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Newsclips - January 21, 2021

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Austin American-Statesman - January 20, 2021

No pardon for Texas Attorney General Kex Paxton in last-minute list

President Donald Trump left office Wednesday without granting a preemptive pardon to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, ending speculation about whether Trump would reward a key ally who is under FBI investigation. Paxton, who devoted considerable effort to protecting and advancing Trump's policies via lawsuits and other means — including a late bid to overturn 2020 election results —was accused of official misconduct, including bribery and misuse of office, by several top aides in late September and early October. That prompted an ongoing FBI investigation and speculation that Trump might reward Paxton as he has other supporters, including pardons granted to former strategist Steve Bannon, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime political adviser Roger Stone.

Paxton, however, has said he did not request a pardon, and his name was not on a list of 73 people pardoned late Tuesday night or one final pardon announced in the closing minutes of Trump's presidency. Because presidential pardons forgive only federal offenses, action by Trump would have had no impact on three state felonies, pending against Paxton since 2015, alleging securities law violations in private business deals. Those criminal cases have been mired in appeals from defense lawyers and prosecutors, and no trial date is set. A pardon also could not block state charges, if any are filed, related to last year's allegations that Paxton misused the power of his office to benefit a friend and political benefactor, Austin businessman Nate Paul. After Trump took office, Paxton changed his approach from filing numerous lawsuits to block or overturn Obama administration actions — a role he is expected to resume under President Joe Biden — to a robust legal defense on Trump's behalf. In the first two years of the Trump administration, Paxton filed 18 lawsuits or legal briefs on behalf of the Republican chief executive, including efforts to suspend travel from Muslim-majority countries and block abortions for teen immigrants in federal custody.

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NBC News - January 20, 2021

Biden sworn in as president, calls on Americans to 'end this uncivil war' of political division

Amid a devastating pandemic and the threat of domestic terrorism, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States shortly before noon on Wednesday, pledging to unite the country and calling on Americans to end the "uncivil war" that has fractured the nation. In a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol that kept with tradition while being unlike any other inauguration in U.S. history, Biden took his oath of office before a small, socially distanced audience in a city that has been locked down because of the dual threats of Covid-19, which has killed over 400,000 people in the U.S., and worries over another attack just two weeks after the deadly riot at the Capitol. In an impassioned address, Biden repeatedly stressed the need for unity, calling it the only "path forward."

"I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days, I know the forces that divide are deep and they are real," he said. "Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh ugly reality of racism, nativism, fear, demonization." "This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge — and unity is the path forward," he said. "The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don't look like you or worship the way you do, or don't get their news from the same sources you do," the president added a moment later. "We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts — if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we're willing to stand in the other person's shoes," he continued. Biden vowed to move quickly to address the pandemic, the subsequent economic collapse, racial justice and climate change. He also repudiated the mob that had attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and promised he would be president for all Americans, including those who didn't vote for him.

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KXAN - January 21, 2021

Texas conservatives prepare to file lawsuits against Biden administration

Texas lawmakers are already gearing up for a legal fight against the Biden administration. Hours after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a clear message, vowing to push back on federal mandates that he says infringe on Texans’ rights. The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) says it is preparing a number of federal lawsuits, mainly centered around federal overreach. Currently, energy regulations and education curriculum under the Biden administration are the focus of the foundation’s legal team. This comes after President Biden declared his intent to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and revoke the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

TPPF says energy regulations under the Biden administration could impact energy independence as well as thousands of jobs in Texas. “There are a number of tools available to the Biden administration that could threaten Texas’ thriving oil and gas industry,” explained Chuck DeVore, TPPF’s Vice President of National Initiatives. “You have regulations, you have the intent to rejoin the Paris [Climate] Accord, there are a few different tools that may result in the reduction of production from Texas’ thriving oil and gas industry.” DeVore says this is significant because a few years ago the United States became a net exporter of oil and gas, which he believes improves our national security posture. The foundation is also focused on preventing a federal takeover of education curriculum. “What we are very concerned about is this attempt to impose a federal standard on educating our children on the history of America. In the case of Texas, undermining the teaching of Texas History,” DeVore said.

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Washington Post - January 20, 2021

QAnon believers grapple with doubt, spin new theories as Trump era ends

Followers of the extremist ideology QAnon saw their hopes once again dashed Wednesday as President Donald Trump left Washington on the final day of his presidency, without any of the climactic scenes of violence and salvation that the sprawling set of conspiracy theories had preached for years would come. As Trump boarded Air Force One for his last presidential flight to Florida, many QAnon adherents - some of whose believers had this month stormed the Capitol in a siege that left at least two QAnon devotees dead and others in jail - began to wonder whether they'd been duped all along. When one QAnon channel on the chat app Telegram posted a new theory that suggested Biden himself was "part of the plan," a number of followers shifted into open rebellion: "This will never happen." "Just stfu already!" "It's over. It is sadly, sadly over." "What a fraud!"

Late Wednesday, the movement suffered another blow when the "Qresearch" forum on 8kun, QAnon's online home, was wiped clean by a site moderator, who said in a rambling screed that "I am just performing euthanasia to something I once loved very very much." Shortly after, the site's leaders restored the deleted material and demanded the moderator's death. But while some QAnon disciples gave way to doubt, others doubled down on blind belief or strained to see new coded messages in the Inauguration Day's events. Some followers noted that 17 flags - Q being the 17th letter of the alphabet - flew on the stage as Trump delivered a farewell address. "17 flags! come on now this is getting insane," said one post on a QAnon forum devoted to the "Great Awakening," the quasi-biblical name for QAnon's utopian end times. "I don't know how many signs has to be given to us before we 'trust the plan,' " one commenter said. Over thousands of cryptic posts since 2017, Q, QAnon's unidentified online prophet, had promised that Trump was secretly spearheading a spiritual war against an elite cabal of child-eating Satanists who controlled Washington, Hollywood and the world. Believers in these false, rambling theories had counted down the hours waiting for Trump to corral his enemies for military tribunals and mass executions in a show of force they called "the Storm."

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

President Joe Biden is sworn in — and already clashing with Texas Republicans

President Joe Biden on Wednesday took office leading a fractured nation, trumpeting the strength of a democracy tested and calling for Americans to come together, even as his first actions in office sparked tensions with Texas Republicans. “This is a time of testing,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “We face an attack on our democracy and on truth, a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America’s role in the world — any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways, but the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we’ve had. “To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity,” Biden said.

The Biden administration — with Kamala Harris taking office as the first woman, first Black person and first Asian-American to serve as vice president — began with an inauguration unlike any other. The swearing in was set before a backdrop of 25,000 National Guard troops from across the nation who provided extra security in a locked-down D.C. after a Trump-inspired mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Those in the strictly limited crowd wore masks and sat at arm’s length to limit the spread of COVID-19. For the first time in decades, the outgoing president was not present. In a 21-minute address with numerous references to the Civil War, Biden called for an end to “this uncivil war that pits red versus blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” It was a message cheered by Texas Democrats, who declared Wednesday the end of a “shameful” era and a time to move forward as they pointed to the historic significance of Harris’ swearing in. “Democracy has prevailed,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

Michael Taylor: Thank government for COVID-19 vaccines, not the free market

I’m a markets guy who believes in applying economic principles to situations requiring innovation and the allocation of scarce resources. Which probably explains why I think it’s so important to also point out the hard limits to markets. There are big downsides and limits to thinking like an economist. The COVID-19 vaccine development and rollout is case study for examining what free markets are specifically not useful for. “Health care should be run more like a private business” is one of the more misguided statements that well-meaning people like to make — up there with the equally misguided “Schools should be run more like a private business.”

The miracle of this vaccine development and initial rollout in one year’s time cannot be understated. This is an unprecedented scientific achievement. It should be understood not as a victory of market-based economics but rather the opposite: the extraordinary application of central government planning. Sometimes, in the good old U.S. of A., we forget this point. Last spring, the Trump administration made the correct call to directly fund six pharmaceutical companies to research, test and manufacture vaccines. This initial $10 billion federal government investment — called “Operation Warp Speed” — allocated in March was upped to $18 billion by October. A seventh company, Pfizer, did not receive funds for research, but it did receive a guaranteed order for 100 million doses. By guaranteeing demand for hundreds of millions of doses, the federal government induced drugmakers to essentially ignore market signals such as potential risk, profit and loss. The Operation Warp Speed program understood that some vaccine products might not work and that hundreds of millions of manufactured doses could be wasted. And that was OK.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Sending vaccines to cities one path out of ‘dark winter’

In a sobering and unifying speech, one that captured the gravity of the moment and the possibility in a new administration, President Joe Biden pledged a path forward through the darkness of this winter. “My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us we are going to need each other,” he said 14 minutes into his inaugural speech as 46th president of the United States. “We need all of our strength to persevere through this dark winter. We are entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation. One nation.” And for a moment, following his lead, the nation paused in silent prayer to remember the 400,000 Americans who have died in this pandemic.

The final weeks of 2020 and early weeks of 2021 were overwhelmed by a great unraveling, punctuated by the insurrection of Jan. 6, underscored by the pervasive lie of widespread voter fraud. These weeks were darkened as COVID-19 has raged. The spread of the virus has been heartbreaking and so, too, the slow distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which promise relief from the biggest public health threat in our lifetimes. But the promise of vaccines hinges on vaccinations, and here we have seen failure. The Trump administration had promised that 20 million Americans would receive the first of the two-dose regimen by the end of the year. But as of last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, little more than 11 million shots had been administered of the more than 30 million doses distributed to the states. This unconscionable failure by the federal government to properly prepare and coordinate distribution of the vaccine is what spurred more than three dozen mayors, including San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, to ask Biden to expedite distribution by sending shipments of the vaccine directly to cities. The new administration, which has put forward a sound COVID-19 plan, should agree to this request. Locally, vaccine appointments have filled up within minutes. Demand far outstrips supply, and city officials have said a lack of communication from the state makes it impossible to plan ahead. It would be helpful for local officials to know how much vaccine is available to distribute and coordinate the inoculations. As Colleen Bridger, interim director of Metro Health, recently told City Council: San Antonio has “no ability to plan ahead.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

San Antonio council candidate for East Side district far ahead in campaign donations, mostly from out of state

As City Council elections start to ramp up, one District 2 candidate has vastly out-raised all his opponents so far, including incumbent Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan. Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, 25, raised almost $17,600 from 423 donors in 31 states during the Sept. 8-Dec. 31 reporting period. Andrews-Sullivan, his former boss, reported just three contributions for a total of $1,040. Other candidates reported less than $2,000 or no money raised at all. McKee-Rodriguez’s report showed 161 San Antonians contributed a total of $7,951. The rest of the James Madison High School math teacher’s contributions came from all four corners of the continental United States plus Hawaii.

McKee-Rodriguez said he’s receiving donations from people he grew up with while moving around the country with his parents who were in the military. Contributions also came from people he met while studying at the University of Texas at San Antonio but who have since moved away, he said. “Young people in San Antonio, we want to get them to stay, but they’re choosing to go other places,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “Those people are choosing to invest in me and invest in the campaign that we’re building to say we want to make District 2 a place for young people who want to choose to stay.” Though he moved around a lot as a kid, he has lived in District 2 for three years, and in Texas for seven years and in District 2 for three years. He went to work for Andrews-Sullivan as her director of communications after she was elected in May 2019 and stayed through December 2019. McKee-Rodriguez also attributes the donations to his social media following, particularly on TikTok.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

Elaine Ayala: Inaugurations are always remarkable, sacred moments that celebrate our bruised democracy

Inaugurations are always remarkable, sacred moments. The bright, shiny pomp and circumstance that Washington puts on celebrates a democratic nation that acknowledges its union is not quite yet perfect. It’s young, fragile, imperfect. That it strives to be perfect, however, has been embedded in ceremonial rituals and in repeating words of wisdom.

At their best, they can help mend political wounds. At least for a day, perhaps only a moment, they make us more hopeful of their promise, more sure that this American experiment can right itself and mend its foundations. It’s a little wobbly now. I’m not sure that the inauguration Wednesday — the pomp, the pop stars, the poetry and a new president — will mend us. But it’s a start. It was also momentous, coming on the heels of a seditious attack. Despite an insurrection in the same building just two weeks ago, the inauguration of a new president and vice president assured us democracy won. One more time.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2021

New COVID-19 cases plummet, but deaths remain high in Bexar

For the first time this year, new COVID-19 cases in San Antonio have fallen to fewer than 1,000. Officials reported 850 new cases on Wednesday — a precipitous decline from the 2,395 cases recorded on Tuesday. Cases began spiking in November and have risen to record highs in recent days, a surge still apparent in the region’s seven-day average of 1,966 cases.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg warned at the daily briefing that it was far too early to consider the sudden decline in cases a definite trend. “There may be some labs that didn’t report today,” Nirenberg said. “The more important number is the seven-day rolling average.” Rita Espinoza, chief of epidemiology for the city’s Metropolitan Health District, echoed the mayor’s note of caution. “It is just one point, so we really can’t say it’s a trend,” she said. The number of patients hospitalized also fell, albeit more modestly, from 1,507 to 1,466. Of those, 452 were in intensive care and 247 were on ventilators. Overall, there were 174 new admissions to hospitals — a figure that Nirenberg called troubling and “very high.” The relentless pandemic continued to exact a grim toll in Bexar County, killing 18 more residents over the last two weeks. The victims included a man in his 40s; a man in his 50s; a woman in her 70s; and a man in his 80s.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2021

Dallas County reports 3,469 new coronavirus cases, 30 deaths; Tarrant adds 23 deaths

Dallas County reported 3,469 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, as well as 30 more deaths from COVID-19. County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that Wednesday’s case number was the second-highest one-day total reported so far, behind only the 3,549 new cases on Jan. 12. “While these are concerning numbers, and I hope the number of new cases and deaths decreases very soon, I am thankful we’ve been able to vaccinate almost 15,000 individuals at the Fair Park mega-vaccine clinic since last week, with thousands of more scheduled for today,” Jenkins said. Meanwhile, the state warned that Texans must avoid another surge in cases as deaths continue to rise while hospitals are overburdened. “Hospitals can’t take much more,” the state health department said on Twitter.

The latest Dallas County victims included eight Dallas residents: a man in his 60s, three men in their 70s, two women in their 70s, including one who lived in a long-term care facility, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s. All had underlying health problems. Six Garland residents also died: a woman in her 50s, two women in their 60s, two men in their 70s and a woman in her 80s. Four of the six had underlying health problems. Five Mesquite residents — a man in his 50s, a man in his 70s, a man and woman in their 80s and a woman in her 90s — also died. All had underlying health problems, and four lived at long-term care facilities. Three Rowlett residents were among the victims: a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 70s. All three had been hospitalized; one had underlying health problems. Two Richardson residents also died, both women in their 70s. One lived in a long-term care facility. The remaining victims were a Wilmer man in his 60s, a Glenn Heights woman in her 60s, an Irving man in his 80s, a Farmers Branch man in his 80s, a Cedar Hill woman in her 80s and a Grand Prairie man in his 80s.

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Dallas Morning News - January 20, 2021

Texas warns it will cut COVID vaccine supply after Dallas County limits who can get doses

State health officials are threatening to cut Dallas County’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines if it moves forward with a plan to prioritize residents from 11 of its most vulnerable ZIP codes, according to an email obtained by The Dallas Morning News Wednesday. The letter comes a day after a divided commissioners court directed the health department to focus its efforts at its Fair Park vaccination mega site on the ZIP codes considered most vulnerable to the coronavirus and those with historic health inequities.

“While we ask hub providers to ensure the vaccine reaches the hardest hit areas and populations, solely vaccinating people who live in those areas is not in line with the agreement to be a hub provider,” wrote Imelda Garcia, associate commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “If Dallas County is unable to meet these expectations, we will be forced to reduce the weekly vaccine allocation to Dallas County Health and Human Services and no longer consider it a hub provider.” The state could limit supply as soon as next week if the county does not change course by Thursday morning, Garcia said. The state’s letter was prompted by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who in his own letter alerted the state to the policy change. Jenkins openly questioned the legality of the commissioners’ decision during their Tuesday meeting. County Commissioner J.J. Koch sponsored the shift after early data showed the vaccines at the county’s Fair Park site were going to residents from mostly white and affluent ZIP codes above Interstate 30. Local policymakers said they hoped that putting the county’s first vaccine hub in southern Dallas would help provide access to more Blacks and Latinos who lack access to the health care system.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

Hood County reports surge in COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths in past week

Hood County has reported 13 coronavirus deaths in the past week. The county has confirmed a total of 5,283 COVID-19 cases, including 85 deaths. There have been 1,451 new cases in January. Health officials report that 41,252 Hood County citizens have been tested and the county is reporting a COVID hospitalization rate of 24.21% as of Monday.

This is the rate Gov. Greg Abbott is using to determine whether Texas regions can allow businesses to open to larger capacities or permit bars to reopen. The rate would have to drop below 15% for seven consecutive days for business capacity to be increased. There are currently 26 COVID hospitalizations in the county. The other active cases have been directed to self-isolate. Granbury ISD is reporting that 12 students and two staff members currently have COVID-19. Tolar ISD has six current cases, including five students.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

Tarrant County adds 102 COVID-19 deaths in 5 days, including 23 on Wednesday

Tarrant County reported 23 coronavirus deaths and 2,074 cases on Wednesday. The county has reported 102 COVID-19 deaths in the past five days while averaging 2,332 new cases.

The latest pandemic-related deaths include a Pantego man in his 50s, a Fort Worth man in his 50s, a Bedford woman in her 50s, an Arlington man and woman in their 50s, an Azle man in his 50s, an Arlington woman in her 60s, a Fort Worth man in his 60s, a Euless woman in her 60s, two Arlington men in their 70s, a North Richland Hills man in his 70s, a Fort Worth man and woman in their 70s, a Mansfield woman in her 70s, a Fort Worth man in his 80s, a Sansom Park woman in her 80s, a Hurst man in his 80s, a Euless man in his 80s, a Saginaw woman older than 90, and a Fort Worth man and two women older than 90. One of the 23 had undetermined underlying health conditions and the others had underlying health conditions, according to officials. Tarrant County has reported a total of 199,521 COVID-19 cases, including 1,927 deaths and an estimated 143,731 recoveries. Tarrant County Public Health and the Arlington Fire Department hub locations report that 47,754 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered as of Tuesday. Hospitalized COVID patients decreased by 45 to 1,429. The pandemic high was 1,528 on Jan. 6. COVID-19 hospitalizations account for 28% of the total number of beds in Tarrant County and make up 35% of the 4,076 occupied beds as of Tuesday. The rate was at a pandemic-high 38% on Jan. 10.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

No limousine departure from Fort Worth prison for Tiger King after Trump fails to pardon

There was no flamboyant stretch limo departure for Joe Exotic. The star of “Tiger King,” the wildly popular Netflix documentary series, was left without a presidential pardon from former President Donald Trump, who left office Wednesday morning. Trump pardoned 74 people and commuted the criminal sentences of 70 others in the last 12 hours of his administration.

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th U.S. president at around 11 a.m. Wednesday. Joe Exotic’s legal team, led by private investigator Eric Love, said they were so convinced that Trump would issue the pardon that they had a stretch limousine standing by to pick him up at a Fort Worth prison. Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 57, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years for violating federal wildlife laws and for his role in a failed murder-for-hire plot against zookeeping rival Carole Baskin. He was convicted in April 2019 and is currently incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center Fort Worth. Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys argued in a pardon petition filed in September that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others, according to the Associated Press.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Biden inaugural address gives America reason for faith in a better future

America turned its eyes to Washington on Wednesday and saw hope. Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, vowing to unite a fractured country and counting on that unity to confront the challenges faced by our wounded nation. Four years ago, Biden’s predecessor looked out across America and famously saw carnage. In his inaugural address, Biden pointed toward the light — in a speech that was openhearted, plainspoken and direct — even as he acknowledged there were dark days ahead. “The forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new,” he said. “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal, and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.”

The battle is perennial, he continued, and victory never assured, but it is only with “enough of us” coming together, that we can overcome — an aspirational note grounded in pragmatism. Biden will need that clear-eyed resolve to tackle what he labeled the cascading crises of our time. “We face an attack on our democracy and on truth. A raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis. America’s role in the world,” he said. “Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once.” Unity is the only path forward, the president said. Without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. “We must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail,” he said. That union starts by all of us putting down the poisoned chalice of outrage and recognizing that we can disagree without hate. That we are all Americans, regardless of political persuasion. That we share common values, including opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor and truth.

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2021

Biden policies could provide short-term boost, long-term challenge to Houston economy

Both the local and national economies are likely to get a short-term boost if President Joe Biden passes his $1.9 trillion package to provide economic relief and bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, but climate and other environmental policies could present a long-term challenge to the region’s energy industry and the growth that it drives. Biden’s plan, unveiled last week, includes money to accelerate vaccine deployment, help state and local governments bridge budget shortfalls, bolster unemployment benefits and provide direct stimulus payments to Americans, among other forms of aid. That would provide immediate relief to workers in Texas — service workers in particular — and further stabilize the housing market, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“Here in Houston,” Stein said, “it would enable renters to avoid eviction, homeowners to make mortgage payments and encourage developers to continue building rental and owner-occupied housing in anticipation of the pandemic ending,” Stein said. The specifics of Biden’s proposal need to be negotiated with Congress, but Stein said he expects some type of economic relief to pass, putting money into the pockets of people who need it, and get them spending. In addition to the short-term stimulus, the Biden administration also has proposed spending $2 trillion on infrastructure, including $50 billion on road and bridge repairs in the first year of his term. “When you build roads, you hire people,” Stein said, “and you reduce the cost of getting products to consumers.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2021

Kinder Morgan ekes out 2020 profit while eyeing energy transition

Kinder Morgan remained profitable in 2020 as it battled the worst oil downturn in a generation that slashed demand for the crude and natural gas flowing through its network of pipelines and terminals. Nevertheless, the Houston company on Wednesday said it’s preparing for a low-carbon future in which its business would shift to transport and store biofuels and hydrogen instead of fossil fuels. “As the world transitions to a future of lower emissions, our assets are well positioned for the energy transition,” Kinder Morgan Executive Chairman Richard Kinder told analysts in a conference call Wednesday. The company on Wednesday said it made $119 million in 2020, a fraction of the $2.2 billion profit in 2019. Annual revenue declined by 11 percent to $11.7 billion from $13.2 billion in 2019.

During the fourth quarter, Kinder Morgan made $607 million, down slightly from $610 million during the same period a year earlier. Revenue fell 7 percent to $3.1 billion from $3.35 billion a year earlier. Its financial performance proved robust enough that the company said it would increase its fourth-quarter dividend by 5 percent. Although executives said they remain bullish about the future of natural gas as a backup energy supply to intermittent solar and wind power, the pipeline giant said it is preparing for greater use of biofuels and hydrogen paired with carbon capture storage, which executives said are “ripe for expansion.” Biofuels are made from animal and food waste while hydrogen can be produced from fossil fuels. Both can be transported as a gas through pipelines or stored at terminals in liquid form. Pipeline and terminal projects face mounting opposition from environmental activists and political leaders increasingly concerned about climate change. One of President Joe Biden’s first executive orders after his inauguration Wednesday was to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have moved crude from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries in the Midwest and Texas.

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KXAN - January 20, 2021

Sen. Cornyn will ‘listen to what’s presented’ during Trump impeachment trial

As Inauguration Day ceremonies roll on and the country’s presidency is transferred from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate looms even after he leaves office. Many lawmakers wonder if impeaching a president after leaving office is constitutional, including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “I think there’s serious questions about it,” he said.

While many Senate Republicans haven’t publicly said whether they’ll vote to convict Trump of incitement of insurrection, the charge brought forth by the House, Cornyn agreed with others when it was referred to as a “vote of conscience.” “I think that’s a good way to put it,” he said. “I’m going to listen to what’s presented.” Ten House Republicans, none of them Texans, joined Democrats in voting 232-197 to impeach Trump for a second time, a week after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building and interrupted the Electoral College vote count that confirmed Biden as President-elect.

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McAllen Monitor - January 20, 2021

Upheaval at the Capitol for Valley senators

There was a big shakeup in Rio Grande Valley politics at the state Capitol last week. Every two years, the Texas lieutenant governor assigns members of the senate to committees that review bills filed under their jurisdictions. The members are tasked with hearing testimony and making recommendations on which proposed laws to pursue. This year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made some eyebrow-raising changes when it came to the Valley’s representation on those Senate committees. For one, Patrick removed state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. from his role as chairman of the Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which is now called the Committee on Local Government. Last session, Lucio was one of only two Democratic senators appointed to chair a committee. This year, however, Patrick only appointed one Democrat as chair: Houston’s John Whitmire, the Senate’s longest-serving member, will continue to chair the Committee on Criminal Justice.

“(Lt.) Gov. Patrick made it very clear when he ran for lieutenant governor that he would have fewer (Democratic) chairs,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini said Tuesday. “He’s not doing anything he didn’t say he was gonna do. Do I wish it was different? Yeah. But he’s the lieutenant governor and he has the authority, he has the power and he’s being true to his word.” Patrick also removed state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa from his role as vice chair of the all-powerful Senate Committee on Finance, which oversees the state’s biennial budget. Both moves appear to have taken the senators by surprise, especially because Hinojosa’s post on the Finance Committee, which he held for over a decade, was instead handed to Lucio. “I was not assigned to the Finance Committee, but on the positive side, my colleague and Valley Sen. Eddie Lucio was assigned and named vice chair,” Hinojosa said Monday. “We work together as a team on the funding priorities that are needed in the Valley.” Lucio said Patrick approached him last year about the change, which was announced via a news release in December.

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Texas Observer - January 20, 2021

Deaths in ICE custody skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic

Fernando Sabonger Garcia ended up in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on July 7 after being arrested at the Texas border. A Honduran national fleeing dangers at home, he was hoping for safe harbor in the United States. Instead, the 50-year-old ended up at Joe Corley Detention Facility, a privately run immigration detention center in Conroe, Texas. By July, the Houston area was already a COVID-19 hotspot with 50,000 cases and 500 deaths. At Corley, all detainees faced danger of infection inside group quarters that held bunks for as many as 30 men, according to La O. Muñoz, a Cuban physician who was detained there and became a whistleblower after his release. “We almost slept head to head, coughing on top of each other,” Muñoz told the Houston Chronicle. Another man, a Mexican national detained in the same facility but in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, had already died of COVID-19. Soon Sabonger Garcia was transported to a hospital where he died on August 28. Across the United States, deaths in immigration detention centers skyrocketed in 2020 to the highest rate of fatalities reported by ICE officials in more than a dozen years, according to a new report on in-custody deaths of immigrants by researchers at the University of Southern California’s medical school.

Most of the 21 deaths reported in FY 2020 were due to COVID-19. The number of deaths nearly tripled compared to FY 2019, even though the total population of detainees dropped by a third. As a result, the rate of deaths per 100,000 detainees reported last year is the highest level in twelve years, researchers say. A total of seven deaths were reported in ICE facilities in Texas from 2018 to 2020, which tied with Florida for the most in the country. Nationwide, the average age of the deceased was 47, “markedly lower than reported life-expectancy for foreign-born individuals in the United States,” the report says. Despite reports of increasing infections in immigration detention centers in Texas, Sabonger Garcia’s death is still the only one that federal immigration officials here have attributed to COVID-19. Texas-based officials do not count deaths of detainees who died after being released or who were held by other agencies like the man who died in US Marshal’s custody in Joe Corley, the same facility as Sabonger Garcia. Nationwide, most detainees who died of COVID-19 in 2020 were transported to a hospital. But in Arizona, 54-year-old Abel Reyes Clemente, a Mexican national and a diabetic, was placed into isolation after he fell ill with a fever and began gasping for breath. After a full day where nurses recorded abnormally low blood oxygen levels, he died in the detention center, the USC report says. ICE does not reveal whether he was ever given supplemental oxygen or clarify why he was not transported to a hospital, as recommended. Texas immigration detention facilities recorded four deaths in 2020 alone. But ICE officials have acknowledged that COVID-19 contributed to only one of three deaths from “natural causes” in detention centers last year—Sabonger Garcia’s.The fourth death was called a suicide.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 20, 2021

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris sworn in; only handful gather outside Texas Capitol

It was chilly and mostly empty in downtown Austin on Wednesday morning before President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Congress Avenue in the Texas capital was mostly desolate after 10 a.m. The Paramount Theatre's marquee read: "46th and 1st - History is made January 20, 2021." Under overcast skies, temperatures stayed in the 50s for much of the day, according to the National Weather Service. A handful of people stood outside the Texas Capitol, where the grounds were shut down Friday night ahead of the inauguration after the Texas Department of Public Safety uncovered information about possible activity by violent extremists. Additional DPS troopers were deployed to the Capitol.

Law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., and in Austin increased security measures after Jan. 6, the day that followers of former President Donald Trump rioted and stormed the U.S. Capitol. Austin police were bracing for possible protests, with officers on tactical alert to ensure that any demonstrations in the city remained peaceful, Austin Police Assistant Chief Joe Chacon said Tuesday. During a tactical alert, all the department's officers are uniformed and put on standby to respond to any major event in the city, according to authorities. Police had received information about possible protests in the Austin area, but no organized rallies were widely publicized before Wednesday. The scene outside state capitols throughout the nation Wednesday looked much like it did in Austin: quiet and empty. Reporters in New York, Florida and Kentucky, among others, shared photos of lone protesters outside the statehouses. Standing alone near 11th Street and Congress Avenue in downtown Austin was 69-year-old Irene Carrillo, a registered nurse. Carrillo, in a gray beanie, held a royal blue sign with red hearts on it that read: “Thank God Biden Harris.”

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Texas Public Radio - January 20, 2021

Limited By Texas’ orders, Laredo officials see COVID-19 outpace hospital capacity

As Laredo continues to grapple with saturated hospitals, its health authority was admitted to the emergency room on Tuesday, according to another local doctor. Dr. Maurice Click told Laredo’s city council of Dr. Victor Treviño's ER visit Tuesday night. He did not specify the cause, and Treviño was also absent from the city’s Wednesday COVID-19 briefing. Click read a statement on behalf of Treviño emphasizing that the spread of the virus is “outpacing our ability to create more space.” Laredo’s hospitals had two intensive care unit beds available on Tuesday, according to data from the state reported on Wednesday. It was the first time the state reported Laredo to have any available ICU beds since Thursday, Jan. 14.

The state also reported that more than 48% of Laredo’s hospital capacity was devoted to COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the overall hospitalization rate of COVID-19 patients stood above 45%, according to Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Guillermo Heard. But he added that the rate had reached 50% at the Laredo Medical Center and up to 62% at Doctors Hospital, the city’s two major hospitals. “We are at the point that we have to put patients outside of hospital walls in tents,” Heard said. The state provided the tents, which Heard said “do have all the accommodation that is needed” for patients, but he said they are also looking at putting up an alternate care site. “We do believe even with the tents and also one of the hospitals adding ICU beds, that we still have to plan for more possible beds due the vaccinations being disseminated at a slower pace than we want,” he said. Laredo’s latest COVID-19 bind follows efforts to expand hospital capacity and to slow down rising hospitalizations through a new infusion center, where COVID-19 patients with less severe cases are treated with antibodies in hopes of preventing hospitalizations. But officials have been unable to control the spread of the virus under Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders allowing bars and restaurants to remain open. “Any environment where it is allowed for people to remove their mask, especially in indoor settings with people outside their household, is spreading the virus,” Treviño said in his statement. To try to curb the spread, the Laredo City Council voted to ask Abbott in a letter to reduce restaurant occupancy down to 25% and for more vaccines.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 20, 2021

New report: Austin police training videos reinforce racial stereotypes, bias

A new report blasts the instructional videos shown at the Austin Police Department training academy, saying they tend to show officers interacting violently with people of color and gently with white people, reinforcing racial stereotypes and biases. In the training videos, 44% of the people shown interacting with police were Black, although Austin's Black population is under 8%, the report also found. The report was compiled by a panel of six community members appointed by the city's equity office to review the training videos. Its release comes on the heels of two other reports that found that Austin's Black cadets are more likely to leave the training academy before graduation and to be injured during training.

Together, the reports complicate Mayor Steve Adler's proposed timeline to reopen the training academy by this spring in order to fill an increasing number of vacancies in the police department. The academy is closed indefinitely after the Austin City Council passed a budget last August that eliminated funding for three scheduled cadet classes. Adler's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment about the new report. The Austin Police Department said it agreed with all of the review panel's recommendations and has already made changes. “APD management worked closely with the community panel and concurred with all their recommendations," the department said Wednesday. "APD made immediate changes where possible and planned for longer term changes." City Council Member Greg Casar said cadet classes should not resume until the curriculum is revised. That could take time; another outside review of the department is ongoing and is not expected to be completed until December. The city is paying $1.3 million for the review to the New York-based firm Kroll Associates.

