Cruz and Cornyn signal openness to other GOP presidential candidates besides Trump

Hours before former President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he will run for the White House in 2024, Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz signaled an appetite for a contested GOP primary. But both said they’d support him if he turned out to be the eventual Republican nominee.

The two Texas senators join a growing chorus of Republican voices who have been withholding their enthusiasm about the prospect of a third bid from Trump.

“I’m sure I’ll support the nominee of the Republican Party, but I think there’s likely to be a competitive primary election,” Cornyn told reporters Monday.

Trump announced his third run for the presidency Tuesday night at his Mar-a-Lago home.

Top Texas Republicans had not publicly supported Trump’s bid for the presidency as of late Tuesday evening.

U.S. Rep.-elect Wesley Hunt released a ringing endorsement of the former president. “The difference between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden could not be more stark, which is why I look forward to enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump’s bid for the White House,” Hunt said in a statement.

Cruz nodded toward a contested Republican primary, telling Fox News on Tuesday “we’re going to have a process, we’re going to have a primary, we’re going to have a debate.”

“I think we accomplished a lot of good things when Donald Trump was president,” Cruz said. “If he’s the nominee, I’ll enthusiastically support him.”

Cruz did not answer questions about Trump when asked by reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.

Republican support for Trump has faltered after a midterm performance by the party that many considered a resounding disappointment. The losses by GOP candidates in some high-profile Senate and governor races, many endorsed by Trump, has some Republicans looking to other options to lead the top of the party.

Much of that attention has been focused on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won his own reelection on Tuesday by 20 percentage points. A poll commissioned by the Republican Party of Texas this week showed that more Texas Republicans prefer DeSantis over Trump as their 2024 presidential nominee, which is a flip from their preferences in an October poll.

Cruz has also been mum about how Trump’s early entrance into the race for president could affect his own plans. Cruz was one of the most formidable opponents to Trump in a bitter primary battle for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016. But after Trump’s election, Cruz stood as one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress.

Cruz has danced around the question about his aspirations, saying at the Texas Tribune Festival in September that every Republican was waiting to see if Trump would run again. But he said at the time that Trump’s decision to run would have a lot of influence on other potential candidates.

“There are some Republicans who are beating their chest and running around saying, ‘I’m running no matter what, it doesn’t matter what Trump does,’” Cruz said. “That’s utter garbage, they’re all lying.”

After an underwhelming performance nationally in the midterm elections, lawmakers and prominent GOP figures have publicly questioned the leadership of the party. Cruz has been particularly forceful in his public scorn of the party’s leadership, fuming over the lackluster midterm results.

“I am so pissed off I cannot even see straight,” Cruz said on an episode of his podcast The Verdict on Monday. “This opportunity was screwed up, it was screwed up badly.”

Cruz said it would be “insane” if the party reelected the same leadership in the Senate.

William Melhado contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/11/15/ted-cruz-john-cornyn-donald-trump/.

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

With Trump set to announce third run, GOP senators signal openness to other presidential candidates

Asked about former President Donald Trump’s impending announcement Tuesday night that he will run for the White House in 2024, Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz signaled an appetite for a contested GOP primary. But both said they’d support him if he turned out to be the eventual Republican nominee.

The two Texas senators join a growing chorus of Republican voices who have been withholding their enthusiasm about the prospect of a third bid from Trump.

“I’m sure I’ll support the nominee of the Republican Party, but I think there’s likely to be a competitive primary election,” Cornyn told reporters Monday.

Trump is expected to make an announcement on Tuesday night from Mar-a-Lago that he is running.

Cruz also nodded toward a contested Republican primary, telling Fox News on Tuesday “we’re going to have a process, we’re going to have a primary, we’re going to have a debate.”

“I think we accomplished a lot of good things when Donald Trump was president,” Cruz said. “If he’s the nominee, I’ll enthusiastically support him.”

Cruz did not answer questions about Trump when asked by reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.

