Joaquin Castro Receives Spot on House Intelligence Panel

Left to right, Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) participate in a press conference held by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., December 8, 2015.  This morning the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Evenwel v. Abbott case, on whether voting districts should continue to be drawn by using census population data or whether the system should be changed to count only citizens eligible to vote. (photo by Allison Shelley for The Texas Tribune)
Left to right, Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) participate in a press conference held by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., December 8, 2015. This morning the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Evenwel v. Abbott case, on whether voting districts should continue to be drawn by using census population data or whether the system should be changed to count only citizens eligible to vote. (photo by Allison Shelley for The Texas Tribune)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed Texas U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro on Wednesday to the one of the most sensitive posts in the Congress: a seat on the House Intelligence Committee.

The U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence provides oversight of the federal government's sprawling intelligence apparatus, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Pelosi decision shows confidence in the San Antonio sophomore.

Many committee assignments are based on member's professional backgrounds, fundraising capacity and geography. But the decision-making behind intelligence is often based on whom leadership believes can be trusted with sensitive information.

Pelosi is herself a veteran of the committee, and takes a particular interest in the issue. In 2014, she considered Castro as a finalist to run the House Democratic campaign arm, but ultimately chose another Democrat.

Castro currently serves as a lieutenant to U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's vote-counting operation on the House floor. He will take a leave of absence from the House Armed Services Committee to serve on the Intelligence Committee, according to a Pelosi statement.

"Joaquin Castro has shown himself to be an outstanding leader on the national security issues before America today,” Pelosi said.

“On the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congressman Castro has consistently displayed the strength of his judgment, the depths of his expertise, and the power of his commitment to the brave men and women who keep our country safe."


U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this week named a new chief of staff on Wednesday — David Polyansky, the senior political and communications adviser for Cruz's presidential campaign.

He replaces Paul Teller, who had held the post of chief of staff since 2014.

The Tribune’s Abby Livingston reported that installing the campaign’s senior adviser in his Senate office “was an early step in Cruz's plan to make another run for the presidency.”

Polyansky worked for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's short-lived 2016 presidential bid before joining the Cruz campaign. He previously advised Joni Ernst's 2014 U.S. Senate campaign in Iowa, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's re-election bid and Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Of Teller, Livingston wrote, “While Teller will no longer work in Cruz's Senate office, Cruz is still retaining him as part of his larger political operation. Teller will take on a ‘senior leadership role at a recently established organization that will strengthen and promote conservative principles across the country,’ according to a news release.”


A week after Cruz went two-for-four with his endorsed candidates in various primary contests around the country, the Texas senator announced another high-profile endorsement Tuesday.

Receiving the nod today is Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas congressman first elected to the U.S. House in 2010 as part of that year’s Tea Party wave election.

He’s facing a challenge in that state’s Aug. 2 party primary from obstetrician Roger Marshall.

In a statement, Cruz said, “On the issues that matter most to conservatives — protecting innocent life, cutting out-of-control spending, and fighting to repeal Obamacare, just to name a few — I have been able to count on Tim’s principled, conservative leadership. That’s why I’m proud to endorse Tim’s campaign for re-election and encourage the men and women of the Sunflower State to send him back to Congress to continue fighting for jobs, freedom, and security for Kansans and all Americans.”

Huelskamp, who is chairman of the House’s Tea Party Caucus, endorsed Cruz for president in February.

Ryan Fundraising Stop in Wimberley Yields $500K Haul

Now the U.S. House Speaker, Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, is shown in 2012.
Now the U.S. House Speaker, Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, is shown in 2012.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan spent lunch last Friday at a Wimberley ranch, raising money for the GOP efforts to hold the House this coming fall.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus introduced his national counterpart, who sported a Green Bay Packers polo shirt.

The audience included more than 100 donors, according to a source attending. Price of admission ranged between $2,700 to $244,000 and two GOP sources confirmed the event raised more than $500,000 for Ryan's joint fundraising committee.

Since he assumed the gavel, Ryan has raised millions of dollars in Texas. There is only one competitive Congressional race in the state, the 23rd District. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, currently holds the seat and attended the event. He faces former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. Several other Texas GOP Congressmen were also in attendance.

Because of the paucity of competitive seats, Texas' main role in the fall campaigns is just this: funding the national campaigns to save dozens of vulnerable incumbents around the country. 


