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Matt Glazer: To see boon, clean energy needs Congress

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

I’m a bit of an Austin-area expert when it comes to weird homes. So, when I bought my own home last year—going in a more traditional route—I was surprised when I was left no less transfixed. Our builder had prioritized solar panel installations and, in the weeks, after settling in, I made a routine of watching the monitor tick up as our 12 panels fed energy back into the grid. Truth is I’m not the only one mesmerized. Watching the green bar climb and doing what we can to be a net producer of clean, affordable energy is a fun little game. Luckily, clean energy has caught the attention of Texans just as easily as the panels on my roof catch rays.

For more than a century, Texas has asserted itself as a national and global energy leader. Much of this legacy is owed to our wells of oil, but more so it is owed to our ability to build an economy around those prospects. Clean energy can continue to expand them beyond the subterranean. We were the first state to codify an energy efficiency resource standard after all and already Texas is top five in the nation for solar, and first in the nation for wind capacity. If you have ever driven through Texas, you can see evidence of this across the horizon from the panhandle to the coast.

All told—from renewables to clean vehicles, energy efficiency, clean fuels, and grid and storage—nearly a quarter of a million jobs were held in Texas’ clean energy industry last year. COVID-19 has detracted from those numbers depressing the state’s clean energy workforce by 10%—at least temporarily. Despite the setback, a growing commitment to reduce carbon emissions means clean energy is no longer being considered an alternative and instead as a necessary and growing component of diversified portfolios.

This will assure its subsistence, but while consistent demand could pull the industry back bit-by-bit, a major federal investment just might sweep the Lone Star State into this millennia’s energy boon. What the country needs now is a post-pandemic economic plan that spurs energy innovation, builds out 21st century infrastructure and continues driving down carbon emissions while creating 21st century jobs.

Though we often consider clean energy at scale, like in the case of utility companies, small businesses have played a significant role in clean energy’s early trajectory. In 2019, nearly two out of every three clean energy workers—of which there were 3.3 million in 2019—were employed by a small business. But, with manufacturing advancements driving down costs, the popularity of reduced carbon emissions rising and a steady churn of state-of-the-art tech reaching the market, clean energy’s entrepreneurial scene is far from saturated. One can even still imagine the potential for a new generation of Texas energy titans eventually adding to an already storied energy tradition.

To get there, however, requires a commitment not just from dedicated contractors like my own or local officials or even from Fortune 100 corporations, but from national leadership representing us in Congress. This issue is not a partisan one but an economic one, given the country’s current straits, we cannot afford to let the clean energy wallow in its COVID depression.

To truly capitalize on the economic and environmental potential of the vast prairies, strong wind gusts and access to persistent sun that outfit Texas, not to mention an intrepid workforce, we need our representatives and senators to put into action plans that bolster clean energy development and job creation while continuing to build on America’s leadership driving down carbon emissions.

I am grateful to have low cost, high production solar cells on my home. I am grateful for the incentives that made it possible to do something good and lower my total costs. I look at the energy I am creating for my city and know that an install team, builder, designer, electrician, and manufacturing company all created jobs. Jobs with an eye towards the future of Texas. Congress has an opportunity to continue to foster this innovation so we can be leaders in this established clean energy economy.

Matt Glazer is the past Executive Director of Progress Texas and co-founder of Blue Sky Partners.

Here are your Bush coins

For the Presidential numismatists out there. You know who you are.

We can only aspire to be like Millard

The U.S. Mint unveiled the design for coins honoring President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, on Tuesday.

The presidential $1 coin for President Bush will bear his portrait with the inscriptions “George H.W. Bush,” “In God we trust,” “41st president,” and “1989-1993” on the obverse, or “heads,” side of the coin. The reverse, or “tails,” side will feature the Statue of Liberty, as with other presidential coins.

The first spouse gold coin bears the former first lady’s portrait with the inscriptions “Barbara Bush,” “In God we trust,” “Liberty,” “2020,” “41st,” and “1989-1993” on the obverse side. The reverse side depicts a person reading, with an open road before them, in homage to Barbara Bush’s advocacy for family literacy.

The coins will be available for purchase on Aug. 20, according to a release from the mint.

President Donald Trump signed a bill by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, in January that authorized creating the commemorative coins. Under the resolution, the Treasury Department must mint and issue presidential dollar coins with the image of President Bush for one year and bullion coins with the image of his wife during the same period.

[…]

The legislation creating the gold coins program to honor former presidents and their spouses requires a president to be dead for at least two years before coins can be issued. The resolution passed this week bypasses that provision, as the two-year anniversary of President Bush’s death isn’t until Nov. 1.

The resolution received widespread support, with 66 Senate cosponsors. In the House, 27 members of the 36-member Texas delegation cosponsored the bill.

See here for the background. More info on the George Bush coin is here, and the Barbara Bush coin is here. I’m a lifelong fan of interesting coins, and as such I love this program. But boy howdy, I do not envy the poor schlub at the Mint who will some day have to write copy for the Trump coin.

Postal service update

Just a reminder, destroying the US Postal Service has real effects on real people.

Delays in mail sorting and processing are leaving Houston-area businesses, brides and voters wary of the coming months. Whether it’s essential medication, ballots or important letters and business items, the USPS is relied upon to deliver in a timely manner. Yet, many Houstonians are already feeling the effects of the slowdown, including month-long wait times and undelivered mail.

Melissa Palacios Gonzalez, a U.S. Navy veteran, runs an accessories and clothing shop out of her home in Spring. When customers place online orders of jewelry or sunglasses, shimmery metallic sandals or distressed baseball caps from Aesthetic Glam, Palacios Gonzalez drops them off at the U.S. post office nearby.

But over the summer, she and other Houstonians noticed shipping delays as first the coronavirus strained delivery times, then systemic cutbacks by the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, reduced the USPS’s delivery capacity.

A USPS Priority Mail order of flip flops, which was supposed to be delivered in one or two days, took a week to reach its destination, Palacios Gonzalez said.

“If it becomes a routine problem —” she started to explain, then stopped and sighed. “Even if I say, ‘Oh, sorry that happened, here’s a percentage savings on me,’ I’m still potentially losing money and a customer.”

[…]

Due to delays in the U.S. Postal Service, Adrienne Lynch’s baby’s clothes often come weeks late.

The East Sunset Heights resident said her 20-month-old daughter is growing so fast, she often has to order new clothes. Care packages from the toddler’s grandmother also normally come much later than originally estimated by the post office.

Lynch’s mail service is in constant flux, she said. Some weeks, she notices deliveries every day. Other weeks, the household won’t receive mail for a few days.

Lynch first noticed the delays in March and April. They have continued and worsened since then, she said.

“Sometimes our outgoing mail may not be picked up for a day or so,” she said. “Or on the package tracking, you will see that your package is out for delivery, but it’s sent back to the post office at the end of the day because the carrier’s shift is over and they can’t do overtime.”

Uju Nwankwo, 27, sent about 100 to 130 wedding save-the-dates through the mail on July 19 for her February wedding. Almost a month later, many of her Houston friends have yet to receive the letters.

“There seems to be no rhyme or reason, so I don’t really get it,” Nwankwo said of the sporadic deliveries.

When the soon-to-be bride contacted USPS, she said she was told her area was experiencing sorting delays. Now, with no way to track her letters, Nwankwo just has to wait it out.

Neither Nwankwo nor Lynch blame postal workers for the delays.

Carriers have a “really tough job” in worsening conditions, Lynch said. She’s started leaving bottles of water and thank you notes in the shade for postal workers to show her appreciation for their work.

“I think the delays we are experiencing locally are directly related to the system,” Lynch said. “Postal workers and their union want to serve the country, but their hands are tied.”

See here and here for some background. The potential consequences for some folks can be quite serious.

Operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service are causing delays in mail deliveries all over the country. A man in Humble said he had to go without his daily heart medication for a week due to the delays.

Don White, 82, said he has been tracking the package and said it remained at a north Houston mail processing facility for 10 days. He’s hoping to get in on Monday.

He said he’s irritated by the situation because his mail-order medication has never been this late before.

“There have been a few times in which it’s taken a week, week and a half, two weeks, but this is the first time I actually ran out and checking with the post office didn’t do much good, even though I had a tracking number on it,” White said.

He said in the meantime, his daughter has helped him get the medication at a local grocery store pharmacy.

Lucky for him he has someone nearby who can help him like that. Not everyone would be so fortunate.

There are lawsuits.

Let the Postal Service lawsuits begin. There are plenty of plaintiffs, including states. At least 20 state attorneys general are going to court over U.S. Postal Service delays and the threat to the November election, The Washington Post reports. “We’re trying to stop Trump’s attacks on the Postal Service, which we believe to be an attack on the integrity of election. It’s a straight-up attack on democracy,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, said in an interview. “This conduct is illegal. It’s unconstitutional. It’s harmful to the country. It’s harmful to individuals.

“We’re asking a court to make him stop,” he said. The ”we” in this case comprises Frosh’s fellow attorneys general from Washington State, the lead state in the case, as well as Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. This suit names Donald Trump and Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, as defendants. It and another suit from Pennsylvania, California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, among others, will argue that DeJoy and the Postal Service broke the law by making operational changes to slow service without the approval of the Postal Regulatory Commission. They will also argue that these changes, which they are seeking to reverse, will impede the states’ ability to run free and fair elections. All of the attorneys general signing on to these cases are Democrats, of course. They have all the standing they need: The Constitution gives states and Congress the power to run and regulate elections. “States have the right to conduct mail-in elections if they choose,” Frosh said. “Trump is trying to undermine that.”

Not Texas, of course. Our Attorney General doesn’t object to this kind of lawbreaking. But at least one prominent Texan finds this all disgraceful.

Austin resident Carolyn Lewis, a George W. Bush-era presidential appointee and 2009 chair of the USPS board of governors, told The Texas Tribune in a series of email and phone interviews Monday and Tuesday that she has been disturbed by reports of sweeping cost-cutting measures that led to a slowdown in the mail and raised concerns that the postal service will not be able to handle an influx of mailed-in ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mr. DeJoy is failing to fulfill the mission of the USPS to provide prompt and reliable mail delivery at a time when that mission is as important as it has ever been,” said Lewis, who served on the USPS board of governors from 2004 to 2010, in a Monday email interview with the Tribune. “He is also destroying confidence in the organization that will only make its long-term viability even harder to achieve. If he does not change course immediately I hope the [board of governors] makes a change in leadership quickly.”

