Texas has seen nearly 9,000 COVID-19 deaths since February -- all but 43 were unvaccinated people

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Of the 8,787 people who have died in Texas due to COVID-19 since early February, at least 43 were fully vaccinated, the Texas Department of State Health Services said.

That means 99.5% of people who died due to COVID-19 in Texas from Feb. 8 to July 14 were unvaccinated, while 0.5% were the result of "breakthrough infections," which DSHS defines as people who contracted the virus two weeks after being fully vaccinated.

The agency said nearly 75% of the 43 vaccinated people who died were fighting a serious underlying condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer or chronic lung disease.

Additionally, it said 95% of the 43 vaccinated people who died were 60 or older, and that a majority of them were white and a majority were men.

DSHS noted that these are preliminary numbers, which could change because each case must be confirmed through public health investigations. Statewide, more than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19 since March 2020, but the rate of deaths has slowed dramatically since vaccines became widely available in April.

Dr. David Lakey, the chief medical officer of the University of Texas System, said people succumbing to the coronavirus despite being vaccinated was "not unexpected."

"No vaccine is 100%," said Lakey, who is also a member of the Texas Medical Association's COVID-19 task force. "And we've known for a long while that the vaccines aren't 100%, but they're really really good at preventing severe disease and hospitalizations. … There will always be some individuals that will succumb to the illness in the absence of full herd immunity."

He added that 0.5% is "a very low number of individuals in a state of 30 million. … In the grand perspective of everything, that's not a large number that would call into question at all the use of this vaccine."

COVID-19 cases have been surging in Texas and nationally — mostly among unvaccinated people — as the highly contagious delta variant has become dominant. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective against symptomatic cases of the delta variant and 96% effective against hospitalizations, according to Yale Medicine. Researchers are still studying the efficacy of the Moderna vaccine against the delta variant but believe it may work similarly to Pfizer.

As of Monday, 42.8% of Texans have been fully vaccinated; the state continues to lag behind the national vaccination rate of 48.8%, according to the Mayo Clinic.

DSHS doesn't track the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations among vaccinated people statewide because hospitals are not required to report that information to the state. Travis County's health authority, Dr. Desmar Walkes, told county commissioners and Austin City Council members in a Tuesday meeting that almost all new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the area have been among unvaccinated people.

"It's not surprising that we have [increasing COVID-19] cases," Lakey said. "This delta variant spreads very rapidly among individuals, and there's only some of these individuals who have been vaccinated, and a small number of those will have severe disease. But the vast majority of the people that have severe disease will be the unvaccinated individuals.

Disclosure: The Texas Medical Association and the University of Texas System 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.

Can Greg Abbott actually build Trump's border wall?

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In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act that led to the construction of 654 miles of fencing over nine years along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Donald Trump was even more ambitious, promising in campaign speeches that Mexico would pay for a wall along the 2,000-mile border.

Ultimately, Trump's administration erected about 80 miles of new barrier before he left office, including 21 at the Texas-Mexico border, paid for by the U.S. government. Now, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Trump supporter who has raised his rhetoric on immigration in recent years, has taken on the tall order of building a wall along the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border.

Currently, there are 111 miles of completed barrier at the Texas-Mexico border. Because border barriers are typically built some distance from the Rio Grande, which has numerous bends and curves, it's unclear how many miles of barrier would be required to cover the entire border.

Abbott has not detailed how many miles of barrier the state plans to build — or exactly where. But to make that promise a reality, the governor's first big hurdle is money. The state has set aside at least $250 million for the effort, Abbott said, and then solicited donations from the public. As of July 14, people have donated $829,000.

That would fund between 7 and 62 miles of barrier, based on the per-mile costs of the contracts initiated by the Trump administration, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. The contracts, which were put on hold by the Biden administration, ranged from $4 million to $34 million per mile for wall construction.

In 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott set aside $250 million in state funds, moved from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as a down payment and raised another $829,000 from private donors to continue the wall in Texas.

Beyond the funding challenge, Abbott should expect yearslong legal challenges and opposition from private land owners, environmentalists and border residents that could delay or derail his plan for a wall, experts, lawyers and advocates say.

But the biggest hurdle he will face is the federal government, which is unlikely to give any federal land — or the private land the Trump administration seized — to Texas for wall construction. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order calling the border wall a "waste of money" and saying that it was "not a serious policy solution." His order also halted 173 miles of border construction previously approved by the Trump administration.

"I do think Governor Abbott is serious in his intention to build a border wall. I don't think that they have taken the steps necessary to address the actual complexities involved," said David Donatti, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

For example, he added that a wall near the Rio Grande could aggravate flooding in border communities.

"I certainly don't think that they've really thought through the destructive implications of what they're proposing, or the full extent of the consequences of constructing a border wall," he said.

Unlike the border in California, Arizona or New Mexico, which largely is federal, or in some cases tribal, land, much of the Texas-Mexico border is privately owned, with some owners holding title to their property since the 1760s. Texas does own some land, such as state parks and wildlife preserves.

Both the Bush and Trump administrations faced legal and logistical challenges with building a border barrier in Texas.

According to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report, the Trump administration faced delays of 21 to 30 months to take over privately-owned land in South Texas. The report said comparable land acquisitions in other parts of the country took a year.

If Texas seeks to build on private land, "it's going to be a slow and painful process," said César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an immigration attorney and law professor at Ohio State University.

Another hurdle Abbott will most likely face is federal regulations aimed at protecting the environment, water quality and historic sites. The Trump administration waived many of those rules to speed up the wall construction, despite pushback from environmentalists.

The Biden administration isn't likely to ignore those laws for Abbott's wall project, said Scott Nicol, a McAllen-based environmental activist and author of a 2018 ACLU report analyzing the impacts of a border wall.

"Those are laws that protect Native American graves, there are laws that are meant to protect family farms," Nicol said. "Abbott's going to have to comply with all those laws. Trump didn't. That right there is going to cause [Abbott] big headaches."

Abbott's office did not respond to emailed questions about how the state plans to overcome the obstacles of building a wall.

"The problems along the border are only getting worse due to President Biden's inaction," Abbott said during a June press conference announcing the state-funded wall. "Property is being destroyed, deadly drugs and illegal weapons are being smuggled into communities throughout the state, law enforcement is having to redirect their resources and county judges and mayors are facing skyrocketing expenses."

Abbott had declared a disaster along some border counties, which could allow him to waive some state and local regulations. But "it would not extend to federal law, because federal law is supreme to the laws of the state of Texas," Donatti said.

Ronald Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said logistically it's possible for Texas to build a wall along some border lands, but it would come at the cost of destroying "some of the most pristine and fragile habitats that we have in the United States."

Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent, said that barriers or walls make it harder for migrants to cross the border, forcing them to seek help from smugglers connected to drug cartels whose job is to find ways around those barriers.

"Our deterrence policies, our fencing, our walls, just make it a little bit harder to cross, but it doesn't stop it," she said. "And more than anything, it funnels migrants into places where [cartels] have more control."

Texas House Democrats preparing to flee the state in move that could block voting restrictions bill

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Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives plan to leave the state and fly to Washington, D.C., on Monday afternoon, according to sources with knowledge of the plan, in a bid to again deny Republicans the quorum needed to pass new voting restrictions with 27 days left in a special legislative session called largely for that purpose.

Upping the ante in both the legislative fight at home and the national debate over voting rights, most House Democrats are expected to board a flight out of Austin headed for the U.S. capital without a set return date. They'll need at least 51 of the 67 Democratic representatives to flee for their plan to work. The House is set to reconvene Tuesday morning, but the absent Democrats could mean there will not be enough members present to conduct business under House rules.

With the national political spotlight on Texas' efforts to further restrict voting, the Democratic exodus offers them a platform to continue pleading with Congress to act on restoring federal protections for voters of color. In Texas, the decamping will mark a more aggressive stance by Democrats to block Republican legislation further tightening the state's voting rules as the GOP works against thinning statewide margins of victory.

Ultimately, Democrats lack the votes to keep the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing new voting restrictions, along with the other conservative priorities on Gov. Greg Abbott's 11-item agenda for the special session.

Some Democrats hope their absence will give them leverage to force good-faith negotiations with Republicans, who they say have largely shut them out of negotiations over the voting bill. Both chambers advanced their legislation out of committees on party-line votes after overnight hearings, passing out the bills early Sunday morning after hearing hours of testimony mostly against the proposals and just a few days after making their revived proposals public. They are expected to bring the bills to the House and Senate floors for votes this week.

Even if Democratic lawmakers stay out of state for the next few weeks, the governor could continue to call 30-day sessions or add voting restrictions to the agenda when the Legislature takes on the redrawing of the state's political maps later this summer.

