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Perla Huerta added to migrants’ lawsuit against Ron DeSantis

Noted for the record.

A Boston-based law firm suing Florida’s governor for his scheme to transport asylum-seekers from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses has added Perla Huerta — the San Antonio woman accused of recruiting the migrants — as a defendant in its class-action lawsuit.

Lawyers for Civil Rights, the law firm that filed the lawsuit in a federal court in Massachusetts in September, initially had known Huerta only as “Perla.” The firm amended its lawsuit on Tuesday, saying “Huerta was the lead recruiter tasked with finding immigrants in San Antonio and transporting them to Martha’s Vineyard.”

The New York Times and other news outlets had previously identified the woman as Perla Haydee Huerta, 43.

Three migrants represented by lawyers are identified in the lawsuit as Yanet, Pablo and Jesus Doe. They are requesting damages, as well as an injunction blocking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state from coercing immigrants to travel by “fraud and misrepresentation.”

The lawsuit claims Huerta lied to the migrants about the help they would receive at their destination, including help getting jobs and with their immigration cases, if they agreed to get on the planes. The lawsuit says the migrants felt helpless, confused and anxious after they landed on the small island and when they reached out to Huerta by phone, she ignored or dismissed their concerns.

[…]

The amended complaint also cites text messages between Huerta and staffers for DeSantis detailing their plans to recruit migrants.

The Florida governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Texas Tribune seeking comment.

The lawsuit claims that the governor’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier, and Florida’s public safety adviser, Lawrence Keefe, who are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit, were part of the plan. Uthmeier also texted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s former chief of staff, Luis Saenz, saying that Keefe would be the point of contact about the operation, the lawsuit says.

Keefe had come to San Antonio with Huerta in early September to scope out places where they could find migrants to recruit, such as churches, a transportation office and a convenience store parking lot, the lawsuit says.

See here and here for some background. There are also multiple investigations going on, with the one by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar being of greater potential peril for Perla. I don’t expect Ron DeSantis to face any real accountability for his actions, but a functionary like Perla has more exposure, and being added to this lawsuit may provide some incentive for her to make a deal and spill some beans. We’ll see. The Current has more.

Two DeSantis updates

From the Express News:

Top aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were directly involved in arranging chartered flights that took 48 South Americans from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last month, records show.

Texts from Larry Keefe, DeSantis’ public safety czar, and the governor’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier, show Keefe was in San Antonio making arrangements more than a week before the Sept. 14 flights. They also show he was operating with Uthmeier’s knowledge and approval.

Keefe, a former U.S. attorney in north Florida, was on the ground in San Antonio on the day of the two flights and apparently was on one of them, at least for the first leg of the journey, the records show. The flights took off from Kelly Field and stopped briefly in the Florida Panhandle before continuing on to Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island off the coast of Massachusetts.

More than a week before the flights, Keefe texted Uthmeier that he was “back out here” in San Antonio.

“Very good,” Uthmeier texted back on Sept. 5. “You have my full support. Call anytime.”

“Copy. Thanks,” Keefe replied.

The newly released documents include nearly 150 pages of text messages, photos of migrants boarding the chartered aircraft and waivers in which they purportedly agreed to be transported from Texas to Massachusetts. The signatures of the migrants — dated Sept. 13 — were blacked out. Some of them listed Venezuela and Peru as countries of origin.

[…]

The raft of documents was released by the DeSantis administration after the Express-News and other news organizations requested public records related to the flights. The involvement of Keefe and Uthmeier was first reported by Florida news organizations and Politico.

The records include photos showing that a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle was on-site when the migrants boarded the planes at Kelly Field. The sheriff’s office acknowledged Monday that a deputy was at the scene.

The deputy was off-duty and had been hired to provide security for the operation with a luggage-sniffing K9, a sheriff’s official said. Deputies are permitted to take on after-hours jobs to earn extra income. The deputy has told his supervisors that he — like the migrants — was misled about the purpose of the flights and his role, the official said.

The deputy is now a witness in the sheriff’s investigation into whether the organizers of the flights committed any crimes in Bexar County.

