Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Joe Biden

Sheriff Gonzales withdraws from consideration for ICE

Not a big surprise at this point.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has withdrawn from consideration to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he confirmed Monday afternoon.

Gonzalez’s withdrawal comes 14 months after President Joe Biden first nominated him to lead ICE.

“It’s taken far too long,” Gonzalez said Monday. “It’s in best interest of myself, my family, the country and the residents of Harris County that elected me to serve as sheriff to remove myself from further consideration and remain in place as sheriff.”

Gonzalez’ nomination surprised some, in part because in 2017 he’d ended a controversial partnership with ICE that had allowed sheriff’s deputies to screen jailed suspects to find those in the country without legal permission — and later declined to cooperate with an ICE operation in 2019 to arrest large numbers of immigrant families living without legal permission in Houston and other large cities.

Biden first nominated Gonzalez in April 2021. He faced a tense reception from Senate Republicans later that year, ultimately promising not to abolish the partnership he’d scrapped in Harris County in which local law enforcement agencies screen jailed suspects to identify people unauthorized to be in the country.

[…]

The struggle to confirm Gonzalez reflects shifting norms in the Senate and the growing difficulty of confirming political appointees in recent years, said Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes effective government.

“Everything is becoming harder and slower, and you have even fewer people actually being confirmed for very important positions,” Stier said.

The exit of Gonzalez from the process this week marks the latest setback for the Biden administration, which has struggled to win Senate confirmation for high-profile appointments for other contentious posts — and for ICE itself, which has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for more than five years.

See here for the previous update. Not a whole lot to add, but if Dems can pull off maintaining the Senate, especially if they can pick up Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, then maybe the next ICE nominee will have an easier time. Maybe. In any event, please return any speculation you may have engaged in regarding who would be selected to replace Gonzales as Sheriff back to the shelf.

Biden signs modest gun control bill

It’s now the law. We’ll see for how long.

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law a bipartisan measure to address gun violence, less than 24 hours after the bill was approved by the U.S. House and a month and a day after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“Today, we say more than enough. We say more than enough,” Biden said at the White House. “At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential.”

The measure was negotiated by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead. That shooting had come less than two weeks after a massacre in a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 people dead.

In a statement announcing the signing, the White House thanked Cornyn and a small bipartisan group of other senators involved in its drafting.

The law is widely viewed as a series of modest changes to current gun regulations, falling far short of proposals pushed by House Democrats and Biden to raise the age to purchase a gun, ban assault weapons and expand universal background checks. The most noteworthy provision of the law would close what is known as “the boyfriend loophole.”

Current federal statutes prohibit firearm purchases for those convicted of committing domestic violence against spouses or partners who live together or share a child. To close the loophole, the new law will leave to the courts the contours of expanding how to define and include dating partners who commit such abuse.

Conservatives previously raised concerns that an expansive definition of a partner could threaten constitutional rights. The law will also permit offenders to regain their gun rights if there are no further offenses over five years.

See here for the background. Please note that first sentence in the last paragraph above, because I’ve been speculating about legal challenges to this new law ever since it became apparent that it was about to become law. I was called out in the comments of that earlier post for my assertion that “SCOTUS essentially declared all state gun control measures to be illegal”. I will admit that was a bit of hyperbole, but it’s absolutely the case that state gun control measures of all kinds around the country are now going to be challenged in federal court. Where do you think this Supreme Court will draw a line and say okay, no, that’s a reasonable and constitutional restriction and may stand? It’s not at all clear to me that they believe there is one. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong – and even happier if we finally get around to reforming this completely radicalized and out of control SCOTUS – but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on it. In the meantime, let’s see when – and yeah, I mean “when” and not “if” – the first suit is filed against this law.

PS – I know I make a lot of podcast recommendations as supplemental material for my posts, so here’s another for you: This week’s Amicus podcast talks for about 30 minutes about the Bruen decision, with the actual legal expert doing the talking sounding a lot more sanguine about certain types of state gun laws surviving future review; he also specifically thinks this federal law will survive. I’m the opposite of an expert, but I am deeply cynical and have zero faith in the consistency or fidelity of this court. You make the call which of us will be more accurate about the future.

COVID vaccines for kids under 5 are now available

It’s been a long wait.

On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on Covid vaccines for the youngest Americans. Her endorsement means shots can begin immediately, finally ending the two-and-a-half year wait on the part of parents of children under 5.

Walenksy accepted the recommendation within hours after the CDC advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for children as young as 6 months. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee on Saturday endorsed Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines for the youngest children, the last step before CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky could issue her final sign-off.

The unanimous recommendations from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices followed the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the shots on Friday.

President Biden responded to the announcement Saturday hailing it as a “monumental step forward.”

“For parents all over the country, this is a day of relief and celebration,” Biden said. “As the first country to protect our youngest children with COVID-19 vaccines, my Administration has been planning and preparing for this moment for months, effectively securing doses and offering safe and highly effective mRNA vaccines for all children as young as six months old.”

Shortly before Saturday’s votes — one for Moderna and a separate one for Pfizer — many panel members celebrated the milestone, noting that parents will soon have two effective tools to protect their youngest children from Covid after more than two years of living with the virus.

“We want to say today that if you’re not going to immunize your children, we think that’s a misplaced concern and that you should immunize your children to save their lives,” said committee member Dr. Sarah Long, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

While young children are generally less likely than adults to experience the most serious outcomes of the virus, some do. Among children 6 months old through age 4, there have been more than 2 million confirmed cases of Covid, more than 20,000 hospitalizations and more than 200 deaths, according to CDC data. Covid is the fifth most common cause of death in children younger than 5.

“This is an opportunity, which one doesn’t get very often, to participate in preventing the death of young children,” said committee member Dr. Beth Bell, a clinical professor in the department of global health at the University of Washington. “A death of a young child is an incredible tragedy, and we know that this disease is killing children.”

It’s a function of where we are now in this pandemic that this isn’t bigger and more exciting news than it is. The vaccination rate for kids in the 5 to 11 year old range remains disappointingly low, and the estimates I’ve seen suggest that maybe 20% of the under-five crowd will get their shots. We could of course mandate COVID vaccines for enrollment in schools, but, well, I think you know what would happen then. The best way forward, as even a modest number of kids getting their shots will help save lives, is for those of us who have kids in that age range to get them vaccinated, and for the rest of us to help persuade our family and friends who do to do the same. Your Local Epidemiologist, who has two young kids of her own, has some ideas on that front. COVID is still out there killing people, y’all. We should try to remember that.

Biden signs executive order to protect trans kids

Good.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to enhance protections for transgender children and take steps to ban conversion therapy as efforts continue in Texas and other states to restrict gender-affirming medical care.

The executive order calls on the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to increase access to gender-affirming care and develop ways to counter state efforts aimed at limiting such treatments for transgender minors.

Biden signed the order Wednesday afternoon, joined by six LGBTQ teens who were reportedly from Texas and Florida.

“My message to all the young people: Just be you,” Biden said to a crowd of members of Congress, administration officials and LGBTQ advocates. “You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. You do belong.”

The federal health department will release sample policies for states to expand health care options for LGBTQ patients. The federal education department will release a sample school policy to achieve full inclusion of LGBTQ students.

[…]

Biden’s order also asks the health department to lead an initiative aimed at reducing youth exposure to conversion therapy and expand awareness and support for survivors of the practice. Biden is also asking the Federal Trade Commission to see if conversion therapy “constitutes an unfair or deceptive act or practice, and whether to issue consumer warnings or notices,” per the White House. He is also directing department heads to promote an end to conversion therapy worldwide.

Texas is one of 22 states that has not banned conversion therapy, a debunked practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The health department will explore guidance clarifying that federally funded programs cannot conduct conversion therapy.

Biden’s order calls on the health department to expand youth access to mental health services and issue new guidance for providing mental health care for LGBTQ youth. The order also charges the health department with strengthening LGBTQ nondiscrimination practices in the foster care system. Biden is also calling on the department to increase access to voluntary family counseling.

“We’re in a battle for the very soul of this nation,” Biden said. “It’s a battle I know we will win.”

I feel like there had been some earlier promise from President Biden to take this action, but if so I don’t see that I blogged about it. I assume there will be a lawsuit filed by our shitbird Attorney General to stop all this, which will exist alongside the earlier lawsuit that had been filed to stop the feds from turning off some funding sources in response to our anti-trans bullying ways. In the meantime, we’ll wait and see what the new policies this order directs look like. Whatever the ultimate outcome, this was the right thing to do.

Quinnipiac: Abbott 48, Beto 43

A lot closer than their previous poll, from December.

In the race for Texas governor, 48 percent of voters support Republican incumbent Greg Abbott, while 43 percent support Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University poll of Texas registered voters released today. This compares to a Quinnipiac University poll in December 2021 when 52 percent of voters supported Abbott and 37 percent supported O’Rourke. In today’s poll, Republicans (90 – 5 percent) and independents (46 – 40 percent) back Abbott, while Democrats (96 – 2 percent) back O’Rourke.

There are also big differences by gender, race, and age. Abbott wins the support of men 59 – 33 percent, while O’Rourke wins the support of women 52 – 38 percent. Abbott wins the support of white voters 63 – 30 percent, while O’Rourke wins the support of Black voters 73 – 11 percent and Hispanic voters 50 – 41 percent. O’Rourke leads among voters 18 – 34 years old (56 – 35 percent), while Abbott leads among voters 35 – 49 years old (50 – 38 percent) and voters 50 – 64 years old (57 – 37 percent). Among voters 65 years of age and over, Abbott receives 50 percent, while O’Rourke receives 45 percent.

[…]

Fifty-one percent of voters think that stricter gun laws would help to decrease the number of mass shootings, while 47 percent think they would not. This is a change from a Quinnipiac poll in June 2021 when only 42 percent of voters said that stricter gun laws would help to decrease the number of mass shootings and 56 percent said they would not.

Voters support 58 – 38 percent stricter gun laws in the United States.

Voters support 93 – 6 percent requiring background checks for all gun buyers.

Voters support 73 – 25 percent raising the minimum legal age to buy any gun to 21 years old nationwide.

Voters are split on a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. Forty-seven percent support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, while 49 percent oppose it.

See here for the December Q poll, which had Abbott up by a 52-37 margin that looked like an outlier to me; most other polls have had Abbott up by 6 to 11 points. Abbott’s approval rating was 52-42 in December, and 47-46 here, while Biden’s was 32-64 in December and 33-61 here. Whatever has Beto doing better in this poll compared to the earlier one, it’s not an improvement in the President’s fortunes.

Jeremy Wallace of the Chron points out that Abbott is doing better among independents and Latinos against Beto than Ted Cruz had done in 2018 (46-40 among indies for Abbott versus 56-40 for Beto against Cruz; 50-41 among Latinos for Beto against Abbott versus 60-36 against Cruz). That’s all true, but in the December poll, Abbott led 47-37 among indies, and also led 44-41 among Latinos. It’s all a matter of which comparison you want to look at. That said, I agree with the basic premise that these underlying numbers aren’t great for Beto. He did vastly improve on his performance among Dems (96-2 here versus 87-6 in December), which suggests to me that partisan enthusiasm and maybe the voter turnout model are more in his favor now. That’s something that only more poll samples can answer.

You know that I hate stories about single polls that refer to races “tightening” or leads “widening” or what not. No one poll can ever tell you that. Indeed, a day or two before this one came out there was another poll by an outfit I’d never heard of that claimed Abbott was up by 19, which obviously would contradict Quinnipiac’s narrative. I am naturally skeptical of new pollsters, and this result looks like a huge outlier even without that. It’s still a data point, whatever you make of it, and my point is that no one poll tells you anything more than that. Hopefully we’ll get some more data, and maybe see what the picture resembles now. The Chron has more.

March For Our Lives

I sure would like to think that all this activist energy means that things are different this time.

Hundreds of Houstonians gathered near City Hall in downtown Saturday for the student-led March for Our Lives, one of dozens of events planned across the nation today to rally for stronger regulations on guns.

The protest comes almost three weeks after 21 were killed in a mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school. In Houston, demonstrators marched just over a half mile from City Hall to outside the office of Sen. Ted Cruz.

Some explicit chants broke out as demonstrators called for voters to oust Cruz in the next election.

The event followed a demonstration of about 150 people in The Woodlands, where advocates also worked to register voters.

Katherine Chen, high school senior and executive director of MFOL Houston, said her experience as a student has included three instances of gun violence.

“The first time I had a brush with gun violence was the community college across the street from my middle school had an active shooter,” she said, remembering the sounds of helicopters and the commotion of the scene directly facing her classroom.

“That’s not something that should happen to kids at school. Especially not when you’re 12 years old.”

