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Newsclips - July 16, 2020

Lead Stories

Vox - July 14, 2020

How the pandemic scrambled Democrats’ campaign to retake statehouses

When she decided to run for state representative in the 98th District of Michigan, Democrat Sarah Schulz began putting together a traditional campaign infrastructure. She had unsuccessfully run for the same seat — which represents a portion of northeastern Michigan centered on the city of Midland — in 2018, and had a strategy for winning the traditionally conservative district this fall. So she built a list of volunteers and made plans for door-knocking campaigns and in-person events, the cornerstones of “retail politicking.” But everything changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit. So she and her volunteers started making homemade masks.

This is just one example of how candidates are looking for creative ways to campaign in a high-stakes election cycle that offers Democrats a chance not just to retake the White House and Senate, but to take control over statehouses as well. Since 2020 is a census year, whichever party controls the statehouse following the elections will control how districting will work for the next decade. Republicans swept into power in 2010, and subsequently used gerrymandering to stay in power in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina — even in elections in which they won a minority of statewide voters. Democrats hope to use new census data to their advantage, and are counting on candidates like Schulz to do so. The pandemic has complicated the party’s plans, however. State-level candidates who depend on retail campaigning — knocking on doors, meeting voters face to face in their community — have been forced to abandon some of the cornerstones of local campaigning and have thrown themselves into more digital campaigning. “Normally the gold standard is face-to-face interaction to build relationships,” said Kelly Dietrich, CEO and founder of the Democratic Training Committee. “Now you can’t do that gold-standard face to face, but the goal is still the same. You still have to build a relationship with people to convince them to vote for you.” According to Dietrich, state and local campaigns have had to adapt by launching texting initiatives and ramping up phone-calling measures in order to reach voters. Some others, like Schulz and her mask-making operation, have found creative ways to campaign and catch the attention of voters without having to go door to door.

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NPR - July 15, 2020

White House strips CDC Of data collection role for COVID-19 hospitalizations

The Trump Administration has mandated that hospitals sidestep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send critical information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and equipment to a different federal database. From the start of the pandemic, the CDC has collected data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, availability of intensive care beds and personal protective equipment. But hospitals must now report that information to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.

The change sparked concerns among infectious disease and health care experts that the administration was hobbling the ability of the nation's public health agency to gather and analyze crucial data in the midst of a pandemic. Michael Caputo, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, defended the administration's decision and said that CDC's system was too slow. "The CDC's old data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it's an inadequate system today," Caputo said in a statement shared with reporters. "The President's Coronavirus Task Force has urged improvements for months, but they just cannot keep up with this pandemic." Public health experts expressed dismay and confusion over the reporting change because of how it could disrupt public access to the data. It also comes at a time when the Trump White House has openly sparred with CDC Director Robert Redfield and other federal scientists about the pandemic response. "It's really hard not to see this as some kind of interference or snub [to] the CDC," says University of Arizona epidemiologist Saskia Popescu. "With so many concerns over the politicization of data right now, this is concerning."

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 15, 2020

Lloyd Doggett: Food box failure a reflection of Trump administration

With our community confronting so many ongoing challenges, we must pull together to get to the other side of this crisis. An important part of getting through this as expeditiously and responsibly as possible is seeking accountability along the way. Preventing the waste of tax dollars and ensuring public services are delivered in a timely and efficient manner are what good government demands. Express-News reporting by Tom Orsborn exposed the fiasco of CRE8AD8, an event planner, failing hungry families after receiving a $39 million Trump administration contract for emergency food relief. The company appears to have fulfilled only about 40 percent of its San Antonio deliveries and even less elsewhere, providing only about 1 in 4 or 5 promised food boxes overall.

Not only were the tireless folks at the San Antonio Food Bank shorted on food for the needy, but they were also burdened with additional costs for transporting the insufficient amount supplied. While the Express-News Editorial Board rightly recognized that this contract was awarded to an “event planner we wouldn’t entrust with putting tchotchkes in a bag, let alone delivering food for struggling families,” I believe this involves much more than an ill-equipped vendor. It mostly reflects an indifferent and incompetent Trump administration, which appears to have done no background check on its awardee, while rejecting other well-qualified local minority contractors. Instead of admitting its failures and canceling the contract in May, the administration refused to provide straight answers and waited until July to quietly decline renewal. How many other ill-advised contracts were approved in communities whose newspapers may not have doggedly ensured that the public got the facts? How many important services throughout this crisis have been entrusted to pandemic profiteers who are shielded from oversight?

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San Antonio Express-News - July 15, 2020

Trump pick declares victory in tight race to replace San Antonio’s Hurd, but opponent isn’t calling it quits yet

President Donald Trump’s favored Republican candidate to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Will Hurd declared victory by a narrow margin in Tuesday’s nail-biting runoff race — but his opponent, backed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, isn’t giving up yet. Navy veteran Tony Gonzales, Trump’s pick, holds a lead of just seven votes over retired Air Force officer Raul Reyes, the Cruz-supported candidate, in unofficial returns listed on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

“With 100% reporting, the Secretary of State’s office is showing that we won the primary runoff by seven votes,” Gonzales said Wednesday. “We will be working to protect the integrity of every legal vote until the canvass is complete over the next week.” State law allows absentee ballots to be counted if they’re received by 5 p.m. the day after the election is held. And ballots coming from overseas can be counted if they are received no later than five days after the election. Members of the Armed Forces get six days to have their mail-in ballots received and still be counted. “This race isn’t over until every legal vote is counted,” Reyes wrote.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 14, 2020

State lawmaker presses for answers after hundreds of inmates test positive at S.A. jail

A state lawmaker is pressing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for answers after hundreds of inmates tested positive for COVID-19 at the Dominguez State Jail on the Southwest Side of San Antonio. State Rep. Philip Cortez wants to know how the agency is working to minimize the spread of the virus throughout the jail, where more than a quarter of the inmates and 29 employees were confirmed to be infected. On Monday, 474 of the inmates had active cases of the virus. Most of them — 397 — are asymptomatic, while 77 showed symptoms, TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel said.

Eight of those inmates remained hospitalized Monday, Desel said. Another inmate, Paul Alexander Casiano, 51, who was serving a six-year sentence for a felony assault conviction in Kendall County, died June 27 at a Galveston hospital. An autopsy wasn’t performed, but Casiano had tested positive for the virus. Medical evidence suggested it was a “contributing factor” in his death, TDCJ’s website noted. Thirteen Dominguez inmates have recovered from the virus so far, according to TDCJ’s COVID-19 dashboard, a public website providing daily updates on COVID-19 cases at each of its lockup facilities. The percentage of inmates testing positive at the Dominguez unit is unacceptable, Cortez said. He asked that TDCJ provide him weekly reports on the situation. “That would be unbelievable, unbearable and unacceptable if the percentage was to continue to grow ... So we need to stop it now,” he said.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 14, 2020

Elaine Ayala: A Goya boycott may not work, but the blow really has been to Goya’s reputation

Research has shown boycotts don’t hurt a company’s bottom line. Not really. That’s because boycotts are hard to sustain over time, and consumers have short attention spans. Most consumers are creatures of habit, anyway. They remain loyal to brands despite what anyone says about them. Sometimes, what consumers reach for in a grocery-store aisle comes down to a generational decision. If your parents and grandparents bought Campbell’s soup, you’re likely to continue buying the product no matter how much sodium the company has taken out of its recipes.

Grocery lists contain a good bit of nostalgia. Such consumer behavior must be comforting to the board of directors of Goya Foods right about now, after its president and CEO Robert Unanue did the brand no favors. Over the weekend, Unanue doubled down on his lavish praise of President Donald Trump during a White House event Friday. He knew exactly what he was doing kissing up to the president’s insatiable ego. No doubt corporate tax rates were on his mind, too. The Rose Garden occasion, where obsequious behavior is prearranged, was focused on something called the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative. It was celebrated during a pandemic and will be operated out of the U.S. Department of Education, two questionable decisions. It’s main goal, it seems, is to supplant a similar initiative by the Obama White House. One by one, corporate executives were called to the podium to perform on key. Unanue delivered.

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

As Dallas County reports 8 more coronavirus deaths, Jenkins says this week will be one of the deadliest

Dallas County reported eight additional COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, a day after officials announced a record-tying 20 deaths. The county also reported 1,055 new coronavirus cases, making Wednesday the 13th consecutive day with at least 1,000. “The eight deaths we experienced today make it clear that … that this will be one of our deadliest weeks so far,” County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement.

Of the eight deaths Wednesday, five were Dallas residents: two men in their 60s, a woman in her 70s and two men, in their 80s and 90s, who lived in long-term care facilities. The other victims were a Duncanville woman in her 70s, a Grand Prairie man in his 50s and a Mesquite woman in her 60s. Dallas County has reported 36 deaths in four days this week. Last week was the county’s deadliest so far during the pandemic, with 54 deaths. The county’s confirmed case count now sits at 36,969, or about 14 for every 1,000 residents. There have been 485 total deaths, and the county does not report recoveries. Health officials said hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain high, with 648 reported on Tuesday. There were 646 emergency-room visits — about 35% of all visits — for symptoms of the illness. According to the county, those numbers may be artificially low because of a reporting issue.

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Ex-White House physician turned GOP congressional candidate downplays need for masks during pandemic

A day after his Tuesday congressional runoff victory, Ronny Jackson, former White House physician and the GOP nominee in Texas’ 13th District, downplayed the need to wear masks in public amid the coronavirus pandemic. “I think you’ve got to look at your personal circumstances,” Jackson, a retired Navy rear admiral, told Fox News on Wednesday morning. “You’ve got to look at your surroundings, you’ve got to decide if that’s right for you. I’m a firm believer that is, at this point, a personal choice. I encourage people, if they want to wear a mask, but I don’t wear a mask all that often, to be honest with you.”

Jackson, who was endorsed by President Donald Trump in the race over cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner, made the comments after a clip played of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, urging Texans to wear a mask in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state. “I think wearing a mask is a personal choice, and I don’t particularly want my government telling me that I have to wear a mask,” Jackson said in response to the clip, while also downplaying the severity of the virus that has killed more than 135,000 Americans since the beginning of March. On Tuesday, Dr. Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, said the United States could get the coronavirus pandemic under control in one to two months if every American wore a mask.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 15, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: With crime tax secure, Fort Worth leaders must follow through on policing changes

Fort Worth voters have declared that yes, hundreds of millions of dollars of sales-tax revenue should continue to flow to police and crime prevention programs in the next decade. But it’s noteworthy that this election was closer than past renewals of the Crime Control and Prevention District. The victory was still quite comfortable, with 64 percent of the total vote. It’s clear that with the current national turmoil over police brutality, though, a large number of voters want a different kind of law enforcement, even if they don’t yet constitute a majority.

