Analysis: Dennis Bonnen’s long goodbye

Texas Tribune News

If Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s troubles multiply, he could survive less than a full term in the post.
If Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s troubles multiply, he could survive less than a full term in the post.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

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The question isn’t whether Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will be out of a job.

It’s when.

Every speaker of the Texas House has a limited tenure, of course. Some last 10 years, like Joe Straus, Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. Most don’t make it that far. If Bonnen’s current troubles multiply, he could survive less than a full term.

He’s been in the job for less than a year. Members of both parties are backing away from the unanimous support they gave him in January, spooked by his raw language and political scheming in an hourlong conversation with a political activist named Michael Quinn Sullivan.

House Democrats met after the recording was out and didn’t have Bonnen on their agenda. That kept them from acting on it, but it didn’t keep them from talking. And several of the participants said no one at the meeting spoke up for the speaker. As the House Republican Caucus met Thursday and Friday, several members said Bonnen should either give up the top job or give up his place in the Legislature altogether.

But when?

There’s no way, when the House is not in session, to force a leader out of the speakership, which is essentially what that caucus said in a statement that also said members “condemn in the strongest possible terms the offensive language used and the statements made.” Without the means (and possibly the will) for a force play, members decided not to censure or demand anything of Bonnen. Speakers can resign for any reason at almost any time, but it’s hard to compel them to leave. It’s hard even when the House is in session, as opponents to then-Speaker Tom Craddick found when they attempted a coup in 2007.

But the House isn’t scheduled to return to Austin for official business until January 2021. Without a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott (mark that as unlikely) or a resignation from Bonnen (ditto, without a major change of heart), he’ll be in the job until the next regular session.

All he has to do is keep the members of the House — 67 Democrats and 83 Republicans, including himself — from turning Bonnen’s costly mistake into something that turns the heads of voters in the 2020 primary and general elections.

The risk is almost all on the Republican side of the ledger, and the options are limited. If Bonnen were to leave soon, the conventional wisdom is that the speaker pro tempore would succeed him as interim speaker. Two immediate problems: That’s a legally murky line of succession, and the current pro tempore is Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat. Whoever has the job in the case of a Bonnen departure — Moody or a Republican named by Bonnen to replace him — will be in a legal fight over the claim to the gavel.

If Bonnen stays in office until the 2021 session, Republicans would be betting that they would survive any fallout from his hourlong bull session last June with state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and Sullivan, head of Empower Texans, a conservative outfit known for antagonizing establishment Republicans.

Either way, the recording and the controversy about what Bonnen and Burrows said and the way they said it will be a continuing feast for the Democrats, giving them a Texas foe to rail against, and raise money against, to add to their preexisting plans to spend a year talking about President Donald Trump. For 2020, they’re in position — as the Republicans were during the Obama years — to run against the majority party in Washington.

The Republicans have other risks. A quick exit could set up a fight over succession and continuing public attention on something they’d rather have the public forget. A long goodbye could keep up the current controversy about which members are on which political hit lists, or about whether incumbent members of the House — mostly Republicans, but Bonnen has Democratic supporters, too — continue to support an embarrassing leader.

Oh, and there’s that government to run. The House isn’t in session, but members are waiting for the speaker to make the interim assignments that tell committees what to work on in advance of the next session, the important homework that makes it possible to pass thousands of bills in just 20 weeks every two years. There’s a state budget to work on, and, come to think of it, the chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee resigned to take a university job and hasn’t been replaced.

Bonnen won this job before the last session, pulling together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats at about this time a year ago. He started with confidence and got to the end of the session, along with Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, with most things on his to-do list checked off.

Everything was great, with all of the marks of the beginning of a long and fruitful speakership.

The last thing on anyone’s mind was when it might end.

GOP Caucus condemns House Speaker Dennis Bonnen over secret recording

Texas Tribune News

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen at a press conference on Senate Bill 2 at Wallyís Burger Express in Austin on June 12, 2019.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen at a press conference on Senate Bill 2 at Wallyís Burger Express in Austin on June 12, 2019.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

After meeting behind closed doors for roughly four hours on Friday, the House GOP Caucus released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” language used by Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants during a meeting that was secretly recorded by a hardline conservative activist.

“Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members,” the statement said. “Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership.”

The audio of that June 12 meeting featuring Bonnen, conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, the former caucus chair, was released Tuesday by Sullivan, who heads Empower Texans. Since then, a small but growing number of Republicans and Democrats have called for Bonnen, a first-term speaker who relished in a successful 2019 legislative session, to resign from his post.

The statement didn’t directly address the calls for resignation. But it did vaguely refer to caucus rules for selecting a speaker within the party.

“Constitutionally, the Speaker can only be elected or removed when the House is in session,” the statement said. “A process in our Caucus bylaws presently exists to nominate a Caucus-endorsed Speaker candidate, and we intend to abide by those provisions accordingly.”

On the recording, Bonnen can be heard offering Sullivan media access for his organization and suggested the group go after a list of 10 Republicans during the 2020 primaries. Bonnen also made a number of disparaging remarks about Democrats, referring to one as “vile” and another as a “piece of shit.”

Texas considering whether to hand driver’s license, citizenship information to Census Bureau

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Emily Albracht for The Texas Tribune

As the Trump administration moves forward with efforts to compile detailed citizenship information for the upcoming census, the U.S. Census Bureau has asked Texas to consider sharing parts of its driver’s license and ID database.

The Texas Department of Public Safety received the request from the bureau Oct. 2 with a proposal for the state to provide a monthly dataset, including driver license or ID numbers and citizenship status for Texans who have been issued those documents. A DPS spokeswoman said the department was reviewing the request, but “no action has been taken at this time.”

Similar requests went out across the country as part of the Census Bureau’s efforts to comply with a July executive order from President Donald Trump that called for compiling citizenship data from existing government records. The bureau has long used state administrative records to supplement and improve its surveys, the bureau said in a statement released earlier this week, but it recently expanded into driver’s license records for the 2020 census.

“Responses to all Census Bureau surveys and administrative records obtained by the Census Bureau are safe, secure and protected by law,” the bureau’s statement read.

DPS on Friday provided The Texas Tribune with the communications it received from a Census Bureau official, including a template for a data-sharing agreement. That template included a proposal for the state to provide monthly records from 2018 through 2023. The requested data includes “driver license number or identification number, type of card, name, address, date of birth, sex, race, citizenship status, data issued and date updated.”

Several states have rejected the federal government’s request. But it’s unclear whether Gov. Greg Abbott will follow suit. A spokesman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

In 2017, Texas partly rejected a request from the Trump Administration’s now-defunct Election Integrity Commission for voter information, only handing over information that’s considered public under Texas law. And Abbott sought to reassure Texans that while the state would comply with part of a request for information, it would keep “private your private information.”

The Census Bureau’s requests come several months after the Trump administration lost a lengthy court fight to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court blocked after finding that the administration had provided a “contrived” reason for obtaining the information.

The administration had claimed the citizenship question was added at the request of the Justice Department so officials could better enforce voting rights law. But evidence that emerged through litigation indicated that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asked the Justice Department to make that request after he was in touch with Trump advisers.

Although Trump backed away from that effort, he signed an executive order directing the government to use administrative records to compile citizenship information, which aligned with what the Census Bureau had been recommending all along.

But the Census Bureau’s request has raised concerns about the reliability of citizenship information from driver’s license and ID databanks.

Earlier this year, that dataset derailed Texas’ efforts to scour its voter rolls for noncitizens when the secretary of state relied on driver’s license and ID data to question the citizenship status of nearly 100,000 registered voters, only to discover later that tens of thousands of them were naturalized citizens.

In Texas, immigrants who are not citizens can obtain driver’s licenses and IDs, which are valid for several years, and are not required to update DPS if they become naturalized citizens before they have to renew those documents.

Data from the decennial census is used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funding and is the basis for political representation. In announcing his executive order earlier this year, Trump offered the clear indication that his administration was seeking the detailed citizenship data to offer states the ability to redraw legislative districts based on who is eligible to vote.

Evidence in the litigation over the citizenship question uncovered a 2015 analysis of the Texas House that demonstrated how using the population of citizens who are voting age, as opposed to total population, would lead to a “radical redrawing” of House districts and prove advantageous to Republicans and white Texans.

Texas House leaders have since said they have no plans to use citizenship data in this way. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has not responded to questions about whether he would support such a move.

Greg Abbott says TxDOT could remove homeless camps from Austin's highway underpasses

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Homeless people have set up camp under Highway 290 in South Austin.
Homeless people have set up camp under Highway 290 in South Austin.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott‘s office said Friday the Texas Department of Transportation could force homeless Austin residents out from under bridges and overpasses where some of them live or camp if recent changes to city ordinances don’t result in less feces and fewer needles by Nov. 1.

Abbott plans to work with homeless shelters in Austin, according to a statement from a spokesman, who said they are currently working out details about when or how the camps will be cleared if such a plan is implemented.

