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Texas U.S. Rep. Rob Wright dies after battle with COVID-19

Arlington Republican’s death opens up a potentially competitive House seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

DALLAS (CFP) — Three months after being elected to a second term in Congress, Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Wright died Sunday after battling COVID-19 and lung cancer, become the first sitting member of Congress to die during the pandemic.

A statement from his office said Wright died peacefully at a hospital in Dallas with his wife, Susan, at his side. He had announced January 21 that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been hospitalized for the past two weeks.

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas

Wright, 67, had been diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2019, about seven months after arriving in Congress, but ran for re-election in November as he continued treatment. His final vote in Congress was against the impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

Wright’s death opens up a vacancy in Texas’s 6th U.S. House District in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs.

Democrats had targeted Wright’s seat as a pickup opportunity in 2020, but he defeated Democrat Stephen Daniel by nearly 9 points. However, the special election will present a new dynamic because candidates from all parties will run in the same race, with the top two vote-getters meeting in a runoff if no one gains a majority.

In the 2020 election, Trump only carried the district by 3 points over President Joe Biden. About 47% of the district’s residents identify as African American, Latino or Asian.

While Wright is the first sitting member of Congress to die from COVID-19, the pandemic claimed Republican U.S. Rep-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana, who died in December before being sworn in.

Prior to his election to Congress, Wright had served as a city councilman in Arlington and as the tax assessor in Tarrant County. He was also chief of staff for his predecessor in the House, former U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, who retired in 2019.

The district includes southeast Tarrant County and Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

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South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison picked as new Democratic National Committee chair

President-elect Joe Biden also names Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Texas U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela as vice chairs

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two months after coming up short in a $130-million quest to flip a U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina, Jaime Harrison has been picked by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Biden also named Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas as two of four vice chairs of the party, putting Southerners in three key positions atop a party that made some headway in 2020 after struggling for relevance in the region.

Jaime Harrison

In a statement, Biden said the new team leaders “represent the very best of the Democratic Party.”

“We need to elect Democrats across our country and up and down the ballot. To do that is going to take tireless leadership committed to strengthening Democratic infrastructure across our states,” he said. “I know they will get the job done.”

Reacting to his selection on Twitter, Harrison said he was “humbled and excited” by his selection.

“Together, we’ll organize everywhere, invest in state parties, expand the map, and elect Democrats who will be champions for the working people of this country,” he said.

While the selections of Harrison, Bottoms and Vela will still have to be ratified by the full national committee, Democrats have traditionally allowed incoming presidents to have full control of party leadership.

Harrison, 44, a former aide to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, served as chair of the Palmetto State’s Democratic Party from 2013 to 2017, before making an unsuccessful run for national DNC chair.

Last year, he ran against Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, raising and spending more than $130 million on the race by building a nationwide fundraising network. But despite some polling showing the race to be close, Graham beat him by more than 10 points in November.

Biden’s selection of Harrison had been expected after Clyburn, a key backer of Biden during last year’s South Carolina primary, endorsed his candidacy.

Bottoms, in her first term as mayor, will lead the DNC’s efforts in civic engagement and voter protection. She had also been a Biden surrogate during the campaign and was given consideration as his vice presidential running mate.

Vela, who represents the Rio Grande Valley in Congress, was another early Biden backer. He had reportedly been considered for a post in the new Cabinet but was not selected.

Neither Bottoms or Vela will have to give up their elected post to serve as DNC vice chairs.

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25 new Southern U.S. House members, 2 senators sworn in Sunday

Freshmen group includes youngest member in nearly 60 years, wave of Republican women

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Members of the new 117th Congress will be sworn into office on Sunday, including 25 new Southern U.S. House members and two new Southern senators.

The Southern House freshmen include seven Republican women, part of a wave elected in November that more the doubled the number of GOP women in the chamber, and 25-year-old Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who is the youngest member of the House sworn in since 1965.

Also among the new Southern House members is former White House doctor Ronny Jackson, whom President Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to elevate to Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018. He will represent now represent the Texas Panhandle.

Republican Stephanie Bice from Oklahoma City is making history as the first Iranian-American to serve in Congress. Her father emigrated from Iran in the 1970s.

Byron Donalds, the new member representing Southwest Florida, will be one of just two African American Republicans in the House and three in Congress overall.

Full list of new Southern House members at bottom of story

Clockwise from top left: Cawthorn, Bice, Donalds, Tuberville, Sessions, Greene

In the Senate, Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, and Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, will join a Southern contingent that now includes 25 Republicans and just three Democrats, after Tuberville defeated Doug Jones in November.

Lawmakers were sworn in during a rare Sunday session because the Constitution prescribes January 3 as the date for opening a new Congress.

Sunday’s House session is scheduled to include a moment of silence for Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana, who died from COVID-19 days before he was set to be sworn in.