Leading up the election, officials such as Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Ed Kraus indicated they were listening and were on board for such change, as long as core police programs are funded. With the half-cent of sales tax revenue secure for 10 more years, they must now demonstrate that wasn’t just campaign rhetoric. Price said in a written statement Tuesday night that she would push the City Council to “engage in a conversation about the governance structure” and spending choices. A conversation is a good start, but action must quickly follow. Before the vote, Price and Kraus pointed to programs such as crisis intervention for the mentally ill and perhaps a new program to ensure that those who need treatment are diverted to it rather than taken to jail when they commit low-level crimes.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 15, 2020

Family of baby on life support at Cook Children’s wants new doctor to treat her

Attorneys representing the family of 1-year-old Tinslee Lewis have filed a motion to allow a new doctor to treat her. Lewis, who was born with a rare heart defect called an Ebstein anomaly, has been at the center of a legal dispute for more than nine months while she has remained on life support inside Cook Children’s Medical Center. The hospital has maintained that continuing to treat Lewis is causing her unnecessary pain and suffering, and putting an emotional strain on the staff who have to attend to her. Her family has argued Lewis’ case isn’t hopeless.

Her family’s lawyers filed the motion on Tuesday in a Tarrant County district court, according to a news release from Texas Right to Life. They’re asking the court to require Cooks to grant emergency privileges to Dr. Glenn E. Green, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan who has been evaluating Lewis. Green, going against the doctors at Cooks, believes the infant’s episodes of oxygen desaturation that have been diagnosed as “dying spells” could be the result of treatable underlying airway issues, according to the release. He would reportedly evaluate the infant for airway malacia and perform a tracheostomy. The procedure is common for those who have been on ventilators for long periods of time. Dr. Patrick Roughneen, a Galveston physician, visited Lewis at the hospital and said in a separate declaration filed with the court that he agrees with Green’s conclusion.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

Women say life is ‘like a scary movie’ as coronavirus spreads in Fort Worth prison

Sandra Shoulders feels like she’s living in a horror movie. Every day, prison staff at FMC Carswell, a federal medical prison in Fort Worth, take about a dozen people out of her unit to get tested for COVID-19. Some of them come back; others do not. When a woman tests positive for the virus, her mattress is dragged from the room she shares with three other people and stacked in what used to be the TV room. Every day, the mountain of mattresses grows. Shoulders tries to avoid walking past it.

The number of cases at the prison has swelled from three to 130 in the past two weeks. Inmates said they have not been allowed to leave their rooms since last week, cells are not immediately sanitized after someone tests positive, and there’s a shortage of cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment. Out of the 1,373 women at the prison, 645 have been tested and 465 are awaiting test results, according to Bureau of Prisons data. The women who test positive for COVID-19 are quarantined in solitary confinement, said Steven, whose wife is at Carswell. He asked that he not be identified by his full name out of fear the staff would retaliate against his wife.

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New York Times - July 14, 2020

In Texas beach city, out-of-towners drove in an outbreak

As recently as early June, days went by with hardly anyone testing positive for the coronavirus. A single case one day. Three the next. Then zero. Zero. Zero. Word spread that Corpus Christi, always a popular beachfront vacation spot for Texans from around the state, was a safe place to go. They didn’t even require masks indoors. It was an oasis from the virus. “People in San Antonio, in Houston, Austin, even Dallas, knew that we had low caseload,” said Peter Zanoni, the city manager. “It was a nice getaway from the rules, the regulations, the doom and gloom.” It turned out that no place was safe.

Now the city of 325,000 has one of the fastest-growing outbreaks in Texas, a state where records for positive cases were set for four straight days last week, with nearly 11,000 recorded Thursday. Corpus Christi has seen more cases per capita than Houston and a rapidly mounting death toll: Of the 38 deaths recorded from the pandemic, 30 have come in July, including a baby less than 6 months old. Local officials have been left scrambling to get ahead of an outbreak that went into overdrive without warning. As recently as June 15, the city had tallied 360 cases during the entirety of the outbreak; on Wednesday alone, there were 445. The city’s two dozen contact tracers are so overwhelmed that they are no longer able to seek detailed information about each new infection. Hospital beds have filled at an alarming rate, prompting pleas for additional staffing. The surge in cases forced local leaders, businesses and residents to grapple with the uncomfortable reality that the same out-of-towners who help the city thrive economically may have caused the outbreak. The feeling is less one of resentment than of frustration at a seemingly impossible dilemma. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be telling tourists, ‘Don’t come to our beaches,’” said Mayor Joe McComb, 72.

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

After 3 decades of public service, outgoing Galveston Mayor Yarbrough looks forward to helping ‘from the sidelines’

Jim Yarbrough, who has served as Galveston’s mayor since 2014 and led the county government for a quarter-century before that, is stepping down Wednesday and turning over the reins to Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown. Yarbrough, a Democrat, has been working remotely because of health concerns. Prior to the latest spike in COVID-19 infections, he said last month he thought stepping down was appropriate as more government business began to take place in person.

“You know (I) hate to leave, but it’s the right thing for me, it’s the right thing for the city,” Yarbrough said during a phone interview Monday. “They need somebody who’s going to be there to call the shots and be able to assist where needed.” Brown, a Democrat who has served on the council since 2014, will serve as mayor on an interim basis. The retired pediatric dentist is vying with four other candidates — Roger “Bo” Quiroga, Raymond Guzman, Jr., James Casey and Bill Keese — in the Nov. 3 election for mayor. “In the years I have been privileged to serve on City Council with Mayor Yarbrough, I have witnessed firsthand what a positive influence he has had on our community,” Brown, 73, said in a written statement. “I am prepared to continue this movement forward and to accept the Public Health and Economic challenges that are so important to our residents and the visitors that we host.”

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NBC News - July 15, 2020

Coronavirus is rapidly spreading in Texas nursing homes, state figures show

Younger Americans have been driving the recent coronavirus surge in Texas — but the virus is now also rapidly spreading in the state’s nursing homes, threatening elderly, frail residents who are most at risk of serious illness and death. Across Texas, nearly 1,000 new infections of nursing home residents were reported in the week ending last Friday, July 10, NBC News found in an analysis of data from the Texas health department. That’s the highest weekly increase since mid-May, when the state began publishing the data, and it reflects record increases last week in the Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and El Paso regions.

And that is most likely an undercount. Since last Friday, the state has reported more than 1,800 new cases among nursing home residents, in part because a data lag had prevented cases from being counted in the San Antonio area and the southernmost part of the state over the past two weeks, health officials said. Deaths from the virus are also mounting: 1,173 nursing home residents have died in Texas so far, according to state data — including 224 deaths since July 1. The rising numbers have alarmed nursing home advocates and family members of residents who worry that facilities may not be able to contain the virus as it spreads in the surrounding community. The greatest fear is that Texas — now one of the biggest coronavirus hot spots in the country — could see mass outbreaks in nursing homes like those that hit the Northeast earlier in the pandemic. More than 6,400 nursing home residents in New York have died from the virus, and more than 6,600 have died in New Jersey.

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KHOU - July 15, 2020

HISD will offer only online learning when school begins on Sept. 8

All HISD students will begin the school year virtually on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the district announced Wednesday. Virtual instruction will continue for at least six weeks through Friday, October 16. "Attendance and participation during virtual learning are a must and all grades will count," HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said during a news conference.

Under the plan, face-to-face instruction for all students will begin on Monday, October 19. This date is subject to change based on COVID-19 conditions across the City of Houston and recommendations from local, state, and federal health officials. Parents not comfortable with sending their children back to school will have the option to opt out of face-to-face instruction entirely for the fall semester and school year. "I need our children to be safe," Latham said. "We will not put the health of our students and staff at risk." The press conference is being streamed on KHOU.com and our Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter account.

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National Stories

Washington Post - July 15, 2020

Trump scales back landmark environmental law, saying it will help restart the economy

President Trump finalized a major overhaul Wednesday of one of the country’s most consequential environmental laws on the grounds that it has slowed the construction of highways, pipelines and other major projects across the country. The sweeping changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, which opponents have vowed to fight in court and reverse if Democrats regain control of the executive and legislative branches this fall, underscore the stakes in this year’s election. “This is a truly historic breakthrough,” Trump said Wednesday afternoon at an event at a United Parcel Service hub in Atlanta where he announced the move. He added: “Together, we’re reclaiming America’s proud heritage as a nation of builders and a nation that can get things done.”

The law requires the federal government to analyze the impact of a major project or federal action on the environment — and to seek public input — before approving it. Trump and his allies in business and industry argue that the law has proved costly and cumbersome to developers. But supporters say it provides Americans — particularly those in poor and minority neighborhoods that bear the brunt of many polluting industries — with a say on proposals that will affect them for decades to come. Trump chose Georgia, which has emerged as a battleground state in this year’s presidential and Senate elections, as the site for unveiling his move. At Wednesday’s event in Atlanta, he noted that his action is expected to cut down the length of time for a highway expansion plan there to two years from the original seven. “We’re going to give every project a clear answer: Yes or no,” Trump said to applause. A White House official said the move will benefit the UPS hub by reducing congestion and promoting economic development in the region. Kym Hunter, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a phone interview that it was hard to say the law had delayed Atlanta’s Interstate 75 expansion because it was still in the early stages.

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Wall Street Journal - July 15, 2020

Why Arizona wasn’t ready for its coronavirus surge

In the state with the highest per-capita rate of Covid-19 cases in America over the past week, Arizonans are waiting up to eight hours in the broiling hot sun to get tested. A metropolitan area of a million people was down to 17 free ICU beds Tuesday. A top health official in the largest county said the coronavirus is now so widespread that contact tracing is almost ineffective. Local officials and public health experts coping with the coronavirus pandemic in Arizona say the state was lucky to avoid a large outbreak in the spring, but that instead of using the time to prepare for a future wave, political leaders assumed the situation was already well in hand.

A full-throttle reopening in May that drew crowds to bars and restaurants, a failure to increase testing and a lack of contact tracing have fueled an avoidable crisis, they said. Now, 26.46% of tests in the past seven days have come back positive, the highest rate in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins University data. And some 3,000 people are hospitalized with Covid-19 daily, compared to 789 two months ago, when the state first reopened. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and the third highest number of cases in the country, officials said the virus is so widespread that contact tracing is no longer effective. “It’s like we were driving down a single lane road and there was a car accident up ahead and we could see an off ramp to avoid it. But it felt like everyone was saying we could just avoid the accident by not taking the off ramp,” said Ross Goldberg, president of the Arizona Medical Association.

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The Atlantic - July 15, 2020

Fauci: ‘Bizarre’ White House behavior only hurts the President

Anthony Fauci isn’t about to quit, despite the White House’s clumsy attempts to stain his public image. More so now than at any other point in their uneasy partnership, it seems that if President Donald Trump wants to be rid of Fauci, he’ll need to fire him. In recent days especially, the White House has stepped up efforts to discredit Fauci, a move he describes as “bizarre.” “Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci told The Atlantic in a series of interviews this week. “When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.” He described the White House attacks against him as “nonsense” and “completely wrong.”