Republican support for Trump has faltered after a midterm performance by the party that many considered a resounding disappointment. The losses by GOP candidates in some high-profile Senate and governor races, many endorsed by Trump, has some Republicans looking to other options to lead the top of the party.

Much of that attention has been focused on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won his own reelection on Tuesday by 20 percentage points. A poll commissioned by the Republican Party of Texas this week showed that more Texas Republicans prefer DeSantis over Trump as their 2024 presidential nominee, which is a flip from their preferences in an October poll.

Cruz has also been mum about how Trump’s early entrance into the race for president could affect his own plans. Cruz was one of the most formidable opponents to Trump in a bitter primary battle for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016. But after Trump’s election, Cruz stood as one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress.

Cruz has danced around the question about his aspirations, saying at the Texas Tribune Festival in September that every Republican was waiting to see if Trump would run again. But he said at the time that Trump’s decision to run would have a lot of influence on other potential candidates.

“There are some Republicans who are beating their chest and running around saying, ‘I’m running no matter what, it doesn’t matter what Trump does,’” Cruz said. “That’s utter garbage, they’re all lying.”

After an underwhelming performance nationally in the midterm elections, lawmakers and prominent GOP figures have publicly questioned the leadership of the party. Cruz has been particularly forceful in his public scorn of the party’s leadership, fuming over the lackluster midterm results.

“I am so pissed off I cannot even see straight,” Cruz said on an episode of his podcast The Verdict on Monday. “This opportunity was screwed up, it was screwed up badly.”

Cruz said it would be “insane” if the party reelected the same leadership in the Senate.

AT&T and Valero are funding election-deniers in the midterms

WASHINGTON — After the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, a number of corporate political action committees, including Dallas-based AT&T, declared that they would pause support for candidates who voted to object to the certification of the 2020 election.

The political action committees for Valero Energy and the National Association of Realtors announced after the attack that they were suspending all political contributions.

But this election cycle, those companies and several other corporations have lavished funds on Texas Republicans who voted against certifying the election in 2020, plus a handful of new candidates who continue to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency. On the day of the insurrection, 17 Texans in Congress voted against certifying the election results — including Sen. Ted Cruz, who is not up for reelection this year, and 16 House members. (Of the House members, Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Tyler, is not seeking reelection, and Rep. Ron Wright, of Arlington, died in February 2021.) Many of those candidates continue to cast doubt on the election results, which have been affirmed by multiple audits, court decisions and even members of former President Donald Trump’s administration.

This year in Texas, AT&T-affiliated PACs have given at least $28,500 to lawmakers who objected to the certification of the 2020 election. Those lawmakers who received the funds are Republican Reps. Jodey Arrington of Lubbock, John Carter of Round Rock, Roger Williams of Austin, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Pete Sessions of Waco, Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Ronny Jackson of Amarillo and Lance Gooden of Terrell.

AT&T said in a statement to The Texas Tribune that its employee PACs donated to candidates in both parties focusing “on policies and regulations that are important to investing in broadband networks.”

“A contribution to an elected official does not mean our employee PACs support or agree with every position the official takes,” an AT&T spokesperson said.

Asked about their previous position to withhold funding from candidates who objected to the election results, the spokesperson said: “Our employee PAC suspended contributions to those lawmakers’ campaigns for more than a year.”

Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a nonprofit pro-democracy group based in Austin, said he understood that companies needed to make political donations to advocate for their business interests. But while many corporations have donated to candidates in both parties, Gutierrez warned of the dangers of propping up election deniers.

“I do wish they would realize that if we don’t have a functioning democracy, their interests are not going to matter as much,” Gutierrez said. “It’s going to be really hard for you to be fruitful and have successful companies if our democracy is just falling apart at the seams because the people in office are election deniers.”

Valero Energy said after the insurrection that it would halt its political contributions and had “no plans to resume them over the next few months.” This election cycle, Valero donated at least $37,500 to nine lawmakers who voted to object to the counting of some electors. Valero did not respond to a request for comment.