While both the House and Senate were observing coronavirus precautions, including masks and social distancing, one new member from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, was spotted on the floor without a mask, prompting admonishment by House staff.

During orientation for new members, she had dismissed masks — which are required on the House floor — as “oppressive.”

Among the new members sworn in Sunday was one very familiar face — Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, who served 11 terms in the House before being defeated in 2018, then claiming a seat from a different district in November.

Sessions and Jackson are part of a group of seven new members from Texas, marking a turnover in nearly a fifth of the Lone Star State’s delegation amid a wave of retirements. All are Republicans.

Florida has five new members; Georgia, four; North Carolina, three; and Alabama, two. Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia each have one new member. Delegations from Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia were unchanged.

Eleven of the 25 new Southern members are women (seven Republicans and four Democrats), part of the largest group of women (121) ever sworn into a single Congress. The new Congress will also feature a record number of Republican women at 29, up from 13 in the last Congress.

The service of one Southern House member in the 117th Congress will be brief — Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who will leave to become a senior aide to President-elect Joe Biden once he is sworn in on January 20.

Special elections will be held in Louisiana for Richmond and Letlow’s seats in March; neither are expected to change hands between parties.

The Constitution requires members of the House to be at least 25 years of age, a threshold Cawthorn met in August after winning the Republican primary in his Western North Carolina district. He will be the youngest House member since Jed Johnson Jr., a Democrat who represented Oklahoma for a single term between 1965 and 1967.

Sessions represented a Dallas-area seat during his first stint in the House, which he lost in 2018 to Collin Allred. Rather than try to reclaim it in 2020, he ran in a vacant seat in a district that includes Waco, where he grew up.

Of the 25 new Southern members, 21 were Republicans and just four were Democrats. Overall, Republicans hold 99 Southern seats and Democrats 52, with Letlow’s seat vacant.

Four Southern states — Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia — have no Democrats in their House delegations, while five others — Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina — have just one.

In only one Southern state do Democrats hold a majority of seats, Virginia, which is sending seven Democrats and only four Republicans to Washington.

Here is a list of new Southern House members, by state:

Alabama
Jerry Carl, R, 1st District (Mobile, South Alabama)
Barry Moore, R, 2nd District (Montgomery, southwest Alabama)

Florida
Kat Kammack, R, 3rd District (Gainesville, North-Central Florida)
Scott Franklin, R, 15 District (Lakeland, eastern Tampa suburbs)
Byron Donalds, R, 19th District (Fort Myers, Southwest Florida)
Carlos Giménez, R, 26th District (south Miami-Dade, Florida Keys)
Maria Elvira Salazar, R, 27th District (Miami-Dade)

Georgia
Nikema Williams, D, 5th District (Atlanta)
Carolyn Bourdeaux, D, 7th District (northeast Atlanta suburbs)
Andrew Clyde, R, 9th District (Gainesville, Northeast Georgia)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, R, 14th District (Rome, Northwest Georgia)

North Carolina
Deborah Ross, D, 2nd District (Raleigh)
Kathy Manning, D, 6th District (Greensboro)
Madison Cawthorn, R, 11th District (Western North Carolina)

Oklahoma
Stephanie Bice, R, 5th District (metro Oklahoma City)

South Carolina
Nancy Mace, R, 1st District (Charleston, Low Country)

Tennessee
Diana Harshbarger, R, 1st District (Tri-Cities, East Tennessee)

Texas
Pat Fallon, R, 4th District (Northeast Texas)
August Pfluger, R, 11th District (Midland, San Angelo, west-central Texas)
Ronny Jackson, R, 13th District (Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Panhandle)
Pete Sessions, R, 17th District (Waco, central-east Texas)
Troy Nehls, R, 22nd District (western Houston suburbs)
Tony Gonzales, R, 23rd District (West Texas)
Beth Van Duyne, R, 24th District (metro Dallas-Forth Worth)

Virginia
Bob Good, R, 5th District (Charlottesville, central Virginia)

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Most Southern Republican U.S. House members break with Trump on 2 key votes

Only 18 join Trump’s push for $2,000 coronavirus relief checks, while 51 vote to sustain veto of defense spending bill

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Southern U.S. House Republicans were largely unswayed by President Donald Trump’s call for larger coronavirus relief checks in a key vote Monday, and most of them then voted to override the president’s veto of a defense spending bill that had passed earlier in the month with broad bipartisan support.

Trump had threatened to veto a coronavirus funding bill because it did not provide Americans with more generous relief checks, before signing it Sunday. But House Democrats brought a stand-alone bill to the floor to increase checks from $600 per person to $2,000, and 44 Republicans joined with almost all of the Democrats to pass it by a margin of 275 to 134 and send it to the Senate.