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National Stories

Fox News - January 20, 2021

Cornyn presses Psaki on coronavirus rules for migrant caravan after transition resists ending travel limits

Sen. John Cornyn on Tuesday pressed incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki on how the Biden administration will handle the migrant caravan headed to the U.S. from Central America after she announced the new president would tighten international travel limits on the pandemic. The exchange came after President Trump in an executive order Monday said that the U.S. would roll back travel restrictions imposed last year for air passengers who recently were in the United Kingdom, Europe and Brazil.

The restrictions would be lifted on Jan. 26, the same date as a new requirement for a negative coronavirus test for air travelers into the United States would go into effect. The reasoning behind the lifting of the earlier restrictions, according to Trump's order, was that the U.S. can expect those jurisdictions to comply with the new requirement for a negative test. But Psaki quickly said that President-elect Biden, rather than loosening travel restrictions for foreign countries, will clamp down. "With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," she said. "On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19." Cornyn responded Tuesday: "Does that include caravans of migrants from Central America?"

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Bloomberg - January 21, 2021

Biden moves swiftly to unwind Trump immigration, health policies

President Joe Biden plans to begin immediately unwinding his predecessor’s policies on immigration, climate and other issues on Wednesday with at least 15 executive actions, including moves to reverse U.S. withdrawals from the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, and stop construction of a border wall. Biden began signing the actions in front of reporters at the White House Wednesday evening, starting with an order requiring face masks on federal property. He said that some of his directives would “help change the course of the Covid crisis” and that his actions on racial equity “are all starting points.” Reporters were escorted out of the Oval Office after Biden signed three of the documents. Text of the orders and other actions was not immediately released.

Biden is also expected to sign orders revoking a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and ending former President Donald Trump’s travel ban against some predominantly Muslim and African countries. While some of the orders will roll back unilateral measures Trump imposed, others -- including an extension of moratoriums on student loan payments, foreclosures and evictions -- are intended to address the health and economic crisis wrought by the pandemic. “We’re seeing too many Americans that are just barely keeping their heads above water,” incoming National Economic Director Brian Deese told reporters in a call previewing the executive actions. Biden’s aides say he’ll sign more Day One executive actions than any of his predecessors, to be followed by additional regulatory and policy changes over the coming weeks. Those will includes rolling back the so-called “Mexico City policy” restricting federal funding for organizations that provide abortion counseling and revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans. Biden plans to immediately rejoin the World Health Organization, which Trump exited in May, saying China exerted too much pressure on the agency. He’ll dispatch the government’s foremost infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, to represent the U.S. Thursday at the WHO’s Executive Board meeting.

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NPR - January 20, 2021

Biden called for unity in his inaugural address. He might find it hard to come by

If you haven't heard, Joe Biden would like to unite America. It was a focus of the Democrat's campaign. It's even the theme of Biden's inauguration — "America United." He made lots of appeals to unity in his inaugural address. "We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward." But even he knows it won't be so easy. "I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days," Biden said. "I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart." The country is as divided as it's ever been, as pessimistic as it's been in three decades and facing health, economic and racial crises. American division did not begin with Donald Trump and won't end with him leaving the White House.

Biden's inauguration as the 46th president was different than any seen before in U.S. history. Four years ago, Trump was arguing over his crowd size compared with Barack Obama's record-setting turnout of supporters on the National Mall. This time, because of the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns, the Mall is shut down — as is much of downtown Washington, D.C. After the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob of pro-Trump supporters, the entire Capitol complex, a place that is generally open to the public, has been locked down. There is now 7-foot high, "non-scalable" steel fencing topped with razor wire surrounding the Capitol. With threats looming, armed troops are stationed every few feet. Some 25,000 troops were in Washington Wednesday to fortify the inauguration. It's like a scene from a war zone in another country. But in fact that's more troops than the U.S. currently has deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and all of Africa combined. Biden tried to show a semblance of normalcy, walking out of the presidential limo to the White House, but it was heavily curtailed. There were some people along the walk, but not the throngs of crowds lining the streets from past inaugurations.

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Newsweek - January 20, 2021

Mark Davis: As the 46th President takes office, let's discuss the 47th

These are tough days for Republicans. Joe Biden and two new Democratic U.S. senators are beginning their terms, ushering in a period of one-party rule. As is the usual exercise after a tough election cycle, strategies and speculation spring to life in response to such dispiriting events. If the current era has taught us any lesson, it is that predicting things four months—or four days—into the future is a risky proposition, to say nothing of four years. But while speculating about the 2024 presidential race is a fool's errand today, there is value in assessing what questions will arise. To the surprise of no one, those questions center around Donald Trump.

Will he run again? Has that become a ridiculous question as his term whimpers to a riot-torn, ignominious end? If he is not the Republican nominee, will he weigh heavily in the voters' choice as to who is? And will there be appetite for a Trump-like nominee, or will tastes evolve in a different direction? One easy mistake would be to presume that Trump is such damaged goods that his base will seek to distance itself from him immediately and forever. There is already extensive evidence to the contrary, but having a solid core of supporters in hard times does not necessarily mean those supporters will all remain hungry for a MAGA reboot around mid-2023. Other candidates may have tested the water by then, offering the agenda positives of Trump without the behavioral negatives. There may be a sizable bloc seeking a different style of leadership altogether. Much depends on the unifying battles of the Biden years. Republicans will coalesce to fight a common political opponent, especially one emboldened by a House and Senate run by his allies. GOP reputations will rise and fall according to how those plot lines play out. One thing seems certain: Trump will be along for the ride, weighing in constantly, attracting positive and negative attention on every occasion. Does anyone believe a media culture that swore to drive him from office will suddenly ignore him as he returns to the private sector? His opponents have a vested interest in continuing to attack him, hoping to tarnish his 2024 credentials while persuading his voters to seek other options.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2021

States report vaccine shortages and cancel appointments

The push to inoculate Americans against the coronavirus is hitting a roadblock: A number of states are reporting they are running out of vaccine, and tens of thousands of people who managed to get appointments for a first dose are seeing them canceled. Karen Stachowiak, a first-grade teacher in the Buffalo area, spent almost five hours on the state hot line and website to land an appointment for Wednesday, only to be told it was canceled. The Erie County Health Department said it scratched vaccinations for over 8,000 people in the past few days because of inadequate supply.

“It’s stressful because I was so close. And my other friends that are teachers, they were able to book appointments for last Saturday,” Stachowiak said. “So many people are getting theirs in, and then it’s like, ’Nope, I’ve got to wait.’” The reason for the apparent mismatch between supply and demand in the U.S. was unclear, but last week the Health and Human Services Department suggested that states had unrealistic expectations for how much vaccine was on the way. In any case, new shipments go out every week, and both the government and the drugmakers have said there are large quantities in the pipeline. The shortages are coming as states dramatically ramp up their vaccination drives, at the federal government's direction, to reach people 65 and older, along with certain others. More than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the virus. President Joe Biden, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, immediately came under pressure to fix things. He has made it clear that his administration will take a stronger hand in attacking the crisis, and he vowed to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days.

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Wall Street Journal - January 20, 2021

Alan Dershowitz: No, you can’t try an impeached former president

Now that Donald Trump is a private citizen, the Senate should dismiss the article of impeachment against him for lack of jurisdiction. The Constitution is clear: “The president . . . shall be removed from office on impeachment . . . and conviction”—not by the expiration of his term before the impeachment process is complete. It also mandates that “judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal and disqualification“—not or disqualification. When the Constitution was written, several states allowed impeachment of former officials. The Framers could easily have included that provision, but they didn’t. They also explicitly chose to prohibit the British practice of trial by legislature—excepting only impeachment—and “bill of attainder,” any punitive legislative act against a specific person. The courts have held that the punishments prohibited by the Bill of Attainder Clause include disqualification from holding office. Moreover, the Constitution requires the chief justice to preside “when the president of the United States is tried.”

No former official has ever been convicted by the Senate, and only one has been impeached. Secretary of War William W. Belknap was indisputably guilty of numerous impeachable offences, to which he confessed as he resigned his office hours before the House unanimously impeached him in 1876. The Senate voted in favor of a procedural motion affirming its jurisdiction to try Belknap’s impeachment. But two dozen senators who believed he was guilty voted to acquit on jurisdictional grounds. A close vote nearly a century and a half ago doesn’t establish a binding precedent. A more compelling precedent is the House’s decision not to impeach Richard Nixon. After he left office in 1974 to avoid certain impeachment and conviction, there was no movement to continue the process. Beyond the constitution, there are strong policy and historical reasons an incoming administration shouldn’t seek recriminations against its predecessor.

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Newsclips - January 20, 2021

Lead Stories

NBC News - January 19, 2021

COVID relief, economic stimulus, immigration: What to expect in Biden's first 100 days

President-elect Joe Biden's first days in office will be dominated by crisis: the coronavirus pandemic and the economic emergency it caused, as well as the fallout from the deadly Capitol riot as his predecessor faces a Senate impeachment trial. Biden frequently talks about the need to use the first 100 days, which have typically been a honeymoon period for new presidents, to make significant progress on the challenges facing the country, but finding bipartisan cooperation early in his administration may prove elusive. Biden said last week that the country is in a "crisis of deep human suffering in plain sight" when he outlined a $1.9 trillion funding bill that he has asked Congress to pass quickly. The Senate already has a busy schedule. Lawmakers will have to find time to debate a funding bill, confirm Biden's Cabinet nominees and deal with the article of impeachment passed last week in the House. A trial could start as soon as Inauguration Day.

That is not how Biden envisioned his early days in office would go a year ago when he was fighting for the Democratic Party's nomination. Back then, he talked about how the focus of his first 100 days would be on reforming immigration policy, rebuilding alliances overseas and tackling climate change. Biden has pledged to oversee administering 100 million Covid-19 vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, which transition officials say is still a reachable goal even though the Trump administration's promised rollout of the vaccines has been much slower than expected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 11.1 million doses had been given as of Thursday. The Trump administration left distribution to the states, but Biden plans to broaden the federal government's role. Biden's team plans to set up federal sites for mass distribution, along with mobile vaccination centers for people in rural areas. Supplies of the vaccines, the components and the materials will also be an issue, and transition officials have said Biden plans to use the Defense Authorization Act to speed production.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Gov. Abbott excludes Sylvester Turner, Lina Hidalgo from Houston briefing on vaccine rollout

Gov. Greg Abbott met with hospital executives in Houston on Tuesday to discuss the state’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, while appearing to snub city and county officials who are overseeing a bulk of the distribution. The Republican governor said the county, and specifically Houston Methodist Hospital, is leading the state in vaccinations, with more than 250,000 doses administered through the weekend. Dallas County is second for the most shots given, he said. “Houston Methodist has helped Texas become a national model for the vaccination program,” Abbott said, following a closed-door meeting with executives at the hospital.

Texas became the first state last week to surpass 1 million coronavirus vaccinations, and had administered about another 360,000 more as of Tuesday, including 177,000 second doses overall; the vaccines each require two doses. It is among the top ten states for administering the doses it’s received, according to a Bloomberg news tracker. The governor’s remarks come as the state continues to pivot toward large-scale vaccination sites capable of administering thousands of shots each day. This week, 79 such mass hubs are receiving doses from the federal government, up from 28 the week before. Several of those sites are in and around Houston, including one at Minute Maid Park that is run through a partnership with the Houston Health Department and the Astros Foundation. In a tweet over the weekend, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said city and county health officials had not been invited to participate in the governor’s meeting. “Any roundtable conversation in Houston about vaccine distribution in Houston, Harris County region should include diverse representation to ensure there is equitable vaccine distribution to at risk, vulnerable communities,” Turner wrote. Abbott has been repeatedly at odds with Democratic municipal leaders including Turner and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who have asked for stricter emergency restrictions to slow the spread of the pandemic. The state has recorded more than 32,000 coronavirus deaths since March, and remains in the midst of a massive second surge.

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KUT - January 19, 2021

Austin's top doctor defends decision to offer state legislators COVID-19 vaccines

The city’s interim health authority says he stands by his decision to offer COVID-19 vaccines to state legislators as many others across the state continue searching for doses. “Number 1: We have a unique event which is happening in our jurisdiction, in the City of Austin in Travis County; that is the legislative session,” Dr. Mark Escott said, "which brings individuals from around the state of Texas to one place. [We’re] talking about thousands of people who are going to be in contact for six months. That represents a risk for a superspreading event.” Escott says the other concern is continuity of government and recognizing that essential government services must continue during the pandemic.

“My hope is that the state will provide a specific allocation for that purpose. But as far as the city and county is concerned, we are going to focus some of our resources, a small amount of resources, on that continuity-of-government plan,” he said. That will include elected city and county officials, county and state judges and key staff who qualify as part of the 1B population of adults older than 65 and those with underlying conditions.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2021

Trump pardons ex-strategist Steve Bannon, dozens of others

President Donald Trump pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a flurry of clemency action in the final hours of his White House term that benefited more than 140 people, including rap performers, ex-members of Congress and other allies of him and his family. The last-minute clemency, announced Wednesday morning, follows separate waves of pardons over the past month for Trump associates convicted in the FBI’s Russia investigation as well as for the father of his son-in-law. Taken together, the actions underscore the president’s willingness, all the way through his four years in the White House, to flex his constitutional powers in ways that defy convention and explicitly aid his friends and supporters.

To be sure, the latest list was heavily populated by more conventional candidates whose cases had been championed by criminal justice activists. One man who has spent nearly 24 years in prison on drug and weapons charges but had shown exemplary behavior behind bars had his sentence commuted, as did a former Marine sentenced in 2000 in connection with a cocaine conviction. But the names of prominent Trump allies nonetheless stood out. Besides Bannon, other pardon recipients included Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty last fall in a scheme to lobby the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the looting of a Malaysian wealth fund, and Ken Kurson, a friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who was charged last October with cyberstalking during a heated divorce.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

'This is not a peaceful protest': Two more Texans charged in Capitol riot

Two East Texas men were arrested Monday on federal charges after the FBI said it uncovered evidence that shows the men invading the U.S. Capitol with weapons on Jan. 6 alongside a crowd of violent pro-Trump rioters. Alex Kirk Harkrider, a 32-year-old from Carthage, and Ryan Taylor Nichols, a 30-year-old resident of Longview, posed for a selfie in front of the U.S. Capitol, a sea of fellow rioters clutching Trump flags behind them, with the caption "We're in." Nichols posted that photo and others on Facebook. Acting on tips from two people, FBI agents used the pair's extensive social media posts and other photo and video evidence to outline their participation in the riot.

Harkrider is charged with conspiracy and unlawful entry with a dangerous weapon, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol ground and aiding and abetting, according to a criminal complaint filed Sunday in U.S. District Court. Nichols faces the same charges, plus civil disorder and assault on a federal officer using a deadly or dangerous weapon. Nichols brought a bullhorn and crowbar to the riot, federal officials said, while Harkrider wore a tactical vest under his jacket and carried a baton. The men were at one point standing on a ledge outside a smashed window they believed to be Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. According to video reviewed by the FBI, Nichols can be heard yelling, "If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!” and "This is the second revolution right here folks! This is not a peaceful protest." Dozens of people pushed their way into the Capitol building in that vicinity around the same time, according to the affidavit.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Student sues Rice University, demands refund over online learning during COVID

A Rice University student, unhappy about paying full tuition for an online education during the COVID-19 pandemic, is demanding a refund. Undergraduate student Anna Seballos and her lawyers filed a lawsuit against Rice Jan. 11, stating that the private college touted and promised an “unconventional culture” and college experience, complete with in-person courses and opportunities, but breached its contract by failing to provide those services. The university, however, still charged students full price, the lawsuit says.

“Plaintiff and the members of the Class have all paid for tuition for a first-rate education and on-campus, in-person educational experiences, with all the appurtenant benefits offered by a first-rate university. Instead, students like plaintiff were provided a materially different and insufficient alternative, which constitutes a breach of the contracts entered into by plaintiff with the University,” Seballos’ attorneys wrote. The university does not comment on pending litigation, a Rice spokesman said in an email to the Houston Chronicle. Seballos’ lawyerss did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Listed on the suit as representation are the Edwards Law Group, Leeds Brown Law, and the Sultzer Law Group. The suit is filed on behalf of all students who also paid tuition and/or fees to attend Rice in-person during terms affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Spring 2020. The lawsuit alleges that more than 7,100 students attended Rice during the 2019-2020 academic year. Rice shifted its courses fully online in March at the beginning of the pandemic in the Houston area and offered a mix of in-person, online and hybrid courses in the fall to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But, the lawsuit alleges, the offerings did not compare to in-person courses, experiences and opportunities the university promised or contractually agreed to through various documents and materials provided to students, including the website, marketing and registration materials, acceptance letters, course catalog and listings, bills and invoices, and the student handbook.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Eclectic mix of Texans featured in Biden's inauguration events

A nun from the Rio Grande Valley, a soccer champion from North Texas, a mariachi band from the border, and a psychedelic soul band from Austin are among an eclectic mix of Texans scheduled to be part of President Joe Biden’s inauguration events this week. It starts later today when The Texas Southern University debate team; actress Eva Longoria, a Corpus Christi native; and Mariachi Nuevo Santander from Roma High School in the Rio Grande Valley are all part of virtual programming aimed at honoring diversity in advance of the inauguration on Wednesday.

The Texas Southern University debate team and Georgia political activist Stacey Abrams, who earned a master's degree from the University of Texas, are part of a program called We Are One aimed at celebrating the Black community with an emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Abrams graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta before attending UT in Austin. The program, which starts at 7 p.m., includes Vice President Kamala Harris, who will be the first graduate of an HBCU to ever serve in that office. Harris graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. At 8:30 p.m., The Latino Inaugural 2021 starts up and will include Longoria and a performance from the mariachi group, a past contender on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, where it performed Jon Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Houston police officer charged in connection to Capitol insurrection

The former officer who resigned from the Houston Police Department amid accusations that he entered the U.S. Capitol building with a violent mob has been charged, with federal agents saying in court records that he deleted photos from his phone and lied to investigators. Tam Pham, of Richmond, was charged Tuesday in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection after federal agents reviewed deleted photos on his phone showing him inside the Capitol building. According to charging papers, federal agents went to Pham’s Fort Bend County home last week and questioned him on his Washington D.C. visit.

The 18-year veteran of HPD said he went to Washington D.C. for business reasons and attended a rally in support of President Donald Trump. He initially denied having entered the Capitol building but a review of Pham’s phone suggested otherwise. A special agent opened an album dedicated to deleted images and found photos of Pham inside the Rotunda. “It’s pretty easy to show he was there,” said Kenneth Magidson, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. “The question is what else did he do besides entering the building … That's probably what they're doing with all these cases. These are all questions that have to be answered.” A special agent warned Pham that it was illegal to lie to them and Pham then revealed more about his East Coast trip.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Biden’s immigration plan would give path to citizenship to 1.7 million Texans

Just after being sworn in on Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden plans to propose a major immigration overhaul that would offer a pathway to citizenship to up to 1.7 million Texans who are in the country without legal authorization. The proposal, which Biden is expected to send to Congress on his inauguration day, would create an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., more than 500,000 of whom live in Harris and Bexar counties, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Those who qualify would be granted a green card after five years and could apply for citizenship three years later.

The plan would create a faster track for those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — more than 106,000 Texans as of June — and with temporary protected status, who could apply immediately for a green card. A Biden transition official on Tuesday confirmed the outline of the plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post. The move positions immigration reform as a top priority for the new president, beyond tackling the coronavirus, for which Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package. Democrats’ slim control of Congress, meanwhile, puts a spotlight on Texas Republicans, especially U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who campaigned last year on his support for the DACA program. Democrats control the House, where a majority could pass Biden’s proposal, but they will need to build support from at least 10 Republican senators for it to get to Biden’s desk. Immigration advocates have cheered the proposal and some experts say they’re more optimistic than they’ve been in years about the prospects of such a comprehensive overhaul. Still, a deal on immigration has eluded Congress for decades and Biden’s proposal was already drawing resistance from the Senate’s most conservative members on Tuesday. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri stopped an effort to fast-track Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, citing the president-elect’s “amnesty plan for 11 million immigrants.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 20, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Biden should heed GOP advice on COVID-19 stimulus bill

President Joe Biden should take some advice from Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell on day one of his administration and reconsider his plan to send $1,400 checks to middle and low-income Americans. It could do more harm than good. Besides, a little bipartisan cooperation would be a nice change. Biden rolled out his American Rescue Plan last week and promised a top-up of the $600 checks that Congress approved in December. He would make good on President Donald Trump’s bid to give most Americans $2,000 to spend as they see fit. McConnell scuttled that plan as too generous. The Republican leader did not rule out additional aid to the unemployed, but he wanted a more targeted program that would not inject so much free cash into the economy. He has legitimate reasons to worry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a bifurcated economic crisis, exacerbating income and wealth inequality. Unemployment among the highest-earning Americans is less than 5 percent, while it has reached more than 20 percent for the lowest-earning Americans. While one in five Black and Hispanic families do not have enough food to eat, the booming financial and real estate markets have made well-to-do Americans even wealthier. “You won’t see this pain if your scorecard is how things are going on Wall Street,” Biden correctly observed. But financial markets are where an even greater danger is lurking for the economy and Biden’s presidency. Dozens of analysts, including some of the financial industry’s biggest names, warn that stock trading and real estate investing have created dangerous bubbles. U.S. financial assets are now six times larger than U.S. gross domestic product, Bank of America reported. There is no way corporate America is worth six times the total annual output of American goods and services. The typical stock price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 Index, a broad measure of the U.S. market, is between 10 and 20. Massive buying drove that ratio up to 38 in October, a level only seen twice before, just before the Dot Com Bubble burst in 2002 and the Great Recession in 2008.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Texas Democrats fight to make this year’s Confederate Heroes Day the last

On Monday, the country celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. — an icon of the civil rights movement and a champion for racial equality. On Tuesday, Texans observed Confederate Heroes Day, a state holiday remembering Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders who fought in the Civil War to preserve slavery in the South. A group of Democratic state lawmakers is working to make this year’s Confederate Heroes Day the last.

“There is no reason to celebrate the Confederacy at all,” said state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, at a Tuesday press conference condemning the holiday. “As the (Confederate) vice president proudly proclaimed, one of the cornerstones of the Confederacy was the enslavement of Black Americans. Its culture was rooted in white supremacy and runs rampant even today.” For nearly half a century, some state workers have taken a paid day off on Jan. 19, Lee’s birthday, to commemorate the holiday. It was created by the state Legislature in 1973 to combine separate days celebrating Lee and Davis. Past efforts to remove the holiday have been resisted by Republicans who strive to preserve the history of the Confederacy in Texas. The GOP controls both chambers of the state Legislature and the governor’s office. This year, Johnson has already introduced legislation in the state House of Representatives to remove the holiday from the calendar, with a companion bill also filed in the Senate. A second House bill, introduced by Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, has the same intent. “As Americans and as Texans, we must search out the remnants of the Confederate culture and strike them from our governance and our celebrations,” Johnson said.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Some Texas school districts don’t want to show Biden’s inauguration live to students

The Trump presidency forced schools to grapple with how to craft history lessons in real time — whether they be about impeachment, insurrection or incitement. In the final moments of the chaotic Trump era, Texas school leaders must decide how they’ll address the beginning of the Biden administration. While some districts’ officials are encouraging teachers to watch with their students as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in, others are telling them to refrain from showing live footage in class.

Plano ISD administrators, for example, have decided not to livestream the inauguration ceremony to students, while Keller ISD is allowing parents to excuse their children from watching it. And in Southlake’s Carroll ISD, teachers are asked only to turn on the broadcast if it directly relates to their class subject matter. Julie Thannum, Carroll’s assistant superintendent for board and community relations, said that the principals were told last week that if the inauguration was going to be shown to a class, “it should tie back” to the state’s curriculum standards. “It shouldn’t just be shown live in classrooms where the presidential inauguration doesn’t align with a course syllabus or scope and sequence,” such as in a math or art class, Thannum said. University of North Texas professor Amanda Vickery said it’s important for all students to witness a peaceful transfer of power, especially after pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Biden’s presidency from moving forward. The ceremony Wednesday also will be the first time a woman of color takes her place as vice president. Vickery said the inauguration is a chance for young girls to see themselves reflected in that powerful post.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Plano Republican in Texas House calls secession bill ‘anti-American’

A bill Fredericksburg Republican Rep. Kyle Biedermann plans to file that would allow Texas to vote on reestablishing itself as an independent nation received pushback from Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who called the bill “anti-American” and a waste of time. In December, Biedermann took to Twitter to announce his plan to introduce the “Texas Independence Referendum Act,” saying, “The federal government is out of control and doesn’t represent the values of Texans. That is why I am committing to file legislation that will allow a referendum to give Texans a vote for the State of Texas to reassert its status as an independent nation. #Texit”

Just over one month later, Biedermann’s bill received social media backlash from Leach, who called it a “ridiculously outrageous waste of time” on Twitter. “It’s a joke and should be treated as such,” Leach’s tweet continued. “Yes, I have concerns for our Nation. But I still believe in the promise of America — and the vast majority of Texans do too!” Biedermann replied to the tweet asking, “so I’m guessing you won’t be co-authoring the Texas Independence bill I’ll be filing tomorrow?” Leach replied once more, saying the bill seems like the “most anti-American” bill he’s seen in his four-plus terms in the Texas House. “It’s a disgrace to the Lone Star State,” Leach’s tweet said. “The very definition of seditious. A true embarrassment. And you should be ashamed of yourself for filing it.” In a comment to The Dallas Morning News, Biedermann questioned the reasoning behind Leach’s comments about a bill that he hasn’t seen yet.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Gov. Abbott blasts vetting national guard members ahead of inauguration as offensive, disrespectful

Gov. Greg Abbott used the words “offensive” and “disrespectful” in a tweet to describe the additional vetting of the 25,000 National Guard members on hand for the inauguration as U.S. defense officials attempt to erase any potential for an insider attack when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in Wednesday. “This is the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard,” Abbott said in his Monday night post. “No one should ever question the loyalty or professionalism of the Texas National Guard. I authorized more than 1,000 to go to DC. I’ll never do it again if they are disrespected like this.” With the inauguration landing just two weeks to the day after the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead, the FBI is working to identify ties to potentially violent groups or extremists by vetting every service member on duty in Washington D.C.

By Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press reported that 12 U.S. National Guard members were removed from their inauguration duties. Two were removed for making extremist statements via posts or texts regarding Wednesday’s inauguration, according to Pentagon officials. The AP also reported that all 12 members either had ties to right-wing militia groups or posted extremist views online. No specific unit or groups have been reported, but two U.S. Army officials told The AP that there was no threat to President Elect Joe Biden. Sen. Donna Campbell, a Republican from New Braunfels, seconded Abbott’s remarks on Twitter saying, “questioning the loyalty of our service members is certainly a new low.” While Abbott’s comments are garnering praise from some, they are also met with criticism from others who note the contrast between the tweet and his handling of Operation Jade Helm in 2015. Jade Helm 15 was a routinely planned eight-week military training exercise-turned-fiasco that former CIA director Michael Hayden later called an early example of Russian efforts to spread misinformation in the country. Jade Helm 15 was set to begin in Texas and six other states on July 15. Before the training got off the ground, though, conspiracy theories made some Texans worried that it was an exercise to impose martial law in the state. Then, Abbott called on the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercise, a move meant to ease worried Texans. But his actions were interpreted by others as providing a megaphone for the conspiracy theories.

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Dallas Morning News - January 20, 2021

Unifier or foil: Joe Biden ushers in new era for Texas Democrats, Republicans

Texas Democrats and Republicans view Joe Biden’s inauguration as president with optimism and caution. With control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Democrats hope Biden can produce a litany of policies — from bringing the country out of the pandemic, improving access to health care, pushing economic equality and weaning the nation off fossil fuels. “For Texans, if nothing else, when we need it, we will lower the rhetoric and lower the tension,” said Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor and former U.S. trade representative under President Barack Obama. “The most important thing is that you’re going to have a president that is laser-focused on getting control of this pandemic and passing a stimulus bill to get us back to work.”

Biden and Kamala Harris, the Vice President-elect, will be sworn in Wednesday in a heavily fortified U.S. Capitol. Republicans are taking a wait-and-see attitude about Biden, noting that he campaigned as a moderate, but has pressure from the progressive left of his party. They will bristle at proposals that will kill Texas jobs or move politics to the far left. “There’s health care and transportation,” said Dave Carney, the chief political strategist for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “There are a lot of issues that 50 states and the federal government need to work on, regardless of what the Congress is doing. But it’s going to become difficult if they insist on their progressive agenda.” The federal government and Texas have different political realities. Democrats rode a movement against outgoing President Donald Trump to win the White House and the Senate while holding control of the House. But Republicans are in firm control of Texas. It’s a similar dynamic to the start of 2009, when Barack Obama was inaugurated president and Democrats had control of the House and Senate. In Texas, Republicans controlled the Legislature and governor’s office. They used Obama as a foil to increase their majorities. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Democrats lost 13 governorships and 816 state legislative seats during the Obama years, the largest fumble since President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Will Biden stop the public health order that has turned away migrants nearly 400,000 times?

Ana Sorto clutched the gray metal fencing around the migrant camp here at the muddy banks of the Rio Grande. She’s been waiting 17 months to be admitted into the U.S. as an asylum-seeker fleeing gangs. Her small son, Jimmy Alejandro, has spent nearly half his life in the tent camp. Her fresh hope, she says, is a man named Joe Biden. “We’re hopeful President Biden will show us some humanity,” said Sorto as her son, dressed in three pairs of pants on a chilly day, played with a toy. Biden is unveiling a sweeping immigration proposal for Congress. Other policies will be quickly implemented with the stroke of his pen. The promises of the Biden administration are expansive, but there’s little mention of the thorniest of issues:

The biggest challenge for Biden is the lethal COVID-19 pandemic. And President Donald Trump has used the pandemic to implement a sweeping emergency measure that has resulted in nearly 400,000 rapid “expulsions” of immigrants at the border since March. Immigrants cross the border, are held by authorities and then quickly sent south again often within hours. The pandemic has allowed Trump to almost completely choke off immigration, including migration from asylum-seekers. Immigration, civil rights and medical groups are pushing the Biden team to swiftly lift the so-called “Title 42” public health order that has added to the crippling of the asylum process. Lawyers say it end-runs the legal processes of the immigration courts, and a physicians group notes that it cruelly singles out certain immigrants, rather than all travelers. The policy may also have created a huge revolving door: Many immigrants who cross into the U.S. and are quickly sent back across the border feel they have no choice but to try again and again. “It’s so discriminatory and egregious to single out a much smaller group of asylum-seekers, who are not any more risk to US public health than in any other category of people,” said Kathryn Hampton, an asylum specialist with Physicians for Human Rights, who noted the uneven application of the emergency order. The medical group supports lifting the order.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

Gian-Claudia Sciara and Andrew Waxman: It’s time for electric vehicles to pay their share for Texas highways

(Gian-Claudia Sciara is an assistant professor of community and regional planning at the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. Andrew Waxman is an assistant professor of economics and public policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.) Texas House Bill 427 proposes a constructive adjustment to state transportation funding. Lawmakers would be remiss not to make it. The bill would establish an annual fee, in addition to registration, for electric ($200) and hybrid ($100) vehicles. The fee boosts state transportation revenue somewhat in the near term, but the long-term significance is far greater given the seismic changes underway in how we get around. It takes about $6 billion each year to keep Texas moving. That’s how much the Texas Department of Transportation spends on the most conventional highway projects in the state’s transportation improvement program, and the cost multiplies quickly when nontraditional road projects, operating costs for the department, and metropolitan and rural transit systems are included.

Per-gallon motor fuel taxes paid by road users historically have covered a good chunk of those highway costs. But the state gas tax has been stuck at 20 cents per gallon for 30 years. Gas tax revenue also cannot keep pace with vehicle use and rising highway construction costs. As cars and trucks grow more fuel efficient and electric vehicles become more popular, per-gallon tax collections shrink relative to miles driven on Texas roads. Ideally, legislators would raise the state gas tax to answer these trends. Instead, they won approval to divert state sales tax and oil and natural gas production (severance) tax revenues to supplement road funding. Those taxes are not road user fees, and both support other important public purposes including K-12 education, the rainy day fund, and general fund expenditures such as health and human services. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Ken King of Hemphill, will help to recoup infrastructure costs from hybrid and electric vehicle drivers who currently pay little or no gas taxes. Projected near-term revenues are about $55 million, according to the Legislative Budget Board, but that number will grow with Texas’ electric vehicles usage. In mid-2022, the Ford F-150 — one of Texans’ favorite vehicles — will hit the market in electric form, and Tesla’s Gigafactory could produce cars before year’s end.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2021

Austin group says it has enough signatures to get homeless camping ban on May ballot

After failing last year to reinstate the city's homeless camping ban, an Austin group says it has collected the required number of petition signatures to bring the issue before voters in May. Save Austin Now says it turned in more than 27,000 signatures to the city clerk Tuesday, continuing its push to overturn a 2019 Austin City Council vote that repealed the city's public camping ordinance. The signatures still must be validated by the clerk's office to verify that at least 20,000 of them came from registered voters living in the city. Save Austin Now says it validated 24,000 signatures that it turned in and did not attempt to validate another 3,000. It discarded 3,000 others it could not validate.