[…]

MFOL started in 2018 following the shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and rallies in support of new gun safety laws.

Among MFOL’s sought reforms: banning assault-style weapons or raising the age to purchase one from 18 to 21; outlawing high-capacity magazines that can hold many rounds of ammunition; implementing “red flag” laws to temporarily remove firearms from individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others; expanding background checks to include all gun sales; and establishing a “cool-off” period for someone seeking a firearm.

There were other rallies like this one around the state and around the country. The next step is to turn this into action at the ballot box, for all the reasons we have discussed a million times before.

I hesitate to be optimistic, because we have certainly seen this kind of outrage and emotion in other public rallies, and we know how they all ended up. But maybe this time it is a little different. It feels a little different, though I admit that may just be extremely wishful thinking on my part. But then, this part is actually different.

A bipartisan group of senators on Sunday announced a deal on framework of legislation aimed at reducing gun violence that includes funding for mental health and school security. Thus far, 10 Republican senators stated their support of the deal.

The agreement is currently in principle as legislative text has yet to be drafted. The deal comes in the wake of a series of mass shootings nationwide, including the tragic elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas late last month.

The deal includes enhanced background checks for buyers under the age of 21, funding for the expansion of mental health services and school security, and state grants to implement so-called “red flag” laws championed by Republicans that permit law enforcement to seek temporary removal of firearms from those who pose threats to themselves or others.

The deal closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” in order to prevent a domestic abuse from purchasing a gun if they are convicted of abusing their partner.

Additionally, it seeks to crack down on illegal straw purchasers and firearms dealers without a license.

It’s still not enough – the House bill that passed included banning the purchase of these weapons by anyone under the age of 21, which really should be the starting point – but we’ve not gotten this far on anything like it in the filibuster-everything era. It still needs to actually pass, and it may face resistance from the more progressive wing of House Democrats, who have some leverage here, but it would be something. That’s almost shocking, which says a lot of other things about where we are. But it’s something. The Trib has more.

City passes its budget

Not too much drama.

Houston’s $5.7 billion budget for the next fiscal year includes a big jump in revenue from water bills, raises for all city employees and the largest unspent reserves in years.

City Council voted 15-2 to adopt Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposed budget Wednesday after working through more than 100 amendments pitched by council members. Councilmembers Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh were the lone no votes. The budget takes effect when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Dozens of amendments were ruled out of order after the mayor cracked down on proposals he said dealt with matters outside the budget. Only 16 amendments won approval, and just four actually moved money or enacted a practical change. The rest merely directed departments or the city to “study” or “explore” or “assess the opportunity” of new ideas, with no requirement to adopt or implement them.

“Over the last few years I’ve been very lenient. When I see that leniency being abused, I exercise my authority,” Turner said at the beginning of the meeting. “Now, I’m calling it as it should have been called…. I’m not going to be here all night on non-budgetary amendments.”

The approved budget relies on $130 million in federal COVID-19 relief money and a $100 million spike in sales tax revenue to close deficits and help the city pay for previously announced pay raises. It also reserves $311 million for the future, when the city may face larger deficits as the federal funding runs out.

The most notable consequence for residents will stem from water bill rate hikes previously passed by council last year. Revenue from water and wastewater bills increased by 9 and 20 percent from a September hike, and again by 7.5 and 11 percent from an increase in April.

The rates vary by customer type, meter size and usage, but the bill for a customer who uses 3,000 gallons of water went from $27.39 before the hikes to $37.18 after the April increase. The rates will continue to rise every April through 2026.

As a result, the budget passed Wednesday included a 23 percent increase in water revenue, from $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion. That $280 million accounts for much of the $487 million increase in this year’s overall budget. The bulk of Public Works’ budget comes from that water revenue, a so-called “dedicated fund” where the money must be spent on water infrastructure and service.

The $3 billion general fund, which is supported by property taxes and other fees and supports most core city services, marks a $240 million increase, or 9 percent, over last year. Most of that increase pays for raises for firefighters (6 percent), police officers (4 percent) and municipal employees (3 percent).

More than half of the general fund supports public safety, with the $989 million police budget taking the largest share of resources. The fire department’s budget is $559 million.

The budget does not include a property tax rate increase. Turner has said he also plans to increase the exemption for seniors and disabled residents, although such a measure has not yet reached City Council.

See here for the background. In regard to the water rates, I will remind you that the city is as of last year under a federal consent decree to “spend an estimated $2 billion over the next 15 years to upgrade its troubled sanitary sewer system”. The story doesn’t mention this, but the money is for that purpose, and if it’s not used for that purpose we’ll be dragged back into court. As for the rest, I’m glad we’re building the reserve back up, I suspect we will be needing it again soon.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 46, Beto 39

Here’s the story, which I currently can’t access. A very brief summary of it is in this Current article. The data is here and I’m going to riff on that, with references to the February version of this poll, for which the data can be found here. I will note that there are some primary runoff results in this sample, and I am ignoring all of them – that kind of polling is too tricky to be worth worrying about.

“In a race for Governor would you vote for Governor Abbott, Beto O’Rourke, or someone else?” I’ll generally be quoting the poll questions, which thankfully are the same in each sample. In May, as noted in the post title, it’s 46-39 for Abbott, basically identical to the 45-38 Abbott result from February. The shape of those numbers are a bit different. In February, possibly because both Beto and Abbott were in contested primaries, there was a considerable amount of crossover support for each, Dems were only 76-16 for Beto, while Rs were just 76-11 for Abbott. In May, those numbers were 82-9 among Dems for Beto and 85-7 for Abbott among Rs. Independents were 36-29 for Abbott in February and show as 16-6 for Abbott now, with 29% going to the Libertarian (there is a Green candidate named as well, who also gets 6%) and an astonishing 38% for “someone else”. This has to be a mangling of the data – among other things, given the size of the Indy subsample, it would have put the Libertarian candidate at nearly 10% overall, but the topline result gives him just 3%. Most likely, the 38 is for Abbott and the 29 is for Beto, or possibly all of these numbers are just wrong. I will shrug and move on at this point.

For approval numbers, President Biden checks in with 39-58 approval, which is obviously not good. Greg Abbott is also underwater at 46-50, while Beto has a 42-44 approval rating, which is the only one of the three to improve since last time. It was 39-57 for Biden, 50-46 for Abbott, and 40-46 for Beto in February.

Weirdly, Dan Patrick has 50-41 approval, and Ken Paxton has 42-41. Usually, Abbott does better in approvals than any other Republican, in part because fewer people have opinions about the rest of them. A separate question about Paxton asks “do you agree or disagree that he (Paxton) has the integrity to serve as attorney general?”, and it’s 30 for agree, 37 disagree, and 33 unsure. He was at 34-33-33 in February, so a bit of a dip there.

For some other questions of interest, the numbers are not bad for the Dems, and usually a little better than they were in February.

“If the general election was today, would you vote for a Republican candidate or Democratic candidate for the Texas House?” That was 49-48 for Republicans in May, 52-45 for Republicans in February.

“On orders from Governor Abbott, Texas Child Protective Services recently began investigating families who provide gender-affirming care to transgender children. Was this action” needed or unnecessary, with various reasons for each? There were three sub-options for each of those choices, and if you add them up it comes to 52-48 combined for “unnecessary”. Honestly, that’s better than I expected. There was no February comparison for this one, as that order had not yet been given at that time.

“Should the Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to decide abortion policy?” This was 53-46 for “no it should not be overturned” in May, and 50-47 in February. Again, a little better than I might have thought, and a tick up from before, which is to say before the draft opinion got leaked. Put those numbers in your back pocket for the next time someone claims that Texas is a “pro-life” state.

“Do you agree or disagree that K-12 teachers should be permitted to discuss how historical examples of discrimination in our laws apply to inequalities today?” Here, 61-24 strongly or somewhat agreed in May, and it was 59-22 for Agree in February. That means that for abortion, trans kids, and book banning, the Republican position is the minority one. Obviously, one poll and all that, but there’s nothing to suggest Dems should be running scared on any of this. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Now as we’ve said a zillion times, it’s one poll, opinions on issues often don’t drive voting behavior, and we’re still months away from an election where many other factors will affect the outcome. I’m quite scared of another COVID wave, especially if Congress doesn’t get some more funding for vaccines and treatments and whatever else passed in the very near future. But for now, and bearing in mind that it’s still a 7-point lead for Abbott, the numbers ain’t that bad. We’ll see what other polls have to say.

It’s city of Houston budget time again

That federal COVID relief money continues to be very nice.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Once again relying on federal money, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposed $5.7 billion budget for next year would pay for raises for all city employees, offer tax relief to seniors and disabled residents, and sock away the largest reserves in years for savings, according to an outline Turner shared Tuesday at City Hall.

The city often faces nine-figure budget deficits, forcing it to sell off land and defer costs to close gaps. For the third consecutive year, though, the city will rely on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money to avoid a budget hole and free up other revenue for the mayor’s priorities.

The city is set to receive more than $300 million this year from the most recent stimulus package approved by Congress, and Turner has proposed using $160 million in the budget. The city has received more than $1 billion in such assistance over the last three years.

City Council is expected to propose amendments and vote to adopt the spending plan next month. The budget will take effect on July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

With about $311 million in reserves, Turner is establishing the healthiest fund balance the city has seen in decades, which he called necessary given the uncertainty of rising inflation, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The city budgeted $205 million in reserves last year, the first time it exceeded $200 million in reserves since 2009. The city’s financial policy calls for an unassigned reserve worth 7.5 percent of the general fund; this year’s amount is nearly double that, 13.5 percent.

That money also will help the next mayor and council confront budgets when the federal assistance runs dry and the city must fend for itself, Turner said. The relief funds must be obligated by 2024 and spent by 2026.

“I think what we all recognize is that some of the major cost-drivers will be driving this budget for the next several years… I don’t want to put future mayors and council members in a worse position,” Turner said. “As the city weans itself eventually off the (federal) funds, you’re going to be back with the fund balance.”

You can see a list of things in the proposed budget herer. HPD, HFD, Solid Waste, and Parks and Rec all get increases. We’ll see how spicy the amendments process is.

TDP officially applies for early primary status

They’ll have a lot of competition.

More than a dozen states and at least one territory are applying to be among the first to vote for Democrats’ next presidential nominee — with the biggest pile-up coming out of the Midwest, where states are jockeying to take Iowa’s long-held early spot.

Fifteen state parties and counting, plus Puerto Rico, have submitted letters of intent to the Democratic National Committee ahead of a Friday deadline to be considered as a 2024 early state, according to a POLITICO tally. The process — the first major reimagining of the early-state presidential order in years — is being run through the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will hear pitches from different states in late June and recommend a new early-state lineup to the full DNC by July.

The roster of states looking to go early hails from all over the country, including New Jersey, Washington, Colorado and Georgia. But a particularly intense competition is brewing in the Midwest, where Iowa — whose lack of diversity and messy caucus process drew Democratic ire in 2020, sparking the new look at the calendar — has been forced to reapply for its traditional slot. It is under pressure from five other states seeking to be the regional representative in the early-state lineup, depending on how broadly the DNC defines the region: Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The shakeup is part of a broader move by forces in the Democratic Party that want to eliminate caucuses and give more influence to voters of color. While Democrats moved Nevada and South Carolina forward on the calendar in 2008 to increase the racial diversity of the voters who get an early say on presidential nominations, the party voted this spring to fully reopen the nominating process, including the first two spots occupied for a half-century by Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Nothing is locked in,” said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and a member of the rules committee. “There are no sacred cows here.”

The sixteen state and territory Democratic Party organizations applying for early-state status in the next Democratic presidential primary: Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.

See here for the background, and here for the TDP’s statement on the matter. As I said before, I’m fine with where we are now in the primary process. Mostly, I don’t want to move the primaries any earlier, and I definitely don’t want to separate the Presidential primary from the rest of the races. It’s far from clear we could get the Lege to move the primary date up anyway, so this may just be an academic exercise. We’ll see what happens.

Federal lawsuit filed over Abbott’s border arrest fiasco

Meant to post this last week.

Three private defense attorneys, representing 15 migrant men arrested under Gov. Greg Abbott’s border operation, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to end the governor’s policy of arresting migrants on criminal trespass charges, which the suit argues is racially discriminatory and infringes on the federal government’s immigration authority.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge Abbott’s Operation Lone Star in federal court, though defense attorneys have raised similar arguments in ongoing state litigation. The federal suit, filed Wednesday in the Austin-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, asks the court to scrap the governor’s border initiative altogether and order the release of migrants arrested under what it calls a “separate criminal prosecution and detention system.”