However, among the 99 Southern Republicans in the House, just 18 joined in the effort to make relief checks more robust — Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama; James Comer and Hal Rogers of Kentucky; Rick Crawford of Arkansas; Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney and John Rutherford of Florida; Michael Burgess, Kay Granger, Bill Flores, Will Hurd, Mike McCaul and Pete Olson of Texas; Clay Higgins of Louisiana; Tom Cole and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma; David McKinley of West Virginia; and Denver Riggleman of Virginia.

Hours later, the House, as expected, overrode Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Bill, with 109 Republicans, including 51 Southern Republicans, voting in favor of the first successful veto override of his presidency.

Just 35 Southern Republicans voted to sustain the president’s veto including 12 Southern Republicans who had voted for the defense bill but switched sides on the override vote — Comer, Diaz-Balart, Burgess, McKinley, Rick Allen of Georgia,  Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, Carol Miller of West Virginia, Gary Palmer of Alabama, John Rose of Tennessee, and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas. Greg Steube of Florida, who did not vote when the bill came to the floor, also voted against the override.

Five other Southern Republicans who supported the bill’s passage opted not to oppose Trump on the veto override and did not vote — Reps. Andy Barr of Kentucky, Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Kenny Marchant of Texas, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, and Phil Roe of Tennessee. Jody Hice of Georgia, who opposed the bill, also did not vote on the override.

Twenty-two Southern Republicans opposed both the original bill and the veto override, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Trump’s most vocal defender in the House, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

All 50 Southern Democrats serving in the House voted for the $2,000 checks and the veto override.

Trump vetoed the defense spending bill because he objected to a provision requiring name changes for military bases named for Confederate officials, mostly in the South. He also wanted Congress to repeal an unrelated provision that protects digital media companies from liability for posting third-party content.

The veto put Republicans in the awkward position of choosing between loyalty to Trump and supporting a bill to fund military operations, including pay raises for the troops.

After the House override, Trump took to Twitter to denounce the action as “a disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech.”

The bill had passed December 8 by a veto-proof margin of 335 to 78, with the support from 140 Republicans. The veto override is expected to clear the Senate.

However, the boost in relief checks is expected to have a much more difficult time in the Senate, where members have expressed concerns about the $300 billion cost of nearly the tripling the amount of the payments.

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Decision 2020: Democrats’ Lone Star hopes dashed as they come up bone dry in Texas

Dreams of turning Texas purple subsumed in a red wave in Tuesday’s vote

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Heading into Tuesday’s election, Texas Democrats were hopeful that 2020 would finally be the year that the Lone Star State would turn purple.

They had targeted 10 U.S. House seats and had hopes of flipping a U.S. Senate seat and grabbing control of the state House — and perhaps even winning the state’s presidential electoral votes for the first time since 1976.

Exactly none of that happened.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, re-elected

President Donald Trump carried Texas by 6 points; U.S. Senator John Cornyn won by 10 points over Democrat MJ Hegar; none of the targeted U.S. House incumbents lost; and the balance of power in the Texas House will be about where it was before the election began.

The only bright spot for Democrats was that they kept the two U.S. House seats they flipped in 2018, as Collin Allred won re-election in Dallas, and Lizzie Fletcher won in Houston.

Perhaps nothing symbolized Democrats’ night of woe as much as what happened in the 23rd U.S. House District, which stretches across a vast expanse of West Texas from San Antonio toward El Paso.

This district is always hard fought, changing hands four times in the last 20 years. Two years ago, Republican Will Hurd won it by a mere 926 votes over Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones.

After Hurd retired, Ortiz Jones ran again and was expected to pick up the seat. But she lost to Republican Tony Gonzales by 9,300 votes, a worse showing than two years ago.

Democrats had also expected to pick up the Dallas-area seat that had been held by Kenny Marchant, but former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne appears to have won a narrow victory over Democrat Candace Valenzuela, although the race has yet to be called.

Valenzuela had attracted national attention after winning the Democratic primary, picking up endorsements from Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Kamala Harris.

Republican House incumbents who survived included Mike McCaul in central Texas (+7), Van Taylor in the northern Dallas suburbs (+12), Chip Roy in the Austin suburbs (+7), Dan Crenshaw in Houston (+14), Ron Wright in suburban Dallas (+9), Roger Williams in metro Austin (+14) and John Carter in the northern Austin suburbs (+9).

Roy’s victory was particularly sweet for Republicans, as he defeated former Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who gained a national following in 2013 after filibustering to kill a bill restricting legal abortion, which she parlayed into an unsuccessful run for governor in 2014.

Davis moved from Fort Worth to Austin to run against Roy and raised nearly $9 million. But in the end, it was not enough to overcome Texas’s Republican tendencies.

Which was the story of the night for Texas Democrats.

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