Monday's mass departure follows a Democratic walkout in May that kept Republicans from passing their priority voting bill at the end of the regular legislative session. For weeks, Democrats had indicated that skipping town during the special session remained an option as Republicans prepared for a second attempt at tightening the state's voting laws.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, whose office did not immediately respond for a request for comment Monday, has signaled he may take a harder line against his Democratic colleagues than he did when members walked out in May."My Democratic colleagues have been quoted saying all options are on the table," Phelan told KXAN-TV in an interview that aired the day before the special session began. "Respectfully, all options are on the table for myself as well."According to House rules adopted at the beginning of the regular session, two-thirds of the 150-member chamber must be present to conduct business. When the House is in session, legislators can vote to lock chamber doors to prevent colleagues from leaving and can order law enforcement to track down lawmakers who have already fled.If a quorum is not present when the House convenes Tuesday, any House member can move to make what's known as a call of the House to "to secure and maintain a quorum" to consider a certain piece of legislation, resolution or motion, under chamber rules. That motion must be seconded by 15 members and ordered by a majority vote. If that happens, the missing Democrats will become legislative fugitives.

"All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained," the House rules state. "The house shall determine on what conditions they shall be discharged."

It's unclear, though, what options Phelan may have to compel Democrats to return to the Legislature if they're out of state.

The House voting bill as passed by committee over the weekend would rein in local voting initiatives like drive-thru and 24-hour voting, further tighten the rules for voting by mail, bolster access for partisan poll watchers and ban local election officials from proactively sending out applications to request mail-in ballots.

The Democrats' departure also calls into question other items included on Abbott's special session agenda, including legislation to provide funding for the Legislature. Last month, Abbott vetoed a section of the state budget that funds the Legislature for the two-year budget cycle that starts Sept. 1. He did so in retribution for Democrats' walkout in May. If the Legislature does not pass a supplemental budget before the new cycle begins, more than 2,100 legislative staffers and individuals working at legislative agencies could be impacted.

Texas Republicans take credit for killing book event on the Alamo and slavery


A promotional event for a book that examines the role slavery played leading up to the Battle of the Alamo that was scheduled at the Bullock Texas State History Museum on Thursday evening was abruptly canceled three and a half hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Authors of the book titled "Forget the Alamo," and the publisher Penguin Random House say the cancellation of the event, which had 300 RSVPs, amounts to censorship from Republican elected leaders, and an overreaction to the book's examination of racism in Texas history.

"The Bullock was receiving increased pressure on social media about hosting the event, as well as to the museum's board of directors (Gov Abbott being one of them) and decided to pull out as a co-host all together," Penguin Random House said in a statement.

Gov. Greg Abbott and the museum have not responded to the Tribune's requests for comment. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confirmed he called for the event to be canceled. Abbott, Patrick and other GOP leaders are board members of the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Bullock museum.

"As a member of the Preservation Board, I told staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out about it," he wrote on Twitter. "This fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place @BullockMuseum."

Chris Tomlinson, one of the book's three authors, shot back on Twitter.

"Gov, Dan Patrick takes credit for oppressing free speech and policing thought in Texas," he wrote. "@BullockMuseum proves it is a propaganda outlet. As for his fact-free comment, well, a dozen people professional historians disagree."

The cancellation comes amid a statewide and national firestorm surrounding "critical race theory" and how citizens should understand, teach and learn how racism has shaped American history. Abbott and other GOP state officials have pushed back against emphasizing the role of race in schools.

At issue is the book's challenge of traditional historical tenets surrounding the Battle for the Alamo, Texas' independence from Mexico and its origins related to preserving slavery.

"Just as the site of the Alamo was left in ruins for decades, its story was forgotten and twisted over time, with the contributions of Tejanos–Texans of Mexican origin, who fought alongside the Anglo rebels–scrubbed from the record, and the origin of the conflict over Mexico's push to abolish slavery papered over," reads a description of the book by its publisher. "As uncomfortable as it may be to hear for some, celebrating the Alamo has long had an echo of celebrating whiteness."

The book, written by Bryan Burrough, Jason Stanford and Tomlinson, also raises questions about the wisdom of the military strategy of the Texans continuing with the early 1836 siege, and the backgrounds of the leaders of the Alamo — James Bowie and William B. Travis — while examining the building's place in politics and history after Texas Independence.

"If the state history museum isn't the right place to talk about state history, then I don't know what to do," Stanford said in an interview.

The book received mostly positive reviews, including from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, with a consensus that it builds on widely accepted academic research.

Last month, lawmakers passed a bill which restricts how teachers can discuss current events in the classroom and limits how they can discuss the role of race in America's history and present.

Abbott said later that "more must be done" to "abolish critical race theory in Texas," and said he would ask the Legislature to address the issue further during the special legislative session beginning July 8.

Lawmakers also created the 1836 project, establishing an advisory committee meant to promote a "patriotic education" to the state's residents. Lawmakers positioned the project in opposition to efforts like the New York Times' 1619 project, which examines the role of slavery in US history, and instead promised to affirm the state's exceptionalism.

Stanford called the cancellation "the first test case of the 1836 project" and what the state means by a "patriotic education."

"They're insisting so vehemently on a version of the past that never existed," he said.

He said that conservative critics of the book accuse it of unfairly "trying to put slavery at the center of everything," when the goal is to recognize the truth of what has happened in the past—including slavery, the cause that "no one ever wants to talk about."

"There's no reason conservatives can't accept the past with open arms and say, that's where we started, here's where we're going," he said. "There's no reason they can't tell the story of Texas as a redemption story, and that we're still an imperfect union ever becoming more perfect."

Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said he has doubts about several claims the authors make. The Texas General Land Office that he once ran has jurisdiction over the Alamo site in San Antonio.

But instead of supporting the event's cancelation, Patterson said he was looking forward to the authors facing tough questions about their sourcing and accuracy.

"It would have been better if they had been asked hard, specific questions and been forced to answer them. And in that case, they should have been allowed to be at the Bullock," Patterson said.

Gov. Greg Abbott says more apprehensions, drug seizures justify a border wall. Advocates say he's misrepresenting the numbers.

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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced in May that his office will build a wall at the Texas-Mexico border — and again on Wednesday when he visited the border with former President Donald Trump — he said a rising number of apprehensions by Border Patrol agents and seizures of the drug fentanyl made building a state-funded border wall necessary.

In May, Abbott said that in the first four months of this year, the Texas Department of Public Safety saw a significant increase in fentanyl seizures compared with 2020. After having no fentanyl seizures in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Abbott said, DPS seized 52 grams in 2020. So far this year, troopers have already seized 137 grams, he said.

In a disaster declaration in June, the governor said, "President Biden's open-border policies have paved the way for dangerous gangs and cartels, human traffickers, and deadly drugs like fentanyl to pour into our communities."

But immigration and drug treatment experts say the governor and the former president have oversimplified and mischaracterized the numbers on apprehensions and fentanyl seizures.

"The idea that the border was somehow quiet before President Biden took office is completely false," said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an analyst with the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates for immigrants.

Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.

Reichlin-Melnick said that apprehensions of migrants and fentanyl seizures also spiked during the Trump administration. During Trump's administration, migrant apprehensions rose to 150,000 at the border in one month in 2019. The highest total so far under the Biden administration was last month, with 180,000 apprehensions

He added that increased apprehensions of both migrants and drugs is a sign that the border is more secure now than 20 years ago, when there were fewer border agents and less sophisticated technology protecting the border.

"Ironically, that's a point that someone who is pro-border wall does not like to talk about," he said. "If you want the border to be more secure, you want the Border Patrol to apprehend more people coming across the border."

Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said that currently the immigration debate centers on overall apprehension numbers and doesn't take into account two other important measures: many migrants are apprehended repeatedly, which means that the number of apprehensions doesn't reflect the true number of individuals attempting to cross the border.

"There is a higher level of migration activity at the border that we haven't seen in 20 years," she said. "But at the same time, we are also seeing an increase in repeat crossers, and the apprehension number does not account for unique individuals."

Many recent apprehensions have been repeat crossers who were expelled from the U.S. side of the border under Title 42, which allows immigration agents to send migrants back to the Mexican side rather than arrest them.

Reichnlin-Lemnick said that in fiscal 2019, of unique individuals who crossed the border, 6.7% were repeat crossers. In fiscal 2020, that number went up to 26%. And in fiscal 2021, so far, 40% of apprehended migrants have crossed the border at least twice.

Bolter said building a wall will not stop illegal immigration, but will instead force migrants to attempt crossing in more remote — and often more dangerous — areas.

Biden's softer tone on immigration — and his overturning of most of Trump's hard-line immigration policies — may have encouraged some people to try to enter the U.S. illegally, Bolter said. But the biggest motivator is dire situations in Central America, such as gang violence, government corruption, climate change that has deteriorated crops in many areas and the pandemic's effect on their countries' economies, she said.

"Based on the history of border walls, what we've learned is that walls don't stop illegal immigration, it just tends to be diverted to other areas," she said.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment, fentanyl seizures have been increasing along the southwest border since at least the 2016 fiscal year. Between 2018 and 2019, when Trump was president, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 62% increase in fentanyl seizures along the southwest border — from 745 kilograms to 1,208 kilograms.