“The criminal process is rife with civil rights violations that have led to extreme, outrageous delays in cases that often end in dismissal or non-prosecution,” the lawsuit states, alleging state authorities filed “fraudulent probable cause affidavits,” failed to appoint attorneys for some defendants, and waited too long to file charges for numerous migrants.

Under orders from Abbott, state troopers and National Guard troops have arrested more than 3,000 migrant men since last July for allegedly trespassing on private property along the border. The operation has allowed Texas officials to jail migrants without running afoul of legal precedent that largely prevents states from enforcing federal immigration law.

The federal suit argues, however, that the entire program — including the trespass arrests — is “intended to rival or supplant federal immigration policy” and “interferes with federal enforcement priorities.” It argues that while the Biden administration has ordered immigration authorities to prioritize the most serious offenders, such as those with violent criminal history, Operation Lone Star “targets any and all suspected aliens without regard to dangerousness.”

Defense attorneys have used a similar argument in a pending state lawsuit that seeks to dismiss the cases of more than 400 migrants arrested under Texas’ border initiative. That lawsuit is modeled after an earlier case in which a Travis County judge tossed the trespass charge against Jesús Alberto Guzmán Curipoma, an engineer from Ecuador who was arrested in September.

Curipoma and his attorneys, Angelica Cogliano and Addy Miro, are also part of the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

[…]

The federal lawsuit further alleges that migrants are routinely arrested under Operation Lone Star without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and based on their perceived ethnicity and immigration status, resulting in “systemic discrimination.” The attorneys cited arrest affidavits filed by Department of Public Safety troopers that refer to detainees as Spanish or Hispanic and undocumented, or reference their country of origin.

Such statements “suggested that the individual’s perceived ethnicity was relevant to the DPS trooper’s understanding that that person was not welcome on the property,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit seeks monetary damages of $18,000 for each day that migrants were “unlawfully incarcerated or unlawfully re-incarcerated,” amounting to $5.4 million.

Much of the language from the lawsuit mirrors that of a complaint filed by civil rights groups with the U.S. Department of Justice last December, in which the groups urged the Biden administration to investigate Operation Lone Star. The Justice Department has yet to step in against Abbott’s initiative.

Meant to include this in that big roundup of border and legal stories, but I just missed it. My bad and my apologies. I don’t have anything to add other than I’m rooting for these plaintiffs and I’d like to see the Justice Department get off its ass and address that complaint from December.

Looks like Texas didn’t even have to sue to keep Title 42 from ending

A different Trump judge already put it in the bag for them.

A federal judge in Louisiana plans to temporarily block the Biden administration from ending Title 42, a pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The temporary restraining order is expected in a lawsuit brought by Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would let the order expire May 23. The details of such a restraining order were not available late Monday.

“The parties will confer regarding the specific terms to be contained in the Temporary Restraining Order and attempt to reach agreement,” according to minutes from a Monday status conference in the case.

See here for the background. Sure is convenient to have a Trump judge for all purposes, isn’t it? Daily Kos has more.

What has Texas done to deserve ARPA-H?

Good question.

Texas’ top medical institutions are vying to become home to a new federal research institution that would distribute billions of dollars to help discover cures and treatments for the world’s most intractable diseases.

From MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to Southwestern Hospital in Dallas, the state’s leading medical institutions are making the case that Texas and its booming health care sector are a better choice than more established research centers such as Boston and New York to house President Joe Biden’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health, or ARPA-H.

The headquarters would direct the spending of billions of dollars a year toward what the Biden administration describes as, “transformative high-risk, high-reward research,” with the aim of finding cures to cancer, Alzheimer’s and a variety of infectious diseases.

“Naturally people think about the East and West coast because of the size,” said Bill McKeon, president of Texas Medical Center in Houston. “But twice a week I get a call from VIPs who can go anywhere, and they’re trying to find a way to get into MD Anderson, Baylor or Methodist.”

The Biden administration already has $1 billion in appropriations to launch ARPA-H and set up a new headquarters, while awaiting action from Congress on an additional $5 billion funding request. If that funding is approved, a decision on the location is expected within the next six months.

So far, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has only said ARPA-H will not be located at the National Institutes of Health headquarters, the government’s largest research agency with a budget of more than $45 billion, which is located outside Washington.

McKeon along with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner are making the case for Houston, which claims the world’s largest medical complex in Texas Medical Center, housing not only MD Anderson, Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann and the Baylor College of Medicine, but also 18 other hospitals.

Their counterparts in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio are each making the case for their cities and medical facilities, including the University of Texas-Austin and the San Antonio Military Medical Center, the Defense Department’s largest health care institution.

But wherever it lands, the priority is getting ARPA-H in Texas, said Thomas Graham, spokesman for the Coalition for Health Advancement and Research in Texas, through which the four cities are working together.

Whether Biden would be willing to locate a major federal institution in a Republican-controlled state with a reputation for challenging federal laws and regulation — including the landmark Affordable Care Act — remains to be seen. The Texas coalition is already making its case to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with assistance from Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s office.

“Our staff has engaged on their behalf with OSTP and asked that the process for selecting a site be fair and transparent,” a spokesman for Cornyn’s office said.

That’s the same John Cornyn who just spent a week asking why the queers should be allowed to get married while his junior colleague drooled and babbled about child predators, right? I mean look, we just got out from under the thumb of a “president” who “governed” by the motto of enriching your friends and punishing your enemies. That’s a bad way to be, and I don’t want that model to be emulated. All things being equal, the state of Texas has a good case, as one of several strong competitors, for this new facility. But all things are not equal, we don’t operate in a vacuum, and it grinds my gears more than a little to see this kind of “bipartisanship” from the likes of Cornyn when it’s over a prize he’s vying for, and never anything else. The list of grievances goes way beyond legal challenges to the ACA and other Biden initiatives – you know, abortion and voting rights and library books and “don’t say gay” and so on and so forth. How many potential ARPA-H employees do you think would reject out of hand right now the opportunity to work there if it meant having to live here? Maybe if Cornyn and his co-conspirators did a little work to make the state a better place, and maybe if they spent less time wrecking the country for the rest of us, I’d feel unconflicted about rooting for us to get this gem. Not right now, not as things stand, no way. I hate that I feel this way but here we are. You can learn more about ARPA-H here if you want.

Texas sues to stop the end of Title 42

Just another day at the office of destruction for Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Friday to halt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from lifting Title 42, a pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Title 42, which was enacted in March 2020 by the Trump administration, has been used 1.7 million times to expel migrants. Many of them have been removed multiple times after making repeated attempts to enter the U.S.

The CDC has the authority to enact orders like Title 42 under the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which gives federal officials the authority to stop the entry of people and products into the U.S. to limit the spread of communicable diseases. Part of the reason the agency is planning to lift the order soon is that COVID-19 cases have been decreasing and vaccinations have become widely available. The order is set to expire on May 23.

Paxton’s lawsuit argues that the Biden administration didn’t follow the administrative procedure laws needed to halt Title 42. The suit adds that if the Biden administration follows through with lifting the order, Texas will have to pay for social services for the migrants who enter the country.

“The Biden Administration’s disastrous open border policies and its confusing and haphazard COVID-19 response have combined to create a humanitarian and public safety crisis on our southern border,” the lawsuit says, which was filed in the Southern District of Texas in Victoria.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said on Thursday during a virtual event with the Council on Foreign Relations that health orders are not immigration policies.

“You don’t use a health law to deal with a migration challenge. You use migration laws to deal with migration challenges. You can’t use the cover of health to try to deal with a migration challenge,” he said.

[…]

The state has filed at least 20 other lawsuits in Texas-based federal courts, most of them led by Paxton, against the Biden administration over everything from federal mask mandates to halting the long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline. Judges appointed by former President Donald Trump have heard 16 of the cases and ruled in favor of Texas in seven. The other nine are pending, as of last month.

A majority of these lawsuits have been filed in courts in which the judge was appointed by Trump.

I mean, we could just wait until the combination of Democratic cold feet and empty both-siderism appeals forces Biden to back off anyway, but Paxton has never been one to wait for things to happen when he can find a friendly Trump judge to make them happen for him. Looks like I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue. The Chron has more.

Keeping the world safe from low tire pressure

Such a visionary.

State troopers ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott to inspect every commercial truck coming from Mexico earlier this month — which clogged international trade with Mexico — found zero drugs, weapons or any other type of contraband, according to data released by the Department of Public Safety to The Texas Tribune.

Over eight days, starting April 8, troopers conducted more than 4,100 inspections of trucks. Troopers didn’t find any contraband but took 850 trucks off the road for various violations related to their equipment. Other truckers were given warnings, and at least 345 were cited for things such as underinflated tires, broken turn signals and oil leaks.

DPS Director Steve McCraw said at a Friday news conference with Abbott that the reason troopers hadn’t found any drugs or migrants in commercial trucks is because drug cartels “don’t like troopers stopping them, certainly north of the border, and they certainly don’t like 100% inspections of commercial vehicles on the bridges. And once that started, we’ve seen a decreased amount of trafficking across bridges — common sense.”

But Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said it’s not likely cartels stopped the smuggling of drugs because of the state’s inspections. He said many illegal drugs smuggled into the United States are hidden in small compartments or spare tires of people’s vehicles going through international bridges for tourists. He said if smugglers were trying to hide illegal drugs in a commercial truck, it’s most likely federal immigration officials found them before the trucks were directed to the DPS secondary inspections.

“It just seems odd to me that DPS would be that much of a deterrent for smugglers deciding whether to bring something after already passing through the gauntlet of CBP,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection routinely inspects commercial cargo coming from Mexico for illegal drugs and people being smuggled as soon as truckers cross the international bridges. CBP called Texas’ inspections duplicative and “unnecessary.”

Emphasis mine, and see here for the previous entry. Beto is out there talking about this stuff. We need more people on our team joining him in this.

On a related note:

According to an analysis by the Waco-based Perryman Group, the U.S. lost an estimated $8.97 billion due to shipping delays between April 6 and 15, the time in which Abbott’s rule was in effect. Texas alone lost $4.23 billion in gross product.

The economics firm based its estimates on a 2019 study it conducted on a separate border slowdown and updated the data to account for this month’s different circumstances, CEO Ray Perryman told Axios.

Perryman promised to release more detailed numbers later this week.

I haven’t looked to see if Perryman has followed through on that. I tend to like Ray Perryman’s projections in the sense that they generally align with my worldview, but I’m a bit skeptical of their provenance sometimes. I have no doubt that Abbott’s dictum had a negative effect on the economy – hell, that was the plan all along – but I don’t think it’s that easy to put a number on it. Anything that doesn’t come with wide error bars alongside it should be viewed with some side-eye. The concept is sound, the details are fuzzy, that’s all I’m saying.

I’m not sure I want us to be an early Presidential primary state

We’re pretty early already. I’m fine with that.

The Texas Democratic Party is planning to apply to be one of the first states to vote on the 2024 presidential nomination.

The Democratic National Committee recently decided to allow new states to bid for the coveted status, which has long belonged to places like Iowa and New Hampshire. But after complaints throughout the 2020 primary — and Iowa’s disastrous caucus — the national party is looking to overhaul the calendar to kick off the nominating process in states that better reflect the diversity of the broader electorate.

The Texas party had been considering a bid and was planning to meet Wednesday with the DNC to go over the process, according to a state party spokesperson, Angelica Luna Kaufman. She said later Wednesday that the party had decided it would submit an application.

“Because Texas has such a vibrant and diverse population, we believe candidates that would emerge from our primary would better represent and be better prepared to face the country’s growing dynamic and diverse population,” Luna Kaufman said. “The candidates that would come out of an earlier Texas primary would be quite a force. And a force is exactly what it’s going to take to win in 2024.”

However, it could be a tricky process and starts out with uncertain odds. Moving up the primary date would ultimately be up to the Legislature, where Republicans are in charge.

States have until May 6 to submit a letter of interest to the DNC and then until June 3 to submit an application. The DNC could finalize the new calendar by the end of the summer.

In 2020, Iowa had its contest on Feb. 3, followed by New Hampshire on Feb. 11, Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29.

Our primary is right after South Carolina, and as the story noted it was pretty important in 2020. In 2008 too, as there wasn’t a clear leader going in and then all of a sudden we were the center of attention for a couple of weeks. I don’t want our primary to be any earlier in the year – to be honest, this is as much a selfish desire on my part as anything, as the Christmas holiday works really well for me to do a ton of candidate interviews, and moving this up would ruin that. Nor do I want a split primary, where we do a separate Presidential vote before we do the rest of the races. I seriously doubt the Lege is interested in doing anything to accommodate Democratic Presidential hopefuls, but even on its own merits I’d expect there to be a lot of reluctance. We can debate it all we want, in the end I think this will be an academic exercise. And that’s fine by me.