The National Association of Realtors also paused political contributions in January 2021 but decided to resume their donations a few months later. The organization donated at least $58,000 in the last three months to 14 lawmakers that voted against certifying the 2020 election.

The National Association of Realtors told the Tribune its success as an organization was driven by their support of issues and “not a single political party.”

“When power changes, as it always will, we have champions on both sides of the aisle,” an official from the organization said.

A number of other companies have also helped fund the U.S. House candidates in Texas who have denied the results of the 2020 election. FiveThirtyEight identified 21 Republican congressional candidates as the most egregious offenders of election denialism. These Republican candidates include 14 U.S. House incumbents who voted against certifying the election results and seven congressional candidates who have publicly questioned the result of the election. They have collectively raised a total of $9.4 million between June and October, according to federal campaign finance data.

Other corporations who supported those candidates include Toyota-affiliated PACs which contributed a total of at least $20,000 to eight of the candidates. ExxonMobil’s PAC also contributed a total of at least $13,500 to five candidates.

An ExxonMobil spokesperson said the company’s PAC was “non-partisan” and emphasized that the company congratulated President Joe Biden on his election in November 2020.

And 13 of the candidates were also boosted by nearly $80,000 from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the country’s largest pro-Israel lobby group.

The 21 candidates identified by FiveThirtyEight for their votes against certifying the election include Republican Reps. Troy Nehls of Richmond, August Pfluger of San Angelo, Michael Burgess of Lewisville, Pat Fallon of Sherman, Randy Weber of Friendswood, Brian Babin of Woodville, Sessions, Carter, Van Duyne, Arrington, Gooden, Cloud, Williams and Jackson. Rep. Mayra Flores of Los Indios, another Republican incumbent, was also included on the list. She won in a special election but was not yet serving on Jan. 6, 2021. It also includes Republican challengers like Monica De La Cruz, Carmen Montiel, Irene Armendariz-Jackson, Jenny Garcia Sharon, Keith Self and Morgan Luttrell, who have cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election in public statements and appearances.

Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL, said at a February debate that he would not have voted to certify the Pennsylvania and Arizona results of the 2020 election. De La Cruz, a Trump-backed candidate, suggested in 2020 when she lost her race, without evidence, that she and the former president were both victims of voter fraud.

Most of the candidates did not respond to requests for comments about this story.

But De La Cruz rebuffed the idea that she was an election denier, telling the Tribune that Biden was “duly elected as president of the United States.”

“I trust our Constitutional process, the voters of my community, and I am confident we will be victorious in November.”

Montiel, who is running in Texas’ 18th Congressional district and is not favored to win, doubled down on denying the results of the 2020 election in an interview with The Texas Tribune, latching onto a debunked theory that more people voted in 2020 than were registered.

Disclosure: AT&T, Common Cause, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Valero 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.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/10/26/att-valero-pacs-midterms/.

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

Ted Cruz warns DHS secretary he could be impeached over rise in migrant crossings

As GOP lawmakers continue to antagonize the Biden administration over its immigration policies, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, warned Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that his handling of the southern border could be “grounds for impeachment.”

Cruz, along with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, sent a letter to Mayorkas on Tuesday blasting him for “gross dereliction of duty” and citing record-high numbers of crossings at the southern border.

“These astronomically high numbers are due in no small part to the political decision to rescind a number of President Trump’s policies that were stemming the flow of illegal aliens and illicit drugs across the southern border,” Cruz and Graham’s letter said. “Withdrawing the Remain in Mexico policy, ending Title 42 expulsions, terminating border wall construction contracts, and countless other decisions, coupled with your own lax border policies, act as ‘pull’ factors that have encouraged millions of aliens to undertake the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.”

The letter is not the first time Cruz has sparred with Mayorkas, who has been a consistent target of conservative ire over immigration. He has repeatedly floated the idea of impeaching him on his podcast.

The Republican senators also said Mayorkas was responsible for the worsening of the opioid epidemic as DHS has “ceded control of our southern border to the cartels.”

