lieutenant governor. He has increased his public profile in recent days, including by announcing his plan for the national anthem legislation after a report that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided to stop playing the song during home games this season.

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.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/23/dan-patrick-2021-priorities/.

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

Texas GOP staffer fired after attending Capitol riot and harassing restaurant workers over 'Pizzagate '

The Republican Party of Texas has fired a staffer after learning about a series of social media posts he made, including one that places him in a crowd of people steps outside the U.S. Capitol last month on the same day that a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building.

The staffer, field organizer Kevin Whitt, has also published video of himself arguing with an employee of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria over the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory and has defended the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group.

Less than two hours after The Texas Tribune contacted the Texas GOP about Whitt on Monday afternoon, the party said it had fired him.

"Information has come to light of some troubling video of one of our former employees," party spokesperson Luke Twombly said in a statement to the Tribune. "Due to this footage, we terminated our relationship."

In an interview after the firing, Whitt told the Tribune that the party was "canceling conservatives, obviously." He said he never got any indication his job was in jeopardy until the party emailed him Monday afternoon to tell him he was fired.

Whitt was hired Nov. 30, 2020, as a field organizer, Twombly said. He is best known as an activist who talks about his experience leaving behind his life as a drag queen to become deeply religious and advocate on social conservative issues.

On Jan. 7, the day after the Capitol siege, Whitt posted a video on Instagram showing a crowd of people a short distance outside a Capitol entrance, alarms going off in the background. While Whitt is not shown in the video, he can be heard speaking behind the camera.

"This is the door of the Capitol," Whitt says. "I'm trying to move as close as I can."

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The caption of the video says, "Say Her Name, Ashli Babbit!! RIP Patriot." Babbit was the California woman who police fatally shot as she tried to climb through a broken window during the riot.

Whitt told the Tribune that he did not enter the Capitol and was not trying to. He had been in town to attend the rally that Trump spoke at earlier that day, but Whitt said he decided not to attend when he saw how early he would have had to arrive and instead stayed at his hotel and slept in. When he woke up, he said, he saw the news of the escalating situation at the Capitol and headed over to see what was happening. Whitt said the crowd outside the entrance where he was recording was getting rowdy, so "I stepped outside and got out of it."

"I was being nosy," Whitt said.

Whitt was not the only Texas Republican who traveled to the nation's capital that day to protest the certification of Trump's defeat in the Electoral College. Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke before Trump at the same rally, and state Rep. Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg has said he "peacefully marched" to the Capitol.

Another video on Whitt's social media accounts, dated mid-December, shows him confronting a woman inside the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., which has been at the center of the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theory, which emerged ahead of the 2016 election, claims that Democratic elites are running a child sex-trafficking ring out of the pizzeria. The restaurant and its employees have been repeatedly harassed and threatened by people who believe the conspiracy theory. In 2017, a man was sentenced to four years in prison after firing an AR-15 rifle while searching inside the restaurant.

In the video, Whitt asks the woman how she feels about working "in a restaurant that is known for pedophilia." The woman asks Whitt to leave, and he says she can call the cops and that he will not leave.

Whitt then shouts into the restaurant: "Y'all are abusing children. You are pedophiles. Do not eat here. All of y'all should leave. They are serving up dead kids. This place is known ... for a restaurant that is sex trafficking children."

Whitt told the Tribune that he "100% believe[s] that Pizzagate is real." Before the video began, Whitt said he had been dining with friends at the restaurant and was heading to the bathroom, recording artwork on the walls and got into a confrontation with the woman about whether he was allowed to record.

Both the videos from the Capitol riot and the pizzeria disappeared from Whitt's social media accounts after the Tribune contacted him about them.

In other social media posts, Whitt has aligned himself with the Proud Boys, some of whose members have been charged with federal crimes such as conspiracy, civil disorder and assaulting an officer in the Capitol riot. In a mid-December Facebook post, Whitt called the Proud Boys an "amazing" group of men and said there may be a "few bad apples that do dumb stuff," but that was to be expected when people organize themselves.

Under the leadership of chairman Allen West, who was elected last summer, the state party has had to answer for perceived connections to the fringes of the Trump-era GOP. Its slogan, "We are the storm," uses language commonly used by followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement. West has said the slogan is drawn from an unattributed quote that he likes and denied any QAnon influence.