The announcement comes less than a day after the Austin City Council changed its ordinances regarding camping, sitting and lying in public spaces. Camping is now banned on city sidewalks, near homeless shelters in and around downtown, and in high wildfire risk areas. Sitting and lying are no longer permitted within 15 feet of the entrance or exit to a business or residence.

“By reforming its homelessness policy, the city of Austin has taken a meaningful step to address the safety and health of Texans — including the homeless,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement Friday afternoon. “The state will monitor how well the new policy actually reduces the skyrocketing complaints about attacks by the homeless and other public safety concerns. The state will also continue to monitor water quality for e-coli and other bacteria.”

The city’s change will go into effect Oct. 27, four days before a deadline Abbott gave Austin officials to make a “consequential improvement” with what he called a homelessness crisis in the state’s capital. That deadline and this week’s changes follow the council’s controversial decision earlier this year to relax some ordinances that critics said criminalized homelessness.

News of TxDOT’s potential plans, which the Austin American-Statesman first reported, broke as Austin Mayor Steve Adler met with the media. Adler said he had not communicated with the governor, but that it had been suggested to him that Abbott would move people out of encampments under overpasses near state roads.

“I hope he doesn’t do that unless he has somewhere for those people to go,” Adler said, adding that he doesn’t want people living under overpasses, but he doesn’t want them moved into less public spaces like the woods, either.

Adler also said that he hopes the governor provides people experiencing homelessness with “a housing exit” should Abbott choose to move people into shelters.

Forcing homeless residents from encampments can be tricky, experts say. The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, a research institution at Arizona State University, has studied dozens of cases and identified recommendations for removing people from encampments. These include having a long-term homelessness plan and including homeless advocacy groups from the start. Michael Scott, the center’s director, said officials should justify removing people, document conditions and involve social service agencies.

“All of this takes a fair amount of planning and coordination and local police should refuse to participate in anything that doesn’t include this higher planning and coordination with all these providers and legal council,” Scott said. “And there should be fair notice given to anyone: What is going to happen and when is going to happen.”

In an Oct. 2 letter to Adler, Abbott warned that he would direct state agencies to “protect the health and safety” of Austinites and cited Department of Public Safety’s authority to enforce criminal trespassing law and mentioned Department of Health and Human Services’ authority to address disease outbreaks. While the letter referenced “reports of violence, used needles and feces,” it does not mention a specific outbreak of any diseases.

Adler and city staff have pushed back on the notion that the city is experiencing a public health and safety crisis. But Adler welcomed state assistance on Friday, mentioning that the city needs more help with mental health and substance abuse treatment, respite care, waste cleanup and rental payment assistance programs.

Data from the Austin Police Department indicates a 6% increase in violent crime and a 5% increase in property crime when comparing summer 2019 — after the camping ban was relaxed — to summer 2018.

“Those are all small numbers relative to what you would get a feel for if you’re only watching social media in the city,” Adler said, encouraging Texans to look at the numbers.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley presented the crime data comparing summer 2018 to summer 2019 at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

Manley reported a 15% increase in violent crime and a 20% increase in property crime where the suspect and victim were both homeless. In cases with a homeless suspect and a non-homeless victim, violent crime increased by 11% and property crime by 2%. And in cases with a homeless victim and a non-homeless suspect, violent crime increased 19% and property crime increased 42%.

On Wednesday, Manley said the city is facing a “public order” issue, not a public safety crisis while noting that interactions between homeless and non-homeless people have increased following the June ordinance change.

Manley has suggested the city revert to the old ordinances while leaders work to a tenable solution.

Stephanie Hayden, director of Austin Public Health, said in a council work session Tuesday that the city is not in the midst of a public health crisis, adding that she is not aware of any spread of communicable disease from the homeless population to the non-homeless population since June.

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department also reported that it has not seen “a measurable increase” in feces, needles or garbage near encampments since June.

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Donald Trump fans in Dallas say the president just “gets” them

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Supporters of President Donald Trump showed up in large numbers to the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday. Many camped out the night before, and lines continued for blocks around the arena.
Supporters of President Donald Trump showed up in large numbers to the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday. Many camped out the night before, and lines continued for blocks around the arena.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

DALLAS — Donning a camouflage Trump baseball cap and Trump-Pence 2020 sneakers, Ronnie Drury arrived nearly 12 hours early to hear President Donald Trump speak Thursday evening at a reelection rally in Dallas.

“This is the biggest thing on my bucket list, and I’m checking it off,” he said.

For Drury, of Plano, the draw wasn’t hearing Trump discuss any particular policy issue but receiving affirmation on his staunch beliefs toward Social Security and immigration policy. “They can’t live off of you and I’s benefits,” Drury said of migrants entering through the U.S.-Mexico border. “They have to work just like everybody else does.”

The president didn’t disappoint.

“We’re building a great wall along the southern border,” Trump said as raucous cheers of “build a wall” radiated from the brimming crowd. “It is going up rapidly, we are building that sucker right now, and it is having a tremendous effect.”

Trump also drew praise from the crowd as he took aim at Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 2020 presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter (some in the crowd derisively referred to him as “Cokehead Biden”), and former President Barack Obama.

“I really don’t believe they love our country,” Trump said, also referring to Democrats as “corrupt people.”

National headlines Thursday would suggest the president was having a rough day. Just hours before, his acting chief of staff admitted, then tried to walk back, that the president used military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into a political investigation. Hours later, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced he was resigning at the end of the year. But Trump and his supporters were unfazed, eager to embrace the rally as a sort of therapeutic escape.

Several people who attended President Donald Trump's Thursday rally in Dallas brought homemade signs to show their support.
Several people who attended President Donald Trump’s Thursday rally in Dallas brought homemade signs to show their support.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

For the thousands of faithful supporters who found themselves at Thursday evening’s rally, the night was more than a political spectacle. Attendees donned bright red, white and blue garments adorned with buttons and carried signs insisting they were neither racist nor stupid. Trump strode onstage nearly an hour after he was slated to speak, but the audience paid no mind. Energized by a pump-up playlist that included Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Elton John, attendees waved their hands in the air, paraded blue and red “Trump-Pence” signs, and cheered and booed on cue with those who warmed up the crowd.

In talks with more than a dozen Trump supporters before and after the rally, the message was clear. Their support for Trump was steeped in two main beliefs: He’s done exactly “what he said he’d do,” and his remarks toward Democrats and people of color matched what they said and believed.

“He talks like me. He thinks like me,” said Patrick Stevenson, 34, of Arlington. “He can talk like a normal person, which is weird because the guy is a flippin’ billionaire. He’s just like a regular cab driver dude.”

Stevenson, who said he voted for Obama in 2008 because “he was black and we needed change,” didn’t fully embrace the Republican ideology until he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 under the Obama administration. He said he noticed a change in policy on the ground that led him to develop a callous attitude toward the military and the government.

Then Trump entered the 2016 presidential race.

“This orange guy gets on the TV and starts campaigning, you know, and it just hits home,” he said. “I’m like, ‘You know what, this guy gets me.’”

Supporters of President Donald Trump showed up in large numbers to the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday, a few even camped out in line the night before and many stood in lines that continued for blocks around the arena.
Supporters of President Donald Trump showed up in large numbers to the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday, a few even camped out in line the night before and many stood in lines that continued for blocks around the arena.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Nicole Rogers, 34, flew in from New Mexico and says she has seen the problems at the border and wants to let people know.
Nicole Rogers, 34, flew in from New Mexico and says she has seen the problems at the border and wants to let people know.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Shelly Gish of Hallsville said she believed in “everything Mr. Trump is doing.” Regarding the Democrats, she said, “All they want to do is impeach, impeach, impeach since the first day.”

“If I get to talkin’ about it, I get angry,” she said, laughing a little. “He’s a smart man. The way he is diplomatin’ with other countries. He’s doing everything great.”

Although a flurry of campaign activity in Texas over the past week signaled to some Democrats that the president and his team may be wary that the state is in play, the synergy between the president and his audience last night only helped to affirm the crowd’s confidence in his grip over Texas Republicans — and their shared belief that the country under the president’s leadership is better than ever — heading into what is already a tumultuous 2020 campaign.

Trump carried Texas by 9 percentage points in 2016, the smallest margin for a Republican presidential nominee here in two decades. His approval rating typically comes in several points above water here, but recent polling has shown him trailing or only narrowly defeating a number of potential Democratic nominees in the state.

Trump, and the Texas elected officials who spoke before him Thursday, were undaunted by those stats, instead spending their time at the mic to warn that if they’re not reelected in 2020, they’ll be replaced by liberal Democrats who are “coming to get your guns.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Trump campaign manager and former San Antonio resident Brad Parscale were among those who warmed up the crowd before Trump’s speech.

“We did not have an election in 2016. We had a revolt,” Patrick, who is chairing Trump’s campaign in Texas, said to huge cheers. “The revolution is only getting louder and larger.”