He also seemed dismayed that they are coming at a time when COVID-19 is surging across the country, deaths are once again rising, and Americans remain deeply confused about how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Targeting Fauci seems like a tragic misuse of White House time and energy if officials’ aim is to defeat the coronavirus. But Trump appears more concerned with discrediting Fauci. Over the weekend, the White House sent multiple news outlets a document that smacked of opposition research. It carried a list of statements Fauci had made about COVID-19, purporting to show that he had contradicted himself about the outbreak and that he “has been wrong on things.” In one example from an NBC interview in February, the White House omitted Fauci’s full quote, giving the impression that he’d misjudged the outbreak’s danger. Peter Navarro, Trump’s top trade adviser, wrote an op-ed for USA Today yesterday claiming that Fauci has been “wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.” (A Trump communications aide tried to distance the White House from the op-ed this morning.)

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Newsclips - July 15, 2020

Lead Stories

Roll Call - July 14, 2020

Stuart Rothenberg: No, Texas is not a swing state — yet

When I saw the headline on CNN analyst Harry Enten’s July 12 column — “Texas is a swing state in 2020, new polls reveal” — I did a double take. Really? “It’s pretty clear looking at the data that Texas is a swing state in the 2020 election,” wrote Enten, a thoughtful observer of American politics. But just a few paragraphs later, he used a different term, observing that “Texas really is competitive at this point.” Swing, or competitive? I can be a stickler for language, but I think we should all be on the same page when it comes to what these words mean.

Texas is not a “swing state,” and it hasn’t been one for years, at least since it realigned in 1980. It hasn’t voted to send a Democrat to the White House since 1976. It leans Republican. Swing states are divided roughly evenly along partisan lines, with both parties having close to an equal chance of winning as long as a strong partisan electoral wave is not favoring one party. Florida and Wisconsin are good examples of swing states, and I’m certain we could spend countless hours debating which other states fall into that category. (I won’t.) On the other hand, to find out whether a state or a race is “competitive” in a given election year, all you need to do is ask whether the race is close. If the answer is “yes,” as is the case with Texas this year, the state is “competitive” at that moment. Florida has been a “swing state” for years because voters in the state are split evenly between the two parties. That makes the state “competitive” in most elections, putting Florida in a different category than, say, Indiana and West Virginia. Indiana voted Democratic for president in 2008, but that didn’t make it a swing state or even a competitive state in presidential elections. It clearly has favored the GOP. Similarly, West Virginia is certainly not a swing state, and statewide contests are rarely competitive. But the 2018 Senate election in the state was very competitive, even given the state’s strongly Republican fundamentals.

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Hidalgo wants a Harris County shutdown. Abbott has resisted. Hospital executives? They’re silent.

With Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Gov. Greg Abbott publicly disagreeing over the need for a new stay-at-home order to control the COVID-19 outbreak, a key constituency has declined to offer public guidance: Texas Medical Center executives. TMC leaders in March unanimously called on elected officials to issue a stay-at-home order and praised Hidalgo when she did so. Two months later, they commended Abbott’s reopening plan.

They continue to urge the public to wear masks and practice social distancing. They conspicuously, however, have avoided offering opinions on the debate between Hidalgo and Abbott over a new stay-home order — even as a top medical adviser to the governor said Tuesday the tactic was worth considering. The Houston Chronicle on Monday asked all 10 TMC executives whether they supported such an order. Nine did not respond. Memorial Hermann Health System CEO Dr. David Callender said the query was “above my pay grade,” though he did address the situation the local hospitals face. “What we are seeing, though, in terms of the demand for hospitalization, the continued growth in demand for hospitalization, puts us in a situation where we will be out of capacity across the greater Houston region in a matter of days,” Callender said. “That’s a very scary situation for us to ponder.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Two long-term GOP House incumbents ousted in runoffs while Birabil trailing opponent

Two long-term GOP incumbents were booted from office by challengers in Tuesday night’s primary runoffs in continuing skirmishes between establishment Republicans and those who deem them insufficiently conservative. Meanwhile, in Dallas County, attorney Jasmine Crockett overcame a deficit in early voting to edge out incumbent Rep. Lorraine Birabil by 92 votes in the Democratic race for House District 100. That margin could lead to a potential recount, but it is unclear whether Birabil’s campaign will call for one.

With Tuesday night’s unofficial results, Crockett would face no Republican challenger in November and have a clear path to representing the district, which stretches from West Dallas to Mesquite, in next year’s legislative session. In Collin County, another candidate, real estate agent Lorenzo Sanchez, overcame an early deficit to defeat attorney Tom Adair in the Democratic runoff election for House District 67. Sanchez, who slowly chipped away at Adair’s early lead with Election Day results, will go on to face incumbent GOP Rep. Jeff Leach in a historically conservative stronghold that is becoming a battleground in 2020. But it was Republicans who saw major shake-ups Tuesday. In the race for House District 2, which covers Van Zandt, Hunt and Hopkins counties, nine-term state Rep. Dan Flynn of Van was defeated by businessman Bryan Slaton, who had opposed him twice before.

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Texas reports highest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases

Texas on Tuesday saw its highest single-day increase yet in COVID-19 cases with 10,859, more than 400 cases greater than the second-highest jump, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of state data. There now have been 281,085 overall cases statewide. The previous record increase was reported July 7 with 10,414 new cases. Additionally, Texas saw another uptick in hospitalizations, one day after reporting its first dip in that number over the previous two weeks. Statewide, a record 10,569 people are now hospitalized for COVID-19 with lab-confirmed infections — an increase of 164 from Monday.

Despite the new peak in cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Greg Abbott continued to back away from considering another statewide lockdown. In an interview with KTVT Dallas, he said his current order closing bars and mandating masks has yet to be reflected in the data, he said. “It’s going to take several weeks before you can see the level of effectiveness from that,” he said. “But I can tell you this, every doctor everywhere says that wearing a face mask is one of the best practices that we have for preventing the spread of COVID-19.” He cautioned that if people don’t wear masks, “that could eventually lead to having to shut the state back down.” “That is the last thing any of us want,” he said. The state also reported 104 new fatalities from the virus for a total of 3,378. The state's seven-day rolling average for new cases continued to climb for the 11th straight day to 9,274. The Houston region’s case count is 69,275, up 2,653 from Monday. Harris County added 1,658 new cases for a total of 49,027. There have been 676 deaths in the Houston region, up 18 from yesterday.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Scrappy outsider MJ Hegar defeats underfunded Royce West in Texas Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate

MJ Hegar defeated state Sen. Royce West on Tuesday for the Democratic nomination for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate. Shortly after 11:20 p.m., Hegar declared victory. West gave her a scare, though. The veteran state senator ran strongly in his home base of Dallas County, and did well enough in Harris County to offset some of Hegar’s strong performances in South and Central Texas, as well as many rural counties.

“I am humbled by the support we have received from all across the state, and am confident we have a decisive victory,” Hegar said in a statement late Tuesday night. “While we may be celebrating tonight, we have to get right back down to work tomorrow,” she said shortly after 10 p.m. “That’s when the real work is going to start. We’re going to kick this career politician to the curb.” Hegar said the Democratic turnout was so large it’s “going to cause John Cornyn to have a hard time sleeping tonight.” She then issued a message to Cornyn. “Pack it up, buttercup, because your time has ended and we’re coming back to take our seat back for Texas,” she said.

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Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2020

Former Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions revives political career in Central Texas; Trump wades into two GOP runoffs

Former Rep. Pete Sessions is one step closer to reviving his political career in his boyhood home of Central Texas, just two years after voters ousted the Republican from office in the Dallas-based district that he represented for some two decades. Sessions won a GOP runoff against Waco businesswoman Renee Swann. He now advances to the general election battle to replace retiring Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan.

The contest was one of the most intriguing matchups Tuesday at the congressional level, pitting a once-powerful committee chairman who moved districts to run for the seat against a political neophyte backed by Flores, Sessions’ former congressional colleague. But the skirmish between Sessions and Swann in Texas’ 17th Congressional District offered several unusual story lines. The former congressman was defeated in 2018 by now-Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat who helped his party take back the House for the first time in years. He teased the prospect of a rematch, but instead moved to an open seat, ruffling some GOP feathers in the process.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Dallas County reports 20 more coronavirus deaths, tying its single-day high

Dallas County reported 20 new coronavirus deaths Tuesday, as well as 1,000 additional cases. It was the 12th straight day the county has reported 1,000 or more cases, and the single-day toll tied the county’s high reported on June 30.

The latest victims included 16 Dallas residents: a man in his 40s, a man in his 50s, two men in their 60s, three men and three women in their 70s, four men and a woman in their 80s and a woman in her 90s. Three of them — a man and the woman in their 80s and the woman in her 90s — lived in long-term care facilities. A Cedar Hill woman in her 70s, two Duncanville men in their 50s and 70s and a Grand Prairie man in his 40s also died. The new cases bring the county’s count to 35,914 cases —about 13.6 for every 1,000 residents. There have been 477 deaths from COVID-19. Tarrant County reported 531 new coronavirus cases Tuesday. For the second straight day, the county did not report any additional COVID-19 deaths. The county has recorded 19,014 cases, about nine for every thousand residents, and 272 deaths.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Local officials to take over coronavirus testing from federal government in Dallas County, Jenkins says

Dallas County will end its agreement with the federal government this week and assume near-total control of publicly funded coronavirus testing in an effort to provide quicker results, County Judge Clay Jenkins announced Monday on Twitter. The shift comes after Commissioner John Wiley Price raised concerns Friday that results from the federally provided tests were taking too long — up to two weeks. Price also suggested the city and county had created an unequal system this month as a private company, Honu, was hired to perform testing at the University of Dallas.

The private lab is providing results in the northern half of the county in about two days, while the lab contracted by the federal government to run operations at the testing center at Ellis Davis Field House in the Red Bird area is taking nearly two weeks. Jenkins agreed with Price. “We have to do what’s right for the people of Dallas,” he said Monday. “I appreciate the career politicians in the federal government. But eight to 10 days is too long.” Jenkins said that federal testing at the Ellis Davis Field House would end Wednesday and that the city and county, working with Parkland Health & Hospital Systems, will work quickly to find another vendor to fulfill the testing. In the meantime, Parkland will administer up to 500 tests each day at Ellis Davis Field House. The new contract would be paid by local tax dollars, Jenkins said, though he hoped the federal government would reimburse some of the cost, as is typical during public disasters.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Trump side calls Biden’s first Texas TV ad a ‘pipe dream’ as Dem hits him over COVID: `People are frightened… Wear a mask’

The president’s Democratic challenger debuted his first TV ad in Texas on Tuesday and it was remarkable for what it did not mention: Donald Trump, or the fact that Republicans haven’t lost the state since 1976. Instead, former vice president Joe Biden’s one-minute spot focuses on broad anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic, offering both encouragement that the crisis will pass and a sharp challenge to Trump’s leadership. “I’m thinking of all of you today across Texas. I know the rise in case numbers is causing fear and apprehension. People are frightened. They’re especially worried about their parents, their grandparents, loved ones who are most at risk,” Biden says in the spot. “This virus is tough, but Texas is tougher.”