The QAnon movement adheres to an unfounded theory that a mysterious government official named "Q" is exposing a plot against Trump by "deep-state" actors involving satanism and child sex trafficking. Some believers have been accused of plotting or carrying out violent crimes, including killing a New York mob boss.

Whitt spoke at a "We Are The Storm" rally on Dec. 5 in Dallas that the state party had promoted on social media. Speakers appeared in front of a podium that had the state party's seal on it.

Disclosure: Facebook 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.

GOP governor says 'election integrity' will be a top priority for Texas legislature

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday unveiled a legislative agenda centered on the state's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and a series of more politically charged issues such as police funding and "election integrity."

In his biennial State of the State speech, Abbott declared Texas is "brimming with promise" as it emerges from the pandemic and seeks to return to economic dominance. He pledged "hard-working Texans are at the forefront of our agenda this legislative session as we build a healthier, safer, freer and more prosperous state."

Abbott designated five emergency items, or items that the Legislature can vote on within the first 60 day of the session, which began Jan. 12. Those items were expanding broadband internet access, punishing local governments that "defund the police" as he defines it, changing the bail system, ensuring what he described as "election integrity" and providing civil liability protections for businesses that were open during the pandemic.

Abbott also asked lawmakers to pass laws that would strengthen civics education in Texas classrooms, further restrict abortion and make Texas a "Second Amendment sanctuary state." On issues stemming from the pandemic, Abbott called for legislation to permanently expand telemedicine and to prevent "any government entity from shutting down religious activities in Texas." And Abbott briefly touched on the debate among some in his own party over how aggressively he has wielded his executive powers to respond to the coronavirus.

"I will continue working with the Legislature to find ways to navigate a pandemic while also allowing businesses to remain open," Abbott said.

Abbott gave the address from Visionary Fiber Technologies in Lockhart, eschewing the traditional setting of a joint legislative session inside the House chamber as lawmakers continue to worry about gathering en masse during the pandemic.

Democrats pushed back on Abbott's speech by accusing him of giving an overly rosy view of the state's coronavirus response. Calling Abbott the "worst Governor in modern Texas history," the state Democratic Party chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, said in a statement that Abbott "buries his head in the sand and pretends like nothing is happening."

While the state's coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing after record highs in January, they still remain very high relative to other points in the pandemic.

This will be Abbott's last session before he is up for reelection in 2022, and he alluded to one potential Democratic challenger for a third term: Beto O'Rourke, the former El Paso congressman. Abbott said gun rights are "under attack" and noted politicians have said, "Heck yes, the government is coming to get your guns" — a paraphrase of O'Rourke's 2019 statement embracing a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons.

The session is also coming at the start of a new Democratic presidential administration in Washington, D.C. While Abbott and other top Texas Republicans have made clear they plan to vigorously challenge President Joe Biden's policies, the governor made only one allusion to Biden in his speech, saying that "because of the federal government's open border policies, Texas must fortify its efforts to secure our border."

When it came to legislative priorities, Abbott was noticeably light on details in some cases. On election security, Abbott did not say what he was looking for beyond instilling "trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections." Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, though the state's Republicans are newly focused on the issue after fighting efforts by Democrats to make it easier to vote ahead of the November election due to the pandemic.

Abbott's prioritization of election security comes three months following a November election after which top Texas Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Attorney General Ken Paxton, played central roles in fueling former President Donald Trump's baseless claims of widespread fraud. Those conspiracies led to a violent siege on the U.S. Capitol the day Congress met to certify the results last month. Abbott was among the Republicans who did not immediately recognize Biden's victory after major news outlets declared him the winner, and he was later supportive of Paxton's unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the results in four battleground states.

Abbott did not mention any particular proposal to penalize local governments that cut police funding, though he has previously pitched ideas like freezing property tax revenues for cities that do so. Abbott has focused almost all of his ire on Austin, whose City Council voted last year to cut its police department budget and redirect some of the money to social services. Austin officials did so after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, re-energized a movement against police brutality against Black Americans. It also followed Austin officers' fatal shooting of Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black and Latino man.

