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John Cornyn Takes a Trump Nominee Hostage for Harvey

Cornyn’s tactics to get hurricane recovery money for Texas have angered two tea party groups.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty

When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, the polling gap between political values of Republicans and Democrats was a mere fifteen points. Today, it has widened to 36 points—the greatest partisan divide in the United States in more than two decades. This is more than just the Democratic “resistance” spurred by Donald Trump’s election; it’s a reflection of how hard-line social conservatives have affected mainstream Republicans in the same way a flea can rattle a dog.

The itch for the old party is apparent in the criticisms of Trump by retiring Republican Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, and Bush’s not-so-subtle chastisement of politicians who will not denounce white supremacy. In a series of interviews published in Politico, former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said when historians review his tenure—which ended two years ago—“They’ll be talking about the end of the two-party system.” Boehner went on to blame the growing division on social media and talk show hosts who went “crazy right.” We got some of that here at home last week when Texas House Speaker Joe Straus announced he would not seek re-election, in no small part because the fight with what Boehner described as the “crazy right” had just gotten too “repetitive.”

But there’s something missing from Boehner’s list of causes for the breakdown of rational politics: The paid provocateurs who use prevarication and distortion to grow a distrust of government and establishment politicians among politically-active Christian fundamentalists and tea party libertarians.

Just look at the recent attacks on U.S. Senator John Cornyn by FreedomWorks and Empower Texans. Cornyn is one of those traditional Republicans of old—a fiscal, small government conservative. But that’s not the image a voter might take away from the criticism of Cornyn’s efforts to get federal funds for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Cornyn’s sin, according to these groups, is that he has taken hostage the confirmation of Russell Vought, Trump’s nominee to be the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, until the president approves hurricane relief funds for Texas.(Cornyn has not set a dollar amount, but Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday gave the state’s congressional delegation a $61 billion list of needs.) One of the powers of Cornyn’s position as the majority whip is that he sets the schedule for when the Senate votes on confirming presidential nominees. But Congress cannot appropriate money for things like Texas hurricane relief unless it is designated by the president’s Office of Management and Budget.

It is not even that Cornyn opposes Vought’s confirmation. He’s just using it as leverage. After all, if you have the power to hold up a presidential nominee, what better nominee than one for the office that has control of the money you want for Hurricane Harvey relief?

Vought’s confirmation was already a cause for the Christian fundamentalist tea party movement. Using a blog post Vought wrote last year, liberal independent Senator Bernie Sanders turned questioned the nominee’s religious views during a confirmation hearing in June. “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology,” Vought wrote in support of Wheaton College’s decision to suspend a professor who said Muslims and Christians worshiped the same God. “They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” Many evangelicals thought Sanders had crossed the line when he asked Vought whether he believed Muslims and Jews are damned to Hell. Vought responded that he believes all people are worthy of “dignity and respect” because they are made in God’s image, but that only believers in Jesus can obtain salvation.

Cornyn’s decision immediately brought a cascade of opposition from conservatives. And though it’s not terribly surprising that knee-jerk conservatives in D.C. would put outrage politics ahead of the people of Texas, Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans jumped on the bandwagon. “Besides being senators, socialist Bernie Sanders and Republican John Cornyn share something in common: both are working against the appointment of a conservative budget hawk to the Office of Management and Budget,” Sullivan wrote. Sullivan once questioned “Cornyn’s rationale for opposing Vought,” but then later in the same article wrote that Cornyn just wanted “more cash for Texas shoved into the budget.”

I sent Sullivan a text message asking to talk, but did not hear back.

Sullivan has bedeviled Texas House elections in recent years by whipping up opposition primarily to Republicans who were not considered conservative enough, especially on issues such as private school vouchers and lowering taxes. To get an idea of how connected to Texas elections Empower Texans is, it’s funding and an affiliated foundation jumped from $1.9 million in 2013 to $3.4 million in 2014, that last major election year for Texas offices, and then fell back to $2.3 million the next year, according to IRS records. In 2015, Sullivan earned $195,000, according to Empower Texans’ IRS filings. (The chairman of Sullivan’s Empower Texans has been Midland oilman Tim Dunn, who also is widely believed to be the main source of funding for the group.) The Texas Ethics Commission investigated Sullivan for lobby and campaign finance violations but ended its effort in 2016 and dropped a lawsuit seeking to expose his group’s financial source.

Sullivan has been the main political opponent to Texas House Speaker Straus since he was first elected in 2009, and he was overjoyed when Straus announced he was not running for re-election next year. He joined with Jim Graham of Texas Right to Life to chortle over the political change in a YouTube video.