[…]

Lewis’ tenure also marked a moment of transition for the postal service. With the onset of modern technology, like email, the era marked a call for modernization in order to preserve the USPS’ mission to deliver the mail to all reaches of the country in a timely fashion while also remaining financially viable.

But DeJoy’s approach to modernization “feels different in several ways,” she said.

Alluding to a dysfunctional confirmation process within the U.S. Senate that for the last 10 years left gaping vacancies on the board, Lewis said that the postmaster general and the current board members “are very new and have none of the institutional knowledge that is usually there when you have more staggered terms of Governors.”

“Yet they seem to be rushing ahead to make changes before having time to fully understand the impact of those changes on all the stakeholders and there are many: employees, mailers, Congress and the American public,” she said.

She also has not seen “evidence that the current leadership has communicated their overall plan and goals that are driving the specific actions they are taking,” and “there is clearly not a priority on ensuring prompt and reliable mail delivery or fulfilling the mission” of the USPS.

“I do not know for certain the motivation of the [postmaster general] and the Governors, but their actions are certainly inviting questions, and legitimately so,” she added.

It took a couple of days, but this issue now has the full attention of Congress.

Houston Democratic congressional delegates on Tuesday announced they will propose legislation that would give the U.S. Postal Service an emergency loan and reverse recent cutbacks.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday afternoon that he would suspend all recent changes to the postal service until after the November election.

“Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards,” said DeJoy in a statement. “The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and Election Day.”

The postmaster general’s move did not satisfy Democratic lawmakers, who said legislation is needed to ensure the postal service can continue to operate at full capacity beyond November.

“What he’s proposing is not acceptable,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of DeJoy’s statement. “We need the changes to be reversed in totality forever. And that’s what the legislation is about.”

[…]

Previous legislation that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would have provided the loan. Trump said he would block the funding.

The coming bill, also supported by U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher, would also make administrators within the postal service cease and desist from making any more cuts.

Jackson Lee said she will help oversee an investigation of the extent of recent reported actions directed by DeJoy, such as terminating mail sorting machines, reducing staffing and cutting back overtime at post offices across the country.

“We need to know whether there have been any civil rights violations or criminal acts taking place,” said Jackson Lee.

DeJoy will be testifying before Congress on Friday, and I hope it’s a painful experience for him. But clearly, simply agreeing to stop wrecking the place is insufficient. If I’m caught hauling bags of money from a bank vault, it is not sufficient for me to say “okay, fine, I won’t take any more money from the vault”. Vandals are expected to make restitution, and that should very much include Louis DeJoy. Daily Kos has more.

Coronavirus and coins

If you’re not using cash, you’re not circulating any coins.

Show some love for Millard

Stores around the U.S. are struggling with an unexpected shortage. (No, not toilet paper — sorry, we’ve already made that joke.) They’re running low on coins.

Supermarkets and gas stations across the U.S. are asking shoppers to pay with a card or produce exact change when possible. Walmart has converted some of its self-checkout registers to accept only plastic. Kroger is offering to load change that would normally involve coins onto loyalty cards. Some Wawa gas stations are accepting coin rolls in exchange for bills.

The trouble began weeks ago, when the coronavirus pandemic delivered a bizarre double blow to the U.S. supply of quarters, dimes, nickels and even pennies. Social distancing and other safety measures slowed production of coins at the U.S. Mint. But also fewer coins made their way from customers to banks, coin-sorting kiosks and stores’ cash registers as people holed up at home.

“The flow of coins through the economy … kind of stopped,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers in June.

That month, the Fed began rationing coins. Soon after, business groups — representing grocers, convenience stores, retailers, gas station operators and others — wrote to Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the situation was an emergency.

“We were alarmed to hear that the system for distributing coins throughout the country is at the breaking point,” they wrote on June 23, offering a series of suggestions for how to fix it. A week later, the Fed announced it would convene a U.S. Coin Task Force to address the matter.

All things considered, I’d generally rather use cash for buying lunch and other small purchases. Old habits, I suppose, plus I know that no one is taking a cut of the cash away from the merchant I’m patronizing. But since we all started staying home and doing contactless transactions, I’ve barely used the stuff. I haven’t hit an ATM since February. I do tip more, and more often, now that it’s all credit card all the time. That’s something I need to pay attention to going forward. I do look forward to the day when I can just hand over a $20 for my lunch, if only because it will be a sure sign that things have returned to some kind of normal.

Matt Glazer: A way to end surprise medical bills

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

At a young age, I had to deal with medical issue after medical issue. It started with trips to M.D. Anderson and ended with an emergency appendectomy. Three major illnesses in 2 years was hard, but we were fortunate enough not to be financially destroyed by these unexpected medical expenses.

Fast forward to now and I am constantly nervous to go see a doctor. Yes, I have insurance now (something that was impossible before the Affordable Care Act), but I am also a pawn in a subterranean fight between health care providers and insurance companies. Basic treatments that should be covered sometimes aren’t and with no rhyme or reason. Then I am hit with unexpected bill that sends me back to eating ramen or cutting expenses again.

There is a real, bi-partisan opportunity to do something about this and protect consumers.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt life in Texas throughout the country, health care access has never been more important. Now more than ever, people need to see a doctor when they’re sick – not just for their own health, but (given the contagiousness of the disease) for the health of those around them.

Yet some in Washington, D.C. are putting that access at risk in a ham-fisted attempt to stop surprise medical bills.

Most of us have dealt with the shock of a surprise medical bill in recent years – those charges you get billed for after getting medical care, when your insurance company refuses to foot the bill for an out-of-network health provider. Congress has been debating this issue for over a year, and two main camps have emerged. One group wants to end these disputes by creating an independent dispute resolution (IDR) system, where providers and insurance companies are pushed toward a negotiating table to figure out their differences, and patients are left out of the process. The other group wants pre-determined reimbursement rates for services based on insurance companies’ in-network rates.

The first option, IDR, is similar to what we passed last year for insurance plans regulated by the state of Texas – one of the country’s most patient-friendly surprise medical bill laws which won bipartisan support. Other states, such as New York, have instituted a similar system with successful results. (Unfortunately, these state fixes only apply to plans regulated by the state, which is why Congress needs to act. For example, in Texas only 16% of health plans are covered by the state surprise billing law.)

The problems with the second option become obvious quickly: If insurance companies are setting rates, they have all the negotiating leverage. Surprise bills go from being a dispute over how much to charge for a medical procedure to a take-it-or-leave it edict to hospitals, doctors, and other care providers. The rate-setting option would artificially drive insurance payouts down and create dire financial situations for doctors and hospitals – particularly in rural areas, where hospitals function as major hubs for local health care services. It would pad the bottom line for health insurance companies, though – not like they need it, since they have been among the few companies making more money during the pandemic.

Worst of all: Rate-setting would allow insurance companies to further enrich themselves on the backs of the doctors, nurses, and other health care providers who have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic, shouldering more risk than any of us in fighting COVID-19.

(Last month, the Trump administration proposed a third option: an outright ban on surprise medical bills with no outline for resolving the underlying dispute. That figures to throw any disputed bill into the court system, with costly lawsuits driving up the costs of both health care and insurance premiums. Everyone except the lawyers would lose in that scenario.)

Thankfully, surprise medical billing is one of the few truly bipartisan issues on Congress’s agenda, outside the drama of November’s elections. And there is bipartisan support for an IDR-based solution, which means that we can have some hope that Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz, and the rest of our Congressional delegation will step up and do the right thing. And there are legislative options, put forward by members of Congress who are actual doctors: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has more than 30 bipartisan co-sponsors for his “STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act,” and more than 110 House members have similarly signed on to the “Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act,” sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Ca.). Both of these bills solve surprise medical bills using IDR and keep the patients out of it.

We still have a long way to go in facing COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, and the time to come after, one thing should be crystal clear: We cannot make it harder for people to get health care when they need it. Access to health care will be essential as the economy struggles to recover in fits and starts, we need workers and customers who don’t have to worry about finding care if they get sick.

Forcing doctors out of business and pushing hospitals to the brink of financial collapse is no way to fight a pandemic – or to help patients.

This is a necessary solution for millions. A generation later, I am still terrified to go see a doctor because of the uncertainty surrounding every trip. I am still affected by the bad luck I was afflicted with before I could drive a car, vote, or serve our country. A generation later, I still feel the effects of being a pawn in a game I don’t want to play. There is a real opportunity to do something about this now. All it takes is for our elected officials to do it.

Matt Glazer is the past Executive Director of Progress Texas and co-founder of Blue Sky Partners.

How to lose a Congressional seat

As things stand right now, Texas will gain three Congressional seats in the 2021 reapportionment, as Texas continues to be the fastest-growing state in the country. There is one thing that can stop that, however: Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump opened a new front Tuesday in his effort to keep undocumented immigrants from being counted when lawmakers redraw congressional districts next year, a move that could cost Texas several seats in Congress if it succeeds.

Trump attempted last year to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, but was shot down by the courts. On Tuesday, he signed a memorandum directing Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to exclude undocumented immigrants who might be included in the census count from the “apportionment base,” or the base population that’s used to divide up seats in Congress.

The order, which will surely be challenged in court, is Trump’s latest effort to differentiate between citizens and noncitizens when states redraw the boundaries of political districts each decade to account for growth. Recent estimates indicate the size of the undocumented population in Texas has reached nearly 1.8 million. Excluding those residents from population counts to draw up congressional districts would likely lead to a drastic realignment of representation and power throughout the state.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that representation in Congress be divided among states based on a count every 10 years of every person residing in the country. But the Constitution, Trump wrote, does not define “which persons must be included in the apportionment base.”

“Excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of Government,” the memo reads. “Affording congressional representation, and therefore formal political influence, to States on account of the presence within their borders of aliens who have not followed the steps to secure a lawful immigration status under our laws undermines those principles.”

[…]

“The Constitution requires that everyone in the U.S. be counted in the census,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “President Trump can’t pick and choose. He tried to add a citizenship question to the census and lost in the Supreme Court. His latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional. We’ll see him in court, and win, again.”