Trump’s presence also prompted outcry and a counter-rally by O’Rourke. The president’s critics decried how Trump’s sometimes vulgar language and actions have made some vulnerable people feel unsafe or unvalued. And they warned of a backlash that’s brewing among the Texas electorate.

“Tonight, this President is going to go on stage and lie to his supporters about his standing in the state of Texas and the destruction that he’s caused our state and our country,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Let’s be clear: the only reason Donald Trump is in Texas tonight is that he knows he will lose the state and lose this election.”

Nathan Quick drove over 1000 miles to be at the rally for President Trump in Dallas at the American Airlines Center on Thursday, he says he follows the President all over the country selling merchandise.
Nathan Quick drove over 1000 miles to be at the rally for President Trump in Dallas at the American Airlines Center on Thursday, he says he follows the President all over the country selling merchandise.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Supporters of President Donald Trump showed up in large numbers to the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday, a few even camped out in line the night before and many stood in lines that continued for blocks around the arena.
Supporters of President Donald Trump showed up in large numbers to the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday, a few even camped out in line the night before and many stood in lines that continued for blocks around the arena.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

The rally and talks of an election nearly 13 months away weren’t the only things in place to help electrify the crowd. Hours before Trump took the stage, his campaign hosted 45 Fest, where supporters stood in winding lines for cheesy nachos, bobbed their heads to a medley of country music and watched various big screens that rolled pretaped interviews of the president, Donald Trump Jr., Lara Trump, and social media stars Diamond and Silk.

Attendees bemoaned the long lines to get into the arena, but many, including Drury, the man from Plano, found solace among the likeminded strangers all eager to embrace the concert-like atmosphere of the event well before Trump took the stage.

Two men got there early to buy knockoff Make America Great Again merchandise: “LGBT” shirts where the letters stood for liberty, guns, beer and Trump. Nicole Rogers, a 34-year-old corrections officer who had flown in from New Mexico that morning to attend, paraded around with a sign declaring she was gay but not stupid.

For some, the lead-up to the rally was better than seeing it firsthand.

Nathan Quick, 51, drove from North Carolina with his cousin to sell merchandise adjacent to the American Airlines Center. Quick estimated that Thursday was his 80th Trump rally.

“He’s a man of his word,” Quick said. “I follow him everywhere because he hasn’t told a lie yet.”

The president’s speech stuck to his main points on the campaign trail — the fake news, the whistleblower who spurred an impeachment inquiry, a trade war with China, the country’s economic performance during his term, his friendships with Republican politicians in the state and his strongly held belief that he will be reelected president.

Alicia Lyon of Garland predicted that would be the case before the rally started. “He’s not a robot practicing his speech in a mirror,” she said of Trump. “What you see is what you get.”

“He’s a human, and everyone who says, ‘Well he’s not presidential,’” she said. “Well what does that really mean? To me, that’s fake.”

She laughed a little before insisting that the media would twist and spin Trump’s words to “fit their agenda” regardless of what he said onstage. But much like Trump during his speech, she was unperturbed. That’s just one inconvenience, she said, of defending a man who is “doing everything right.”

“Trump 2020,” she said, grinning. “It’s going on again, baby.”

She fled a violent Honduran gang to seek asylum in Texas. Now she might be deported because she didn't file paperwork in Mexico.

Texas Tribune News

A Mexican soldier patrols a makeshift migrant camp at the base of Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juárez. Migrants wait close to the port of entry so they don't lose their spots in line to legally cross into the U.S. and seek asylum.
A Mexican soldier patrols a makeshift migrant camp at the base of Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juárez. Migrants wait close to the port of entry so they don’t lose their spots in line to legally cross into the U.S. and seek asylum.
Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

EL PASO — It wasn’t the first time men with guns showed up at Elizabeth’s door. But this time, they were coming for her.

Six years after gangsters arrived at her house and took her brother away and killed him, Elizabeth, who as a young girl was teased for liking other girls, was running for her life from the same Honduran gang in April.

“We heard their footsteps and saw that they were armed, and they said, ‘This time we get the lesbian,’” she told an asylum officer, according to a transcript of her credible fear interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. (Elizabeth is being used as a pseudonym for the woman to protect her safety.)

Elizabeth’s journey from her native Honduras led her and her mother through Guatemala and Mexico on their way to the U.S. In Mexico, they were confronted by members of a cartel, who Elizabeth said kidnapped and sexually assaulted her for days because she and her mother didn’t have any money or any relatives in the United States who could send them cash. After five days, she said, they were abandoned near a U.S. port of entry.

Elizabeth is now detained in the U.S., but her previous journey through Mexico could spell more trouble for her because of the latest Trump administration policy targeting asylum protections for migrants who didn’t seek asylum in another country before arriving in the U.S.

The rule, announced in July, is the latest salvo in the White House’s efforts to deter asylum seekers from coming into the country, whether they enter the country at ports of entry or illegally by crossing the Rio Grande. It was halted and restarted again after several court battles. When Elizabeth was interviewed by asylum officers in early September, she was told how the rule will affect her.

Elizabeth gave a sworn statement to asylum officers that in 2013, gangsters and corrupt police officers killed her brother because he declined to be part of their group in Honduras, according to the interview transcript. But an asylum officer told Elizabeth that because of the new regulation, she can’t apply for asylum in the U.S.

Immigration attorneys argue the rule could forever diminish U.S. asylum policy. Before the rule, the asylum process was still difficult for migrants who didn’t receive previous permission to be in the country. But there was a process in place allowing applicants to argue their case and have a chance at an appeal should they be denied. But with the third-country rule, those opportunities are eliminated, attorneys say.

“Our laws require we offer a meaningful chance to seek asylum. This rule denies people that chance,” Jeremy McKinney, second vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said when the rule was announced. “If the administration truly wanted to make our asylum system more efficient, maximize the chances that bona fide asylum seekers are protected, and live up to our values, then the steps they should take are clear. This rule isn’t one of them.”

The regulation was put in place after the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols were implemented late last year. That policy requires migrants to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court dates and has affected more than 50,000 asylum seekers. The combined effects of both policies could lead to the erosion of pathways for asylum seekers, said Linda Corchado, the director of El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

“This has been a hard rule for me to stomach because it really has been the gutting of our asylum laws,” she said.

Both regulations have been challenged in federal courts but remain in effect. During a news conference last week, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said the agency was intent on expanding the third-country rule.

People like Elizabeth can still obtain relief from deportation if an immigration judge issues an order known as a “withholding of removal.” That’s applied when migrants prove there is more than a 50% chance they will be persecuted in their home country. But Corchado said that even if that order is granted, it doesn’t include a pathway to legal residency and applies only to the migrant, not his or her family. And the relief can always be revoked.

“It feels like if the U.S. [government] feels there’s a change in that person’s country, they can always reopen proceedings and deport them,” Corchado said.

The third-country rule is being implemented alongside the Trump administration’s metering requirement, which mandates that asylum seekers add their names to a list of thousands of people waiting in Mexico before applying for asylum.

State officials in the Mexican state of Chihuahua said that there are 4,000 to 5,000 people on the waiting list in Ciudad Juárez, though only half of them are still waiting. Hundreds have either gone home or tried to cross the river illegally instead. It’s one sign that the MPP and metering policies are having some effect, Corchado said.

“I think, as a whole, all of these [policies] are compelling asylum seekers to go back,” she said.

Jodi Goodwin, a Brownsville-based immigration attorney, said lawyers expect the third-country rule will be brought up during the merit-hearing stage of the asylum proceedings along the border later this month, and attorneys will have a better idea of how the rule is affecting asylum applications.

But the Trump administration is seeing signs that its policies have had the intended effect.

The number of people who were apprehended by or surrendered to federal immigration officials dipped by nearly 20% last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced last week. After about 64,000 apprehensions in August, the agency reported a September total of about 52,500. That figure is about 40% of July’s estimated 82,000 and is the lowest monthly total of the 2019 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, according to government statistics.

Last week, Morgan, the acting CBP chief, touted the four-month decline of apprehensions of migrants on the country’s southern border. Federal officials see the figure as a barometer of how many fewer migrants are attempting to enter the United States.

“While Congress has failed to put forth a single piece of legislation — even be able to introduce it to the floor to address this crisis — we have addressed this crisis,” Morgan said.

The administration has also praised the Mexican government’s efforts to stop migrants from crossing through that country. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador deployed thousands of federal troops to his country’s southern border to stem the number of people arriving from Central America. The order came after Trump threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican imports if Mexico didn’t secure its border to Trump’s liking. Over the weekend, the show of force from the Mexicans was on full display when National Guard troops detained about 1,000 asylum seekers from moving northward.

But unrest is mounting as more migrants who did make the trip north are forced to wait. In the Mexican city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, makeshift tents have sprouted in camps full of migrants with nowhere else to go.

Andrea Rudnik, co-founder of the nonprofit Team Brownsville, which aids migrants across the Gateway International Bridge, said conditions in a refugee camp there are quickly deteriorating. She said the growing number of migrants is causing tension, leading people to grow desperate.