Daniel Ciccarone, a professor of family community medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, said that fentanyl is mostly seized at ports of entry and in some cases through the U.S. Postal Service.

"So the wall is useless," he said, adding that the U.S. "spends a lot of money trying to stop the flow of drugs" and while "it's not a complete waste of money, it doesn't work as well as we'd like to."

Texas voters split over Gov. Greg Abbott’s job performance, but he remains popular among Republicans, UT/TT Poll finds

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Texas voters are split over whether they approve of Gov. Greg Abbott's job performance, though he remains popular with Republicans and more popular among Texans than President Joe Biden, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The June 2021 poll shows that 44% of Texans approve of Abbott's job as governor, while 44% disapprove. That leaves him with an overall approval rating from Texas voters that's better than those of Biden, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and House Speaker Dade Phelan. Abbott enjoys the approval of 77% of his own party's voters, with 43% of Republicans saying they "strongly approve" of his performance.

Democratic disapproval for Abbott remains potent. Eighty-two percent of Democrats disapprove of Abbott, with 75% of those Democrats saying they "strongly disapprove" of his performance.

"What we're seeing now is that Democrats are registering as much disapproval with him as they are with really any kind of national Republican figure," said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project.

Abbott earned higher marks among Texas voters regarding his COVID-19 response at the start of the pandemic, Blank pointed out. In April 2020, 56% of Texans approved of Abbott's response to the pandemic, but that slipped to 44% in the latest June poll.

"One of the things that benefited Greg Abbott was Donald Trump," Blank said. "So Donald Trump's inability to appear to be seriously dealing with the pandemic made Abbott's attempts early on — even if they were criticized — much much more serious-looking, both to Republicans and Democrats, and I think that's why his numbers were so high."

As the pandemic drew on, Democratic disapproval of Abbott increased steadily. In the last poll, 81% of Democrats disapproved of Abbott's COVID-19 response, with 67% saying they strongly disagree. Meanwhile, 74% of Republicans approve and 45% strongly approve.

When it comes to immigration and border security — a hot topic which spurred Abbott announce his own border wall earlier this month — 46% of voters approve of his job and 37% disapprove. Approval ratings once again remain consistent with party lines, as 73% of Democrats disapprove of the job he's doing on immigration and border security. Among Republicans, 78% approve and only 9% disapprove.

President Joe Biden

Biden's ratings have remained steady among both Democrats and Republicans since the February UT/TT Poll. His overall job approval with Texan voters is at 43% who approve and 47% who disapprove. When filtered by partisanship, 88% of Democrats approve of the job he's doing, including 53% who strongly approve. As for Republicans, 84% disapprove of the job he's doing with 77% strongly disapproving.

Texans see Biden's COVID-19 response as a strength, while border security remains a weak point.

Overall, 49% of Texas voters approved of the president's COVID-19 response, while 36% disapprove. Of those, 91% of Democrats approve, while 64% of Republicans disapprove.

"Fourteen percent of Republicans still approve of the job he's doing on COVID because it's one of his strong places," Blank added.

As for immigration and border security, only 27% of Texas voters approve of the job Biden is doing, while 57% disapprove. Republican disapproval runs especially high, with 89% saying they disapprove, including 82% who strongly disapprove. For Democrats, 56% approve of the president's job at the border but their support is more tepid, as only 21% strongly approve, 35% somewhat approve and nearly one in five disapprove.

"I think in all cases, this is the power of negative partisanship and the influence that our negative attitudes towards the other party have on us," Blank said.

Sixty-two percent of independent voters disapprove of Biden when it comes to immigration and border security, while 14% approve.

Cruz and Cornyn

Cruz enjoys a 79% approval rating among Texas Republicans. Meanwhile, Cornyn, his senior counterpart, has a 60% approval rating within the party. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans strongly approved of Cruz's performance, but only 24% said the same for Cornyn.

"Cornyn's roots are in a very different Republican Party and if anything, Cornyn has had to adjust to a political party that evolved in a way that is much closer to the image and orientation of Ted Cruz than it was to the John Cornyn that first ran for office more than two decades ago," said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project.

Among Texas voters, 41% disapprove of Cornyn, including 74% of Democrats. As for Cruz, he has 43% approval and 46% disapproval among Texan voters. Eighty-six percent of Democrats disapprove of the job he's doing.

Texans voters, especially Democrats, disapprove of the U.S. Congress as a whole.

Other state leaders

Paxton had the lowest approval rating of statewide elected leaders polled with 33% of Texan voters approve while 36% disapprove. Fifty eight percent of Republicans approve of the job he's doing, while 66% of Democrats disapprove and 59% strongly disapprove.

Patrick had a 36% total approval rating, and a 37% disapproval rating.

Blank pointed out that many state officials remain unknown in the eyes of Texan voters, but that is "becoming less and less the case."

"I think it's notable that over half of Democrats now register a negative opinion in fact a strongly negative opinion of him," Blank said of Paxton

Phelan, R-Beaumont, isn't elected statewide and still remains a low-profile figure among Texans; 20% of Texas voters approve of the job he's doing, while 27% disapprove. There has been an uptick in Democratic disapproval of the speaker over the course of 2021, due to the infighting and turmoil that shaped the most recent legislative session, Blank said.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 10-21 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin 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.

Gov. Greg Abbott is using a disaster declaration to help fund a border wall. Democrats say it’s an overreach of executive powers.

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Over the past year, Gov. Greg Abbott has issued disaster declarations across the state for a number of tragedies: the coronavirus pandemic that killed more than 50,000 Texans, a winter storm that left millions of people in freezing temperatures without power for days, hurricanes and floods that wiped out homes and local infrastructure.

The disaster declarations give the governor broad power to suspend state laws and regulations that hinder a jurisdiction's recovery from a disaster and to allow the use of available resources to respond to the disaster.

Then, on May 31, the two-term Republican governor who is seeking reelection next year took the unprecedented step of declaring a disaster for 34 counties based on an increase of illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border. The declaration allowed Abbott to request the reallocation of $250 million of legislatively appropriated funds toward a border wall construction project pushed by his office.

"It's extraordinarily unusual," said Jon Taylor, professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio. "Traditionally, it's used for natural disasters," he added, though state law does allow for its use for some man-made disasters.

Abbott's move raises questions about the executive branch's emergency powers, rekindling concerns raised during the early days of COVID-19 last year when Abbott used his broad emergency powers to enact restrictions shutting down businesses to curb the pandemic. In response, the Legislature tried without success to rein in Abbott's authority this session.

But now, critics are questioning whether an increase in illegal immigration constitutes a disaster that merits emergency action by the governor.

State Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, said Abbott's use of a disaster declaration to reallocate legislatively appropriated funds to a project from his office stretches the concept of emergency authority "to its breaking point."

"A governor should not be able to circumvent the legislative process by declaring such matters to be emergencies and then implementing whatever measures he wishes," Turner said in a statement. "If a governor can commence such a long-term, multi-hundred-million-dollar public works project under the cover of emergency powers, it is difficult to know what the limits of those powers are."

"I hope the Legislature will reassert its authority and resist this ill-considered action by the Governor," he added.

Under the Texas government code, governors are allowed to declare disasters for an "occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, loss of life or property resulting from any natural or man-made cause." The code gives the executive branch broad authority that covers natural disasters, like fires, hurricanes,and storms, as well as man-made catastrophes like riots, hostile military action and cybersecurity events.

Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Abbott, said the governor is acting together with leaders in both chambers of the Legislature, who signed off on his request to transfer legislative funds for the border wall last week. She said the action was warranted because of a 20-year record high of migrant crossings at the border.

"This is not a red or blue issue—this is a public safety issue," she said. "President Biden's reckless open border policies have led to a crisis along our southern border… Until the Biden Administration starts doing their job, Texas is stepping up to secure our southern border and protect Texans."

In a news conference last week, Abbott acknowledged that his move stepped outside of the historical precedent for disaster declarations.

"I am unaware of a governor ever declaring a disaster at county requests because of the tidal wave of illegal immigrants coming across the border, wrecking havoc in communities and residents who live here in Texas," he said.

Abbott said the flow of illegal immigration through the state had cost Texas billions of dollars and thousands of hours of staff resources while hurting border residents whose properties were damaged and lives were threatened. Eze said this week that the Department of Public Safety has also seized 95 pounds of fentanyl smuggled across the border this year, which puts other areas of the state at risk.

In 2019, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the border as he sought to fulfill a campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump similarly said the emergency declaration was needed to stop illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking and gang violence.

Trump also faced backlash over executive overreach but his emergency order stayed in place until February when the Biden administration formally ended it.

Alberto Gonzales, a former U.S. Attorney General and Texas Supreme Court justice, said he generally supports having statutory authority within the governor's office to respond to almost any kind of crisis because it's hard to anticipate all the emergencies that might arise. Gonzales said he was speaking broadly because he did not have first-hand knowledge of the issues surrounding Abbott's declaration.