In a statement to the Express-News, the sheriff’s office said: “We are aware a deputy was at the scene. Early in the investigation, this deputy came forward with information he witnessed which corroborated some of the information supplied by many of the migrants. He is considered a cooperating witness in the case and is not suspected of any wrongdoing at this time.”

Sheriff Javier Salazar said last week that information gathered so far by investigators suggests the migrants may have been victims of “unlawful restraint.” The Texas Penal Code defines unlawful restraint as controlling the movements of another person through force, intimidation or deception — including by transporting the person from one place to another.

See here, here, and here for some background. I don’t know what will ultimately come out of this – Sheriff Salazar has said that DeSantis himself is not under investigation, so the ceiling here is not that high – but at least we’re getting a fuller picture of what did happen. It’s funny how secretive and cloak-and-daggery these guys are about something they otherwise like to brag about. In a story from late last week Sheriff Salazar says he has identified some potential suspects, so perhaps in the near future we’ll get the rest of the story, at least as it is now known. Link via the Current.

From TPM:

Perla Huerta, the woman running the recruitment operation in San Antonio, is an employee of Vertol systems, the military contractor the DeSantis administration hired to run its flights. Huerta was only weeks out of the Army, in which she had served for 20 years. The DeSantis operation was apparently her first assignment working for Vertol. There were several other Vertol employees, most or all retired military, also overseeing the operation in Houston. At Vertol the operation was overseen by top executive Candice Wahowski, an Air Force veteran who had been a military police officer in the Air Force. Wahoswki was also on location in San Antonio. Many of the migrants recruited in San Antonio had met with her.

Much of the article is based on the story of “Emmanuel,” another Venezuelan migrant Huerta hired to help her recruit. In one of the many telling details, she paid him in cash in what amounted to dead drops — money stashed behind dumpsters which he was to retrieve as his compensation.

“The money is going to be in the Bill Miller [restaurant] near your house. It’s going to be behind the dumpster outside in a white envelope.”

Around the whole operation there was a climate of secrecy enforced by Vertol — no recording devices that could capture the voices or images of Vertol employees and so forth. Former employees said the whole company is tinged by an air of paranoia and secrecy. It was this which warned some of the migrants off, fearing that they were being snared in some kind of government operation, which of course was precisely what was happening.

In a notable irony, as Perla and her crew quickly closed down their operation as the flights became a national story, they had a plane ticket to Florida for Emmanuel to get him out of town ahead of any investigation. In other words, the state of Florida ended up footing the bill for Venezuelan asylum seeker Emmanuel’s flight to Florida, the kind of Texas-to-Florida trip DeSantis’s operation was notionally aimed at preventing. A short time later Emmanuel returned to Texas to cooperate with the Bexar County sheriff’s ongoing investigation.

All that is summarized from a Miami Herald story. Again, the spy-versus-spy nature of all this – seriously, using a Bill Miller Barbecue dumpster as a dead drop – is so absurd that it couldn’t possibly fly as fiction, because no one would believe it. I mean, Carl Hiassen writes for the Herald, and he would have thought twice about such a plot detail. It’s precisely because of these comic attempts at secrecy that I’m convinced there’s some actual wrongdoing in there somewhere, just because normal people going about normal business don’t do that kind of thing. It’s time-consuming, easy to screw up, and you look ridiculous when other people hear about it. If there isn’t something there that’s worth covering up then these people are even weirder than I can imagine. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: The hits just keep on coming.

Treasury Department investigating DeSantis

Noted for the record.

The Treasury Department is now investigating whether the taxpayer money Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) spent to fly Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard for political theater last month came from federal COVID-19 relief.

Richard Delmar, the department’s deputy inspector general, sent a letter to a congressional delegation of Massachusetts lawmakers on Friday saying that his office was reviewing Florida’s use of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) that was established by the American Rescue Plan.

“We will review the allowability of use of SLFRF funds related to immigration generally, and will specifically confirm whether interest earned on SLFRF was utilized by Florida related to immigration activities, and if so, what conditions and limitations apply to such use,” Delmar wrote.

The Treasury official said the department planned to “get this work underway as quickly as possible.”