This week, hundreds of migrants protested at the entrance of the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, causing it to close for several hours early Thursday morning. Rudnik said the asylum seekers were asking to enter and complaining about the camp conditions. She said they don’t have access to clean water or medical care. She said in the last few weeks she has been visiting the camp, the river in which people bathe has had dead animals, and the lack of hygiene has caused a lice epidemic. Some migrants told her they were turned away at their hearings and told to return when they are clean of lice.

Asylum seeking teenagers learn about factors with poker cards during a class taught by volunteers from the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. The kids are not attending school and Sundays are the only days they get to learn from teachers and volunteers.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Asylum seeking teenagers learn about factors with poker cards during a class taught by volunteers from the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. The kids are not attending school and Sundays are the only days they get to learn from teachers and volunteers.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Veronica G. Cardenas

Memorial crosses left on the banks of the Rio Grande in honor of those who lost their lives trying to cross to the U.S. this year in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. 
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Memorial crosses left on the banks of the Rio Grande in honor of those who lost their lives trying to cross to the U.S. this year in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Veronica G. Cardenas

Asylum seekers wait in line to get a meal provided by Team Brownsville near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Most of the people have been sent back under the Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico” program along with some Mexican nationals awaiting their turn to seek asylum in the U.S.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Asylum seekers wait in line to get a meal provided by Team Brownsville near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Most of the people have been sent back under the Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico” program along with some Mexican nationals awaiting their turn to seek asylum in the U.S.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Veronica G. Cardenas

Asylum seekers wait in line to get a meal provided by Team Brownsville near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Most of the people have been sent back under the Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico” program along with some Mexican nationals awaiting their turn to seek asylum in the U.S.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Asylum seekers wait in line to get a meal provided by Team Brownsville near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. Most of the people have been sent back under the Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico” program along with some Mexican nationals awaiting their turn to seek asylum in the U.S.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune
Veronica G. Cardenas

Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

There has also been an increase in the number of Mexicans who are lining up just beyond the international ports of entry in Texas to try to seek asylum in the United States. The majority, from southern Mexican states including Michoacán and Guerrero, are fleeing violence they say the government can’t or isn’t willing to stop. Both states are under a “do not travel” alert from the U.S. State Department.

M.Q., a woman from Honduras, said she and her 17-year-old son have been living in a makeshift tent in Matamoros since August. She and her son left when local organized crime threatened her son. They rode on a train commonly referred to as “La Bestia” across Central America, crossed into the U.S. illegally, and were caught and told to remain in Mexico as they sought asylum. She said her tent has fallen to shreds, and she fears the upcoming cold and rain. Her son has been sick for a week and can no longer eat.

“It is hard to be here without my family,” said M.Q., who asked not to use her full name to protect her family’s safety. “They are asking me for a lot of proof that I don’t have the money to have sent over, and my mom is too old to gather. I just hope we get a judge with a good heart.”

Julián Aguilar reported from El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and Acacia Coronado reported from Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico.

Here's how the top Democratic presidential candidates are faring the race for Texas donors

Texas Tribune News

Presidential candidates Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro.
Presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro.
Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Texas has long been a red state. But with the vast amount of money here — and with many predicting a new level of competitiveness — it’s still an important place for the Democratic presidential candidates.

That’s especially true for the two Texas natives vying for the presidency, Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke.

To take a look at who is winning the money race in Texas, we reviewed numbers from the Federal Election Commission and ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising platform.

This is only a partial picture of each candidates’ donors. Federal law doesn’t require candidates to disclose individual donors who give less than $200, meaning the sources of millions of dollars in contributions to both campaigns aren’t reported. The vast majority of those small-dollar donations come in through ActBlue, which does the name and location of all donors. We were able to review those ActBlue donations through the midpoint of this year, but information about donations from the second half of the year won’t be available until 2020.

Here’s what we found:

How much did the candidates raise overall?

According to filings the two Texans in the race submitted to the Federal Election Commission, O’Rourke raised $4.5 million nationwide in the third quarter of this year, while Castro received $3.5 million. Both raised more than their previous hauls, but fell far behind their Democratic rivals in the overall money race.

Between Jan. 1, 2019 and June 1, 2019, O’Rourke raised roughly $13 million. (He formally launched his White House bid in mid-March.) Castro, by comparison, received around $3.9 million during the first half of the year, though he entered the presidential arena months prior.

U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raised $36.2 million and $25.2 million, respectively, during the first six months of 2019. (Sanders announced his presidential bid on Feb. 19, while Warren did so on Feb. 9.) Those two candidates had stellar hauls for the third fundraising quarter. Sanders raised $28 million, while Warren earned nearly $25 million.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised $32.3 million in the first six months of the year. He raised over $19.2 million in the latest quarter. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who announced his 2020 run in April, raised $22 million in the second quarter and $15.7 million in the third, according to his FEC filing.

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Who has raised the most in Texas?

O’Rourke has received the most Texas money: $5.9 million in the first two fundraising quarters. Fifty-nine percent of O’Rourke’s haul came from small-dollar donors.

His numbers aren’t too surprising. O’Rourke proved during his nationally watched Senate race against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz last year he can easily rake in eye-popping amounts of money from fellow Texans. (Last year, he received over $80 million compared to Cruz’s $39 million.)

Following O’Rourke, the candidates, in order, who raised the most from Texas donors are Sanders at $1.4 million, Castro and Buttigieg who are tied at $1.1 million, Biden at $1 million and, lastly, Warren at $847,920.

Of those six candidates, Sanders received the most from small-dollar donors. A majority of Biden’s haul, meanwhile, came from high-dollar donors who gave $201 or more.

We won’t be able to assess how much each candidate received from Texas donors in the latest fundraising quarter until ActBlue Texas releases its itemized data for the last half of the year around January 2020.

Where are the two Texans in the race getting the most in-state support?

Unsurprisingly, most of O’Rourke’s monetary support from Texas donors in the first two fundraising quarters came from his hometown of El Paso. Outside of El Paso, he has received the most support from donors in Austin and Houston zip codes.

Castro has also seen the bulk of his in-state support come from his hometown, San Antonio. Three San Antonio zip codes — 78209, 78212 and 78230 — gave him a combined $95,224.85 during the first six months of the year.

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How has Castro’s and O’Rourke’s fundraising gone since entering the race?

O’Rourke announced in March that he raised $6.1 million for his presidential campaign in his first 24 hours as a candidate. About $2.8 million of that haul came from Texas, according to a Texas Tribune analysis.

Since then, his fundraising has gone downhill.

O’Rourke raised $3.6 million overall in the second quarter, a disappointing figure after he entered the race with high expectations. His second best day was the day after his campaign announcement, when he raised nearly $335,000. He raised another $551,552 from Texas donors in the last two days of March.

Surprisingly, O’Rourke also raised a significant sum of money from Texas donors on June 30 — three days after his noticeably rocky performance in the first Democratic presidential primary debate and two days before he hosted a campaign event in Austin.

The best in-state fundraising day for Castro, meanwhile, paled in comparison to O’Rourke’s worst day. The former U.S. Housing Secretary raised the most money — $107,258 — on March 28.

He raised a substantial amount of money from Texans immediately after his well-reviewed debate performance in Miami — earning $56,979 the day of the debate and $51,615 three days later. Almost 40% of Castro’s overall second quarter haul came in the days after the Miami debate, campaign spokesman Sawyer Hackett previously told the Tribune.

The five best fundraising dates for O’Rourke nationally are identical to his five best in-state fundraising days. Castro, meanwhile, had most of his top five national fundraising days for the second quarter in the days after the June 26 debate: He collected $323,141 on June 27, $196,674 on June 28, $186,194 on June 29 and $237,669 on June 30.

How seriously are the top tier candidates taking Texas?

Texas could be key to helping the Democratic candidates clinch their party’s nomination — even if they don’t win the state’s primary.

Democrats have shown signs of understanding that dynamic and have already held a bevy of town halls, fundraisers and forums throughout the state. The growing spotlight on Texas this cycle was its brightest yet when 10 candidates took the stage last month in Houston for the third primary debate.

Non-Texas candidates aren’t ceding any ground to the state’s native sons: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., held campaign events in Houston and Tarrant County in March. Warren recently held a town hall in Austin and hired a Texas state director earlier this month. Some other campaigns have regional staffers, both based in Texas and elsewhere, that focus on groups of states including Texas. For example, Buttigieg has a regional organizing director, Michelle Hutchinson, who is based in Austin and oversees organizers working in Texas as well as other southwest states.

Biden’s efforts in Texas, meanwhile, are primarily centered on hosting fundraising events with high-dollar donors. Ahead of the Houston debate, he attended at least two fundraisers in Texas — one in Houston and another in Dallas. Buttigieg also held a campaign fundraiser Sept. 27 in Austin while in town for this year’s Texas Tribune Festival.

Texas offers the second-largest Super Tuesday delegate haul on March 3, and its non-winner-take-all approach gives candidates reason to compete here even if they cannot win statewide.