However, Empower Texans has been little more than a gadfly annoyance for Straus, but he alluded to them and groups like then in announcing his decision to not run again: “Certain groups that you are aware of are doing the same thing again for the sixth time, as some point it gets so repetitive…”

Although Straus his commonly referred to as a moderate Republican, he presided over a House that passed restrictions on abortion, blocked state funding of Planned Parenthood, gave us the voter identification law and sanctuary cities, and cut $5 billion from public education funding during a financial crisis in 2011. By any measure of Texas politics from 1978 through the middle of the 2000s, Straus is not a moderate member of the party. In the era of bigotry and outrage, though, Straus is a Republican in name only for right wing groups only because he stood in the way of private school vouchers, tax cuts that would have harmed rural governments and a discriminatory bathroom bill that would have dampened efforts to attract new businesses to Texas.

Politics often is called a marketplace of ideas that compete for sales. But as the attacks on John Cornyn and Joe Straus prove, sometimes the hawkers in the marketplace are just trying to sell rotten fruit.

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    Excellent analysis….I was particularly pleased to see you let a little air out of the Joe Straus “Moderate” balloon. While I definitely preferred Straus over most of the other choices, I have always been amused by this idea that somehow the House was standing in the way of the right wing agenda since—as you pointed out—virtually all of it has been passed by BOTH the House and the Senate while Straus has been speaker and much of it originated as house bills. About the only “biggies” for the GOP he has not passed are vouchers, the bathroom bill and the property tax caps…He couldn’t have passed vouchers if he wanted to….there aren’t the votes in the House…..and by the end of the special session he had given up opposing property tax caps and was only arguing about when they should go into effect at 4% or 6%.. That leaves blocking bathrooms as his major accomplishment for this session. Straus is quieter and not as inclined to throw red meat to the Trolls……but in these days that might be worth continuing to support him.

    • Jed

      i dunno. best i can tell, the thesis of this article is this:

      “But there’s something missing from Boehner’s list of causes for the breakdown of rational politics: The paid provocateurs who use prevarication and distortion to grow a distrust of government and establishment politicians among politically-active Christian fundamentalists and tea party libertarians.”

      and the prime suspect seems to be MQS. but is he really? is that the best we can come up with? for my money, if i am making a list of “paid provocateurs” who manipulate fundamentalists and other amoral idiots (libertarians), i could come up with dozens who are more important (and more despicable) than MQS.

      • SeeItMyWay

        Oh, we know you could. You are as far left as the other loons are far right. Since you are on the left side, you are really insignificant. The far right is a force to be reconed with.

    • SeeItMyWay

      By definition, Straus is a moderate.

    • james

      Yeah, missing completely what is going on and making it sound like Cornyn is not a leftist moderate R and making Straus seem like moderate Republican is reaaaaaaly good honest reporting.

  • SpiritofPearl

    “Snakes on a Plane,” the most corrupt administration in American history:


    • SeeItMyWay

      BOOM! and another.

      • BCinBCS

        Get off my lawn!

        • SeeItMyWay

          I guess I could respond, “those of you crapping on the threads posted by TM get off their lawns” so those of us not wanting to have to have to scroll through off topic comments no longer to in order to get to those that are on topic You turn newbies off; you run old contributors off. I have no idea why TM allows it to happen. Haven’t you abusers shared Email addresses or text #’s by now? Take your off topic rants there. Too much to ask for? Kick in a few $ to help our pedantic professor get his own blog up and running. You guys can covey up there.

  • SpiritofPearl

    The GOP tax plan: Trump and his kleptocrats gain millions. The middle class loses. Our grandchildren’s future is annihilated.


    • SeeItMyWay

      BOOM!! Another off topic post.

      • BCinBCS

        I mean it, get off my lawn!

  • SpiritofPearl

    Epistemology: how we know what we know. We’re in a crisis:


    • Jed

      that is an excellent article. vox is generally very good. it’s really too bad that republicans would never consider reading it, because it consistently explains a lot of what they don’t understand without preaching.

      • SpiritofPearl

        As I have said before, Repubs are genetically programmed to be fearful and worship authoritarianism. Studying all viewpoints is too scary. And they continue to reproduce with others with their genetic profile. No exit . . .

  • NanaG4

    Okay, let’s get the cries of “old school” “no one cares about typos anymore” “don’t be a nag” out of the way first. Honestly, can’t Texas Monthly provide proofreading (a person or apps) for these blogs? Typos are worse than wrong, they interrupt the flow and syntax of an otherwise well written, thought provoking blog such as this one. Not on a soap box, just plaintively pleading for an even more enjoyable experience reading TM columns and blogs.

    • St. Anger

      the sheer volume of crap being pushed out to the internet every second renders it impossible that editors or even trained writers touch much of it.

      just be thankful this wasn’t written by a bot programmed by someone who doesn’t speak english.

      • NanaG4

        are you saying the author of this piece, published in Texas Monthly wasn’t written by a “trained” writer? I don’t fuss about comments, or FB posts, etc. but written blogs, articles published in established journals, etc.? Yeah that bothers me. I am not a proofreader. I am just a reader who gets tired of stumbling over typos and having to reread a sentence or paragraph to decipher what the author may have been attempting to convey.

        • SeeItMyWay

          Please share the irritating grammatical error in the thread that caused you grief or misunderstanding.