If approved by the clerk, language that would allow voters to reinstate the camping ban would go on the May 1 ballot. "Residents should be able to walk to a park, or to school, or to their car without being accosted or feeling unsafe," Save Austin Now co-founder Cleo Petricek said in a written statement. "Our city leaders have not listened to the residents. Now residents can have their voice heard. We all want a safe city and we all should demand a safe neighborhood. Restoring the camping ban will save our city.” The city's laws that govern camping by people experiencing homelessness have been a divisive issue that, to this point, has not involved direct input from voters. In repealing the camping ban in June 2019, nine of the city's 11 council members took the position that it was unjust to punish people living on the street on the basis they cannot afford shelter. Getting a citation and a fine for sleeping in public only deepens an individual's financial pain, the council members reasoned. Council Members Alison Alter and Kathie Tovo voted against lifting the camping ban.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2021

Ken Herman: State panel nixes call to abolish Holocaust and Genocide Commission, revises plan for Texas Racing Commission

have a couple of updates today about the futures of two state agencies that have drawn unfavorable scrutiny during the sunset review process that leads to potential legislative overhauls. For differing reasons, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission staff, which does close scrutiny of agencies up for the periodic sunset review by lawmakers, had recommended major changes at the Texas Racing Commission (TRC) and the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. At TRC, the problems stemmed largely from the problems faced by the state’s struggling pari-mutuel racing industry. Once projected to be a big moneymaker for the state, horse and dog racing have disappointed. In fact, the last greyhound track in Texas closed last year. So the sunset staff recommended folding the now-independent Texas Racing Commission (appointed by the governor) into the Texas Department of Agriculture, where Ag Commish Sid Miller has said he’d be pleased to oversee it.

But at its Jan. 13 meeting, the Sunset Advisory Commission, chaired by Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, opted to, as we say, go in another direction. And that direction is moving the Racing Commission under the aegis of the State Comptroller’s Office. Nothing personal against Miller, Cyrier told me. “Don’t get me wrong. There are people (who) bring up our commissioner,” he said. “But for me, and for what I remind others, especially representing a rural district in rural Texas, I remind people how important our ag department is. And so, that we need to be focused on the department and not the current commissioner.” Back in 2019, the Legislature stripped Miller of his fuel pump regulatory authority, which means he no longer has his name on stickers on every fuel pump in the state (including all those ones at Buc-ee’s, which I’m happy to report, recently announced its empire will again expand this month with a second location in Alabama). “I thought the staff report was right and that the Racing Commission needs some work, needs some help and needs some oversight,” Cyrier said, noting that Comptroller Glenn Hegar, because of the office he holds, has been an ex-officio member of the Racing Commission.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 19, 2021

San Antonio mayor’s race off to slow start as campaign dollars trickle in amid coronavirus pandemic

The rematch between San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and challenger Greg Brockhouse is off to a slow fundraising start as both sides said they felt awkward asking for campaign contributions while COVID-19 pummeled the region and battered the local economy. Nirenberg raised a relatively paltry $85,000 in the last six months of 2020, campaign finance filings released Friday evening show. At the end of last year, the two-term mayor sat on a war chest of $61,000 — less than a quarter of what he had at the outset of his first match-up with Brockhouse two years ago. At this time in the 2019 election, Nirenberg had brought more than $190,000 into his campaign coffers and had nearly $279,000 on hand.

Brockhouse, meanwhile, had nothing in his campaign accounts at the end of December — no contributions, no spending, no cash left over but a $17,000 loan. The former city councilman — who expects to formally declare his candidacy for mayor by the end of the month — had roughly $15,000 in his piggy bank at the same time in the last mayoral race. Though Nirenberg and Brockhouse seemed not to agree on anything in 2019’s bitter campaign, both men seemed to think actively pursuing campaign dollars last year wouldn’t look good given the pandemic’s economic devastation. “Honestly, we just didn’t feel that it was appropriate to be asking for donations in an aggressive manner during a pandemic,” said Gilberto Ocañas, Nirenberg’s chief political consultant and chairman of his re-election campaign. Ditto for Brockhouse. “Asking people for money in December, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, in the middle of a pandemic is just bad form,” Brockhouse said. But neither side seemed nervous about their finances as they said they’ve slowly ramped up fundraising in January.

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Casper Star-Tribune - January 19, 2021

Wyoming GOP chair: Western states 'paying attention' to Texas effort to secede

The chairman of the Wyoming Republican Party on Friday said Western states are “paying attention” to the effort by some in Texas’ far-right to try to secede from the United States. Appearing on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast last week to discuss Rep. Liz Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump, Eathorne made the comment in response to a Bannon question about what conservatives should keep in mind in light of their movement’s recent political losses. “We need to focus on the fundamentals,” Eathorne said on the broadcast, which was recently banned by YouTube for peddling misinformation about the 2020 election. “We are straight talking, focused on the global scene, but we’re also focused at home. Many of these Western states have the ability to be self-reliant, and we’re keeping eyes on Texas too, and their consideration of possible secession. They have a different state constitution than we do as far as wording, but it’s something we’re all paying attention to.”

After a Star-Tribune reporter reached out for comment, Eathorne said the idea has not been a topic discussed by the Wyoming GOP. “Only a brief conversation with the Texas GOP in earlier work with them,” Eathorne wrote in the text. “Won’t come up again unless the grass roots brings it up.” Bannon, who earlier in the program said that the populist, nationalist, conservative movement “is what people want,” pushed back on Eathorne’s statement, saying that as a native of Richmond, Virginia — the heart of the Confederacy — he was completely against any sort of secession. However, Bannon followed that statement by saying he would be open to talking about it further with Eathorne on a future program. A 15-year-old fringe right-wing movement in the Lone Star State called “Texit” suggests it is not illegal for individual states to leave the United States — an occurrence that has not happened since the lead-up to the American Civil War. Suggestions of secession have come up before. A week after the 2012 presidential election, nearly 700,000 Americans from all 50 states signed 69 petitions through the White House’s online petition system calling for the country to consider allowing states to peacefully secede from the United States — an opinion shared by one-quarter of Republican voters at the time, according to one 2012 poll. California once saw a fringe, left-wing movement to secede gain some momentum, and in 2017, Oklahoma state Sen. Joseph Silk introduced a bill seeking to remove the word “inseparable” from the sentence in the state constitution describing Oklahoma as “an inseparable part of the Federal Union.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 20, 2021

Will U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s endorsement influence the race for Fort Worth mayor?

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a former Fort Worth mayor, has dipped into local politics again, endorsing Councilman Brian Byrd on Tuesday for mayor. Granger’s backing of Byrd, a physician and councilman, is the first major endorsement of a candidate in the crowded 2021 race for mayor. Granger, the first woman to hold Fort Worth’s highest office, was mayor from 1991 to 1995 before being elected to Congress. Voters will choose a replacement for Mayor Betsy Price on May 1. “With his years of experience in business, medicine and on the City Council, he is the most qualified and is ready to lead our city,” Granger said in a prepared statement that Byrd’s campaign issued. “He will be a great Mayor and I look forward to working with him.”

Mattie Parker, a longtime Republican, Democrat Deborah Peoples and Councilwoman Ann Zadeh are also running. Chris Rector and Mike Haynes have also filed in the election. Whether the endorsement will boost Byrd’s campaign above the other five candidates currently vying for mayor remains to be seen, said James Riddlesperger, a TCU professor familiar with Tarrant County politics. “The politics of endorsement don’t usually make that much difference,” he said. Granger’s endorsement of Byrd may help him raise funds and support from those who have backed Granger in the past, Riddlesperger said. It may also draw undecided voters to him if they previously voted for Granger. Rick Barnes, chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party, said he wasn’t aware of the endorsement until a reporter called for comment. Barnes said he thought it was too early in the election cycle to support a specific candidate, but the county party may deliver an endorsement after filing ends Feb. 12. While the nonpartisan race for mayor has grown increasingly polarized in recent years, Riddlesperger said the endorsement may have more to do with personal relationships than party politics. Peoples is Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman. “In local politics it’s often the politics of personal relationships,” he said, adding that an endorsement of one candidate may not be a rejection of others.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 19, 2021

Dozens test positive for COVID-19 as virus reaches general population of Travis County jails

Dozens of Travis County jail inmates and employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week, as the virus has been determined to be in the jail's general population, the Travis County sheriff's office said. A total of 39 inmates and 22 county employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in the sheriff's latest update. The sheriff's office reports coronavirus numbers every Monday.

Inmates who tested positive live in Building 12 at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle. The building houses nearly 1,000 inmates, the sheriff's office said. Last year, the sheriff's office began screening inmates entering the jail system for COVID-19. Incoming inmates who tested positive were quarantined away from other residents and the sheriff's office installed plexiglass barriers, employee screening stations and hand sanitizer and other hygiene efforts. "Additional hand sanitizer stations were added in common areas such as hallways. Inmates are also issued PPE and are required to wear masks and practice social distancing when in common areas. (Sheriff's office) medical professionals knew it wasn’t a foolproof method but was as close as the agency could get," the sheriff's office said in a written statement. As of Tuesday, 37 inmates are in quarantine and 1,173 are in isolation. A total of 43 inmates who are confirmed to have COVID-19 are being quarantined, as well. The county's jail population on Tuesday was 1,870.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 19, 2021

Tarrant County teams with UNT Health Science Center to expand COVID-19 vaccinations

Tarrant County officials agreed Tuesday to work with UNT Health Science Center officials to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination efforts, especially in minority communities. The partnership comes after the county has struggled to vaccinate minority communities. About 4% of Black people and about 5% of Hispanic or Latino people have been vaccinated, according to county data. The UNT Health Science Center plan is to expand vaccination sites through drive-thrus, schools and churches. It will also look for partnerships with health care organizations, clinics and schools, but no specifics were provided.

Officials will target minority communities and want to establish a call center to handle the massive amount of calls the county has received. They will also search for more staff to vaccinate more people. County Judge Glen Whitley said while he likes the plan, he wants drive-thru and mobile sites set up as soon as possible. He fears if this plan is established throughout the next several weeks, the county will be sitting on vaccines that could otherwise be given out.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

Owner says financial woes, creditor responsible for Heights Hospital lockout

The owners of Heights Hospital said a third-party management company, hired by a creditor, is behind a lockout that has left doctors caring for patients and performing COVID-19 tests in a parking lot. The lockout appears related to the default on a $28 million construction loan by 1917 Heights Hospital, a subsidiary of AMD Global, a Houston commercial real estate company that bought Heights Hospital in 2017. Dharmesh Patel, chief executive at AMD Global, said Tuesday that his company had not given permission to the creditor, Arbitra Capital Partners of Nevada, to bar its tenants from accessing their offices and clinical spaces. “The owners of 1917 Heights Hospital real estate do not condone that acts of Arbitra, which have caused an interruption of necessary medical services to the community in Houston,” Patel said Tuesday.

Patel said the loan on the building at 1917 Ashland Street was due at the end of 2020. During negotiations to extend the loan and not evict tenants, the lender sold the note to Arbitra, Patel said. Arbitra filed a suit in Harris County court on Jan. 8 in connection to the loan, asking for more than $3 million in accrued interest from Patel and James Robert Day, a former Heights Hospital executive, who had guaranteed the payments, according to court documents. The lawsuit also alleged “that 1917 Heights Hospital has failed to pay crucial management and maintenance expenses for this property, including invoices for utilities, elevator repair and even property insurance — and that as a result insurance has been canceled.” Arbitra then hired a third party, Tidal Management Company, to lock out tenants, Patel said. But the problem is the doctors were not responsible for back rents for office and clinical spaces that Arbitra claims it is owed, Patel said. Arbitra and Tidal Management did not respond to requests for comment.

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National Stories

CNN - January 19, 2021

12 Army National Guard members removed from inauguration duty

Twelve Army National Guard members have been removed from inauguration duty in Washington, DC, as part of the security vetting process initiated, in part, to ensure troops tasked with securing Wednesday's ceremony in the nation's capital do not have ties to extremist groups, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday. Two of the individuals were flagged due to "inappropriate" comments and texts, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told reporters after a defense official told CNN earlier Tuesday that they were removed over possible links to extremists.

The other 10 Guard members were removed for questionable behavior found in the vetting process, Hokanson said, emphasizing that this does not necessarily mean they have ties to extremists, but simply that they were "identified" and removed from service "out of an abundance of caution." "I'm not concerned as a large part of our organization, if you look at 25,000, we've had 12 identified and some of those they are just looking into, it may be unrelated to this, but we want to make sure out of an abundance of caution as I stated earlier that we do the right thing until that gets cleared up," he told reporters. The news comes as there are now approximately 25,000 National Guard troops on the ground in Washington, DC, according to spokesman Major Aaron Thacker. The nation's capital is on edge ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. While much of Washington has been shut down following the deadly riot at the US Capitol on January 6, defense officials have sought to reassure the public that the troops sent to protect the inauguration are being fully vetted.

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Associated Press - January 20, 2021

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

President Donald Trump, in one of his final acts of office, released current and former members of his administration from the terms of their ethics pledge, which included a five-year ban on lobbying their former agencies. The ethics pledge was outlined in one of Trump’s first executive orders, signed on Jan. 28, 2017, as part of his campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.” It required Trump’s political appointees to agree to the lobbying ban, as well as pledge not to undertake work that would require them to register as a “foreign agent” after leaving government. Trump’s order authorized the attorney general to investigate any breaches of the ethics pledge and to pursue civil suits if necessary.

Trump signed the one-page revocation of the order on Tuesday, and it was released by the White House shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, hours before his term ends. The new order states: “Employees and former employees subject to the commitments in Executive Order 13770 will not be subject to those commitments after noon January 20, 2021.” President Bill Clinton signed a similar order with weeks left on his final term, allowing former aides to go directly into lobbying after leaving his administration.

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Associated Press - January 19, 2021

Trump wishes new administration luck in farewell video

Trying to repair his tarnished legacy, President Donald Trump trumpeted his administration’s accomplishments and wished his successor luck in a farewell video as he spent his final full day in office preparing to issue a flurry of pardons in a near-deserted White House, surrounded by an extraordinary security presence outside. “This week we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous,” Trump said in the video “farewell address,” released by the White House less than 24 hours before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. “We extend our best wishes. And we also want them to have luck — a very important word.” Trump, who spent months trying to delegitimize Biden’s win with baseless allegations of mass voter fraud, repeatedly refenced the “next administration,” but declined to utter Biden’s name. Many of Trump’s supporters continue to believe the election was stolen from him, even though a long list of judges, Republican state officials and even Trump’s own government have said there is no evidence to support that claim.

Trump was also expected to spend his final hours granting clemency to as many as 100 people, according to two people briefed on the plans. The list of pardons and commutations is expected to include names unfamiliar to the American public — regular people who have spent years languishing in prison — as well as politically connected friends and allies like those he’s pardoned in the past. Trump in his address tried to cast his presidency as a triumph for everyday people as he highlighted what he sees as his top achievements, including efforts to normalize relations in the Middle East, the development of coronavirus vaccinations and the creation of a new Space Force. And he tried to defend the endless controversies that have consumed the last four years as justified. “As President, my top priority, my constant concern, has always been the best interests of American workers and American families,” he said. “I did not seek the easiest course; by far, it was actually the most difficult. I did not seek the path that would get the least criticism. I took on the tough battles, the hardest fights, the most difficult choices because that’s what you elected me to do.”

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The Hill - January 19, 2021

Trump stock performance falls short of Obama, Clinton

President Trump is closing out his time in office with a significant increase in the stock market, but has fallen short of stock gains seen under predecessors former Presidents Obama and Clinton. From Trump's inauguration day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose from 19,827 to 30,930 on Tuesday, a 56 percent increase. That increase is below the 73.2 percent rise the Dow saw in Obama's first term, or the 105.8 percent increase under Clinton's first term.

A similar trend was true for the S&P 500, which gained 67.8 percent under Trump, rising from 2,263 to 3,799. It gained 84.5 percent in Obama's first term, and 79.2 percent in Clinton's first term. The sole exception in the past three decades has been former President George W. Bush, who saw the Dow fall 3.7 percent and the S&P fall 12.5 percent in his first four years in office. The figure will be unwelcome news to Trump, who frequently touted the stock market's performance as a sign of his economic acumen and business-minded policies. The outgoing president still highlighted the market in a farewell address Tuesday. "The stock market set one record after another, with 148 stock market highs during this short period of time, and boosted the retirements and pensions of hardworking citizens all across our nation," he said, adding that 401(k)s reached new highs.

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The Hill - January 19, 2021

Trump's '1776 Report' released on MLK Day receives heavy backlash

The 1776 Report — written by the commission ordered by President Trump in response to The New York Times’s 1619 Project — has received scathing rebukes from historians and civil rights groups since its release on Monday, a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Published in the waning hours of Trump’s presidency, the 45-page report goes after critical race theory, which asserts that racism has always been and continues to be inherently imbued within the institutions of America. “Donald Trump has always attempted to use a fictional version of the past to justify racist policies,” ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said in a statement.

“As such, it is only fitting that in the final days of his term as president, and on the day we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr., his administration released a report that pushes a white supremacist version of our nation’s history, justifies slavery as ‘more the rule than the exception throughout human history,’ and compares members of the opposing political party to fascist dictators,” Moore added. Boston University historian Ibram X. Kendi also pushed back on the report, saying in a series of tweets, “This report makes it seems as if … those espousing identity politics today resemble proslavery theorists like John C. Calhoun; that since the civil rights movement, Black people have been given 'privileges' and 'preferential treatment' in nearly every sector of society, which is news to Black people.” The report argues that Americans must “stand up to the petty tyrants in every sphere who demand that we speak only of America’s sins while denying her greatness” while not “ignoring the faults in our past.” “[A]ll Americans must reject false and fashionable ideologies that obscure facts, ignore historical context, and tell America’s story solely as one of oppression and victimhood rather than one of imperfection but also unprecedented achievement toward freedom, happiness, and fairness for all,” it goes on to state.

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ProPublica - January 20, 2021

“Sense of entitlement”: Rioters faced few consequences invading state capitols. No wonder they turned to the U.S. Capitol next.

The gallery in the Idaho House was restricted to limited seating on the first day of a special session in late August. Lawmakers wanted space to socially distance as they considered issues related to the pandemic and the November election. But maskless protesters shoved their way past Idaho State Police troopers and security guards, broke through a glass door and demanded entry. They were confronted by House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican. He decided to let them in and fill the gallery. “You guys are going to police yourselves up there, and you’re going to act like good citizens,” he told the invaders, according to a YouTube video of the incident. “I just thought that, on balance, it would be better to let them go in and defuse it ... rather than risk anyone getting hurt or risk tearing up anything else,” Bedke said of the protesters in an interview last week. He said he talked to cooler heads in the crowd “who saw that it was a situation that had gotten out of control, and I think on some level they were very apologetic.”

That late-summer showdown inside the Statehouse in Boise on Aug. 24 showed supporters of President Donald Trump how they could storm into a seat of government to intimidate lawmakers with few if any repercussions. The state police would say later that they could not have arrested people without escalating the potential for violence and that they were investigating whether crimes were committed. No charges have been filed. The next day, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy and two others were arrested when they refused to leave an auditorium in the Statehouse and another man was arrested when he refused to leave a press area. In a year in which state governments around the country have become flashpoints for conservative anger about the coronavirus lockdown and Trump’s electoral defeat, it was right-wing activists — some of them armed, nearly all of them white — who forced their way into state capitols in Idaho, Michigan and Oregon. Each instance was an opportunity for local and national law enforcement officials to school themselves in ways to prevent angry mobs from threatening the nation’s lawmakers. But it was Trump supporters who did the learning. That it was possible — even easy — to breach the seats of government to intimidate lawmakers. That police would not meet them with the same level of force they deployed against Black Lives Matter protesters. That they could find sympathizers on the inside who might help them. And they learned that criminal charges, as well as efforts to make the buildings more secure, were unlikely to follow their incursions. In the three cases, police made only a handful of arrests.

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Newsclips - January 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Associated Press - January 18, 2021

Texas reports 10,000 new COVID-19 cases, 46 more deaths

Texas reported more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 46 more deaths from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The number of Texans hospitalized with COVID-19 rose from Sunday to 13,858 Monday. Coronavirus hospitalizations remain near their record high and intensive-care units in several regions are at or near capacity, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The department reported 10,110 more confirmed cases of the virus Monday, as well as 695 probable case. Over the last week, more than 17% of coronavirus tests have come back positive in Texas, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state has recorded more than 2 million cases of the virus and more than 32,000 fatalities. The actual number of cases is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and some who get sick don’t show symptoms. More than 1 million Texans have received a dose of a coronavirus vaccine and more than 166,000 are fully vaccinated, according to health officials. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.

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Associated Press - January 18, 2021

Records: Trump allies behind rally that ignited Capitol riot

Members of President Donald Trump’s failed presidential campaign played key roles in orchestrating the Washington rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to an Associated Press review of records, undercutting claims the event was the brainchild of the president’s grassroots supporters. A pro-Trump nonprofit group called Women for America First hosted the “Save America Rally” on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse, an oval-shaped, federally owned patch of land near the White House. But an attachment to the National Park Service public gathering permit granted to the group lists more than half a dozen people in staff positions for the event who just weeks earlier had been paid thousands of dollars by Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Other staff scheduled to be “on site” during the demonstration have close ties to the White House. Since the siege, several of them have scrambled to distance themselves from the rally. The riot at the Capitol, incited by Trump’s comments before and during his speech at the Ellipse, has led to a reckoning unprecedented in American history. The president told the crowd to march to the Capitol and that “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” A week after the rally, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming the first U.S. president ever to be impeached twice. But the political and legal fallout may stretch well beyond Trump, who will exit the White House on Wednesday before Democrat Joe Biden takes the oath of office. Trump had refused for nearly two months to accept his loss in the 2020 election to the former vice president. Women for America First, which applied for and received the Park Service permit, did not respond to messages seeking comment about how the event was financed and about the Trump campaign’s involvement. The rally drew tens of thousands of people. In a statement, the president’s reelection campaign said it “did not organize, operate or finance the event.” No campaign staff members were involved in the organization or operation of the rally, according to the statement. It said that if any former employees or independent contractors for the campaign took part, “they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 17, 2021

Here’s how Joe Biden’s climate plan could affect the oil and gas industry in Texas

President-elect Joe Biden has outlined an ambitious environmental agenda, centered around a goal of “transitioning away” from the fossil fuel industry. His proposals — from adopting tougher methane regulations to incentives for Americans to buy cars that do not run on gasoline — could have an outsized impact in Texas, which produces the most crude oil and natural gas in the country. In some respects, the writing has been on the wall when it comes to the future of environmental policy, and big oil and gas companies were contemplating their role in a net-zero carbon future before Biden’s election. But in Texas, where small, independent operators play a significant role in oil production, Biden’s policies could pack more of a punch.

“To the extent that there will be effects, those effects would be felt primarily by smaller producers,” said Sheila Olmstead, professor of public affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. She served as the senior economist for energy and the environment at the President's Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama. Biden’s stance on environmental issues is a complete reversal from the Trump administration and differs greatly from state policy in place in Texas, where oil and gas regulators are known for close ties to the industry they oversee and have pledged to push back against any new regulations that could burden the state’s producers. Concern from industry leaders has been heightened by the recent economic turmoil spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. The industry has started to bounce back and economists say they are cautiously optimistic about the pace of recovery, but some fear more aggressive regulations from the federal government could dampen those efforts. “It makes it more scary,” said Karr Ingham, consulting petroleum economist for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. “Some of the more politically charged statements out there are that the pandemic has created an opportunity to just continue down the path that we’re on, which is to say a smaller oil and gas business with fewer companies, fewer employees and fewer barrels being produced and so on and so forth. So yeah, it makes it a little more scary.”

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New York Times - January 18, 2021

Once a Trump-basher, Mexico’s leader misses him already

President Trump called Mexican migrants rapists, threatened his neighbor with a trade war, kicked tens of thousands of asylum seekers out of the country, built up the border wall and promised to make Mexico pay for it. Mexico’s president is a big fan. So profound is his appreciation that when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador finally got on the phone for the first time with President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. last month, he made a point of praising the departing president. “I must mention that we do have a very good relationship with the now president of your country, Mr. Donald Trump,” Mr. López Obrador said, according to two people with knowledge of the call, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “Regardless of any other considerations, he respects our sovereignty.”

Concerned that Mr. Biden might be more inclined to meddle in Mexican affairs, Mr. López Obrador has spent the last several weeks preemptively poking the incoming administration in the eye. He was among the very last global leaders to congratulate Mr. Biden on his victory, insisting on waiting “until all the legal issues are resolved.” He recently signed a law gutting the ability of U.S. drug agents to act in Mexico. And then, out of nowhere, Mr. López Obrador offered Julian Assange asylum. His government also exonerated a former Mexican defense secretary charged with drug trafficking by American prosecutors, allegations the president said were “fabricated” by investigators who “did not act responsibly.” Behind all those perceived slights is a fear that the Democrats are more likely to intervene to promote labor rights and clean energy, getting in the way of Mr. López Obrador’s ambitious agenda at home, according to two officials in his government who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “It’s like a dog at the park: He’s gnashing his teeth and threatening you and growling in the hope that you won’t come close,” said Shannon O’Neil, a Mexico expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He’s trying to pre-emptively push back against engagement by the incoming Biden administration.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2021

‘Bigger at Home,’ Texas’ Black Tie & Boots inauguration ball goes virtual

Once every four years, Texans in Washington gather for a Texas-sized celebration for the president’s inauguration in a night filled with cowboy hats, quesadillas, teased hair and boots of all styles, but the Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball will look very different this year. In the past, the ball, hosted by the Texas State Society of Washington, has been a staple of the inaugural party season, with thousands of guests from Texas and beyond spending top-dollar to dine on Tex-Mex and hoe-down on the dance floor. Past guests have included President George W. Bush and University of Texas at Austin mascot Bevo.

“I love it because you see everybody from Texas,” former Dallas mayor and U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk said at the ball in 2013. “It’s as bipartisan as we get as a state. It’s all things Texas.” But Black Tie & Boots is going virtual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it will be any less Texas-sized, said Ryan Thompson, chair of the event. The ball, dubbed “Bigger from Home,” shows you don’t have to be in a ballroom to party like a Texan. “This is still Texans celebrating their heritage, culture and history in Washington, with an event that precedes the inauguration of the next president,” Thompson said. The event kicks off the inaugural season on Tuesday, the night before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday. It is designed to “look and sound and feel like Texas,” and it will feature performers who highlight the best of the Lone Star State.

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Dallas Morning News - January 18, 2021

Gromer Jeffers, Jr.: Here are 3 immediate goals for Joe Biden as he prepares to lead a nation in crisis

When Joe Biden is inaugurated Wednesday as the 46th president of the United States, he’ll face a nation torn by deep political and social divisions, and a coronavirus pandemic that has killed almost 400,000 Americans and hurt the economy. Biden’s challenges are more daunting than those faced by any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had to lead the nation through the Great Depression. Here are three things that Biden must tackle during the early days of his administration.

The last year of Trump’s administration was marred by the emergence of COVID-19. Thanks in part to Operation Warp Speed, there are now vaccines available to help bring the pandemic under control. But the distribution of the vaccines in many states has been troublesome, and more Americans are dying of COVID-19 than at any point of the pandemic. Biden’s first job is to fix problems with the distribution of the vaccine. The sooner Americans are inoculated, the sooner the economic and employment outlook will improve. So much of the current vaccination plan relies on state officials who aren’t qualified to run such a massive program. It would be nice to develop public-private partnerships to speed the process because since private industry is much better at supply chain management and other logistical issues.

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Dallas Morning News - January 19, 2021

How Dallas Police Chief Eddie García is getting ready for his first day on the job

Before he moves to Texas and takes over as Dallas police chief, Eddie García has another task on his plate: To study. The goal: To be in uniform as soon as possible. García said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News that he’s studying for his Texas Commission of Law Enforcement exam — a mandatory certification in order for him to wear the uniform.

García’s hiring was announced in December after he beat six other finalists, including some internal candidates, for the job. García, who spent nearly five years as police chief in San Jose, Calif., is one of a handful of outside hires in recent history picked to lead the Dallas Police Department. His predecessor, U. Reneé Hall, also came from out of state, moving here from Detroit in 2017. She left the department at the end of December. To wear the uniform and make arrests in Dallas, García has to be certified in Texas. “I know it’s optics. But optics are important,” García said recently. “It is incredibly important for me to be in uniform. ... If you were to ask me, ‘What are my top three things?’ It’s up there.” The only time García has worn suits during his law enforcement career was when he worked in homicide. García came up through the ranks as a narcotics officer, SWAT sergeant, patrol watch lieutenant and captain over the department’s bureau of special investigations. He announced his retirement in August but left on Dec. 12. When the Dallas police chief job became open, the avid Cowboys fan saw a path to his dream job. García, who doesn’t officially begin until Feb. 3, said he’s working because he’s eager. Technically, García is not required to immediately take the TCOLE exam. The commission would allow García to serve as a civilian chief administrator for as long as a year, a spokeswoman said. “I’m a 50-year-old man but I got the energy of a 21-year-old,” said García, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Union Institute and University.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

As Texas Lottery hits record sales, warnings sound amid economic hardships

Quincy Johnson slid a $10 bill across the counter at Timewise Food Store on Montrose Boulevard in exchange for a shot at winning millions — a chance he described as “one in a trillion.” “But you know, I’m OK with that,” the Austin resident said, filling in the bubbles with sentimental numbers. “I feel like everybody wants to have hope in something.” Months-long growth in Texas Lottery revenue culminated the first week of January when the state’s scratch ticket sales surpassed $133 million. The agency said it was an all-time weekly record that marked a 30% jump from the same time last year. Some of the lottery frenzy in recent days is tied to soaring jackpots for the Mega Millions and Powerball games, which drive up sales across the board, lottery officials said.

But a more concerning factor in lottery popularity exists too, said Les Bernal, director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a national nonprofit advocating against government-sanctioned gambling. “Many citizens gamble on the lottery to change their financial condition — they do it even more so when they’re feeling a sense of desperation,” Bernal said, adding that the state lottery is “exploiting that desperation by their relentless marketing.” In fact, there is a direct connection between a spike in Texas Lottery sales and the arrival of COVID-19 stimulus checks, Bernal said. The January spike in lottery sales mirrors a bump in April when the government distrubuted the first round of relief. Distribution of the second round of $600 stimulus checks — which was expected to be completed Friday — was the result of legislation aimed at helping Americans stay afloat amid record unemployment and crushing financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders in mid-March, lottery ticket sales plummeted for three weeks, according to Gary Grief, executive director of Texas Lottery. But the agency’s scratch ticket sales began turning around in April. Nearly all of the 20,000 lottery retailers in the state were deemed essential businesses.

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

With Biden in power, it’s a Lone(lier) Star state in Washington

For the past four years, walking into a federal building in the nation’s capital likely meant being greeted by a large, framed photo of a Texan. There was Rex Tillerson, from Wichita Falls, running the State Department after stepping down as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Former governor Rick Perry, now of Round Top, headed the Department of Energy. Brett Giroir, the former CEO of Texas Medical Health Center, led the government’s coronavirus testing regime as assistant secretary of health. While Susan Combs, a West Texas rancher, onetime romance novelist and former Texas comptroller, served as the assistant secretary of the Interior. And so on. But no more. President-elect Joe Biden has not named a single Texan to his cabinet, leaving Texans in the nation’s capital lonelier than they were four years ago.

“It was nice having friends just about everywhere,” said Larry Myers, a Washington lobbyist who grew up in the Texas panhandle, said of the past four years. “When you’re dealing with Texans, it’s easier to connect, chances are you have a mutual friend or mutual interest you can build a bridge around.” Not that the new administration is completely devoid of Texans. Emmy Ruiz, a 37-year-old political consultant from Austin will serve as White House director of political strategy and outreach. And with many mid- and lower-level roles still being filled, lesser known Texans have time to find their way into the administration. “It’s a little early yet, and some Texans may end up in deputy roles,” said a member of Biden’s transition team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about appointments. “But it’s not going to be like it was with Trump’s cabinet.” The spectacle of Texas power was on full display four years ago when the State Society of Texas held its Black Tie and Boots Ball the night before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a see and be-seen event for any lobbyist or political donor from the Lone Star state - presuming they had the connections to score a ticket to the usually sold-out event. The mood that year was even more jubilant than usual. Not only was a cavalry of Texas Republicans on their way to Washington, but Houston’s own ZZ Top was playing, as cowboy booted-guests mingled around trays of barbecue beef and Tex-Mex. “It was a great, great party,” recounted Thomas Graham, the owner of an Austin public relations firm. “The thing with Trump, he did not come into office with lots of relationships in government. That benefited Texans because those Texans who were involved were influential.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 19, 2021

A Texas hotel group received $68 million in PPP loans. Other businesses waited weeks for $1.