Texas voters could stabilize funding for state parks with Proposition 5

Texas Tribune News

“If a park has to close, it’s the equivalent of a manufacturing plant. It’s economically devastating,” says Texas Coalition for State Parks spokesperson Jennifer Sarver.
“If a park has to close, it’s the equivalent of a manufacturing plant. It’s economically devastating,” says Texas Coalition for State Parks spokesperson Jennifer Sarver.
Spencer Selvidge for The Texas Tribune

Texas Parks and Wildlife officials, along with outdoor enthusiasts, are looking to lock in funding for the state’s parks during November’s constitutional amendment elections.

Should it pass, Proposition 5 will change the Texas Constitution so that money generated from the existing sales tax on sporting goods can be given only to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission.

Texas’ parks were initially funded by a penny tax on cigarettes, but the Texas Legislature passed a law in 1993 allowing all of the sporting goods sales tax revenues to be used for the upkeep and expansion of parks and historical sites.

In the last two bienniums, the Texas Legislature appropriated between 89% and 100% of the sporting goods sales tax revenue to TPWD, but historically much of the revenue has been used to balance the state budget, according to state Rep. John P. Cyrier, R-Lockhart, who pushed the initial legislation.

The Texas Coalition for State Parks, a conservationist group created to push the amendment, estimates that the parks received on average about $34 million from an average tax revenue of $95 million before 2017.

“For too long, state lawmakers have entrusted the hardworking leaders and personnel of our state parks system with a very important job but did not give them the resources they needed to accomplish it,” Cyrier said in a statement.

Environment Texas, a nonprofit promoting green environmental policy, has been touring the state parks leading up to the Nov. 5 vote to raise awareness for the proposition. Executive director Luke Metzger said the parks have intangible benefits like promoting tourism in Texas and maintaining clean water supplies for cities.

Proposition 5 “would make good on the promise made to Texans in 1993. It’s just as much about truth in taxation as it is about protecting parks,” Metzger said. “Every state legislator will say they support the parks. But when there’s an economic downturn, parks are one of the first things to get cut. That’s why Proposition 5 is so important, to provide stable funding so [the parks] are not on this roller coaster of funding and subject to the politics of the state legislature.”

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who supported the amendment alongside Cyrier, said that until recent sessions, about 40% of the revenue from the sporting goods tax was usually allocated for TPWD. In a statement, Kolkhorst said that additional funding would go toward maintenance and repairs for the parks.

“Supporting our state parks and historic sites is an investment in our future and provides a gateway to the outdoors for every Texan. This legislation passed with bipartisan support because it is about delivering more maintenance and improvements to these sites, which in turn adds capacity for more visitors,” Kolkhorst said.

According to Rodney Franklin, director of state parks at TPWD, the parks have a combined $800 million in deferred maintenance, which has been exacerbated by an increase in traffic and an estimated $50 million in damage from Hurricane Harvey. Underfunding has limited the agency’s ability to prevent small issues from becoming larger and more costly.

“Nearly 80% of state parks were developed more than 30 years ago, with dozens of those established 70 or more years ago. Not surprisingly, basic facilities at state parks across the state have reached, or are rapidly approaching, the end of their design life,” Franklin said.

Texas Coalition for State Parks spokesperson Jennifer Sarver said deferred maintenance translates to broken bathrooms, long lines and reduced visitor capacity. However, she said, the parks have a $900 million economic benefit beyond their recreational impact.

“When people come to a park in West Texas, they’re not just paying an entrance fee, they’re going to be buying gas … and they’re going to pay to stay in hotels to attend the park,” Sarver said. “If a park has to close, it’s the equivalent of a manufacturing plant. It’s economically devastating.”

According to Cyrier, TPWD has received donated land that cannot be developed into state parks because of a lack of capital. Cyrier also said there is a generation of Texans who can’t experience the outdoors due to the growth of metropolitan areas. Sarver said underfunding has limited the expansion of state parks and narrowed access to natural sites.

“Texas is an increasingly urban state, so you have limited outdoor space. Texas is also vastly privately owned, so unless you’re a wealthy landowner, you don’t have access to the land. … If [people] can’t appreciate the land, it’s hard for them to understand what it means to be a Texan,” Sarver said.

The passage of the proposition will not issue immediate funding to Texas Parks and Wildlife. The revenue generated from the tax will still need to be appropriated in the 2021 legislative session.

Proposition 5 is one of 10 proposals on the Nov. 5 ballot. Early voting starts Monday and runs through Nov. 1. Texans can visit votetexas.gov to verify registration and polling locations.

Editor’s Note: We want your help in reporting on the challenges Texans face when trying to vote — and the possible ways to address them. Tell us about the hurdles or problems you’ve run into while trying to exercise your right to vote in Texas by filling out a short form or email our reporter, Alexa Ura, directly at aura@texastribune.org.

Disclosure: Environment Texas, Texas Historical Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Trump said Texas is "not in play" in 2020. But his campaign's activity here this week fuels talk to the contrary.

Texas Tribune News

President Donald Trump rallies with supporters in Dallas on Thursday.
President Donald Trump rallies with supporters in Dallas on Thursday.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

GRAND PRAIRIE — Is Texas in play? A pair of high-profile presidential campaign rallies Thursday night in this area offered starkly different answers to a question that is getting more and more attention.

But even before President Donald Trump stepped onstage at the American Airlines Center — where he declared Texas is “not in play” — his campaign had given Democrats — and some Republicans — all they needed to know with three days of political activity in the state. The rally itself was already his second one this cycle in Texas, over a year out from Election Day.

“Make no mistake about it,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told reporters hours before the rally. “Donald Trump would not be doing one of these campaign rallies, on this scale, in Dallas, in Texas, if he was not scared or he did not know that the biggest battleground in the United States this year is Texas.”

Trump carried the state by 9 percentage points in 2016, the smallest margin for a Republican presidential nominee here in two decades. His approval rating typically comes in only several points above water here, and recent polling has shown him trailing a number of potential Democratic nominees in the state.

While his Republican allies in the state exude confidence that he will carry it again next year, his margin can have a serious effect down ballot, where Democrats are targeting U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, working to capture six U.S. House seats and aiming to flip the state House.

“The president is focused on Texas, and this goes for Texas … and all over the country: The organization here is better than it ever was in 2016,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Trump’s Texas campaign chair, said in a radio interview Thursday morning. Patrick predicted Trump will “outperform Texas over last time” due to what he described as an increasingly extreme Democratic Party.

Still, the Trump campaign had a presence in Texas this week that at the very least suggested it was not taking the state for granted. It began Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio, where the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., headlined a public event, and it continued Wednesday in Dallas, where Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale attended a volunteer and organizer training.

To be sure, the three-day stretch included a more traditional activity for White House campaigns in Texas — fundraising — but the other events were notable.

Shortly before the Dallas rally, Trump’s campaign explained its approach to Texas in 2020.

“You want to give love to people who helped get you elected in the first place,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told The Texas Tribune. “I mean, of course we’re going to spend time in Texas just like the president spends time in Florida and North Carolina and will spend time in Georgia and other states that he won and we expect to win again in 2020.

“You campaign where you know you have supporters, it’s natural,” Murtaugh added. “On the other side of the coin, Hillary Clinton thought she had Wisconsin in the bag and did not go there, and she lost. So, we don’t by any means take anything for granted in Texas which is why we’re devoting attention to it, but we fully intend to win it.”

Trump’s visit to the state came at a particularly fraught time for Texas Republicans, who are dealing with the fallout from the Tuesday release of a secret recording of state House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. The tape captured Bonnen offering media access to a prominent conservative activist while suggesting he target certain GOP members, but there was also a Trump angle.

The president is “killing us” with urban and suburban voters, Bonnen said at one point.

Murtaugh told the Tribune that he had not heard of the secret recording but disagreed with the sentiment, saying the campaign is “going to do very well in Texas across all demographics and all regions.” At the very least, though, Bonnen’s comment has given fresh fodder to Democrats to emphasize GOP anxieties about 2020 in Texas.

“Even Dennis Bonnen said, ‘Trump is kicking our asses … all over suburban areas,’ and he’s not wrong on that,” state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, told reporters hours before Trump’s rally in Dallas.

As they waited in line outside the American Airlines Center, Trump’s supporters weighed the conflicting signals about Texas’ competitiveness next year.

“I’ve heard [Texas could be in play], but I’m not worried about it,” said Shelly Gish from Hallsville. “I think Texas is going to stay red. I really do,”

Asked why, Gish waved her arms around as a way to highlight the thousands of Trump backers around her.

“Well, look,” she said. “Yeah, there are some Democrats here — especially in these big cities — but I still believe that we will stay Republican. And I pray we do.”

The mood was more boisterous at Trump’s rally in Dallas as well as his son’s appearance in San Antonio, which also featured a few other surrogates. Aside from briefly mentioning Cornyn’s reelection bid and knocking O’Rourke, the cast did not talk much about Texas but made a more general pitch for reelecting the president.