Litigation has indeed been filed, in multiple lawsuits and venues at this point. My interest in pointing this out was the very narrow one of showing what this would mean to Texas.

If unauthorized immigrants were excluded from the apportionment count, California, Florida and Texas would each end up with one less congressional seat than they would have been awarded based on population change alone. California would lose two seats instead of one, Florida would gain one instead of two, and Texas would gain two instead of three, according to analysis based on projections of Census Bureau 2019 population estimates and the Center’s estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population.

Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio would each hold onto a seat that they would have lost if apportionment were based only on total population change. Alabama filed a lawsuit in 2018 seeking to block the Census Bureau from including unauthorized immigrants in its population count.

[…]

The Census Bureau does not regularly publish counts or estimates of unauthorized immigrants, although the Department of Homeland Security has done so. Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against including a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, the president ordered the Census Bureau to assemble a separate database, using other government records, on the citizenship status of every U.S. resident. This has also been challenged in court.

The Center’s analysis relies on assumptions about populations to be counted in the 2020 census and estimates of unauthorized immigrants. The actual figures used for apportionment will be different from these, and so the actual apportionment could differ regardless of whether unauthorized immigrants are excluded from the apportionment totals.

You might think that Texas’ political leaders would be up in arms about this. That Congressional seat belongs to Texas! State’s rights! You know the drill. And sadly, you also know that our Trump-hugging Attorney General would never, ever say or do anything that would contradict his Dear Leader. What’s a Congressional seat (or two, or even three, if our dismal failure to support a complete Census effort causes the official count to be unexpectedly low) compared to a favorable tweet from Donald Trump? That’s a question we should all be asking, loudly and often, in 2022, when they are up for re-election.

One more thing:

Texas House leaders have previously indicated to The Texas Tribune they have no plans to alter the way Texas redraws political districts even if the Legislature obtained more detailed data on citizenship.

“Bottom line, the law for the Texas House and the Senate — and frankly the courts and the State Board of Education — requires it be done by total population, as does the U.S. Constitution with regard to congressional seats,” said state Rep. Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford who chairs the House Redistricting Committee.

That’s good to hear, but my understanding is that while the State House is explicitly mandated to use total population in redistricting, the State Senate is not. That’s why it was the Senate map that was targeted in the Evenwel case. So, while I hope Rep. King means what he says here, the possibility very much exists that the Lege will try a different tack. (Also, it’s usually the House that draws the House map, and the Senate that draws the Senate map. I’d like to know what the relevant Senate committee chair has to say about this.)

UPDATE: From Ross Ramsey at the Trib:

In a letter urging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to take legal action to stop the proposal, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, framed the idea as an attack on Texas.

“Filing suit to block the Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of Commerce dated July 21 would be wholly consistent with your official biography that explains as Attorney General, you are ‘focused on protecting Texans and upholding Texas laws and the Constitution’ and ‘fighting federal overreach.’ Indeed, if unchallenged, the President’s actions would likely hurt Texas more than any other state.”

The partisan politics here are clear enough. Turner is the chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. Paxton, a Republican, is the newly branded co-chair of the national Lawyers for Trump.

But not all that is political is partisan, even in an election year. Does anyone in elected office here think Texas should have less influence in Washington, D.C.?

Good question. Someone should ask Ken Paxton, and Greg Abbott, and Dan Patrick, and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and all of the Republican members of Congress.

Interview with Rep. Marc Veasey

Rep. Marc Veasey

When I came up with the idea to do a series of interviews about redistricting, Rep. Marc Veasey was among the first people I wanted to talk to. He was a State Rep in 2011 when the original maps were passed, and then he got elected as the first member of Congress in CD33, one of the new districts created in that 2011 session. He was one of the litigants in the consolidated case that made it to the Supreme Court (he was also one of the main litigants in the voter ID lawsuit; the 2010s were a busy decade for Rep. Veasey), and I wanted to get the insight from someone who was in this fight from the beginning. As a member of the now-Democratic majority US House, he’s also got a role to play in making the landscape better in the 2020’s, with legislation to make redistricting fairer that will also generally expand voting rights. Here’s what we talked about:

Here’s my interview with redistricting expert Michael Li if you haven’t listened to it yet. I hope to have more of these in the coming weeks.

Who needs testing?

Not a great idea.

The Trump administration is planning to end federal support for some coronavirus testing sites across the nation at the end of the month — including seven in Texas, where confirmed cases of COVID are spiking.

An array of Texas officials from the city to the state House and Congress are urging the White House to rethink the move, warning of “catastrophic cascading consequences” of pulling federal support for testing sites, four of which are in Houston and Harris County and administer thousands of tests per day. City officials say the sites won’t close, but keeping them open without federal help will drain much-needed resources as the city works to expand testing and build a contact tracing network.

A Trump administration official said the sites are part of a “now antiquated program” the federal government is moving away from as it works to expand testing options. But Houston officials consider two of those sites — the largest in the city, administering up to 500 tests each per day — the backbone of its testing efforts.

Texas has seen a 146-percent increase in lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations since Memorial Day and Houston could soon be the country’s worst-hit city, health officials have warned.

“Now is the time to be ramping up our testing capabilities, not slowing it down,” said U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who led a letter to the heads of FEMA and Health and Human Services on Tuesday. Houston Democratic U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher also signed the letter.

Also pushing back on the plan is a group of 20 members of the Texas House and Senate representing Harris County and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican.

[…]

The Trump administration has long planned to end federal support for the sites and transition them to state and local control. It has pushed back the plan at least once, in April, when it extended support for the sites until the end of June at the urging of local lawmakers including Houston Democrats and the state’s Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Cruz.

Officials are asking the administration to to push the deadline back to the end of August, saying ending federal support for the sites now could hinder attempts local attempts to build up contact tracing networks and other efforts to control the outbreak.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Wednesday that the city will keep the testing sites open, but it will strain the city’s resources to do so. The city’s health department is working on a transition plan as officials push for the federal government to reconsider.

The federal government should be paying for this. It’s not even a question. This is not something that should be competing for city financial resources. Turn on the federal spigot, and keep it on until we don’t need testing at scale anymore. I can’t believe we are having this discussion.

Credit to Talking Points Memo for breaking the original story, which has been picked up by national media, and which apparently led to an epic meltdown by the spokesperson for HHS on a conference call with reporters. The Trib has more.

Abbott issues disaster declaration following protests

Where we are now.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Sunday afternoon that the entire state of Texas will be placed under a disaster declaration in response to demonstrators in several Texas cities protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed Monday in Minneapolis police custody.

The declaration allowed Abbott to designate federal law enforcement officers to perform the duties of peace officers in Texas.

Thousands of protesters marched in Texas cities on Friday and Saturday, outraged after Floyd was filmed crying out for help as a white police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was later arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

“Every Texan and every American has the right to protest and I encourage all Texans to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Abbott said in a statement. “However, violence against others and the destruction of property is unacceptable and counterproductive.”

His announcement comes a day after he activated the Texas National Guard “in response to protest violence” across the state. In several of the state’s large metropolitan areas — including Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio — protesters clashed with police who sometimes used rubber bullets and tear gas.

Abbott also sent state resources to Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio on Saturday afternoon and said he’s spoken to the mayors of all four cities, as well as law enforcement officials. He said Sunday that he also increased those resources for cities throughout Texas and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has deployed tactical teams to assist state and local law enforcement.

[…]

Prior to Abbott’s announcement, several Texas cities took measures into their own hands. On Saturday evening, the mayor of San Antonio imposed a curfew as a result of escalating tensions due to the protests.

In Dallas, where officials defended the use of tear gas at protests for Floyd, Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall said Sunday afternoon that a 7 p.m. curfew will go into effect Sunday and end at 6 a.m. “for the next several days,” The Dallas Morning News reported. In Austin, meanwhile, organizers canceled a protest planned for Sunday afternoon out of fear that “white agitators and other agitators of color” would co-opt the event and put black Texans in harm’s way.

The single best thing that can happen right now is for law enforcement agencies around the country to stand down and stop being violent themselves. After that we’ll see, but people have been pushing for moderate and incremental police reforms for a long time now with little success. What are people supposed to do now?

Justice for George Floyd

I stand with the people who are rightfully demanding justice for George Floyd and the many many (far too many) other black men and women like George Lloyd who have been killed by police officers. I join those in being shocked and disappointed (though sadly not surprised) at how different the police response to these protests were to the armed idiots that stormed and terrorized the Michigan legislature a couple of weeks ago because they couldn’t get a haircut or go to the mall. I fear the next wave of armed idiots who are now showing up at protests to wreak havoc, destroy property, and in their wildest dreams incite racial violence. I am thankful that our police chief recognizes this. I will do everything I can to elect a President – and a Senate, and a Congress, and a Legislature – whose first instinct in these times is to work to make things better, and not worse. I will listen to and follow the people who have been leading on this issue for years. I hope you will join me in this.

The COVID models remain pessimistic about Texas

Make of this what you will.

The coronavirus may still be spreading at epidemic rates in 24 states, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to new research that highlights the risk of a second wave of infections in places that reopen too quickly or without sufficient precautions.

Researchers at Imperial College London created a model that incorporates cellphone data showing that people sharply reduced their movements after stay-at-home orders were broadly imposed in March. With restrictions now easing and mobility increasing with the approach of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, the researchers developed an estimate of viral spread as of May 17.

It is a snapshot of a transitional moment in the pandemic and captures the patchwork nature across the country of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Some states have had little viral spread or “crushed the curve” to a great degree and have some wiggle room to reopen their economies without generating a new epidemic-level surge in cases. Others are nowhere near containing the virus.

The model, which has not been peer reviewed, shows that in the majority of states, a second wave looms if people abandon efforts to mitigate the viral spread.

“There’s evidence that the U.S. is not under control, as an entire country,” said Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer in geostatistics at Imperial College.

[…]

The Imperial College researchers estimated the virus’s reproduction number, known as R0, or R naught. This is the average number of infections generated by each infected person in a vulnerable population. The researchers found the reproduction number has dropped below 1 in 26 states and the District. In those places, as of May 17, the epidemic was waning.

In 24 states, however, the model shows a reproduction number over 1. Texas tops the list, followed by Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Alabama and Wisconsin.