Delmar’s letter, which was released by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on Wednesday, came in response to the request Markey and five other Massachusetts lawmakers had sent on Sept. 16 asking for a probe into DeSantis’ potential abuse of the aid.

“States should not be permitted to use COVID-19 relief funds for any parochial interest unrelated to the pandemic, particularly for naked political conduct that imposes severe and unjust harms on disadvantaged groups of individuals,” the lawmakers wrote.

While the $12 million DeSantis poured into the gambit didn’t come directly from Congress’ COVID-19 relief funds, it did come from the interest his state had earned off the aid, per the Washington Post.

See here and here for some background. Daily Kos adds some details.

The civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had this past June urged the Treasury Department to open a probe into the Florida governor. DeSantis had not yet launched his cruel stunt dumping migrants across the country, but he had been seeking to use $12 million in federal coronavirus funding to aid his anti-immigrant platform. SPLC had warned in its letter that the “proposed misuse of these funds reinforces anti-immigrant policies,” as well as “sets a dangerous precedent.”

Damn, was that on money. DeSantis had already signaled last fall that he was going to make a scandal out of entirely routine flights that the federal government carries out, including under the insurrectionist president. When that didn’t stick long enough to his liking, he went to Texas to just carry out his own flights.

Markey’s office said it has been in contact with federal, state, and local officials regarding DeSantis’ cruel transportation of dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, with support from nonprofits like the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and the Venezuelan Association of Massachusetts. Markey’s office noted efforts to ensure that vulnerable children and adults transported by DeSantis from Texas to Massachusetts have been met with “continued care.”

DeSantis is not the only anti-immigrant governor under investigation by the Treasury watchdog, as a matter of fact. This past spring, Delmar said the department would be launching a probe into whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott misused federal pandemic funds to keep his illegal Operation Lone Star border stunt operational. The Washington Post reported possible misuse of as much as $1 billion.

Congressional lawmakers led by Texas’ Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar had urged the watchdog to investigate Abbott using federal funds like his personal ATM for racist hate, writing that he was diverting money from critical public sector resources. “It is negligent and irresponsible for Governor Abbot to direct additional funding to Operation Lone Star, especially if the funding in question was intended to help Texans rebuild from the pandemic,” they wrote.

This story has just a tangential Texas connection, but I’m following it anyway out of sheer curiosity. Mostly, I want to see if it’s even possible for there to be consequences for would-be authoritarians like DeSantis, who will otherwise keep pushing boundaries since there’s apparently nothing to stop them. Along those lines, we also have this.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Thursday certified that 49 migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month were victims of a crime. The move clears a pathway for those migrants to get a special visa to stay in the country that they otherwise would not have received.

Rachel Self, a Massachusetts attorney working with the migrants, told radio station WGBH that the move by Salazar is a key part of the migrants’ applications for a “U visa,” which is reserved for victims of crime or people who witnessed a crime. In a statement, Salazar said his office had submitted documents with the federal system “to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation.”

Attorneys like Self are seeking the visas for the migrants on the grounds that they were taken to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses.

“Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” Salazar said in a statement.

Salazar said his office has identified witnesses in the case but could not release their names because the investigation is ongoing.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Salazar’s statement hinted that no action would be taken against the Republican governor, saying that “only those who were physically in our jurisdiction at the time of the offense are considered suspects.”

While it is no surprise that there were laws broken in this process, the idea that DeSantis himself could have been targeted by law enforcement was always a big stretch. He’d have plenty of cover even if there were a good circumstantial case to be made. Maybe if Perla does some singing if and when she’s ever hauled in, that could change, but again I would not bet on it. Perhaps just the idea that his own actions led to these migrants getting a long-term stay in the country will serve as a deterrent to future stunts like this by DeSantis. I’ll take what I can get. The Current has more.

UPDATE: Things get even more complex.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine has opened an investigation into whether southern border state governors misled immigrants as part of what he called a “political stunt” to transport them to Washington.