Also late last week, the Donald Trump presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee named nine state victory finance chairs in Texas, most of whom are already known to be raising money for Trump. The newer additions include Gigi and Carl Allen, as well as John Steinmetz.

Five of the state victory finance chairs have been named presidential trustees, giving them more heft in Trump's fundraising operation: the Allens, Andy Beal, Doug Deason and Dennis Nixon.


The House Democratic campaign arm will soon air cable and digital ads with an aim of tying House Republicans to Trump. 

The campaign will target CD-23's Will Hurd, but the ads do not name him directly.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced the advertising blitz will have a seven-figure buy behind it. It will be a national buy but target 10 districts with vulnerable Republican incumbents, including CD-23.

Hurd has declined to endorse Trump.

One of the DCCC advertisements features a succession of people who claim to be Republicans and rail against Trump. The other ad compares Trump to a childhood bully and urges Republicans to stand up to the bully.


A delegate to the Republican National Convention from Texas penned an open letter to party chairman Reince Priebus defending the efforts of some Republicans to organize an ouster of the party's presumptive nominee for president.

Her message: "Dear Chairman Priebus, don’t freak out. We are working to save you from yourself."

Sondra Ziegler of Lubbock, a delegate from Texas' Congressional District 19, disparaged Donald Trump in the letter, arguing that delegates should be given the "right to vote their conscience," and against Trump, at the party's upcoming convention in Cleveland.

Ziegler is bound to support U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Cleveland but indicated that she would vote for "whoever might be nominated that has the best chance of beating Donald Trump in that vote” if allowed.

"I understand the position you hold, and your belief that you are duty-bound to (nearly daily) embarrass yourself by attempting to embrace Donald," Ziegler wrote to Priebus. "But those of us who are delegates have a different role. Our Party rules say the delegates are the 'highest authority' of the Convention. It is the delegates who choose our nominee. So along with other delegates, I am working to save you from yourself."


In a rare moment of Washington bipartisanship, President Barack Obama last week signed a bill that U.S. Sen. John Cornyn shepherded through the Senate.

The aim of the new law, the Freedom of Information Act Improvement Act of 2016, orders federal agencies to be more open to public queries about government business.

“One of our country’s hallmark values is a commitment to open and transparent government, and today is an important step towards ensuring the American people can hold their government accountable,” Cornyn said in a statement.

And in a nod to a Democratic ally on the bill, he praised U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

“I appreciate Senator Leahy’s partnership on this bill and I am pleased to see it become law today," Cornyn added.

War of Words Over Proposed Nuclear Fuel Waste Site Heats Up

An overhead view in 2012 of Waste Control Specialists' low-level radioactive waste storage facilities near Andrews, Texas.
An overhead view in 2012 of Waste Control Specialists' low-level radioactive waste storage facilities near Andrews, Texas.

A Texas company seeking a license to accept and store highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel pushed back late last week against opponents’ suggestions that it was ill prepared to safely to do the job.

“Give me a break,” said Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, adding that the company was “pleased” with the status of its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The company, formerly owned by the late Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, currently stores low-level nuclear waste in Andrews County, northwest of Midland. It wants permission to open its gates to tens of thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel — a massive expansion that it’s pitching as a temporary answer to the question of where the nation will safely house the waste currently filling up reactor sites. It filed the application in late April.

Last Thursday, a pair of environmental and consumer groups — Public Citizen and the SEED Coalition — blasted the proposal, and said a recent letter from the NRC fueled their safety concerns.

Mark Lombard, who oversees spent fuel management and safety safeguards for the agency, wrote that the company’s application “does not contain sufficient technical information” for the agency to kick it to the next stage of the process: a technical review.

His letter asked the company to provide many more details about its plans, including information about safety of its dry storage casks and descriptions of the facility’s security systems. The company must comply by late July or risk halting the application process.

“WCS failed to provide a lot of the information required by the NRC to assure this is a safe site,” Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas chapter, said in a statement. “Why should we trust a company that can’t get its paperwork complete to safely construct and operate a facility that could hold up to 40,000 metric tons of lethal nuclear reactor waste for 40 or more years?”

But McDonald pushed back and called the information request standard procedure — and expected.

“We submitted a license application that was 3,000 pages long – 3,000 and change,” he told Texas Weekly. “If we’re going to jerk off like this every time we get a letter from the NRC from Smitty – I mean, we haven’t even started the technical review process.”