In Texas Democrats' video response to Abbott's speech, Candice Matthews of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats said lawmakers instead need to address inequities in law enforcement's treatment of communities of color.

"Our communities should not have to live with trauma and fear of wondering if they, or their families or their neighbors will be the next to die from police brutality," Matthews said in the video. "We demand that every single racist policy be uprooted."

Shortly after railing against the "defund the police" movement in his speech, Abbott said the state still "cannot ignore the need to improve policing" and called for better "tools and training" for cops. But he did not make reforming police behavior or accountability an emergency item like he did with police funding.

"We need real help from the state, not more politics or finger-wagging," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in response. "State interference with local government is not the answer."

While Abbott did not go too in depth on some topics, he prescribed a specific piece of legislation when it came to bail reform: the Damon Allen Act. The proposal, which Abbott unsuccessfully pushed last session, is named after a slain state trooper. The suspect in Allen's death was out on bond. Bail reform efforts often aim to stop cash bail practices that hold people in jail before they are convicted solely because they are poor, but Abbott said last week his bill would focus instead on keeping "dangerous criminals off the streets."

On abortion — another area where Texas already has some of the toughest laws in the country — Abbott specified that he wanted to "make explicit what should be obvious: No unborn child should be targeted for abortion on the basis on race, sex or disability." Similar legislation filed last session would have barred later-term abortions even in the case of severe fetal abnormalities, which critics refer to as "discriminatory abortions."

In between the red meat, Abbott continued to paint an optimistic view of the state's slow and staggered economic recovery from COVID-19.

"The pandemic has shed a harsh light on many ways our state failed to prepare for disaster," officials with labor group Texas AFL-CIO said in a statement. "If you are worried about when you will receive a vaccine in this state, you heard nothing. If you are a teacher looking for assurances that schools will be made safe, you heard nothing. If you have waited for months to receive unemployment insurance benefits after losing a job through no fault of your own, you heard nothing."

Democrats focused heavily on Abbott's pandemic handling in a response to his speech that aired immediately afterward. Among the speakers was Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor, U.S. housing secretary and 2020 presidential candidate. The Democratic response also included Oscar Leeser, the new El Paso mayor who lost both his mom and brother to COVID-19 last year.

Karen Brooks Harper, Jolie McCullough and Shannon Najmabadi contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Steve Adler is a former Texas Tribune board chairman and has been a financial supporter of the 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.

Texas GOP staffer fired after insurrection claims state party is 'canceling conservatives': report

The Republican Party of Texas has fired a staffer after learning about a series of social media posts he made, including one that places him in a crowd of people steps outside the U.S. Capitol last month on the same day that a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building.

The staffer, field organizer Kevin Whitt, has also published video of himself arguing with an employee of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria over the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory and has defended the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group.

Less than two hours after The Texas Tribune contacted the Texas GOP about Whitt on Monday afternoon, the party said it had fired him.

"Information has come to light of some troubling video of one of our former employees," party spokesperson Luke Twombly said in a statement to the Tribune. "Due to this footage, we terminated our relationship."

In an interview after the firing, Whitt told the Tribune that the party was "canceling conservatives, obviously." He said he never got any indication his job was in jeopardy until the party emailed him Monday afternoon to tell him he was fired.

Whitt was hired Nov. 30, 2020, as a field organizer, Twombly said. He is best known as an activist who talks about his experience leaving behind his life as a drag queen to become deeply religious and advocate on social conservative issues.

On Jan. 7, the day after the Capitol siege, Whitt posted a video on Instagram showing a crowd of people a short distance outside a Capitol entrance, alarms going off in the background. While Whitt is not shown in the video, he can be heard speaking behind the camera.

"This is the door of the Capitol," Whitt says. "I'm trying to move as close as I can."

Whitt told the Tribune that he did not enter the Capitol and was not trying to. He had been in town to attend the rally that Trump spoke at earlier that day, but Whitt said he decided not to attend when he saw how early he would have had to arrive and instead stayed at his hotel and slept in. When he woke up, he said, he saw the news of the escalating situation at the Capitol and headed over to see what was happening. Whitt said the crowd outside the entrance where he was recording was getting rowdy, so "I stepped outside and got out of it."