Racine told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune his office is examining whether immigrants were deceived by trip organizers before boarding buses for Washington, including several hundred who were bused from Texas under instructions from Gov. Greg Abbott and dropped near the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. Racine’s office has the authority to bring misdemeanor criminal charges or to file civil fraud cases.

Racine said that in interviews with his investigators, arriving immigrants “have talked persuasively about being misled, with talk about promised services.” He offered no specifics about the inquiry, including whether it is being handled by his office’s criminal or civil divisions. The attorney general’s office declined to answer further questions.

Various state and federal laws could apply to transporting immigrants across state lines. Racine’s office could look into whether anyone committed fraud by falsely promising jobs or services, whether there were civil rights violations or whether officials misused taxpayers’ money.

[…]

Racine’s involvement ratchets up the pressure on the governors over their actions.

Elected as a Democrat, Racine criticized the Republican governors for using “people as props. That’s what they’ve done with the immigrants.”

Racine’s office can prosecute certain misdemeanors, and felonies are handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. But its highest profile work has been bringing civil fraud lawsuits against nonprofits and businesses. In May, it reached a $750,000 settlement in a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, alleging that it had abused donors’ funds by overpaying for rentals at the Trump International Hotel.

The governors have said they have done nothing wrong in transporting immigrants to “sanctuary cities” that may be better equipped to care for them. They say they want the rest of the nation to share the burden of what they call the Biden administration’s open border policies.

[…]

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy group, said that some immigrants who were sent from Texas to Harris’ residence in Washington have told his team they were misled about their final destination. The immigrants believed they were bound for Union Station, the city’s central transportation hub, where many hoped to connect with family or trains and buses to other locations. Instead, he said, they were dropped off at about 6 a.m. in an unfamiliar spot, where a church group quickly organized to pick them up.

“I think they are being tricked and being used,” Garcia said.

Since the spring, buses have arrived almost daily at Union Station, where immigrants can now seek support from a new city Office of Migrant Services. So far, Texas taxpayers have spent about $14 million on migrant transportation, according to state records. Buses into Washington have continued in recent days, with several additional arrivals at the vice president’s residence.

As I said above, I don’t know how much actual accountability this can force, but it’s something.

So did Ron DeSantis break Texas law or not?

A couple of lawyers try to figure it out.

Bexar County, Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar has announced a criminal investigation into Venezuelan migrants being induced in San Antonio to board chartered planes and flown to Martha’s Vineyard. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken credit for the stunt. The sheriff has said, “I believe there is some criminal activity involved here, but at present, we are trying to keep an open mind and we are going to investigate to find out and to determine what laws were broken if that does turn out to be the case.”

In this analysis, we look at the potential Texas state law charges that might apply. Our analysis may be a useful guide – for criminal investigators, press, potential whistleblowers or witnesses, the public and other stakeholders. We discuss what exactly might be investigated as a possible crime based on currently available information and what additional facts might be developed.

We first set out what we understand to be the relevant facts, drawing from public reports and a class action complaint filed in federal court in Massachusetts. We then turn to the potential charges and their elements, applying the law to the facts known at this time. Should further investigations or reports reveal additional or contradictory evidence, that could of course affect our analysis.

As discussed below, the conduct might violate multiple Texas criminal statutes, including unlawful restraint, exploitation of a child or elderly person, and certain fraud statutes, not to mention conspiracy and aiding and abetting. That said, the criminal investigation is at an early stage, facts are still being developed, and it is too soon to conclude that crimes were committed – or to rule that out.

See here for the background, and read the rest for the analysis. The short answer is that they believe there’s a good likelihood that various laws were broken, though that is clearer about the people who actually lured the migrants onto the plane than it is for DeSantis. Perhaps now that the mysterious Perla has been identified it will be easier to verify some things. Assuming she is arrested and made to testify under oath, which LULAC is pushing for. The bottom line, per the authors, is that “the allegations are serious ones which merit close attention”. It’s getting plenty of attention, it will just take awhile before we begin to get the answers.

Of course people are harassing the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office now

This is the world we live in.

Hate mail and calls are rushing into the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office after Sheriff Javier Salazar announced an investigation into how 48 South American migrants were “lured” onto a flight to Martha’s Vineyard.