President Gerald Ford was the last GOP nominee to lose Texas, 44 years ago. The last time any Democrat won a statewide contest was in 1994. Demographic and political shifts have changed the landscape, and Texas is no longer the GOP stronghold it was for decades. Former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke held Sen. Ted Cruz below 51% in 2018. Democrats’ takeaway has been that, once their potential supporters see the possibility of victory, apathy will fall away. More will cast ballots, and they’ll overcome Republicans’ edge in voter registration. The Biden spot is part of that experiment, though the Trump campaign scoffed at the investment, calling it too little to make a dent. “Democrats have been peddling their pipe dream of flipping Texas for over a decade with no success,” said Trump Victory spokesperson Samantha Cotten, “With next to no staff in the Lone Star State, Joe Biden’s last ditch effort to parachute into the state will not be enough to overcome our presence and the enthusiasm for President Trump in Texas.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Thieves take COVID-19 testing supplies, delaying opening of new site in Pleasant Grove

The opening of a new walk-up COVID-19 testing site in Pleasant Grove was delayed after testing supplies and equipment were stolen overnight. The testing site at the Salvation Army’s Pleasant Grove Corps Community Center, located at 8341 Elam Rd., was set to open Monday morning, but officials announced the opening would be pushed back after the break-in. The site will open at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“Overnight, individuals broke into the storage location for the site and stole all of the equipment and supplies used to conduct testing,” officials said Monday in a news release from Parkland Health and Hospital System. A Parkland spokeswoman said several thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen, including personal protective equipment, test supplies, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, bottled water, food, a thermometer, an encrypted laptop, two radios, two air conditioning units and a refrigerator. Dallas police didn’t have details about the burglary Monday morning, saying a report about it was not yet complete. A spokeswoman confirmed that officers were called just before 7 a.m. to the 8300 block of Elam Road. When the site opens, it will operate Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until testing capacity for the day is met.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

UT Arlington invests $25 million in scholarships to keep students in Texas

UT Arlington will invest an additional $25 million in student scholarships over the next five years, beginning in the fall 2021 semester The financial commitment is aimed at encouraging a diverse student body and supporting “first-generation college students, low-income families, high-achieving students, and those facing challenges in the wake of COVID-19,” the university announced in a news release. It’s also intended to keep students from leaving the state.

More than 32,000 starting undergraduates left Texas to attend college out of state in the fall 2018 semester, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. “It is important that our state retain more high-performing ethnically and racially diverse students whom many other states specifically seek to lure away,” UT Arlington Interim President Teik Lim said in the news release. “We have the opportunity to align this financial commitment with efforts of keeping diverse talent in Texas.” Because many of the most talented students are lured out of state by scholarship offers, UT Arlington will direct its scholarship funds toward students with the strongest records of academic achievement, according to the news release. UT Arlington spends more than $40 million annually on scholarships and financial support, according to the news release.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 14, 2020

Expert warns of coronavirus ‘consequences’ when NASCAR fans come to Fort Worth

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, Texas Motor Speedway will welcome thousands of NASCAR fans this weekend for a race that may be one of the largest gatherings in Texas, if not the country, since the deadly outbreak began. The crowd will certainly lead to new COVID-19 cases, one virus expert said, but speedway president Eddie Gossage said he was more concerned about the potential for triple-digit heat Sunday than the pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott’s most recent order restricts outdoor crowds to 10 or fewer, unless organizers get special permission, but motorsports have a specific exemption. “I don’t have any concerns. I’m going to be there, my family’s going to be there,” Gossage said. “I’m not concerned about it, if everyone will follow the directions.”

Sunday’s race will be the first time Texas has allowed fans at a professional sporting event since the outbreak began. Gossage said he is confident the experiment will prove sports can go on and may become the model for how other venues operate. He downplayed the spike in coronavirus cases, saying he didn’t believe the statistics took into account the size of the state’s population. On Monday Tarrant County reported 322 new cases for a total of 18,483. Denton County, where the race track is located, reported 112 new cases. Texas had record numbers of new cases for four consecutive days last week, including Wednesday, when a record 119 deaths were reported. Gossage wouldn’t say how many fans he expects at the speedway. At 50% capacity, as many as 62,500 fans could show up, but he said the speedway “wouldn’t come close to that.” At one point he used 20,000 as a hypothetical number.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 15, 2020

Candace Valenzuela claims victory in Democratic primary for 24th Congressional District

Candace Valenzuela claimed victory over Kim Olson late Tuesday night in the Democratic primary runoff election for the 24th Congressional District. Valenzuela, a former Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member, earned 59.8% of the vote over Olson, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, who drew 40%, according to results at 10:30 p.m.

She sent out a victory statement congratulating Olson on running a strong campaign. “Today, we are one step closer to creating a Congress that works for the communities it serves, not corporations and major donors,” Valenzuela said in the statement. “Together, we’ve built a diverse, strong grassroots coalition that demands better of our elected officials and we’re ready to flip TX-24 blue in November.” She will face Republican former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne — who has been endorsed by President Trump and handily won the GOP nomination after besting four opponents in March. Olson could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 14, 2020

Fort Worth voters agree police should have special sales tax funding until 2030

The Fort Worth Police Department will have access to an ever growing fund outside its normal budget for the next decade after a ballot proposal renewing the department’s special sales tax appeared on its way to an overwhelming victory Tuesday night. Called the Crime Control and Prevention District, the half-cent sales tax has been devoted to police since 1995, and has ballooned from $26.6 million to more than $85 million budgeted for 2020. Altogether, the tax will provide Fort Worth police with an additional $1 billion through 2030. This revenue is in addition to what the police department receives through the city’s general fund, which this year amounted to more than $267 million.

As of 11:30 p.m. Tarrant County voters were on track to approve the tax with 64.3% of the vote from 132 of 174 precincts, according to unofficial results. Denton County voters approved the tax with slightly more than 72%, according to the unofficial results. More than 52,300 Tarrant County and 577 Denton County voters cast ballots in the city election. Just before 10:30, Parker County reported 34 Fort Worth residents vote favor of the tax and one voted against. George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody in May put a renewed focus on policing, and a coalition of grassroots groups rallied around the sales tax as a means to defund the police. Critics labeled it a “police slush fund” and said the money would be better spent on community-based nonprofits or by improving transportation. Proponents, including Mayor Price, who donated to a campaign fund in support of the tax, said it has kept crime low since the mid-1990s. Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, celebrated the victory, saying Fort Worth voters “defeated a radical campaign to defund the police.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

American Airlines reaches out to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for not wearing a COVID face mask

American Airlines says it has reached out to Sen. Ted Cruz about a social media photo that went viral Monday of Texas’ junior senator flying on an aircraft while not wearing a face mask. The Fort Worth-based airline has said in recent weeks that it could suspend the flying privileges of customers who refuse to comply with a requirement that passengers wear masks in airports and aboard aircraft to reduce the spread of the COVID virus. However, there was no indication Monday afternoon that the company intended to take further action against Cruz, beyond reaching out to him.

“For the well-being of our customers and team members, we require face coverings to be worn onboard, and we expect our customers to comply with our policies when they choose to travel with us,” American officials said in a statement delivered by email from company spokesman Ross Feinstein. “As we do in all instances like these, we reviewed the details of the matter, and while our policy does not apply while eating or drinking, we have reached out to Sen. Cruz to affirm the importance of this policy as part of our commitment to protecting the health and safety of the traveling public.” On Sunday, a Twitter user named Hosseh (@hossehenad) posted a photo of Cruz sitting in an aircraft seat with a mobile phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in another, but no face covering. “Captured today at 10:45 a.m. — @TedCruz on a commercial flight, refusing to wear a mask,” the tweet read.

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Morales Shaw ekes out win over Eastman in House District 148 race

Democratic Houston state Rep. Anna Eastman lost to attorney Penny Morales Shaw by about 2 percentage points in the primary runoff, according to unofficial results. Morales Shaw amassed 4,335 votes, or 51 percent of the vote, just barely ahead of Eastman who racked up 4,135, or 49 percent. Morales Shaw will face Republican Luis LaRotta, who ran unopposed in the March primary, in November.

“Tonight did not go as we had hoped,” Eastman said on a Facebook, conceding the race. “I want to thank everyone who volunteered, voted and supported my run for 148. I look forward to continuing the fight for children and parents everywhere!” The north and northwest Houston state House District 148 seat formerly belonged to Democratic Rep. Jessica Farrar, who resigned in late September of last year. Farrar had endorsed Shaw in February, calling her “the candidate that will best represent the people of the district.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2020

Cody Vasut defeats Ro’Vin Garrett in House District 25 race

Attorney and former Angleton City Council member Cody Vasut defeated Brazoria County's tax assessor-collector Ro’Vin Garrett in the race to fill House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s seat, according to unofficial runoff results. House District 25 covers Matagorda County and part of Brazoria County. Vasut reaped 7,380 votes, giving him 70 percent of the vote, while Garrett pulled in 3,243, or 31 percent of the vote. It was a 180-degree turn from the March primary when Garrett finished with 34 percent of the vote while Vasut took 24 percent.

Bonnen announced in October that he would not seek re-election after finding himself at the center of one of Texas’ biggest political scandals in years. A leaked audio recording put Bonnen on display disparaging fellow lawmakers and suggesting he would give media credentials to a conservative advocacy group in exchange for their help launching primary challenges against 10 GOP incumbents. Some Republican and Democratic House members, as well as some members of the state Republican Party, had at the time called for Bonnen’s resignation. Vasut and Garrett received just about the same number of votes from mail-in ballot voters, but Vasut managed to far surpass his opponent during early voting, taking in 3,913 to Garrett’s 1,633 votes during the two-week period. The normally one-week period was extended by Gov. Greg Abbott to create a safer voting experience and less crowded polling places amid the pandemic.

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Texas geriatric inmates being deprived of protection from COVID, lawyers argue in hearing

Guards sort sack lunches without masks or gloves on. Inmates arrive at showers to find Band-Aids, razors and socks discarded on the floor. They wash their hands with soap, but are not allowed hand sanitizer after they’ve rolled themselves back to their bunks in wheelchairs. These were examples of the callous disregard the Texas prison system has shown to geriatric inmates, according to testimony Monday by Laddy Valentine, a 69-year-old inmate involved in a federal class action seeking more protective measures to combat COVID-19 at a lockup of elderly, medically compromised and mobility impaired inmates outside Houston.