          • Sweet Pickle

            Which one? There were several.

          • SeeItMyWay

            Acocdrnig to a reschearer at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

        • St. Anger

          I am saying if this sort of thing bothers you, you may want to pick up a book.

  • John Bernard Books

    Ever met a dem who wasn’t a degenerate?
    “Yet, ever since then, we’ve seen attempts to normalize pedophilia, polygamy, and now incest. So either liberals are stupid or just plain out right degenerates who knew full well this was coming, in fact, maybe even wanted it to happen.”

    they are some sick puppies…..

    • Don Baker

      You are exactly right

  • SeeItMyWay

    Damn, R.G., one of your best threads ever! Nailed it. You provided a explicit list of legislation that was passed out of the House that no rational person could call liberal…yet it was just not radical enough for the mouth breathers.

    I have this gut feeling that, however slowly, a physics law is at work here…for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    Local municipal voters are being told they are not smart enough to rule themselves; major corporate employers are being pilloried as parasitic; many wonder why those radicals sent $1B to fund border security ( the Fed’s responsibility) while not funding therapy for special needs children. These are just some of the issues causing headscratching…not only by “lowly liberals”, but also a majority of heretofore uninvolved Reaganite Republicans who are slowly catching on.

    I am predicting that Straus, and other movers and shakers, in both business and politics in the state, have had enough, and are formulating a grassroots gameplan of their own.

    Dunn and the Wilke’s have big money, but more than Geren’s buddies, Straus’s buddies? More than the major Texas corporations that are getting cussed by Empower Texans’ acolytes like Sen Konni Burton?

    I find it hard to believe that Straus is simply a quitter. I prefer to think he has been huddling with other heavyweights to plan and coordinate an “equal and opposite reaction” to the force of the pendulum smacking many of us in the face the last several years. This thought offers me hope…and, as I have stated before, moderate Texas Dem’s would be ignorant not to get onboard with this group. Their party is all but dead in Texas.

    • Alberta

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  • Kozmo

    There is something very unwholesome and unhealthy about a political and electoral system that rewards the most divisive and fanatical elements to the detriment of the others. But then, as long as half or more of the citizenry won’t bother to vote, I guess we get the government (or lack thereof) that we deserve.

    • SpiritofPearl

      I always vote. I don’t deserve this.

      • BCinBCS

        Ditto, Pearl.

      • SeeItMyWay

        Imagine how I felt when Carter got elected.

        • St. Anger

          you supported the criminals then, too?

  • james

    Odd that somehow the “awesome” reporting failed to mention that instead of having anything to do with people turning against Cornyn ( a left leaning republican) Straus was literally condemned by every single county’s Republican executive committee individually and seperately, with many including my own EC calling for his replacement. Tarrant county was the last one to file and ratify a resolution to that effect and his decision was made public in avery short time period afterwards, once he lined in another very very far left leaning “republican” to become the heir apparent. Straus was condemned because he allowed the Democrat minority in the texas house to hold key positions in calendars and heads of other key bodies that have the ability to block any legislation that democrats oppose from even getting a vote. Also not in this article the fact that Strauss has enjoyed complete support from the democrats when it came to election.

    • Jed

      “Odd that somehow the “awesome” reporting failed to mention that instead of having anything to do with people turning against Cornyn ( a left leaning republican)”

      you had me at “left-leaning republican.”

      odd, indeed. when can we see some of that left-leaning?

      • james

        Like this? “Senator John Cornyn (RINO-TX) is, predictably urging the Trump Administration not to link their agreement to amnesty for DACA illegals to reductions in legal immigration, an often abused means of putting Americans out of work in favor of low wage foreigners.”?

        • Sky Mirror

          Have you picked any strawberries lately, James?

        • Jed

          so if you don’t want to reduce legal immigration you are left-leaning?

          does that make every business left-leaning?

          you would prefer more illegal immigration instead, maybe?

          left-leaning = not absurdly ignorant. got it.

  • Jeronimo Dan

    While I’m hard right wing, I still say watch this guy named John Cornyn as he’s proven he’s good for about one thing in the SWAMP and that is standing to the left side of Mitch McConnell holding him up and Mitch is about as worthless as a big turtle in the middle of a Dallas interstate.

    • Ruth

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      On tuesday I got a brand new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It Sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleSportFinanceReportsOnline/online/easytasks ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!dx158lhhh

  • Don Baker

    Michael Quinn Sullivan fought bogus ethics violation claims in court and won. He totally discredited the corrupt Ethics Commission. Also, we really need a primary challenger to John Cornyn. He has become a swamp dweller.

  • donuthin2

    Cornyn is being cowardly on the Moore child assault allegation as his Cruz. Both are saying that he should be removed if the allegations are true, knowing full well that guilt will not be established by the courts before the election. This issue is not about proof beyond a reasonable doubt but about compelling evidence. If it becomes even more compelling as we move forward, it will be interesting to see how they react.