Abbott ends his border hostage-taking

I cannot get over how stupid and cynical this was, and yet it may be politically successful.

Gov. Greg Abbott reached a fourth and final deal — this one with Tamaulipas’ governor on Friday — to end state troopers’ increased inspections of commercial vehicles at international bridges that gridlocked commercial traffic throughout the Texas-Mexico border for more than a week.

The latest deal should bring trade back to normal after Abbott-ordered enhanced inspections at key commercial bridges caused over a week of backups that left truckers waiting for hours and sometimes days to get loads of produce, auto parts and other goods into the U.S.

At a press conference with Abbott in Weslaco, Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca said his state will continue its five-part security plan, launched in 2016, that includes stationing police every 31 miles on state highways, personality and polygraph tests for officers in the state police department, increasing salaries for police officers and offering scholarships for the children of state police officers.

Abbott said the deals with Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were “historic,” calling them an example of how border states can work together on immigration. But three of the four Mexican governors said they will simply continue security measures they put in place before Abbott ordered the state inspections.

[…]

When he announced the initiative last week, Abbott said the goal was to stop illegal drugs and migrants from being smuggled into the state. As of Friday, the Department of Public Safety had not reported any drugs seized or migrants apprehended as a result of the state inspections.

Emphasis mine. Keep that in mind, that in the end basically nothing has changed and nothing was accomplished. Sound and fury, all the way down.

Abbott’s critics say the Texas governor’s order was a political ploy to raise his profile in his reelection campaign which has disrupted the economies of Texas and the four Mexican border states.

“A lot of our members are absolutely flabbergasted that this was allowed to happen and that it happened for so long for the sake of border security,” said Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association. “We feel like we were used as bargaining chips.”

Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said Abbott is doing a victory lap for a problem he created.

“Abbott is the arsonist who torched the Texas economy by shutting down trade with Mexico to score cheap political points,” he said. “Now he wants credit for putting out the fire by announcing these ridiculous ‘security agreements.’ Texans aren’t buying it and we’ll never forget the chaos Abbott has caused to our economy and our border communities.”

Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said Abbott may have made a political miscalculation with the inspections.

“This seems like it’s not working out for him. His base is pro-business and anti-immigrant and he has just antagonized business while giving voluntary free rides to immigrants,” he said, referring to another Abbott order that has provided bus rides to Washington, D.C., to transport asylum-seekers who have been processed and released by federal authorities — if they volunteered to go.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at George Mason University who studies U.S.-Mexico relations, said she struggled to understand why Abbott would issue a border directive that would inflict so much damage on his own state’s economy.

“Why shoot himself in the foot? Well, he’s not. He’s calculating,” she said. “This is part of a political spectacle because we are in midterm elections and the economy is bad.”

Abbott can take action that would negatively impact the state economy and not have to pay a price for it because voters are already blaming the Biden administration for inflation, Correa-Cabrera said.

“He’ll probably blame Washington for the unrest and anger that this crisis is going to cause voters,” she said. “You have the perfect excuse to run in an electoral year and to support your party in an electoral year but [you generate] the sense that the other party is to blame for the situation.”

See here, here, and here for the background. We have noted the strategy behind Abbott’s otherwise empty and meaningless actions, and there is certainly a logic and appeal to them. We like to think that reality is a good defense against this kind of concentrated bullshit, but in the year of our Lord 2022 we should know better. Talking about why it’s bullshit is the main hope. Stories like this are good for that effort.

Eladio Cordero, a produce worker at Trinidad Fresh Produce in the McAllen Produce Terminal Market, sorted through jalapeños Thursday — about one in three had orange spots. A few feet away from him, dozens of flies buzzed around a pile of browning onions.

Every day at the terminal, where hundreds of trucks pass through to drop off tons of Mexican-grown goods, the fruits and vegetables that have gone bad are picked out and thrown away.

“The merchandise comes from Mexico and by the time it crosses it can go bad, and those are losses,” said Gustavo Garcia, a floor manager for Trinidad Fresh Produce, a distributor at the terminal.

After Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state inspections on commercial vehicles entering from Mexico last week, the stack of garbage-bound onions grew taller. The jalapeños that didn’t survive the long journey into the U.S. were discarded. Garcia said he doesn’t know if retailers will still want to buy the aging produce he keeps, but if they do, the price will be marked down at least 30%.

[…]

Felix, a 60-year-old Mexican trucker who was transporting tomatoes, onions and avocados, waited about 13 hours in line at the bridge. He asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retribution and targeted inspections from CBP officials.

Hearing of the delays at the border, he packed water and food for a few days. But other truckers didn’t come as prepared and were sitting in standstill traffic without anything to eat or drink. Felix said he was told by a CBP official that the agency would put portable bathrooms along the bridge for the gridlocked truckers, but he never saw them.

Once Felix made it to the state troopers’ inspection point around 9 p.m., he said they didn’t even peer into his truck, which had been sealed since Mexican authorities inspected it about 600 miles away in the state of Sinaloa.

“There’s no possibility of bringing illegal immigrants in the merchandise or in the cabin,” he said, referencing one of Abbott’s explanations for the inspections. “I can’t bring an illegal immigrant here for money because I know [inspectors] are going to discover them. It’s not a thing here. I don’t know what the politicians’ ideas are. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

[…]

The delays caused by the state’s inspections are the latest blow to farmers and produce businesses in the Rio Grande Valley since 2020. Last year’s winter freeze damaged millions of pounds of product. The pandemic forced companies to size down their workforce and implement virus mitigation strategies. And inflation is sending costs for business needs like fertilizer, diesel and packaging materials soaring.

But Bret Erickson, former president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association and a current executive with Little Bear Produce, a Texas produce grower and distributor, said this latest setback is different.

“There’s nothing you can do about Mother Nature; that’s just part of the farming business,” Erickson said. “But when you’ve got a politician go out and make a decision like Gov. Abbott did, it’s like a slap in the face.”

“Anytime that we are losing a day of business, there’s always a lasting impact,” he added. “Every day that goes by that we haven’t been able to receive these loads, those are sales dollars that we will not get back. Those are dollars that are not going to be returned to our employees’ paychecks, because they didn’t work.”

Seems like that could put a bit of a dent into the Republicans’ much-vaunted strategy to main gains in South Texas. But for that to happen, we’ve got to talk about it, and by “we” I mean Democrats at every level, from the President on down. And more importantly, we’ve got to talk to the people who were on the short end of this stick, to hear their concerns and make sure they know whose fault this was. And not for nothing, but there’s a ton of material for political ads in this. The Chron has another example of people who were directly affected speaking up, in this case some folks who are otherwise aligned with Abbott.

“Governor Abbott is directly responsible for applying these new senseless inspections on our industry as well as the adverse impact they are having on the economy and hardworking Americans, including truckers,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear. “We ask that the Governor scrap his misguided scheme immediately.”

[…]

When Abbott ordered the inspections earlier this month, he told DPS officials it was because drug cartels “do not care about the condition of the vehicles.” On Friday he said through the inspections DPS has taken hundreds of trucks off the road that could have injured Texans on the roads and highways.

But as the inspections snarled commerce at the border, Abbott was getting increasing blowback from businesses and other Republicans who worried he was blocking legal transportation across the border and not really slowing illegal immigration.

The American Trucking Association said the impact of Abbott’s inspection program was too much for their workers.

“Additional layers of new screening for motor carriers – who are already subject to significant screening and have a strong record of compliance – provides little safety benefit, while the congestion and impact on our already stressed supply chain will cause the price of goods to rise,” Spear said.

The ads write themselves, but someone has to make them and run them. What are we waiting for?

One more thing, in regard to how much safer these dumb inspections supposedly made Texas highways:

If we’re not talking about it then nobody is.

Greg Abbott is still a threat to international trade

This is at best window dressing.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott relented Wednesday, agreeing to ease the additional safety inspections of trucks at the busiest border entry point near Laredo in exchange for promises of more border security by Mexican officials along one 8-mile stretch of the border.

The move comes after Abbott endured days of withering criticism from both Democrats and Republicans and faced pushback from shipping companies and the Texas Trucking Association.

Since he implemented the more thorough inspections a week ago, truck traffic at many of the Texas ports of entry have stalled. In Laredo, the nation’s biggest trucking port, the normal 30 minutes or less to get across ballooned to three hours or longer, delaying shipments of everything from produce to electronics and driving up costs for trucking companies.

But Abbott said on Wednesday that the easing of inspections is only happening along the 8-mile stretch of border with Nuevo Leon, which has just a tiny portion of the 1,254-mile border with Texas. Abbott said he’s talking to leaders of other Mexican states to work out similar agreements in return for speeding up inspections in Texas.

“Since Nuevo Leon has increased its security on its side of the border, the Texas Department of Public Safety can return to its previous practice of random searches of vehicles crossing the the bridge from Neuvo Leon,” Abbott said with the Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel Alejandro García Sepulveda at his side.

[…]

In Mexico, the governor’s order triggered a revolt from truckers who have set up blockades shutting off all U.S. trucks from entering the country at key points in Hidalgo County and in El Paso.

The White House slammed Abbott on Wednesday, saying his actions were resulting in more supply chain disruptions and hindering U.S. Customs checks at the border.

“The continuous flow of legitimate trade and travel and CBP’s ability to do its job should not be obstructed,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in the statement.

Even Abbott’s biggest allies began to turn against his policy over the last few days. The Texas Trucking Association, which just two months ago endorsed his re-election, released a statement criticizing the policy.

“Unfortunately, this new initiative duplicates existing screening efforts and leads to significant congestion, delaying the products Americans rely on from our largest trading partner, Mexico,” TXTA President & CEO John D. Esparza said.

See here and here for the background. The TXTA is welcome to reconsider their endorsement, since it might be occurring to them that Abbott will throw anyone under the bus (or the truck, as it happens) to further his own political fortunes. Can we pause to note that this is a governor engaging in a combination of foreign policy and blatant extortion, neither of which are supposed to be in his job description? What’s scary to me is that it’s not clear what power the federal government has here to make him stop. Our entire system is based on the presumption that everyone in a position of power will more or less follow a basic set of rules and norms and expectations, and if there’s one thing that the last few years have made especially clear, it’s that there’s not a whole lot we can do when bad actors refuse to play along. I’m at a loss here.

TPM summarizes as follows:

The U.S. continues to be wracked by supply chain disruptions and inflation. This move seems designed — and well designed — to exacerbate both. Abbott’s calculation, probably accurate, is that he can create chaos and price spikes to pressure Biden and it’s no skin off his back since Biden will be blamed anyway. It’s all gravy.

Literally, the one thing that can be done is to vote Abbott out in November. That would not only put a stop to these particular shenanigans, it would also send a clear message that there is a price to pay for political vandalism. The problem is that if Abbott wins, and he’s certainly favored to do so right now, the exact opposite message gets sent. It’s one that Republicans have been getting for over a decade now, and it has very much incentivized more and more of this same malevolence. I don’t know what else to say. The Trib, the Current, TPM, and the Trib again have more.

Texas Lyceum: Abbott 42, Beto 40

Not bad.

On Friday Texas Lyceum released its annual statewide poll, a major survey on the top issues facing Texans and their opinion on Texas leaders.

The biggest attention-grabbing news from the poll is just how close things are at the top of the ticket in the 2022 gubernatorial race.

Gov. Greg Abbott leads Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke by only two percentage points, 42 to 40, according to the poll.

(The poll of registered voters also shows 14 percent haven’t thought about it or are voting for someone else.)

It’s the tightest polling released on the race yet. On average, polling on the race since January shows Abbott leading O’Rourke by 8 percentage points according to RealClearPolitics.

Toplines are here, the Lyceum polling page is here, and crosstabs are here. They have President Biden’s approval at 43-54, which is actually pretty good in comparison to other recent results – this could be any number of things including random chance and a Dem-leaning sample, or it could be reflective of things like the response to Russia/Ukraine and the receding (for now at least) of COVID – which is better than Trump’s outgoing approval in 2021 of 41-56. They also have Greg Abbott’s approval at 47-47, way down from the 59-38 they had him at in 2021. Like I said, this could be any number of things – all the other poll data we have is from February or so, which is a long way back at this point – but for sure the closeness of the race, and the low 42% number Abbott gets in the head to head matchup with Beto is likely correlated with these other figures. As always, the best thing to do is wait and see if other polls are similar or if this one stands out.

Of course Ted Cruz supported sedition

None of this is surprising. And I’m certain there will be more, that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Not Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz was dining near the Capitol on the evening of Dec. 8, 2020, when he received an urgent call from President Donald Trump. A lawsuit had just been filed at the Supreme Court designed to overturn the election Trump had lost, and the president wanted help from the Texas Republican.

“Would you be willing to argue the case?” Trump asked Cruz, as the senator later recalled it.

