Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
New numbers released by the Department of Homeland Security show the continued pattern of uncontrolled numbers of migrants entering the US. The report shows that Customs and Border Patrol has released 2.3 million migrants into the US under the Biden administration. The report also cites 6 million migrants taken into custody during the same period of time, which is from January of 2021 through 2023. The administration claims that the CBP officers are overwhelmed by the number of individuals attempting to cross into the US and stresses that the release of migrants into the US is only done as a last resort when agents no longer have the capacity to process or hold the migrants. The report also cites a figure of over 4 million migrants that have been expelled to Mexico during this three-year period, including 2.5 million under Title 42, the policy that allowed CBP agents to immediately expel anyone who crossed the border due to health concerns during the pandemic.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited the southern border earlier this week, traveling to Eagle Pass to try and answer some of the criticism thrust on him by Republican House members looking to impeach him for inaction on immigration enforcement. With border crossings at their highest levels ever, Secretary Mayorkas used the trip to plead with Congress for more resources to pay for more space to detain migrants and to fund more flights to send migrants back to their country of origin. In response to the trip, several Republican House members went on social media to further criticize Mayorkas and pledged to move forward with the impeachment proceedings.
Impeachment proceedings for cabinet members are rare, and there has been only cabinet member ever impeached by the US House. In 1876 the House impeached Secretary of War William Belknap – who served under President Ulysses S. Grant after the Civil War — on corruption charges, alleging he received kickbacks from construction companies that had contracted with the government during the Reconstruction period. He was later acquitted by the US Senate.
Gov. Abbott issued an emergency declaration this week allowing the state to seize and take control of Shelby Park, a public park in Eagle Pass that is adjacent to the Rio Grande River that is used by migrants to enter the US after crossing the river. Eagle Pass mayor Rolando Salinas posted on Facebook the news of the state takeover and said the move was a surprise and not done with the consent of the city. After the takeover, the state immediately placed military vehicles to block the entrance to the park and erected new fencing around the park. State officials have also blocked Customs and Border Patrol agents from entering or patrolling the park. This is the latest escalation in the state’s Operation Lone Star, the multi-billion-dollar initiative to enhance border security. To date, the state has spent $11 billion on Operation Lone Star. Abbott’s office did not directly answer questions regarding the state’s authority to seize city owned property. In response to the takeover, the Governor’s office simply said the takeover is being done to posture and prepare for future surges in illegal crossings.
And finally, Gov. Abbott made more headlines related to the border this week with comments he made to conservative talk show host Dana Loesch. Loesch asked Abbott what he believed was the maximum amount of pressure he could implement to secure the border as a state official. In response, Abbott said the state is deploying every strategy possible and “the only thing we are not doing is shooting people who come across because of course the Biden administration would charge us with murder.” Even though the state has spent billions of dollars, Abbott has come under tremendous fire from conservative groups for not doing enough to secure the state’s border. When the comments were more widely distributed, several news outlets have asked for clarification on the comments. Abbott’s office has not responded to those requests.
Paxton Loses Appeal
In a ruling last Friday, embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lost his challenge to a lower court order requiring Paxton and three of his aides to testify in a lawsuit brought forth by former AG agency employees. The suit was filed in 2020 by several former employees that claim they were fired for taking information regarding Paxton’s abuse of power at the agency to the FBI. The suit was initially settled for $3.3 million, but the Legislature refused to pay the settlement. After Paxton was acquitted at his impeachment trial this fall, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the case could again move forward. Paxton and his legal team have made several attempts to have the lawsuit dismissed. The latest ruling from the state’s Third Court of Appeals denied Paxton’s challenge to a trial level court order requiring him to be deposed in the lawsuit.
And on Monday, Paxton filed an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court to stop the whistleblowers lawsuit and squash the court ordered testimony. Paxton argues he has complied with elements of the settlement agreement, even though the payments to the whistleblowers have not been made. For their part, the whistleblowers responded to Paxton’s filing by claiming the terms of the agreement were not met since lawmakers refused to pay the settlement. The whistleblowers are asking the state Supreme Court to allow the original timeline set forth by a Travis County district judge that calls for the depositions to be completed by February 9th. The Supreme Court has not set a time for ruling on the latest filings but could issue a stay or an order to proceed at any time.