“In 2016, my father said something very serious,” the president’s son said. “He goes: ‘What do you have to lose?’ And he was right. So America, you gave him a chance and he has delivered on those promises. Now, what do you have to lose? A lot.”

It was a raucous scene as the president’s son tore into Hunter Biden and Elizabeth Warren, receiving chants of “2024!” — “Let’s worry about ’20 first, c’mon!” Trump Jr. replied — and traded flirtatious quips with his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. The former Fox News host spoke before he did.

“The left is losing it,” she said. “I mean, I’m not a doctor, but it seems like there’s no known cure — although Junior likes it every once in a while when I play nurse, but keep that between us.”

Alex Samuels contributed to this story.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry reportedly tells Donald Trump he will resign as energy secretary

Texas Tribune News

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks during a news conference after the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation conference in Vilnius, Lithuania on Oct. 7, 2019.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks during a news conference after the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation conference in Vilnius, Lithuania on Oct. 7, 2019.
REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, told President Donald Trump Thursday he will resign as secretary of energy, according to multiple reports.

Perry drew scrutiny after being entangled in the president’s efforts to push Ukraine officials to investigate the son of a political rival.

Perry’s resignation was anticipated for several weeks, prior to news coming out about his involvement in the Ukraine scandal, in which Trump made efforts to convince the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate a company that formerly worked with Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., according to The New York Times.

Calling Perry a good friend, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said in a statement Thursday that he wished his fellow Republican well “as he returns to private life” following a long public career.

“He went from being Texas’ longest-serving governor to heading the Department of Energy, where he was a leading advocate for U.S. energy, including liquefied natural gas,” Perry said. “Under his leadership, U.S. oil and gas production has soared—with much of that new production coming from Texas—and the United States has become a net exporter of natural gas, creating good-paying jobs, providing cleaner and more affordable energy, and boosting America’s energy independence.”

Contender in Houston state House special election owed thousands in delinquent taxes

Texas Tribune News

Michele Leal is a Democratic candidate for state representative in HD-148, a Houston-area district formerly held by retired Rep. Jessica Farrar.
Michele Leal is a Democratic candidate for state representative in HD-148, a Houston-area district formerly held by retired Rep. Jessica Farrar.
Social media

A leading contender in a Houston state House special election told The Texas Tribune this week she and her husband recently paid the federal government more than $25,000 in delinquent taxes.

Michele Leal, one of a dozen Democrats in the Nov. 5 special election and the top fundraiser, and her husband had been slapped with a lien from the Internal Revenue Service alleging she owed the government $26,853.25 for unpaid taxes, according to documents from the Harris County Clerk’s Office.

Leal, a consultant with a firm that focuses on providing LGBTQ diversity and inclusion training, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon she has since paid her taxes after being alerted of the lien by a letter last week. She said the bill came because “of the firm and type of law practice” her husband has, which causes their annual income to fluctuate. It also causes the amount of taxes they owe to the federal government to change on a case-by-case basis.

“There are years where we withhold enough and we don’t owe, and there are years where we sometimes owe a substantial amount of money,” she said.

In the case of the most recent bill, she said she and her husband had a payment agreement in place and made an adjustment to that agreement. Due to what she describes as an IRS oversight, the agreement was terminated without her or her husband’s knowledge.

They were made aware of the lien last week, she said, and “immediately took steps to remedy it.”

“It is now completely resolved and paid in full,” she said, noting that this is the first time she’s received a tax lien. “This happened do to a communication error. This is an extenuating circumstance due to us not receiving the mail.”

Although Leal emailed the Tribune copies of her receipt of payment, she was not immediately able to produce the release of lien — which proves she reimbursed the government. That document will take roughly 30 days to come through, she said.

Leal is running to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat who served for over two decades and retired from the lower chamber at the end of September. A special election to fill the seat, which is in a district that has been historically safe for Democrats, will take place Nov. 5. Fifteen candidates — 12 Democrats, two Republicans and an independent — are vying for the seat. According to the latest campaign finance reports, Leal was the No. 1 fundraiser, earning $109,000 while keeping spending low — only $9,000. She has $62,000 in reserves. The No. 2 fundraiser was Anna Eastman, who raised less than half of Leal’s six-figure haul.

If elected, Leal wouldn’t the first representative to be hit with a big bill from the federal government. Last year, the IRS filed a federal tax lien against state Rep. Roland Guttierez, D-San Antonio, and his wife, Sarah, totaling $60,284, for unpaid taxes dating back to 2015.

“Everyone should be responsible for paying their taxes which is why as soon as we became aware of the situation we immediately took steps to remedy it and made payment,” Leal said.

Donald Trump is holding a rally in Dallas tonight. Here's everything you need to know.

Texas Tribune News

Diana Carrizales sported a Make America Great Again beanie while standing in line to get into a Trump rally in Houston last year.
Diana Carrizales sported a Make America Great Again beanie while standing in line to get into a Trump rally in Houston last year.
Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune

President Donald Trump will speak in Dallas on Thursday at a Keep America Great campaign rally. Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is holding a counter-rally at the same time about 20 minutes away.

Trump is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. at the American Airlines Center. Doors open at 4 p.m., but dozens of supporters have camped out for two days — sleeping in tents and lawn chairs outside the arena. The first person in line got there Tuesday, reported The Dallas Morning News. The venue seats 20,000 for concerts.

How to watch: The rally will be streamed live on C-SPAN and on Trump’s YouTube channel.

Trump is expected to address initiatives for job growth in Texas, controversy surrounding his withdrawal of troops from Syria and the House’s impeachment inquiry, according to local news outlets.

In addition to the North Texans lining up to see the president, supporters drove in from across the state. One man, for whom this will be his 58th Trump rally, flew in from Las Vegas, The Dallas Morning News reported.

The Trump campaign is also hosting a daylong 45 Fest outside the arena featuring food trucks, live music and big-screen TVs.

O’Rourke is holding his counter-rally at The Theatre at Grand Prairie. Doors for O’Rourke’s Rally Against Fear open at 6 p.m. In a tweet, the candidate said the event will address that Trump’s “hatred, racism, and division does not belong in Texas.”

This is the second rally the presidential hopeful has hosted in opposition to Trump’s presence in Texas. The first was in El Paso in February, when Trump visited O’Rourke’s hometown. At the time, O’Rourke was not yet running for president.

The Trump rally is also expecting anti-Trump protestors, who are likely to gather outside the American Airlines Center on Thursday afternoon. One person waiting in line told The Dallas Morning News that attendees already been heckled at Wednesday morning.

Trump’s visit is expected to cost taxpayers $169,347, with police protection accounting for the majority of the cost, according to The Dallas Morning News.

How hard should creating a Texas income tax be? Voters will decide with Prop. 4

Texas Tribune News

Proposition 4 would amend the state constitution so that any income tax resolution would need two-thirds support in both legislative chambers before the matter goes to voters, who would ultimately decide.
Proposition 4 would amend the state constitution so that any income tax resolution would need two-thirds support in both legislative chambers before the matter goes to voters, who would ultimately decide.

Creating a personal income tax in Texas isn’t easy. But supporters of a proposition on the Nov. 5 constitutional amendment ballot want to make the prospect of such a tax even more remote.

Currently, the Texas Constitution requires voters to approve an individual income tax in a statewide referendum, which legislators can ask for with a simple majority in the House and Senate. Proposition 4 would raise the bar, amending the constitution so that any income tax resolution would need two-thirds support in both legislative chambers before the matter goes to voters, who would ultimately decide.

State. Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, said lawmakers who supported the measure wanted to provide both residents and outsiders interested in doing business in Texas assurance that the state is committed to a business-friendly environment.

Most agree that the proposition is likely to pass; Fallon said he anticipates 90% of voters to approve.

Still, some lawmakers and tax experts expressed their opposition to the measure.

State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said he will be voting against the proposition, calling it a “waste of time” and “a political stunt.” He opposes an income tax but said the Texas economy could change in the future, necessitating an alteration to the state tax structure.

“We’re handcuffing future generations,” Johnson said.

Dick Lavine, a senior fiscal analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the issue is already covered in the state constitution.

“If you’re looking for voter control over a state income tax, you’ve already got it,” he said, referring to the 1993 constitutional amendment that required statewide voter approval to impose an income tax. Named after former Comptroller Bob Bullock, the Bullock Amendment also requires that revenues from any income tax be used to pay down property taxes and fund public education.

Controversy surrounded the measure as it moved through the Legislature this spring. Senate Democrats raised objections about the measure’s language, contending that using the term “individual” instead of “natural persons” — the phrase used throughout the state constitution’s tax section — could precipitate legal challenges to the state’s franchise tax (a tax Texas levies on businesses) and possibly exempt corporations and other business entities from paying up. The Legislative Budget Board agreed in a May 15 letter, writing that failing to define “individual” could lead to interpretations that “include entities that are currently subject to the state’s franchise tax.”

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimated in January that the franchise tax would bring in more than $8 billion during the 2020-21 biennium.