“Sure, I’d be happy to” if the court granted a hearing, Cruz said he responded.

The call was just one step in a collaboration that for two months turned the once-bitter political enemies into close allies in the effort to keep Trump in the White House based on the president’s false claims about a stolen election. By Cruz’s own account, he was “leading the charge” to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president.

An examination by The Washington Post of Cruz’s actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

Now, Cruz’s efforts are of interest to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in particular whether Cruz was in contact with Trump lawyer John Eastman, a conservative attorney who has been his friend for decades and who wrote key legal memos aimed at denying Biden’s victory.

As Eastman outlined a scenario in which Vice President Mike Pence could deny certifying Biden’s election, Cruz crafted a complementary plan in the Senate. He proposed objecting to the results in six swing states and delaying accepting the Electoral College results on Jan. 6 in favor of a 10-day “audit” — thus potentially enabling GOP state legislatures to overturn the result. Ten other senators backed his proposal, which Cruz continued to advocate on the day rioters attacked the Capitol.

The committee’s interest in Cruz is notable as investigators zero in on how closely Trump’s allies coordinated with members of Congress in the attempt to block or delay certifying Biden’s victory. If Cruz’s plan worked, it could have created enough chaos for Trump to remain in power.

“It was a very dangerous proposal, and, you know, could very easily have put us into territory where we got to the inauguration and there was not a president,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a Jan. 6 committee member, said earlier this year on the podcast “Honestly. And I think that Senator Cruz knew exactly what he was doing. I think that Senator Cruz is somebody who knows what the Constitution calls for, knows what his duties and obligations are, and was willing, frankly, to set that aside.”

It’s a long story, from the WaPo and reprinted in the Trib, and it just gets worse from there. I believe that Cruz knew exactly what he was doing and that he had no legal leg to stand on, and also that he didn’t care. Maybe he’d get lucky with the judges, who can say. It was all about winning and power anyway. Of course, it’s a fine line between that kind of blase nihilism and Ginni Thomas’ full-on Qanon ravings. For that, they both richly deserve an in depth investigation from the January 6 committee, and a criminal contempt citation if they refuse.

One more thing:

In the weeks that followed, as Trump allies lost a string of election cases, Cruz began suggesting he could lead a more effective legal strategy. He talked about his success in helping Bush’s legal team and how he had argued a total of nine cases before the Supreme Court, mostly as the Texas solicitor general. Two days later, he announced he had agreed to represent Pennsylvania Republicans in their effort to block certification of that state’s presidential results. The Supreme Court rejected that request, though, a near-fatal blow to efforts to overturn the election in the courts.

But the next day, Trump and Cruz focused on another avenue to put the matter before the Supreme Court: a case filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argued his state had standing to ask the court to throw out election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

When Trump called on Dec. 8 as Cruz dined out, the president asked whether he was surprised about the loss of the Pennsylvania case, Cruz later recalled on his podcast, “Verdict with Ted Cruz.” Cruz said he was unhappy but “not shocked” that the federal court did not take a case about state law: “That was a challenging hurdle.”

When Cruz agreed to Trump’s request to argue the Texas case, it shocked some who knew him best. One adviser said he called Cruz to express dismay, telling the senator it went against the principles on which he built his political brand.

“If you’re a conservative federalist, the idea that one state can tell another state how to run their elections is outrageous, but he somehow contorted in his mind that it would be okay for him to argue that case,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), who had served as Cruz’s chief of staff and was a former first assistant attorney general in Paxton’s office, tweeted that the case “represents a dangerous violation of federalism” that “will almost certainly fail.” He did not respond to a request for comment.

Cruz’s spokeswoman said that he agreed to Trump’s request because “he believed Texas deserved to have effective advocacy” but said that “he told President Trump at the time that he believed the Court was unlikely to take the Texas case.”

Just as a reminder, this ridiculous lawsuit was the basis for two State Bar of Texas complaints against Ken Paxton (and another against Sidney Powell) that in a just world will result in their disbarments. Surely a similar complaint against Cruz might be warranted. The Texas Signal has more.

First “Trump Train” lawsuit to proceed

Good news.

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled in favor of plaintiffs in Cervini v. Cisneros, the “Texas Trump Train” lawsuit filed against individuals in a convoy of Trump supporters who conspired to mount a coordinated vehicular assault against a Biden-Harris campaign bus on October 30, 2020. The court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case and allowed it to go forward on allegations that these individuals engaged in political violence that violated the federal Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and Texas state law.

The Texas Civil Rights Project, Protect Democracy, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP filed the suit last year on behalf of four plaintiffs—bus driver Tim Holloway, politician Wendy Davis, historian Eric Cervini, and former Biden campaign staffer David Gins. Holloway, Davis, and Gins were on the Biden-Harris campaign bus, and Cervini was in an accompanying vehicle, when the bus was ambushed on I-35 between San Antonio and Austin on the last day of early voting in Texas.

For more than an hour, dozens of trucks and cars encircled the campaign bus, having coordinated to threaten, harass, and intimidate those aboard. They live-streamed their attempts to run the bus off the road, and one of their vehicles ultimately collided with a campaign vehicle. With today’s decision, the case against participants in this caravan who conspired to ambush the bus and its passengers will continue with discovery, and the plaintiffs will have a chance to prove their case at trial.

“Today the court reaffirmed that political violence has no place in our democracy,” said Tim Holloway, who was driving the Biden-Harris bus during the incident. “And though the threats and intimidation we experienced are haunting, at least there is hope that our harassers will be held accountable.”

“While we were peacefully exercising our right to campaign, we were ambushed by individuals engaged in a conspiracy to threaten us with violence,” added Eric Cervini. “With this ruling, the court recognizes that what we experienced that day was exactly the sort of political intimidation the Ku Klux Klan Act was designed to address.”

With today’s decision, plaintiffs can continue to seek a jury verdict declaring the incident a violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act. Congress passed the Reconstruction statute to protect free and fair federal elections from widespread Klan violence against Black and Republican voters by making it illegal for individuals to join together to intimidate and injure Americans participating peacefully in the political process.

“Today’s ruling reaffirms that violations of the Klan Act need not invoke racial or other class-based animus, or state action,” said John Paredes, counsel at Protect Democracy. “Anyone who conspires to intimidate or attack a political campaign in a federal election — regardless of their motivations — is guilty of a Klan Act violation.”

“Free and fair elections depend on voters — no matter their color, party, or zip code — being protected from the threat of violence. The attack on our clients on the Biden-Harris campaign bus is part of a troubling pattern of increasing political violence in the U.S. in recent years — culminating in the insurrection at Congress on January 6, 2021,” added Emma Hilbert, senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Today’s decision serves to reaffirm the freedom of political expression, and serves as a warning that justice awaits those who may conspire to terrorize or menace voters.”

More information about this case is available here and here.

See here and here for the background, and here for the court order. There were two lawsuits filed over this debacle, one against individual drivers of the “Trump Train”, and one against the San Marcos police department, which was quite the hot mess. The ruling here is for the first lawsuit, though it seems likely to me that it would apply for the second as well. I don’t know at this time when the trial is going to happen, but of course I’ll be keeping an eye on it. KVUE has more.

Paxton appeals gender affirming care order

Of course he did.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed for an appeal Thursday after a state judge blocked Texas’ child protection agency from investigating the parents of a transgender teenager who received gender-affirming medical care.

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum had granted a temporary restraining order on Wednesday. It did not stop the agency from opening investigations into other families in similar situations.

Meachum was scheduled to consider issuing a statewide injunction blocking such investigations into all parents of trans children on March 11, but that hearing has been put on hold until an appeals court rules on Paxton’s request.

And U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said his agency is looking into tools that would shield transgender Texans from the state’s attempts to hinder access to gender-affirming care.

“The Texas government’s attacks against transgender youth and those who love and care for them are discriminatory and unconscionable,” he said. “These actions are clearly dangerous to the health of transgender youth in Texas.”

[…]

Becerra released guidance Wednesday that says refusing health care because of gender identity is illegal and that health care providers are not required to disclose information regarding gender-affirming care.

President Joe Biden also released a statement Wednesday condemning Texas’ actions.

“This is government overreach at its worst,” Biden said in a statement. “Like so many anti-transgender attacks proliferating in states across the country, the Governor’s actions callously threaten to harm children and their families just to score political points. These actions are terrifying many families in Texas and beyond. And they must stop.”

See here for the background. This is primarily about preventing Judge Meachum from being able to issue a statewide injunction, since the hearing for that action is on hold pending the appeal. The Third Court is more likely than not to deny Paxton’s appeal, but then he’ll go to the Supreme Court, and who knows how long that could take. And delay is good enough for Paxton and Abbott and their wicked aims.

Texas Children’s Hospital has “paused” hormone-related prescription therapies for gender-affirming care in response to the controversial directive from state leaders to investigate medical treatments for transgender youth as child abuse, according to a statement from the hospital.

“The mission of Texas Children’s Hospital is to create a healthier future for all children, including transgender children, within the bounds of the law,” the statement reads. “After assessing the Attorney General’s and Governor’s actions, Texas Children’s Hospital paused hormone-related prescription therapies for gender-affirming services. This step was taken to safeguard our healthcare professionals and impacted families from potential criminal legal ramifications.”

[…]

Lou Weaver, a transgender man and community advocate for transgender children and adults, said very few facilities offer gender-affirming care for children, and Texas Children’s is among the biggest programs in Texas that offered it.

“This is a truly frightening time for trans youth and their parents and guardians,” he said. “The doors to life-saving health care are literally being shut in their faces.”

UT Southwestern’s children’s hospital in Dallas shut down services for new patients at the end of the last legislative session due to political pressure, Weaver said.

I can’t blame Texas Children’s for not wanting to risk the legal exposure, but this is truly harmful and there’s not a clear endpoint. That harm is also financial for the families involved. I don’t know what the feds can do, but they need to figure it out quickly.

And in what may be the most infuriating but least surprising part of this, the opinion Paxton issued was based on misreading studies and making false claims.

One researcher said Paxton distorted her work for political purposes and that she’s “mortified” her research was included in the opinion.

Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, studies the history of forced sterilization in the United States. Paxton’s office drew a parallel between forced sterilization and gender affirmation surgeries for minors. “I’m adamantly opposed to this interpretation and it does not align with my research and the conclusions of my research,” she said.

“If they knew anything about my scholarship more generally, they would know that I am someone whose research demonstrates the harm of the very types of policies they’re trying to enact on marginalized people.”

[…]

In his opinion, Paxton cited the work of Dr. Cecilia Dhejne, a Stockholm-based researcher, to support the idea that gender-affirming health care could be harmful to transgender children.

Dhejne led a 2011 study that found that transgender people who have undergone gender-affirmation surgery have worse mental health outcomes than the general population. Dhejne did not respond to a request for comment. However, in the text of the 2011 study, Dhejne and her team caution specifically against using the study to conclude that gender-affirming surgery is problematic, noting that the study did not compare the mental health outcomes of people before and after gender-affirming surgery.

The study’s “results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment,” the study says.

Dhejne and her colleagues wrote instead that the study shows a need for better support for transgender people after they undergo surgery.

Paxton also asserts that there has been a recent “spike” in minors receiving gender-affirming “procedures.” He cited the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine, an anti-trans advocacy group.

The link in Paxton’s citation leads to a graph showing an increase in youth referrals to the United Kingdom’s Gender Identity Development Service. That national clinic provides a range of care, including counseling; the number of clinic referrals is not necessarily the number of medical interventions like the legal opinion implies.

Similarly, Paxton’s opinion cited the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and said that transgender people should typically be adults before receiving the listed types of gender-affirming care.

In a statement to the Star-Telegram, WPATH said that Paxton applied the citation too broadly. While WPATH does state in its standards of care that genital surgery should typically wait until a transgender person reaches the age of majority, Paxton’s opinion applied that standard to less-invasive interventions, too, including puberty blockers.

“It’s disheartening to see the Texas Attorney General’s opinion referencing WPATH to bolster an overall argument completely at odds with WPATH guidance,” the organization said in a written statement. “The citation is accurate but does not apply here because the AG’s opinion is arguing against reversible blockers while the cited WPATH content relates to gender affirming surgery.”

There’s a lot more and you should read the rest, but you get the idea. Lying has never bothered Ken Paxton. It’s serving him pretty well right now. The Statesman has more.

Ambassador Patman

This was a pleasant surprise.

Carrin Patman

President Joe Biden on Friday nominated Houston lawyer and Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman as the nation’s next ambassador to Iceland, according to a White House statement.

“I am presuming nothing. It is up to the Senate,” Patman said, referring questions to the State Department.

In the meantime, Patman, 65, said she has picked up some basic Icelandic.