When the R naught is below 1, it means the virus is hitting a lot of dead ends as it infects people. Someone who is infected but who follows social distancing rules or stays quarantined until recovering has a good chance of not infecting anyone else. The challenge is finding a way to reopen the economy with sufficient care to prevent the reproduction number from going over 1.

[…]

In Texas, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he consults with doctors and experts from area hospitals, “and what they tell us is that we’re reopening too fast, and we’re reopening in the wrong order.”

Local jurisdictions in Texas do not have the authority to issue more stringent restrictions than the state, which began aggressively reopening this month. So Dallas has focused on messaging. The county has a daily “covid-19 risk level” that is currently red, for “stay home, stay safe.” Officials are working on seals that businesses can display to indicate they are meeting local public health guidelines, not just state mandates.

The Imperial College estimates for Texas are in line with internal modeling conducted by university experts advising state leaders.

Rebecca Fischer, an epidemiologist at Texas A&M University and part of a team partnering with the governor’s office, said the daily caseload was fluctuating, but “it looks like we’re not cresting a peak and coming down the other side.”

The embedded graphic shows the probability (according to the model) that R naught is less than one in the given state. For Texas, that probability is close to zero, which means that the virus is still spreading at an increasing rate. This is consistent with the PolicyLab study, which uses county-level data. You can see the Imperial College study here, and a brief analysis of it by Josh Marshall here. There’s still a lot we don’t know, and if loosening restrictions is going to have a bad effect on the pandemic it’ll still be a couple of weeks before we really begin to feel it. Staying at home, social distancing, and wearing masks are still your best bet, but I doubt I will convince you of that if you’re certain you know better.

What the next CARES act could mean for Texas cities and counties

Short answer, a lot.

Cities and counties across Texas would get more than $29 billion from the $3 trillion coronavirus relief package House Democrats want to pass as soon as Friday.

That includes more than $1.7 billion to Houston and nearly $1 billion to San Antonio as both cities stare down massive budget holes caused by the outbreak. Harris County’s funding could top $2.6 billion and Bexar could be on tap for more than $1 billion, as well. Texas, meanwhile, could get nearly $35.5 billion from a separate pool of funding to aid states.

That’s all according to estimates compiled by the Congressional Research Service, Congress’ public policy institute. The estimates, which cover the rest of 2020 and 2021, are based on some factors not yet known, such as unemployment and infection rates, so they’re not exact.

[…]

At the top of the Democrats’ list is sending $875 billion to states, cities and counties to help plug huge budget deficits. Cities can’t use the aid that Congress has offered so far to close those budget holes and cities across the country, including Houston and San Antonio, are starting to lay off employees and cut programs.

The bill would also for the first time offer coronavirus relief aide to smaller cities, as past relief packages have only directed funding to cities with 500,000 or more residents, meaning suburbs could get tens of millions. New Braunfels, for instance, could get nearly $30 million. Sugar Land could get more than $58.5 million.

There’s a list of cities and counties in Texas and the amounts they would get here. As noted, it’s broken out over two years, so Houston would get $1.18 billion this year and $580 million next year, while Harris County would get $1.76 billion this year and $881 million next year. That’s way more than the current Houston budget gap, so I presume a lot of that money is intended for other purposes as well, such as perhaps rental assistance and maybe rebuilding public health infrastructure. The main point here is that this is a demonstration that someone has learned the lesson from 2009, which is that massive cuts and layoffs in city and state budgets is a huge drag on any economic recovery effort. (That someone is the Democrats, though for at least a few minutes the Republicans have decided that they need to take whatever steps they have to in order to keep the economy from completely collapsing on Trump.) I don’t know what a final version of this might look like – there are certainly things the Dems could concede on – but if something like this passes and cities and counties and states can “balance” their budgets without taking a chainsaw to them, it would be a bug freaking deal. Daily Kos has more.

Chip Roy would also like you to die for the economy

Truly, I struggle to understand this kind of thinking.

Rep. Chip Roy

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a firebrand freshman Republican, on Wednesday called for a return to economic normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to secure an “overall net positive outcome” for Americans.

“The goal here is for the least amount of human harm, right?” the Austin conservative said in a Wednesday interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith. “And so the virus is one piece of a much larger puzzle. So should we reopen our society? I believe yes.”

“I think it is important for us to engage as human beings together, to worship together, to work together. Can we do it in a way that protects the most vulnerable?…It’s important that we do that, and we can do that.”

Roy argued that the American economy cannot freeze for the months or years it will take for scientists to develop a vaccine.

“We need immune systems that are strong. We need immunity systems that can fight this,” he said. “We need herd immunity. So we have to work through this together to get re-engaged so we can build that up.”

When pressed over whether the herd immunity concept will lead to unnecessary deaths, Roy countered that the nationwide lockdown and its subsequent delays in cancer screenings, addiction treatment and mental health ramifications from unemployment have added to indirect death and suffering.

Just so we’re all on the same page here, the “herd immunity” strategy only works if something like 60% of the population becomes infected. Remember those very early projections of one to two million deaths if we did nothing and just let the virus run its course? That’s based on 150 to 200 million people getting COVID-19, and a one percent death rate. Are one to two million dead people an acceptable price to pay? I wish that question had been posed more directly.

Please note, that’s one to two million deaths from coronavirus, and that’s assuming it burns out after infecting 60% of the population – there isn’t anything magical to stop it from getting to, say 80% of the population, which adjusts the death toll up to about three million. That also doesn’t take into account deaths from heart attacks and strokes and falling down the stairs and whatnot that couldn’t be treated because the hospitals are completely overwhelmed from COVID-19 cases. Remember when we were concerned about that? Back before we all agreed that “flattening the curve” was for the collective good? Boy, those were the days.

But let’s say we get lucky and manage to limit ourselves to “just” one million deaths. It turns out that a significant number of COVID-19 patients experience serious and lasting health effects from the disease, and may need lifelong health care as a result. So maybe add in another five to ten million people with permanent health conditions, some of which will be disabling, some of which will be very expensive to treat. Are we approaching a price point that is too high yet?

I mean, it sure seems to me that all that death and destruction would also be bad for the economy, and that’s before we mention the effects of a society where anyone can just get infected at any time. I’m sure the places in America that rely heavily on tourists and foreign travelers will be happy with this. “Come visit Disneyland! You probably won’t get COVID-19 and die, but even if you do, YOLO!” I can’t decide if Chip Roy hasn’t fully thought this through, or if he has and he’s decided it’s still better to let pestilence win.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: We don’t know yet that getting COVID-19 means that you’ll be immune to it afterwards. You may be immune to it for awhile, but maybe not for all that long. What would be worse than getting COVID-19? Getting it a second time. That’s gotta suck.

So yeah. Even when you factor out the utter depraved sociopathy, it’s still a bad idea. Don’t you wish now that Donald Trump had been pushing full-tilt for universal testing and contact tracing? In his defense, he had a lot going on. Maybe next pandemic, if he’s not too busy. In the meantime, support Wendy Davis for Congress in CD21. She would prefer not to let millions of people die.

The politics of social distancing

Not really a surprise.

People in parts of the country that voted for President Donald Trump have worried less about COVID-19, especially as the new coronavirus was first emerging in the U.S., a new study out of Rice University found.

[…]

“Even when — objectively speaking — death is on the line, partisan bias still colors beliefs about facts,” the study said. “Relying solely on compliance with voluntary suggested measures in the presence of different political views on the crisis may have limited effectiveness; instead, enforcement may be required to successfully flatten the curve.”

Counties with the most Trump voters saw far fewer Google searches about the virus, and social distancing was 40 percent less prevalent in those areas than in other counties, according to Rice Business professor Yael Hochberg, who co-authored the study.

The study used internet search data, as well as smartphone data to analyze average daily travel distance and visits to non-essential businesses over the last several weeks. It found that searches were low and travel was common in Trump country, especially in the early weeks of the outbreak.

Even as states began to issue stay-at-home mandates, the study found that counties that went for Trump in 2016 were slow to begin social distancing. Daily travel distance in those counties dropped by less than 7 percent, compared to a more than 9-percent drop in daily travel in counties with fewer Trump voters.

“Only when the federal order to ‘slow the spread’ arrived from the White House do high Trump counties begin to catch up,” the study said.

I’ve searched all around and I can’t find even a news release about this study, so I can’t give any judgment on its merits. I’m sure we’re all inclined to believe it, and there’s plenty of anecdotal data in the news in support of the general concept, but that’s as far as I can go at this time. Make of this what you will.

Are we sure we’re using the right models?

Let’s check our assumptions before we do anything dumb.

Be like Hank, except inside

A widely followed model for projecting Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. is producing results that have been bouncing up and down like an unpredictable fever, and now epidemiologists are criticizing it as flawed and misleading for both the public and policy makers. In particular, they warn against relying on it as the basis for government decision-making, including on “re-opening America.”

“It’s not a model that most of us in the infectious disease epidemiology field think is well suited” to projecting Covid-19 deaths, epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told reporters this week, referring to projections by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Others experts, including some colleagues of the model-makers, are even harsher. “That the IHME model keeps changing is evidence of its lack of reliability as a predictive tool,” said epidemiologist Ruth Etzioni of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, who has served on a search committee for IHME. “That it is being used for policy decisions and its results interpreted wrongly is a travesty unfolding before our eyes.”

The IHME projections were used by the Trump administration in developing national guidelines to mitigate the outbreak. Now, they are reportedly influencing White House thinking on how and when to “re-open” the country, as President Trump announced a blueprint for on Thursday.

The chief reason the IHME projections worry some experts, Etzioni said, is that “the fact that they overshot” — initially projecting up to 240,000 U.S. deaths, compared with fewer than 70,000 now — “will be used to suggest that the government response prevented an even greater catastrophe, when in fact the predictions were shaky in the first place.”

That could produce misplaced confidence in the effectiveness of the social distancing policies, which in turn could produce complacency about what might be needed to keep the epidemic from blowing up again.

[…]

“This appearance of certainty is seductive when the world is desperate to know what lies ahead,” Britta Jewell of Imperial College and her colleagues wrote in their Annals paper. But the IHME model “rests on the likely incorrect assumption that effects of social distancing policies are the same everywhere.” Because U.S. policies are looser than those elsewhere, largely due to inconsistency between states, U.S. deaths could remain at higher levels longer than they did in China, in particular.