Attorneys told the judge at a video hearing that prison officials have failed to follow their own guidelines or make special provisions to protect more than 1,100 vulnerable inmates at the Pack Unit from the virus. They have not provided inmates hand sanitizer, sufficient testing, contact tracing or social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease, lawyers said. “The Pack Unit was like a tinderbox where COVID-19 virus would spread rapidly if immediate action was not taken,” said attorney John Keville. The first death at the prison April 11 was “like a spark” and officials’ failure to take public health measures, like contact tracing, social distancing and rigorous cleaning, resulted in “a raging fire,” he said. Nineteen inmates have died at Pack of Covid and more than hundred have been hospitalized over the past few months. Shawn Cowles, of state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, argued that the prison system could not and should not be expected to defend itself against the scourge of “a lethal viral killer where no person and no place is immune.” Instead the judge should keep in mind the legal standard of “deliberate indifference,” whether officials “intentionally ignored” or “purposely disregarded” the onslaught of the disease.

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2020

Pandemic forces 3 frac sand companies into Chapter 11 bankruptcy

An oil and natural gas industry downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic has forced three frac sand companies to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy over the past five weeks. Houston frac sand company Hi-Crush Inc. filed or Chapter 11 reorganization in Houston's bankruptcy court on Sunday. The company owns more than $953 million of assets but has more than $699 million of debt, bankruptcy filings show.

The bankruptcy filing was required as part of a financial restructuring agreement with 94 percent of Hi-Crush's senior note holders, the company reported. "The agreement will allow Hi-Crush to maintain normal operations and continue delivering high quality services to our customers," Hi-Crush CEO Robert Rasmus said in a statement. "We will also significantly improve our balance sheet and enhance our Company's financial flexibility over the near and long-term."

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Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2020

Sarah Eckhardt finishes first in special election to replace former state Sen. Kirk Watson

In a six-candidate special election to replace former state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, Democrat Sarah Eckhardt finished first with a strong performance in Travis County but did not amass enough votes to avoid a runoff. Eckhardt, the former Travis County judge, received 49.7% of vote, triggering a runoff with the second-place finisher, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, the other Democrat in the race, who had 33.8% of the vote.

Republican Don Zimmerman was a distant third at 13%. The special election for Watson’s seat was postponed from May 2 by Gov. Greg Abbott in response to the coronavirus outbreak and rescheduled to coincide Tuesday with the primary runoffs, which also were delayed by the pandemic. In a district where Watson defeated Republican opponents by 47 points in 2018 and 36 points in 2010, much of the special election attention focused on Eckhardt and Rodriguez, two progressive Democrats without a lot of differences in their political positions. Rodriguez, an 18-year member of the Texas House, was able to turn his Capitol ties into a hefty financial advantage, having raised almost $746,000 since February, compared with almost $245,000 for Eckhardt, the former leader of Travis County who was required to resign as county judge to enter the legislative race. But Eckhardt took 51% of the almost 110,600 votes cast in Travis County, 16 points better than Rodriguez, but was denied outright victory by taking only 31% of the 8,764 ballots in Bastrop County.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2020

Berry, Isaac win GOP races for Texas House

In the GOP primary runoff for the Texas House, Austin police officer Justin Berry defeated attorney and activist Jennifer Fleck in a district serving western and far south Travis County. Berry, who won by about 10 points, hopes to reclaim House District 47 from state Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, who defeated a four-term GOP incumbent in 2018.

And in the GOP runoff for House District 45 in Hays and Blanco counties, Carrie Isaac — a Wimberley resident who got to know the district while campaigning for her husband, former state Rep. Jason Isaac — defeated Kent “Bud” Wymore, general counsel of the Hays County Republican Party. Isaac, who received 65% of the early vote, will face state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, who defeated Republican Ken Strange in 2018 to become the first Democrat to win in the district in eight years. In the March primary for District 47, Fleck finished first with 32.1% of the vote, while Berry advanced to the runoff with 22.9% and a one-vote advantage over the third-place finisher, former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman. Gov. Greg Abbott threw his support behind Berry, who has lobbied for pro-police legislation at the Capitol as vice president of the Austin police union, over Fleck, general counsel for an oil and gas firm who has worked to oppose efforts to move away from abstinence-only sex education in schools.

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Brownsville Herald - July 15, 2020

Lucio defeats Barrera in District 27 race; Faces Republican challenger in November

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. managed to fend off challenger Sara Stapleton Barrera during Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff election for the Senate District 27, according to unofficial results. He will face Republican challenger Vanessa Tijerina in the November General Election. It was a tight race between Lucio and Barrera in Cameron County, though, with Barrera winning 10,079 votes to Lucio’s 10,300 with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

As of press time, Barrera, a Brownsville personal injury lawyer and political newcomer, had 14,625 votes to Lucio’s 16,883 from the five counties of the district, which encompasses all of Cameron, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties and 42 percent of Hidalgo County. Barrera and Lucio were bound for a runoff after the senator fell short of the 50 percent plus one votes he needed for a clear win over Barrera and Ruben Cortez in the March 3 Democratic primary. Lucio was first elected to the Senate in 1991 after serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives. The third most senior member of the Senate, Lucio ran a campaign based on his many years of experience, highlighting his work to get legislation passed in areas such as higher education, property tax relief and housing reform. He argued during the campaign that now is no time for someone with no political experience to represent the district, with the all-important redistricting effort soon to take place after the U.S. Census count is complete.

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - July 13, 2020

'Teachers are writing wills': Should Texas schools open up? Teachers vent frustrations, concerns

Just the idea of Texas schools reopening their doors for fall 2020 has infuriated some Houston-area teachers and parents. They're not afraid to air their opinions and frustrations. As COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations escalate to an unprecedented rate across Texas, the thought of putting students' and teachers' health at risk in order to provide in-class instruction is unacceptable to teachers across the state.

"It's pretty atrocious that in preparation for returning to school this fall, teachers are writing wills, getting medical power of attorney established and taking out extra life insurance," tweeted teacher Jessica Schwinn. According to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas public school districts must reopen campuses for an in-person instruction in August in order to receive state funding, unless the governor issues a school closure or confirmed case of COVID-19. "On-campus instruction in Texas public schools is where it’s at,” Morath said during a conference call with superintendents. “We know that a lot of families are going to be nervous, and if they are nervous, we’re going to support them 100 percent.” This is not sitting well with many Texas teachers. "Like everyone, I am desperate to send my kids back to school. Remote learning is hard on my wife and me, and terrible for our kids. If we thought it were safe to do so, we wouldn't hesitate. But there's no way we're going to risk their health or ours, IF IT'S NOT SAFE," tweeted Jeremy Konydyck.

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Texas Observer - July 14, 2020

Texas nursing home residents were already at risk. Then COVID-19 hit.

When Gary Blake launched Creative Solutions in Healthcare in 2000, he started small, opening a single modest nursing home in Granbury. Now Blake runs a nursing home empire. He owns or operates 64 nursing facilities across Texas, from big cities to rural cow towns; Creative Solutions pulls in a reported $282 million annually. But the Fort Worth-based company and other for-profit facilities throughout the state have been dogged by deaths of residents and serious rule violations for years, the Texas Observer and Type Investigations found. And, advocates say, federal and state regulators have done little to hold them accountable. Then COVID-19 hit.

Just weeks after the coronavirus was first detected in Texas, nursing homes statewide quickly became the main breeding grounds for the virus as officials struggled to control the spread. As of July 13, 8,900 residents at 830 nursing homes have been infected; 1,150 have died. As the pandemic spreads across Texas, it’s exacerbating unsafe and unsanitary conditions inside a handful of nursing homes owned or operated by Creative Solutions. In March, the virus crept into Whisperwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lubbock, a 114-bed nursing home acquired by Creative Solutions in 2012. By the next month, the facility accounted for five of the county’s six COVID-related deaths and almost half of its 191 total cases at the time. Blake told the local NBC affiliate that “we have been closely monitoring development of the coronavirus pandemic and working to mitigate its impact on our residents, staff, their families, and our community.” But two Whisperwood employees told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal otherwise, saying that Creative Solutions did not provide protective gear in a timely manner and encouraged them to work while sick. Creative Solutions did not respond to an Observer request for comment for this story.

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CNN - July 15, 2020

Trump's former physician Ronny Jackson wins GOP primary runoff for Texas congressional seat

Dr. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump's former chief physician and one-time nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, won a GOP primary runoff for a Texas congressional seat on Tuesday, CNN projects, defeating cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner. Trump had backed Jackson, who is a Texas native, while Winegarner had the support of outgoing 13th District Rep. Mac Thornberry, who announced last year that he would not run for reelection. The district is heavily conservative and was carried by Trump by more than 60 points. As a result, the Republican nominee is well positioned to keep the seat in GOP hands in the November general election.

The President championed Jackson's candidacy, tweeting in February, "Ronny is strong on Crime and Borders, GREAT for our Military and Vets, and will protect your #2A." Trump praised Jackson for his win on Tuesday, tweeting, "Congratulations to @RonnyJackson4TX on a big win against a tough and really good opponent. Ronny will be a fantastic Congressman - Will represent the wonderful people of the Great State of Texas, and the USA, very well. Proud of you Ronny!!!" Jackson tweeted separately that he had a chance to speak with the President over the phone on Tuesday evening, adding, "I am honored to be the Republican nominee for #TX13! I promise I will make you proud!"

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2020

Bastrop County jail reports first coronavirus cases

The Bastrop County jail reported its first coronavirus cases last week among both inmates and jail staff. The first case was detected July 6, and reports later submitted to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards show that by the end of last week, case numbers rose to three inmates and four correctional officers with active COVID-19 cases.

By Monday, TCJS reports show that known coronavirus cases had risen over the weekend to 17 inmates and eight staff members. Just over 100 other inmates have been quarantined or isolated from the general population, and seven correctional officers have been quarantined pending test results, according to the TCJS report. The Bastrop County jail was the 36th county jail in the state to report active coronavirus cases among jail staff or inmates, TCJS data shows. County jails are only required to report testing data to the state agency if they have at least one confirmed case. As of Monday, a total of 39 county jails are grappling with COVID-19 cases.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2020

Ann Howard defeats former Rep. Valinda Bolton for Travis County Commissioners Court seat

With 65% of the vote recorded late Tuesday night, initial voting results showed that Ann Howard, the founding executive director of the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, defeated former state Rep. Valinda Bolton in the race to be the Democratic candidate for the Precinct 3 seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court. The seat is currently held by a Republican, Gerald Daugherty, who did not seek reelection. The winner will face Republican Becky Bray, an engineer, in November.