Gonzales, now dean of the Belmont University College of Law, said his experience as White House counsel for President George W. Bush during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have shaped his views of executive authority.

"Only the executive can respond quickly and decisively," in unexpected emergencies, he said.

In exchange for allowing strong emergency powers, lawmakers should demand strict accountability once the disaster has passed, including complete disclosure of the actions taken by the executive branch and an accounting of how state funds were used, Gonzales said.

Abbott critics could still argue that an increase of illegal immigration does not meet the standards for a disaster declaration and gives the governor power he would not have under normal circumstances, Taylor said.

The disaster declaration allows the state to transfer money already appropriated in the budget to respond to the disaster. In this case, the state will transfer $250 million appropriated by lawmakers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to Abbott's border wall initiative. State officials have said they will identify funding to replace that money in the agency's budget.

Lawmakers who oppose the wall could argue that their authority over the state's purse strings is being side-stepped by the governor for his own initiative.

"It's absolutely an encroachment," Taylor said. "That gives a lot more authority than what I think people interpreted under the Texas constitution. This has been a problem for legislature-gubernatorial relations since at least Ann Richards but definitely since [Rick] Perry. There's been a decided push to expand gubernatorial power whenever possible."

Last year, Democrats and Republicans complained that Abbott had overstepped his authority through his orders to curb COVID-19. Democrats criticized the governor for not deferring to local officials, who they argued were better positioned to make decisions for their communities. And Republicans blasted Abbott's orders to shut down businesses and require masks.

The Legislature debated curbing the governor's emergency powers during this year's regular session, but the Senate and House had different approaches to the issue and were unable to reach a compromise before lawmakers returned home.

The Senate rallied around two proposals by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, that would have applied to all declared disasters. The legislation, which would have needed a sign off from Texas voters before it could take effect, would have required the governor to call a special session to declare a state emergency that lasts longer than 30 days. The special session would give lawmakers the chance to terminate or adjust executive actions taken by the governor, or pass new laws related to the disaster or emergency.

In the House, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, spearheaded House Bill 3, a sweeping piece of legislation that would have curbed emergency powers only during a pandemic as opposed to all disasters, which include hurricanes and tornadoes. Neither Burrows' nor Birdwell's offices responded to requests for comment.

But neither of the Republican-dominated chambers seems opposed to Abbott's use of a disaster declaration to tackle illegal immigration.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan flanked Abbott at a news conference on the subject last week, and the respective chamber's chief budget writers Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, signed off on the transfer of budgeted funds for Abbott's "down payment" for the border wall.

Phelan, a Beaumont Republican in his first term as speaker, said earlier this month that lawmakers will debate curbing the governor's emergency powers again "at some point" but deferred to Abbott on whether it will be included in a special session agenda. Phelan has said he sees no need for lawmakers to convene during natural disasters.

"Can you imagine trying to have a special session in an off-year, everyone coming up to Austin when they need to be back home taking care of their constituents?" Phelan said during an interview with the Tribune after the regular legislative session.

State Rep. Chris Turner, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said Abbott's focus on immigration at the border is all about "politics."

"I think the governor should have emergency powers in certain circumstances because emergencies do arise," Turner said. But, he added, "the fact that Trump is going to tour the border with him next week is proof that this is more about Republican primary politics than it is serious policy."

Abbott has dismissed those criticisms as "nonsense."

Taylor said as long as the legislative and executive branches are dominated by the same party and agree on the issue being tackled by a disaster declaration, there is no incentive for lawmakers to try to rein in the governor's power. Under those circumstances, Abbott may keep testing the limits of his office.

"It's the idea of, he saw an opening, he took the opening," Taylor said. "It suggests to me that he's thinking 'Stop me until I spend again.'"

But even if lawmakers do not push back on Abbott's emergency power, Gonzales said valid questions remain. The governor's opponents could argue in federal court that the state is usurping the federal government's responsibility over immigration enforcement and preempt Abbott's actions.

They could also challenge what constitutes a disaster.

"If something is anticipated can you really call it an emergency?" Gonzales said. "Is there time for the Legislature to take action? Is there time for the executive to sit down with the Legislature and say 'This is the problem, here's the action I'd like you to take?'"

Disclosure: The University of Texas at San Antonio 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.

What is critical race theory? Explaining the discipline that Texas' governor wants to "abolish"

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Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill last week that restricts how current events and America's history of racism can be taught in Texas schools. It's been commonly referred to as the "critical race theory" bill, though the term "critical race theory" never appears in it.

But in signing the bill, Abbott said that "more must be done" to "abolish critical race theory in Texas" and announced that he would ask the Legislature to address the issue during a special session this summer.

Meanwhile, the debate has taken hold across the nation. Last year, conservative activist Christopher Rufo began using the term "critical race theory" publically to denounce anti-racist education efforts. Since then, conservative lawmakers, commentators and parents have raised alarm that critical race theory is being used to teach children that they are racist, and that the U.S. is a racist country with irredeemable roots. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and others have called the theory racist itself for centering the nation's story on racial conflict. In addition, conservative commentator Gerard Baker has argued that critical race theory bans critical thought in favor of what resembles religious instruction.

Those who study the discipline say that the attacks have nothing to do with critical race theory, but instead are targeting any teachings that challenge and complicate dominant narratives about the country's history and identity.

They say that critical race theory itself actually shifts emphasis away from accusing individuals — in history or in the classroom — of being racist, which tends to dominate liberal discussions of racism. Instead, it offers tools for shifting public policy to create equity and freedom for all.

So what is critical race theory, and why is it relevant to Texans? And why is there an effort against it in Texas — and around the nation?

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theory is a discipline, analytical tool and approach that emerged in the 1970s and '80s. Scholars took up the ways racial inequity persisted even after "a whole set of landmark civil rights laws and anti-discrimination laws passed" during the civil right movement, Daniel HoSang, professor of ethnicity, race and migration and American studies at Yale University, said.

"These scholars and writers are asking, why is it that racial inequality endures and persists, even decades after these laws have passed?" HoSang said. "Why is racism still enduring? And how do we contribute to abolishing it?"

HoSang described critical race theory not as "content," or a "set of beliefs," but rather an approach that "encourage[s] us to move past the superficial explanations that are given about equality, and suffering, and to ask for new kinds of explanations."

In the introduction of Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, a seminal collection of the foundational essays of the movement edited by principal founders and scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Neil Gotanda, the editors write that critical race theory is about transforming social structures to create freedom for all, and it's grounded in an "ethical commitment to human liberation."

Key concepts

Racial formation: One key concept in critical race theory is racial formation. Developed by sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant, the theory rejects the idea that race — Black, white, Asian — is a fixed category that has always meant the same thing. Instead, it traces the way that race has been defined, understood and constructed in different ways throughout history. Omi and Winant define race as an "unstable and 'decentered' complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle."

For example, they write that in the U.S., the racial category of "Black" was created as slavery was established and evolved. Africans whose specific identity was Ibo, Yoruba, or Fulani in Africa were grouped into the category "Black" as they were enslaved in America. Part of the meaning of being "Black" in America was being less than human and therefore enslavable. James Baldwin wrote in "On Being White and Other Lies" that Europeans who moved to America became "white" through a process of "denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation."

Omi and Winant describe racial formation as the "process by which social, economic and political forces determine the content and importance of racial categories, and by which they are in turn shaped by racial meanings" — a process that has continued throughout history.

Monica Martinez, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in Latinx history, described how one way racial formation has played out in Texas is in the racialization of Mexicans and the history of anti-Mexican violence.

"Before this region became Texas, there were debates about the character of Mexicans as a group of people," she said. Figures like Stephen F. Austin and John Calhoun cast them as "treacherous people, thieves and murderers."

From 1910 to 1920, she explained, hundreds of ethnic Mexicans were victims of lynchings, as well as violence at the hands of police and the Texas Rangers. Many of them were American citizens, and they included labor organizers and journalists who were writing about race and injustice. This amounted to an effort to "remove Mexicans from having economic or political or cultural influence," she said.

"Oppression was enacted through violence, and it was sanctioned by governors, Texas legislators and local courts," she said.

Oppression was furthered by "Juan Crow" segregation laws that racially segregated communities, relegated Mexican American children to poorly developed schools, and intimidated Mexicans from voting. This system of laws and policies had lasting effects on Mexican Americans and how they're conceived of today.

Rhetoric has played a role in racial formation as well, continually loading the term "Mexican" with racial meaning.

"100 years ago, people talked about Mexicans as bandits, as thieves, and as a threat," she said. "Today, they talk about them as potential cartel members and gang members."

This language contributes to racial profiling and violence today. "In communities in south Texas, anybody who looks 'Mexican,' or looks like an 'immigrant,' can be targeted—not just with policing, but also by [general] hostility," she said.