During a brief window in the first round of business aid through the CARES Act, major hotel chains used networks of affiliated companies to draw tens of millions of dollars in low-interest loans, contributing to the quick depletion of the funds. The program’s initial $349 billion ran dry within 13 days, locking out many small businesses from the aid needed to keep workers employed, and the Small Business Administration recalibrated and imposed a $20 million limit on businesses owned by a single corporate entity. For many small businesses, however, the adjustment came too late, leaving them to struggle for weeks before Congress authorized more money for the program.

By the end of April, nearly a month after the Paycheck Protection Program launched, 40 percent of Houston-area small businesses who had applied for the loans had yet to receive them, according to a survey conducted by the Greater Houston Partnership, a business-financed economic development group. And when their loans were finally approved after Congress allocated more funding, some received only paltry sums. In Houston, 193 businesses received less than $800 each to keep employees on the payroll throughout the pandemic. One Jersey Village medical laboratory with 10 employees received $35. A chiropractor in the Lawndale neighborhood received $1. Dallas-based Omni Hotels & Resorts, on the other hand, applied for the low-interest loans through a network of at least 28 companies that either shared the address of Omni’s umbrella company or listed its executives as officers, according to filings with state secretary of state offices. The related companies received some $68 million. To the chiropractor, Dr. Susana Dommar of Amazon Chiropractic Clinic, the stark contrast between her small business’s $1 loan and a major hotel chain’s $68 million was distressing. “By now,” she said, “I’m traumatized by the news of all the people that don’t need or deserve the help (receiving) funds that seem unavailable to me.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 18, 2021

Doctors, patients locked out of Heights Hospital

Doctors and patients were locked out of Heights Hospital Monday after the hospital management failed to pay rent, according to a letter posted at the hospital. The letter said the locks had been changed. Doctors said they were given no notice and pulled a cart out into the parking lot with some supplies to treat patients in the parking lot.

In a letter, doctors at the hospital said, “We showed up today to locked doors and the property management group is unresponsive. Unfortunately, we were not aware the hospital management was in jeopardy of eviction.” “This is action is not only callous, it is recklessly endangering the community as we will be unable to notify hundreds of patients who are potentially positive of their COVID test resuts,” the letter said The property manager, Tidal Property Management, declined to comment.

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2021

Erica Grieder: Big Tech’s deplatforming binge has conservatives crying foul

On Monday afternoon, Dan Zimmerman, the managing editor of the website The Truth About Guns, logged into Facebook to learn that the page dedicated to his website had been unpublished. The notification informing him of this, he says, also posed an odd question: “Do you agree or disagree?” He clicked the latter option, to disagree with the decision, but that turned out to be an ineffectual form of protest. “No warning or explanation was given and we haven’t been able to publish anything to our timeline there since,” Zimmerman wrote in a post on TTAG’s website Thursday.

He asked readers to sign up for the site’s email list, noting that although its Twitter and Instagram accounts remain active, that could easily change: “The cancellations will apparently continue until all of the objectionable opinions and subject matter have been neutralized.” “We were hoping this was just a crazy mistake and it would resolve itself,” Zimmerman told me Thursday, from a coffeeshop in Austin, where The Truth About Guns is headquartered. “But Facebook is a notoriously opaque entity. It’s virtually impossible to talk to a human.” He said he was genuinely at a loss to explain the unpublishing: “We’ve done literally nothing that we haven’t been doing for ten years. In fact, I would argue that we’ve actually played a lot of things down the middle for the last year, two years, than we did prior. I understand Facebook dumped a lot of accounts that were using the hashtag “stop the steal”; We did not,” Zimmerman continued. “We never got into the presidential election at all, other than discussion of the Biden agenda.” That must be a bit frustrating, I suggested. “Incredibly,” Zimmerman agreed.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2021

Armed demonstrators gather outside Texas Capitol to show support for gun rights

About 30 people, many armed and wearing camouflage, stood outside the Texas Capitol on Sunday to show support for their right to bear arms. The Capitol in Austin is closed through Wednesday due to “armed protests” planned, the Texas Department of Public Safety said on Friday. The demonstrators said they were not related to the storming of the nation’s Capitol. Three men, each carrying rifles and handguns, said they were not supporters of President Donald Trump or any politician. The men declined to give their real names.

One man said he was showing his support for his constitutional right to carry weapons and said they are fighting against those who want to take those rights away. He compared gun rights to a cake, slices of which are steadily being taken away by the government until it is gone. He did not offer examples of the government taking away gun rights. The Texas Legislature in recent years has passed laws loosening regulations related to guns. The open carry of handguns by licensed gun owners is permitted in the state if the gun is holstered. Openly carrying long guns is also allowed. In 2019, in response to mass shootings the Texas Legislature allowed guns to be carried in churches and places of worship and loosened several other restrictions. A second man, who wore a camouflage full-face mask and a rifle, said the group came armed to showcase its rights and because law enforcement are less likely to “mess with” armed men.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 18, 2021

FBI: Texas man threatened to shoot family if they reported him going in U.S. Capitol

A Wylie man arrested over the weekend for going inside of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 told his family he went there "to protect the country" and threatened to shoot his children if they turned him in, authorities say. Guy Reffitt took his gun with him when they "stormed the Capitol" and recorded some of the events on his Go Pro camera that he was wearing on his helmet, according to a federal criminal complaint. Reffitt was arrested Saturday at his Wylie home and faces federal charges of obstruction of justice and knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Wylie is about 55 miles northeast of Fort Worth.

The Wylie man, who is a member of "Texas Freedom Force," a militia extremist group, remained in federal custody on Monday. FBI agents tracked down Reffitt through a news video, showing a man outside the U.S. Capitol building using a water bottle to flush out his eyes after apparently being pepper-sprayed. Reffitt is among several people who the FBI have arrested in the past few days in Texas and across the country and accused them of the violent intrusion. One of them, Air Force veteran Larry Brock Jr. of Grapevine, told The New Yorker that President Donald Trump's loss in the presidential election in November was fraudulent, a position that is not supported by evidence. On Jan. 6, a joint session of the United States Congress convened to certify the vote count of the Electoral College declaring President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. At about 2 p.m. on that day, Trump supporters forced their way through and over barricades and officers of the U.S. Capitol to get inside of the building, according to the affidavit.

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KUT - January 17, 2021

Voting groups warn Texas lawmakers aren't making it easy for people who want a say in redistricting

Voting groups say redistricting plans the Texas Senate laid out in a resolution passed Wednesday do not reasonably accommodate public input. The resolution says lawmakers "shall give public notice at least 72 hours in advance of a meeting for a regional hearing during the regular session or in the interim between sessions, and 48 hours in advance during a called session." Voting advocates say that is not enough of a heads up. In Texas, redistricting is a process by which state lawmakers draw maps of political boundaries for various elected positions – including their own seats in the Legislature.

Voters and voting groups have routinely sued state lawmakers for drawing maps they argue disenfranchise certain people. During the last round of redistricting in 2011 and 2013, lawmakers were accused of drawing political boundaries that diminished the political power of people of color, in particular. As a result of those court battles, federal judges have urged state lawmakers to do a better job of including the public in the redistricting process. With the state Legislature poised to draw political maps this year, there are concerns lawmakers will not heed that warning. On Wednesday, senators unanimously approved a resolution that sets up basic procedures and a timeline for the redistricting process. Allison Riggs, interim co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said she's seen draft proposals of the timelines for public input and they are “entirely too short” and don't include an explicit enough process for virtual and written input. “It’s shocking,” she said. “It’s the same thing as last cycle – with 24 hours' notice, with 48 hours' notice. … That is not enough time.” In a statement ahead of the vote, a coalition of Texas voting and civil rights groups urged the Senate to “lay out rules and procedures now that will prevent the problems that we saw in 2011 and 2013 from occurring once again."

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KUT - January 18, 2021

City Of Austin spends $88K a year on pagers employees hardly use, audit finds

Beepers are largely things of the past – a memo, er page, the City of Austin has not received. Nearly a third of the 1,638 city employees who had pager accounts either didn't know where the pager was or said it wasn't working, according to a new report from Austin’s Office of the City Auditor. “The City has not effectively managed pagers, resulting in unnecessary spending and possibly impacting the City’s ability to communicate in an emergency,” auditors wrote. The city embraced a pager-based communication system in 1999, after deciding it needed a more reliable way to communicate with employees during emergencies; pagers typically are cheap and have long battery lives. But years later, the smartphone arrived, which auditors write “may make pagers obsolete for some users in the City.”

Some, but certainly not all. Currently, eight city departments have more than 100 pager accounts each, including Austin Water, Austin Energy and the police department. The report shows a good number of employees don’t use their pagers – or even physically have one. Nearly one-fifth of those who had a city pager account said they did not possess a pager. Of those who did have one but reported it as not working, the most common reason given for the malfunction was “dead batteries.” “[O]ne employee reported they were ‘told upon hire to take out the battery and place [the pager] in [the] top drawer of [your] desk,'" city auditors wrote. Among those city employees who did have a working pager, 42% received one or no pages a month within a five-month period. Annually, the city spends $14,634 on pager accounts for employees who regularly receive zero pages.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 18, 2021

San Antonio shatters record for patients hospitalized with COVID-19

The number of Bexar County residents hospitalized with COVID-19 reached a staggering high Monday as a wave of new cases pushed hospital systems to the brink. In a month filled with grim milestones, San Antonio hit another one Monday, with area hospitals caring for 1,520 patients with COVID-19 — 253 more than the record set this summer, when state leaders shut down bars and mandated masks to stave off the virus. Health officials fear the worst is yet to come. A scientific model developed to forecast the coronavirus’ spread predicts that area hospitals could be inundated with as many as 1,900 patients within the next week if the most dire scenario unfolds.

When hospitals run out of beds and staff to care for patients, medical professionals will be forced to ration care. They will be pressed to prioritize those with the best chance of short-term survival so they can save as many people as possible with resources stretched thin. “We’ve got plenty of rooms. It’s a problem with having the staff,” said County Judge Nelson Wolff. More than 1,400 nurses have been hired on a temporary basis to help area hospitals handle the spike, Wolff said. At the start of January, hospitals were caring for 1,100 patients, 328 of whom needed intensive care and 178 relied on ventilators to breathe. Those figures have soared since then: Hospitals on Monday were caring for 437 patients who needed intensive care and 260 relying on ventilators to breathe. Patients with COVID-19 now make up nearly 38 percent of all those hospitalized — more than double the 15-percent threshold that triggers the business occupancy restrictions and bar closures. “That’s really taxing on our hospitals,” Wolff said.

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KHOU - January 18, 2021

Gov. Abbott coming to Houston Tuesday for COVID-19 roundtable discussion

Gov. Greg Abbott plans to discuss policies impacting healthcare in Texas with medical experts Tuesday at Houston Methodist Hospital. He will also give an update on statewide COVID-19 vaccination efforts, according to the governor's office, during a press conference.

He'll be joined by TDEM Chief Nim Kidd, DSHS Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. John Zerwas and Houston Methodist President and CEO Dr. Marc Boom. COVID-19 vaccine distribution remains a top priority for Texas as cities, counties and hospitals rush to vaccinate as many healthcare professionals and vulnerable residents as possible. In Houston, more than 14,000 people 65 and older received the Moderna vaccine at a drive-thru megasite at NRG Park. Memorial Hermann reported more than 700 volunteers staffed the clinic, many of them Memorial Hermann employees. On Sunday, Harris County health officials announced its positivity rate reached 20.3%. Also Sunday, the city of Houston reported 1,964 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the city's total to 140,395. There were also 17 newly reported deaths, bringing the city's total to 1,652.

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KHOU - January 18, 2021

What happens if a U.S. senator for Texas resigns?

In the aftermath of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, many have called for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to either resign or be disbarred. While Cruz has not indicated he has any intention of resigning, we took a look at how the resignation process works for Texas senators. In the weeks prior to the deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol, Cruz continued to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election, citing unproven reports of election fraud. The senator has faced heavy criticism over these objections. In a video excerpt taken just hours before the riot on Jan. 6, Cruz said the idea that some Americans believe the election was "rigged" is a "profound threat to this country" and that voting against the objection was a "statement that voter fraud doesn't matter, isn't real and shouldn't be taken seriously."

While Cruz does not appear to have any intention of resigning, some may still be wondering what happens if he – or any Texas senator – resigns. We looked into the process. What happens after a U.S. senator resigns? If a vacancy occurs due to a senator's death, resignation or expulsion, the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows state legislatures to empower the governor to appoint a replacement to complete the term or to hold office until a special election can take place. Some states, including Texas, require a special election to fill a vacancy. In Texas, the governor can fill a Senate vacancy temporarily by appointment if the vacancy exists or will exist when Congress is in session, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). If the vacancy occurs in an even-numbered year and 62 or more days before the primary election, the vacancy is filled at that year's general election. If the vacancy occurs in an odd-numbered year or fewer than 62 days before the primary – as would be the case if it happened in 2021 – the Texas governor calls a special election that is scheduled for "the first uniform election date falling 36 or more days after it has been ordered."

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KXAS - January 18, 2021

Why are breathing disorders more common in some Dallas neighborhoods? The city hopes to find out

Breathing disorders are higher in some Dallas neighborhoods than others and experts want to know why. Nine new air monitors have been installed in neighborhoods to compare parts of the city with high rates of childhood asthma to other areas with fewer breathing problems and less poverty. “From an equity standpoint, this is probably one of the most important projects we’re doing right now, is to get neighborhood-level data where we know we have public health issues,” said Susan Alvarez with Dallas Environmental Quality and Sustainability.

Roughly six monitors are located across southern Dallas, including ones placed on Jacqueline Drive, Bonnie View Road, and Sunnyvale Street. Experts want to learn if the history of industry in older neighborhoods is a key factor or whether highways surrounding those areas contribute more pollution from vehicles. “We don’t know and that’s part of what we’re looking at here. We want to try to understand. It could be land use. It could be transportation. It could be a lot of things. And so, this is like the first step in trying to understand that bigger picture,” Alvarez said. Existing regional air quality monitoring equipment continues to show that North Texas fails to comply with federal clean air standards for ozone pollution. But those existing monitors leave large gaps and do not provide the neighborhood level data that the new Dallas equipment will offer. The equipment was donated to the city with money from The Nature Conservancy and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Alvarez said a one-year study is planned, but the equipment could continue to be used by the city long after that.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 15, 2021

'Literally crushed': Emails to Mayor Adler capture Austin's outrage over mid-pandemic Cabo trip

During the pandemic, a teenage girl in Southwest Austin turned to Mayor Steve Adler for guidance on staying safe, logging into Facebook with her parents to watch nightly addresses by the mayor in which he stressed the importance of wearing masks and avoiding crowds Her confidence in Adler was rattled in early December when the American-Statesman reported that the mayor had recently gotten back from vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, according to an email the girl's mother sent to Adler's office.

Adler, as reported first by the Statesman on Dec. 2, traveled to the Mexican beach resort in early November with seven others on a private plane after he hosted a wedding for his daughter with 20 guests at an Austin hotel. Taking a break to attend to official business, Adler recorded a video from his family's timeshare that many took to be hypocritical after learning where he had been at the time. With new COVID-19 cases on the rise in Austin, the mayor stressed the importance of residents staying home. Although Adler did not violate any state or local orders by hosting the wedding or going to Mexico, his behavior did trigger a blistering reaction from Austin residents, many of whom had canceled or postponed their own travel to comply with recommendations from Adler and other government and health leaders. About 300 emails related to the Cabo trip poured into Adler's city email account in the days after news of his trip became public, capturing the indignation of residents who for nine months had been limiting risk-taking behaviors and now said they felt betrayed by the very person who had instructed them to stay home.

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Texas Tribune - January 18, 2021

Texas-based anti-vaccine group received federal bailout funds in May as pandemic raged

Texas-based anti-vaccine organization Informed Consent Action Network was among five anti-vaccine groups that collectively received more than $850,000 in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Washington Post reported Monday. The organization received $166,000 in May 2020, according to founder Del Bigtree. “Vaccine hesitancy” or “vaccine skepticism” poses a significant and ongoing challenge for health authorities trying to overcome mistrust within communities of color, by the anti-vaccine crowd and general uncertainty nationwide. Doctors and scientists say the coronavirus vaccines currently available in the United States are safe and effective.

“At a minimum, it’s a mixed message from the government,” said Timothy Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. “Those individuals who are hesitant are going to be looking to various pieces of information to help them make this decision...and if one of the key pieces of information coming out is the government funding anti-vaccine groups, it could send a signal to these individuals that maybe they shouldn't be vaccinating,” he told The Texas Tribune. The Austin-based nonprofit has more than 43,000 followers on Facebook and regularly posts information questioning the safety of the coronavirus vaccines. Bigtree’s online anti-vaccine talk show was penalized by Facebook and YouTube last year for violating misinformation policies and downplaying the severity of the pandemic. Facebook has cracked down on several of the groups that received the PPP loans, a spokesperson for the social network told the Post. Informed Consent Action Network’s page, labeled with a link to Facebook’s Coronavirus Information Center, is not being recommended to users by the company’s algorithms, the Facebook spokesperson told the Post.

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KVUE - January 18, 2021

State senator, political expert, Travis County Republican Party discuss Texas Senate Bill 311

People showing up armed to protests or rallies outside of the Texas State Capitol or around Downtown Austin isn't a new headline these days, as many protests in the last year have had at least some arrive carrying firearms. But a bill introduced by State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt for the 87th Texas legislative session would make it illegal to display a firearm within 500 feet of a public demonstration.

"My main inspiration is that there is a tremendous amount of distrust of government these days and a tremendous amount of distrust of one another. And in that environment, I really want us to get to a place where we, we trust our government and we trust each other so much that we no longer feel a need to bear arms individually," Eckhardt told KVUE Monday. "But until that day, I want to make sure that individuals who bear arms are bearing it purely for defensive reasons and not for offensive reasons to, to threaten others, particularly when others are attempting to, to specifically engage, whether their elected officials or whether they are other protesters." While Eckhardt is hopeful that the bill can progress through the Texas Legislature, some say it's unlikely. KVUE reached out to the group Texas Gun Rights for comment on Senate Bill 311. While they were not available for an interview Monday, Executive Director Chris McNutt said the group opposes the bill. "We oppose SB 311 and any other bill that would further restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans," McNutt said. "That’s why Texas Gun Rights is focused on making Texas the 17th Constitutional Carry state in 2021, removing barriers for law-abiding citizens to carry their lawfully possessed firearms." Travis County Republican Party Communications Director Andy Hogue told KVUE that he doesn't believe the bill would progress in a gun-friendly state like Texas. "It's not a checklist where you can only pick one and do one at a time. Your freedom of speech is constitutionally protected along with your Second Amendment freedoms," he said. "We've done nothing but make progress on gun rights since the concealed carry bill was passed in the '90s. And I don't see that ever changing."

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KXAN - January 17, 2021

Some SXSW fans still fighting for refunds after COVID-19 cancellation

Nathan Vanden Avond’s extensive and colorful vinyl collection fills bookcases. It spans decades. He’s been collecting since he was 12-years-old. “Well, it is alphabetized. That is a question I get all the time,” said Vanden Avond of his 8,000 records. “It is, I would say, it’s a vice. I think it’s a very nice and safe vice.” As he settled in for our Zoom interview, he pointed to a few of his favorites from local bands.

“Bad Mutha Goose is one of the first bands I fell in love with,” he said. “Timbuk 3 was kind of one of the biggest things that came out of Austin back in the day.” Vanden Avond loves discovering new music — especially every year at the South By Southwest festival. “I started attending the second year of SXSW, which was 1988. I turned 18 that year, which means I could get in to see most shows but not all since some venues were 21+,” said Vanden Avond. To celebrate his 50th birthday last year, he purchased a Platinum badge and eventually a wristband for his husband totaling more than $1,300. “I thought that would be a great way to celebrate this milestone and immerse myself in everything SXSW had to offer,” he said in a letter to SXSW.

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National Stories

NBC News - January 18, 2021

U.S. surpasses 400,000 Covid deaths nearly one year after nation's first confirmed case

More than 400,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the U.S., according to an NBC News tally early Tuesday, a milestone that seemed unimaginable at the start of the pandemic a year ago. More than 2 million people have been recorded killed by the virus worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. death toll is the world's worst, even though it makes up less than 5 percent of the world's population. As of early Tuesday, there have been 400,103 U.S. deaths, according to NBC News' count. The U.S. confirmed its first case of the virus in Seattle on Jan. 21, 2020.

Nearly a year later, 24 million people have been infected in the U.S., the highest number of confirmed cases in the world. California on Monday became the first state to reach 3 million cases, and Los Angeles county crossed the 1 million case mark over the weekend, according to an NBC News tally. The number of those killed is much higher than expected at the pandemic's outset. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, warned in April that as many as 240,000 Americans could die of coronavirus even if containment measures were followed "almost perfectly.” President Donald Trump described that estimated toll as "sobering,” and has since been criticized for at first downplaying the threat posed by the virus and then bungling the federal government's response to it. "Trump made a mockery of safe practices like mask wearing, social distancing and washing hands and then didn’t have a plan for the much anticipated vaccine," former U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, said in a tweet. "Result 400,000 dead."

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NBC News - January 19, 2021

Latinos in the Biden administration shoulder high expectations, urgency to undo Trump policies

Obama White House veterans Julie Chávez Rodriguez and Adrian Saenz are heading back to Pennsylvania Avenue this week with a sense of urgency and a feeling of starting from scratch. President-elect Joe Biden, who is to take the oath of office Wednesday, made Chávez Rodríguez his director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, while Saenz will be deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement. Chávez Rodríguez, Saenz and other Latinos in the Biden administration will be shouldering some high expectations from a nation on edge after the riot on the U.S. Capitol and President Donald Trump's second impeachment — during a pandemic and the economic fallout that has robbed people of work and paychecks.

"It's not going to be easy. I don't go into any of this with rose-colored glasses," said Chávez Rodríguez, the granddaughter of the civil rights icon and labor leader César Chavez. Her boss is taking over from Trump as federal troops have fortified Washington and the Capitol — amid threats that the violence of Jan. 6 could happen again in the nation's capital or elsewhere across the country. "We have seen real ugliness and the real rage of racism be exposed over the course of the last four years," Chávez Rodríguez said. "I never imagined the kind of agency hate would be given from the highest level of office." Biden's Latino administration officials will be grappling with calls to undo Trump's policies in many areas — from health care and the economy to immigration and the environment — and the pushback from those ready to oppose the measures in a very divided Congress. Biden has nominated several Latinos to key Cabinet positions. If he is confirmed, Alejandro Mayorkas will be the first Latino and immigrant to head the Department of Homeland Security. He is expected to overhaul Trump's hard-line immigration policies and address the fallout of policies like family separations, as well as head the administration's anti-terrorism strategy.

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Axios - January 18, 2021

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election. Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

The letter also orders Lindell to "preserve and retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company." Lindell also must preserve all communications with any member of the Trump campaign, in addition to communications with Rudy Giuliani, Powell, Jenna Ellis and Lin Wood. Lindell told Axios, "I want Dominion to put up their lawsuit because we have 100% evidence that China and other countries used their machines to steal the election." The big picture: Lindell met with Trump last week and was caught by photographers with notes referencing martial law and Sidney Powell. The CEO has become known for peddling election-overturning conspiracies and last year promoted a fake cure to the coronavirus. What they're saying: Dominion's letter reads... "Despite knowing your implausible attacks against Dominion have no basis in reality, you have participated in the vast and concerted misinformation campaign to slander Dominion ... Litigation regarding these issues is imminent."

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New York Times - January 9, 2021

Pressure grows for states to open vaccines to more groups of people

Just weeks into the country’s coronavirus vaccination effort, states have begun broadening access to the shots faster than planned, amid tremendous public demand and intense criticism about the pace of the rollout. Some public health officials worry that doing so could bring even more chaos to the complex operation and increase the likelihood that some of the highest-risk Americans will be skipped over. But the debate over how soon to expand eligibility is intensifying as deaths from the virus continue to surge, hospitals are overwhelmed with critically ill patients and millions of vaccine doses delivered last month remain in freezers. Governors are under enormous pressure from their constituents — especially older people, who vote in great numbers and face the highest risk of dying from the virus — to get the doses they receive into arms swiftly.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s decision, announced Friday, to release nearly all available doses to the states when he takes office on Jan. 20, rather than holding half to guarantee each recipient gets a booster shot a few weeks after the first, is likely to add to that pressure. Some states, including Florida, Louisiana and Texas, have already expanded who is eligible to get a vaccine now, even though many people in the first priority group recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the nation’s 21 million health care workers and three million residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities — have not yet received a shot. On Friday afternoon, New York became the latest state to do so, announcing that it would allow people 75 and over and certain essential workers to start receiving a vaccine on Monday. But reaching a wider swath of the population requires much more money than states have received for the task, many health officials say, and more time to fine-tune systems for moving surplus vaccine around quickly, to increase the number of vaccination sites and people who give the shots, and to establish reliable appointment systems to prevent endless lines and waits.

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NPR - January 18, 2021

Trump's Census Director to quit after trying to rush out 'indefensible' report

The Trump-appointed director of the U.S. Census Bureau is stepping down close to a week after whistleblower complaints about his role in attempting to rush out an incomplete data report about noncitizens became public. In an internal email announcement on Monday, Steven Dillingham said he is retiring from the bureau on Wednesday, more than 11 months before his term expires at the end of this year, according to a Census Bureau employee who spoke to NPR and asked not to be named for fear of retaliation at work.

Dillingham later confirmed his plans, which were first reported by Talking Points Memo, in a blog post on the bureau's website. The bureau's current deputy director and chief operating officer — Ron Jarmin, a career civil servant who served as acting director before Dillingham was appointed — is set to temporarily fill the top post again after Dillingham is out at noon ET on Wednesday, the bureau's chief spokesperson Michael Cook tells NPR. Dillingham's departure clears the entire slate of Trump appointees at the federal government's largest statistical agency as its civil servants continue to toil over 2020 census records and prepare for the release of the first results from last year's national head count, which has been delayed until March 6 at the earliest. All other Trump officials will also have left the bureau by Wednesday, when President-elect Joe Biden is set to be sworn in, Michael Cook, the agency's chief spokesperson, confirmed to NPR last week.

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Politico - January 17, 2021

FBI investigating whether woman stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell it to Russia

The FBI is investigating evidence that a woman who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 stole a laptop or hard drive from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and intended to sell it to Russians. The bizarre claim, which the FBI emphasized remains under investigation, was included in an affidavit describing the criminal case against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman who was seen in footage of the Jan. 6 insurrection in area of the Capitol near Pelosi's office. And it's not clear if the FBI has been able to apprehend her.

"It appears that WILLIAMS has fled," according to the affidavit, which was signed Sunday and posted publicly after 9 p.m.. "According to local law enforcement officers in Harrisburg, WILLIAMS’ mother stated that WILLIAMS packed a bag and left her home and told her mother she would be gone for a couple of weeks. WILLIAMS did not provide her mother any information about her intended destination." A Pelosi aide was not immediately available for comment. It was not clear if a laptop or hard drive was actually stolen. According to the affidavit, a witness who spoke to authorities claimed to have seen a video of Williams "taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Speaker Pelosi’s office.""[Witness 1] stated that WILLIAMS intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service," the agent noted. "According to [Witness 1], the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and WILLIAMS still has the computer device or destroyed it." "This matter remains under investigation," the agent concludes. For now, Williams is facing charges of entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct for her actions inside the Capitol.

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Newsclips - January 17, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2021

Embattled Texas AG Paxton’s fundraising was drying up before he filed lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden victory

Campaign contributions to embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton all but dried up last fall after senior staff accused the Republican of abusing his office to help a friend and political donor. But Paxton’s fortunes reversed in December when, cheered on by President Donald Trump, he filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in four key battleground states. In the days after mounting the unsuccessful legal bid, Paxton raked in nearly $150,000 — roughly half of his entire campaign haul in the last six months of 2020. Still, Paxton raised just $305,500 in total, a tiny amount compared to other statewide elected officials who raised millions of dollars to support their campaigns.

Paxton’s own fundraising reports have typically been in seven figures. Campaign spokesman Ian Prior did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The low fundraising numbers show Paxton’s political career “is on life support,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “He went all in to back Trump and the far right and it was a losing play,” Rottinghaus said. Paxton, in his second term, is up for reelection in 2022. His campaign account has about $5.5 million cash on hand. Some of Paxton’s biggest campaign expenses in the second half of 2020 were legal fees, including $75,000 paid to two attorneys. Those lawyers are representing Paxton in his five-year battle against a securities fraud indictment, but they said the payment was unrelated to that case. “The funds are for a legal matter occurring while in office, unrelated to the securities fraud case,” said one of the attorneys, Philip Hilder, though he did not elaborate. Paxton cannot use campaign funds to pay the attorneys in his securities fraud case because the felony charges he faces do not relate to his duties as an officeholder. After he was indicted in summer 2015, Paxton created a separate legal account funded by friends and family meant to pay for these lawyers. He’s raised more than half a million dollars for that fund.

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Dallas Morning News - January 15, 2021

Vaccine fast-track: Texas lawmakers get offer to skip the line for COVID-19 inoculation

State lawmakers are receiving the coronavirus vaccine — regardless of whether they are currently eligible under state guidelines — through a back channel facilitated by Austin’s top health authority and a local hospital system, The Dallas Morning News has learned. Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director for Austin Public Health, confirmed to The News on Thursday that he organized the vaccination effort with Ascension Seton. In the past few weeks, Escott knows at least five to 10 legislators of both parties who were vaccinated through this process. The hospital is cooperating at Escott’s request, an Ascension Seton spokesperson said, adding most of those vaccinated were eligible under state guidelines that prioritize healthcare workers, the elderly and those with certain medical vulnerabilities. But Escott said all lawmakers should be inoculated as soon as possible.

The flood of lawmakers coming to Austin for the legislative session threatens to be a superspreader for the virus across the region, Escott said. He also continues to be concerned about government continuity — that if too many legislators get sick it could disrupt the lawmaking process. On Friday, a member of the Texas House confirmed he had tested positive after spending three days on the House floor. Several of his colleagues are now in self-quarantine. Escott said he pushed, unsuccessfully, for the state to put lawmakers on a priority list for the vaccine. Unless that happens, he plans to continue offering it to lawmakers and key staff. But the move has been unpopular with some legislators who said they turned down the offer because it was unfair for them to receive the vaccine before more vulnerable constituents. Three House Democrats — Vikki Goodwin and Gina Hinojosa of Austin and Erin Zwiener of Driftwood — told The News they declined the vaccination opportunity. The issue throws into sharp relief many of the current difficulties Texas is experiencing with the vaccine rollout. As demand outstrips supply, there is widespread confusion over where to get the vaccine and disagreement over who deserves to get the shots first. Escott knew fast tracking lawmakers would be controversial.

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Houston Chronicle - January 15, 2021

Why was Texas unable to stop a second COVID surge months in the making?

For a second time, a surge in COVID-19 cases has pushed Texas hospitals beyond their base capacity, thwarted the state’s plan to reopen businesses and spurred a wave of deaths that health experts say was avoidable. Instead of effectively mitigating a virus that already has killed more than 30,000, Texas is enduring one of its darkest chapters of the COVID-19 pandemic as state officials scramble to vaccinate 29 million residents. Critics of Gov. Greg Abbott’s October reopening guidelines say state leaders are repeating many of the same mistakes from last summer’s crisis by opting against tighter restrictions, fighting local officials’ efforts to close high-risk businesses and relaying mixed messages to the public.

City and county leaders are sending conflicting signals of their own, urging residents to stay home and avoid crowds while doing little to enforce mask rules or capacity limits, citing a lack of manpower. And many of their constituents simply have tuned out the partisan bickering and given up on following health guidelines. Fatigued after 10 months, some members of the public largely have resumed their normal lives, gathering unmasked with others, ensuring the virus continues to spread. Those pushing for more action say Abbott could permit rules that stop short of a full-scale shutdown, such as limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery, that would preserve businesses while still doing more to contain the spread. “I understand there’s businesses, and we don’t want the economy to be completely devastated, but I think we were aggressive on opening up things early, and we weren’t aggressive on pulling things back when things were starting to get serious,” said Kirstin Matthews, a fellow in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

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Associated Press - January 16, 2021

Third confirmed coronavirus variant is reported in Texas

A third confirmed case of a variant of the coronavirus was been reported Saturday in Texas by Dallas County Health and Human Services. The agency reported that a Dallas man in his 20s with no history of travel outside the United States tested positive for the variant first identified in the United Kingdom and known as B.1.1.7.