"I was being nosy," Whitt said.

Whitt was not the only Texas Republican who traveled to the nation's capital that day to protest the certification of Trump's defeat in the Electoral College. Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke before Trump at the same rally, and state Rep. Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg has said he "peacefully marched" to the Capitol.

Another video on his Whitt's social media accounts, dated mid-December, shows him confronting a woman inside the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., which has been at the center of the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theory, which emerged ahead of the 2016 election, claims that Democratic elites are running a child sex-trafficking ring out of the pizzeria. The restaurant and its employees have been repeatedly harassed and threatened by people who believe the conspiracy theory. In 2017, a man was sentenced to four years in prison after firing an AR-15 rifle while searching inside the restaurant.

In the video, Whitt asks the woman how she feels about working "in a restaurant that is known for pedophilia." The woman asks Whitt to leave, and he says she can call the cops and that he will not leave.

Whitt then shouts into the restaurant: "Y'all are abusing children. You are pedophiles. Do not eat here. All of y'all should leave. They are serving up dead kids. This place is known ... for a restaurant that is sex trafficking children."

Whitt told the Tribune that he "100% believe[s] that Pizzagate is real." Before the video began, Whitt said he had been dining with friends at the restaurant and was heading to the bathroom, recording artwork on the walls and got into a confrontation with the woman about whether he was allowed to record.

Both the videos from the Capitol riot and the pizzeria disappeared from Whitt's social media accounts after the Tribune contacted him about them.

In other social media posts, Whitt has aligned himself with the Proud Boys, some of whose members have been charged with federal crimes such as conspiracy, civil disorder and assaulting an officer in the Capitol riot. In a mid-December Facebook post, Whitt called the Proud Boys an "amazing" group of men and said there may be a "few bad apples that do dumb stuff," but that was to be expected when people organize themselves.

Under the leadership of chairman Allen West, who was elected last summer, the state party has had to answer for perceived connections to the fringes of the Trump-era GOP. Its slogan, "We are the storm," uses language commonly used by followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement. West has said the slogan is drawn from an unattributed quote that he likes and denied any QAnon influence.

The QAnon movement adheres to an unfounded theory that a mysterious government official named "Q" is exposing a plot against Trump by "deep-state" actors involving satanism and child sex trafficking. Some believers have been accused of plotting or carrying out violent crimes, including killing a New York mob boss.

Whitt spoke at a "We Are The Storm" rally on Dec. 5 in Dallas that the state party had promoted on social media. Speakers appeared in front of a podium that had the state party's seal on it.

Disclosure: Facebook 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.

Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke spar in what could be a preview of the 2022 Texas governor’s race

Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke butted heads Thursday after the Democratic former El Paso congressman said he would consider challenging the Republican incumbent for Texas' top elected post in 2022.

O'Rourke said during an El Paso radio interview earlier this week that a gubernatorial bid is "something I'm going to think about." The comment began receiving wide attention after the Houston Chronicle wrote it up Thursday morning, and during an unrelated news conference hours later in Odessa, Abbott fielded a reporter's question about a potential O'Rourke challenge.

"You're talking about a person who says they want to run for governor who said, 'Heck yes,' he's gonna come and take your guns," Abbott said, referring to O'Rourke's 2019 embrace of a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. "Heck yes, he's for open borders. Heck yes, he's for killing the energy sector and fossil fuels in the state of Texas. I don't think that's gonna sell real well."

On Thursday evening, O'Rourke responded in a string of eight tweets that took Abbott to task for various parts of his record as governor, starting with his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"You know what doesn't 'sell well' @GregAbbott_TX?" O'Rourke said. "The fact that 36,000 Texans have died from Covid. [You] have undermined public health and local leadership at every turn, and now too many of our family, friends and neighbors are dead because of it."

O'Rourke ended by saying, "Whether or not I run, I will do everything in my power to elect a Governor who looks out for everyone, keeps Texans safe, answers to the people instead of the special interests & guarantees that we all have equal opportunity to achieve our best in life."

O'Rourke previously had not ruled out challenging Abbott, but his latest comment on 2022 is his most direct acknowledgment of a potential campaign, especially since the November election.