A sheriff’s office spokesman said the agency received an influx of calls to both the dispatch and administrative offices, along with hateful emails.

He said precautionary measures will be taken for the safety of all personnel, as is done in any instance when the office receives “threats.”

On Monday, the sheriff said its organized crime division is working to determine what crimes were committed — possibly human trafficking — in Bexar County by a person who was paid a fee to recruit 50 migrants on Sept. 14 from the city’s Migrant Resource Center, 7000 San Pedro Ave.

Salazar said the migrants, many Venezuelan asylum-seekers, were preyed upon by someone from out of the state and offered jobs and a stay at a hotel in Massachusetts. Instead, they were shuttled onto two chartered jets for what was ultimately a photo opportunity, which the sheriff said was wrongdoing from a human rights perspective.

See here for some background. A reminder, in case anyone needs it, the people at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office who are answering the phones and maintaining their Facebook and Twitter pages are not the decision makers. Hurling racist abuse and violent threats at them is like threatening a McDonald’s cashier because the Shamrock Shake is not a year-round menu item. Not that you should ever hurl racist abuse or violent threats at anyone, of course. You are a terrible person if you do those things, and if the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office decided to make what you said public and/or arrest you for the threats, they would be entirely justified in doing so. Also, too, there may also be a Homeland Security/Justice Department investigation of the DeSantis debacle, so just stopping the Bexar County Sheriff won’t be enough. So there. TPM has more.

Three migrants sue Ron DeSantis

I’m venturing a little from the core mission of covering Texas politics, but this was too irresistible, and there is a Texas connection.

Three Venezuelan migrants flown from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida officials Tuesday after the firebrand Republican’s move to transport migrants to a Democrat-controlled state sparked national controversy and a criminal investigation.

The lawsuit alleges the migrants were tricked into traveling on the airplane with false promises of money, work, housing and food.

DeSantis and other officials “designed and executed a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme centered on exploiting this vulnerability for the sole purpose of advancing their own personal, financial and political interests,” the suit claims.

DeSantis sent the planes to Martha’s Vineyard last week, mimicking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s monthslong practice of busing migrants to Democrat-led cities.

The suit alleges an elaborate scheme of unidentified individuals who lured migrants to travel on the planes. This included providing hotel rooms, McDonald’s gift cards, hundreds of dollars in cash and false promises of their ultimate destination. Migrants on the flight last week said a woman going by the name of Perla approached them outside San Antonio’s Migrant Resource Center and promised them jobs and shelter. Some said they were told they were going to Boston. But they arrived in Martha’s Vineyard, where local officials were caught off guard.

Republicans frequently refer to those taking the trips as “illegal immigrants,” but many of them are asylum-seekers who have been allowed to enter the country pending the outcome of their legal cases.

The suit says the unidentified individuals identified and targeted the migrants “by trolling streets outside of a migrant shelter in Texas and other similar locales, pretending to be good Samaritans offering humanitarian assistance.”

The migrants are asking to be awarded damages, as well as an injunction blocking DeSantis and the state from coercing immigrants to travel by “fraud and misrepresentation.”

See here for a bit of background. To really appreciate the absurdity of all this, as well as to highlight the Texas connection, here’s Josh Marshall:

This new video of Ron DeSantis’s 10th explanation of who he was funding in Texas really has to be seen to be believed. (Video below.) He says that he can’t ship migrants from Florida, as the state legislature authorized money to do, because there aren’t enough migrants coming into the state. There’s no “mass movement”. It’s just one or two people at a time driving to Florida. There’s no way to deal with that efficiently because there aren’t enough people. (Needless to say, however people are entering the state, if the state is overrun you just pick them up locally.) But, he says, he has “intelligence” operatives in Texas and they have learned that from “30% to 40%” of migrants in Texas intend to come to Florida.

In other words, there’s a tidal wave of people apparently about to come. Just not yet. Follow? Good.

So what to do? The most efficient way to deal with this is to go to Texas, profile people who seem likely to later come to Florida and fly them to states run by Democrats. That means “the chance they end up in Florida is much less.”