Racism is structural: The mainstream understanding is that racism is an individual prejudice and choice. The default is to be free of bias and racism, so racism is an exception from the norm. It can be addressed by individual measures, such as humiliating and punishing the person who messes up, and enforcing moral codes on an individual level.

On the other hand, critical race theory says that racism is inherent in our institutions and structures of governance. It's ordinary, and it's baked into all our consciousnesses in complex ways through our education, government, the media, and our participation in systems. Racism must be addressed not just by punishing individuals, but by shifting structures and policies.

HoSang, the Yale professor, explained that critical race theory isn't focused on "the stock characters of a racist," such as Bull Connor, who directed police to use fire hoses on civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. HoSang said that a focus on denouncing individuals is "not a good use of our energy." Instead, he said, the question is, "Even in places where civil rights and anti-discrimination laws passed, why do these forms of inequality persist?"

"So [critical race theory] actually says, no, we shouldn't be preoccupied with trying to discern 'who is the racist here,' because that moves the attention away from the structures," he said.

One example of this is in housing segregation — how "many, many complex layers" of "policies around zoning, lending and redlining, around private realtors and developers" have reproduced unequal access to housing, which in turn furthers gaps in generational wealth and stability, HoSang said.

In his article for the Austin American-Statesman, Dan Zehr traces how this process has played out in Austin, which has one of the highest levels of income segregation in the nation. In 1928, city plans created a "negro district" east of Interstate 35 and denied public services and utilities to Black people outside of it, pushing Black residents to the eastern part of the city. When the government began offering loans to promote homeownership and help citizens rebuild wealth as part of the New Deal after the Great Depression, neighborhoods for people of color were excluded through a practice called "redlining." Austin's "negro district" was the largest redlined zone in the city, Zehr writes.

"As most Americans gained equity in new homes or upgraded the value of their existing houses, the black population saw a racial wedge driven deeper between Anglo affluence and African-American poverty," he explains.

All these processes are systemic. "You can't explain [this] through any one person's biases and prejudices." HoSang said.

Is critical race theory being taught in K-12 classrooms?

Experts and teachers put it plainly.

"Nobody in K-12 is teaching critical race theory," Andrew Robinson, an 8th grade U.S. history teacher at Uplift Luna Preparatory in Dallas, said. "If I tried to walk in and teach critical race theory, my kids would just have a blank stare on their face."

"Critical race theory is not being taught in schools," Martinez said.

Keffrelyn Brown, a professor of cultural studies in education at UT-Austin and a teacher-educator, agreed.

"A vast majority of teachers in K-12 schools don't know critical race theory," she said. "They are not coming into the classroom and saying, 'I'm going to teach critical race theory.'"

HoSang pointed out that to begin with, critical race theory is not "a body of content that can be taught."

Given that, Abbott's calls to "abolish critical race theory in Texas" make no sense, those who study it said.

"I don't think you can 'abolish' a theory," Brown said.

How does Texas' new law and surrounding debate discuss critical race theory?

While it has gained the ire of national Republicans on Fox News and elsewhere for months, critical race theory was thrust in the political spotlight in Texas this spring because of the progress of HB 3979. Lawmakers claimed that it combats the theory.

The wording of the bill is vague — for example, it bans discussion of current events unless a teacher "strive[s] to explore those topics from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective," and teacher's can't teach that "with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality."

In an early statement supporting the legislation, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that critical race theory is a "woke philosoph[y]" that "maintain[s] that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex or that any individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive."

The phrase "critical race theory" does not appear in the bill once, however.

Brown described the way the term "critical race theory" has been mobilized as a label that has nothing to do with critical race theory itself.

"It has become the catch-all phrase for any kind of perspective, or any kind of framework, or any kind of knowledge that shows the roots of racism and how deeply they are embedded in our society," she said.

Experts pointed out several key mischaracterizations of critical race theory.

Political discourse has claimed that critical race theory unfairly assigns guilt and blame to individuals based on their race. In one section that lists concepts teachers can't teach, the bill prohibits teaching that "an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual's race or sex."

"[Critical race theory] has nothing to do with sentiment, guilt or shame," HoSang said. "In fact, one of its premises is that those are not actually helpful places to examine. It's taking us out of racism as a psychological and emotional question, and is focusing much more on the structures, the policies that people create that govern our lives."

Martinez said the worry comes out of "false claims that when you teach histories of slavery, or race, or racism, that you make some white students feel guilty or shame for being white."

To focus on directly instilling racial guilt would be taking a liberal, individualistic approach that critical race theory actually critiques.

The bill also prohibits teaching that "one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex," or that "an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."

If anything, Martinez said, the current, longstanding way of teaching Texas history already teaches that one race is superior. "Look at how it teaches the history of the Texas revolution — that people like Stephen F. Austin are racially superior to the treacherous Mexican, like Santa Anna," she said. "Texas history has been taught in a way that celebrates people who were fighting for the institution of slavery, that were espousing publicly that Mexicans were an inferior race."

HoSang agreed. "There's so much of the dominant curriculum that does just what the bills claim they're objecting to, in terms of constructing a moral ideology," he said. "One could argue the current curriculum promotes intolerance and animosity against Indigenous people, and that it does the same for immigrants."

Future impact

Brown, the UT-Austin cultural studies professor, described the new Texas law as an effort to "try to stop the momentum over the last year and a half of families and communities saying we need to know more about racism."

"We need to understand [our history of racism] so that we actually can get to a place where we are operating with justice, with equity, with fairness," she said.

Instead, she said, the bill may "create enough confusion and possible concern that teachers or districts would just simply not talk about issues of race, or racism, for fear that it's going to create some conflict."

Abbott's press office did not comment on what he additionally wants the legislature to do about "critical race theory" during this summer's special session. But many teachers worry about the "chilling effect" that the new law will already have on their attempts to teach history well — which includes nurturing students' critical thinking skills by bringing in multiple perspectives on historical events, and showing how the past has impacted present day issues.

"What they're trying to say with this is that the actions of the past aren't affecting the present," said Robinson, the 8th grade history teacher in Dallas. "They want us to act like slavery and Jim Crow have no bearing on the issues in our society right now. And if that's the case, then they should cancel my class."

Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin 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.

Trump to pretend he's still president during Texas visit

Former president Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he "accepted the invitation" to tour Texas' southern border with Gov. Greg Abbott on June 30.

"The Biden Administration inherited from me the strongest, safest, and most secure border in U.S history and in mere weeks they turned it into the single worst border crisis in U.S history. It's an unmitigated disaster zone," Trump said in a statement.

Building a wall along the Texas-Mexico border was a key promise throughout Trump's presidency, but he never fully delivered. His promise that Mexico would pay for the wall was unfulfilled, and the 450 miles of barrier he did build were mostly in Arizona and far less was completed in the Rio Grande Valley where border crossings are more prevalent, according to The Washington Post.

Abbott announced last Thursday that Texas would take the matter into its own hands and build its own border wall to stem the flow of migrants from Mexico. In a podcast interview Tuesday, he elaborated that the wall will be at least partially crowdfunded, and the state will solicit donations from across the country.

The announcement immediately sparked denunciations from those who said that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, not a state job, and questioned the constitutionality of Abbott's intentions.

Abbott also announced plans to increase local jail capacity along the border, and increase arrests by having state troopers arrest migrants on state charges. Abbott scheduled a press conference for Wednesday afternoon, where he said he'll provide more details about the plan.

Abbott has sharply criticized the Biden administration for its immigration policies in the past few months, calling the border a crisis and accusing the president of "helping the cartels make more money." The policies include pausing border wall construction and ordering a review of the Trump administration's "remain in Mexico" policy that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their hearings in U.S. immigration courts.

At the end of May, he deployed more than 1,000 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and National Guard members to the border as part of Operation Lone Star, an initiative aimed at increasing border security that he announced in March.

Earlier this month, Trump endorsed Abbott for his reelection, giving him an early stamp of approval as he confronts a possibly competitive primary.

Former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas has already announced his challenge to Abbott. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller also has been considering a run, and Texas GOP Chair Allen West recently announced he would be resigning from his position to seek a statewide seat.

For immigrants with protected status in Texas, US Supreme Court ruling about green card ineligibility sent a "shockwave"

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Blanca Martinez has been dreaming of reuniting with her daughters in El Salvador for three decades now. She missed seeing them grow up, and it breaks her heart.

She instead has had to raise and love her daughters through weekly phone calls since she immigrated to Houston in 1991, because earning money for their food, housing and health care was much more important than being able to hug them. She's currently a housekeeper at a Houston hospital, where she works seven days a week more often than not, sending most of her wages back home to her family.

Martinez is one of nearly 42,000 people living in Texas under Temporary Protected Status — a designation given to migrants by the federal government allowing them to stay in the country temporarily because of natural or political crises in their home countries. Finding work was nearly impossible for Martinez in El Salvador before, so she immigrated to the U.S. when she was 33 years old; she also left during the time of the Salvadoran Civil War, which is regarded as one of the most devastating conflicts in modern Latin American history.