While other epidemiologists disagree on whether IHME’s deaths projections are too high or too low, there is consensus that their volatility has confused policy makers and the public.

See here and here for previous mentions of the IHME. As you may recall, I noted the very wide error bars on its numbers, which tends to be overlooked in the way the stories about this model were written. The IHME is the model that Greg Abbott has used for his reopening plan, so the fact that its projections can change significantly as new data comes in should be of concern. Plus, you know, the whole we are bad at testing thing. However you look at it, the data is noisy, and there’s evidence to suggest there are a lot more people out there with the virus than our level of testing has had the ability to detect. Which is to say again, there’s a lot we just don’t know yet. We shouldn’t rely on one view of the data for our understanding of what is happening, in the same way that we should not rely on any one single poll to understand what is happening in a given election.

Coronavirus and redistricting

Big surprise.

A delay in census counting because of the coronavirus pandemic could push Texas redistricting into legislative overtime next summer.

Trump administration officials on Monday proposed delaying reapportionment counts and the distribution of redistricting data by four months, which would kick the delivery of data Texas lawmakers need to redraw political districts from March 2021 to July. That puts it past the end of the next scheduled legislative session.

The proposal must be approved by Congress. Under that plan, census counting would extend to October 31.

[…]

The Texas Legislature meets once every two years from January to late May. Under the bureau’s proposal, the redistricting data would come “no later than July 31,” meaning Gov. Greg Abbott may have to call lawmakers back for a special legislative session to redraw congressional and legislative maps.

It was not immediately clear what this would mean for the involvement of the Legislative Redistricting Board, a five-member board that steps in to redraw state Senate and House maps if lawmakers fail to redraw them during the regular legislative session following “the publication of the decennial census.”

No one could have seen this coming. In truth, I’m kind of glad to see it. I’d much rather have a delayed redistricting process than one based on a rushed and surely inaccurate Census. We all know the Census cannot proceed normally now. By far the best thing to do is give it some extra time (and money) so we can get the best count we can. Delaying the redistricting process by a couple of months, which in turn may force the 2022 primaries to be later in the year as they were in 2012, is a small price to pay for it.

That said, there must be heavy oversight of any changes to the process.

The bureau’s plans were first made public Monday by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

In a press release describing a phone call Ross held with some members of Congress about the plans, Maloney says the committee “will carefully examine” the request to change the census deadlines, while also criticizing the administration for not providing more information and not allowing Dillingham, the bureau’s director, to brief the committee about its plans in response to the pandemic.

“If the Administration is trying to avoid the perception of politicizing the Census, preventing the Census Director from briefing the Committee and then excluding him from a call organized by the White House are not encouraging moves,” Maloney said in the written statement. “The Constitution charges Congress with determining how the Census is conducted, so we need the Administration to cooperate with our requests so we can make informed decisions on behalf of the American people.”

According to the House oversight committee’s press release, Ross “acknowledged that the Administration had not sought input from Congress about this request in advance of this call because of concerns about leaks to the press.”

Asked by NPR why no Census Bureau officials participated in the call, Cook responded in an email that Dillingham now plans to speak with members of Congress “as soon as possible,” noting: “The Secretary of Commerce is statutorily delegated responsibility to conduct the decennial census and took the role of calling key congressional leaders to continue the consultation process.”

The bureau’s changes for the 2020 census were supported by Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, one of the main groups advocating for participation in the count.

“If it’s not safe to have census takers visiting people’s homes by June, then Congress has an obligation to consider other options to protect census workers and the communities they serve, and to ensure an equitable count,” Gupta said in a statement. “We cannot afford to compromise the health of our communities or the fairness and accuracy of the census.”

I agree with Vanita Gupta that this is the right thing to do. But I also agree with Stacey Abrams that we cannot trust the Trump administration to have good intentions, and we need to watch them like a hawk to make sure they are doing what they are legally obligated to do. Anything else would be just as bad an outcome.

Is it finally going to be Infrastructure Week?

I have three things to say about this:

Lawmakers have been talking about striking a deal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure for years. It might take a pandemic to finally get them to do it, and Texas officials are already working on their wish lists, with ports, highways, high-speed internet and more potentially on the line.

There’s growing talk of tackling infrastructure as the next step in Congress to stave off economic collapse from the coronavirus outbreak, following the $2 trillion stimulus package that passed last month.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that House Democrats are beginning work now on the next package, including “bold action to renew America’s infrastructure.”

President Donald Trump appears to be on board.

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” Trump tweeted. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country!”

In Texas that could mean a massive injection of federal funding to rebuild highways and bridges, expand ports and brace waterways for future floods. The federal push could also expand much-needed broadband — which 2 million Texans don’t have — with many Americans now stuck at home, relying on the internet for work, school, telemedicine and more.

“Getting the infrastructure bill done makes a lot of sense,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “It will be a really important driver to get our country up and running and back to work once we’re on the other side of COVID-19.”

[…]

In the Houston area, planned widening of Interstate 10 in Fort Bend and Waller counties could be at the top of a priority list of projects, along with expanding Texas 146 from two to three lanes in each direction to relieve a well-known truck bottleneck.

Metropolitan Transit Authority has a long list of projects, but also is still drafting much of its $7.5 billion plan, making it unclear whether Houston’s costliest train and bus projects are ready to reap federal dollars.

Then there are the ports and the Intercoastal Waterway, which will likely be at the top of the list for any major federal infrastructure package, said Ed Emmett, the former Harris County Judge who is now a senior fellow at Rice University.

The Houston Ship Channel needs to be deepened and widened, for one thing. Officials with the Port of Houston have been lobbying for federal help for the $1 billion project that would allow the nation’s busiest waterway to accommodate two-way traffic.

[…]

Emmett said he’ll believe there’s federal infrastructure money coming when he sees it.

“I’m a total cynic when it comes to this,” he said. “Anytime there’s a crisis Congress always says infrastructure — ‘we’re going to go spend on infrastructure’ — and it never happens.”

1. What Ed Emmett says. Past attempts at Infrastructure Week have failed because Donald Trump has the attention span of a toddler who’s been guzzling Red Bull. Show me a bill that at least one chamber has on track for hearings and a vote, and get back to me.

2. If we do get as far as writing a bill, then please let’s limit the amount of money we throw at TxDOT for the purpose of widening highways even more. Fund all of Metro’s projects. Get Lone Star Rail, hell even the distant dream of a high speed rail line from Monterrey to Oklahoma City, off the ground. Build overpasses or underpasses at as many freight rail traffic crossings as possible. Make broadband internet truly universal – hell, make it a public utility and break up the local monopolies on broadband. You get the idea.

3. Ike Dike. Ike Dike, Ike Dike, Ike Dike, Ike Dike. Seriously, any gazillion-dollar infrastructure plan that doesn’t fully fund some kind of Gulf Coast flood mitigation scheme is not worth the paper it’s printed on. Ike Dike or GTFO.

Texas is on track to pick up three more Congressional districts

Put an asterisk next to this, as the actual Census will need to bear that out.

The U.S. population continues to shift south and west, according to new Census Bureau data that offers the clearest picture yet of how the 435 congressional seats will be distributed among the 50 states.

The latest numbers, released Monday, represent the final estimates from the government before next year’s decennial Census, which will determine how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state will have for the next decade. That reapportionment, expected in December 2020, will kick off the year-and-a-half-long process of redrawing congressional-district maps — still in many states a brazen partisan battle that makes strange bedfellows, unplanned retirements and intense member-versus-member races, especially in states poised to lose seats.

“The first two years of any decade when districts are drawn produce the whitest knuckles in Congress,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who led House Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2012 cycle. “People are trying to hold onto their seats at all costs.”

According to projections from Election Data Services, a political consulting firm that specializes in redistricting, 17 states are slated to see changes to the sizes of their delegations, including 10 that are forecast to lose a seat beginning in 2022.

The biggest winners appear to be Texas and Florida, which are on track to gain three seats and two seats, respectively, according to the projections. Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and North Carolina are estimated to add one seat, as is Montana, which currently has just one at-large seat.

Meanwhile, 10 states are on track to lose one seat: Rhode Island, West Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, Illinois and California, which would drop a House seat for the first time in its 169-year history.

[…]

The looming reapportionment brings into sharper focus the high stakes surrounding the partisan battle for control of state legislatures and the fight to ensure an accurate Census count.

Some states, such as Rhode Island and California, are actively working to avoid an undercount. Other state governments, such as Texas, have not made similar investments.

In his projections, Brace is using the estimates released Monday by the Census Bureau to predict what the states’ populations will be next year, when the Census is taken. Other estimates, which simply apportion House seats according to the 2019 estimates, show smaller gains for Texas and Florida, where the population has been booming year-over-year this decade.

Brace also noted he’s unable to take into account the accuracy of the Census, which will be a major factor in determining the final reapportionment. “We’ve seen it over the decades: Less and less people are likely to participate in the Census,” he said. “That participation rate has gone down each 10 years.”

Moreover, unsuccessful attempts by President Donald Trump and his administration to include a citizenship question on next year’s Census have advocates worried that millions of residents, especially nonwhites, won’t fill out the Census. That could negatively impact the count in heavily Latino states like Texas, where Democrats are plotting a political comeback — if they can get a seat at the table in redistricting.

How we are handling the Census has always seemed like a key aspect of this, but I admit I may be overestimating its impact. The rubber will be meeting the road soon enough, and we’ll have the official verdict in a year’s time. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be tumultuous no matter what happens. Daily Kos has more.

How other states are handling the Census

Better than we’re handling it.

So cities and states with big immigrant populations — like California and New York City — are supplementing the Census Bureau’s efforts like never before, allocating money to outreach groups that can go to communities spooked by the Trump administration’s efforts to identify non-citizens.

  • It’s an effort to coax everyone to fill out a census form, whether they’re in the country legally or not. (And, for the first time, people will be able to do this online.)
  • State, local and neighborhood groups “have the best chance of convincing people who are wary about participating in the census that it is safe,” Terri Ann Lowenthal, who has advised organizations and government associations on Census-related matters, tells Axios.