Howard, who previously worked as legal counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, is focused on criminal justice reform and said her biggest priorities are conserving land, protecting water resources and making the county a regional player in transportation. Bolton, who now works as a community liaison for Texas Child Protective Services, said she wants to improve emergency preparedness and protect natural resources, including sites like Hamilton Pool, Milton Reimers Ranch Park and the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Bolton said she wants to improve choke points on county roads to eliminate congestion, while also working with the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Capital Metro on regional transportation issues. She said her nonprofit and legislative experience has allowed her to build unlikely coalitions, manage large budgets and take public positions on controversial issues.

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KXAN - July 14, 2020

Health Authority: In-person teaching could lead to between 40 and 1,370 student deaths in Travis County

Tuesday, Austin Public Health Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Travis County Commissioners that Austin area schools should not start until Sept. 8 unless they can offer online-only classes. Escott said we worked with the superintendents of Travis County districts to decide to recommend delaying or going completely online for the start of school.

Escott said doing so before a vaccine becomes available and before schools are able to put in place more protective measures would put Travis County’s 192,000 students in jeopardy — especially those between the ages of 10 to 19 years old. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of students could be infected over the course of this disease,” Escott said, “which in that .03% to 1.02%, for Travis County, would equate to between 40 and 1,370 deaths in that age group.” Escott based that on the current fatality rate estimates for that age group. He said the situation could be worse for teachers and staff. “Obviously when we move on to faculty and staff, that risk is much higher. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 10 times higher in terms of rates of death,” Escott said. “Again these are sobering numbers and we have to be very very careful when we hear people talking about the percentage of people who do OK with this. Because there’s a number behind the other side of that, behind the people who die, behind the people who are hospitalized.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

With COVID cases still growing, Harris County launches new $30M small business aid program

Harris County businesses with fewer than 30 employees are eligible for grants up to $25,000, County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Monday. The $30 million program, which Commissioners Court approved unanimously June 30, aims to assist the smallest county businesses harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The idea is to give an injection into our economy, to strengthen it — to help them keep their doors open, to keep their employees on the payroll,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said. “As much as we want to flatten the pandemic curve, we want to flatten the unemployment curve.” Grants from the Small Business Relief Fund can be used to cover payroll, rent, supplies and other operating expenses. To be eligible, firms must conduct business in Harris County, employ fewer than 30 people, have been in businesses for all of 2019, owe no outstanding local, state or federal taxes, and be able to verify a negative impact caused by the pandemic. Businesses inside the city of Houston are ineligible, unless they are located in Precinct 1.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 10, 2020

Say goodbye to the ugliest building in Dallas — and hello to new playgrounds along the Trinity

Over the past few months, as the city’s focus has been diverted by the convulsions of pandemic and protest, plans have progressed behind closed doors on the proposed Trinity Park in ways that promise to both symbolically and literally reshape Dallas. In that time, the Trinity Park Conservancy, the nonprofit overseeing the park design and construction, and its lead project designer, Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects, have settled on a preliminary design for a large overlook park on top of the west levee, straddling Commerce Street. The conservancy has begun a national search for a “visionary architect” to “reimagine” the Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, the 10-story, 238,000-square-foot, beige-block eyesore on the opposite side of Commerce that is one of the most visible gateways to the city.

The conservancy purchased Dawson and the land linking it to the Trinity last year, as a part of the plan to extend the park into the city. It will take quite a bit of imagination to remake Dawson, which is not so much a work of architecture as an obscenity in three dimensions. It opened in 1997, built at a cost of $39 million by the Houston developer North Village Corp. From the outset, it was run by the Corrections Corporation of America (now rebranded as CoreCivic) and was notorious for its poor conditions. One federal lawsuit alleged that a female prisoner’s premature baby died after she was delivered into a toilet. It was closed in 2013. A remaking is an opportunity to address that history, and the broader issue of systemic racism in the justice system that the Black Lives Matter protests have thrown into such striking relief. The conservancy envisions it as a “visual anchor and hub” for the future park and also “a place of healing” for those coming and going to the adjacent Dallas County justice complex across Commerce Street. Determining how such a project might occupy a 10-story concrete block with grim and less than flexible interiors will be a considerable challenge. Giving the building a less odious exterior appearance is the least of the obstacles; determining a program for the building, and then accommodating it, will take far greater feats of vision.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Grand Prairie ISD ‘rights a wrong,’ renaming Robert E. Lee Elementary School after Black educator

Grand Prairie ISD is changing the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School. The school, located east of Highway 161 and midway between Interstates 20 and 30, will now be known as Delmas Morton Elementary. The new name honors longtime Grand Prairie educator Delmas Morton, who taught at Dalworth (now Daniels) Elementary and Adams Middle School and was principal at Austin Elementary. The decision was made after the board discussed a list of options at its Monday meeting.

“That is where integration started in Grand Prairie. It was at Lee Elementary, Lee Junior High at the time,” said board member Burke Hall, explaining that the school was named after Lee a year after the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision. “Delmas Morton is a perfect namesake for a school where integration started in our district. And I think that it rights a wrong, but it also honors a GPISD educator ... it tells a story of what we should honor in this community.” The four votes in favor of the change were from Aaron King, Emily Liles, Terry Brooks and Burke Hall. David Espinosa and and Bryan Parra abstained while Gloria Carrillo voted against it. She and Espinosa put forward the name of current Grand Prairie Assistant Superintendent of Early Education and Family Engagement Susanna Ramirez, and Parra suggested Cesar Chavez.

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National Stories

NPR - July 14, 2020

ICE agrees to rescind policy barring foreign students from online study in the U.S.

In a swift reversal, the Trump administration has agreed to rescind a directive that would have barred international college students from the U.S. if their colleges offered classes entirely online in the fall semester. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule change, released last week, would have prohibited foreign students from entering or remaining in the country to take fully online course loads. A number of colleges and universities had already announced plans to offer online-only classes because the coronavirus pandemic. The agency's July 6 announcement was met with immediate backlash.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the U.S. government in federal court two days later, calling the directive "arbitrary and capricious" and seeking to have it reversed and declared unlawful. Many colleges, universities, municipalities and tech companies expressed their support for the legal challenge in their own court filings. In Tuesday's session at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the universities were expected to make arguments saying that this rule was onerous for schools and even dangerous for students. Instead, Judge Allison Burroughs announced that the schools had reached an agreement with ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. She said the government will rescind this policy.

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Associated Press - July 14, 2020

Maxwell pleads not guilty in Epstein-related sex abuse case

Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges she recruited girls and women for the financier to sexually abuse more than two decades ago. British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell appeared in a video court hearing in Manhattan. Maxwell, 58, has been held without bail since her July 2 arrest at her million-dollar New Hampshire estate, where prosecutors say she refused to open the door for FBI agents, who busted through to find that she had retreated to an interior room.

She was charged with recruiting at least three girls, one as young as 14, for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 1997. An indictment alleged that she helped groom the victims to endure sexual abuse and was sometimes there when Epstein abused them. It also alleged that she lied during a 2016 deposition in a civil case stemming from Epstein’s abuse of girls and women. Epstein killed himself in August 2019, several weeks after he was confronted by two accusers at a bail hearing who insisted that he should remain in jail while awaiting sex trafficking charges that alleged he abused girls at his Manhattan and Florida mansions in the early 2000s.

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CBS News - July 14, 2020

White House campaign advice to jobless: "Find something new"

A new White House-backed ad campaign aims to encourage people who are unemployed or unhappy in their careers to go out and "find something new." The campaign is rolling out as the nation's jobless rate remains elevated, with almost 18 million Americans out of work following the economic hit of the coronavirus pandemic. The opening ad in the "Find Something New" campaign beginning Tuesday features ordinary people sharing their stories. A companion website provides links to training and other resources.

The Trump administration has long emphasized skills-based job and vocational training as an alternative to two- or four-year college degree programs, arguing that college isn't for everyone and that many jobs don't require a degree. But the long-in-the-works effort has taken on a new sense of urgency after the coronavirus outbreak cost millions of people their jobs, many of which may be lost forever. The campaign is also facing criticisms of tone deafness given that number of unemployed workers has surged by 12 million since February. Even though the jobless rate has declined to 11.1% in June from a peak of 14.7% in April, it still remains higher than the Great Recession.

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CNN - July 15, 2020

St. Louis prosecutor investigating couple who brandished guns at protesters says governor and Trump are targeting her

The office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said on Twitter that Missouri's governor and President Donald Trump "came after her" for investigating a case. At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson said Trump had expressed interest in the Mark and Patricia McCloskey case. The McCloskeys were seen on a viral video brandishing guns at protesters outside their mansion last month. Parson said he spoke to Trump on the phone about the case. At the same news conference, the governor expressed his belief the couple should not face charges.

Joel Schwartz, the couple's attorney told CNN he expected charges to be forthcoming earlier on Tuesday. By Tuesday night, Gardner's office posted a statement on Twitter on her behalf. Gardner does not specifically mention what case she's referring to in her statement or expand on how the governor or President allegedly went after her. "Today, both the Governor and Donald Trump came after me for doing my job and investigating a case. While they continue to play politics with the handling of this matter, spreading misinformation and distorting the truth, I refuse to do so. As I always do, I am reviewing all available facts and the law and will apply them equally, regardless of the people involved." Gardner previously told CNN in a statement that she was alarmed by the events involving the McCloskeys and her office is investigating.

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CNBC - July 14, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized for possible infection

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized Tuesday for a possible infection, according to a spokeswoman for the court. The justice, 87, received treatment at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after experiencing fever and chills. She underwent a procedure to clean a bile duct stent and will stay in the hospital for a “few days,” court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg said in a statement.

“The Justice is resting comfortably and will stay in the hospital for a few days to receive intravenous antibiotic treatment,” she said. Ginsburg, the oldest Supreme Court justice, has endured a range of health issues in recent years. In January, she said she was “cancer-free” after undergoing treatment for what was likely pancreatic cancer last year. The year before, she underwent treatment for cancerous growths on her lungs. Ginsburg and the rest of the court just concluded a flurry of work, issuing rulings on President Donald Trump’s financial records, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights and the president’s efforts to shut down the Obama-era program to shield Dreamers from deportation, among other topics, in a two-week period. President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg, a liberal stalwart, to the top U.S. court in 1993. The court currently has a 5-4 conservative majority — though it stymied some of the Republican Trump’s priorities in its recent decisions, drawing the president’s ire.

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The Hill - July 14, 2020

Jeff Sessions loses comeback bid in Alabama runoff

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed in his bid to reclaim his old Senate seat after losing to former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville in the Alabama GOP runoff on Tuesday. Tuberville was leading Sessions 63 percent to 37 percent with 35 percent of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press. The former football coach will go on to face Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in November. Jones is considered the most vulnerable Democrat facing reelection in 2020 in a race The Cook Political Report rates as "Lean Republican."