"I need to be here," Martinez, now 66, said. "I want to be happy, but [I'm not] happy; no family, no happy. I am here to work."

Martinez has stayed in the country as a TPS holder for 30 years now, but a recent unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court reiterated what the program was designed to provide: temporary refuge. That it's not a pathway to permanent residency.

Last week, the nation's highest court ruled that obtaining TPS is not considered a proper "inspected and admitted" entry to the country, which is a requirement for lawful permanent resident status. Some TPS residents came to the country illegally, but because of the program are temporarily protected from deportation.

Among the 320,000 TPS recipients who entered without formal admission must now undergo a longer route to permanent residency which includes leaving the country and applying to have a visa processed outside of U.S. soil. For some TPS holders, that process could trigger barriers to reentry for up to 10 years.

Immigration hardliners hailed the ruling as a victory.

"The nine justices deserve credit for interpreting the nation's laws correctly," said Matthew Tragesser, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR. He said the decision "represents a victory for the American people and for the integrity of the TPS program."

But for immigrant advocates such as Guerline Jozef, founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a California-based nonprofit that provides resources for the nation's Haitian immigrants, the ruling "sent a shockwave of panic in the hearts of TPS holders and their families."

Nelson Reyes is the executive director of the Houston office of Central American Resource Center, a nationwide organization that supports Central American immigrants who fled to the U.S. during the civil war there in the late 20th century. Reyes, who has helped Martinez navigate her temporary status for decades now, was shocked by the Supreme Court's ruling and is mainly concerned by how it will separate families.

"For me it was anti-family," Reyes said about the decision.

Erika Andiola, the chief advocacy officer of the San Antonio-based nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, called the ruling disappointing.

"What makes the ruling even more egregious is that the vote was unanimous," she said in a statement. "TPS holders came to the U.S. because of unsafe conditions in their native countries and this ruling prevents them from making a true home here. We call on Congress and the Biden administration to keep their promise and create a pathway toward citizenship for all TPS holders."

The program was established by Congress as a part of the Immigration Act of 1990, and the secretary of homeland security sets the list of countries where immigrants can obtain temporary status. Most of TPS holders are natives of Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, according to the National Immigration Forum.

Texas holds the third highest number of TPS recipients, behind California and Florida. Around 6,060 Honduran TPS residents live in Houston, making it the third-largest metropolitan area across the nation to hold that demographic.

The Supreme Court ruling states that a grant of TPS is not considered a lawful admission into the country, which is one of the requirements for receiving permanent residency, also known as a green card.

TPS holders, however, are not barred from applying to become lawful permanent residents by other means and those who entered the country legally aren't affected by the ruling.

There aren't any work restrictions for TPS holders, but obtaining a green card would be assurance that there isn't an expiration date of their stay in the country. Under TPS, residents are not allowed to vote and can only travel if they are granted a travel permit; however, leaving the country, even with a permit, poses a risk of not being allowed to come back. So most TPS residents don't.

Martinez, who has been living in Houston alone for three decades now, said she hasn't visited her home or seen her family in El Salvador since she immigrated to the U.S. in fear of not being allowed to return. She has had to miss the funeral of both her son and mother.

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted his support for the Supreme Court decision last week.

"The Supreme Court rules that immigration laws must actually be followed," he wrote. "A unanimous Court, in an opinion by Justice [Elena] Kagan, explains that in order to apply for legal residency, you must have been admitted to the country lawfully. To stay here legally, you must come here legally."

A majority of Texan TPS recipients came from El Salvador and have lived in the state for an average of 20 years, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy research organization. Haitian TPS holders have been living in Texas for an average of 21 years, and around 53,800 children in the state have parents from El Salvador, Honduras or Haiti who have TPS.

A country is designated for TPS for periods of 6 to 18 months, but the secretary of homeland security has the power to extend the period if there continues to be armed conflict, natural disasters or other emergencies in that country. For example, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua were designated as TPS-accepted countries during the George W. Bush administration due to natural disasters such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and retained that status through the Obama administration.

There currently are a dozen countries on the TPS designation list.

Ira Mehlman, media director of FAIR, said the ruling reinstates what the program was not intended to provide a pathway to permanent residency.

"The T stands for temporary in spite of the fact that pretty much every case where TPS has been granted it has been extended on for many many years, long after whatever the triggering circumstance faded from memory," he said. "Most of these countries were not exactly paradise before whatever circumstance created the need for TPS and they are not even likely to be even now, so the problem has been that successive administrations have also forgotten what the T stands for."

As countries have remained on the TPS designation list for years, some immigrants have lived in the U.S. through TPS for decades, growing deep roots in their communities, building careers, and having children who are U.S. citizens.

Some TPS recipients from Central America have been in the country long enough for their U.S.-born children to be enrolled in universities now.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of the humanitarian respite center Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said she understood the reasoning behind the ruling but hopes lawmakers pave a pathway to permanent residency for TPS recipients.

"I can understand the Supreme Court making that decision," she said. "But it is something that the Congress can relook and possibly consider offering this group of people that have been in our communities and country for quite a while and have demonstrated to be good contributors to our communities."

There are about 30,600 workers in Texas who are TPS holders from El Salvador, and according to the Center for American Progress, without Salvadoran workers, the state's annual gross domestic product would drop by $1.8 billion. The group estimated that Honduran TPS holders contribute about $404.2 million to the Texas economy.

"It's unfortunate to see rulings like this take place for families that are not criminals, that are not hurting our country and that are here and have been here for so long," Pimentel said. "And I just find that it is decisions like this that do not help us as a country because it's ruling against a group of people that really could be something favorable for our country."

Lawyers prosecuting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s fraud case challenge decision to move trial back to his home county

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Prosecutors in the felony fraud case against Attorney General Ken Paxton are asking the full 1st Court of Appeals to review a decision by a three-justice panel last month that moved the trial from Harris County back to Collin County, where Paxton lives, potentially adding another delay to a case that is nearly 6 years old.

In May, a panel of three Democratic justices in the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston allowed the case to return to Collin County on a vote of 2-1, ruling that the presiding judge who moved the case out of Collin County in March 2017 had no longer been assigned to the judicial region handling Paxton's case. The ruling was a major victory for Paxton, who had asked the courts to be tried in his home county, a staunchly Republican area of the state where he and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, are major political figures.

Prosecutors in the suit claim Ken Paxton persuaded investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing he would be compensated for it. He was a member of the Texas House at the time. Paxton denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations are politically motivated.

In a court filing Tuesday, prosecutor Brian Wice accused Paxton's legal team of "sandbagging" the courts by withholding information about the judge's expired assignment so they could later raise the issue in an attempt to move the case back to Collin County.

Tarrant County Judge George Gallagher was handed the Paxton fraud case in August 2015 after the original judge in Collin County recused himself. At the time, Gallagher was temporarily assigned to the Collin County administrative judicial region, which is in a different region from Tarrant County. But his assignment only ran through Jan. 1, 2017.

Gallagher continued as the presiding judge after that date and issued his ruling to move the case out of Collin County in March 2017. That May, Paxton's legal team asked an administrative court to block Gallagher's ruling and remove him from the case because his temporary assignment had expired at the beginning of the year.

In his Tuesday request, Wice argued that Paxton's team failed to bring up Gallagher's expired term until after the change-of-venue ruling did not go in their favor, and asked the full 1st Court of Appeals to stay the three-justice panel's decision until the full nine-justice court could review the ruling. Wice threw doubt on the idea that Paxton's team came upon Gallagher's expired temporary assignment only "by happenstance" and said the burden was on the attorney general's defense team to show when it learned of the judge's expired term.

The majority opinion had already rejected that argument, ruling that "nothing in the record shows a lack of reasonable diligence in bringing the challenge." But Justice Gordon Goodman, who dissented in part, noted in his opinion that the court had no evidence as to "how or when Paxton's counsel discovered that Gallagher's assignment had expired."

Wice argued that while a review of a panel decision by a full appeals court is usually not favored, it is the right move in this instance.

The three-justice panel deliberated for nearly seven months on a Harris County district judge's decision to move the case back to Collin County. An additional review by the full court could prolong a case that's nearly 6 years old.

Paxton's defense team celebrated the panel's ruling last month, saying it was time to get the case back on track and for their client to have his day in court. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

It's unclear whether the case will be resolved before next year's election, when Paxton will be seeking a third term as attorney general. He has served most of his two terms under indictment on the fraud case and will face his biggest challenge yet in a Republican primary that now includes Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who has made Paxton's legal troubles a centerpiece of his campaign.

Paxton is also reportedly being investigated by the FBI over accusations last year from former employees who say he abused his political power and accepted bribes. He denies those allegations. Four former aides have filed a whistleblower lawsuit arguing Paxton fired them as retaliation for reporting his alleged behavior to federal and state law enforcement agencies.