By the numbers: California is allocating $187 million — nearly 95 times what it did a decade ago, according to The Mercury News — far outspending every other state.

  • New York City has budgeted $40 million to Census outreach — the most ever — and plans to parcel it out to agencies and community-based organizations that will raise awareness about the Census.
  • New York state, meantime, will dedicate $20 million to Census efforts.
  • Utah is setting aside funds for the first time ever — with a big portion of the $1 million being spent to count “a relatively large population of children under 5,” PBS NewsHour reports.
  • Chicago plans to spend $2.3 million — the largest amount of funding the city has ever committed to the census, per the AP.

[…]

States have typically created advisory councils in preparation for the Census, called “Complete Count Commissions.” Those groups are busier and getting more attention now than in previous years.

  • “We’ve never had a context like this,” Beveridge says. “That means the efforts of the Complete Count Commissions are very important this year in areas like Florida, Texas, California and New York which have high number of immigrant households.”
  • Yes, but: Some of those states, including Florida and Texas, have taken no action at all yet. Efforts to bulk up Census outreach have failed to pass in those state’s legislatures.

We are well familiar with Texas’ utter indifference to the 2020 Census. It’s political malpractice, and also sadly par for the course from the state and legislative Republicans. Cities and counties are doing their part, but they deserved help from the state. To me, the best outcome of all this will be for accurate counts in the big urban and suburban areas, and undercounts in the rural areas. If that leads to Texas missing out on a Congressional seat it could and would have had, so much the better. Let there be some consequences for this, which can then be more effectively enforced in 2022. The only way to end bad behavior is for there to be a cost for engaging in it.

Are we supposed to be scared by this?

I mean, I wouldn’t be.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher will be one of the first targets of a new nationwide anti-impeachment effort rolled out by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Trump Victory announced Wednesday it will hold a “Stop The Madness” campaign event early on Thursday morning, calling on Fletcher “to drop the impeachment inquiry against President Trump and get back to work for Texas.” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, an ardent Trump supporter, is scheduled to lead the event.

While other Houston Democrats including Al Green have been vocal advocates for impeaching Trump, Fletcher has been more cautious on the topic. Last week, she made her strongest comments yet, calling the president’s actions “a gross abuse of power” but stopping short of calling for his immediate impeachment, as many of her Democratic colleagues have.

This happened yesterday, at the Houston Marriott Westchase, in case anyone was around to see it. I just want to point out that Donald Trump got 46.8% in CD07 in 2016 (to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2%), and Sid Miller got 46.9% in CD07 in 2018, to Kim Olson’s 51.4%. Donald Trump is the reason CD07 went Democratic in 2018, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more un-representative of the district than Sid Miller. Keep up the good work, y’all.

By the way, Trump is also a deadbeat

It’s his brand.

President Donald Trump publicly pledged “all the support of the federal government” on Saturday after 22 people were shot to death in an El Paso Walmart this weekend.

But his statements are prompting charges of hypocrisy because the city claims the president’s political campaign owes an outstanding debt from a February campaign rally — specifically, more than half a million dollars.

On Monday, an El Paso city official said Trump has yet to pay.

According to Laura Cruz-Acosta, communications manager for the El Paso city manager’s office, the president has an outstanding bill of $569,204.63 for police and public safety services associated with a February campaign rally.

“The city staff have followed the process and procedures as it relates to any invoicing that we provide, and we will continue to do so accordingly as per city and state policies,” Cruz-Acosta said. She said that Trump owed an initial fee of $470,417.05 but that the city tacked on a 21% one-time late fee in June — 30 days after the campaign failed to pay the initial amount owed.

Local officials have repeatedly harangued Trump for not covering the costs associated with his visit to the border city, with some contrasting his actions with those of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who visited his hometown for a rally on the same day and has since paid his dues.

“Our resources are really strained right now,” said Alexsandra Annello, a member of the El Paso City Council. “Our police and fire are exhausted, our health department had for three days straight been working with the reunification of families. As you see from the bill, these are the services required for a presidential visit. In addition to financial costs, our community and resources are already strained and do not need this extra burden.”

Here’s the invoice. His whole brand is stiffing creditors, and he can’t be shamed, so don’t hold your breath waiting for a check. I just hope he doesn’t add to the bill after today’s (unwanted) visit.

An update on election security

Nothing to see here.

Russian hackers probed election systems in all 50 states, a new Senate report confirmed Thursday.

The report comes one day after former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress that the Russian government is working to meddle in U.S. elections “as we sit here.”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller said Wednesday of Russia’s 2016 election interference. “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

The bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Thursday confirmed previous comments by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Russian hackers scanned election systems in all 50 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. DHS initially acknowledged Russian attempts to hack into election systems in just 21 states.

[…]

Democrats used Mueller’s testimony Wednesday as the backdrop to bring a trio of election security bills to the Senate floor, but Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked each one in succession.

Two of the measures, one by Warner and the other by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would require campaigns to report offers of foreign support. The third, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would have allowed the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to help secure personal electronic devices belonging to senators and their staff.

Hyde-Smith has not said why she blocked the measures, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has long opposed bringing election-security measures up for vote. Last year, for example, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) accused McConnell of blocking another election security bill, explaining that McConnell believed the issue “reaches no conclusion.”

“[McConnell] has a long history of opposing election reform,” Wyden told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “And he’s got people in his caucus who’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for him.”

Remain calm, all is well.

Senate Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) each issued statements with the report’s release. Burr said that in 2016, the United States was “unprepared at all levels of government” for attacks on election infrastructure, and has improved in the time since. Burr noted that the Department of Homeland Security and state election officials have a much better working relationship than before, but that “still much work remains to be done.”

It’s unclear whether Burr considers federal elections security legislation as part of the work that remains to be done. Mitch McConnell, Burr’s Republican colleague and the Senate majority leader, has prevented most of this type of legislation from coming to the Senate floor, arguing that Congress has done enough and that pending election security legislation is merely the Democrats’ effort to usurp states’ rights and bolster their chances at the polls.

Warner, who a day ago was part of a group of Congressional Democrats that blasted McConnell for holding up election security legislation, alluded to the need to get past the partisan gridlock. “I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it,” he said in a statement.

The report notes that the Russian operation dates back to “at least 2014.” It reveals that state and local officials, who are mostly in charge of running elections, “were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a hostile nation-state actor,” and that officials at all levels of the government debated whether to publicly acknowledge what was happening, with some concerned that disclosing it “might promote the very impression they were trying to dispel—that the voting systems were insecure.” At the time, McConnell took an active role in preventing further public disclosure of the Russian operation, theWashington Post reported in December 2016.

Go about your business.

Hacking individual voting machines would be an inefficient way to throw an election. But J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist who has tested vulnerabilities for more than a decade, testified to the Senate committee that he and his team “created attacks that can spread from machine to machine, like a computer virus, and silently change election outcomes.” They studied touch-screen and optical-scan systems, and “in every single case,” he said, “we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and steal votes.”

Another way to throw an election might be to attack systems that manage voter-registration lists, which the hackers also did in some states. Remove people from the lists—focusing on areas dominated by members of the party that the hacker wants to lose—and they won’t be able to vote.

One former senior intelligence official told me, “If I was going to hack such a system, I’d leave the records alone and corrupt the tally software”—the programs that count the votes and transmit results to a central headquarters. The transmission is done through a network, which is vulnerable to hackers. Some data are transmitted from the voting machines via USB ports, which are also easy to hack.

In the past decade, many states have installed voting machines with paper backups. (One of the measures blocked in the Senate this week would have required them.) But the Senate report notes that 19 states do not conduct complete postelection audits to compare these ballots to the electronic results; five of them do not audit at all. Paper backups mean little if nobody looks at them.

Computerized voting might be inherently vulnerable. Matt Blaze, who holds the McDevitt Chair of Computer Science at Georgetown Law, said at a hacking conference in Washington earlier this year, “Voting security is by far the hardest problem I have ever encountered.”

That last link does have a proposed solution, if you’re not too depressed to read it. But as with most things in this life, if we want to make progress on fixing the problem, we have to first solve the Mitch McConnell problem.

The next Census threat

From TPM:

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has directed the Census Bureau to prepare to offer states the data they’d need to do a redistricting overhaul that would boost “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” in the words of a deceased GOP consultant.

That the administration is taking that step is not surprising, given that President Trump said that it would last week while announcing that the 2020 census would not have a citizenship question.

But the government formally put that intention in writing in a regulatory notice that was published over the weekend.

The document was an update to a previous notice about the the government’s plans for the 2020 census that confirmed that the survey would not include a citizenship question due to the Supreme Court decision blocking it.

“Accordingly, the Secretary has directed the Census Bureau to proceed with the 2020 Census without a citizenship question on the questionnaire, and rather to produce Citizenship Voting Age Population (CVAP) information prior to April 1, 2021 that states may use in redistricting” the new version of the notice said.

[…]

The Supreme Court said in a 2016 unanimous opinion in the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, that use of total population was permissible. But the opinion didn’t address the question of whether CVAP could also be used.  Justice Clarence Thomas said in a concurrence that states should have the choice to use such a metric, while Justice Samuel Alito issued a concurrence of his own calling for another legal case to resolve this “important and sensitive”question.

It appears the groundwork is being laid for such a test case to be sent to the Supreme Court, which has shifted to the right — with the additions of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — since the Evenwel decision.

See here, here, and here for more on the Evenwel case. At the time, most of the experts expressed doubt that future attempts to draw districts based on CVAP rather than population would succeed in the courts. That was about a million years ago in political news cycle terms, and I don’t know how confident anyone would be of such a prediction now. For sure, if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen here, but it will be that much harder to do with a Democratic majority in the State House. You know what to do about that. Ari Berman has more.

Of being “White” or “Other” on the Census

Here’s something I hadn’t thought about before.

When Randa Kayyali reached the race and ethnicity portion of the 2010 Census, she stared at the form for a while.

Her options were white, Hispanic and/or Latino, black/African-American, Asian, Native Hawaiian and American Indian. She didn’t see a category for herself on the survey: Arab American. So she checked “Other.”

Kayyali is among millions of Middle Easterners living in the U.S. — hundreds of thousands in Texas and Houston — who are severely undercounted because they don’t have a precise category to denote their background on census surveys, researchers and advocates say.