“Just a little,” she said.

In the statement, Patman said she hoped to “strengthen our cooperation and understanding between the governments of the United States and Iceland.”

[…]

All ambassadorial nominations require Senate confirmation, which for Patman would begin in the Foreign Relations Committee. No timetable has been announced for her confirmation.

Some Biden administration nominees from mid-2021 still are awaiting any movement on their appointments, including Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who was renominated last month to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement after his nomination last year lapsed.

Patman has done a fine job as Metro chair, and Iceland’s gain will be our loss if she is confirmed. I was thinking I should do an exit interview with her, to follow up with the one I did in 2019, to see where we are now that some of those big Metro projects are finally moving, and where we might go from here, but according to an email I got from TAG Houston on Thursday, Mayor Turner has appointed current Board member Sanjay Ramabhadran to be the new Chair. Guess I should be asking him those questions then. Anyway, congrats to Carrin Patman, and best of luck with the confirmation process.

You (probably) still have to get vaxxed if you work in Houston

I’m glad to see this, but there’s a huge question that this story doesn’t address, much less answer.

Local companies say they will maintain their vaccination policies despite last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for firms with more than 100 employees.

The Houston software company Hewlett Packard Enterprises, for example, said vaccinations are still required for employees to enter offices, work at clients’ sites, travel for business, or required for team members to enter work sites, work at third-party sites, and to travel or attend events on business. Those who decline to be vaccinated are required to work from home.

More than 90 percent of the company’s workforce is vaccinated, a company spokesperson said. The company has not yet decided whether to require booster shots.

[…]

The Houston chemical company LyondellBasell and CenterPoint, the Houston utility company, have not adopted vaccine mandates. They said they have COVID protocols in place and will continue to monitor them.

Corporate vaccine requirement increased the rate of vaccination among employees by 20 percent, according to a recent survey by the National Safety Council. The survey found 95 percent of workers at businesses with vaccine mandates were inoculated, compared to 75 percent among those at businesses without requirements.

At BakerRipley, employees are required to get vaccinated or tested weekly, the Houston charity said. Nearly 90 percent of its 1,200 employees are fully vaccinated.

Camden Property Trust, a national real estate company headquartered in Houston, put in vaccine requirements over the summer before Biden announced the mandate. Of its 746 Texas employees, 718, or about 96 percent, are vaccinated, said Ric Campo, CEO of Camden Property Trust said.

“We just had this discussion about safety and it’s about keeping teammates safe. We’ve done all the analysis and that’s what we think,” Campo said, “And once people had a rational discussion, and it wasn’t political, and it wasn’t ‘You do this or else’ people chose to vaccinate.”

The few who aren’t vaccinated must wear masks at work, Campo said.

Whether to require vaccinations is now in the hands of companies, said Seth J. Chandler, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. It’s unlikely that Congress would pass new laws to give OSHA the authority that the Supreme Court says it now lacks to impose workplace vaccination requirements.

The story is about the effect of the SCOTUS ruling that blocked the Biden employer vaccination mandate. I’m happy that employers are mostly moving forward with whatever vaccine policies they already had in the works, but I have to ask: What about the state ban on such mandates? The original story line was that employers would be caught between conflicting orders, but that’s no longer the case. The thought that these employers are ignoring Abbott or have found a way around him is delightful, but how is it possible? What are their legal risks here? Is there a lawsuit against the Abbott’s order?

So I did some googling. While Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee urged businesses to sue Abbott over this order, as far as I can tell none have done so yet. Maybe they were waiting to see what happened with the federal mandate first. On the question of what Abbott’s order actually means, I found some interesting writing. For example:

The Order provides enforcement via fines. Specifically, non-compliant entities may be fined up to $1,000 per offense, while jail time is specifically excluded as a penalty. The Order’s language makes no exception for health-care providers such as hospitals and other related entities.

The Order also contemplates its own sunset upon the passage of overlapping legislation. Specifically, in the Order, Governor Abbot states that he is “adding this issue to the agenda” for an upcoming session of the Texas legislature, and that he “will rescind this [Order] upon the effective date of such legislation[.]”

Notably, the Order contradicts both the Governor’s own statements on the rights of private businesses within the state, and legal consensus regarding the ability of employers to mandate vaccinations in most cases. For example, in August, Governor Abbot issued an executive order banning public and governmental entities from enacting vaccine mandates, but explicitly left private entities to make their own decisions regarding the matter. At that time, a spokesman for the Governor’s office also commented that private businesses would be left to make their own decisions regarding the matter. The Order essentially closes that loophole.

The Order also contravenes existing legal precedent within the state regarding employer vaccine mandates. For example, in June 2021, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit by 117 employees of Houston Methodist Hospital; who claimed Methodist’s policy requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 amounted to wrongful termination under the law, because the vaccine(s) are “experimental and dangerous.” Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hosp., CV H-21-1774, 2021 WL 2399994, at *1 (S.D. Tex. June 12, 2021). In no uncertain terms, the Order squarely contradicts the holding in Bridges.

[…]

The immediate impact of the Order on businesses who implemented vaccine mandates is unclear—especially in light of conflicting Federal mandates. For example, Texas-based Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have stated publicly that—regardless of the Order—they will continue to implement plans requiring employees be vaccinated, citing federal mandates for contractors and the forthcoming OSHA rule for private business with 100 or more employees. While nothing is certain, it is somewhat likely that OSHA rules and regulations would preempt the Order. But Texas businesses with fewer than 100 employees would still be subject to the Order, or future, related State legislation.

Regardless, in light of the Order’s language, any Texas business entity that previously required employees or customers be vaccinated should seek counsel and reexamine its accompanying policies or risk non-compliance with the Order. At a minimum, Texas businesses should—for now—consider adding exemption language to vaccine policies that mimic the Order’s “personal conscience” and “prior recovery from COVID-19” carve outs.

The fact that the order only calls for what appears to be a modest fine (though that may depend on how an “offense” is counted; if it’s per employee, that would quickly add up) and conflicts with an existing federal court ruling may be the reason for the lack of action on it. Here’s more:

Additional questions loom, such as whether the governor’s Order exceeds his authority – his prior Executive Orders regarding vaccinations and so-called vaccine passports governed only public employers and private companies who were receiving state funds. Additional uncertainties include likely legal challenges to the Order; possible conflicts with federal law; and how and to what extent EO-40 will be enforced. It is also unclear to what extent, if any, the State will actually enforce EO-40, which provides for fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

Companies with employees in Texas who have already begun requiring vaccinations can take a relatively low risk approach to dealing with the governor’s Order by modifying their policies to provide accommodations to employees who object to being vaccinated on the basis of “personal conscience” (which is not defined in EO-40) and for “prior recovery from COVID-19.” These practices can be modified as new federal rules are issued and/or legal challenges play out. Other options for responding the Order are discussed in more detail below.

[…]

EO-40 departs from the governor’s prior orders in other ways. The Vaccine Passport Ban prohibits state agencies from adopting policies or requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of receiving services. In a notable contrast, EO-40 does not expressly forbid proof of vaccination as a condition of employment. Instead, it specifically forbids an entity from “compelling receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine.” By aiming squarely on the act of receiving a vaccination as opposed to policies requiring proof of vaccination, the Order gives rise to more ambiguity. In other words, employers may argue that they are not “compelling receipt” of a vaccine so long as that they do not intend to strap an employee down to a chair and force a vaccine needle into a worker’s arm, which they do not. Instead, that worker always has a choice: they can refuse to get vaccinated, but the consequence is that they will lose their job. Thus, another question is whether employer policies requiring vaccination as a condition of employment would be considered coercive enough to be deemed a violation of EO-40’s bar on compelling receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination.

In a larger context, considering the Texas’ at-will employment environment and the narrow availability of a “wrongful termination” cause of action in Texas, it is not clear that an employer “compels” an individual to be vaccinated by making it a condition of employment.

That last bit was a key component of that Methodist vaccine lawsuit. My interpretation of all this – and you lawyers out there, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong – is that businesses that want to get their employees vaccinated see a way forward, and so far the state hasn’t tried to make an example out of anyone. Abbott’s order was primarily about politics and his need to appear maximally troglodytic for the primary. If he scares a few businesses into abandoning any pro-vaccination plans, so much the better, but the point was to make the order. Optics come first, and on that score Abbott got what he wanted. The details don’t matter. Very much on brand for him, in other words.

It would seem that the San Marcos Police Department has some major problems

Geez.

The city of San Marcos admits in new court documents to text exchanges among its police officers about the Joe Biden bus incident in October 2020.

But it denies what it calls a “characterization” of the exchanges by the original complainants.

In documents filed in federal court Dec. 30, attorneys for the defendants denied almost all of the 173 allegations laid out in the original complaint. The defendants include the city’s public safety director, Chase Stapp; an assistant police chief, Brandon Winkenwerder; a police corporal, Matthew Daenzer; and the City of San Marcos.

In the lawsuit, which originally was filed in June 2021 by campaign staffers and volunteers for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, the plaintiffs say the Police Department refused to provide a police escort or assistance for their campaign bus after it was surrounded by a pro-Trump caravan on Interstate 35 in October 2020.

The lawsuit alleges that Biden staffers called 911 and “begged” for help from police, but the police “privately laughed and joked about the victims and their distress, including by calling them ‘tards,’ making fun of a campaign staffer’s ‘hard’ breathing, and retorting that they should just ‘drive defensively’ or ‘leave the train.’”

Attorneys for the campaign staffers and volunteers obtained text messages via a public records request between Stapp, Winkenwerder, Daenzer and other police officers that they said showed the officials mocking and laughing at the bus occupants.

In the defendants’ response to the complaint filed last week, attorneys for Stapp, Winkenwerder, Daenzer and the city denied almost all the allegations in the lawsuit or said that they did not have enough “knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief” about them.

They did admit that the text exchanges occurred, but they denied the “characterization of the communication” contained in the complaint.

In one text exchange, an officer asked “did Kamala show?” — a reference to Biden’s vice presidential running mate, Kamala Harris — and another officer answered, “no, just a couple other yards,” which the plaintiffs’ lawyers claim was a misspelling of his intended word, “tards.” Lawyers for the city denied that characterization.

In another text, Stapp said: “from what I gather, the Biden bus never even exited I-35 thanks to the Trump escort.” Lawyers for Stapp and the city admitted that text was factual.

See here and here for the background. I have nothing against the city of San Marcos, but they have a real problem on their hands, and they need to do something about it. The trial is scheduled for November. I’ll be rooting very hard for the plaintiffs. The Current has more.

Sheriff Gonzalez re-nominated for ICE

Take two.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is still President Joe Biden’s pick to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even after the Senate failed to confirm him last year.

Biden renominated Gonzalez for the ICE director on Tuesday. His initial nomination, from April, expired earlier this week.

Gonzalez still faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which is evenly split and has been moving through Biden’s nominees at a glacial pace amid Republican opposition. ICE — a particularly polarizing agency — has been without a permanent director for five years.

“He’s likely to face the same result in 2022 that he has in 2021,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones. “He’s received quite a bit of flak from the left and the right. The right has attacked him because of his because of his past criticism of ICE, but the left has attacked him because of his support for border security and the rule of law at the border.”

Gonzalez is one of many Biden nominees who Democrats have struggled to get confirmed, reflecting shifting norms in the Senate and the growing difficulty of confirming political appointees in recent years, said Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization that promotes effective government.

See here for the background. With all due respect to Professor Jones, if Gonzalez lacked support from even one Democratic Senator, he’d be toast. There are progressive critics of his, though I’d say that criticism is more about ICE as an agency, but if that had been enough to sway any votes in the Senate, someone else would be getting nominated. As both this story and the previous one note, the main issue here is the extreme slowness in getting presidential nominees approved by the Senate, for a variety of reasons in that profoundly broken institution. Either Leader Schumer is able to get a floor vote for him on the calendar, without negatively affecting any higher priorities, or we face the same situation next year, possibly with a Republican-controlled Senate that will make the matter entirely moot. Good luck.

Three comments about three vaccine mandate news stories

Item one:

A U.S. district judge in North Texas has blocked a mask mandate and vaccine requirement for staff and students in the Head Start program that was issued by President Joe Biden.

Head Start is a federal school readiness program for young kids in low-income families that is administered nationally by the federal Health and Human Services department, but run locally by nonprofits or schools. Biden previously ordered that staff running Head Start programs must be vaccinated and all students over the age of 2 had to wear masks. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lubbock ISD sued the Biden administration to stop enforcement of that order.

U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, a 2019 appointee of Republican President Donald Trump, ruled Friday that the Biden administration could not enforce its mask and vaccine mandates for the Head Start program in Texas, although the mandates would continue in other states.