I guess if you want to be really, really generous you might say that people might be less willing to get bamboozled into being flown north if they’re already in Florida where they want to be as opposed to in Texas. But I think it goes without saying that the cost and inefficiency of the DeSantis plan is great enough to eliminate any benefit. And also: if you hoodwink migrants into going to Boston they can also just get on a bus to go to Florida. San Antonio to Miami is almost as far as Boston to Miami.

The barbarity of DeSantis’s actions should not obscure the hilarity of what is clearly an after the fact explanation of what happened and why? We can be pretty confident that the reason he’s resorting to this explanation is because he really, really doesn’t want to discuss who he’s working with in Texas. What individuals? What activist groups? Again, the explanation is absurd on its face. There’s no mass migration of migrants into Florida. So to move them at scale you need to get them in Texas and send them north.

As Marshall put it on Twitter, the “logical next step for DeSantis is to lure people in Caracas on to planes &ship them to Boston to truly prevent them from getting to Florida.” We truly live in amazing times.

Do I think this is likely to ever see the inside of a courtroom, let alone get to a trial or settlement? No, I seriously doubt it will survive a motion to dismiss. But it at least has accomplished the task of putting some focus on just how deranged and inhumane this stunt was. And maybe, the more DeSantis talks, the better it will be for Sheriff Salazar’s investigation. Daily Kos and Vice News have more.

Bexar County Sheriff to investigate the “immigrants lured to Martha’s Vineyard” saga

Good, because this whole thing is not only weird and creepy but it’s not hard to see how at least some aspects of it could have been illegal.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said Monday the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is opening an investigation into whether people who “lured” migrants onto planes to Martha’s Vineyard did so “under false pretenses.”

Two flights of migrants departed San Antonio’s Kelly Field last week and landed at the Massachusetts resort island. A 27-year-old Venezuelan migrant told the San Antonio Report a woman paid him to recruit other migrants for the flights, telling him the people would be sent to “sanctuary states.”

Some of the migrants who made the trip said they were promised jobs, English classes and housing, none of which materialized.

“What infuriates me the most about this case is that here we have 48 people who are already on hard times, right?” Salazar said via a hastily called Zoom press conference.

“They are here legally in our country, they have every right to be where they are, and I believe they were preyed upon. Somebody … preyed upon these people, lured them with promises for a better life, which is what they were absolutely looking for.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken credit for the flights, saying, according to NPR, that the migrants who accepted the flights had been identified as wanting to relocate to Florida. The state has allocated $12 million “to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens out of Florida.”

None of the migrants who spoke to the San Antonio Report mentioned wanting to relocate to Florida or being asked whether they were planning to go to Florida. All said they were excited by the prospect of getting work.

Salazar said he believes there is a “high possibility” that Texas laws had been broken, and perhaps federal laws as well. “We will work with any and all agencies” that might also be investigating the incident, he said.

I don’t know what will come of this. If in the end this goes nowhere, it won’t surprise me. But the basic idea here is that these folks were transported across state lines under false premises, and that sounds awfully sketchy to me. There’s already been a lot of reporting and talk on Twitter about this – TPM has been on it and has cited the San Antonio Report a couple of times. There’s now a cash reward being offered to identify “Perla”, the person who initially approached the migrants with the false promises that led them to board the plane. I’ll be interested to see where this goes, that’s all I’m saying. And if there were laws broken along the way, sure seems to me that enforcing some consequences for that would have a bunch of salutary effects. NPR and the Trib have more.

Morning Consult also finds a decline in Abbott’s approval rating

Now we have two points.

Two Republican governors famed for their antagonistic approach to some COVID-19 safety measures have seen their popularity decline this summer as they presided over some of the country’s worst COVID-19 spikes. But for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the virus’s toll has hardly hurt either of them with their party’s base as they look toward their political futures.

According to Morning Consult Political Intelligence polling conducted Aug. 21-30, 48 percent of voters in Florida and Texas approve of their governor’s job performance, while similar shares disapprove. The downturn since daily polling that concluded on July 1, before COVID-19’s delta variant spread rapidly across their states and prompted concerns about accessibility of hospital beds and oxygen, has been especially stark for DeSantis.