An amendment proposed by State. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, to replace “individual” with “natural person” in the bill’s text failed. Three Democrats crossed the aisle to support the final resolution, giving the measure the two-thirds support it needed to go before voters.

But the day before the Legislature adjourned, both chambers passed a bill amending the tax code so “individual” means “natural person” and excludes corporations, business associations and other legal entities.

The change alleviated the concerns of some tax experts, who said that the language of House Bill 4542 creates a definition of individual that could apply across the tax code and act as a legal defense in the event of a challenge to the franchise tax. Lavine said HB 4542 assuaged his concerns about a potential legal loophole for businesses, but he still expects a battle in the courts if Proposition 4 passes.

There’s going to be somebody who is going to challenge it,” he said.

Early voting begins Monday and runs through Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5. For information on where to vote and what’s on your ballot, visit Vote 411.

Editor’s Note: We want your help in reporting on the challenges Texans face when trying to vote — and the possible ways to address them. Tell us about the hurdles or problems you’ve run into while trying to exercise your right to vote in Texas by filling out a short form or email our reporter, Alexa Ura, directly at aura@texastribune.org.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Calls for Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen's resignation are limited — but growing — as his party plans to meet this week

Texas Tribune News

Not a single member of the Texas House publicly expressed support for Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Not a single member of the Texas House publicly expressed support for Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

A small but growing bipartisan group of Texas House members have called for Speaker Dennis Bonnen to resign after a secret recording of the GOP leader meeting with a conservative activist was released this week.

Just as notably, not a single member of the House has yet to publicly express support for Bonnen, who said at that June meeting with Michael Quinn Sullivan that he has a list of Republican members “to go pop” in 2020 and that he finds one Democrat “vile” and another “a piece of shit.”

That recording and the silence among most members that followed its release Tuesday has stoked speculation about where exactly the speaker stands with his 149 colleagues — and whether the damage Bonnen did can be repaired.

Some House members have suggested that the relative quiet could be a specific strategy by the speaker’s team heading into a House GOP Caucus retreat Thursday and Friday, which will all but certainly be focused on the drama that has made headlines since July. The collective hush, though, has been viewed by other members as a sign that the speaker is in more political danger than most think.

By Wednesday night, four Republicans aligned with Sullivan and the farther right faction of the GOP had demanded Bonnen resign from his post as speaker. At least two Democrats had as well. Several of the Republicans on the speaker’s political target list had also started weighing in, with at least two — Phil Stephenson of Wharton and Tan Parker of Flower Mound — also saying the speaker should step down.

“Honesty, accountability and sound judgment have been lost and instead replaced with finger pointing to absolve responsibility,” Parker said in a statement. “We need to restore the confidence in leadership, and I believe Speaker Bonnen should resign in order for the House to heal and move forward.”

Another Republican on the target list, Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, said that neither Bonnen nor state Rep. Dustin Burrows, who was also at the June meeting, “have shown regret or remorse for their cold and calculated corruption of the people’s government.”

“To target me is to attack the rural Republican values of the thousands of constituents within the three counties I represent,” Bailes said in his statement, “and I will not stand for it.”

During the roughly hourlong recording, Bonnen referenced a list multiple times and told Sullivan “what I can do for you” if his conservative Empower Texans group goes after 10 GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

“I don’t need anything,” Sullivan said.

Bonnen responded: “We can make this work. I’ll put your guys on the floor next session,” a reference to his offer of media credentials for Sullivan’s group, which was critical of the speaker for most of the 2019 legislative session.

One of the most troubling aspects for members who have listened to the recording is that Bonnen’s offer to Sullivan is a vast departure from the warning the speaker issued to colleagues at the end of the legislative session in May: If an incumbent campaigns against another sitting lawmaker, there will be consequences.

The differences in Bonnen’s public and private postures about campaigning have prompted members to question whether they can trust the speaker ever again — or whether it’s been shattered completely.

Beyond that, amid an ongoing Texas Rangers criminal investigation into Sullivan’s allegations against Bonnen, the speaker said Tuesday that the recording makes clear he did not break the law and that the “House can finally move on.”

Yet Bonnen’s statement did not address the political target list or the disparaging comments he made about multiple Democrats during the meeting. In one instance, the speaker said state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat, “makes my skin crawl” and referenced a suggestion Bonnen’s chief of staff made that the freshman lawmaker’s wife doesn’t know he is gay.

Democrats on Tuesday released a statement by state Rep. Chris Turner, the caucus chair, saying the latest “revelations are incompatible” with Bonnen serving another term.

And roughly half the caucus was in Austin on Wednesday evening for an already-scheduled meeting and dinner. The conversation at that meeting largely centered on whether further action from the group was needed, though no immediate decisions were made, according to those in attendance. However, the caucus is considering whether to call another meeting in the near future to specifically discuss the issue as an agenda item.

“What I can tell you is that everybody present universally condemned what the speaker had said in that recording,” Turner told the Tribune after the caucus meeting. “No one in the room voiced any support or defense of the speaker today.”

To be clear, Republicans across the board have suggested they plan to withhold public comment until the caucus gathers later this week, which will mark the group’s first official gathering since Sullivan’s allegations against Bonnen surfaced. Members have suggested that a number of things could happen at that Friday meeting, though a concrete plan hasn’t yet emerged and may not ahead of it.

Current skepticism about the speaker’s political future aside, Bonnen proved himself to be one of the chamber’s most savvy organizers during the 2018 speaker’s race — an ability that could come into play if questions about his viability as head of the House continue to linger.

The House GOP Caucus is scheduled to meet Friday at 1 p.m. in Austin.

Five takeaways from third-quarter fundraising reports in Texas' congressional races

Texas Tribune News

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting six GOP-held seats in Texas. The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, is hoping to take back two seats the GOP lost last cycle.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting six GOP-held seats in Texas. The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, is hoping to take back two seats the GOP lost last cycle.
Abby Livingston

Tuesday was the latest quarterly campaign finance deadline for congressional candidates, and there was plenty to dissect in Texas, an increasingly important state in the fight for the House majority.

Even before a recent string of Republican retirements, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was targeting six GOP-held seats in the state. Three of those seats are now open.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, is hoping to take back two seats the GOP lost last cycle, targeting Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher of Houston.

Other races are not expected to be competitive in November but are drawing considerable interest for one reason or another. They include open seats in solidly Republican districts, where crowded primaries are expected, as well as a pair of notable primary challenges.

Here’s what we learned from the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, which covered the last three months.

Two Republican incumbents were out-raised.

Republican Reps. Chip Roy of Austin and Ron Wright of Fort Worth saw their Democratic challengers raise more than them. It was most pronounced in the case of Roy, a DCCC target who drew a high-profile opponent, Wendy Davis, in late July. Davis, the former Fort Worth state senator and 2014 gubernatorial nominee, raised a massive $941,000 to Roy’s $574,000 — a significant increase over what he raised in the prior quarter but not enough to overcome Davis.

Wright, who is not a DCCC target, took in $106,000, while his challenger, Waxahachie attorney Stephen Daniel, edged him out with a $111,000 haul after starting his campaign in early July. Roy and Wright still maintained healthy cash-on-hand advantages; for Roy, it was $1.1 million to Davis’ $604,000.

The NRCC’s targets are staying ahead of their well-funded challengers.

Allred and Fletcher have both drawn well-funded GOP opponents — but the incumbent Democrats are not letting themselves fall behind. One of Allred’s challengers, Dallas businesswoman Genevieve Collins, hauled in $453,000 in contributions after declaring her candidacy in late July, an impressive debut establishing her as the candidate to beat in the primary. Allred reported $583,000 in receipts for the full three months.

The situation was the same in Fletcher’s race, where her leading GOP challenger, Houston Army veteran Wesley Hunt, had another strong quarter relative to his primary rivals, raising $469,000, while Fletcher outpaced him with a $640,000 haul. Most importantly, though, the cash-on-hand totals for both Allred and Fletcher reached new highs since their 2018 campaigns — $1.5 million and $1.4 million, respectively.

In competitive open seats, there was a new state of play.

The third quarter saw several Republican retirements, including in the three seats that were already in the DCCC’s crosshairs. That means GOP candidates are starting from scratch in those races, while Democrats have been able to further widen their financial advantages. That was on stark display in the contest to replace retiring Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, where Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones raked in $1.1 million. Republican Tony Gonzales, who jumped into the race shortly after Hurd announced his retirement in early August, disclosed $152,000 in receipts, $65,000 of which was a loan to himself.

The GOP had some brighter spots in the contests to fill the seats of retiring Reps. Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Pete Olson of Sugar Land. In Marchant’s district, for example, GOP candidate Beth Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving, jumped in the race the day after he announced his retirement in early August and hauled in $347,000, more than any Democratic contender did for the full period.

Honorable mention: The other open seats are in safely Republican territory, though there was still some notable fundraising by candidates readying for packed primaries — or hoping to prevent them. In the race to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, one GOP hopeful, August Pfluger, reported raising $705,000 in 19 days, a staggering amount for a quarter, let alone for about two and a half weeks.