Hendrix wrote that the process by which the Biden administration implemented the mask and vaccine rules was in violation of federal law because such rules could only be put in place through a detailed process or with the authorization of Congress. The order applies until the judge holds a trial and issues a final decision on the full merits of the case, or if it is lifted by a higher court.

Item two:

In the state’s latest push against federal vaccine mandates, Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced plans to sue the Biden administration for requiring Texas National Guard members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The suit would be the latest in what has been a slew of litigation against federal vaccine mandates that Texas has either brought forth or taken part in during the pandemic.

In a letter issued Tuesday to Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, Abbott claimed authority to exempt Texas guard members from receiving the vaccine.

Item three:

A federal judge in Fort Worth granted an injunction Monday against the Department of Defense and the Biden Administration that temporarily halted the U.S. Navy’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The mandate is challenged by a group of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval special warfare personnel who say the mandate violates their religious freedom and they have been denied religious exemptions from receiving the vaccine.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas signed the injunction order after hearing testimony from several Navy SEALs in December as part of the group’s lawsuit. The suit is against President Joe Biden, the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro.

My comments:

1. It is impossible to overstate how much Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton are on the side of the COVID virus. They themselves are vaccinated, because they are not stupid and want to stay alive, but they absolutely do not care how many people die as a result of COVID. They see only political advantage in making the pandemic worse.

2. They will always be able to find Trumpy judges to plead their cases to, and will generally get favorable rulings from them as a result.

3. The only way to stop the state of Texas from filing these lawsuits is to elect a Democrat as Attorney General. Electing Beto O’Rourke as Governor would also help, as he would be less likely to impose pro-COVID executive orders.

Any questions?

Sheriff Gonzalez’s status

Two words: In limbo.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

The Senate has yet to confirm Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, meaning he will likely need to be nominated again and will face an uphill battle to be confirmed in that role.

The Senate must agree unanimously before Jan. 3 to hold over the nomination of Gonzalez or nominate him during the 2022 legislative session.

Even if Gonzalez is held over — or nominated a second time — a number of political obstacles remain in the way of confirmation.

“The prospects for the confirmation of Sheriff Gonzalez in 2022 would not be very auspicious were Biden to nominate him again,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones, who noted the confirmation process would essentially start over from scratch in that case.

“The fact that there was a hold that remained now suggests that if Biden nominates Gonzalez again, he’s likely to face the same result in 2022 that he has in 2021,” Jones said.

The struggle to confirm Gonzalez reflects shifting norms in the Senate and increasing difficulty to confirm political appointees in recent years, aid Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes more effective government.

“Everything is becoming harder and slower, and you have even fewer people actually being confirmed for very important positions,” said Stier.

As of Dec. 30, just 266 of Biden’s political appointees had been confirmed, according to the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post, compared to 383 during the Obama administration.

The position of ICE director is especially challenging to confirm, considering the polarizing beliefs on immigration law enforcement and the 50-50 split of party control in the Senate.

“The position itself in this instance, ICE director, is one that’s become a bigger lightning rod, a more controversial position,” said Stier.

Trump failed to secure someone in that role during his entire term.

Mark Jones said he doesn’t believe the Senate’s failure to confirm Gonzalez has much to do with his ability to lead the agency, but much more to do with how Republicans are likely to utilize the hot-button issue of immigration during the 2022 midterm elections.

Gonzalez “still has a long track record of criticizing ICE, which means that during a time when Republicans realize that immigration policy is an advantageous one for them, they’re unlikely to support his confirmation. Even though from a policy perspective, his position is not nearly as far from their position,” Jones said.

Republicans have questioned the Democratic sheriff’s commitment to immigration enforcement since he was tapped for the role in April.

As a reminder, Sheriff Gonzalez was nominated in late April, and was approved by the Senate committee in early August. It’s not clear what the actual holdup is here, as Gonzalez would get through if he has full Democratic support. It may be that one or more Democratic Senators are not on board with him, or just don’t want to confirm anyone to this position without some action on immigration in general or ICE in particular, or it may be that this was just another thing moved to the back burner while everyone was chasing Joe Manchin to get his vote on Build Back Better. If it’s the latter, then I think there’s a decent chance Sheriff Gonzalez eventually gets confirmed next year. If not, then we’ll know when he eventually withdraws his name from consideration.

Our year in COVID

It was bad. How it is next year is at least partially up to us.

Speaks for itself (Source: DSHS)

Texas recorded a 35 percent increase in COVID-19 deaths in 2021, compared to the first year of the pandemic, even though vaccines have been available for all adults since March.

The climbing toll, public health experts said, is almost entirely driven by people who are unvaccinated. From mid-January through October, just 8 percent of Texas virus deaths were among inoculated residents.

Memorial Hermann Chief Physician Dr. James McCarthy said it makes sense there would be more virus deaths in 2021, the first full year of the pandemic, though the highly transmissible delta variant coupled with a low vaccination rate and the decline of safe practices made fatalities worse than they otherwise would have been. And as the ultra-contagious omicron variant spreads rapidly in Houston, the pattern could continue.

“The real reason it’s worse this year is we stopped all the mask-wearing protection activities we had with a large portion of the population still unvaccinated and vulnerable to infection, hospitalization and death,” McCarthy said.

Texas this year had recorded 42,100 virus deaths through Dec. 13, according to data from the state health department, compared to 31,309 in 2020. The pandemic was declared in March 2020.

The share of fully vaccinated Texans is 56 percent, the 29th-highest rate in the country. Its large population means Texas has more unvaccinated residents — 12.8 million — than any state except California.

Four of the six deadliest months of the pandemic in Texas were in 2021. The most populous cities and counties have had the most virus deaths.

[…]

At this pace, Texas would not reach 70 percent until late May of 2022, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention projects.

Harris County is outperforming the state average vaccine rate. Through Dec. 16, 59 percent of county residents were fully inoculated.

In other words, there’s still a lot of room for the next surge to rip through and infect, hospitalize, and kill unvaccinated people. Vaccinated people will also get sick, but they will be far less likely to get sick enough to be in danger.

We’re not going to get any help from the state government. The federal government is making more tests available and has ordered vaccine mandates, which really will do a lot to improve things, but of course our state leaders are fighting them as if they had stock in COVID itself. I don’t have anything original to say, but do go read the Department of State Health Services report that provided a lot of these numbers. And do what you need to do to protect yourself and your family.

The “prison gerrymandering” lawsuit

Of the many lawsuits filed so far over Texas redistricting, this is the one I know the least about.

Nearly a quarter of a million people were incarcerated in Texas when the Census was taken last year. When lawmakers redrew the state’s voting maps this fall, these inmates were counted in the prison towns where they were locked up, rather than where they lived beforehand.

A Dallas Morning News analysis of Census and prison data found this practice, which opponents call “prison gerrymandering,” inflates the political power of Republican districts while draining clout from Democratic strongholds. It also makes more conservative, rural areas of the state look larger and more diverse than they truly are.

Republicans say the maps are legal and fair. They argue there isn’t a viable alternative for counting prisoners, and changing that won’t shift the balance of power in Texas to Democrats.

But The News found the state’s new legislative maps would look significantly different if Texas stopped this practice. Reallocating prisoners to the place where they were charged would cause nearly one in five counties — most of which went for Donald Trump last year — to lose population to more urban, liberal areas. Not counting prisoners at all would throw more than two dozen House districts out of population boundaries, making them subject to court challenge.

Experts say The News’ findings raise questions about diluting the minority vote, fair representation and the principle of “one person, one vote.” Incarcerated people in effect become ghost constituents, they said, unwittingly boosting the power of prison towns, and helping Republicans stay in power, while largely lacking the right to vote.

[…]

Including jails, federal and state prisons and detention centers, Texas incarcerated more people than any other state, last year’s Census data show.

Counting these people at their place of confinement helped Republicans, The News analysis found. It’s impossible to know how these incarcerated people would vote. But while many inmates in state prisons were charged in urban areas, and most are not white, the vast majority were drawn into GOP districts.

According to The News’ analysis, Republicans in the state Legislature will represent two-thirds of incarcerated people under the newly redrawn maps. The number is even higher for the U.S. Congress: 76% of people incarcerated at Census time were drawn into districts represented by a Republican in Washington.

Two state lawmakers saw their district numbers inflated most by the count of incarcerated people: Rep. Kyle Kacal of College Station and Cody Harris of Palestine, both Republicans. One in 10 people in Kacal’s district, where death row and the prisons department headquarters is located, is behind bars.

In Harris’ district, which includes Tennessee Colony in Anderson County and all or part of three other counties in East Texas, nearly 8% are incarcerated.

The News analyzed how the state’s new electoral maps would be affected if incarcerated people were counted differently. We used data on more than 140,000 inmates incarcerated in state-run jails and prisons when the Census was taken. This analysis does not include the effect of moving federal inmates or those housed in local jails or ICE detention centers.

Of the 232 counties that went for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, 46 would shrink in population if incarcerated people were counted in the county where they were charged. This is the best measure The News could use for previous residence, since state and federal prison agencies declined to release comprehensive data on inmates’ previous home addresses.

The 46 counties would lose more than 104,000 people, The News’ analysis shows. When added together, pro-Trump counties would lose nearly 52,000 people. Nearly all of them — 49,667 people — would be reallocated back to one of the state’s five largest counties, which all went for President Joe Biden last year, with more than 11,000 going to Dallas County.

The News analysis also found counting incarcerated people at their prison address hurts GOP counties without lockups. McLennan, Smith and Montgomery Counties, all of which went for Trump in 2020, would gain more than 2,500 people each if incarcerated people were moved back to the county where they were charged.

If prisoners were excluded from population counts altogether, The News found that 29 state House districts might need to be redrawn. This is because every Texas legislative district is meant to represent roughly the same amount of people, and there should be no more than a 10% difference in population between the smallest and largest districts.

Those that don’t meet this requirement could be challenged in court; they are about equally split between Democrats and Republicans.

[…]

Experts acknowledge that Texas won’t suddenly turn blue if “prison gerrymandering” is banned.

In a state of 29 million, incarcerated people account for less than 1% of the population. Plus, as the party in power, Republicans could simply tweak district boundary lines to make up for a few thousand prisoners here or there.

But critics note it’s one of several tools the GOP uses to maintain power in a rapidly changing state. While they are a fraction of the population, there are more incarcerated people than needed for an entire House district and nearly one-third of a congressional district.

“The dynamics just described obviously favor white, rural Texas,” said Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. “[It] real questions of fairness.”

Rory Kramer, an associate professor at Villanova University who is completing a nationwide analysis of incarceration and redistricting, said The News’ findings did not surprise him.

“As your analysis demonstrates, this harms equal representation for people who live in neighborhoods with high incarceration rates,” Kramer said. “There’s no reason why living near a prison should mean some Texans have greater voices in the state legislature than other Texans.”

Mike Wessler, communications director for criminal justice advocacy group the Prison Policy Initiative, echoed Kramer’s concern: “It distorts political representation at all levels of government.”

This is related to the lawsuit that I mentioned here filed by inmate Damon James Wilson. This Courthouse News story is still the only writeup I have found about it. The key factor here in terms of drawing legislative districts, especially State House districts where the county line rule makes it harder for rural areas to dip into urban counties for help filling out district populations, is that there would just be fewer people in rural counties, and the net effect might be to force one or more fewer districts that are entirely or mostly within those counties. Add enough people back into Harris County and maybe you have to give it a 25th district again, as it had up to the 2011 reapportionment. West Texas lost a legislative district at that same time because the region didn’t have enough people to justify the higher number. Counting prison inmates in their home counties instead of where they are incarcerated might change the partisan balance by a district or two – it’s really hard to say, and the story doesn’t try – but in the end it’s more a matter of counting them where they consider their home to be, which by the way is the standard for residency and voter registration.

The other point, which I didn’t include in my excerpt, is that while inmates like Wilson are counted in the rural counties where they are locked up for the purposes of drawing legislative maps, they are not counted as residents of those counties when it comes to county-level redistricting.

Just as state lawmakers are in charge of legislative and congressional maps, local officials draw new county districts for positions like commissioners court, justices of the peace and constables after each Census. Many smaller, conservative counties with large inmate populations have long chosen to exclude incarcerated people when redrawing local maps because prisoners would skew their demographics.

Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston said counting the local 13,344 prisoners as constituents would inflate his actual population and result in one of his four commissioners representing only a handful of people outside the prison walls.

“[Prisoners are] not out roaming the streets, spending money in my county,” he said.

Mighty convenient, no? Just for the sake of consistency, there ought to be one standard. Perhaps as a result of this lawsuit there will be. Daily Kos has more.