The first-term Florida governor’s net approval rating – the share of voters who approve of his job performance minus the share who disapprove – has fallen 14 percentage points since the beginning of July, larger than the 7-point drop in sentiment about Abbott over the same time period.

[…]

Roughly 4 in 5 GOP voters in Florida and Texas approve of their Republican governors. The figure has dropped slightly for DeSantis (from 87 percent to 83 percent) since July 1, while it went virtually unchanged for Abbott (from 80 percent to 79 percent).

Most Republican voters in Florida (59 percent) still “strongly” approve of DeSantis — down 7 points over the course of two months but more than 10 points above where he began the year.

In Texas, where Abbott is facing at least two major conservative challengers for re-election next year, the incumbent is a bit weaker with the GOP base compared with DeSantis: 42 percent of Republicans strongly approve of his job performance, compared with 47 percent who did so at the beginning of July.

Abbott’s numbers in this poll are 48 approve, 47 disapprove. That’s better than in the Texas Politics Project poll, but as with that one it represents a decline from the months before. The trend graph shows a steady decline, and in the accompanying table, Abbott was at 51-43 in the July 1 poll. The specific numbers aren’t what’s of interest, it’s the direction they’ve been going. As noted, that can certainly change, and two data points aren’t that much better than one. But so far at least we’re getting a consistent story. Via Harvey Kronberg.

What are the limits on limiting vaccination requirements?

News item #1: Carnival will require COVID vaccinations for all passengers cruising from Galveston:

Carnival Cruise Line today announced plans to begin cruising from the Port of Galveston on July 3.

Cruises will be open to customers who are fully vaccinated, meaning that they can show proof that they received their final dose of vaccine at least 14 days before the cruise begins.

“The current CDC requirements for cruising with a guest base that is unvaccinated will make it very dificult to deliver the experience our guests expect, especially given the large number of families with younger children who sail with us,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival, said in a press release. “As a result, our alternative is to operate our ships from the U.S. during the month of July with vaccinated guests.”

The Carnival Vista will begin operations on July 3, followed by the Carnival Breeze on July 15.

On the one hand, that sounds not only eminently sensible – I mean, cruise ships are often called “floating petri dishes”, and I say that as someone who has enjoyed going on a couple of cruises – it’s something that the cruise industry itself may see as existential. Who would want to put themselves in an extremely enclosed space with hundreds if not thousands of possibly virus-shedding people if they didn’t have to? Who would want to work under those conditions? If there’s one activity that scores near the top of the scale on “non-essential services” and “high-risk for COVID spread”, it’s going on a cruise. Who in their right mind would not want to encourage, if not outright mandate, cruise passengers being vaccinated before getting on board?

Hold that thought while we note news items #2, As Carnival requires vaccines for cruisers, Abbott to sign ban on ‘vaccine passports’.

Texas businesses cannot require their customers to prove their COVID-19 vaccine status under a bill soon to be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The measure, Senate Bill 968, outlaws so-called “vaccine passports” and prevents businesses from asking consumers to show their vaccine cards to receive services. Abbott had issued a similar executive order in April, though that applied only to state agencies and other organizations that receive public funding.

“I’m signing a law today that prohibits any business operating in Texas from requiring vaccine passports or any vaccine information,” Abbott tweeted Monday. “Texas is open 100 percent without any restrictions or limitations or requirements.”

The Senate approved the measure unanimously in April, and the House passed it by a vote of 146-2 in May. Because it earned two-thirds support in both chambers, the bill will take effect immediately after Abbott signs it.

Any business that does not comply with the law “is not eligible to receive a grant or enter into a contract payable with state funds.” State agencies may also “require compliance … as a condition for a license, permit, or other state authorization necessary for conducting business in this state.”

It should be noted that SB968 is a much larger bill that has to do with disaster preparedness and response – it has sections on things like personal protection equipment contracts, a disease prevention information system, wellness checks for medically fragile individuals, and more – so while it does impose this restriction on “vaccine passports”, it’s very much not just about that.