Keep an eye on a couple of primary challengers.

At least two primary challengers disclosed figures that may make them hard to dismiss. Jessica Cisneros, who is running against Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, raised $318,000, not too far behind his $377,000 — and almost all made up of individual contributions, unlike his PAC-heavy report. Still, Cuellar remains a daunting target — at $3.2 million, his war chest is the one of the biggest in the Texas delegation.

Another primary challenger to watch is Chris Putnam, who is opposing Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. He got $206,000 in contributions to her $284,000, but he also loaned himself a quarter-million dollars, allowing him to show $448,000 cash on hand to her $563,000.

Things are still TBD in the 31st District.

Among the DCCC’s targets is Rep. John Carter of Round Rock, though the Democratic primary for the seat appears to remain unsettled and underfunded. Three candidates have dropped out in recent weeks, and the top fundraiser in the third quarter, Christine Mann, took in $53,000. Carter himself did not raise anything to boast about: $152,000, a drop from the second quarter that is unlikely to quell retirement speculation. Still, he has $726,000 in the bank and, for now, faces no formidable financial threats from the Democratic side.

U.S. House, including most Texas members, votes in disapproval of Trump's Syria actions

Texas Tribune News

The legislation put 354 House members on the record opposing Trump's decision to pull American troops out of Syria. All Texas Democrats backed the resolution, as did most Texas Republicans.
The legislation put 354 House members on the record opposing Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria. All Texas Democrats backed the resolution, as did most Texas Republicans.
britannica.com

*Correction appended

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House, including several members from Texas, overwhelmingly passed a resolution Wednesday that condemned President Donald Trump’s latest actions in the war-torn country of Syria.

The legislation put 354 House members — a bipartisan majority of the Texas delegation among them — on the record opposing Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria. That policy shift created an opening for Turkey to invade the northern Syrian regions held by longtime allies of the United States, the Kurds.

All Texas Democrats backed the resolution, as did most Texas Republicans.

But seven Texas Republicans — most of whom represent deeply Republican areas of the state — were among 60 House Republicans to oppose the measure: U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville, Michael Burgess of Lewisville, John Carter of Round Rock, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Randy Weber of Friendswood and Roger Williams of Austin.

Since Trump’s decision, Turkish troops have invaded Kurds in Syria. Television images from the region have shocked the American public, and the issue is one of the few points of policy in which congressional Republicans have been willing to oppose Trump.

The key Texas player on the matter was U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He helped write the legislation with the committee chairman, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York.

“My colleague Eliot Engel and I drafted this resolution to show that we do not support this decision by the administration and to call on Turkey to end this destructive campaign in Syria,” McCaul said Wednesday from the House floor.

“In this time of crisis, I’m proud to work with him to lead the most bipartisan committee in the Congress, and today may be a dark day, but it it would be much darker if we were divided instead of standing united.”

The Kurds are a mostly Sunni Muslim ethnic group without a country. The 25 million to 30 million people who make up this group live in northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, western Iran, northern Syria and Armenia, per CNN. The Kurdish people and the United States share a decadeslong alliance, and the Kurds were integral to containing ISIS terrorists.

Trump inflamed the situation just before the vote, saying the Kurdish people are “not angels, if you take a look” on live television.

Trump further suggested that the Kurdish people may ally in the future with Russia, describing the current situation as “a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

All of the Texans who serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee — Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Ron Wright of Arlington — voted in support of the resolution.

A number of Texas members were quick to voice their disapproval beyond their votes.

“I am mostly concerned about the reputational damage that has been done,” Allred said Wednesday at a committee hearing. “Why would anyone align with us going forward?”

Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes issued a statement in the afternoon on the vote, calling the withdrawal of troops a “disastrous decision,” while Castro called the move “impulsive.”

The outlier within the delegation was U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican, who voted “present.”

On Twitter, Roy explained his vote. In his framing, supporting the resolution would be joining a Democratic effort to politically undermine the president amid an impeachment inquiry, among other concerns.

But Roy added that to oppose the resolution would imply support for Turkish aggression and a lack of concern about an expected release of imprisoned ISIS terrorists.

It is unclear if the U.S. Senate would vote on a similar measure. But both chambers could soon address the matter through economic sanctions against Turkey.

“This is a very concerning situation we find ourselves in, and I hope we can find a way out of it,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of Republican U.S. House members from Texas who voted against the measure. Seven opposed the resolution.

TribCast: The Tale of the Tape

Texas Tribune News

From left: Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith is joined by Tribune political reporters Cassi Pollock, Alex Samuels and Patrick Svitek for a live TribCast on Oct. 16.
From left: Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith is joined by Tribune political reporters Cassi Pollock, Alex Samuels and Patrick Svitek for a live TribCast on Oct. 16.
Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

(Audio unavailable. Click here to listen on texastribune.org.)

In this edition of the TribCast, Evan talks to Cassi, Alex and Patrick about the now-public recording of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s infamous meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan. Who told the truth? How will it affect 2020? And can Bonnen survive in his leadership post?

Watch: Live "TribCast" recording

Texas Tribune News

Join us for a special live studio recording of this week’s “TribCast,” hosted by Texas Tribune co-founder and CEO Evan Smith.

Texas Tribune political reporters Cassi Pollock, Alex Samuels and Patrick Svitek will break down the Dennis Bonnen tape released on Tuesday by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan – what’s in it, what the reactions are and what it means for the Texas Legislature and the 2020 elections.

Julián Castro raised $3.5 million in third quarter, but his cash on hand dipped to under $700,000

Texas Tribune News

Presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks to the crowd during a rally at Warehouse Live on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Houston.
Presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks to the crowd during a rally at Warehouse Live on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Houston.
Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro raised $3.5 million in the third quarter of this year, according to his filing with the Federal Election Commission.

The haul is a significant bump from the $2.8 million the Democratic underdog and former San Antonio mayor raised in the second fundraising quarter. Still, his total is paltry compared to some Democratic rivals: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $25.3 million in the third quarter, with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren not far behind. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, raised $15.2 million.

Castro spent $3.9 million in the third quarter, meaning his cash on hand has shrunk from $1.1 million at the end of the second quarter to $672,333 at the end of the third.

Instead of blasting out its numbers to email subscribers, Castro’s campaign, along with those of a few other Democrats, quietly submitted his report just an hour or so before the midnight Oct. 15 deadline — immediately after the fourth Democratic debate in Ohio. According to Castro’s online filing, he spent nearly $4 million in the latest quarter.

Castro told supporters on Saturday that the average contribution to his campaign in the third quarter was $18. Castro also said his campaign added over 60,000 new donors in the last quarter.

Despite the marked improvement from his previous fundraising hauls, Castro has struggled for much of the race to climb out of the bottom tier in polls, and his latest fundraising places him in the lower third of candidates — behind fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke, who revealed last week that that he raised $4.5 million in the third quarter.

Both Texans participated in the fourth primary debate Tuesday in Ohio, but have yet to satisfy the requirements for the fifth debate, which is Nov. 20 in Georgia. Party rules say that to qualify for the debate, a candidate must have 165,000 unique donors and receive 3% in four national polls (up from 2% for the fall debates). Castro and O’Rourke have accrued the donors needed to make the stage, according to their respective campaigns. O’Rourke has one qualifying poll, while Castro has none.

Beto O'Rourke goes after Warren on taxes as he and Castro fight for their political survival

Texas Tribune News

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O''Rourke speaks during the fourth U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate on Tuesday.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O”Rourke speaks during the fourth U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke took his most aggressive posture yet in a presidential primary debate in an exchange with the Democratic frontrunner, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Tuesday evening.

While answering a question on tax policy in the fourth round of Democratic debates, O’Rourke went after Warren’s lack of clarity on how she will pay for various policy proposals like Medicare For All.

“We need to be focused on lifting people up, and sometimes I think Sen. Warren is more focused on being punitive or pitting the country against the other, instead of lifting people up and making sure this country comes together around those solutions,” he said.

He later followed up, saying Warren “has yet to describe her tax plan,” and whether not average Americans will see a tax increase.

Warren responded, saying she was “shocked” that anyone would view her policies as punitive.

O’Rourke was not the only candidate who critiqued Warren for not stating whether she will raise taxes. Since the last debate, Warren has outpaced former Vice President Joe Biden in several recent polls. As such, she was the magnet for other candidates’ criticisms.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had a similar exchange with her earlier in the debate, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota pushed back against Warren’s Medicare for All proposals.

After the O’Rourke exchange, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey implicitly fired back against him, arguing that Democratic candidates ought to avoid “tearing each other down.”

Otherwise, O’Rourke and the other Texan onstage, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro were absent from long stretches of discussion Tuesday night. The exclusions on the part of the CNN and New York Times moderators is indicative of their lower status in polling and momentum in this race.

The two men are in a fight for political survival. Neither Texan has met the polling threshold to qualify for the fifth debate, to be held in Georgia on Nov. 20.

The rest of the Democratic lineup included U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.