The runoff comes months after the state's Republican primary in March, when neither Sessions nor Tuberville cleared a majority. Sessions congratulated Tuberville in a speech. "He ran a really firm, solid race. He was focused on his goal and winning. He had a plan to do so," Sessions said. "He is our Republican nominee and we must stand by him in November." The loss marks the first for Sessions in a political career that spans more than 30 years in Alabama, including as attorney general and as senator for two decades. Sessions has faced a barrage of public attacks from President Trump since 2017, when, as the administration's first attorney general, he recused himself from an investigation into Russia's election meddling. Sessions resigned in 2018 after an acrimonious relationship with Trump. Trump continued his attacks on Sessions during the Senate primary and runoff, and he endorsed Tuberville, a move that likely helped boost the coach-turned-politician to victory.

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Newsclips - July 14, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Ted Cruz, Dan Patrick criticize liberal boycott of Goya Foods despite past support of Nike boycott

Is your boycott an exercise of your First Amendment rights or an attempt to silence free speech? For Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Ted Cruz, it depends. The two Republicans are out in force against a liberal boycott of Goya Foods, both labeling the movement an attack on free speech. But during last year’s conservative boycott of Nike products, both men pledged to stop purchasing from the American sporting goods company. “Let’s be honest: Canceling Goya because the CEO said something positive about the president is not the same as boycotting Nike for kowtowing to the woke mob and disrespecting a historic Revolutionary War flag under which thousands of Americans fought and died,” a Cruz spokesman said in a statement Friday.

The controversy over Goya, which bills itself as America’s largest Hispanic-owned food company, began last Thursday when CEO Robert Unanue praised President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder, and that’s what my grandfather did,” Unanue said. “He came to this country to build, to grow, to prosper. And so we have an incredible builder, and we pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country that we will continue to prosper and to grow.” Social media quickly reacted, and Goya Foods, along with various hashtags calling for a boycott of its products, trended for the rest of the day on Twitter. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and former Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro offered his support for the boycott, noting that “free speech works both ways.” “(Goya Foods') CEO is free to support a bigoted president who said an American judge can’t do his job because he’s ‘Mexican’, who treats Puerto Rico like trash, and who tries to deport Dreamers,” he tweeted Thursday. “We’re free to leave his products on the shelves.”

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The Week - July 14, 2020

Democrats are getting really confident, and that's making Biden and Pelosi nervous

At this point in the 2020 presidential campaign, you would rather be presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden than President Trump. Biden has a lead of 9 percentage points in the polling averages by RealClearPolitics and The Washington Post, and 9.4 points as measured by FiveThirtyEight. He leads Trump, "in some cases outside the margin of error, in recent polls in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin," the Post reports. Democratic congressional candidates are also crushing their GOP rivals in online donations, Politico reports, setting off alarm bells among Washington Republicans.

In fact, "Trump's management of this summer's crises has triggered what Democrats detect as a tectonic shift in the political landscape, with party leaders suddenly bullish about not only taking back the White House but also wresting control of the Senate, as well as expanding their House majority," the Post reports. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) predicted "there's a tsunami coming." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said "we're feeling very good" about taking back the Senate. Not everyone thinks this level of confidence is helpful. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the Post that Democrats have "one advantage" over 2016: "People are vigilant, they are attuned, they are concerned." Trump and his allies will try to suppress Democratic votes, she warned. "I say: 'Own the ground. Don't give one grain of sand. Get everybody out.'" Longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who opposes Trump, similarly said he would warn Democrats: "Caution! Elections are very dynamic!"

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Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Trump insists he’s ahead in Texas, despite 5-point deficit in new Dallas Morning News poll

President Donald Trump insisted Monday that he’s ahead in Texas – a state he can’t win reelection without – despite a new Dallas Morning News poll that shows he lags by 5 points and other recent polls showing him tied with Democrat Joe Biden. “We’re many points up in Texas,” he told reporters at the White House. “Fake news. Phony polls.” But GOP strategists took the latest survey seriously.

Economic woes and unease over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll. With less than four months to go before Election Day, signs point to a struggle or even, to some Democrats, a potential rout that would end GOP control in the White House, U.S. Senate and state legislature. “The president’s in a serious battle in the state of Texas. It’s not your poll. It’s not the CBS poll. It’s the last nine polls that show that it’s not a slam dunk,” said Dave Carney, Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief strategist. “Is he going to lose it? Probably not, but it’s certainly a state that’s going to take significant effort to ensure we win.” “It’s a competitive political environment in the country, and Texas is not safe for anybody,” he said. The News/University of Texas at Tyler poll published on Sunday showed Trump slipping significantly among registered voters, from a tie three months earlier.

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Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2020

Texas COVID-19 hospitalizations drop for first time in two weeks

Texas reported a small drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday, the first decline in two weeks as health officials work to slow the spread of the disease. The state said 10,405 people were hospitalized with lab-confirmed infections, down from a high of 10,410 on Sunday. While the decline itself was minimal, the overall growth of hospitalizations has been slowing for several days now, a possible early sign that the state’s surge is beginning to weaken. It will take several more days to see whether the trend holds, and a single day’s worth of the data can be skewed by delays in reporting, especially right after a weekend.

“We need to see if this first day will be the first of many,” Gov. Greg Abbott cautioned in an interview on KXAS in Dallas. Also Monday, the state reported a drop in the number of deaths, with 61, and 7,473 new cases, according to a data analysis and reporting by Hearst Newspapers. The seven-day averages for all three indicators remain high. The state is now reporting more than 80 deaths per day, on average, and more than 9,000 average new daily cases. It’s averaging more than 9,000 hospitalizations. Abbott declined again Monday to allow local officials to enact temporary stay-home orders in hard hit parts of the state. That comes after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo pushed over the weekend for a temporary shutdown to slow their region’s spread. The governor said he was skeptical people would comply with another lockdown, or that counties would try to enforce it.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Gov. Abbott must act on shutdown requests as coronavirus surges in Texas

The delays and denials must end. It is time for Gov. Greg Abbott to give elected officials in the Houston region and other parts of Texas being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic the power to issue stay-at-home orders. COVID-19 deaths in the state are rising, hospitals are running out of ICU beds, respirators and other crucial supplies are running low again and the U.S. military announced last week that it is deploying medical and support personnel to the state to try to deal with a growing health-care crisis. Even Gov. Abbott conceded last week that “the worst is yet to come.” If this isn’t evidence of the need for a stronger response, what will it take?

Urging people to stay at home and to avoid large gatherings, and even the governor’s welcome but belated decision to issue a mandatory mask order, haven’t been enough. No one wants to close the economy again, but the alternatives are worse. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s call for a two-week shutdown is a good first step. “Let’s look at the numbers, look at the data, see where things are,” Turner said Saturday. “And then gradually, move forward again.” Harris County’s stay-at-home order in March closed most businesses and directed residents to stay home unless they were going to grocery stores, running essential errands or exercising outside. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, whose earlier calls for caution and a more deliberate reopening process showed true leadership, endorsed Turner’s call and made the case for urgency in a Tweet on Saturday. “Not only do we need a stay-home order now, but we need to stick with it this time until the hospitalization curve comes down, not just flattens,” she said. “Many communities that persevered in that way are reopening for the long haul. Let’s learn from that & not make the same mistake twice.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Republican committees in 8 Texas counties vote to censure Gov. Abbott over COVID response

Republicans in eight different Texas counties have now voted to censure Gov. Greg Abbott for his order requiring Texans to wear face coverings and take other protective measures as COVID-19 spreads throughout the state. Over the weekend, the Henderson County Republican Party Executive Committee, just west of Tyler, held an emergency meeting to censure Abbott, a Republican, for not calling the Texas Legislature into a special session to help manage the COVID-19 emergency.

Since July 4, seven other county Republican Party Executive Committees around the state have approved censures of Abbott, including in Montgomery County, where they voted 40-0 on the censure. The Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee’s censure resolution says Abbott has acted with “disregard to the Texas Constitution,” pointing to the mandated mask requirement for people in counties with at least 20 positive cases, limiting gatherings and the closing of bars across the state. It’s similar to a censure resolution passed by Ector County Republicans in the Odessa-Midland area. “The Ector County Republican Executive Board decided it would be a fitting day for us to send a clear message to Governor Abbott,” the party wrote on its Facebook page. “A message that we will no longer sit quietly while he over reaches his authority again, again, and again.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Trump derides ‘phony polls’ in Texas, claims he ‘created’ the oil industry

President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed “phony polls” showing a tight presidential race in Texas, saying he’s way ahead because he “saved the oil industry,” and later adding, “I created it.” “We’re doing well in Texas,” Trump said during a roundtable discussion at the White House with Americans who say they were helped, and in some cases saved, by police officers.

“I read where I was one point up in Texas,” Trump said. “I’m not one point up in Texas, we’re many points up — I saved the oil industry, two months ago I saved the oil industry.” The president continued: “I created it. We became No. 1. We have millions of jobs and we saved it so Texas is not going to have to let go of millions and millions of people.” Trump did not specify what he did to save the industry, which has seen multibillion dollar losses and nearly 100,000 layoffs during a massive downturn sparked by the coronavirus. “We’re at $40 dollars a barrel and yet you can buy gasoline for under $2 — nobody’s ever seen it like that,” the president said. While the price of oil has rebounded to $40, it remains too low for most producers in Texas shale oil fields to turn a profit. “We’re No. 1 in oil as you know, oil and gas — by far. We’re now No. 1 in the world,” Trump said. “And we would’ve had millions of people out of work. I saved it. And then they said I’m leading by one point in Texas.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

John Bland, Houston civil rights and labor leader, dies

John Bland, a civil and labor rights activist famous for protesting Houston’s Jim Crow-era laws and an integral player in the city’s integration, died Thursday. The cause is unknown. A lifelong Texan, Bland attended Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston and continued his studies at Texas Southern University. Bland’s commitment to civil and labor rights began at an early age and continued until his death.

While still a young college student, Bland participated in Houston’s first sit-in at Weingarten’s supermarket lunch counter to protest the store’s refusal to serve Black people. On March 4, 1960, Bland and 12 other classmates walked 15 blocks from TSU’s campus to the lunch counter, where they sat for hours on end. During the mile-long walk, others joined the march. Bland continued participating in sit-ins as a founding member of the Progressive Youth Association. Nearly 60 years later, Bland and his fellow protestors were honored with a memorial plaque commemorating their efforts and the history of the first sit-in. “We just wanted to be treated like ordinary citizens,” Bland said at the time, according to a news release from the Transport Workers Union of America. “We felt that our time had come and we no longer had to go to the back door.”