Abbott won reelection in 2018 by 13 points while O'Rourke came within 3 points of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Abbott is up for a third term next year and is expected to be a formidable opponent for any challenger, with almost $40 million in his campaign war chest.

After dropping out of the 2020 presidential primary, O'Rourke turned his attention back to state politics, plunging into the fight for the Texas House majority through a new political group, Powered by People. Abbott's campaign aggressively used O'Rourke as a boogeyman in the House battle, which ended with Republicans holding on to their 83-member majority.

John Cornyn says he won't join growing number of Texas Republicans planning to object to certification of Joe Biden's win

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced Tuesday that he isn't planning to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote in Congress, splitting with a growing number of GOP colleagues that most notably includes the state's junior senator, Ted Cruz.

In a lengthy letter to Texans, Cornyn noted that he has supported President Donald Trump's right to challenge election results in the courts but that Trump's lawsuits have gone nowhere, and recounts in multiple states have also failed to change the outcome. Trump has continued to push baseless claims of widespread fraud in the election, including at a campaign rally Monday night in Georgia.

"As a former judge, I view this process with the same impartial, evidence-based decision-making as I did my job on the bench," wrote Cornyn, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court. "So, unless substantial, new evidence is presented during the challenges to each state's ballots, I will not object to the certification of that stave's election results based on unproven allegations."

"Allegations alone will not suffice," Cornyn said earlier in the letter. "Evidence is required."

Cornyn's position is not much of a surprise based on comments he has made in recent weeks expressing increasing skepticism about Trump's chances of overturning his loss to the president-elect, Joe Biden. But the letter marks Cornyn's most extensive explanation of his position yet, and it comes as Texas' other senator digs in on his plan, along with 10 other GOP senators, to object to the Wednesday certification of Biden's win unless they can secure an "emergency audit" of the November results.

A source familiar with Cruz's plans, but who was unauthorized to speak on the record, said that Cruz intends to specifically object to the certification of electors from Arizona. The news was first reported Tuesday by the Washington Post. Cruz told conservative radio host Mark Levin on Monday night that he did not want to "set aside the election ... but rather to press for the appointment of an electoral commission."

In his letter, Cornyn made clear he was not a fan of Cruz's audit proposal, which Cruz has said can be done in the 10 days before the inauguration. Cornyn suggested he too supports a review of election issues but something less hasty and more deliberate, such as an "independent commission" in the vein of the Commission on Federal Election Reform. That was a private bipartisan panel that looked into problems with the 2000 and 2004 elections.

"As to timing and practicality of an emergency audit, I am much more dubious," Cornyn said. "The design of the proposed commission to conduct such an 'audit' will inevitably fail."

Cornyn and Cruz are in very different positions politically. Cornyn is coming off a reelection victory in November that secured him another six-year term in the Senate, while Cruz has an eye toward 2024, when any presidential contender will likely need to stay in the good graces of Trump and his supporters.

Trump dinged Cornyn on Tuesday afternoon, tagging him in a tweet that told the "weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party" to heed his supporters' wishes for an election reversal. (RINO stands for "Republican In Name Only.") Trump also tagged two other senior Senate Republicans: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip John Thune, who previously incurred Trump's wrath for dismissing some House Republicans' intentions to dispute the Electoral College outcome.

Nearly half of the 23 Texas Republicans in the House have promised to object to the certification. At least four announced their intentions Tuesday: Reps. Jodey Arrington of Lubbock, John Carter of Round Rock, Troy Nehls and Ron Wright of Arlington.

Carter, Nehls and Wright all represent districts that national Democrats targeted in November, though each won their races by comfortable margins. Nehls was sworn in to Congress on Sunday after winning the hard-fought fall election to replace former U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who did not seek another term.

"You sent me to Congress to fight for President Trump and election integrity and that's exactly what I'm doing," Nehls wrote on Facebook.

The other Texas Republicans in the House who have said they will object to the certification are Reps. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell, August Pfluger of San Angelo, Randy Weber of Friendswood, Pete Sessions of Waco, Brian Babin of Woodville and Ronny Jackson, the former Trump White House doctor who represents the Panhandle.

Gov. Greg Abbott tells supporters he's considering placing law enforcement for central Austin under state control

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