Precinct analysis: The new SBOE map

Previously: New State House map, New Congressional map

I probably care more about the SBOE than most normal people do. It’s not that powerful an entity, there are only 15 seats on it, and their elections go largely under the radar. But the potential for shenanigans is high, and Democrats had about as good a shot at achieving a majority on that board as they did in the State House in 2020. Didn’t work out, and the new map is typically inhospitable, but we must keep trying. And if this nerdy political blog doesn’t care about the SBOE, then what’s even the point?

You can find the 2012 election results here and the 2020 results here. I didn’t use the 2016 results in my analysis below, but that data is here if you want to see it.


Dist   Obama   Romney Obama%Romney%     Biden    Trump Biden% Trump%
====================================================================
01   247,686  187,075  56.2%  42.4%   378,468  283,822  56.3%  42.2%
02   228,834  185,412  54.6%  44.2%   291,278  291,716  49.4%  49.4%
03   264,311  232,068  52.5%  46.1%   388,240  305,696  55.1%  43.4%
04   308,644  120,097  71.2%  27.7%   403,177  148,981  72.2%  26.7%
05   300,483  239,166  53.8%  42.8%   570,541  301,308  64.1%  33.8%
06   181,278  386,445  31.5%  67.1%   368,830  466,577  43.5%  55.0%
07   224,393  362,617  37.8%  61.1%   340,566  472,253  41.3%  57.3%
08   176,409  303,391  36.3%  62.4%   298,068  395,563  42.4%  56.3%
09   199,415  406,195  32.5%  66.3%   283,337  493,792  36.0%  62.7%
10   169,390  393,365  29.6%  68.6%   303,528  543,023  35.2%  63.0%
11   190,589  395,936  32.0%  66.5%   340,611  492,562  40.2%  58.2%
12   189,192  408,110  31.2%  67.3%   370,022  505,840  41.6%  56.8%
13   335,799  130,847  71.2%  27.7%   441,894  151,002  73.5%  25.1%
14   165,093  377,319  30.0%  68.5%   316,606  503,706  38.0%  60.4%
15   126,093  440,745  21.9%  76.7%   162,347  533,181  23.0%  75.5%

You can see the new map here, so you can visualize where these districts are. The current and soon-to-be-obsolete map is here, and my analysis of the 2020 election under that map is here.

You might note that none of the new districts look all that crazy. For the most part, the districts encompass entire counties. It’s mostly a matter of which counties are joined together. A good example of that is SBOE12, which used to be Collin County plus a slice of Dallas. In the days when Collin was deep red, that was more than enough for it to be safe Republican, but now that Collin is trending heavily Democratic – SBOE12 was a four-point win for Joe Biden last year – that won’t do. Now SBOE12 is a sprawling district that still has all of Collin but now a smaller piece of Dallas, the top end of Denton, and a bunch of smaller North Texas counties that had previously been in districts 09 and 15. In return, the formerly all-rural district 9 picks up about a quarter of Dallas, in a mirror of the strategy we’ve seen in the other maps to put heavily Democratic urban areas in with deeply Republican rural ones, to neutralize the former. District 11, which had previously been pieces of Dallas and Tarrant plus all of Parker and is now all of that plus Hood and Somervell and part of Johnson counties, is another example.

The other strategy that we see echoes of here is the more careful placement of dark red suburban counties. SBOE6, which used to be entirely within Harris County, is now hiked up a bit north to include a generous piece of Montgomery County, much as was done with CD02 and SD07, to flip it from being a Biden district back to a Trump district. Ironically, this has the effect of making SBOE8, which used to have all of Montgomery plus a lot of the counties east of Harris, more Democratic as it now wears both the eastern and western ends of Harris like earflaps. (Mutton chops also come to mind as I look at the map.) SBOE8 also picks up a piece of bright blue Fort Bend County, which had previously been in district 7. Meanwhile, over in Central Texas, SBOE5 jettisoned Comal County after it could no longer keep that district red; Comal wound up in district 10, which excised all of its Travis County population in return.

As far as the numbers go, there’s not much to say. Whether Democrats can win five or six districts will depend in the short term on whether they can hold district 2, which is actually a bit more Democratic in this alignment. In the longer term, districts 6, 8, 11, and 12 could all become competitive. District 3 is no more Democratic than any of those are Republican, but as you can see it trended a bit more blue over the decade, and it’s anchored in Bexar County, which should keep it from falling. 2022 is the one year when every district is up for re-election, and that will tell us something about how the trends we saw in 2020 are going. Maybe we’ll need to re-evaluate the prospects for change in this map, or as we’ve said before, maybe we’ll end up cursing the evil genius of it all. I mean, even as SBOE6 moved strongly towards Dems, the deficit to make up is still 100K votes. Nothing is going to come easy, if it comes at all.

Biden employer vaccine mandate back on

For now, at least.

A federal appeals court panel on Friday allowed President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for larger private employers to move ahead, reversing a previous decision on a requirement that could affect some 84 million U.S workers.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overrules a decision by a federal judge in a separate court that had paused the mandate nationwide.

The mandate from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration was to take effect Jan. 4. With Friday’s ruling, it’s not clear when the requirement might be put in place, but the White House said in a statement that it will protect workers: “Especially as the U.S. faces the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it’s critical we move forward with vaccination requirements and protections for workers with the urgency needed in this moment.”

[…]

“Given OSHA’s clear and exercised authority to regulate viruses, OSHA necessarily has the authority to regulate infectious diseases that are not unique to the workplace,” Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, who was nominated to the court by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, wrote in her majority opinion.

“Vaccination and medical examinations are both tools that OSHA historically employed to contain illness in the workplace,” she wrote.

Gibbons noted that the agency’s authority extends beyond just regulating “hard hats and safety goggles.” She said the vaccine requirement “is not a novel expansion of OSHA’s power; it is an existing application of authority to a novel and dangerous worldwide pandemic.”

She was joined in the majority decision by Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, an appointee of former President Barrack Obama, a Democrat.

The case was consolidated in the 6th circuit, which is dominated by Republican-appointed judges. Earlier this week, the circuit’s active judges rejected a move to have the entire panel consider the case, on an 8-8 vote.

The dissent in Friday’s ruling came from Judge Joan Larsen, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, who said Congress did not authorize OSHA to make this sort of rule and that it did not qualify as a necessity to use the emergency procedures the agency followed to put it in place.

Larsen also argued that vaccinated workers “do not face ‘grave danger’ from working with those who are not vaccinated.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the order. At least two conservative advocacy groups said they had already appealed to the nation’s highest court.

“The Sixth Circuit’s decision is extremely disappointing for Arkansans because it will force them to get the shot or lose their jobs,” Rutledge said.

See here, here, and here for the background. Who even knew that it was possible to get a decent result from an appeals court? It appears the Sixth Circuit, or at least the two justices in the majority opinion, were perhaps not all that impressed by the ruling handed down by their Fifth Circuit colleagues.

Spicy. As noted, in the story, the death eaters among the Attorneys General, including our own, will be appealing to SCOTUS, so keep a firm grip on your expectations. For now at least, there’s a bit of sanity. Happy holidays and all that. Slate has more.

FDA lifts restrictions on medical abortion

Long overdue

The Biden administration on Thursday ended a long-standing restriction on a medication used to terminate early stage pregnancies, even as politicians across the United States intensified efforts that represent the most serious challenge to abortion rights in decades.

The elimination of the rule by the Food and Drug Administration means abortion pills can be prescribed through telehealth consultations with providers and mailed to patients in states where permitted by law. Previously, the pills could not be mailed, though that regulation had been temporarily suspended by the FDA.

In large swaths of the nation, however, strict state rules will dampen the impact. Several states ban sending abortion pills by mail and impose other restrictions.

The medication, mifepristone, was approved by the FDA in 2000 for what’s known as medication abortion. It is used with a second drug, misoprostol. The FDA required patients to pick up mifepristone in person at a hospital, clinic or medical office. There is no FDA requirement that the medication, also known as RU-486, be taken in a clinical setting, and most patients take it at home.

In April, the FDA waived the in-person dispensing requirement during the pandemic, saying research showed the action did not raise “serious safety concerns.” It then launched a scientific review to see whether restrictions on mifepristone should be lifted permanently, with Thursday as the deadline.

The agency, writing to a medical group that had sued the FDA over the rule, said it was dropping the in-person dispensing requirement “to minimize the burden on the health care delivery system” and “to ensure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.” The FDA did not give an effective date for the change.

[…]

Loosening the federal restrictions will not change abortion access in many states with stricter regulations on the pills. Nineteen states have banned receiving the drugs through telehealth appointments, making the relaxed FDA rules irrelevant in places including Alabama, Arizona and Missouri. Some states impose other limitations on medication abortion, including allowing only physicians to prescribe the drug and mandating that patients take the pills under a doctor’s supervision rather than at home.

As federal officials have moved to ease restrictions on the drug, many states have tightened access. At least 16 states have proposed new restrictions on medication abortions this year, said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute.

“State legislatures have been watching very carefully what happens at the federal level,” Nash said.

The highest-profile limitations were enacted in Texas, where lawmakers made it a felony to provide abortion pills after seven weeks of pregnancy and outlawed sending the drugs through the mail. Texas also banned nearly all abortion within the state by making any form of abortion illegal after about six weeks of pregnancy, though that law is being challenged in the courts.

The differing rules have the potential to widen disparities in abortion access, Nash said.

“Access looks very different depending on where you live,” Nash said. “Abortion access will continue to be very limited in states in the South, in the Plains and in the Midwest, and more accessible in states along the West Coast and the Northeast. … That’s problematic in and of itself, and could become an even bigger divide.”

Yeah, it sure is an issue here in Texas. The main question I have is how effectively will Texas be able to enforce its restrictions. It seems to me that there will be a lot of effort put into avoidance, and as such the only way to really make that law work as intended is to be pretty darned invasive. I don’t know how that will work.

Restrictive state laws are spurring an increase in some areas of what’s known as “self-managed abortions” in which patients buy illegal medication on the Internet and terminate pregnancies without interacting with the health-care system.

While some see this as a dangerous trend, others say the situation is sharply improved from decades earlier — because of the abortion pills.

Abigail Aiken, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said she is often asked whether the country is headed to “back-alley abortions and infections” if Roe v. Wade is struck down.

“One of the things we have that we didn’t have in the ’60s and ’70s is access to abortion pills that are very safe, very effective if you have the right instructions,” Aiken said. “Self management is a safety net. And it’s also an ability to take your health care into your own hands when the state legislature is trying to block access.”

That sounds logical to me. And it should be known, this way around the law has been in use for some time. Again, the question to me is how vigorously Texas will try to crack down on that, and how heavy-handed such enforcement will be. I feel very confident saying that the zealots who pushed the bounty hunter law will not be satisfied by anything other than an all-out crackdown, whatever the consequences. If you think I’m being alarmist, look at where we are now and tell me honestly it’s not far worse than you thought it would be. The 19th and Mother Jones have more.

Quinnipiac: Abbott 52, Beto 37

Brutal, but remember what we say about every poll result, whether good, bad, or indifferent: It’s one data point.

Gov. Greg Abbott has a commanding lead over Democrat Beto O’Rourke in a new public poll released on Wednesday.

Abbott, a Republican, leads O’Rourke 52 percent to 37 percent according to the Quinnipiac University poll of 1,224 registered voters.

A big problem for O’Rourke lies in the poll findings, in which 54 percent of respondents say the former El Paso congressman is too liberal.

The poll also shows that Abbott’s approval rating has rebounded since the summer, when Quinnipiac last surveyed the state. The new poll shows 53 percent of Texas approve of the job Abbott has done as governor, up from 49 percent in June. Conducted December 2 through December 6, the survey has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

The Quinnipiac release and poll data is here; most of the story is a recapitulation of what’s there, so go to the source. Of the three other polls we’ve seen so far, this one is similar for the level of support for Beto (37, 39, and 43) but much higher for Abbott (44, 45, and 46).

That Abbott’s approval ratings may have bounced back somewhat isn’t terribly surprising, as the Lege is no longer in session (Rick Perry always polled worse during sessions), but whether he’s back to being ten points in the black is something I’ll want to see in other polls before I buy it. He was at 49-41 approval in the DMN/UT-Tyler poll, 43-48 in UT/Trib, and 49-47 in the Hispanic Policy Forum poll – again, better than he had been in August and September, but not this good. Similarly, the approval for President Biden was easily the worst in this poll – 32-64 for Biden, versus 42-53 in DMN/UT-Tyler and 35-55 in UT/Trib (no data from the other poll).

Basically, this is about as good a result as Abbott could reasonably expect. Is it an outlier or in line with the next batch of polls to come? That remains to be seen. There’s no good spin for this poll, but there’s also no reason to panic.