Currently, the bureau defines “white” as those of European, Middle Eastern or North African descent. But many people of Middle Eastern and North African origins and descent argue otherwise— saying their background, culture and overall experience in the United States makes it clear that they are not white, nor viewed as white.

The U.S. Census Bureau came close to including a “MENA” category (for Middle East and North Africa) in the 2020 Census, recommending it as an optimal addition in a 2017 study. But in 2018, the bureau announced that it would not include the category at the direction of federal budget officials.

The communities have responded in frustration, fury, and in some cases, lawsuits. Not only are they being rendered invisible, but advocates fear they are losing out on political representation and services for their unique economic, health and educational needs. According to the 2020 Census website, the survey results determine the distribution of over $675 billion in federal funding.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Hassan Jaber, who is president of the Arab American nonprofit organization ACCESS and previously served on the Census Advisory Committee for six years. “All the research for the past six years indicated that if it were available, communities from MENA backgrounds would choose MENA instead of white.”

[…]

According to the group’s estimates, there are 3.7 million Americans of Arab descent. The census had estimated just 1.9 million. Texas has the fourth-largest Arab American population in the country at over 124,000, according to the Arab American Institute.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of long form census data found that the Middle Eastern population — which includes people from Turkey, Iran and Israel — was over 281,000 in Texas for 2013, and over 98,300 in the Houston metro area. However, the limited data yielded margins of error of 24,400 and over 27,700, respectively — decreasing the data’s reliability.

“There are many segments of our community that don’t recognize themselves on the existing race/ethnicity questions, and this could provide more encouragement for them to participate,” said Helen Samhan, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “It’s extremely important because many local, state and county governments rely on census data to provide services to their immigrant and foreign-speaking populations, and one of the ways those services can be allocated appropriately is if there is official data counts from the U.S. Census.”

As the story notes, people of Middle Eastern/Arabic descent had once fought to be classified as white in the Census, as there has always been an advantage to being considered white in America. But people don’t want to deny their own heritage, and that is the more prominent concern these days. There’s no question that the Census would have more accurate data with a more accurate set of categories, and it is likely that some people who aren’t responding to the Census because they feel there’s no designation that includes them would participate if there were one. I’d like to see us have a thorough discussion over what racial and ethnic categories the Census includes – and while we’re at it, let’s have the same discussion over gender categories – because it’s in everyone’s interest to have the most accurate and representative count of who is living in the USA. This will have to wait until we have a President that cares about things like representation, accuracy, and data, but let’s not wait any longer than that.

The lawsuit to kill Obamacare has its hearing at the Fifth Circuit today

Brace yourselves.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Last year, after a federal judge in Texas declared the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, throwing into question millions of Americans’ health coverage, the state’s Republican leaders promised they would come up with a plan to replace it.

But on Tuesday, after a legislative session that seemed to have no room for issues other than property tax reform and school finance, Texas will ask a federal appeals court in New Orleans to end the law in its entirety — without offering a replacement plan.

The conservative crusade against portions of the act, known as Obamacare, has spanned a decade. But Texas’ latest lawsuit, filed in February 2018, became an existential threat to the law after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in December that it is unconstitutional in its entirety. At stake: the subsidized health coverage of roughly 1 million Texans, sweeping protections for patients with preexisting conditions, young adults staying on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 and a host of low-cost benefits available to all people with health insurance, including those covered through their employers.

Texas already has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

In a highly unusual — if not entirely surprising — move, the U.S. Department of Justice has declined to defend the federal law, leaving a California-led coalition of blue states to protect it. As the case proceeds, Obamacare has remained in place, and likely will until the litigation is finally resolved.

Attorneys for the state of Texas argue the health law cannot stand since the Republican-led Congress in 2017 zeroed out Obamacare’s individual mandate — a penalty imposed on people who chose to remain uninsured. Democrats had favored the penalty as a way to induce more people to purchase health insurance, with the goal of reaching near-universal coverage. Without it, Texas argues, the whole law must fall.

But the state’s Republican leaders have offered few ideas about what should replace Obamacare, a law that touches practically every aspect of health care regulations and includes several popular protections for patients. Gov. Greg Abbott — a vocal critic of the law — pledged in December that if the law remained struck down on appeal, “Texas will be ready with replacement health care insurance that includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Since then, he’s been quiet on the issue, including during this year’s 140-day Texas legislative session. Abbott did not respond to questions for this story.

See here for the background. And of course Greg Abbott doesn’t have a single thing to say about reducing the extremely high uninsured rate in Texas. That’s because Abbott’s plan to reduce the uninsured in Texas, supported by Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and the rest of the Republicans, is for more of them to die. Just as a reminder, Republicans have been in complete control of Texas government since 2003. Not once during that time have they taken any steps to improve access to health care in the state. Indeed, on multiple occasions, beginning in 2003 with the savage cuts to CHIP and continuing through their assault on women’s health via attacks on Planned Parenthood, they have time and time again make accessing health care harder. That’s what is at stake here. The only fix, regardless of the ruling in this case, is to vote them out. The WaPo, the Chron, and Think Progress have more.

Another cure for partisan redistricting

From the Brennan Center, written before SCOTUS lit a match to judicial remedies for partisan redistricting, and even more relevant now.

Congressional redistricting is broken. In most states, districts are drawn by partisan lawmakers, and the manipulation of district boundaries for partisan or other discriminatory purposes is rife, with communities of color being amongst the hardest hit. While courts can provide a remedy, litigation is often slow and costly. This allows discriminatory maps to sometimes remain in place for years while court cases and the inevitable appeals run their course. But H.R. 1, the broad and historic democracy reform bill passed by the House in March, offers some smart, comprehensive ideas that would make the redistricting process fairer and more transparent.

This would of course require three things: Democratic control of the Presidency and both chambers of Congress, discarding the filibuster so Mitch McConnell can’t block it, and then hoping that SCOTUS doesn’t decide that, well, actually, Congress can’t do any of the things that HR1 enables. In that case, a little court-packing, or at least the sufficient threat of it, may do the trick. The first is within our power, the latter two may be as well. First things first, though.

No Census citizenship question

Hallelujah.

The Trump administration is dropping plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, the Justice Department confirmed Tuesday just days after the Supreme Court described the rationale for the question as “contrived.”

The decision to back away from the controversial question was a victory for civil rights advocates concerned that the query would lead to an inaccurate count of immigrant communities that could skew political representation and federal funding.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the government had no choice but to proceed with printing the 2020 census forms without a citizenship question. Everyone in America counts in the census, and today’s decision means we all will,” attorney Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

The fate of the question has been the subject of legal and political wrangling since March 2018, when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced he planned to add it to the decennial survey, sparking a half-dozen lawsuits from states, cities, civil rights groups and others.

Just last week, President Trump responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling by saying he would seek to delay the census to give administration officials time to come up with a better explanation for why it should include a citizenship question.

Instead, government lawyers notified those challenging the question of the decision to proceed without it.

See here and here for the background. It sure is nice to see lying not get rewarded for once, isn’t it? Despite this early cave, it was a closer call than you might think, because if the government had been able to get any slightly-less-bullshit pretext back before SCOTUS in time, you know John Roberts would have waved it on through. Now we can at least get this done in something approaching a normal manner, and add “pass a law outlawing citizenship questions on the Census” to the ever-longer to do list for the next Democratic government. Note that this should not affect the examination of the newly uncovered Hofeller evidence, but it does close this chapter of the story. Big sigh of relief. Think Progress, TPM, Mother Jones, Slate, and Daily Kos have more.

How to rig the Census

This is how you would do it.

The Trump administration’s controversial effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census was drawn up by the Republican Party’s gerrymandering mastermind, who wrote that it “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” This bombshell news, revealed in newly released legal documents, suggests that the Trump administration added the question not to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, as it claimed, but to benefit Republicans politically when it came to drawing new political districts.

A case challenging the citizenship question is currently before the Supreme Court, and the new evidence significantly undercuts the Trump administration’s position in the case.

Tom Hofeller, who passed away last year, was the longtime redistricting expert for the Republican National Committee. He helped Republicans draw heavily gerrymandered maps in nearly every key swing state after the 2010 election. In some of those places, like North Carolina, the new lines were struck down for discriminating against African Americans.

In 2015, Hofeller was hired by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, to study the impact of drawing state legislative districts based on citizenship rather than total population, which has been the standard for decades. Hofeller’s analysis of Texas state legislative districts found that drawing districts based on citizenship—a move he conceded would be a “radical departure from the federal ‘one person, one vote’ rule presently used in the United States”—would reduce representation for Hispanics, who tended to vote Democratic, and increase representation for white Republicans. But Hofeller said that a question about citizenship would need to be added to the census, which forms the basis for redistricting, for states like Texas to pursue this new strategy.

Hofeller then urged President Donald Trump’s transition team to add the question about citizenship to the 2020 census. He urged the team to claim that a citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, even though Hofeller had already concluded that it would harm the racial minority groups that the act was designed to protect. That argument was then used by the Justice Department in a December 2017 letter requesting that the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, include a citizenship question.

Hofeller’s documents were discovered on hard drives found by his estranged daughter and introduced into evidence in a separate trial challenging gerrymandered North Carolina state legislative districts drawn by Hofeller. On Thursday, lawyers challenging the citizenship question cited them in federal court. They suggest that members of Trump’s team may not have been fully forthcoming in their testimony under oath. Neither Trump transition team member Mark Neuman nor John Gore, the former assistant attorney general for civil rights who wrote the Justice Department letter, mentioned Hofeller’s involvement in the letter when they were deposed under oath as part of a lawsuit by New York and 17 other states challenging the citizenship question.

Yeah. And of course, Texas was a key to all this.

The filing includes a 2015 analysis by Hofeller that had been commissioned to demonstrate the effect that using the population of citizens who are of voting age, as opposed to total population, would have on drawing up legislative districts.

Hofeller detailed how the change would clearly be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” by using the Texas House as his case study. He detailed how the Hispanic population would drop in traditionally Democratic districts, which would then have to grow geographically to meet constitutional population requirements in redistricting.