The company’s “admittedly aggressive” timeline hasn’t changed, McDonald said. It aims to start construction in 2019, and to start accepting the waste by 2021.

The commission also downplayed the significance of the request.

“It is not at all unusual for an acceptance review on a spent fuel storage application to result in requests for supplemental information,” spokeswoman Maureen Conley said in an email. “It’s a standard process that was implemented to maximize the efficiency of NRC resources, and identify upfront whether an application is complete before we begin our technical review.”

Dale Klein, associate director of the University of Texas Energy Institute and the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said it was “not that unusual” for the commission to request more information. He added, however, that such issues are often resolved informally.

“It demonstrates a little bit of a lack of communication between the applicant and the regulator,” he said of the letter to WCS.

Inside Intelligence: About Those Election Turnout Numbers...

For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we asked about predictions on turnout in Texas for the presidential election.

Ahead of this month's national party conventions, we thought the time was right to quiz the insiders on what the anticipated Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton presidential matchup would do for turnout in Texas.

Four years ago, almost 8 million Texans showed up to vote in the presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

We began the survey by asking how this year's turnout might stack up against that benchmark. Nearly half of the insiders thought overall turnout would break 8.5 million votes while another 40 percent believed turnout would fall between 7.5 million and 8.5 million votes. Just 11 percent pegged turnout as falling below 7.5 million votes.

We then turned to a couple of questions aimed at ascertaining how this year's party standard bearers would perform.

Close to half the insiders thought presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump would win less than 55 percent of the vote in Texas, a performance that would put him below the 57.2 percent won by Romney in 2012. Another 44 percent said Trump would win between 55 percent and 60 percent of the vote while just 7 percent said he would win more than 60 percent.

Three in five of the insiders, meanwhile, believed presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would take between 40 and 44 percent of the vote, a total that would put her more or less on par with the 41.4 percent won by Obama in 2012. One in four thought she would surpass 44 percent of the vote in Texas while 14 percent thought that she would not break 40 percent.

We closed by asking whether Gary Johnson would perform better in Texas as the Libertarian Party standard bearer than he did four years ago when he won just 1.1 percent of the vote. On this one, the insiders were in agreement with three in four of them thinking Johnson would improve upon his 2012 performance.

We collected comments along the way, and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:


Almost 8 million Texans voted in the 2012 presidential election. How many votes will be cast in this year's contest?

• "The sleeping giant will finally awaken."

• "Seems like 8 million people have moved to Texas since 2012. Surely they brought with them civic-mindedness and will help increase turnout."

• "The state has grown, so there will be more votes."

• "More voters vs. unpopular candidates = flat turnout."

• "The Rs aren't excited, blacks and Hispanics still don't vote in high enough numbers and the D base isn't enough to run up the total very much."


The GOP ticket led by Mitt Romney won 57.2 percent of the vote in Texas in 2012. How will the GOP ticket fare this year?

• "Clinton won't connect with male voters, both Hispanic and Anglo."

• "Whatever the percentage is, you can take to the bank that it will be The Best (TM) percentage."

• "Trump is a fool. I think a lot of GOP votes will go Libertarian."

• "Trump's anti-NAFTA talk, hurts many Hispanics."

• "There are still enough over 50, white men to trounce the Ds in Texas."


The Democratic ticket led by Barack Obama won 41.4 percent of the vote in Texas in 2012. How will the Democratic ticket fare this year?

• "Clinton won't be able to surf the Obama youth vote."

• "Much more than any recent year."

• "Low- to mid-forties sounds about right. I don't sense there will be many folks going from R to D, but could see a lot of Rs not voting or going to Libertarian."

• "Hillary has a loyal, though small, following in Texas. And, she doesn't suffer from racial bias like Obama did."

• "HC is no Barack. Many still want to feel the Bern!"


As the Libertarian Party nominee in 2012, Gary Johnson won 1.1 percent of the vote in Texas. He's again that party's nominee this year. Does he do better in Texas than last time?

• "Hillary wins big among Hispanics, but the Spicoli (thanks, Sean Penn) vote goes to Governor Veto."

• "Yes, he does better. No, he doesn't crack 5 percent."

• "Perhaps, but I don't think he'll top 3 percent."