Paxton's troubles continued to mount on Wednesday when the Associated Press reported he was under investigation by the state bar for professional misconduct. The investigation stems from Paxton's failed efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which gave President Joe Biden the electoral victory over former president Donald Trump. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the case.

The State Bar of Texas initially declined to take up the complaint by a Democratic Party activist that Paxton's filing of the suit was frivolous and unethical. But the Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals granted an appeal and ordered the state bar to investigate the complaint.

Kevin Moran, the 71-year-old president of the Galveston Island Democrats who filed the grievance, said he filed the complaint because he thought the election lawsuit was frivolous and Paxton continued his efforts even after legal experts shot down its merits.

"He wasted my taxpayer money," Moran said.

Paxton now has less than a month to respond to Moran's complaint. After that, state bar investigators will take up the case, which could take months to resolve.

Bush, Paxton's biggest rival for re-election so far, has criticized Paxton's handling of the lawsuit challenging election results in battleground states, namely his decision to take it to the Supreme Court after the election. Bush has suggested Paxton should have challenged election laws in the battleground states prior to the election, calling the lawsuit "a little too little too late."

"It was a Hail Mary pass that every lawyer in the Texas bar and the country knows would not have succeeded, but he followed it anyway," Bush told reporters after launching his Paxton challenge last week in Austin. "I get what he was trying to do, but it didn't have a chance in hell of getting an audience at the Supreme Court."

Bush's campaign declined comment on the state bar's investigation into Paxton.

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.

Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas will build a border wall, but doesn’t yet give details on cost or location

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Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that Texas will build a border wall along the state's boundary with Mexico — but provided no details on where or when.

Abbott declared his plans during a press conference in Del Rio. He said he would discuss the plans next week. The Biden administration issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office.

Abbott announced the news while discussing a slew of border initiatives, such as a $1 billion allocation for border security in the state budget lawmakers just passed and a plan to establish a Governor's Task Force on Border and Homeland Security with public safety and state government officials.

"It will help all of us to work on ways to stem the flow of unlawful immigration and to stem the flow of illegal contraband," Abbott said, while seated next to officials from the National Guard, Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Division of Emergency Management.

At the conference, Abbott also announced plans to increase arrests along the border — and increase space inside local jails.

"They don't want to come to across the state of Texas anymore because it's not what they were expecting," Abbott said before being met with applause from those at the conference. "It's not the red carpet that the federal administration rolled out to them."

He also announced an interstate compact with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to resolve the border "crisis," and called on other states to do the same.

Abbott's announcement comes after Republican former state Sen. Don Huffines said he will challenge the governor in next year's GOP primary — and as part of his campaign also promised to finish border wall construction in Texas.

"We will completely shut down the border until the crisis is solved and eliminate all taxpayer-funded subsidies to illegal aliens," Huffines tweeted earlier this month. "I am not afraid to take on the federal government."

Building a wall along the Texas-Mexico border was a key element of former President Donald Trump's successful 2016 election campaign plan that can be dated to when he was preparing his bid for a Republican nomination in 2014. His promise that Mexico would pay for it remained unfulfilled for the entirety of his administration.

During his term, Trump built 450 miles of barrier — mostly in Arizona and far less in the Rio Grande Valley, according to The Washington Post.

Earlier this month, Trump backed Abbott for reelection in the 2022 Texas gubernatorial election.

On Thursday, Abbott didn't address the ongoing conflict between himself and the Biden administration that escalated this week after federal officials threatened to sue Texas over Abbott's order to strip certain shelters for migrant children of their state licenses, which could force the shelter operators — which operate under contracts with the federal government — to move the children elsewhere.

The 52 state-licensed shelters house roughly 8,600 children, according to data from the state. In a letter to Texas officials Monday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attorney Paul Rodriguez asked Texas to clarify Abbott's order and said it could violate the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law overrides state laws. He gave Texas until Friday to respond.

However, he did call on the federal government to pay for the "damages" brought on by immigration to the border, claiming landowners are left to foot the bill for people that migrate.

"The border crisis is no laughing matter," Abbott said. "This is something that also is not a tourism site for members of Congress to make an annual pilgrimage to and see the border, and then go back and do absolutely nothing at the federal government level to solve the crisis."

Abbott has blamed the recent surge of migrants to the Texas-Mexico border on the Biden administration's immigration policies, claiming in a disaster declaration this week that new federal policies have paved the way for "dangerous gangs and cartels, human traffickers, and deadly drugs like fentanyl to pour into our communities."

Two weeks ago, Abbott deployed more than 1,000 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and National Guard members to the border as part of Operation Lone Star — an initiative he announced in March aimed at beefing up security at the border. Abbott later expanded those efforts to also tackle human trafficking at the border, including a plan for DPS troopers and Texas Rangers to interview unaccompanied minors that cross the border to identify potential human trafficking victims.

During his first months in office, Biden ordered a review of the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols, which required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their cases could be heard in U.S. immigration courts.

The Biden Administration has referred to its new policies as a way to be more humane toward migrants.

After Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala and Mexico this week, she told NBC's Lester Holt, "We have to understand that there's a reason people are arriving at our border and ask what is that reason and then identify the problem so we can fix it."

During her trip, she faced backlash from progressives after she told Guatemalans: "Do not come."

Fear of coronavirus will no longer be acceptable reason for Texans on unemployment to turn down job offers

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Jobless Texans who refuse work offers because they feel like the job isn't safe during the pandemic won't be able to receive unemployment benefits as of June 26, the Texas Workforce Commission announced this week.

Since last year, special pandemic guidelines have allowed some out-of-work people to decline a job if it doesn't have proper COVID-19 health or safety protocols — and still qualify for unemployment benefits.

"The decline in COVID cases in Texas, widespread availability of vaccines, and greater availability of services such as child care renders such guidance out of date," a TWC press release stated Tuesday.

James Bernsen, spokesperson for the TWC, said that the reversal of the guidelines is associated with the removal of COVID federal unemployment aid that Gov. Greg Abbott announced last month.

Starting June 26, jobless Texans will lose access to a $300-per-week supplemental benefit through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. In addition, Abbott cut off a lifeline called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which extends unemployment aid to gig workers, self-employed people and others who don't traditionally receive unemployment benefits.

As of April 30, approximately 344,000 Texans were receiving these PUA benefits, according to data compiled by economist Julia Coronado, economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January clarifying that the PUA program extends to those who refuse a job because of COVID safety concerns.

Congress had extended these programs through September, but Abbott withdrew Texas from them months early, following pressure from business groups who said the programs disincentivized work. According to a press release, Abbott's office said the decision was made to focus on connecting unemployed Texans with jobs instead of paying them unemployment benefits.

Bernsen said that the pandemic guidelines that allow jobless people to refuse work for COVID-19 safety reasons and still qualify for any state or federal unemployment benefits are associated with the "COVID-related unemployment" that the state withdraws from on June 26.

"The COVID-related programs are ending, so we're ending the COVID-related exceptions," he said.

TWC did not immediately release the number of people who have been turning down jobs for COVID-19 safety reasons and would be impacted by this change. Bernsen pointed out that unemployment claims have been declining and vaccination rates increasing in recent months.

"The number this would apply to is continually decreasing," he said. "We're not in the height of the pandemic, which is what [the guidelines] were designed for."

Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, said the changes are "cruel" and exhibit the state's characteristic "lack of understanding" towards working people and their needs.

"This pandemic is not over," he said. "To say, 'Well, we're heading in the right direction, so we're going to eliminate doing all the things that have us heading in the right direction,' is just really short sighted."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott could be upsetting balance of powers with threat to veto Texas Legislature’s pay

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Fresh off the defeat of two of his legislative priorities Sunday night when Democrats abandoned the Texas House to block a sweeping elections bill, Gov. Greg Abbott flexed his executive muscle Monday — vowing to defund a co-equal branch of government while raising questions about the separation of powers in Texas.

"I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature," he wrote on Twitter. "Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities."

Abbott did not give additional details about how the veto would work, telling his nearly 600,000 Twitter followers only to "stay tuned." He's also said that lawmakers will be brought back for a special legislative session this year to pass the failed priority bills. But the veto announcement on social media sparked concerns about the increasing encroachment by the state's executive branch into the legislative branch's purview.

"We have not seen a governor in modern times who has taken such a step to minimize the legislative branch of government," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. "The Texas Constitution sets out a balance of power, and it has stuck to that since the inception of the Texas government. To change that by altering which branch was able to be politically and financially stronger is clearly antithetical to the Constitution."

Abbott's office declined to comment.

A governor targeting the Legislature's budget would be unprecedented in Texas history, according to the Legislative Reference Library of Texas. But in 1971, Gov. Preston Smith vetoed all appropriations made for the second year of the 1972-73 biennial budget and tasked the Legislature with redoing the budget for that year during an already planned special session.

"This probably ventures into uncharted territory," said Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, who worked on the budget for Govs. Ann Richards and George W. Bush. "It invites some fascinating academic questions."

