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Texas Republicans lead the charge against Biden on oil, immigration, guns



TEXAS— It took President Joe Biden all of six weeks to spark a slew of fights with Texas Republicans over oil, immigration, guns and more.

Even as the president this week touted major early victories for his administration — including accelerating COVID vaccinations and a $1.9 trillion stimulus — new battles are brewing on several fronts as Biden took executive action or threw his support behind legislation aimed at expanding voting rights, bolstering unions and restricting gun purchases.

Meanwhile, Texas Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott headed to the border to pin a migration surge there on the president’s new approach to immigration.

“It sure feels like President Biden is targeting Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from The Woodlands who pointed to Biden’s moves to end the Keystone XL pipeline and pause drilling on federal lands.

“Biden is out of control,” Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted earlier this week as he railed against a Biden order on voting access.

Paxton has already stopped one White House policy with a lawsuit filed two days after Biden’s inauguration. The state sued over Biden’s order halting certain deportations for 100 days, which a judge blocked in an early victory for the state. But Paxton has threatened to challenge other Biden priorities, including a Democratic bill that would essentially establish a national election code.

Turning up the heat on a Democratic president early isn’t a new playbook for Republicans — and it’s one that has worked well for the party before. The GOP openly obstructed many of the priorities of former President Barrack Obama, starting as he took office in 2009.

Then they won control of took the House in the midterms the next year.

Democrats took the same approach with President Donald Trump in 2017 and saw the same results in 2018.

“Keeping this in the forefront with the base supporters is a good strategy — ‘look at what the president’s doing,’ making Biden the bad guy and bringing up how everything he is doing is so counter to Texas values,” said Renée Cross, senior director at the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. “That’s going to play extremely well with the Republican base.”

Cross said it’s especially important for Republicans as Biden has racked up some big victories early in his term. The president this week declared all Americans will be eligible for COVID vaccines by May and signed the stimulus package set to boost incomes of many Texans, which polling shows is widely supported, even by many GOP voters.

“You don’t want your opposition to seem to be winning at everything,” Cross said.

Republicans say the stimulus, which Democrats passed without a single GOP vote, is a sign of how little Biden and his allies in Congress care about working across the aisle, even as Biden has stressed he wants to unify the nation.

“I know the national narrative for Americans is that we’re all taller, smarter and better looking since Joe Biden became president, but the truth is, this is the most partisan White House that I’ve seen,” Brady said. “I don’t know why they went their own way, but I don’t think it’s going to get any better.”

Texas Democrats, meanwhile, have united behind most of Biden’s priorities, even as some moderates in the Texas delegation have balked at Biden’s moves on oil and immigration. His Texas allies are working to frame Biden’s early days as focused on fighting for the working class, pointing to aid for the 3.9 million Texans living in poverty included in the stimulus.

“This administration did not give up, did not give in,” U.S. Rep. Al Green of Houston said as he voted for the stimulus this week. “This administration has become now a symbol of hope and help for working class people.”

Trouble on the border

The border has been at the center of Texas Republicans’ earliest and most sustained battle with the Biden administration so far. Paxton’s successful lawsuit challenged one of Biden’s first immigration actions. Republicans have blamed his administration’s shift from the restrictive policies of the Trump White House for creating a migrant surge there now — though the surge began late in Trump’s term.

Border Patrol this week reported more than 100,000 encounters with migrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico in February, a 28-percent jump from the month before.

The Biden administration has said its focus is establishing an “orderly” and “humane” way of handling the surge of immigrants, largely Central Americans fleeing violence, poverty and political upheaval. But newly minted immigration officials in Biden’s cabinet say they’re having to build that system from the ground up after the Trump administration “didn’t just neglect our immigration system, they intentionally made it worse.”

At least three Texas Republicans — Abbott, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Houston and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — made high-profile trips to the border to highlight what they say is the first major crisis of the Biden administration. Democrats representing Texas border communities have joined them in warning of a looming crisis as they’ve urged the administration to take stronger action.

Texans held press conferences in D.C. and went on conservative news shows to blame the president’s policies as House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said he would take a trip to the border himself on Monday.

“The reason they’re coming now is the reason they came when Barack Obama was president, which is because they’ve been promised amnesty,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program. “Joe Biden is telling them, ‘If the kids come, they can stay.’”

Order on transgender students

Biden on Monday signed an order making it the policy of his administration to protect students from “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It was a step in part toward undoing Trump administration policies on Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, and returning to Obama-era efforts to protect transgender students by allowing them to use the bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identities.

Paxton’s response was almost immediate. He called it the “most insidious” of all Biden’s orders so far in a letter to the president, in which he threatened: “If you take any further measure … I will stop you.”

The exchange made it clear that Texas will again sue to stop federal rules on this matter from taking effect, as it did in the Obama years.

Voting rights fights

Paxton has been fighting the Biden presidency since even before his inauguration. Paxton led a failed lawsuit to overturn election results in four battleground states as Texas Republicans supported Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen from him.

Texas Republicans have used similar unproven claims of widespread fraud to justify making the state’s voting laws among the nation’s most restrictive. Now Biden and Democrats in Congress have those restrictions in their sights.

The House last week passed a voting rights bill that would ban voter ID laws, institute automatic and same-day voter registration and would expand mail-in and early voting options. And it would take redistricting out of the hands of the state’s lawmakers just as they’re gearing up to redraw political boundaries.

The president this week also signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for Americans to vote, which the White House described it as an “initial step” to “protect the right to vote” — and it was a relatively small one. It directed federal agencies to work harder to register voters and said the Biden administration would look for ways to make it easier for federal employees and those in federal custody to vote.

Paxton, on the other hand, said it showed Biden’s “intent to steamroll state-run elections.” He’s already threatened to sue if Biden ever gets a chance to sign the voting bill into law.

Guns and unions

Biden has also thrown his support behind bills the Democratic House passed this week that would expand background checks on gun purchases and undermine so-called “right-to-work” laws in states like Texas that weaken unions.

Texas Republicans opposed both measures, and the state is likely to sue if either becomes law.

Texas GOP Chairman Allen West this week was fundraising off the gun bills, which would require background checks for all gun buyers. The bill would also close the so-called Charleston loophole that gives the FBI only three days to conduct a background check by extending that window to 10 days.

“It is crucial that we secure Texas as a Second Amendment safe haven NOW — especially with the Biden administration preparing to wage war on our responsible gun owners like you and me,” West wrote in an email to supporters.

Biden, meanwhile, has been vocal about his support for unions — and has acknowledged they helped him win the presidency, saying in a recent White House meeting with labor leaders that “these are the folks that brung me to the dance.”

He’s backing a Democratic bill aimed at bolstering unions by strengthening federal labor laws and making it easier for employees to organize. The bill would allow bargaining agreements to require all employees pay union dues, something Republican lawmakers in Texas have banned in an effort to weaken unions.

“You’re seeing these very extreme policies,” said Brady, pointing to the unions bill. “These aren’t the priorities for the country right now, in my view.”