• "It does not matter. The Libertarian Party is a waste of effort."

• "Johnson and Weld offer a (mostly) common sense alternative to Rs who can't imagine voting for Trump or Clinton. That should equal 5 percent for the Ls in Texas."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Raif Calvert, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Snapper Carr, Elna Christopher, Kevin Cooper, Randy Cubriel, Curtis Culwell, Denise Davis, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Glenn Deshields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jack Erskine, Jon Fisher, Tom Forbes, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Kinnan Golemon, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Steve Holzheauser, Shanna Igo, Jason Johnson, Mark Jones, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Sandy Kress, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, Luke Legate, Myra Leo, Jason McElvaney, Mike McKinney, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Keats Norfleet, Todd Olsen, Gardner Pate, Jerod Patterson, Robert Peeler, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Allen Place, Jay Pritchard, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, Grant Ruckel, Andy Sansom, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Robert Scott, Ben Sebree, Christopher Shields, Nancy Sims, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Jason Stanford, Colin Strother, Sherry Sylvester, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, Corbin Van Arsdale, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Michael Williams, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Sunday, July 10

  • Attorney General Ken Paxton fundraiser at the summer national meeting of the Republican Attorneys General Association; The Broadmoor, Pompeiian Room, 1 Lake Ave., Colorado Springs, Colo. (9:30-10:15 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 13

  • State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, fundraiser; The Austin Club, 110 E. Ninth St., Austin (4:30-6:30 p.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz met with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus in Washington on Thursday, according to multiple reports.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling a lawsuit filed by three University of Texas at Austin professors in an effort to block the state's new campus carry law "baseless" and said he plans to "vigorously defend it."

In a little-noticed effort to regulate abortion providers, Texas health officials have quietly proposed rules that would require abortion providers to cremate or bury all fetal remains.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked a federal judge in Wichita Falls to put a nationwide halt on the Obama Administration’s directive instructing school districts across the country not to discriminate against transgender students.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has thrown out their greatest legislative victory — the House Bill 2 abortion restrictions — Texas abortion opponents are trying to decide what comes next.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott named Wesley Lloyd of Waco, an attorney at Freeman Mills PC, to serve on the Brazos River Authority Board of Directors until Feb. 1, 2017.

Abbott appointed Anthony “Tony” Jaso of San Antonio to serve as presiding officer of the Texas Board of Medical Radiologic Technology, which regulates the practice. Jaso, senior vice president of Estrada Hinojosa & Company, was selected to serve on the board until Feb. 1, 2021. Abbott also named eight others to terms on the body: Nicholas Beckmann of Houston and Scott Morren of Anton to serve until Feb. 1, 2021; Faraz Khan of Houston, Regan Landreth of Georgetown and Carol Waddell of West until Feb. 1, 2019; and Joe Chow of Dallas, Jennifer Flanagan of Fort Worth and Shannon Lutz of Cypress until Feb. 1, 2017.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, rolled out this week a list of endorsements from a couple of Houston congressmen and eight Houston-area state legislators who are backing her candidacy for the state Senate seat being vacated by Rodney Ellis. The endorsers are: U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green; and state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet ColemanHarold Dutton Jr.Jessica FarrarAna HernandezRon Reynolds, Hubert VoArmando Walle and Gene Wu.

Quotes of the Week

Yes, I’m the other senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured — and I want to talk to you about statements like that.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who, in a closed door meeting between Senate Republicans and Donald Trump, called out the presumptive presidential nominee for his remarks last year about John McCain

Mr. Trump asked Sen. Cruz to speak at the Republican Convention, and Sen. Cruz said he would be happy to do so.

Ted Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier on the extending of an invitation to Cruz to speak at the Republican National Convention even as Cruz withholds an endorsement of Trump

We are a majority-minority state and I think we do have an important obligation to provide educational opportunities to everyone in the state.

Greg Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin, to the Tribune on the goals of the institution after the Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas

To put it in terms these professors should understand, the clinical trials are over, and campus carry has been shown to pose little risk to public safety.

Antonia Okafor, southwest regional director for Students for Concealed Carry, dismissing a claim made by three UT-Austin professors that Texas' campus carry law is "dangerously experimental"

This is a two-party dinosaur. We think we're going to be the comet in this equation.

Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson on the role that he envisions for his party this presidential election