Texas is among a handful of states with at least one known case of the new variant, but state health officials say there is no evidence it causes more severe disease and that current vaccines are expected to still be effective. “The emergence of strain B.1.1.7, while inevitable given the mobility of the modern world and the fact that we are a major transportation hub, means that there is a strain that is 70% more contagious in our community and it will grow quickly," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. Texas reported a Houston-area man as its first case of a person infected with the new variant on Jan. 7. The state health department on Saturday reported more than 240,000 new cases and 381 additional death and has reported more than 2 million cases and more than 31,00 deaths since the pandemic began.

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CNBC - January 17, 2021

Trump retains overwhelming support from Republicans after deadly U.S. Capitol attack: NBC poll

President Donald Trump retains overwhelming support from Republican voters in the final days of his term, an NBC News poll conducted after a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol shows. Nearly nine in 10 Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance, according to the survey, a figure virtually unchanged from just ahead of the November contest. Eighty-nine percent of Republicans said they approved of Trump before the election, compared to 87% in the most recent poll.

The poll, which comes as Trump faces an unprecedented second impeachment trial in the Senate, suggests that Republican support for the president did not waver as a result of the Jan. 6 attack in Washington, in which Trump supporters violently delayed the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. The data foreshadows the political trouble GOP leaders could face if they attempt to sideline the outgoing president. Trump and his allies have threatened to work against Republicans who refused to back his attempts to reverse the results of the 2020 election. Overall, Trump’s approval rating was 43%, well within the same narrow range throughout his entire term in office. Trump’s approval was 44% in February of 2017, shortly after he was inaugurated. Experts have said that the stability of Trump’s ratings reflect an extraordinarily polarized U.S. electorate. The poll was conducted between Sunday and Wednesday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 232-197. Every Democrat and 10 Republicans voted to impeach.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 16, 2021

These Texans have been charged in the Capitol riot — so far

At least four Texans are among the more than 100 people charged so far in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The FBI continues to comb the country for people who stormed the Capitol, halting proceedings in the House and Senate to certify Joe Biden's election victory. The four-hour incursion left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer. Many of the perpetrators left extensive digital fingerprints of their activities that day, including photographs and videos from inside the Capitol. Here's what we know about the four Texans charged so far:

Larry Brock: The retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from Grapevine was identified by his ex-wife through the FBI’s special “Most Wanted” page for Capitol Violence and charged Thursday in federal court in Fort Worth. Photos show Brock in combat gear carrying zip tie restraints in the Senate chamber just minutes after Vice President Mike Pence and senators had been evacuated. "He means to take hostages. He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer said of Brock in court, according to media reports. The zip restraints, also known as flex cuffs, were particularly worrisome to law enforcement because the mob can be heard on multiple videos chanting “Hang Mike Pence” while walking through the Capitol.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 15, 2021

Why advocates are hopeful for environmental agenda in legislative session

State lawmakers will have their hands full during this year’s legislative session managing coronavirus pandemic response efforts, redrawing district lines for state and congressional districts, and balancing the state’s multibillion-dollar budget during a turbulent economic period. But environmental advocates are hopeful that legislators will tackle other serious issues that could affect the state’s future, including reducing emissions and improving safety regulations for energy producers and storage facilities. “We recognize that some of these priorities of ours will be very difficult to pass,” said Cyrus Reed, interim director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Part of our job is to raise the profile of these issues. Some are more long-term struggles, and others are, I think, immediately achievable.”

Recent explosions and fires involving petroleum and chemical storage tanks plus a president-elect with an ambitious climate change agenda have advocates feeling optimistic that lawmakers could take action during this year’s session. A continuing priority for environmental advocates in Texas is to push legislators to take further steps to tackle air pollution by studying ways to reduce harmful emissions and fully funding programs aimed at reducing pollution. That includes adequately funding regulatory agencies responsible for oversight. “We continue to always be concerned about all of these issues and ensuring that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Railroad Commission have sufficient staff to inspect and ensure companies comply with the rules,” Reed said. “That’s an important issue that comes up every session, because these agencies have been underfunded and we need more boots on the ground.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 15, 2021

The scooter story: It's been a bumpy, up-and-down ride for e-scooters in Austin

Rental scooters faced down eradication in Austin in 2020, with several companies leaving the market when use cratered as COVID-19 took hold locally. But today, the zippy two-wheelers appear to have found a modicum of stability in the Austin market. Love 'em or hate 'em, the electric micro-mobility devices now appear like they are here to stay. But getting to this point has not been easy for companies like Lime and Bird, Austin's remaining stand-up scooter operators. Scooter rental companies with punchy names like Skip, Spin, Scoot and Jump all tried to make Austin's sidewalks and streets a bedrock for their success. In total, 14 such companies took a shot at building their brand in Austin since 2018.

Today, only three operators remain – Lime and Bird, along with Wheels, which operates sit-down scooters. An American-Statesman review of licenses and permits shows the fast-paced entry into the Austin market of scooters, dockless e-bikes and other shared devices that fall under the umbrella of micro-mobility. The rapid rise and fall of so many companies reflects how Austin's ecosystem for scooters evolved from a wild west of unprofitable venture capital-funded startups to a regulated space where a few industry leaders have emerged. Especially downtown, it became hard to drive, walk or bike a single block without seeing at least one scooter. "The industry itself was moving about 200 miles per hour before COVID hit, and then all of a sudden it came to a screeching stop," said Joseph Al-Hajeri, shared mobility services supervisor for the city of Austin.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 17, 2021

Stephanie Rubin: Legislature must help Texas kids recover from the pandemic

(Rubin is CEO of Texans Care for Children.) This pandemic is hard on all Texans — including kids. So now that the state legislative session is gearing up, children are counting on legislators to give them the best chance at recovery. Before COVID, legislators were about to launch interim hearings on several issues focused on child well-being, including health care, education and foster care. Since then, COVID exacerbated and revealed the depths of those challenges — which could linger much longer than the pandemic unless the Legislature takes action now. And the clock is ticking on time-sensitive policy issues for many kids: infants and toddlers who won’t get a second chance at healthy early childhood brain development, young students who have had trouble learning to read during virtual school, or kids at risk of abuse or suicide.

Let’s start with health care. The pandemic showed that quality, affordable health care must be available to all Texans, including families with jobs in child care, restaurants, grocery stores, or other low-wage sectors that often don’t provide health insurance. To support healthy babies and moms, legislators should extend Medicaid health insurance to moms for a full year after pregnancy, building on legislators’ work creating the Healthy Texas Women Plus program last session. Lawmakers can also support healthy kids by ensuring Medicaid insurance for children of low-wage workers lasts for 12 straight months. To support healthy Texans, legislators should also fully fund health and human services, including the women’s health services facing proposed state cuts, under-funded Early Childhood Intervention services for toddlers with disabilities, and staff to help kids and pregnant women enroll in health insurance. To do that during a revenue shortfall, legislators can tap the rainy day fund, federal COVID relief funds, and federal Medicaid expansion dollars. Yes, with COVID reshaping the landscape, it’s time to pass Medicaid expansion to shore up the state budget, pump up our economy, and connect more workers with health care. Beyond health care, the pandemic has also disrupted student learning. To help students get on track, legislators should fully fund education — keeping the commitments they made last session — even as enrollment dips due to the pandemic. To ensure students can concentrate on academics after this year of prolonged stress and trauma, the Legislature should ensure school districts can implement the strong student mental health steps passed last session.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 15, 2021

Bexar County nonprofits’ COVID-19 relief efforts get boost from Humana

Health insurer Humana has committed more than $2.5 million to COVID-19 relief efforts across Texas, with about 20 percent going to organizations that benefit San Antonio area residents. Communities In Schools of Texas received $250,000 for a crisis fund for students in the largest school districts in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. The fund provides assistance for rent, utilities, food, clothing and personal hygiene items during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bexar County Community Health Collaborative got $260,000, which will be spent on training and certification with job placement support for additional community health workers. The workers serve hundreds of low income families within Bexar and surrounding counties as part of the collaborative’s Community Hub Model. “Humana’s generous investment will allow us to increase workforce capacity needed to connect more families to any resources they need,” said Elizabeth Lutz, the collaborative’s executive director. The donations come from the Louisville-based company’s Medicaid business, Humana Healthy Horizons, and its philanthropic arm, The Humana Foundation.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 16, 2021

Hospitals full. Thousands infected with coronavirus each week. San Antonio pays the price for failing to flatten the curve.

These days, Amanda Salinas scarcely has time to catch her breath. Six days a week, when she goes to Northeast Baptist Hospital for her nursing shift in the emergency department, she is met with the grim reality of San Antonio’s COVID-19 surge. People on stretchers crowding the hallways. Waiting room lines longer than she ever has seen. Patients languishing in the emergency room for days, sometimes for so long that they are discharged before a bed becomes available for them upstairs. Hospital staff weary from working under arduous conditions, with little respite, for the better part of a year.

This isn’t the first surge Salinas has endured. She has worked at the hospital under a state contract since summer, when San Antonio was pummeled by its first major wave of coronavirus infections. This time, things are different. “The first one was manageable. This one is way worse,” Salinas said. “This is the worst I’ve seen.” With about 1,400 COVID-19 patients in hospitals on any given day, San Antonio is contending with its greatest coronavirus crisis yet. Hospitals, health care workers and local officials are scrambling to ward off disaster. “The boat is leaking, and so the health systems are running around trying to patch the ship, make sure it stays afloat,” said Dr. Jason Morrow, a University Hospital palliative care physician and UT Health San Antonio associate professor. “But somebody keeps pouring more and more water in.” They are bracing for the possibility that San Antonio’s hospital systems could become overrun with patients, a worst-case scenario referred to as “Crisis Level 3” in a local emergency plan. Scarce resources would be devoted to those with the best chance of short-term survival, with the goal of saving as many people as possible.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 14, 2021

'This is how it’s spreading': Val Verde official says woman broke quarantine for San Antonio concert

A South Texas official called for personal accountability after a woman with COVID-19 attended a San Antonio concert. Lewis Owens, the Val Verde County Judge, posted a Facebook video Sunday noting that residents were asking county leaders and the local health authority what officials were doing about a spike in coronavirus cases. "It’s not up to us anymore folks," Owens said. "It’s up to y'all."

Owens gave the example of a Val Verde County resident who went to the Cody Johnson concert Friday at Cowboys Dancehall. The woman had tested positive for the virus and left quarantine to attend the concert. The woman was seen in Snapchat videos wearing a mask around her wrist, according to Owens. She initially told contact tracers she had left home after fighting with her mother, but eventually confessed she had gone to the country concert. "People say that we need to do a better job. No. Y'all need to do a better job," Owens said. "That’s how this s*** is spreading. People like her bring that stuff back and they kill families and kill their parents or whatever." A citation was issued to the woman. Owens told his constituents that he plans to release her name publicly when the citation process is complete. After the concert, Cowboys Dancehall received two citations for violating San Antonio's emergency orders, for a total of seven since March. The city warned the venue its certificate of occupancy will be revoked if it receives another citation.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 15, 2021

A new crop of Texas-led lawsuits awaits Joe Biden's White House

President-elect Joe Biden has big plans for his first 100 days in office, when he’s vowed to roll back the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown, push policies addressing climate change and potentially forgive student debt for thousands of Americans. He’s also said he’ll push a mask mandate to combat COVID-19 and wants Congress to pass another massive stimulus package. And in the longer term, Biden has talked about rewriting the tax code to raise taxes on the rich. Texas is almost certain to fight him every step of the way.

The state is about to be back on the front lines battling against the federal government, a long tradition for its Republican leaders, from former Gov. Rick Perry to Gov. Greg Abbott — who as the state’s attorney general famously said, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.” Abbott’s successor, Attorney General Ken Paxton, has been just as committed to pushing back on federal laws and mandates championed by Democrats. Most recently he led a failed lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in four battleground states at the U.S. Supreme Court. Paxton did not respond to a request for comment. As Biden takes office next week, many expect the state to pick up where it left off after suing the Obama administration dozens of times to stop initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, scrap protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and end the Affordable Care Act. The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation — which filed the Obamacare challenge that Paxton joined and is now before the Supreme Court — is gearing up to start grinding out challenges to a slew of White House priorities regarding immigration, energy and taxes.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2021

Dallas man urged armed return to Capitol to ‘hunt these cowards down,’ authorities say

A third North Texan has been arrested after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, with federal authorities saying he urged an armed return to hunt down Democrats and others. Troy Anthony Smocks, 58, faces a charge of knowingly and willfully transmitting threats in interstate commerce. He was taken into custody Friday, authorities said. According to authorities, Smocks traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5, the day before the deadly riot at the Capitol.

The following day, police said, he posted on Parler — a Twitter-like social-media site popular with conservatives and others who believe Twitter censors their speech — about the insurrection, writing that Trump’s supporters would return to Washington on Jan. 19, and that they would be armed. “We will come in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match,” he wrote, according to a criminal complaint. Smocks traveled back to Texas the next day, authorities said, and continued posting about a return to the Capitol. “Prepare our weapons, and then go get ’em,” he wrote, according to the complaint. “Lets hunt these cowards down like the Traitors that each of them are. This includes RINOS, Dems, and Tech Execs.” His posts were viewed tens of thousands of times, police said. Authorities noted that, although he used the account name “@Colonel007” on Parler, Smocks is not a member of the military or a colonel in any law-enforcement organization.

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Dallas Morning News - January 15, 2021

Dallas lawyer Sidney Powell’s Texas roots: Ambition, prestige and a propensity for conspiracy theories

Decades before Sidney Powell joined President Donald Trump’s “elite strike force team” of lawyers alleging voter fraud without evidence, the lawyer made her name in Texas legal circles. She rose to national prominence in her battle to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, alleging voter fraud at the hand of election companies, including far-reaching conspiracy theories. In one press conference with Trump’s lawyer and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Powell claimed that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, directed Dominion voting machines to take votes from Trump and flip them to President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump’s legal team dropped Powell soon after. One Trump campaign official told The Washington Post that Powell “was too crazy even for the president.” Powell’s allegations of voter fraud are “garbage,” said Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. “It’s a lot of nonsense stapled together in a way that is designed to look impressive to someone who is not very technically literate,” Sanchez said. “But it’s just obviously nonsense to anyone who is minimally technically literate.” Powell has still been involved in Trump’s fight against the election results, filing lawsuits riddled with spelling errors and expert witnesses who lack expertise. Trump even discussed tapping Powell to be the special counsel overseeing an investigation of voter fraud, a plan his advisers, including Giuliani opposed, according to The New York Times.

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Dallas Morning News - January 17, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Customs and Border Protection just picked a fight with the Chinese Communist Party

The federal government has a powerful tool at its disposal in the fight against human trafficking and forced labor. It’s one that should be used more. It’s called a Withhold Release Order (WRO), and it allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection to halt the import of goods made by slaves. The government has had this power since 1930, but has only recently ramped up its use. In 2016, Congress closed a loophole in the law, and in the years since then CBP has issued more WROs than ever before. Between 1930 and 2019, CBP issued 51 WROs. Last year alone it issued 13 and detained almost 300 shipments worth $50 million.

Not surprisingly, the country from which the most flagged shipments comes is China. On Wednesday, the CBP announced a broad new WRO against the entire Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for cotton and tomato products produced there. That action may affect hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods, though a precise scope is hard to estimate. According to Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of the CBP Office of Trade, the U.S. imported more than $9 billion worth of cotton goods and more than $10 million worth of tomato products from China last year. Smith’s office couldn’t provide an estimate of what percentage of those imports came from Xinjiang. But forced labor almost certainly exists in China outside of one province, and this week’s order applies not only to raw goods from Xinjiang but from all goods produced with materials from there, some of which may be imported to the U.S. from other countries. Scott Nova, executive director at a labor rights organization called Worker Rights Consortium, told The Associated Press that Wednesday’s WRO could affect as much as 20% of the global cotton supply.

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Dallas Morning News - January 16, 2021

‘Ted’s been cancelled’: Cruz’s 2024 ambitions hobbled by Capitol riot, but he could rebound in Biden era

Backlash against Sen. Ted Cruz continues to mount over the shocking spectacle of a riot at the Capitol, and the deadly episode has cast a dark shadow over his ambitions. Already reviled by the left, the Texan has been targeted in the past week with petitions demanding he resign and lose his license to practice law. Democrats have called for the Senate to expel him. The chair of the House homeland security panel wants him added to the “no fly” list.

But the Biden era that starts at noon Jan. 20 may give the two-term Republican a shot to revive his reputation, allowing him to reprise the role of conservative foil for a Democratic president that he milked in the Obama years. “Cruz is very talented, really savvy. Obviously ambitious. The first time he ran for president he did really well. I would never count him out. But it’s hard to argue that the last few weeks have been helpful,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant. “Cruz has angered a lot of people who otherwise could be helpful to him in a future campaign.” Cruz didn’t address the mob that stormed the Capitol and he has forcefully denounced the violence. But as one of the leading voices amplifying President Trump’s demand to overturn the election, he’s been swept up in the fallout from the riot. Through aides, the senator declined interview requests and did not respond to the demands for his resignation and other sanctions.

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2021

Galveston-based border wall contractor finds itself at center of federal whistle-blower lawsuit

On a gray, blustery Tuesday in Alamo, Texas, President Donald Trump stood in front of a completed portion of the border wall on the southern Texas-Mexico border and touted the completion of 452 miles during his term. “We reformed our immigration and achieved the most secure southern border in U.S. history,” Trump proclaimed. Unmentioned in Trump’s remarks was that 163 miles of the wall are being built by a Galveston-based contractor accused in a federal whistle-blower lawsuit of illegally hiring Mexican nationals to guard border-wall construction sites in California.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant unsealed a complaint filed by two former contract employees of Sullivan Land Services Co. (SLS) — a construction company founded and operated by brothers Todd, John and William “Billy” Sullivan. The complaint also alleges that SLS hired “unvetted workers” to work on its job sites at the border, and allowed a subcontractor to construct an illegal dirt road to ferry armed Mexican nationals across the border to provide security, all with the approval of an Army Corps of Engineers supervisor. High-level employees of SLS as well as Ultimate Concrete of El Paso, its subcontractor on the project, allegedly made false statements not only about the hiring of Mexican workers, but also overcharging for construction costs. The U.S. Department of Justice investigated the false-claims allegations and notified the court in December that it would not intervene, allowing the case to proceed in federal court without DOJ involvement. Through a spokeswoman, Liz Rogers, the Sullivans declined requests to be interviewed for this story.

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Houston Chronicle - January 16, 2021

Far-right media personality 'Baked Alaska' charged in Capitol riot, arrested in Houston

A far-right media personality known as "Baked Alaska" was arrested Friday in Houston on federal charges for entering the U.S. Capitol during last week's violent insurrection, according to federal officials. The man live-streamed his own profanity-filled rampage through the Capitol in a video used as evidence against him. Anthime Joseph Gionet is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, according to a criminal complaint filed last week in U.S. district court.

Gionet entered the Capitol between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. alongside a throng of Trump supporters who smashed windows, desecrated lawmakers' offices and fought with law enforcement officials. Five people died during the riot. In a 27-minute video posted to DLive, a streaming platform, Gionet chronicled his involvement in the riot. The video was later posted to YouTube and Twitter where FBI agents discovered it, according to court documents. Nearly three minutes into the live-stream, Gionet flips the camera to show his face, which is "clearly identifiable," an FBI investigator reported. Gionet can be heard remarking, "Unleash the Kraken, let's go" and "Occupy the Capitol let's go. We ain't leaving this bitch." He repeatedly encourages other protesters not to leave, according to the criminal complaint. At one point, the video captures him entering an office and sitting on a couch with his feet on a table. He accused a law enforcement officer of shoving him, though no shoving can be seen on the video, and yelled at the officer, calling the person an "oathbreaker."

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Houston Chronicle - January 17, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Purge of Trump, Parler show Big Tech firms have too much power

There’s no question that disinformation — outright lies or the misrepresentation of facts — is a worsening plague on our democracy. It is not limited to any party, ideology or sector — nor do its purveyors respect any boundaries of basic decency and fairness. Because of this, mounting pressure from concerned citizens and government officials to rid the internet of the worst offenses, and offenders, has led Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies to take strong action.

Often, these severe steps are welcome, as was the case with Alex Jones, the Austin-based creator of InfoWars.com whose loathsome videos were banned by Twitter and YouTube in 2018. A menace for decades, Jones’ reach wasn’t curtailed until he engaged in a prolonged harassment campaign against the grieving parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. Jones branded one of the worst mass killings in American history a hoax and their parents liars, causing some to receive death threats. It’s hard to fathom a more deserving recipient of the social media death sentence than Jones. Yet, the recent response to President Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube was a cacophonous mix of cheers and outrage, even though the move came only after the president’s relentless posting of false claims about voter fraud spurred thousands to storm the U.S. Capitol in a deadly clash that rattled the underpinnings of American democracy. The logic of banning Trump amid escalating threats of violence is clear. But so is the reason for concern. America is a country where censorship is viewed as an Orwellian harbinger of tyranny, a country where the commitment to free expression is so strong that words of hate enjoy the same protection as words of prayer.

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KUT - January 15, 2021

DPS closes Texas Capitol grounds, citing 'armed protests' planned by 'violent extremists' ahead of the inauguration

Anticipating violence from armed demonstrators, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it will close the state Capitol grounds ahead of Inauguration Day. The grounds will be closed Saturday through Wednesday. In an announcement Friday evening, DPS Director Steve McCraw said the agency was acting out of an "abundance of caution" and that it had been made aware of events planned by "violent extremists" ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety is aware of armed protests planned at the Texas State Capitol this week and violent extremists who may seek to exploit constitutionally protected events to conduct criminal acts,” McCraw said. “As a result, DPS has deployed additional personnel and resources to the Capitol and are working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Austin Police Department to monitor events and enforce the rule of law.” In a bulletin to law enforcement this week, the FBI said it expects gatherings of armed demonstrators at all 50 state capitols ahead of Inauguration Day. Austin Mayor Steve Adler tweeted shortly before DPS announcement that his office "was aware of upcoming gatherings" at the Capitol. The Austin Police Department told KUT on Friday it had seen unconfirmed reports of "militia or extremist" groups assembling at the state Capitol, and that it would be on alert over the next week. "APD said it was not aware of any credible threats to the public, but maintains a heightened security posture," a spokesperson said. Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Gregg Sofer warned his office would pursue federal charges against Capitol demonstrators who "threaten to harm others, commit acts of violence, destroy property or attack law enforcement."

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Texas Standard - January 15, 2021

New Texas House rules reflect COVID-19 risks; don’t allow public to testify virtually

As the Texas House of Representatives’ session got underway this week, debates continued about how the body would address COVID-19 risks, including about the impact of the virus on voting in the House chamber and on public access to the legislative process. Scott Braddock is editor of the Quorum Report. He told Texas Standard that the 150 House members will not be allowed to cast floor votes from home or from other remote locations, but they can vote from laptops while at the Capitol. The goal is to facilitate social distancing. “They have given them laptops that are supposedly secure laptops that they can vote from,” Braddock said. “[Members can vote from] the gallery or from rooms that are immediately adjoining the Texas House floor, so they can do that spacing a little bit better … or they can still vote from their desks on the House floor.”

One reasons House leaders wanted to prevent remote voting is that it could look like a precedent for election procedures in the future. Conservative opponents of remote voting for their constituents don’t want to allow it in the House. Lawmakers also have said the process of legislating is better done in person, where persuasion can be brought to bear. “Legislating – it’s a very intimate process,” Braddock said. “It’s an eyeball-to-eyeball kind of thing.” Public input rules have also shifted because of COVID-19. “Under the House rules, in committees other than redistricting, only two lawmakers have to be present in the room for it to constitute a quorum, so they can listen to testimony on various pieces of legislation,” Braddock said. That testimony must be offered in person, even though lawmakers can attend meetings virtually. Rules governing the 2021 redistricting process have already put Democrats and Republicans on opposite sides, with Republicans voting down all changes Democrats proposed to the deliberation process, without making specific responses to the proposals. “The reason you don’t talk about redistricting when you’re a Republican is that this is going to end up in a courtroom,” Braddock said. “Redistricting is something that’s always heavily litigated.”

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Fox News - January 15, 2021

Van Duyne urges GOP House members to 'refuse any and all' Big Tech money over 'censorship'

Freshman GOP Rep. Beth Van Duyne is calling on House Republican colleagues to "refuse any and all contributions" from Big Tech companies, saying they are using their "power" to "silence conservative voices." In a letter to House Republicans on Friday, Van Duyne, R-Texas, who was elected in November and recently sworn in, called out Big Tech companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, and said they "have frequently abused their power and market dominance to effectively censor conservative voices."

"Last week, this censorship reached a new, concerning level as Twitter permanently banned the President of the United States," Van Duyne wrote. "Other companies quickly followed suit, with Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and others banning the president." Van Duyne said the permanent suspension of Trump from the platforms "has revealed a stunning double standard," slamming the social media companies for allowing content from leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and Iran to continue to use their platforms. "This stunning double standard makes clear Twitter is not looking out for their users’ safety — they are wielding their dangerously influential market power to actively censor voices their top brass disagrees with," Van Duyne wrote. Van Duyne said that she hopes the new Congress "will continue investigating and analyzing whether our laws are effectively governing how these companies are able to operate." "In the meantime, we need to put our money where our mouth is," Van Duyne wrote to colleagues.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 17, 2021

Attorney, education nonprofit executive will enter a packed race for Fort Worth mayor

A lawyer who left a Fort Worth city government post in 2019 to head an education nonprofit intends to join a swelling list of candidates in the mayor’s race. Mattie Parker, a former chief of staff for the mayor and council, said that she was ready to emerge from background government roles and succeed Mayor Betsy Price in the city’s top elected office. Price announced last week that she would not seek a sixth term. After considering the elements of a city at a turning point that she could improve, Parker, 37, said that she intends on Tuesday to file to run for mayor. Parker lives with her husband and children in the Ridglea North neighborhood.

Parker is CEO of Cradle to Career, part of the nonprofit Tarrant To and Through, which is focused on education and increasing the number of students who attend college and complete other post-high school training. “I think I have, I know I have, a very unique skill set,” she said. Parker directed for five years policy and strategy as the chief of staff for Price and the Fort Worth City Council. She was previously district director and campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, chief of staff for State Rep. Phil King and former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick’s executive assistant. Parker said that beyond education quality, her vision for the city includes steadying a novel coronavirus pandemic-altered economy. Fort Worth must welcome entrepreneurs and businesses that will attract young employees, she said. Parker also said that she would focus on public safety and efforts to be certain that the city is inclusive. Parker, who was raised in Hico, in Central Texas, on her family’s ranch, is the sixth candidate to enter the race. Councilmembers Brian Byrd and Ann Zadeh, Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples and two political newcomers, Mike Haynes and Chris Rector, are also candidates in the May 1 election.

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Brownsville Herald - January 15, 2021

DSHS announces vaccine supply to ramp up in February

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced Friday that doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be distributed at capacity to registered health care providers next month however, it’s unclear how likely that is to occur as a report on Friday by the Washington Post states that reserves of the vaccine had already been depleted. Dr. Emilie Prot, regional medical director for DSHS Region 11, announced that as of Feb. 1, the state would be able to distribute doses to the providers authorized to administer the vaccine at capacity. “So let’s say there’s a provider that can get 1,000 people vaccinated per day, (DSHS) will start giving them a 1,000 vaccines per day to allocate out, but that will start Feb. 1,” Prot said during a weekly news conference call on Friday.

She explained that the federal government was holding on to second doses of the vaccines which are administered to individuals who have already received a first dose. The two doses are needed for the vaccines to achieve full effectiveness which is reported to be 95%. On Tuesday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced they would be releasing second doses that were held on reserve. “They’ve been saving that second dose because we were unsure, and they were unsure, about the capability of the manufacturer to get that same number of vaccines prepared and ready for distribution,” Prot said. However, on Friday afternoon, the Washington Post reported those reserves had already been depleted, claiming the Trump administration had started shipping out the doses in December. Prot, though, indicated that the increased supply to providers next month was at least partly due to the ability of laboratories and and manufacturers to speed up production. Right now, there are still not enough doses of the vaccines to meet the demand but Prot asked that people be patient.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - January 15, 2021

Gov. Abbott denounces 'violence and mayhem' at US Capitol

Gov. Greg Abbott, speaking to a conservative audience Thursday evening, denounced the deadly violence by the supporters of President Donald Trump last week at the U.S. Capitol. "Protest is expected in the United States of America, but it must be done peaceably," Abbott said during a conference by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, holding its policy orientation for Republican lawmakers as the 2021 legislative session gets underway. "Violence and mayhem are not protected by the United States Constitution. What happened to desecrate our Capitol was irresponsible, disrespectful, should never have happened. And we need to ensure it will never happen again."

The Republican governor's appearance came one day after Congress again voted to impeach president Donald Trump, this time for his incendiary comments Jan. 6 to supporters, some of whom later attempted overtake the Capitol. Five died in the violence, including a Capitol police officer. Abbott did not mention Trump during the question-and-answer session with the Texas Public Policy Foundation moderator. Nor did he mention the president's debunked claim central to the insurrection that Democrat Joe Biden's victory in the Nov. 3 presidential election was gained through theft. But Abbott did suggest that conservative viewpoints are becoming increasingly muzzled, even more so in the wake of the Capitol riot. "We need to erect safeguards for conservative speech," he said. Abbott, who did not take questions from reporters after his remarks, did not provide examples of limits on conservative speech. But two days after Trump was permanently barred from Twitter for his posts during and after the rioting, Abbott used Twitter to call for sanctions against social media outlets that limit expression. "Canceling conservative speech is hostile to the free speech foundation America was built on," the governor tweeted on Jan. 8. "There is no reason why social media organizations that pick & choose which speech they allow to be protected by the liability protections" under federal law.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 11, 2021

New Williamson sheriff axes deputies, others resign, including those in Javier Ambler's death

Nearly 20 employees of the Williamson County sheriff’s office, including two deputies involved in the death of Javier Ambler II, have resigned or been fired as newly elected Sheriff Mike Gleason reboots a beleaguered department that has been under scrutiny for months. Other deputies who also have departed in the past two weeks include several highlighted by the American-Statesman in an ongoing investigation into questionable force and law enforcement tactics used during the tenure of former sheriff Robert Chody.

Gleason, who took office Jan. 1 after becoming the first Democrat elected to a countywide position in nearly 30 years, said he wants to restore the department’s reputation and rebuild badly damaged community trust. He said that effort began with asking all of former Chody’s command staff to resign and informing others that they would be placed under investigation for possible policy violations during Chody’s tenure. Several of those deputies had been department stars, featured on the department’s social media accounts and the now-defunct TV reality show “Live PD.” “We were not shy about, ‘If we uncover something criminal that we would prosecute you,’” Gleason told the Statesman. “I think a lot of people just wanted to move on down the road.” Deputy J.J. Johnson resigned Dec. 31, Chody’s last day in office, while deputy Zach Camden left at the end of November, following the election, according to records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Chody did not discipline them — and his chief deputy commended them — for how they handled Ambler’s arrest in March 2019.

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National Stories

Politico - January 16, 2021

Trump blows up the Arizona GOP on his way out

The Trump era did more damage to the Republican Party in Arizona than almost anywhere else. Over the past two years, Republicans lost both Senate seats. In November, the state flipped Democratic in a presidential race for the first time since 1996. The GOP state party chair is currently at war with the governor. President Donald Trump’s fingerprints are on all of it, yet the state party will likely pass a resolution next week to officially “support & thank” the president. It’ll also vote on measures to censure three prominent Republicans who were deemed insufficiently beholden to Trump: Gov. Doug Ducey, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the wife of the late senator.

The adulation is an expression of GOP grassroots loyalty to Trump, but it’s also a portrait of a party that’s run aground in service to him. His defeat has triggered attempts to adopt an even harder pro-Trump line, raising questions about the party’s ability to compete in an increasingly diverse state that’s edging leftward. “The craziness from the state Republican Party … it’s pretty embarrassing,” said Kirk Adams, a former Republican state House speaker and former chief of staff to Ducey. “We have been fed a steady diet of conspiracy theories and stolen election rhetoric and, really, QAnon theories from the state Republican Party since before the election, but certainly after.” He said, “What’s … consequential is the effect the state Republican Party is having on the Republican brand in the state of Arizona.” The fallout has been swift. Several thousand Arizona Republicans have abandoned the party since the U.S. Capitol riot that Trump helped to incite, with the majority of the defectors re-registering without a designated party, according to state elections officials. Business leaders are publicly recoiling from the GOP after party officials thrust Arizona into the center of Trump’s failed effort to overturn the election results, further dividing an already fractured party.