Winter Weather Coming
Several weather threats are on the immediate horizon as we enter the long holiday weekend. Beginning Sunday, the National Weather Service is predicting several areas throughout the state could be subjected to freezing temperatures, strong winds, and blowing snow. Snow and dangerous wind chills are predicted in west Texas and the Panhandle region, while the southwestern part of the state could experience high fire danger due to strong winds. The southeastern part of the state could experience large hail and heavy rains. The state’s electric grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has issued a weather watch in anticipation of higher electricity demand during the predicted lower temperatures. As of now, ERCOT is predicting peak demand to occur this coming Tuesday at 8AM, when they predict a demand for 81,000 megawatts. This compares to the summer during the heatwave when demand routinely reached 80,000 megawatts during the late afternoons when the temperatures were the highest. The coldest temperatures are expected Monday night into Tuesday and again Tuesday night into Wednesday when temperatures are expected to be below freezing everywhere in the state. ERCOT is predicting only a 1 in 6 chance of the necessity to have rolling outages to meet demand.
Abbott Pledges Millions to Unseat Republicans
Next Tuesday, the semi-annual reports are due for officeholders and candidates which will show how much money they raised in the last half of 2023. On Thursday, Gov. Abbott announced that he raised $19 million from July 1st of 2023 through the end of the year, and now has $32 million cash on hand for his campaign account. In the statement announcing the financial figures, Abbott pledged to use these resources to “back strong conservative candidates who support expanding school choice for all Texas families and students.” This is in reference to the failed legislation from the regular and subsequent special sessions that established a state voucher plan, which provided state money for students to use towards private school tuition. 21 House Republicans – mostly from rural districts – joined with the House Democrats to kill the legislation. Abbott has made endorsements in the Republican primary against several of these incumbents that voted against the voucher legislation. Abbott’s attempt to unseat House members from his own party as retribution for a position on a single issue is unprecedented. Voters in the Republican primaries throughout the state will have the final say regarding the voucher issue. If Abbott’s efforts are largely successful, the path of the Texas House would be substantially altered.
The frontrunner in the race for the open Senate District 30 – incumbent Sen. Drew Springer is not seeking reelection – continues to be faced with serious eligibility questions due to residency requirements. Two of Hagenbuch’s Republican primary opponents have filed challenges to his residency. First, Jace Yarbrough of Denton has had his appeal rejected by the Fort Worth based 2nd Court of Appeals. But one challenge remains. Carrie de Moor has filed a formal challenge against fellow Republican Brent Hagenbuch, claiming that Denton County tax records and voter registration records prove that Hagenbuch lives outside of Senate District 30. Hagenbuch has filed a response, listing his address as an office building in the district. It is the same office building that houses his transportation company. Commercial addresses are not allowed to be used as official residences for candidates for state office. Hagenbuch claims he is living in the office building due to “family issues”. The judge in the case will hear arguments related to Hagenbuch’s eligibility on January 19th. Hagenbuch has been endorsed in the race by Gov. Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. AG Ken Paxton has endorsed de Moor. In addition to de Moor and Denton attorney Jace Yarbrough, former Denton police officer Cody Clark is also a candidate in the Republican primary.
Senator Ted Cruz made a visit to Van Zandt County over the weekend to campaign for Brent Money, who is running in the special election for state House District 2 in northeast Texas. Money, a Republican from Greenville, is facing fellow Republican Jill Dutton in the runoff special election to fill the unexpired term of Bryan Slaton, who was expelled from the House last summer due to an inappropriate relationship with a Capitol intern. Cruz has endorsed Money, along with local state Senator Bob Hall and Governor Abbott.
President Biden joined several members of the Congressional Black Caucus and several lawmakers across the state and country to honor the late Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas on Monday night. Johnson died New Year’s Eve from complications related to a recent back surgery. President Biden did not speak to the crowd gathered at Concord Church in Dallas. He entered the sanctuary, prayed over her casket, and then met privately with her family. Johnson spent 30 years in Congress and served for 6 years in the Texas Senate prior to her election to Congress. She was laid to rest in the Texas State Cemetery on Wednesday.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson is facing a recall effort in response to his switch to the Republican Party in September. Johnson, serving his second term, was elected as a Democrat to the Texas House before being elected mayor of Dallas. The mayor’s office and all city council offices in Dallas are nonpartisan, meaning a party affiliation does not have to be declared. However, Johnson’s party switch irked many of the voters in Dallas, which has been a solid and reliable Democratic stronghold over the last several election cycles. Another issue relative to the petition is the number of absences the mayor has recorded. Johnson has missed a total of 13 Council meetings, more than any other Council member. According to the City Secretary’s office, a total of 103,000 signatures must be obtained from registered voters by March 5th to have the petition presented to the City Council. As of Tuesday, the petition had obtained 1,100 signatures.
House committee chairs submitted ideas for interim studies last week, so the House committees could be getting their charges soon.
With the primaries now just two months away, fundraising by members and candidates is in full swing and will continue up to the March 5th primary date.