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Texas has put forward $4 billion to fund Operation Lone Star, which Gov. Greg Abbott launched in March 2021 to ramp up security along the Texas-Mexico border. Abbott has made border security the centerpiece of his reelection campaign and has torched Biden administration officials for the increase in migrant crossings. But despite his efforts, the number of migrants that officials encounter at the southern border is higher today than it was before the start of Operation Lone Star program.

The tough posture toward the DHS secretary comes as Republicans prep for possible control over the House and Senate after the midterm elections. While any legislative wins are unlikely with President Joe Biden in the White House, one source of leverage Republicans could gain is control over congressional oversight.

Cruz previewed what his party would do with a majority in the Senate — which he described as 60% likely — in an appearance at The Texas Tribune Festival in September.

“You’ll have real oversight,” Cruz said in front of a crowd in Austin. “Senate Judiciary Committee — we haven’t had a single hearing on the chaos at the southern border. One of the first things that is likely to happen is I think the House will impeach Alejandro Mayorkas.”

While he admitted the Senate would never be able to convict Mayorkas, he said the value in the impeachment would be having “an extensive trial on his absolute dereliction of duty to put these facts before the American people.”

It was not the first time a Republican has put out the trial balloon for Mayorkas’ impeachment. More than a dozen GOP lawmakers have already lined up behind the idea of impeachment, according to CNN.

Watch: Ted Cruz argues with hecklers as he attempts to defend Texas gun laws

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz vehemently defended Texas’ gun laws at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday, engaging in a spirited debate with audience members about semi-automatic rifles, mass shootings and school security.

Cruz, in an onstage conversation with the Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker in Austin, blasted Democrats for their response to mass shootings, saying the party wants to take firearms away from law-abiding citizens.

At the conclusion of the interview, some attendees repeatedly booed and heckled Cruz as he answered an audience question seeking his ideas on how to limit or prevent mass shootings. Cruz, like many Republican officials, adamantly opposes a ban on semi-automatic rifles. He cited the example of Stephen Willeford, the man who grabbed a rifle and ran to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs when he heard about a shooting there, helping to end the violence that left 26 victims dead.

“The weapon that Stephen used to stop that was an AR-15,” Cruz said.

Audience members accused him of not answering the question about how he would end mass shootings and frequently shouted over him as he discussed some of the eight mass shootings that have happened in Texas in the past 13 years.

But as crowd members shouted to the stage, the two-term senator pleaded for audience members to address the issue civilly, saying they could have a “rational discussion about what policy steps would actually work to stop them.”

“If the objective is to stop these crimes, gun control is singularly ineffective,” Cruz said. “When you disarm law-abiding citizens … [they] give up their weapons. The criminals don’t.”

When spectators applauded his allusion to Democrats’ gun control efforts, Cruz brushed the idea off, saying, “You can clap for that, except for the minor problem that it doesn’t work.”

The conversation happened about a three-hour drive from Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in May by an 18-year-old with an AR-15. In the aftermath of the shooting, many Uvalde community members and relatives of victims have called for raising the age at which Texans can purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21. Cruz notably focused his proposed fixes on school security, calling for armed officers in schools to keep children safe and for limiting the entrance to schools to one door.

Those proposals have received pushback from people who say they would be logistically and financially prohibitive and who note that there were scores of armed officers on the scene in Uvalde within minutes of the shooting. Proponents of some gun restrictions say measures like safe storage laws, enhanced background checks and red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily take guns away from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others, would be more successful in reducing gun violence.

In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, Cruz has pushed legislation that would provide funding to double the number of school resource officers and significantly increase mental health support at schools.

Cruz said people generally have misunderstandings of what constitutes an assault-style rifle and that politicians take advantage of that.

As he spoke, an audience member yelled out, “Violence doesn’t solve violence.”

“It actually is the only thing that does,” Cruz said. “Violence doesn’t solve violence? That is actually why the left wants to abolish police and why you see murder rates skyrocketing.”