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Politico - January 15, 2021

Trump weighing a pardon for Steve Bannon

President Donald Trump is considering granting a pardon to Steve Bannon, his former White House chief strategist and top campaign aide, who was charged with swindling donors to a private crowdsourcing effort to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The potential pardon would follow a wave of reprieves the president has recently granted to political allies who have been convicted, charged or reportedly under federal investigation. Two additional batches of pardons are expected — one on Friday night and one Wednesday morning before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office, according to one of the people.

Trump is expected to leave Washington Wednesday morning. Bannon, the former executive chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News, was one of four men indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in August on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering in connection with their roles in the non-profit group “We Build the Wall.” Trump sought to distance himself from the project at the time of Bannon’s arrest, saying it was “done for showboating reasons” and describing it as “inappropriate.” Bannon has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, and is due to stand trial in May 2021. The president had previously severed ties with Bannon — who was fired from the White House in 2017 — began talking again a couple months ago to strategize ways to overturn the election, according to a third person. Bannon served as de facto campaign manager during the final months of the 2016 presidential race. After he was fired from the White House, Trump said he had “lost his mind.”

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Wall Street Journal - January 16, 2021

Some GOP freshmen mock masks, embrace gun rights, spar with colleagues

Some freshman Republican lawmakers are stirring up controversy just days into their terms, drawing attention well beyond their districts as well as criticism from colleagues in both parties. Republicans including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado are entering the spotlight at a combustible time. Some have loudly refused to wear masks used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and objected to metal detectors placed at the entrances to the House chamber after the U.S. Capitol riot. Colleagues are questioning whether freshman lawmakers’ words played any role in stoking anger among President Trump’s supporters before the assault. Mr. Trump was impeached Wednesday over his exhortations to the crowd.

“It’s been a hell of a first 10 days,” said freshman Rep. Nancy Mace (R., S.C.), 43 years old, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, the military college in South Carolina. She voted to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s win, voted against President Trump’s impeachment and has followed House rules. “This was not what I thought Congress was going to be like,” she said. Outspoken freshmen aren’t a new phenomenon. Two years ago liberal House Democrats charged into Washington, where their outspokenness, social-media savvy and willingness to tangle with party leaders raised their wattage above lawmakers who had toiled in the Capitol for years. Now some first-term Republicans are using social media to elbow into the debate over the most divisive issues in the nation. This year’s crowd of high-visibility Republicans began to emerge last year, when Mrs. Greene won a House GOP primary, following Ms. Boebert’s upset primary victory in her state. Both were ardently pro-Trump and had expressed interest in QAnon far-right-wing conspiracy theories alleging a “deep state” within the government. They each distanced themselves from QAnon before winning general election victories in November.

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Associated Press - January 16, 2021

State capitols boarded up, fenced off, patrolled by troops

A double row of chain-link fencing circles the Arizona State Capitol. Windows on the Illinois and Ohio statehouses have been boarded up. National Guard troops in camouflage and flak jackets and heavily armed state troopers were stationed at state capitals across the U.S. in advance of protests planned for Sunday. With the FBI warning of potential for violence at all state capitols, the ornate halls of government and symbols of democracy looked more like heavily guarded U.S. embassies in war-torn countries.

Governors have declared states of emergency, closed capitols to the public and called up troops ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. They are trying to avoid a repeat of the mob rioting that occurred Jan. 6, when supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, leaving a Capitol Police officer and four others dead. Details were vague, but demonstrations were expected at state capitols beginning Sunday and leading up to Biden taking the oath of the office Wednesday. Signs of ramped-up security were in abundance from Atlanta to Sacramento, California, throughout the week. SWAT officers stood guard at the Georgia State Capitol. A bomb-detecting dog sniffed its way through the capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. State troopers were poised on the roof of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Sections of temporary fencing that encircled many state capitols were locked together in Sacramento with handcuffs. National Guard troops patrolled the California Capitol and streets of downtown Sacramento on Saturday.

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The Hill - January 16, 2021

Manchin: Removing Hawley, Cruz with 14th Amendment 'should be a consideration'

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said the Senate should consider removing Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) via the 14th Amendment over their objections last week to the Electoral College results. Speaking to PBS’s “Firing Line” on Friday night, Manchin said the Senate should explore the option after a violent mob, riled up by President Trump and convinced by Republicans such as Hawley and Cruz that the election was fraudulent, ransacked the Capitol in one of the darkest points in American democracy.

“That should be a consideration,” Manchin responded when asked if the 14th Amendment should be triggered. “He understands that. Ted’s a very bright individual, and I get along fine with Ted, but what he did was totally outside of the realm of our responsibilities or our privileges.” The third section of the 14th Amendment reads that no lawmaker holding office “shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” Critics of Hawley and Cruz, who led the effort in the Senate to object to the presidential election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, said the amendment applies to the two senators, whom they blame for inciting the riot with their rhetoric echoing concerns of election fraud and irregularities. Last week’s mayhem resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer and a rioter who was shot by another officer while trying to breach a window in the building.

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Newsweek - January 7, 2021

45 percent of Republican voters support storming of Capitol building: poll

Almost half of Republicans support the pro-Trump protesters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on this month, putting them at odds with Democrats who largely oppose the actions of the demonstrators, a poll has found. The survey released by YouGov on Thursday morning found that 45 percent of Republican voters backed the attack on the Capitol building, while 43 percent said they "strongly or somewhat" opposed the protesters' behavior.

Six percent of Republicans were unsure while a further 6 percent said they were unaware of the events. By comparison, an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters (96 percent) said they were strongly or somewhat opposed to the actions of pro-Trump protesters—actions that led to four deaths and at least 52 arrests. Only one in five independents told pollsters they backed the protests, while more than two-thirds (67 percent) said they were opposed. Almost three-quarters of all voters (71 percent) either strongly or somewhat opposed the actions of demonstrators, with only a minority (21 percent) saying they supported the storming of the Capitol. Asked whether they believed the breach of the building was a threat to democracy, 62 percent of all registered voters told YouGov it was. Thirty-two percent said it was not.

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The Guardian - January 17, 2021

Joe Manchin: the conservative Democrat with leverage in a split Senate

There’s a meme going around concerning Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It shows a futuristic city of gleaming skyscrapers and flying cars and an accompanying caption that reads something like: “West Virginia after Manchin has used all the leverage he has in the next Congress.” In other words, people expect Manchin, one of the most conservative Democrats in the federal government, to wield power like never before thanks to the 50-50 split in the Senate left by Democrats’ double win in the Georgia runoff races.

Manchin, a three-term senator and former governor of West Virginia, is the most well-known of a set of moderate Republicans and Democrats who can decide whether to slow down legislation to a crawl or open a pathway to it becoming law. “There is going to be an important role for him to play as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat regardless of who won control of the Senate,” said Nick Rahall, a former Democratic congressman from West Virginia. Democrats have the slimmest of majorities in the Senate. The divide is Democrats control 50 seats and Republicans control 50 seats, which means when Kamala Harris becomes vice-president and her replacement, Alex Padilla of California, is sworn in as senator, Harris will be the tie-breaking vote.

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Newsclips - January 15, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 14, 2021

Texas House, Senate agree on masks, differ on COVID-19 testing in new rules for governing in pandemic

The Texas House unanimously approved rules Thursday for how to govern during the coronavirus pandemic, with the Senate adopting its own guidelines one day earlier. Lawmakers in the two chambers both decided to generally require masks but differed on COVID-19 testing. The Senate unanimously approved rules that would require its 31 members to receive a negative COVID-19 test to enter the chamber or a committee hearing room each day. The House's 150 members will not be required to be tested to come to the House floor.

"Testing alone does not protect all," Rep. Todd Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican and one of the authors of the House rule, explained. "It's a screenshot in time." House members may require testing in their offices, "but it will not be required of anyone just so they can participate in their state government," Hunter added. The Senate's more strict testing rules may lead Senate leaders to confer with their House counterparts to determine procedures for members visiting the other chamber. All visitors in the Senate must pass a coronavirus test, available in a tent outside the Capitol's north entrance, before attending a committee hearing or entering the gallery, which overlooks the Senate floor and where social distancing will be enforced. Wristbands will be given to those who test negative.

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NBC News - January 14, 2021

As law enforcement braces for more violence, state capitols come into focus

Federal and state law enforcement agencies are bracing for violence planned by radical conservatives and extremists in Washington in the days before the inauguration. And while significant preparations have been put in place around the U.S. Capitol, there is growing concern that statehouses around the country will be targeted, many of which have already been the scene of armed protests, arrests and violence. More than a dozen flyers are circulating online advertising pro-Trump rallies at state capitols, according to a social media analysis by NBC News. “Freedom is a right,” one popular flyer reads; “Refuse to be silenced,” says another.

As part of its response to an increase in online activity and organization efforts that could lead to further violence, Facebook has been tracking many of these flyers across alternative sites popular with militia groups and QAnon followers and pre-emptively blocking them, according to a spokesperson who asked not to be named for safety concerns. State capitols, long seen as meeting places for activists to protest and sometimes clash with counterprotesters, are on alert. The FBI reportedly sent a memo to law enforcement agencies across the country warning of possible armed protests at all 50 state capitols starting next week, citing in part chatter on social media. Social media platforms have taken unprecedented steps in recent days to keep their sites clear of content that might incite further violence — including the suspension of President Donald Trump’s Twitter and Facebook accounts — but threats of violence at events persist online. Now mostly relegated to less popular and alternative apps, the events are more difficult for other extremists to find but also for law enforcement and researchers to track. That may help stop another mass mobilization in Washington, but it is less effective for extremists at the state level who are now less reliant on online organizing and recruiting, said Melissa Ryan, chief executive of Card Strategies, a consulting firm that researches disinformation.

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Associated Press - January 14, 2021

Texas solicitor general latest exit in embattled AG's office

Texas' solicitor general who did not join embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton's failed efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election confirmed Wednesday he is resigning. Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins did not say why he was leaving in a statement released by the attorney general's office, but he offered praise for his outgoing boss, calling Paxton a “stalwart advocate for Texas.” Still, the departure continues a dramatic shakeup of Paxton's office that began in September when his top deputies accused the Republican of bribery and abuse of office on behalf of a donor. All eight of his accusers have since quit or been fired, and their accusations are the focus of an FBI investigation into Paxton.

“Kyle Hawkins fought for Texans’ rights every step of the way," Paxton said in the statement. "His dedication to safeguarding rights is very much appreciated.” Hawkins, whose last day will be Feb. 1, did not respond to a request for comment. Paxton's office issued the statement after The Associated Press reported earlier Wednesday that Hawkins was resigning. Solicitor general is a prominent post in Texas that includes leading and arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and is a job once held by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. But in December, Hawkins conspicuously left his name off a Texas lawsuit backed by President Donald Trump that asked the Supreme Court to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's victory. The court's rejection of the case amounted to a stark repudiation of a legal claim that was widely regarded as dubious. Neither Hawkins nor the attorney general's office have addressed why he did not join the election challenge. Hawkins argued a major case before the Supreme Court as recently as November, during the latest Republican-led effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

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The Hill - January 15, 2021

Republicans scramble to contain fallout as donors distance themselves

Republicans are scrambling to contain the fallout as major donors freeze political contributions and distance themselves from lawmakers who voted to overturn the Electoral College results. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who voted to reject electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, has been calling existing donors trying to calm nerves, saying that – despite the riots at the Capitol that were an effort to impede the transition of power – he and his party can work with the incoming Biden administration. But many big-name corporations and businesses have indicated they’re in no rush to resume contributions to Republicans who objected to the presidential election results.

McCarthy made a round of calls to donors on Wednesday, according to multiple sources. At least one call was made up of friendly major donors who largely didn’t push back. The leader's remarks seemed more scripted than not. He took three questions, and then had to run to the airport, one source said. “He’s trying to calm down donors. I think he’s trying to assure them that they want to work with President Biden and the vote did not mean that they won’t support Biden initiatives, like infrastructure, debt ceiling, COVID relief,” a Republican donor said. Corporations are targeting the 147 GOP lawmakers who voted to challenge the 2020 election results in Arizona or Pennsylvania last week, even after the deadly attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. One lobbyist described McCarthy calls to donors: “I would equate it to trying to get a plane out of a spin, trying to level the wings.” But many corporations are not just questioning the GOP’s ability to work with Democrats, they are trying to distance themselves from the ugly scenes in D.C. last Wednesday. Comcast was the top corporate donor to McCarthy’s leadership PAC and campaign committee, with its individuals and PAC donating $87,600 in 2020. The company is now suspending contributions to lawmakers who voted against the election results, saying that the violence at the U.S. Capitol last week was “appalling.”

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State Stories

KSAT - January 14, 2021

‘We wanted to be heard’: Texas lawmaker explains why he attended Trump rally in DC on day of deadly insurrection

A Texas state representative from the Hill Country who was in Washington, D.C. last week for a rally in support of President Donald Trump later downplayed the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol during a talk radio appearance. State Representative Kyle Biedermann, a Trump-aligned Republican in the Texas House representing Kendall, Comal and Gillespie counties, told Dallas-area talk radio host Chris Salcedo that “a few radicals...caused the trouble” at the Capitol.

(The FBI has arrested or is seeking out dozens of far-right Trump supporters and white nationalists after they were seen inside the Capitol.) The lawmaker’s comments came during a Jan. 7 appearance on the show, as Biedermann described why he traveled to Washington D.C. for the rally the day before. Biedermann said he attended the ‘Save America Rally’ from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., which was held at The Ellipse, a park south of the White House, about two miles away from the Capitol. There, Trump and his allies rallied supporters, who had traveled to the nation’s capital to protest the certification of the election, to “fight like hell” and march to the Capitol. Around 1 p.m., a violent mob laid siege to the house of Congress, killing five. Dozens of Capitol police officers were injured, including one fatally. “We came because we wanted to be heard and we’re sick and tired of what’s been going on by the elite media and the elite politicians who continue to ignore us,” Biedermann told Salcedo the next day.

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson blasts county after walkups allowed at COVID-19 vaccine mega site

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says the city could end its agreement with Dallas County to vaccinate North Texans after he learned Judge Clay Jenkins and county officials unilaterally allowed people 75 and over to walk up without registering at the Fair Park site. The last-minute, and temporary, decision was a reversal that’s added more confusion to rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. In a letter to Jenkins obtained by The Dallas Morning News, Johnson said that while he supports allowing eligible residents to walk up to the South Dallas mega vaccination site, the public is being given contradictory information on how to get a shot. And it’s preventing residents from getting inoculated as soon as possible.

“If Dallas County Health and Human Services does not make a good faith effort to partner with the City of Dallas going forward, we will be forced to re-evaluate our contract,” Johnson said. “Our taxpaying residents deserve and should expect clear communication, equitable access, and effective management as we navigate this pandemic.” Jenkins, in an email to Johnson obtained by The News, called his letter “inaccurate.” He also suggested an unnamed city council member contributed to the confusion. “Community outreach efforts were made to reach seniors in underserved and hard-hit zip codes in Dallas after the unauthorized sharing of a back link to sign up for appointments was broadcast by at least one Dallas City Council Member and led to our Monday-Wednesday appointments being filled by persons who did not receive an invite for an appointment,” he wrote.

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Trump: ‘We’re in a worse place today than we were before he came in’

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who once reportedly called President Donald Trump a “moron” behind closed doors, is now disparaging — on the record — his former boss’s grasp of affairs both foreign and domestic. “His understanding of global events, his understanding of global history, his understanding of U.S. history was really limited,” the former Exxon Mobil chief told Foreign Policy magazine in an interview released this week. The Texan added: “It’s really hard to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t even understand the concept for why we’re talking about this.”

There’s never been love lost between Tillerson and Trump, particularly after the president fired his first secretary of state by tweet. Trump bashed the Texan as “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell,” while Tillerson called Trump an “undisciplined” leader who “doesn’t like to read.” But until now, Tillerson hadn’t been quite so detailed in his frustration. “I used to go into meetings with a list of four to five things I needed to talk to him about, and I quickly learned that if I got to three, it was a home run, and I realized getting two that were meaningful was probably the best objective,” he told Foreign Policy. He explained that he started “taking charts and pictures with me because I found that those seemed to hold his attention better.” “If I could put a photo or a picture in front of him or a map or a piece of paper that had two big bullet points on it, he would focus on that, and I could build on that,” Tillerson told the outlet. “Just sitting and trying to have a conversation as you and I are having just doesn’t work.” Asked by Foreign Policy how Trump made informed decisions if the president had a hard time focusing during briefings and didn’t read briefing material, Tillerson didn’t hesitate. “Well, that’s the key,” he said. “I’m not sure many of those decisions were well-informed.” The interview with Foreign Policy was conducted before Trump incited a mob to march on the Capitol — an event that led the House this week to impeach the president for a second time. And given the magazine’s audience, the conversation focused almost exclusively on foreign affairs.

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

Judge frees Larry Brock, facing charges in Capitol riot, despite warnings from FBI

Air Force veteran Larry Rendall Brock Jr was released from custody on Thursday following a detention hearing in federal court. Brock, 54, of Grapevine, was identified in photos as part of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week. An FBI agent told a judge Thursday that the decorated Air Force veteran spoke of committing violence in furtherance of a coming civil war and rebellion against the U.S. government.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cureton ordered Brock released on restrictive conditions following the detention hearing. Brook Antonio, a federal public defender, argued that his client is charged with misdemeanors and isn’t accused of hurting anyone. “It’s an allegation of a trespass with craziness going on,” he said. “That’s all we have.” Antonio said the government has no evidence that Brock is dangerous. “He came to D.C. unarmed,” he said. “It’s all talk.” Weimer said more serious federal charges against Brock are expected. In ruling not to detain the defendant, Cureton cited his “long and distinguished military career.” Earlier in the hearing, John Moore, a Dallas FBI agent specializing in domestic terrorism, testified about Brock becoming radicalized in recent months over unsubstantiated claims of a stolen election. The agent also said Brock was fired from a job in 2018 for making threatening and bigoted remarks. Moore said he spoke to some of Brock’s Air Force Academy classmates who said his “rhetoric started to get pretty hostile” following the November election.

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

For the record, Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger also opposed impeachment of Trump

Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger, one of four Republicans who didn’t vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, said Thursday that she would have voted no if she hadn’t been in quarantine. “The violent siege of the Capitol was unacceptable and a dark and infamous day for our country, but healing the wounds of last week cannot begin with a partisan impeachment process aimed at settling political scores. For that reason I would have cast my vote against the impeachment of the President,” Granger said in a statement provided by her office.

Many lawmakers cast ballots by proxy but Granger disapproves of that practice, adopted by the House during the COVID-19 pandemic to minimize crowding in the chamber and allow lawmakers with health issues to stay away. Granger, who turns 78 on Monday, tested positive for Covid-19 on Jan. 4, two days before the riot at the Capitol. She also missed votes that day on objections to President-elect Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Now in her 13th term, she is the senior Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which controls over a $1 trillion in federal spending. Every Democrat in the House, including the 13 from Texas, voted to impeach. Ten Republicans joined them. In the Texas delegation, 22 Republicans voted against impeachment. Granger would have made it 23 if she had been there.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 14, 2021

Crowley ISD, North Texas schools ‘monitoring situation’ after rumored racist threats

Tara Sheehan began hearing from parents in Crowley on Monday, all of them concerned about a rumor of a disturbing racist threat that had been spreading over Facebook. The calls, largely from people with Black or Hispanic children, kept coming, Sheehan said — eventually more than 50 through this week. A Facebook message from a community member, captured in a screenshot that circulated widely, describes how her brother was approached by two co-workers about a KKK group with a violent plot to kidnap Black or brown children before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The rumored threat concerned so many in the community that Crowley Mayor Billy P. Davis issued a statement on the city’s Facebook page saying police have been made aware of it. It is “unsubstantiated” by law enforcement at this time, Davis said, but the city and its police “take any threat seriously.” The Crowley Independent School District has issued a statement, too, saying due in part to concerns spreading on social media there will be a larger police presence at schools. The proactive decision, according to the statement, “is being made out of an abundance of caution.” The rumored threat additionally alleges a plan for racist violence against kidnapped children on Inauguration Day. This comes after the deadly Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where a group, encouraged by President Donald Trump at a rally, stormed into the building with Confederate flags prominently displayed. The rioters hoped to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory. Sheehan, who operates a Facebook group called Crowley Moms in the Know, told the Star-Telegram she has become a sort-of unofficial advocate for many parents with children in Crowley schools. She has heard from people concerned about children being kidnapped, or even that there would be bombs planted on Inauguration Day. Starting Monday, she began sending messages to Crowley ISD, the police, Mayor Davis, even the FBI.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 15, 2021

Crystal Mason: Like my illegal voting charge, Capitol riot shows racism in criminal justice

(Crystal Mason is a Tarrant County resident. She is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the national ACLU, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, along with criminal defense attorneys Alison Grinter and Kim Cole.) The world watched in horror last week as a mostly white mob violently desecrated our nation’s Capitol. I watched in horror, too. Then, I felt angry. The rioters stormed the Capitol believing lies about mass voter fraud met little resistance from police. I thought of the violence used against people peacefully protesting police brutality last summer. Even at George Floyd’s burial near Houston in June, there was an excessive federal law enforcement presence, including snipers. All that for a congregation of unarmed Black people mourning their loved one.

Then, I thought of my own case. I have become all too familiar with double standards as a Black woman dealing with the criminal justice system in Texas. I was charged with illegally voting after I submitted a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. Despite the fact that I didn’t know the state considered me ineligible and that the ballot was never counted, I was sentenced to five years in prison after a one-day trial. How can the inequality in how Black and white Americans are treated in the criminal justice system — from police interaction to the courts — be so obvious yet allowed to continue? Despite the conspiracy theories about the 2020 vote, election integrity exists. Full-fledged equality for Black Americans, however, does not. In my case, the election system worked and my provisional ballot was never counted. The actual cases of election fraud in Texas do not involve people like me — who believed they were simply fulfilling their civic duty. They involve people such as a Tarrant County justice of the peace who actually forged signatures but was given only probation.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 15, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Texas children falling behind in school due to COVID-19. How the Legislature can help

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar delivered good budget news Monday as lawmakers began their session: The expected budget shortfall isn’t quite as big as feared. There will still be belt-tightening, though, so forgive school superintendents who’ve seen their state funding yo-yo over the years if they appear jittery until the final gavel bangs in May. The challenge is that in 2019, when the coffers were packed after years of a strong economy, the state assumed a greater share of overall education funding in hopes of curtailing growth of local property taxes. Lawmakers simply can’t lurch in the other direction. Districts will need steady budgets, at a minimum, to overcome the lingering challenge of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on learning across two different academic years.

The state’s last massive budget shortfall, in 2011, brought the first education funding cuts in modern memory. The impact was felt for years. It can’t happen again. Funding remains the top issue, but it’s far from the only education matter lawmakers must tackle. In this session, lawmakers must assess how bad the isolation of the pandemic has been for students, especially those most at risk of lost learning, and support solutions to fix it. It’s not a question of whether students have fallen behind in the era of distance learning; it’s how much. And there are ample signs it’s bad. In Fort Worth, the number of students failing at least one class this school year has skyrocketed, Star-Telegram reporter Silas Allen found. In Dallas, half of students have slipped in math, and a third in reading. Distance learning was necessary as the pandemic erupted, but the tradeoff has been costly. Lawmakers must help districts make up the gaps. They should take a reparative approach, not a punitive one. First, we need to know exactly how bad the problem is. That means testing. Texas has had a sea change over student testing in recent years, after decades of ever-increasing stakes for test results. Parents and teachers revolted against “teaching to the test,” for good reasons.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 15, 2021

Tarrant County’s COVID spike is worst in Texas: ‘The chickens have come home to roost’

There’s really no good way to get into this, other than to rip the band-aid straight off: The last few weeks, Tarrant County has struggled to control the coronavirus pandemic worse than anywhere in Texas. On Wednesday, its two-week new case count for COVID-19 was 35,515, the highest number in the state. It had been at about 38,000 two days earlier and marked a rise from around 17,000 in late December. Its new case rate of 17.6 per 1,000 population on Wednesday was nearly double the state’s rate of 9.7, and higher than any large Texas county. (Harris County was at 6.7). Even Los Angeles County, seen as a national epicenter for spread — and so troubling that its Rose Bowl football game was moved to Arlington — has fared better. Its cases per 1,000 for the last two weeks was 15.7.

Elected officials have dismissed the potential danger of case counts and focused on hospitalizations, but those rates have also been troubling. On Jan. 1, the same day AT&T Stadium hosted the Rose Bowl, 99% of adult ICU beds in Tarrant County were occupied. It was the highest share throughout the pandemic and the peak of a steady rise from levels that hovered around 80% in the early fall. (Of total county hospital beds, about 85% have been occupied in recent days.) As the state reels from its highest COVID hospitalization levels yet, Tarrant County is a clear driving force. It represented 11% of Texas’ total hospitalizations on Monday, despite having just 7% of the state’s residents. More populous Dallas County, also facing a surge in infections and record hospitalizations, has consistently had about 300 fewer daily hospitalized COVID patients than Tarrant over the last week. Deaths have risen, too. Lately, Tarrant County has been seeing around 15 to 30 coronavirus deaths per day. As of Wednesday, its population-adjusted daily average death rate for the last seven days was about 40% higher than Dallas’ and all of Texas’. The pandemic has affected the state’s big metros with differing levels of severity through the last 10 months, but Tarrant County’s last couple of weeks have been as bad as the worst weeks of any of the top five most populous counties.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 14, 2021

‘I’m not going to give up.’ 25 years after Amber’s abduction, mother hopes for answers

Donna Williams remembers every little detail of her daughter, Amber Hagerman. She remembers how the 9-year-old with long brown hair and freckles was filled with a boundless love of life — of going to school at Arlington’s Berry Elementary, playing with her collection of Barbie dolls, riding her pink bicycle with her younger brother, Ricky Hagerman. Amber, whose straight bangs covered her forehead, was an “innocent and sweet little girl,” Williams said on Wednesday morning. She loved the Disney princess Pocahontas. She loved acting like a “little mommy” to Ricky. Amber and Ricky were riding their bikes together on Jan. 13, 1996, in a laundromat parking lot blocks away from their Arlington home, when Ricky left and Amber stayed behind. An eyewitness saw her weaving in circles alone in the parking lot, with a carefree look on her face, according to Arlington police.

The witness saw a man then walk up behind her and lift her from underneath her arms, throwing her into his black pickup truck as she kicked and screamed. It was the last time Amber would be seen alive, as four nights later a resident of the Forest Ridge apartments about six miles away found her dead along a creek, the water washing away some potential evidence as to who her killer could be. Her murder shocked her family, Arlington and America as a whole, leading to the creation of the nationwide Amber Alert system named for her. Though 25 years have passed since the killing, it still feels as if it were yesterday to Williams, whose memories of her daughter haven’t faded. She remembers her sweetness, and the last words she ever heard her speak: “OK, Mommy, I will. I love you, Mommy.” “I miss her voice. I miss her touch. I miss her hugs,” Williams said Wednesday in the parking lot where her daughter was abducted. “I remember everything about her. There’s nothing I’ve forgotten about her. She is the love of my life.” As she addressed the media on the 25th anniversary of her daughter’s abduction, occasionally stopping to collect herself from the tears, she offered a plea to the man whose identity has eluded police all these years: “Please, turn yourself in. Give Amber justice.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 15, 2021

Joe Jaworski: Texas House should suspend Attorney General Ken Paxton for encouraging Capitol riot

(Joe Jaworski is a national mediator, former mayor of Galveston and a declared candidate for Texas Attorney General.) The Jan. 6 morning President Donald Trump urged his supporters to head to the Capitol, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, one of the president’s de facto lawyers, spoke at a rally in support of Trump and added his kindling to the bonfire: “What we have in President Trump is a fighter. And I think that’s why we’re all here,” Paxton said to attendees that morning. “We will not quit fighting. We’re Texans, we’re Americans, and the fight will go on.” Four hours later the Capitol was breached. The rioters scaled marble walls; they smashed windows to gain entry. They carried the Confederate battle flag into the United States Capitol. The secessionist standard originated during the Civil War, but it never entered the Capitol during that time or since — until Jan. 6. The mob filched memorabilia of their occupation, including an attempt at taking the carved wooden podium bearing the seal of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick was killed by the mob.

Paxton’s moment was several days in the making. Two days before the mob broke through the Capitol’s barriers Paxton advertised on his Twitter account that he was “confirmed” to attend a “March to Save America” and that “all patriots need to be present to stand with President Trump.” The day before the riot, Paxton tweeted: “Someday they will say that on Jan 6, 2021 ‘some people did a thing’ ... those people were Patriots and what they did was save a nation.” Over the last four years Americans became accustomed to such charged rhetoric. We always let it go. After the events of Jan. 6 we can no longer ignore inciting language. The First Amendment protects all kinds of ill-mannered speech, but the Bill of Rights doesn’t preclude political repercussions for elected leaders who know better than to encourage rioting. The Texas Legislature convened on Tuesday, and the Texas House should immediately use its constitutional power of impeachment to suspend Paxton from office for his outrageous behavior which includes encouraging violence at the United States Capitol, filing frivolous litigation in the United States Supreme Court weeks before the riot, firing his office’s whistleblowing leadership, exposing Texas taxpayers to costly judgments and private attorneys fees, and his alleged activities in using his office to support his major political donor Nate Paul. The Dallas Morning News reports that two sources told the newspaper that Paxton has admitted to having an affair with an aide later hired by Paul.

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Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2021

HISD trustees deadlocked on selection of board president

Houston ISD trustees remained deadlocked Thursday evening on who to select as their 2021 board president, an unusual standoff that illustrated the lack of clear governing majority on the closely watched body. After 10 rounds of voting on board president candidates yielded no resolution, trustees agreed to end a six-hour meeting and delay choosing a board president until Jan. 21. Some trustees argued the impasse reflected a slate of strong candidates, while others expressed unease about the stalemate.

“I do believe one week of us resting and thinking things over will be a help,” said Trustee Myrna Guidry, who joined the board in December and represented a potential swing vote. HISD’s school board has grappled with in-fighting in recent years, resulting in embarrassing episodes that hurt the district’s reputation, but in 2020 trustees avoided major blemishes. Board members face multiple challenges headed into 2021, including choosing a permanent superintendent, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with ongoing litigation over the state’s effort to strip power from the elected board. Although HISD’s board president has no additional voting power, the chosen leader often establishes the tone for the nine-member board. The president is responsible for setting meeting agendas with the superintendent, presiding over meetings and serving as a lead spokesperson for the board, among other tasks.

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Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2021

H-E-B beats out Apple, Facebook on Best Places to Work in 2021 list

H-E-B beat out Apple and Facebook on a new list of top workplaces. On Tuesday, Glassdoor announced the winners of its annual Employees’ Choice Awards, honoring the Best Places to Work in 2021. The awards are based on anonymous feedback by employees about their work environment and employer. H-E-B came in at No. 10 on the 100 Best Places to Work list, for companies with 1,000 or more employees. The San Antonio-based grocer rose seven spots from its place on last year's ranking.

"COVID-19 is in the driver’s seat and every employer has been impacted. This year’s winning employers have proven, according to employees, that even during extraordinary times, they’ll rise to the challenge to support their people," said Christian Sutherland-Wong, Glassdoor chief executive officer, in a statement. Early in the pandemic, H-E-B temporarily bumped the pay of hourly employees by $2 an hour as they worked to keep shelves stocked. In October, the company gave employees a $500 bonus for their contributions. Bain & Company, a Boston-based management consulting firm, earned the top spot on Glassdoor's ranking, followed by tech company NVIDIA and restaurant chain In-N-Out. H-E-B ranked ahead of Facebook (No. 11) and Apple (No. 31), as well as competitors Trader Joe's (No. 35) and Wegmans Food Markets (No. 36). One anonymous H-E-B employee review raves about an "awesome manager" and "great pay with regular raises," but warns that the store gets busy and customers "aren't always the nicest." Houston's MD Anderson Center Center also made the list, coming in at No. 90.

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Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2021

CenterPoint Energy has a hedge fund problem — and its solution could cost consumers

CenterPoint Energy, the Houston-based regulated utility that supplies electricity to the Houston area, has been facing a crisis of late. Electricity customers have repeatedly criticized the company for recurring reliability problems. Its share price has fallen 20 percent during the past year while the broader S&P 500 index increased 14 percent. The company is operating under its third CEO in less than a year. CenterPoint executives acknowledge that investors are disappointed, and they promised last year to launch a board level business review committee.