On top of funding the two chambers of the Legislature, Article X of the state budget also funds nonpartisan agencies that are crucial for policymaking, including the Legislative Reference Library, which conducts research for the Legislature; the Legislative Budget Board, which develops policy and budget recommendations and provides fiscal analyses for legislation; the Legislative Council, which helps draft and analyze potential legislation; the State Auditor's Office, which reviews the state's finances; and the Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews the efficiency of state agencies.

Several of these agencies would be crucial for the all-important redrawing of political maps that lawmakers are expected to take up in an already planned special session in the fall.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are worried about Abbott's veto impacting workers in those agencies and other staffers.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, said he shared the governor's frustration that two GOP priority bills on elections and bail had not gotten the Legislature's approval.

The elections bill followed a nationwide push for so-called "election integrity" in state legislatures, after claims by former President Donald Trump that there was voter fraud in the 2020 presidential elections. Texas' bill would have restricted voting hours during early voting, curtailed local voting options and further limited the ability of Texans to vote by mail.

Abbott pushed to change the bail system in Texas after Damon Allen, a trooper with the Department of Public Safety, was killed during a traffic stop while the suspect was out on bond. Abbott asked the Legislature to make it harder for violent criminals to receive bail.

But Phelan said a veto of the entire Legislature's budget would hurt the wrong people while lawmakers, whose $600-per-month pay is written into the Constitution, would still get their paychecks.

"My concern is how it impacts staff, especially those who live here in Austin, which is not an inexpensive place to live and raise your family and children," said Phelan, a former legislative staffer. "And the agencies it impacts — Sunset, Legislative Reference Library, Lege Council — I'm just concerned how it impacts them because they weren't the ones who decided that we were gonna break quorum, it wasn't their decision, right?"

Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who was among those who walked out of the House to break its quorum Sunday night, echoed Phelan's concern for government employees and criticized Abbott for announcing the veto without explaining how it would work.

"They had nothing to do with it. They are hired to do a job. They do it well. They show up and they work long hours during session," she said. "To put them in the position of being concerned whether their jobs will be continued is extremely irresponsible."

Howard also criticized the move as an attempt to inhibit the Legislature's ability to perform its duties by a governor who was angry for political reasons.

"We have a balance of powers for a reason," Howard said. "If you do not have the branch that represents directly the people of this state, then you are in essence having something very similar to a monarchy, with one person in charge of everything that happens in the state with no input from elected representatives."

But Abbott has support for his proposed veto from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate. Patrick, who has been vocal about his frustration with House leadership over the walkout, said putting staff jobs on the line was an effective way to ensure Democratic lawmakers show up for the special session.

"If the Democrats don't come back, they'll have to fire everybody," Patrick told Dallas radio host Mark Davis. "That will force them to come back, and while they're back, we'll pass those other bills."

If carried through, the veto would continue an expansion of the executive branch's authority over the last two decades. During the pandemic, Abbott exerted broad authority to respond to COVID-19 under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, issuing executive orders that limited social gatherings to 10 people, closed down restaurants and bars, and closed down nursing homes to visitors.

Some lawmakers flinched at his use of that law, which was meant for natural disasters like hurricanes with a clear end date, to exert executive power during an ongoing pandemic.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus called on him to stop the "government overreach," and lawmakers tried unsuccessfully this session to curb the governor's executive authority during natural disasters.

Abbott has also expanded the governor's power in the realm of budget vetoes.

In 2015, the Legislative Budget Board argued that a governor went too far when he used his line-item veto to scratch items in the state budget that were not directly tied to appropriations.

But Attorney General Ken Paxton's office sided with Abbott and said the governor was within his authority to do so, which critics said gave governors the ability to veto the directions and intentions of lawmakers on top of actual appropriations.

Rottinghaus, who is working on a book about former Gov. Rick Perry, said the growth of the executive branch's power is one of the themes of the book, but "Abbott has taken it to the next level."

"Perry made the tune popular, but Abbott took it to No. 1 with a new band," he said.

Perry could serve in some ways as a cautionary tale for Abbott. In 2007, Perry signed an executive order mandating that all sixth grade girls get vaccinated for the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer. But lawmakers came back during that legislative session and blocked his executive order, saying Perry had overstepped his authority.

"He backed off immediately. He saw he'd gone too far," Rottinghaus said. "That's a battle that the governor doesn't want to pick because the courts could say he's wrong, the Legislature could defund the executive branch in the same way — there's all kinds of options that the Legislature can use. ... That's what Perry found. If you cross the Legislature, you're risking a revolt you can't contain."

Not everyone believes the governor will follow through, however.

Abbott has until June 20 to announce his vetoes. The current biennial budget ends Aug. 31. If Abbott called back lawmakers before the end of August and got his priority bills passed, he could then let lawmakers restore the funding for the new budget starting in September without any impact to people employed by the legislative branch.

"Abbott likes to puff up and then deflates very quickly," said Matt Angle, a Democratic political operative who runs the Lone Star Project. "He doesn't have the guts to send termination notices to public servants who are just doing their jobs."

On Thursday, Abbott told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty he would call lawmakers back for two special sessions. The previously planned fall special session would be in September or October and deal with redistricting and the allocation of $16 billion in federal COVID-19 funds. But before that, Abbott said, he'd call legislators back to work on the defeated elections and bail bills.

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he was doubtful the veto would come to pass and said it would reflect poorly on Abbott if it did. Staffers for Republican lawmakers who played no role in the Democratic walkout would also be harmed.

"If it's a political statement that he's making, that's one thing," Larson said. "But if he follows through with it, I think a lot of people will lose confidence in his ability to govern. I know independent voters, Democratic voters and a lot of Republican voters will lose confidence in his ability to govern if he starts retaliating toward the majority party that did not walk out of the Legislature. It makes no sense."

Governors in other states have tried the maneuver before. In 2017, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, used a line-item veto to cut the Legislature's funding when she disagreed with the Democratic majority in the statehouse over its budget.

The Legislature sued Martinez, but the state's Supreme Court declined to hear the lawsuit. Martinez later called a special session during which funding for the Legislature was restored.

That same year, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, vetoed funding for his state's Legislature. That state's Supreme Court also held up the governor's veto, explaining in a 5-1 decision that Minnesota's constitution did not bar the governor from vetoing funding for another branch of government.

Two states, Hawaii and Michigan, have constitutional statutes that bar governors from vetoing or reducing legislative or judicial appropriations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas does not.

Cassandra Pollock and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The National Conference of State Legislatures, the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, and the University of Houston 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.

US Rep. Chip Roy reportedly considering bid to replace Liz Cheney in GOP leadership role

After removing Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her congressional leadership post, U.S. House Republicans are now expected to vote on installing a new conference chair on Friday. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, might be in the running.

The Daily Caller first reported that Roy is considering a bid to challenge Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who has been openly campaigning for the post. The political newsletter Punchbowl News later confirmed the news.

"While not ruling anything out, Congressman Roy has never sought a position in conference leadership. His focus is on serving Texas' 21st Congressional district, the American people, and the Constitution. But if the position must be filled, then this must be a contested race — not a coronation," Roy's office said in a statement.

Elected in 2018, Roy has sided with pro-Trump positions nearly 90% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. Cheney ascended to the Republican conference chair position as a sophomore herself in 2019 after first being elected in 2016.

But Roy has proven more willing to question Trump than some of his Republican colleagues in the Texas delegation, like Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, who tweeted about voting against Cheney and tacked on a "#MAGA" hashtag at the end of his tweet.

When Trump faced his second impeachment, Roy said Trump "deserves universal condemnation for what was clearly impeachable conduct — pressuring the vice president to violate his oath to the Constitution to count the electors." Even so, Roy voted against Trump's second impeachment, unlike Cheney, basing his decision on the kind of precedent he thought it would set for political speech.

Stefanik has become a serious contender for the third highest spot in Republican House leadership, mainly for being a staunch supporter of the former president. She has won the endorsement of Trump himself as well as support from GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy of California. But Roy and some other Republicans have raised concern about her voting record, which is more moderate than Cheney's.

Roy penned a memo to Republican colleagues Wednesday, not only lambasting Cheney, but also opposing Stefanik's campaign to become the new GOP conference chair, accusing the upstate New York Republican of campaigning as a Republican but "then vote for and advance the Democrats' agenda once sworn in."

"Therefore, with all due respect to my friend, Elise Stefanik, let us contemplate the message Republican leadership is about to send by rushing to coronate a spokesperson whose voting record embodies much of what led to the 2018 ass-kicking we received by Democrats," Roy said.

According to CNN, Stefanik is expected to participate in a forum Wednesday evening organized by the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus where she'll face a slew of questions about her voting record and her plans if she helms the GOP conference.

Amid the turbulence about Cheney's future in the House Republican conference, Roy's campaign sent fundraising emails to bank on the drama, stating that "he was the FIRST to call Cheney out on her anti-Trump and self-serving hysterics," and that "his bold leadership will hopefully lead to a big change."

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.

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