The loss of Democratic-leaning districts would be most severe in areas with mostly Hispanic populations, such as South Texas, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, which would lose 2.6 state House districts, according to Hofeller’s analysis. The change would also cost Dallas County 1.7 districts and another 1.7 districts in Harris County and its suburbs.

If the Supreme Court had required such a change at the time of the study, it would have mandated a “radical redrawing of the state House districts,” Hofeller wrote. He noted that the traditionally Democratic districts in need of more population could pick up pockets of Democratic areas in adjacent Republican-held districts and ultimately shore up the GOP’s control across the state.

But that approach was unrealistic at that point, Hofeller wrote in his study, because the government did not compile the necessary citizenship information. And he admitted it was unlikely that the Supreme Court could be convinced to alter the population standard used to draw legislative districts.

“Without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire, the use of citizen voting age population is functionally unworkable,” Hofeller said.

This is a reference to the Evenwel lawsuit, which established that states had discretion in how they drew legislative districts, but did not opine on whether drawing them based on citizen population rather than plain old population was legal. And so here we are.

The Census lawsuits have been argued before the Supreme Court, where the five Republican Justices seem inclined to let the Trump administration break the law as they see fit. Rick Hasen thinks this should-be-a-blockbuster revelation will just make the SCOTUS Five that much more likely to go with Team Trump. Hey, remember how Jill Stein supporters – and Ralph Nader supporters before her – poo-poohed concerns about the makeup of the Supreme Court if another Republican President got to pick more Justices? Good times, good times. ThinkProgress and Daily Kos have more.

Who needs disaster recovery funds?

Not this guy.

Rep. Chip Roy

A bipartisan group of Texas members of Congress will have to wait until early next month to see passage on a long-sought measure that will release more than $4 billion dollars in aid to parts of Texas that bear the brunt of hurricanes.

Legislation that swiftly passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon came to an abrupt halt on the U.S. House side at the hand of a Texan — U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican.

The bill allocated over $19 billion in disaster funding for nine states and two territories. But most Texans in Congress were focused on the bill’s provision that created a 90-day deadline for the Office of Management and Budget to release billions in grant funds to Texas that Congress approved more than a year ago after Hurricane Harvey.

The disaster funding bill had languished in both chambers. But then, on Thursday, congressional leaders and President Donald Trump were able to break the logjam, and the bill swiftly passed the Senate, 85-8. The chamber’s two Texans — Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — voted for it.

By that point, most of the U.S. House was headed home for the Memorial Day recess. Members are not expected to return until June 3. The hope, among backers of the bill, was that the House would pass the bill with a voice vote – a measure that would only work if there were no objections within the chamber.

Some Texas sources had anticipated an objection to the move, but that it turned out to be a fellow Texan shocked a number of them Friday morning.

Roy’s core objection was procedural: He didn’t like the notion of moving the bill forward after the House had left town, with little time to process legislation of that scale, according to a statement he released Friday. He further blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not holding members in Washington to vote on the bill.

[…]

With the assumption that the bill passes when Congress returns from Memorial Day recess at the beginning of June, the OMB could end up waiting until late summer to release the funds — a time frame that blows past much of hurricane season, which begins June 1.

Eh, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. Whoever heard of a hurricane hitting Texas in the summertime? Chip Roy is a minion of Ted Cruz, who sent out an ill-timed press release lauding the quick delivery of Harvey funds before Roy’s little power ply. He learned at the feet of the master, Ted. Anyway, just a reminder that CD21 is one of the DCCC-targeted districts this cycle. We don’t have a candidate yet, but Wendy Davis has expressed interest in running. I figure this stunt will come up in the course of the campaign next year.

Congressional Republicans seek to halt SOS voter purge inquiry

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Republicans are challenging the authority of a U.S. House panel to investigate the Texas effort to purge thousands of suspected non-citizens from voter rolls, contending in letters Monday that a recent request for documents has no “valid legislative purpose.”

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Dripping Springs, and three other Republican members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee asked the committee to halt its investigations in Texas and related efforts in Georgia and Kansas.

“Your letters rely in large part on unverified media articles to suggest misfeasance or malfeasance in administering various state election laws and elections held in each of the three states,” the letter reads.

In separate letters to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, the Republican congressmen suggest that Texas doesn’t need to comply with a request for documents because the “inquiry does not appear to have a valid legislative purpose and instead seeks confidential communications among state officials.”

[…]

[Committee member Rep. Jamie] Raskin, a law professor before he ran for Congress, asserted that Congress has the power and obligation to enforce voting rights under five separate constitutional amendments.

He said “indignant” Republicans might want to review letters written by the GOP-led Oversight Committee to states investigating the Affordable Care Act.

“It would be best if our GOP colleagues joined us in protecting voting rights, but at the very least they should stop trying to prevent us from doing our constitutionally mandated work,” he said in a statement. “Far from raising the ‘federalism concerns’ of Reps. Jordan, Hice, Cloud and Roy, this is serious federalism in action. Our colleagues should get used to it.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I say cry havoc and let slip the dogs of, um, subpoena power. The Republicans are gonna do what the Republicans are gonna do, so let’s just skip to the part where the courts sort it out.

Third Census lawsuit ruling against Trump administration

Once, twice, three times an injunction.

A federal judge in Maryland ruled Friday against the government’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Judge George J. Hazel found that in deciding last year to add the question, the government violated administrative law, according to The Post. The ruling will probably be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, as is expected with two similar cases.

The case has Texas connections. Lawyers representing the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Senate Hispanic Caucus, and several Texas-based nonprofits that advocate for Latino and Asian residents have appeared before Hazel to make arguments in the case.

The plaintiffs have challenged the inclusion of the citizenship question on several fronts, alleging that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, the Enumeration Clause and a federal law that governs federal agencies and their decision-making processes.

The Post reported that in his ruling, Hazel wrote, “The unreasonableness of Defendants’ addition of a citizenship question to the Census is underscored by the lack of any genuine need for the citizenship question, the woefully deficient process that led to it, the mysterious and potentially improper political considerations that motivated the decision and the clear pretext offered to the public.”

See here and here for the previous rulings, and here for more on this case. All three rulings focused on statutory issues, with constitutional issues either not being part of the case (as with the first lawsuit) or not getting the same favorable treatment. That may bode well for the forthcoming appeal to SCOTUS, as the questions are much more narrowly defined. Here’s hoping. Daily Kos has more.

Trump goes all in against health care

Game on.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Trump administration wants the federal courts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, an escalation of its legal assault against the health care law.

The Justice Department said in a brief filed on Monday that the administration supports a recent district court decision that invalidated all of Obamacare. So it is now the official position of President Trump’s administration that all of the ACA — the private insurance markets that cover 15 million Americans, the Medicaid expansion that covers another 15 million, and the protections for people with preexisting conditions and other regulations — should be nullified.

When combined with Trump’s endorsement of the various Republican legislative plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and other regulatory actions pursued by his subordinates, the Trump administration’s clear, consistent, and unequivocal position is that millions of people should lose their health insurance and that people should not be protected from discrimination based on their medical history.

The Justice Department had previously said that only the ACA’s prohibition on health insurers denying people coverage or charging people higher premiums based on their medical history should fall in the lawsuit being brought by 20 Republican-led states. But their latest brief removed that subtlety, saying that the entire law should go.

Legal experts dismiss the states’ argument as “absurd,” yet they have worried it could find a receptive audience among conservative jurists, given the prior success of anti-Obamacare lawsuits thought to be spurious that still found their way to the Supreme Court.

The argument has already won in the US district court in northern Texas, after all, though that decision is on hold pending appeal.

See here and here for some background. Did we mention this ridiculous lawsuit got its start in Texas? Bad lawsuits seem to be our main export these days. There’s not much we can do about what the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS will do, but in the meantime, health care is once again a huge issue for the next election. We won once on that, we need to do it again.

A second win for plaintiffs in Census citizenship question lawsuit

It’s all up to SCOTUS now.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acted in “bad faith,” broke several laws and violated the constitutional underpinning of representative democracy when he added a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

In finding a breach of the Constitution’s enumeration clause, which requires a census every 10 years to determine each state’s representation in Congress, the 126-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco went further than a similar decision on Jan. 15 by Judge Jesse Furman in New York.

The Supreme Court has already agreed to review Furman’s narrower decision, with arguments set for April 23, but may now need to expand its inquiry to constitutional dimensions.

[…]

Unable to find any expert in the Census Bureau who approved of his plan to add the citizenship question, Seeborg wrote, Ross engaged in a “cynical search to find some reason, any reason” to justify the decision.

He was fully aware that the question would produce a census undercount, particularly among Latinos, the judge said.

That would have probably reduced the representation in Congress — and thus in the electoral college that decides the presidency — of states with significant immigrant populations, notably California.

Because census data is used to apportion distribution of federal funds, an undercount would also have cheated these same jurisdictions, the judge said.

Seeborg, like Furman, found after a trial that Ross misrepresented both to the public and Congress his reasons for adding the citizenship question last March. Ross claimed he was acting at the request of the Justice Department in the interest of enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

In reality, the “evidence establishes” that the voting rights explanation was just “a pretext” and that Ross “acted in bad faith” when he claimed otherwise.

See here for the background. A copy of the ruling is embedded in this Mother Jones story. I don’t have much to add to this other than it’s a big honking deal and would have a negative effect on Texas just as it would on states like New York and California that filed the lawsuits against it. You wouldn’t know that from the words and actions of our state leaders, though. USA Today and NPR have more.

Bush coins

Feels like it’s been awhile since we’ve had a good dollar coin story.

We can only aspire to be like Millard

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would authorize the U.S. Treasury to mint $1 coins honoring former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, for the year.

The Bushes, who lived in Texas and Maine, both died in 2018.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said the coin will pay tribute to the Bush legacy of “courage, duty, honor, and compassion” and serve as a reminder of their contributions to the country.

Sponsors include Collins and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, along with GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, and Rob Portman of Ohio.

I’m down for some Bush coinage. The previous Presidential coin series, which also included First Spouse coins, ceased after the Reagans, so there’s a void to be filled. Note that there is not yet a Jimmy Carter coin, as this is only a posthumous honor. I figure this will eventually happen, though given the current state of things it may take more than one session for it. But sooner or later you’ll be able to plunk down a couple of George and Barbaras to pay your bar tab.