The solution? CenterPoint, which expanded into oil and gas pipelines and bought a Midwestern utility with coal plants in recent years, is going back to the basics by focusing on reliability, replacing aging power poles and lines, and clearing trees from overhead lines. CenterPoint is following the lead of other U.S. utilities and returning to its roots as a regulated transmission and distribution power company. It hopes to capitalize on the growing demand for electricity as electric vehicles grow in popularity, electric heat continues to replace oil and gas furnaces and take advantage of a regulatory system that allows spending on reliability and other improvements to be added to consumer rates. CenterPoint officials hope to recover most of the $16 billion that it’s investing in the improvements over the next five years by getting the costs included into the pool of regulator-approved assets known as the customer rate base. CenterPoint can then earn a 9.4 percent return on equity — essentially profit — on assets approved by regulators, a move that could drive up the cost of electricity for consumers and businesses.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 14, 2021

Texas mayors urge Biden administration: Send vaccines directly to big cities

A group of mayors representing some of the United States’ most populous cities — including Austin, San Antonio and Houston — is asking President-elect Joe Biden to give them direct access to coronavirus vaccines. In a Wednesday letter, the 22 mayors urged the Biden administration to establish a national vaccine distribution plan for cities, instead of allocating all available doses to state governments. “Cities have consistently been on the front line of our nation's COVID-19 response,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote on Twitter. “I'm proud to join my mayoral colleagues in requesting that the Biden Administration prioritize a direct line of vaccines to our communities. We must do all we can to expand and improve access.”

Direct shipments of the vaccine would allow local leaders to plan and connect directly with their constituents, including disadvantaged communities, and help distribute vaccines more swiftly, the mayors argue. “While it is essential to work with state and local public health agencies, health care providers, pharmacies, and clinics, there is a need to be nimble and fill gaps that are unique to each local area,” they wrote. “Very few cities are receiving direct allocations, and as a result, the necessary outreach needed to lay the groundwork for your vaccination goals are not being met.” The mayors of the country’s three largest cities — New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — also signed onto the letter. The request comes as the country receives widespread backlash for a sluggish vaccine rollout; just 37 percent of the total doses allocated to states so far have been put into people’s arms, according to a Bloomberg News tracker.

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Austin Chronicle - January 14, 2021

Will the Texas Legislature take on police reform?

The Texas Legislative Black Caucus introduced the George Floyd Act in August, at the height of protests against police brutality that were unfolding across the nation. The omnibus package – prefiled as House Bill 88 by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D­-­Hous­ton – will likely be the main vehicle legislators use to send reform to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk, after he and other GOP leaders joined Democrats in expressing their revulsion at the misconduct that led to Floyd's death in police custody in Minne­a­polis. It would ban the use of chokeholds by law enforcement officers in Texas, create new ways for victims of police brutality to hold officers accountable, require officers to intervene when a fellow officer is using excessive force as in Floyd's case, and end arrests for some misdemeanor offenses. At the time, the bill was welcomed as a potential defining achievement of the 87th Texas Legislature. As the summer gave way to fall and winter, the GOP held on to control of the Lege, and the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, attention to criminal justice reform wavered. But the riot at and invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 – and the light resistance the seditious MAGA mob encountered from police, when compared to last summer's protests – has resharpened the focus on reform.

"When there were African American and Hispanic people protesting over police brutality, there was an abundance of law enforcement and all sorts of military force on the streets," Thompson told us. "But that didn't happen in the nation's Capitol. It just baffles me that people cannot understand that there is something wrong here. I would like to believe this will motivate lawmakers to go further with police reform." The George Floyd Act takes aim at the "qualified immunity" that shields law enforcement from personal civil liability for on-the-job misconduct, allowing officers to be sued in state district courts and providing an opportunity for redress and compensation for survivors of illegitimate police violence. It also bans chokeholds (as Austin did last summer) and requires officers to attempt de-escalation tactics before resorting to force, as well as establishing a duty to intervene. These statutory actions may increase compliance with similar rules that already exist in the general orders of many police forces, including Austin's, but that are often not followed. The act's ban on arrests in misdemeanor cases that are only subject to fines and citation offers a chance for redemption for Democrats. Procedural mistakes by House Dems in 2019 led to the dramatic failure of the Sandra Bland Act despite its support from both parties, a loss that still stings for reform advocates. Even as the George Floyd Act would create checks on police power, Abbott has demanded the authority to seize control of municipal police forces. This is mostly an effort to punish Austin for its de-policing efforts, but, in the drafted (but not yet filed) bill language prepared by the Texas Legis­lative Council, it would apply to other large cities as well if Abbott determines "the municipality is providing insufficient municipal resources for public safety."

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Austin American-Statesman - January 13, 2021

In conversation with UT's medical school, Dr. Anthony Fauci looks ahead to post-pandemic nation

In a virtual lecture with UT Dell Medical School on Thursday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, shared his thoughts on a post-pandemic nation and how to prepare for another virus outbreak in the future. Fauci spoke with Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston and Dr. Kenneth Shine, courtesy professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Dell Medical School, after receiving the Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership award. The accolade is an annual UT Dell Medical School honor given to those who make significant advancements in health.

While Fauci did not speak specifically on how the coronavirus is affecting Texas, he said he believed the federal government could collaborate better with local leaders to prepare for the end of the coronavirus pandemic and any sort of outbreak to come. "To say the federal government is going to dictate everything that's going to happen, I don't think works because of the diversity among the states," Fauci said. "To say to the states, you are on your own, even though the states do desire in certain things to be on their own, there has to be some commonality of direction because the states, as hard as they try, do still look for guidance from the federal government," he added. "I've always been one who feels that there needs to be a bit more collaboration and cooperation between the federal government and the states." Moving forward into a post-pandemic nation, Fauci said his recommendation would be for federal leaders to set aside a yearly budget to prepare for any future pandemics. Fauci said that budget could be used to create a pandemic health care team, which could serve underprivileged communities when not needed for outbreak response. "One of the horrible things is the extraordinary impact that this outbreak has had on our economy, to the tune of trillions of dollars," Fauci said. "So, if you take a small slice of that and say we lost trillions and trillions of dollars this year, maybe a small slice to have a readiness there is not wasted money at all," Fauci said. "And, when you're not responding to an outbreak, there are a lot of other good things you could be doing in the community from a health standpoint."

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New York - January 14, 2021

Ted Cruz’s former staffers are ‘disgusted’ by his new low for Trump

Ted Cruz has long had a public reputation as an unctuous asshole. Even so, his staffers have tended to hold him in high regard as a kind and geeky man who treated his underlings well even while his fellow senators loathed him. Now though “most of Cruzworld is pretty disgusted” with the senator for choosing to back Donald Trump’s absurd claims of widespread election fraud, in the words of one former aide. As another former aide put it, “everyone is upset with the direction things have gone, and the longer they’ve been with the senator, the more distaste they are expressing.” Intelligencer spoke to more than half-a-dozen former Cruz staffers who have spent the past week trying to reconcile the man they once believed in with the politician they saw on January 6 when — hours after a mob tore through the Capitol — Cruz voted to throw out electoral votes from states that voted for Joe Biden, just as the rioters and Trump wanted. They say their former boss has become unrecognizable to them.

They have asked themselves and each other how the candidate who began his political career as an unwavering “constitutional conservative” could allow himself to fall in line with Trump’s fraudulent and delusional election challenge; how the man they once viewed as deeply principled has been so willing to behave so cravenly. When Cruz first ran for the Senate in 2011, he boasted about fighting against the Bush administration in court as Texas’s solicitor general to make clear his willingness to stand up to politicians from either party when they violated the Constitution. “Personally, it’s painful. It sucks,” that former Cruz aide told Intelligencer. “We’ve always backed him because the country deserves principled conservative leadership … I’d say he got unlucky the Capitol was stormed by a mob, but in reality he placed himself at the political mercy of others.” Amanda Carpenter, a former Cruz aide in his Senate office, told Intelligencer: “the biggest conversation I’ve had with fellow Cruz supporters is, ‘Was he always this way or did he change?’” Carpenter, who has become a vocal Trump critic, said she “could have never imagined that he could have gone down this road” and that she could have never envisioned that the political career of a legal scholar with a reverence for the Constitution would “culminate in a stand to potentially cancel votes in a way that defied any standards of federalism and constitutionalism.”

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Daily Beast - January 14, 2021

Matthew McConaughey keeps flirting with alt-right darlings

When Matthew McConaughey’s book, Greenlights, first debuted last fall, the memoir included an interesting acknowledgement. In the back of the book, McConaughey thanks Jordan Peterson—a controversial Canadian professor and public speaker who has risen to prominence by fearmongering about “political correctness” on college campuses, advocating for men’s rights, and battling a bill meant to protect trans and nonbinary people. Peterson is just one of several controversial figures who have coalesced in the past few years within the so-called “intellectual dark web”—a lot that also includes podcaster Joe Rogan and conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, among others. But that moniker belies the true mundanity of these guys’ belief system—most of them largely spend their time complaining about anything that smacks of “political correctness” and waiting for the yet-t0-be-seen Armageddon that “cancel culture” will surely one day usher in.

For instance: Peterson’s name recognition skyrocketed in 2016, as he misrepresented and fought against Canada’s C-16 bill—which aimed to enshrine protection for gender identity under Canada’s Human Rights Act. Peterson claimed it was totalitarian-oriented legislation that would make misgendering people punishable by law—a provision that was nowhere to be found in the actual legislation. He also stated in a video that he refused to use students’ and fellow professors’ proper pronouns, deeming them “compelled speech.” So, what’s a guy like Matthew McConaughey—an Oscar winner whose easygoing attitude has allowed his early-career role catchphrase “All right, all right, all right” to follow him for decades—doing reading a twerp like that? Alas, it appears he’s decided that Peterson and his ilk make some good points. This week, McConaughey appeared on Peterson’s podcast, about a year or so after the actor said he’d begun corresponding with Peterson. “Many of the things you said I had been thinking about, but I heard you putting them into words and contexts, I was like, Wow, that’s what I’m talking about, that’s what I'm trying to get to,” McConaughey told Peterson. “And a lot of it goes back to self-determination, which we've talked a lot about. Self-authoring.”

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Dallas Observer - January 14, 2021

How many ICU beds are left in Dallas? Take a number.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 setting records in Dallas County as the pandemic rolls into its first anniversary, but local authorities still can't agree on one vital number: How many intensive-care unit beds are still empty? Variances in the reporting of ICU bed counts from different sources are creating uncertainty regarding the severity of the situation in hospitals across the area. Mayor Eric Johnson in particular continues to tweet numbers for available ICU beds that are significantly higher than other sources. “Does anyone there have an explanation for why @Johnson4Dallas's hospital stats say there are over 100 icu beds available, but @JudgeClayJ says it's like 20? This is very confusing and readers might like to know why,” Jeff Helfrich tweeted on Jan. 3.

The gap in ICU bed numbers between those shared daily by Johnson and other sources is significant. Over a six-day period recently, Johnson’s available ICU bed count was an average of 168 beds more than what Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins reported. As of Jan. 8, Johnson said 165 ICU beds were available in the city while Jenkins reported just 15 in the entire county. Johnson’s data is also contradicted by numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services' dashboard, which shows just 46 available ICU beds for region E as of Jan. 11, an area that includes Dallas and most of North Texas. The same day, Johnson tweeted that over three times that number of ICU beds were available in Dallas alone. The variance has two main causes: differences in what is being reported and differences in the consistency of reporting. Johnson’s numbers appear to include a large set of beds that are not counted by other sources. His spokesman Tristan Hallman said Johnson’s count pediatric ICU beds as well as a number of ICU beds at hospitals that are unlikely to be used by COVID-19 patients, such as those at a spinal trauma center. In contrast, Jenkins only shares available and fully staffed adult ICU beds and excludes pediatric, neonatal and mental health ICU beds that adults with COVID can’t use.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - January 14, 2021

Feds charge Jenny Cudd for role in Capitol riot

Former Midland mayoral candidate Jenny Cudd was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors Wednesday morning for her participation in riots earlier this month at the U.S. Capitol. She was released on a personal recognizance bond that afternoon. Fellow Midlander Eliel Rosa, who was granted political asylum after moving to the U.S. from Brazil, was also charged and released Wednesday. Rosa and Cudd traveled to Washington, D.C. together and both entered the Capitol building after riots broke out there, according to posts on Cudd’s since-deleted social media pages. In an excerpt of one Facebook live video that’s been viewed on Twitter more than 7 million times, Cudd said, “We did break down Nancy Pelosi’s door and somebody stole her gavel.”

The two Midlanders have been charged with entering and remaining on restricted grounds, a class A misdemeanor, and disorderly conduct or violent entry, a class B misdemeanor. They face up to a year-and-a-half in prison if convicted on both charges, as well as a $100,000 fine. There was an initial appearance for Cudd and Rosa in federal court Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Griffin. Both were brought into the courtroom from a rear entrance, handcuffed at their wrists and ankles and with chains on their waists connecting to those handcuffs. Griffin said during the hearing they would be processed by the U.S. Marshals and released on PR bonds. Cudd and Rosa were seen leaving the courthouse together shortly after their court appearances. Currently, there are no conditions on their release, such as traveling restrictions, but the U.S. Department of Justice can request that restrictions are added. A second hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 21 in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey in D.C. That hearing will be held virtually, at which time Cudd and Rosa will enter their pleas.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 13, 2021

Facing legal challenge and lacking signatures, Recall CPS petition campaign comes to an end

Four months after launching a petition campaign seeking to make sweeping changes at CPS Energy, organizers said Wednesday they’d collected 14,000 signatures — 6,000 shy of what they needed to put the initiative on the city ballot in May. But it may not have mattered if the organizers had reached the 20,000-signature threshold, anyway. In a stealthy legal maneuver, lawyers for CPS Energy argued in court in November that the petition was invalid because it violated the covenants of bonds that CPS sold. The “Recall CPS” reforms would change how CPS is governed. One would have abolished the city-owned utility’s board of trustees and replaced it with City Council members.

Such a move would violate the agreements investors made — which include CPS’ governance structure — when they purchased CPS bonds. Without investors’ approval, Judge Tim Sulak of Travis County agreed the petition’s reforms would violate the bond covenants. Earlier this month, lawyers for the San Antonio Water System — which is facing its own petition challenge to how it’s managed — made the same argument in a Travis County court. In a news conference Wednesday, organizers blasted CPS’ effort to nullify the petition. They argued the reforms they proposed would not have affected CPS’ ability to generate revenue and pay its bond debt. In addition to putting the City Council in charge of CPS’ board of trustees, the petition sought to replace CPS’ current CEO, Paula Gold-Williams, as well as force the utility to restructure its rates and shut down the Spruce coal-fired plant by 2030. “This ballot measure … would have brought much-needed reform to CPS Energy,” said Dee Dee Belmares, the lead organizer behind the petition. “It would bring more transparency, accountability and public participation, and finally put a pathway in place for CPS Energy to close the Spruce coal plant.”

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2021

Houston police officer resigns after being linked to Capitol takeover

A longtime Houston Police Department officer believed to have joined a violent mob at the nation’s Capitol resigned Thursday amid a growing federal probe into the insurrection. The officer, Tam Pham, dropped off his resignation with Chief Art Acevedo ahead of his disciplinary meeting Friday with the top law man — though the chief earlier expressed doubt that the officer would attend. The chief — after receiving a tip about Pham’s possible involvement — reviewed the officer’s social media and found photos suggesting that he entered the Capitol building during the deadly takeover. Acevedo said he then contacted the FBI’s Houston Division, which opened a federal investigation into the officer’s East Coast trip.

Acevedo expects federal charges to be filed against the officer. The special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston field office stressed that federal investigators — without acknowledging the police officer — are using tips and “advanced technical and scientific tools” to tie local residents to the Capitol mob. “Our agents and analysts have been gathering evidence, sharing intelligence, and working with federal prosecutors toward bringing appropriate charges,” Perrye Turner said Thursday in a statement. In Washington, the FBI there has spent more than week sharing dozens of photos of rioters in an attempt to identify and then arrest them. At least 32 people — including two Virginia police officers — have been charged federally in connection to the violent mob. A tip on Tuesday led law enforcement to the latest arrest of a retired Boothwyn, Pa., firefighter in suspicion of hitting three U.S. Capitol Police officers with a fire extinguisher.

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 14, 2021

Biden unveils $1.9 trillion economic and health-care relief package

President-elect Joe Biden laid out a $1.9 trillion emergency relief plan Thursday night that will serve as an early test of his ability to steer the nation out of a pandemic disaster and rapidly deteriorating economy — and his promise to unite a divided Congress. The wide-ranging package is designed to take aim at the twin crises Biden will confront upon taking office Wednesday, with provisions delivering direct aid to American families, businesses and communities, and a major focus on coronavirus testing and vaccine production and delivery as the pandemic surges. Biden is aiming to get GOP support for the measure, although at nearly $2 trillion the price tag is likely to be too high for many Republicans to swallow. But after campaigning as a bipartisan dealmaker, Biden wants to at least give Republicans the opportunity to get behind his first legislative effort as president.

The package is titled the “American Rescue Plan.” Biden described it as a package of emergency measures to meet the nation’s immediate economic and health-care needs, to be followed in February by a broader relief plan he will unveil in his first appearance before a joint meeting of Congress. Thursday’s proposal comes at a critical time for the nation. More than 4,200 people in the United States died of the coronavirus on Tuesday, a new daily record. The economic recovery appears to be backsliding, with jobless claims spiking to a new high since August, as nearly 1 million people filed for unemployment last week. It also comes six days before Biden’s inauguration and a day after the House of Representatives impeached President Trump, highlighting the president-elect’s challenge of trying to get his top agenda item passed as the Senate is likely to be enmeshed in an impeachment trial. Biden has expressed the hope that the Senate can simultaneously move forward on his agenda while weighing impeachment, although it’s unclear how well that might work in practice.

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CNN - January 14, 2021

'Kill him with his own gun': Police describe facing the mob at the Capitol

As DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone lay on the ground at the US Capitol building, stunned and injured, he knew a group of rioters were stripping him of his gear. They grabbed spare ammunition, ripped the police radio off his chest and even stole his badge. Then, Fanone, who had just been Tasered several times in the back of the neck, heard something chilling that made him go into survival mode. "Some guys started getting a hold of my gun and they were screaming out, 'Kill him with his own gun,'" said Fanone, who's been a police officer for almost two decades.

Fanone, one of three officers who spoke with CNN, described his experience fighting a mob of President Donald Trump's supporters who'd invaded the Capitol in an insurrection unheard of in modern American history. Federal officials have said the details of the violence that come out will be disturbing. "People are going to be shocked by some of the egregious contact that happened in the Capitol," acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin said Tuesday in reference to attacks on police officers. Fanone, a narcotics detective who works in plain clothes, heard the commotion at the Capitol and grabbed his still brand-new police uniform that had been hanging in his locker and put it on for the first time, he said. He raced to the building with his partner and helped officers who were being pushed back by rioters. But Fanone, who said he'd rather be shot than be pulled into a crowd where he had no control, was suddenly in his biggest nightmare as an officer. And in those few moments, Fanone considered using deadly force. He thought about using his gun but knew that he didn't have enough fire power and he'd soon be overpowered again, except this time they would probably use his gun against him and they'd have all the reason to end his life. "So, the other option I thought of was to try to appeal to somebody's humanity. And I just remember yelling out that I have kids. And it seemed to work," said the 40-year-old father of four.

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Associated Press - January 14, 2021

Nation’s jobless claims soar to highest level since mid-August as resurgent virus infects economy

The number of people seeking unemployment aid soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August and a sign that the resurgent virus has likely escalated layoffs. The latest figures for jobless claims, issued Thursday by the Labor Department, remain at levels never seen until the virus struck. Before the pandemic, weekly applications typically numbered around 225,000. They spiked to nearly 7 million last spring, after nationwide shutdowns took effect. Applications declined over the summer but have been stuck above 700,000 since September.

The high pace of layoffs coincides with an economy that has faltered as consumers have avoided traveling, shopping and eating out in the face of soaring viral caseloads. More than 4,300 deaths were reported Tuesday, another record high. Shutdowns of restaurants, bars and other venues where people gather in California, New York and other states have likely forced up layoffs. Some states and cities are resisting shutdowns, partly out of fear of the economic consequences but raising the risk of further infections. Minnesota allowed in-person dining to resume this week. Michigan is poised to do the same. Some bars and restaurants in Kansas City are extending their hours. Economists say that once coronavirus vaccines are more widely distributed, a broader recovery should take hold in the second half of the year. The incoming Biden administration, along with a now fully Democratic-led House and Senate, is also expected to push more rescue aid and spending measures that could accelerate growth.

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Bloomberg - January 14, 2021

Trump struggles to build legal team as impeachment trial nears

President Donald Trump, on the eve of facing a historic second impeachment trial for inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, is having trouble finding a legal team to defend him. Allies of the outgoing president have been canvassing Washington’s legal landscape looking for representation but so far are coming up short. Lawyers who defended him in the previous impeachment trial, including Jay Sekulow and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, have said no this time, according to people familiar with the matter.

Other lawyers who have defended Trump at times, including former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, Eric Herschmann, Pat Philbin and Marc Kasowitz aren’t interested in joining a team this time, the people said. Some of the lawyers who don’t want a role have privately said what Trump did was indefensible. More broadly, a number of prominent law firms have refused to engage in any legal representation involving the president’s actions following the Nov. 3 election. “I’m not terribly surprised that top tier conservative attorneys who a Republican president might normally turn to would not be interested in jumping on this particular grenade,” said Keith Whittington, a politics professor at Princeton University. “Those who might have been sympathetic to defending the president in other contexts such as his first impeachment don’t necessarily want to defend what he’s done here -- both because they aren’t easy to defend and they’ll tarnish people’s professional reputation down the road.” It’s unclear when the Senate will hold a trial following the House vote Wednesday to impeach Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has some discretion on when she sends the impeachment article to the Senate, which Republican leader Mitch McConnell made clear won’t reconvene until Jan. 19. That means a trial can begin at the earliest the following day, when President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated.

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The Hill - January 15, 2021

Trust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots

Hefty fines to enforce the use of masks and metal detectors to enter the House chamber. Censure resolutions. And a call for investigating whether some lawmakers aided insurrectionists. Trust between the two parties has reached an all-time low — and it’s raising questions about how they can possibly work together on much of anything as the new session of Congress begins when some lawmakers don’t even feel safe around each other.

Much of the physical damage in the Capitol from last week’s attack by a violent mob egged on by President Trump has since been repaired: The tear gas residue and garbage in the hallowed halls are gone, and new glass panes were installed in the entrance to the Speaker’s Lobby where a rioter was fatally shot. But the emotional trauma still lingers, with daily reminders of how much things have changed from just a week ago. The Capitol complex now resembles a police state with thousands of heavily armed National Guard troops patrolling the grounds. “How could I feel comfortable thinking that someone that I’m in a committee room with or could be sitting across the aisle from, or something of that nature, helped plan an insurrection in the United States Capitol? How can I do that? I mean, how can anyone do that?” asked House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). Tensions flared again this week when numerous GOP lawmakers refused to adhere to new safety measures for the House chamber, prompting Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to enact extraordinary rules that would levy thousands of dollars in fines against those who don’t comply.

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Newsclips - January 14, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2021

House impeaches Trump for inciting insurrection, one week after riot at Capitol

One week after a deadly riot at the Capitol, House members forced to seek refuge from a mob trying to overturn President Donald Trump’s defeat impeached him for “incitement of insurrection.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a trial couldn’t possibly finish before Trump’s term expires at noon next Wednesday, so he won’t allow it to start before then. Ten Republicans joined a unified Democratic caucus in the vote Wednesday afternoon. Trump has now made history as the only president impeached twice. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi exhorted the House during the debate.

“Those insurrectionists were not patriots,” she said. “They were domestic terrorists, and… they did not appear out of a vacuum. They were sent here sent here by the president” who whipped a mob into a frenzy with relentless lies about a stolen election, aiming to achieve an indefensible goal: “clinging to power. The goal of thwarting the will of the people. The goal of ending in a fiery and bloody clash nearly two and a half centuries of our democracy.” The House vote was 232-197. Texans voted along party lines, except for Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger, one of four Republican who did not vote. Aides provided no explanation. Republicans largely focused on the timing so close to the end of Trump’s term, without addressing any blame he bears for the attack, though after a parade of ardent defenders had weighed in Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did forcefully take the president to task. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack in Congress by mob rioters,” he said. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding” and used his bully pulpit “to quell the brewing unrest.” Still, he rejected impeachment in favor of censure – a step nearly as rare, if only symbolic. It takes a simple majority to impeach and 2/3 of the Senate to convict. Trump could still stand trial as a former president, though the only punishment at that point would be to bar him from holding federal office again.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has $38M in his campaign bank, but is it enough to scare off 2022 challengers?

Gov. Greg Abbott raised $11.5 million from July through December, and now can brandish almost $38 million of cash as he tries to scare off opponents in his campaign for a third term next year. In the final half of 2020, Abbott collected contributions from 22,598 donors, 10,116 of whom were new, his campaign announced Wednesday. The Republican governor raised 26% more in last year’s final six months than the $9.1 million he raised in late 2016 — the comparable period in his first term.

However, his $7.7 million haul in the first half of 2020 was a nearly 12% decrease from the same phase of his initial term. So although an Abbott campaign news release touted the $19.2 million he raised last year, it was just an 8% increase over the $17.8 million he raised in 2016. Abbott’s a prolific fundraiser, a weapon he’s wielded to discourage competition as he moved up among Texas Republicans over the past two decades. Dave Carney, Abbott’s political strategist, said the governor is unperturbed by the volatile national political environment. Abbott is tending to home state business, he noted. Despite corporations’ statements this week that they’re suspending contributions to Republicans, “I’m not worried about how it’s going to affect the governor’s fundraising,” Carney said. “We don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “There’ll be a general election opponent, and [Democrats] will put a lot of effort in and they’ll raise a lot of money.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2021

Texas AG Ken Paxton declines to join 50 attorneys general in condemning Capitol riot

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is the only state attorney general to decline to join letters over the past week condemning the Capitol riot. In a Jan. 12 letter, 50 state and territorial attorneys general who belong to the National Association of Attorneys General denounced the “lawless violence.” The three remaining state attorneys general not included in that letter wrote their own Wednesday, leaving Paxton as the only holdout. Paxton is a staunch Trump supporter who co-chaired the re-election group Lawyers for Trump. He spoke at the “Save America” rally at the Capitol in the hours prior to the riot last week, telling the crowds “we will not quit fighting” to overturn the election results. Neither Paxton’s office nor his campaign spokesman responded to requests for comment.

“The events of January 6 represent a direct, physical challenge to the rule of law and our democratic republic itself,” the Jan. 12 letter read. “Together, we will continue to do our part to repair the damage done to institutions and build a more perfect union. As Americans, and those charged with enforcing the law, we must come together to condemn lawless violence, making clear that such actions will not be allowed to go unchecked.” In a separate letter Wednesday, the attorneys general of Indiana, Montana and Louisiana wrote: “In all forms and all instances, violent acts carried out in the name of political ideology have no place in any of our United States.” Paxton did join a statement from Republican Attorneys General Association last week that condemned the “the violence, destruction, and rampant lawlessness” at the Capitol. “I call on protesters in our state and our nation’s Capital to practice their constitutional right in a peaceful manner. I stand for election integrity and the democratic process,” Paxton said. “I will not tolerate violence and civil disorder.” Yet, at the same time, Paxton has also been perpetuating a falsehood about the day: that Antifa was behind the riot. There is no evidence to support that. “Those who stormed the capitol yesterday were not Trump supporters. They have been confirmed to be Antifa,” Paxton wrote on Facebook, which flagged the post as “false information” per independent fact-checks. “Violence is not the answer.”

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Politico - January 13, 2021

Koch network pledges to 'weigh heavy' lawmakers' actions in riots

The powerful Koch political network, funders of the Tea Party, will “weigh heavy” the actions of members of Congress in the days leading up to and after last week’s siege of the Capitol when considering future donations, in a sign that the GOP’s megadonor class is uncomfortable with the party’s recent actions. In a statement to POLITICO, the Koch network said it will take last week’s events seriously when deciding where to put its millions of dollars in spending next election cycle. “Lawmakers’ actions leading up to and during last week’s insurrection will weigh heavy in our evaluation of future support. And we will continue to look for ways to support those policymakers who reject the politics of division and work together to move our country forward,” said Emily Seidel, CEO of Americans for Prosperity and senior adviser to AFP Action, the group's super PAC.

Seidel’s statement follows months of the network working to operate more independently of the Republican Party. Billionaire Charles Koch has become increasingly dissatisfied with the tactics and policies of President Donald Trump and did not support him during his 2016 or 2020 election bids. The Koch move comes after numerous corporate PACs began suspending their donations to Republicans who challenged President-elect Joe Biden’s victory last week. Many of those businesses were acting in response to pressure from clients and customers. The Koch action, coming amid a resounding silence among Trump allies, suggests that megadonors — a small class of brand-name billionaires who give from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars per election cycle — also feel that their reputations are on the line if they back lawmakers who supported Trump’s claims of election fraud. Key GOP donors including the Ricketts family of Chicago, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and financier Ken Griffin declined to comment on their giving plans in the wake of the attack on the Capitol. While some are expected to continue backing candidates that are aligned with Trump — Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts is the Republican National Committee finance chair — their unwillingness to defend the president and his supporters at a crucial moment could be a sign of their discomfort with the direction of the party.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 14, 2021

Texas Senate Republicans keep ability to block bills out of Dems’ reach

Three years of victories at the ballot box by Democrats in the Texas Senate were washed away in just about an hour of bare-knuckle politics Wednesday. With Democrats finally winning enough seats in the Texas Senate to use procedural maneuvers to block Republican legislation from getting to the floor, Republicans responded Wednesday by changing those very rules to make sure GOP priorities like gun rights and anti-abortion bills have no trouble getting through the Senate. Instead of needing 13 Senators in the 31-member body to block a bill from getting to the floor for a vote, Republicans changed the rule to require 14.

That corresponds with the number of Democrats in the Texas Senate. When San Antonio Democrat Roland Gutierrez defeated Republican Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, in November, it gave Democrats the 13 seats they needed to block bills under the old rule. Now, they will be one vote short because of the rule change that passed along party lines Wednesday. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was blunt in saying his push for the rule change was absolutely political. If the rule was not changed, he said 13 Democrats in the Senate would essentially be controlling the flow of legislation despite Texas voters putting more Republicans in the Senate than Democrats. “We can’t do anything you want us to do if we don’t change the rule,” Patrick told members of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation just before the Senate passed the rule package that will dictate the operations of the Texas Senate. He said Republicans have every right to change the rule.

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

Frisco pastor urges followers to help Trump stay in office and keep guns loaded before Biden inauguration

Days after President Donald Trump incited supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the election, an evangelical pastor in Frisco told his congregation they have an “executive order” to keep Trump in office. Brandon Burden, the pastor at KingdomLife, is a former Frisco City Council candidate and member of the Frisco Conservative Coalition, a political action committee. He and the church are known around Frisco social media circles to promote conservative ideals and leaders, including Trump, who made history Wednesday as the only president to be impeached twice.

As Burden stood at the pulpit Sunday, he shouted in tongues while a woman at the altar waved a large American flag in front of him. The pastor cited “prophetic voices” who have said God told them Trump would be president for eight years. “We have an executive order — not from Congress or D.C., but from the desk of the CEO of heaven, the boss of the planet,” Burden said. “He said from his desk in heaven, this is my will; Trump will be in for eight years.” He said it’s the responsibility of his congregation and other Christians to execute God’s order and alluded to the Battle of Jericho, leading church members in a march. “Take down the walls of Jericho,” Burden said. “The Lord says your Jericho is Washington, D.C. That’s your fortified city.” The pastor, who is also a licensed realtor in the Frisco area, has not responded to a request for comment.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2021

Ted Cruz’s communications director resigns as fallout from Capitol riot continues

Blowback from Sen. Ted Cruz’s efforts to derail President-elect Biden’s election continues as his communications director, Lauren Blair Bianchi, resigned from his staff Monday in wake of the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol last week. “I’m grateful to Senator Cruz for the opportunity and wish him and his first-rate staff nothing but the best,” Bianchi said in a statement to Punchbowl News after the Capitol riot egged on by false claims of election fraud championed by President Donald Trump and peddled by Cruz.

Bianchi has been a Cruz aide for the past 18 months. She did not respond to a request for comment, but she reportedly was “unhappy with the direction the office had taken,” according to The New York Times. “Senator Cruz and Lauren agreed that it would be best to part ways,” Cruz’s office said in a statement to The New York Times. “He thanks her for her service and wishes her the best.” Bianchi was previously the communications director for Budget Committee Republicans and the press secretary for the Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Cruz, along with Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, formally challenged President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory last week, enforcing false claims of election fraud, even as a violent mob breached the Capitol. Cruz maintained that even after knowing the mob would breach the Capitol, he would still have objected to the election results.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Why did Black Lives Matter protesters face harsher policing than mob that stormed the Capitol?

The images were unfathomable: Frightened lawmakers crouching under desks, then hustled to safety in gas masks as a rabid mob of white insurrectionists shouted and pounded on the doors of the U.S. Capitol. Many Americans couldn’t believe their eyes, and not just about the assault on our democracy. A question ricocheted around the country: What if the rioters had been Black people? The pro-Trump horde easily overwhelmed Capitol Police. Dozens of officers were injured in the riot, and one, Brian Sicknick, died from his injuries. Violence also took the life of a rioter who was shot by police as she tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby.