That said, the answer to my rhetorical question is “Republican governors”. Florida’s top madman Ron DeSantis imposed a similar ban on cruise ships that depart from that state. As the story notes, the cruise industry operates in multiple states and in international waters – the ships themselves fly under various foreign flags. Also, too, the specific term “vaccine passports” is basically meaningless now, no such thing currently exists. But one way or another, we have an irresistible force careening into an immovable object. Something is going to have to give, and unless one side or the other backs down, it will surely be up to the federal courts to sort this out. In the meantime, if you yearn to party on the high seas again, check the fine print on your cruise contracts. The Press and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: One more thing to consider:

In other words, this is more hot air than anything else. Still likely to be fought out in court, but the stakes may not be as high as you think.

Is there really a primary threat to Abbott?

Maybe, but it’s not a serious one.

As Gov. Greg Abbott races to reopen all businesses and end mask mandates this week, it hasn’t been fast enough to defuse escalating political pressure from fellow Republicans who see Texas lagging behind other states in dropping COVID-19 restrictions.

For months, Abbott has taken barbs from conservatives who have held up Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a measuring stick to show Texas is reopening too slowly, fueling talk that Abbott will face something he’s never seen: a real primary battle.

“We are glad Governor Abbott is following the example of Governor Ron DeSantis of FL & Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota & opening up Texas,” Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West said last week on his social media accounts after Abbott announced that all businesses would be allowed to reopen to 100 percent this week.

That came days after DeSantis blew Abbott away in an early 2024 presidential primary test ballot at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. Asked who their top choice would be if Donald Trump doesn’t run, 43 percent in the straw poll picked DeSantis. Noem finished second with 11 percent. Abbott was the choice of less than 1 percent, finishing 21st among 22 potential candidates.

And then there was January when DeSantis himself was in Austin, less than a mile from the governor’s mansion, touting how he kept his state open despite criticism from the media.

“Florida is open,” said DeSantis, a guest at the Texas Public Policy Foundation at a time businesses in the region were barred from operating at more than 50 percent. “No restriction and mandates from the state of Florida whatsoever. We trust individuals.”

DeSantis lifted Florida’s restrictions in September — a full six months before Abbott made his move in Lubbock last week.

“Greg Abbott certainly is no Ron DeSantis,” former state Sen. Don Huffines, a Republican, said Saturday while standing in front of the Alamo to mark the 185th anniversary of that battle.

Huffines said between Abbott’s handling of the mass statewide power outages and his pandemic response, it is long past time for someone to challenge Abbott in a GOP primary.

“There’s a lot of issues that are going to be discussed in a primary, and those are just two of them,” Huffines said just before delivering a speech before almost 300 people in which he decried governments taking away people’s liberties.

Huffines isn’t ready to declare for the race but said he’s keeping his options open.

Just for clarity, Don Huffines is a one-term State Senator who lost his first re-election bid in 2018 by double digits. Others mentioned in the story include hair salon owner Shelley Luther, who lost her one election in the special for SD30, one of the reddest districts in the state; Jonathan Stickland, widely loathed State Rep who did not run for re-election in 2020; and Florida Man Allen West, a former one-term Congressman who is now somehow the state GOP Chair. If these are the potential opponents, then as someone once said, they’re not sending their best. I seriously doubt Greg Abbott is living in fear of any of these folks.

This story mentions three other potential candidates: Dan Patrick, George P. Bush, and Sid Miller. Patrick, who would be a legitimate threat to Abbott, has said he’s running for re-election. Bush, who would be a lesser threat, has been encouraged by some to run for AG instead. Miller is hard to take seriously in any context, but he’d be a greater threat than the first three. I’d be surprised at this point if any of them ran against Abbott, but I can’t rule it out completely.

I’ll say what I always say in these situations: No one is running until they actually say they’re running. I’m not a Republican and I claim no insight into what their base wants, but there’s no polling evidence at this time to suggest that Abbott is in any trouble with his base. As we have discussed, he is annoyingly popular. Dan Patrick could beat him – it would be a hell of a fight – but I doubt anyone else has a chance. I just don’t think anyone who could make a fight out of it will try. We’ll see.