It’s a tragedy that anyone had to lose their life, and we commend officers who were attacked by the mob for showing restraint that prevented more bloodshed. But we decry the extraordinary failure of law enforcement leadership that allowed the Capitol to be overrun despite abundant social media activity that blared the violent bent of many Trump supporters. Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told The Washington Post that House and Senate security officials had denied him permission to request the D.C. National Guard on standby because of the “optics” of declaring an emergency ahead of the pro-Trump protest. A summer of Black Lives Matter protests led to mass arrests nationwide, but in the immediate hours after the rioters ransacked the Capitol, police had arrested only 14 people. Since then, authorities have reportedly arrested dozens more in connection to the attack, and many more arrests could be forthcoming. Still, the kid-glove treatment seen in videos and photos of Trump supporters raiding the temple of our democracy rankles Americans who faced far worse while protesting police brutality.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2021

State’s highest criminal court to review murder conviction of Roy Oliver, ex-cop who killed Black teen in 2017

The state’s highest criminal court has agreed to review the murder conviction of Roy Oliver, a former Balch Springs police officer who fatally shot a Black teenager in 2017. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals announced Wednesday that it had decided to review the case. Oral arguments will not be allowed. Oliver, 41, was convicted of murder in 2018 and sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, a Black teenager.

Edwards was leaving a party the night of April 29, 2017 with two brothers and two friends when Oliver shot into the car as it was driving away from him. Oliver testified that he thought the car was going to hit his partner, who had responded with him to a complaint about a loud house party. Mike Snipes, a former prosecutor who won the murder conviction against Oliver, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Lee Merritt, the attorney for Edwards’ family, did not immediately return a request for comment. Oliver appealed his case to the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, which ruled last August to uphold the conviction. In his appeal, Oliver’s lawyers argue four different grounds for why the case should be reviewed, including that the court allowed evidence it should not have and that a jury would have agreed that Oliver was acting to protect his partner had they received different instructions before deliberating. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not set a date for when it would make a decision. Oliver is currently serving his 15-year sentence at the W. F. Ramsey prison in Rosharon, Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

Dallas County logs 21 deaths, pushing toll over 1,800

Dallas County on Wednesday reported 2,994 new coronavirus cases and 21 new COVID-19 fatalities, pushing the county’s death toll above 1,800. Ten of the victims were Dallas residents: a woman in her 40s, a man in his 50s, a man and woman in their 60s, a man and woman in their 70s, three men in their 80s, and a man in his 90s.

The 11 other victims include a Glenn Heights man in his 40s, a Richardson woman in her 50s, a Grand Prairie man in his 50s, a Duncanville man in his 60s, a Grand Prairie man in his 60s, an Irving man in his 60s, a Richardson man in his 60s, a Garland man in his 70s, a Duncanville man in his 70s, a Carrollton man in his 80s, and a DeSoto woman in her 80s. All but one victim had underlying health conditions, the county said. Of the cases added in Dallas County on Wednesday, 2,589 were confirmed and 405 were probable. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 199,948 and probable cases to 25,681. The county has recorded 1,812 COVID-19 deaths. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said UT Southwestern Medical Center updated its coronavirus prediction models to show that by Jan. 22, the county could have up to 1,900 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and about 3,600 new cases a day. “These are concerning numbers,” Jenkins said in a written statement. “Our hospitals are stretched very thin right now and our healthcare heroes have been working tirelessly since last spring.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

Texas tops 2 million total coronavirus cases

With the addition of nearly 27,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, Texas has surpassed over 2 million total cases during the pandemic. Across the state, 26,808 more cases and 405 COVID-19 deaths were reported Wednesday. Texas has now reported 2,022,635 total cases and 30,624 fatalities. Of the new cases, 22,270 were confirmed and 4,538 were probable. The state has reported 1,775,619 confirmed cases and 247,016 probable cases.

The state also added 290 older confirmed cases and 245 older probable cases that were recently reported by labs. There are 14,106 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, including 4,104 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. On Tuesday, 25.04% of patients in the hospital region covering the Dallas-Fort Worth area were COVID-19 patients, according to the state dashboard. The seven-day average positivity rate statewide for molecular tests, based on the date of test specimen collection, was 17.89% as of Tuesday. State health officials said using data based on when people were tested provides the most accurate positivity rate. For antigen tests, the positivity rate for the same period was 13.02%.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2021

End of grace period leaves Texas schools at risk of losing millions

Time has expired on a state-imposed grace period that kept school funding steady for many districts during pandemic-era disruptions. Now they stand to lose millions if the Legislature or the Texas Education Agency doesn’t act to keep funding whole. But school leaders worry neither is rushing to help. “It looks like they’re all kind of pointing at each other,” Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams said. “Someone’s got to address it. If not, schools are going to be faced with some incredibly tough choices. We need additional funds and we’ve got to keep our buildings open and we need to keep our people working.”

School leaders say addressing the gap is urgent since the state largely funds schools based on how many students show up for class each day. But enrollment has dipped 3% statewide because of the coronavirus with some areas hit harder than others, according to recently released state data. The Texas Education Agency created an 18-week “hold harmless” period that kept money flowing to districts at the same rate as last school year even if the pandemic impacted attendance. Now legislators and school leaders have called for an extension of that grace period. In December, 82 Texas House members wrote to Education Commissioner Mike Morath asking him to hold district funding steady for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. “Our school districts need full funding so they can continue to focus on student learning and mental health, employing and retaining staff to maintain programs, and keeping everyone healthy and safe,” the lawmakers wrote. Previously when the expiration of the period approached, the agency extended it by several weeks. But when the end of the 18 weeks approached, no extension came. For many districts that started instruction earlier in the summer, this deadline came before the holiday break. In Dallas ISD, administrators delayed the start of the school year, pushing back the end of the district’s first 18 weeks of instruction until Jan. 29.

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Dallas Morning News - January 13, 2021

Some Texas Republicans criticize new rule requiring lawmakers to pass through metal detectors to enter U.S. House

Multiple Texas Republicans in Congress are expressing outrage over a new House rule — enacted in the wake of last week’s deadly attack on the Capitol — that requires lawmakers to go through metal detectors before entering the chamber. “This is a performative and useless move by Dem Leadership,” Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, wrote on Twitter, accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, of “putting politics and stunts above the safety our members.” Members previously weren’t required to clear such security.

Democratic House leaders decided to require the screening after some Republicans in the wake of the insurrection apparently inquired about carrying firearms on the House floor, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, told Fox News’ Chad Pergram. House rules have long prohibited members from carrying in the chamber. “House Republicans refusing to walk through a metal detector are unwilling to accept circumstances to which they daily subject many teachers & students by blocking meaningful gun safety reforms,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, wrote on Twitter. The rules at the U.S. Capitol are far different from those at the Texas Capitol. In Austin, lawmakers are allowed to carry their guns in their respective chambers, and some are known to do so. All people with a license to carry, including visitors, are also allowed to skip the metal detectors at the state Capitol’s entrances.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2021

Texas woman arrested on election fraud charges based on Project Veritas video

A former campaign worker was arrested Wednesday and charged with election tampering, the state attorney general’s office announced. The allegations surfaced last fall after the conservative activist group Project Veritas posted an edited video of the woman, Raquel Rodriguez, in which she appears to be helping an elderly person fill out a mail-in ballot form and discussing unlawful tactics, including assisting people at the polls. The video included only snippets of what appear to be multiple conversations, and it was not clear who Rodriguez believed she was speaking to or under what context.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement that his office reviewed dozens of hours of unedited footage, and that Rodriguez says at one point that she knows her actions are illegal. The charges, all felonies, could result in up to 20 years in prison. “This is a victory for election integrity and a strong signal that anyone who attempts to defraud the people of Texas, deprive them of their vote, or undermine the integrity of elections will be brought to justice,” Paxton said. Rodriguez did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and it was not clear whether she had an attorney. In October, she posted on Facebook that the group had approached her saying it represented an “anonymous candidate with money” looking for help in a future City Council race. “I immediately suspected something was wrong with this conversation,” Rodriguez said, adding: “I chose to continue the conversation and ‘play along’ in order to discover the source and gather my own evidence that I could submit to legal authorities.” Paxton has routinely targeted election fraud while in office, an issue that he and other conservatives contend is widespread, despite no evidence. In September, researchers at Stanford University concluded that a video Project Veritas released about Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s campaign was likely part of a coordinated disinformation effort.

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Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2021

Houston police officer may face federal charges after entering Capitol during riot

A Houston police officer was relieved of duty Wednesday and could likely face federal charges for participating in the Capitol takeover, Chief Art Acevedo said. The chief said he tipped the FBI off that a 18-year veteran of the department may have had a role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Acevedo received a complaint Sunday from a community member about the officer and then saw Facebook photos of the him — he was off-duty at the time — wearing a mask and holding a Trump flag at the Capitol. He did not publicly identify the officer. “He got into the Capitol. I’m highly confident he will face federal charges,” Acevedo said, adding that he contacted the FBI about the officer’s possible participation.

The officer, Tam Pham, was placed on administrative leave Wednesday morning and has a disciplinary hearing on Friday with the chief. “I’ll be surprised if he shows up,” Acevedo continued. The officer expressed exasperated regret about attending the insurrection. “I shouldn’t have done it,” Pham told the Houston Chronicle. “I was there to take pictures.” He declined to confirm Acevedo’s accusation that he entered the Capitol building. “A lot of stuff happened that day,” Pham continued. “I wasn’t in the right mind.” The announcement was shared as Acevedo outlined law enforcement preparation in Houston ahead of the presidential inauguration. A week earlier, thousands of people descending on the country’s Capitol as lawmakers gathered to tally the Electoral College vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden as the next commander-in-chief. Some of those participants breached the capitol building during the riot.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 12, 2021

Calls grow for Cruz to be punished for his role challenging electors

In the aftermath of last week's mob violence at the U.S. Capitol, the calls for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to be punished for his leading role in challenging the presidential electors are now building to a crescendo. To be sure, the central figure of blame is President Donald Trump, whom the Democratically controlled House is expected to impeach Wednesday for inciting insurrection — with support from at least one Republican leader, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. But the blowback for Cruz, who gave Trump supporters false hope of a way to undo the election of Democrat Joe Biden, continues.

Many lawmakers — including GOP senators — opinion makers and Texas editorial boards are calling for Cruz to resign, be expelled, censured, disbarred or, at a minimum, to be taken off the Senate Judiciary Committee while the riot that resulted in six deaths is investigated. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wants Cruz on a “no fly” list. His national reputation — and presidential ambition — has taken a hit, with 71% of Americans in an ABC News/Ipsos poll saying they do not trust him to protect democracy. And Tuesday, Cruz communications director Lauren Bianchi resigned after 18 months because, as first reported by Punchbowl News, she was “uncomfortable” with his challenge of the election results, which were certified by each state. Cruz is standing his ground, saying that his plan to investigate alleged voting irregularities — even after those claims were rejected by state officials who conducted recounts and courts from coast to coast — was “the right approach.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 13, 2021

Austin reports 1,400 new cases since Tuesday

Austin-Travis County health officials on Wednesday reported 1,461 new coronavirus cases. It's the largest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic, though the count includes cases from the day before since health officials did not provide a coronavirus data update Tuesday because of a software upgrade. The previous record — 955 cases — was set Monday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services said businesses in 11 Central Texas counties, including Travis County, must reduce capacity to 50% due to the rising number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Austin Public Health received 12,000 vaccine doses from the state this week, and they are now being administered to those who meet the priority criteria. Health care workers already distributed 850 doses Monday and 1,640 on Tuesday to people with appointments, officials said. Austin Public Health on Wednesday launched a site where people interested in receiving the coronavirus vaccine can register. The site had a rocky start — it crashed shortly after its launch due to high demand.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 14, 2021

Why Texas schools didn't get additional funding through the federal CARES Act

School district leaders, facing rising bills for coronavirus related expenses — everything from technology upgrades for virtual learning to protective equipment and cleaning supplies to keep campuses safe — had hoped to get help from federal coronavirus relief funding distributed to states meant to prop up beleaguered districts. That didn't happen. Instead, the Texas Education Agency used theCARES Act money to supplant funding that districts already expected to receive from the state. That left district officials scrambling to apply for reimbursement for coronavirus-related expenses through other programs. District leaders are now awaiting word on whether they'll see a funding boost from the latest federal coronavirus relief package.

The education agency received $1.27 billion last summer from the CARES Act, the first coronavirus relief bill approved by Congress, and 90% of that money was distributed to school districts. Most of the remaining 10% was put into an agency discretionary fund, and a small portion went toward agency administration. The agency distributed CARES Act money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, using the money as a way to maintainschool districts’ funding despite lower attendance. The school funding formula is tied to students’ average daily attendance. Federal guidance allows states to use CARES Act funding to sustain school finance systems, as long as net state funding remains higher than prior years, according to the Texas Education Agency. The state does not plan to make up any funding gap for districts seeing lower enrollment in the spring semester. Paul Norton, superintendent of the Lake Travis district, said his impression last spring was that the education agency would use CARES Act money to cover coronavirus expenses. “There were a lot of additional expenses to educate our kids during a pandemic and now with staff and students on campuses there are more expenses,” he said. “We would have hoped that the dollars that were promised would be provided.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 13, 2021

Supreme Court rejects plea from Fort Worth hospital to remove child from life support

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a preliminary plea from Cook Children’s Medical Center to remove life support for a toddler at the Fort Worth hospital. Tinslee Lewis’ medical treatment has been the subject of multiple trials. The 1-year-old was born in February 2019 with a rare heart condition. Her family has fought for her continued treatment, while the hospital argues Tinslee’s condition will never improve and keeping her on life support is causing needless suffering. The case will now return to the lower court for a final ruling. If the 48th District Court rules in favor of Tinslee’s mother, the ramifications would reach far beyond Tinslee and her family.

The hospital’s legal basis for removing Tinslee from life support comes from the Texas Advance Directives Act, which allows hospitals to stop treatment of a patient if a panel determines further treatment is causing unnecessary suffering without hope of recovery. While doctors have the right to deny care under common law, the act outlines a dispute-resolution process and protects the hospital from legal ramifications. In July, after months of deliberation, the Second Appellate District of Texas in Fort Worth sided with the family and ruled that Tinslee could remain on life support. The decision was a reversal of a judge’s ruling in January that she could be taken off life support. In August, the hospital appealed and asked the Texas Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that Tinslee continues to suffer, and that the appeals court’s decision unlawfully declared a central provision of the Texas Advance Directives Act unconstitutional.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 13, 2021

To help sex trafficking survivors, Legislature should make this change in Texas law

(Dr. Vanessa Bouché is an associate professor of political science at Texas Christian University; a co-founder of Savhera, a wellness company that provides jobs to sex trafficking survivors; and principle investigator of HumanTraffickingData.org.) It feels like déjà vu. I wrote a column in July 2019 about a juvenile female in Tarrant County who was convicted of burglary and capital murder when she was 17 years old, sentenced to 20 years, then transferred from juvenile justice to adult prison. A year and a half later, there’s a similar case in Dallas County. These cases and others like them continue to reveal a major gap in Texas law: affirmative defense for human trafficking crimes.

In August 2019 Zephi Trevino, then 16 years old, was with two 18 year old males, Philip Aguilera Baldenegro and Jesse Martinez, when an attempted burglary ended in murder. Baldenegro admits to pulling the trigger. Trevino, however, faces capital murder and aggravated robbery charges. Trevino’s attorney contends that she is a victim of sex trafficking at the hands of Baldenegro, that she was being forced into acts of prostitution, and that the men who were shot were coming to engage in commercial sex acts with her. Baldenegro’s attorney denies these allegations, arguing Trevino and Baldenegro were in a romantic relationship. The case files are sealed because Trevino is a minor, but Baldenegro’s defense attorney is quoted as saying, “What about all these pictures of you [Trevino] smoking dope and having sex with all these other guys? Were you forced to do all of that?” I have researched the issue of sex trafficking for 15 years. I have interviewed more than 350 survivors of child sex trafficking across the U.S. I have read more than 1,500 federal indictments of human trafficking crimes, I have interviewed traffickers in federal prisons, and I have started a business to provide jobs to sex trafficking survivors.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 13, 2021

Fort Worth federal prison inmate is first woman executed by federal government in 67 years

The federal government early Wednesday morning executed Lisa Montgomery, who killed an expectant mother and kidnapped her baby 16 years earlier in northwest Missouri. Montgomery, 52, of Melvern, Kansas, died by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was the first woman executed by the federal government in 67 years. In 2004, Montgomery strangled Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 23, of Skidmore, and cut her unborn baby from her womb with a knife. She was convicted of kidnapping resulting in death and in 2007 was sentenced to die.

Before the execution, a judge found Montgomery was likely mentally ill and couldn’t comprehend she would be put to death. Her attorneys had argued she was not competent to be executed and said she was unable to rationally understand why she would be executed or “even where she is.” But late Tuesday night, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the Justice Department to kill Montgomery. Several courts had issued injunctions, but they were all later lifted by appeals courts or the Supreme Court. As the execution process began, a woman standing over Montgomery’s shoulder leaned over, gently removed Montgomery’s face mask and asked her if she had any last words. “No,” Montgomery responded.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 14, 2021

Huntsville, Ala. — not San Antonio — lands Space Command

Disappointing five other finalists that included the Alamo City, the Air Force said Wednesday that Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. will be the new home of the U.S. Space Command, pending a final analysis. San Antonio and Colorado Springs, Colo., were considered two of the top candidates to serve as the new headquarters after the Pentagon whittled down a list of 50 cities around the country competing for Space Command to just six. The command has been provisionally headquartered in Colorado Springs since its inception. “Huntsville compared more favorably than the other candidates based on the analysis,” Air Force spokesman Ann Stefanek said.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other local leaders met Dec. 21 with a Pentagon site selection team that was expected to decide on one of the six cities. Other locations were Patrick AFB near Cocoa Beach, Fla.; Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, N.M.; Offutt AFB in Omaha, Neb.; and Redstone Army Airfield in Huntsville, Ala. Nirenberg issued a statement Wednesday saying San Antonio “was honored to be among the finalists” for the headquarters, and added, “The process enabled us to highlight our many assets and attributes, including our cybersecurity, medical and training missions, as well as Port San Antonio,” which “ensured that we remain on the Pentagon’s short list as a welcoming, well-positioned home for our existing military missions as well as future missions.” “We will be continuing the conversations with military leaders and our local partners working toward future opportunities.” That Huntsville was the winner surprised a number of people, one of them Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “I thought that if it was going anywhere it would come here. But I thought it would stay in Colorado,” he said. Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said Huntsville was something of a dark horse candidate and noted that conventional wisdom had Colorado Springs as the likely winner. “We thought the No. 1 spot, the place to beat, was in Colorado,” he said. “We thought that that’s where pulling them out of there and folks have been living there and have their families, we thought that would be the hard one to beat. “But I would agree that Huntsville is a bit of a surprise, although, on reflection, they’ve got the U.S. space and rocket center there. So there is, certainly, some synergy to what Space Command brings to the table and all the training that they’re doing and that sort of thing,” he said.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2021

'This is historic': City agrees to lease Sunnyside landfill for solar farm, charging $1 a year

The old landfill in Sunnyside sat closed for 50 years, an enduring reminder of the city’s choice to dump and burn its trash in the historically Black community. On Wednesday, Houston City Council members took a step toward re-purposing it, voting unanimously to lease the neglected site for $1 a year to a group intending to build a solar farm on it. Research has shown that solar farms depress home values. But as Mayor Sylvester Turner saw it, the plan offered a chance to take property dragging down a community and re-imagine it for the better. “A plus for Sunnyside becomes a plus for the city as a whole,” he said.

Charles Cave, a nearby resident involved in shepherding the project, told council members on Tuesday that addressing the property that had become a dangerous eyesore was “well overdue.” The council will vote later on a specific development plan, but its decision Wednesday marked an important step for those involved, who say they want to see the land change from blight to a showpiece. The agreement allows companies behind the effort to seek approval from the state environmental agency and power grid managers to build on and sell energy from the 240-acre spot. It covers at least 20 years of operation, with construction slated for 2022. Chief Sustainability Officer Lara Cottingham, who spearheaded the project, last fall called the effort “historic.” The concept drew from a 2017 competition that the city participated in to get ideas for the property located on Bellfort Avenue, east of Texas 288 and south of Loop 610. Previous efforts included turning it into a golf course. A team called Sunnyside Energy LLC pitched the project. Dori Wolfe, of Wolfe Energy, envisioned installing solar panels on it. BQ Energy joined in as a developer.

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Dallas Morning News - January 14, 2021

Dallas City Council approves renaming street in memory of Botham Jean

The Dallas City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved renaming about four miles of South Lamar Street in memory of Botham Jean. He was shot to death in his apartment on that street when a former Dallas police officer mistook it for her own. The vote came after more than an hour-and-a-half of public testimony and council discussion, mostly in favor of the proposed Botham Jean Boulevard. Several members, including Mayor Eric Johnson, urged colleagues to agree to the street name change after several council members had wanted to delay the vote. “I’m imploring this council to seriously think about the message we want to send as a city by letting this come up to the point of actually voting on this, having this family participating in this process, ... and putting that family through any more pain than they’ve been through,” Johnson said before the 15-0 vote.

Botham Jean Boulevard will run between Interstate 30 to South Central Expressway. The road includes South Side Flats, the apartment complex where Jean and his killer, Amber Guyger, lived. The Dallas Police Department headquarters is less than a block away. Another roughly mile-long stretch of the street north of I-30 through downtown Dallas to Interstate 35E, would not be renamed. The street name change will take effect in 60 days, and the city estimates it will cost around $20,000 to change the street signs. Botham Jean’s mother said during the meeting that the family’s wish since he died on Sept. 6, 2018, was for him to be remembered. “This street on which he chose to live and the street on which he died can serve as a lasting memory of the upstanding resident who loved Dallas so much,” Allison Jean said.

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KXAN - January 13, 2021

How did non-priority Austin residents get vaccines ahead of 1A and 1B patients?

Austin Public Health is tightening up their vaccine distribution after dozens of non-prioritized people received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. KXAN began receiving photos on Tuesday from people showing long lines at the Delco Center. One person estimated around 800 people were present at 7 p.m.

Austin Public Health admitted on Wednesday that they gave a vaccine to people who waited in line all night “out of common courtesy” — these people were not in the priority 1A or 1B groups. News of the leniency spread like wildfire on social media. And on Wednesday morning, there was a line of around 100 people waiting to get their courtesy shots, too.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 13, 2021

American Petroleum Institute president criticizes energy transition as moving too fast

The president of the American Petroleum Institute questioned the speed at which government is moving to shift the world's economy away from fossil fuels in a speech Wednesday. Looking at California's plan to eliminate vehicles that run on gasoline and diesel in favor of electric models by 2035, Mike Sommers said it was likely to put further strain on a power grid that was already over-taxed, causing more blackouts like seen this past summer. "Bottom line, California is trying to force an energy change that it simply isn’t ready for and technology doesn’t exist to support," he said in a speech at the lobbying group's annual State of American Energy event in Washington. "No one should be surprised when reality keeps interfering. The constant impulse to mandate and make headlines never quits easy and never ends well."

Countries around the globe, including the European Union and China, are moving on a similar track to California, posing a major threat to an oil industry that currently supplies the energy for almost all the world's cars, trucks and planes. But with climate change of growing concern, industries across the board are moving to shift to less carbon intensive options, like electric cars and jets powered by low-carbon biofuels. Such a transition is expected to take decades at least, but Sommers is arguing against government efforts to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels, even as he called climate change, "the most important issue of our time." On the campaign trail Biden pledged to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, putting the Gulf of Mexico's offshore industry on an expedited decline. And he said he would do away with tax breaks for fossil fuel companies. Sommers said there were "a number of areas of common ground" with the Biden administration, citing the industry's efforts to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas fields. But he was critical of Biden's plan to put a halt on leasing, saying it would result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in rural areas for which the oil and gas boom has offered an economic lifeline over the past decade, as well as increasing U.S. dependence on oil and natural gas from abroad.

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Bloomberg - January 13, 2021

The U.S. companies hitting pause on political donations

The list of companies that say they are withholding political contributions after last week’s U.S. Capitol riot continues to grow steadily. The companies fall into three broad categories: Those going after specific Republican lawmakers who voted against the certification of the presidential election, those going after objectors in general, and those withholding all contributions for now regardless of political party or whether a lawmaker participated in the effort. Some 139 Republican representatives and eight GOP senators voted to object to at least one state’s electoral count, in support of President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results. This list does not include companies such as Bank of America Corp., General Motors Co. or FedEx Corp. that for now are saying only that they are reviewing future contributions or always decide donations on a case-by-case basis according to their interests at the time. The contributions below came from beat reporters and editors throughout Bloomberg News:

Action Against Individuals: HALLMARK CARDS: The maker of greeting cards was very specific in the message it wants to send U.S. Senators Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall: Give us our money back. The Kansas City, Missouri-based company said it’s seeking reimbursement for the $7,000 it donated to Hawley, of Missouri, and the $5,000 it gave newly elected Marshall, of Kansas, over the last two years. The Republicans objected to the certification of electors for President-elect Joe Biden. Partial List of General Action Against Objectors: AIRBNB: The online marketplace for travelers says it will “continue to uphold our community policies by banning violent hate group members when we learn of such memberships.”’ The company’s political action committee will update its framework and withhold support from those who voted against the certification of the presidential election results.” AMAZON.COM: The online retailer has suspended contributions to any member of Congress who voted to object to the election results, spokeswoman Jodi Seth said in an email. “We intend to discuss our concerns directly with those Members we have previously supported and will evaluate their responses as we consider future PAC contributions,” Seth said. AMERICAN EXPRESS: The credit-card company said Monday that its PAC wouldn’t support congressional members who tried “to subvert the presidential election results and disrupt the peaceful transition of power.” AT&T: The telecom giant said its Federal PAC board held a call Monday and decided to halt contributions “to members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes last week.” BEST BUY: The electronics retailer said it will halt campaign contributions to the 147 members of Congress who objected to certifying the election results.

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New York Times - January 13, 2021

Can conservative media still return to business as usual?

On a Friday in late December, people who tuned in to “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on Fox Business encountered something they had most likely never seen before: a subdued, uncertain Lou Dobbs. “There are a lot of opinions about the integrity of the election, the irregularities of mail-in voting, of election voting machines and voting software,” Dobbs said, his usualbombast strangely absent. “One of the companies,” he continued, “is Smartmatic.” He introduced Eddie Perez, an election-security expert, to assess “recent claims about the company.” Then the show cut to a two-minute, prerecorded interview in which Perez vouched for Smartmatic’s integrity — after which “Lou Dobbs Tonight” went straight to commercial. This was a major departure from the norm. In the weeks after the November election, Dobbs had spent most of his prime-time hour on a farrago of conspiracy theories about how Donald Trump had actually defeated Joe Biden. Among his favorites was one involving Smartmatic, which — according to Dobbs and various guests — was founded by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who died in 2013, and sat at the center of a plot to rig the election.

The interview with Perez lacked the usual Dobbs fervor. Perez calmly responded to questions from an unidentified interlocutor, all asked in the flat tone of an automatic voice generator. Each answer laid waste to Dobbs’s coverage of Smartmatic, and yet the segment was so grudging that it had the feel of the legal disclaimer at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial. All this was presumably prompted by the 20-page letter Smartmatic’s lawyer sent to Fox eight days earlier, detailing a “concerted disinformation campaign against Smartmatic” on Fox’s airwaves. Soon two other Fox hosts mentioned in the letter would broadcast the same Perez video. Fox wasn’t the only network involved: The conservative cable channels Newsmax and One America News Network, which have been trying to outflank Fox by voicing even more outlandish conspiracy theories, also received legal threats, and the Newsmax anchor John Tabacco soon announced that the channel “would like to clarify its news coverage” of Smartmatic. But such clarifications evidently made little impression on the believers who, a few weeks later, stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of the election results, leaving conservative media with a question even more vexing and consequential than how to respond to the threat of a libel lawsuit: How far could it really follow its audience? Ideologically minded news organizations traditionally do well when their political rivals occupy the White House. MSNBC saw its ratings spike during George W. Bush’s presidency and again during Trump’s. During Barack Obama’s administration, Fox News rose to new ratings heights as it devoted countless hours to supposed “scandals”: Solyndra, the bankrupted California solar energy company; the I.R.S., accused of targeting conservative groups for scrutiny; Benghazi.

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Washington Post - January 13, 2021

Margaret Sullivan: Four years ago, I wondered if the media could handle Trump. Now we know.

One way or another, Donald Trump will soon be gone from the White House. And that, to quote Prince Hamlet, is “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” As the remaining moments dwindle, I find myself thinking back to Nov. 8, 2016. Unlike this past election night, I was able then to be with my colleagues in The Post’s newsroom, where in the late afternoon, I had sauntered in, confident enough in a history-making Hillary Clinton victory that I had already written the start of a column about it. A few hours later, I was scrambling, like almost everyone else. Hands shaking, I managed to write a column condemning the media’s epic failure leading up to the election; after it went online, the word filtered down from the boss, Executive Editor Martin Baron, that I should write a second one about how the press must cover Trump in the months and years ahead.

That column wasn’t especially coherent or polished, but in it I conveyed a couple of decent ideas. One was that we must meet the moment: “Journalists are going to have to be better — stronger, more courageous, stiffer-spined — than they’ve ever been.” The other, something I’ve often reflected on, was the closing line — the kicker, as we journalists call it. I concluded that the press would not be able to avert disaster by itself: “We’re going to need some heroes.” I’m still not quite sure what I meant. As I said, my hands were shaking. But it resonates for me anyway. Something else from that night comes to mind. After deadline (or maybe between deadlines), reporters and editors stood around, trying to process Trump’s shocking win. One young Black editor had tears in her eyes, not saying much but clearly aware — rightly so — that Trump’s ascendancy was an existential threat, not just to her but to something much larger. She understood, at a visceral and an intellectual level, that a misogynist con artist who sympathized with white supremacists was about to do a whole lot of damage. An older staffer (White, male and a former foreign correspondent) tried to counter her reaction by offering a bit of perspective — predicting, also rightly, that we were all about to have what every journalist yearns for: a “great story” to cover. Now we know how it has played out. Now we know how we did.

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Gen - January 13, 2021

How do you impeach a former President?

Less than a week before President Trump’s term ends, the House has voted to impeach him for the second time. But the Senate is in recess until January 19, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday rejected the call for an emergency session for Trump’s impeachment trial. That means a trial wouldn’t take place until Trump is out of office. Can you even impeach a former president? The constitutionality of impeaching a former president is murky. While you obviously can’t remove someone from a position they don’t currently hold, senators can hold a separate vote to prevent that person from ever seeking public office again.

Some experts believe a former president, as a private citizen, would be exempt from any process geared toward public servants; others say the penalty of being barred from holding office should clearly apply to former officials as well. And, for what it’s forth, many top lawmakers over the years have supported the impeachment of former presidents. Former Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, for example, once suggested that Bill Clinton be re-impeached for pardoning Marc Rich, a wealthy Democratic donor and fugitive, on his last day in office. More recently, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a close Trump ally, said he believed former president Barack Obama should be impeached. Has it ever happened before? There is some precedent here: In 1876, the Senate held an impeachment trial for former Secretary of War William Belknap. During that trial, the Senate voted — by a simple majority rather than the usual two-thirds required for any impeachment proceedings — that indeed it did have the power to try a former official. It’s quite possible that the Senate will hold a similar vote in the weeks ahead, to determine by simple majority whether it has the authority to convict Trump once he’s out of office.

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Politico - January 12, 2021

Dems demand details of ‘suspicious’ Capitol visitors day before attack

More than 30 House Democrats are demanding information from Capitol security officials about "suspicious" visitors at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 5 — a day before violent insurrectionists swarmed the building — that would only have been permitted entry by a member of Congress or a staffer. "Many of the Members who signed this letter ... witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups in the complex on Tuesday, January 5,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), in a letter to the acting House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, as well as the acting head of the Capitol Police.

The lawmakers, some of who "have served in the military and are trained to recognize suspicious activity," noted that Capitol tours have been prohibited since March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and they said the tours were so unusual that they were reported to security on Jan. 5, ahead of the following day's violence. "The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day," they wrote. "Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex. The presence of these groups within the Capitol Complex was indeed suspicious." They are asking the security officials to reveal whether any logbooks of visitors are available and if they include names of those admitted to the building by lawmakers. They also ask whether any law enforcement agencies have requested similar information and what limits Capitol security officials apply to visitors brought in by members. Sherrill first raised alarms Tuesday that some members of Congress may have provided "reconnaissance" tours to would-be insurrectionists. In a 13-minute Facebook video billed as an address to her constituents about the House's efforts to hold President Donald Trump accountable for inciting the riot, Sherrill included the allegation as part of a call to hold Trump's allies in Congress accountable as well.

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