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Houston economic recovery began in June, executives worry it won’t last in July

The Houston economy expanded in June for the first time in four months, according to supply chain executives surveyed by the Institute for Supply Management. The Houston Purchasing Managers Index, a gauge of economic activity in the region, rose 9.3 points from May to 49.5, above the level that indicates a general expansion for the economy — a reading of 45. The expansion was led by sectors including accommodations and food services, transportation, utilities and health care.

Not all industries, however, are expanding, according to the Purchasing Managers Index. Goods-producing sectors, such as manufacturing, are still shrinking, but at a slower pace than during the widespread business shutdowns in the spring. Whether the local economy can stay on a path to recovery remains uncertain with the recent jump in COVID-19 cases. A survey by the Greater Houston Partnership showed that the short-term outlook among local companies has worsened in recent weeks, with nearly 30 percent of companies saying they had grown more pessimistic from the previous week. An increasing share of local companies said revenues have declined since the last billing cycle as well. Last week, about 35 percent of respondents said revenues declined compared with 26 percent who reported declines last month.

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Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Texas primary runoffs: Fiery Democratic race for U.S. Senate fuels record turnout

In spite of 90-plus degree heat and a pandemic that shows no signs of stopping, the 2020 primary runoff elections have already drawn record-high turnout across Texas during the longer-than-normal early voting period. In response to the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Greg Abbott months ago delayed the May election to July and later added an extra week of early voting. But as the number of cases and hospitalizations has risen more than ever before, turnout has still soared — especially among Democrats whose ballots include a heated battle for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination.

More than 1 million Texans cast a ballot between June 29 and July 10, including more than 652,000 Democrats and more than 411,000 Republicans, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. With only early votes in, the election is set to surpass overall turnout in 2012, the last time more than 1 million voters cast ballots in a runoff, when former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were on the ballot. On the Democratic side, more votes have already been cast than in the 2018 runoffs, including Election Day, and the 2006, 2008 and 2012 runoffs, according to Texas Election Source's analysis of Texas State Historical Association data. It also puts the party on track to having its highest runoff turnout since 1990 — about 747,000 in 1994.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Can your employer be held responsible if you get coronavirus when you return to work?

As more Texans are venturing back into the workplace, they’re concerned about their risk of COV-19 infection as coronavirus cases continue to rise. Unless a person has a disability or medical condition that employers are legally required to accommodate, most Texans will have to return to work when their employers decide it’s OK. But what if you contract the virus after you return? Can your employer be held liable for your illness? Here’s what you need to know about employees’ rights during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Can you sue your employer if you get COVID-19 after you go back to work? Legal experts say there are only certain situations in which someone would be able to sue an employer if COVID-19 was contracted after returning to the workplace. In Texas, employers can opt into a workers’ compensation program, which allows employees to receive benefits if they get injured or sick on the job. Under the program, an employer agrees to cover medical expenses and, in some cases, provide income replacement for lost work time when an employee files a claim. In exchange, the employee waives the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer. There’s one exception to that trade-off: If the employer showed reckless disregard or negligence for the health and safety of its employees. “If they call you back without taking any precautions, without educating you and your fellow employees, without appropriate social distancing — if they just call you back willy-nilly, then that can show reckless disregard,” said Mike Maslanka, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law who specializes in employment law. “That can show what’s called gross negligence. And if that’s the situation, then you arguably can go ahead and file a lawsuit for your personal injury.”

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Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Not a robocall: Trump gives ex-White House physician final push for West Texas congressional seat

President Donald Trump lobbied West Texas Republicans hard Monday night to send his former White House physician to Congress, pitching Ronny Jackson as a loyalist who’ll enjoy rare access for a freshman. “He’s a friend and he’s somebody that can help me a lot in Washington,” the president said, gushing about Jackson for most of 12 minutes, calling him “an outstanding person … a very talented doctor” and “a great admiral.” “This is the kind of people we need coming to Washington to help us. He’s loyal. He’s brave. He’s a leader, and he’ll never let the people of Texas down,” Trump said. Jackson gushed back, clearly thrilled at the extra effort from a president who had already endorsed him, and even conferred a meeting when Air Force One touched down in Dallas last month.

“He’s a fantastic president, the best we’ve ever had. He is. He and I have worked closely for the last three years,” Jackson said. “I took care of him and his family for a few years and was one of his senior advisers. ... He’s got a fantastic family. He’s an incredible leader, and he’s a fantastic commander in chief that’s beloved by all of us in the military.” The retired rear admiral faces cattle industry lobbyist Josh Winegarner in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff in the 13th Congressional District. Winegarner led in the first round with 39 percent of the vote to Jackson’s 20. Trump drew 80% in the district, so the winner is almost certain to succeed Rep. Mac Thornberry, who supports Winegarner. The Clarendon Republican is retiring after 13 terms, including a stint as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee and now, its senior Republican. That’s a lot of seniority, and Jackson has made the case that his relationship with Trump puts him in a unique position to blunt that loss of influence — assuming, of course, that Trump wins reelection.

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Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

Thieves take COVID-19 testing supplies, delaying opening of new site in Pleasant Grove

The opening of a new walk-up COVID-19 testing site in Pleasant Grove was delayed after testing supplies and equipment were stolen overnight. The testing site at the Salvation Army’s Pleasant Grove Corps Community Center, located at 8341 Elam Rd., was set to open Monday morning, but officials announced the opening would be pushed back after the break-in. The site will open at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“Overnight, individuals broke into the storage location for the site and stole all of the equipment and supplies used to conduct testing,” officials said Monday in a news release from Parkland Health and Hospital System. A Parkland spokeswoman said several thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen, including personal protective equipment, test supplies, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, bottled water, food, a thermometer, an encrypted laptop, two radios, two air conditioning units and a refrigerator. Dallas police didn’t have details about the burglary Monday morning, saying a report about it was not yet complete. A spokeswoman confirmed that officers were called just before 7 a.m. to the 8300 block of Elam Road. When the site opens, it will operate Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until testing capacity for the day is met.

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Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2020

American Airlines prepares to send out layoff notices to workers

American Airlines is warning unions that layoff and furlough notices will be sent to workers soon as the carrier lays the groundwork for potential job cuts and furloughs in the fall. Fort Worth-based American Airlines has been telling its employees that the company is overstaffed by as many as 20,000 workers and that it will need to trim its workforce by fall. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a massive drop in passenger traffic and airline executives say passengers traffic is expected to be about 30% lighter this fall.

American Airlines began notifying unions that employees may start receiving WARN notices soon, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are slated to be laid off or furloughed. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 requires companies with 100 or more employees to provide 60 days notice of plant closings or mass layoffs. It’s intended to give employees time to potentially find new work or train for new positions. “This does not mean you will be furloughed. This is a legal requirement that American is taking to preserve their options in the future,” said a message to its members from the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents passenger service workers at American.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2020

State Supreme Court rejects Texas GOP bid for in-person convention

The Texas Supreme Court on Monday rejected two appeals that sought to resurrect the state Republican Party’s in-person political convention after it was canceled by Houston officials amid a growing coronavirus outbreak. GOP officials had hoped the all-Republican Supreme Court would allow the meeting to take place at the end of this week. Instead, the court’s 7-1 ruling said the party could not rely on state law or the Texas Constitution to enforce its contract with Houston or Houston First, which operates the city’s convention center.

“The Party argues it has constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities, and that is unquestionably true. But those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center,” the court said in an unsigned opinion. “Houston First’s only duty to allow the Party use of the Center for its Convention is under the terms of the parties’ Agreement, not a constitution” or state law, the court determined. The ruling followed legal arguments provided by lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose input was sought by the court over the weekend. After party officials rejected pleas to cancel its convention amid a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in the state’s largest city, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stepped in Wednesday to cancel the convention center contract, citing a “force majeure” clause that permits cancellation for situations beyond control, including “epidemics in the City of Houston.” The GOP quickly filed suit, and on Thursday, a state district judge held a brief preliminary hearing on the lawsuit and declined to order Houston to honor its contract with the party, which appealed to the Supreme Court. The district judge set a full hearing on the matter for today.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2020

Ken Herman: The Texas GOP mulls ideas on English, COVID and a couple thousand other things

Let’s take a look at some of the grand ideas forwarded by the Grand Old Party’s grass roots to its state convention this week. Herein, I shall present some of the resolutions approved at local conventions. I shall try to present these with minimal editorial interruption. I shall fail. And remember, many (if not most) of these proposals will go nowhere. But I thought you’d like to see some of them. The list of “2020 Submitted Resolutions for Temporary Platform Committee” has about 3,000 ideas, lots of it the usual Texas GOP stuff: Get the U.S. out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the U.S., ban same-sex marriage and, in general, get government out of telling us what to do, even — and especially — during a pandemic.

Please also remember all of these proposals were considered good ideas by a majority of Republicans somewhere in the Great State of Texas. Here we go: “Voter Ballots in Different Languages. Be it resolved that all Texas ballots will be in the English Language of Texas.” (This, of course, is not to be confused with the English language of, say, Vermont.) What would a ballot in the English language of Texas look like? It would look liked this: “Hey, who y’all wanna vote for?” One Twitter wag says her answer would be, “Well, I’m fixin’ to be votin’ for that good lookin’ feller over there. He’s a goodin’ and his wife makes a pretty mean pie.” Hey, I’ve seen worse ways to make voting decisions. That same resolution says, “Be it further resolved: If the voter is a Republican there will be no translator. If the voter is a Democrat a translator can be paid for by the Democrat party funds.” One must assume that said translator could provide services for a voter who speaks the English language of any of the other 49 states, including one of the hell holes mentioned in a resolution below.

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Austin American-Statesman - July 13, 2020

Reopening efforts slowed economic skid in Austin, Dallas Fed says

The effort over the past two months to reopen the state’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic might be proving questionable from the perspective of public health, but it has shown promise as an antidote for local businesses. New figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas indicate the pandemic-induced plummet in the Austin-area economy slowed in May, corresponding to a decision by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to start lifting orders that had shutdown many categories of businesses across the state to curtail the virus’s spread.

The Dallas Fed’s main barometer of Austin’s economy, called the Austin business-cycle index, dropped 20.3% on an annualized basis in May, a big drop but not as precipitous as a revised 75.3% annualized plunge in April — the steepest on record since 1978, which is as far back as the data on the area’s economic output goes. Other evidence also has emerged that the effort to jumpstart the state’s economy paid some early dividends. In Travis County, consumer spending picked up from the middle of April to the middle of June, according to the Dallas Fed’s latest report on the Austin area, although it still was down about 3% from January. “People going back to work certainly helped,” said Judy Teng, a research analyst at the Dallas Fed. Major metro areas across the state experienced similar trends. The agency’s barometers of economic activity in San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and El Paso all fell at record paces in April but showed varying degrees of improvement in May.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 13, 2020

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teams up with Julián Castro’s PAC, People First Future

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro are teaming up. The New York Congresswoman has scheduled to do a fundraising call on Tuesday night with Castro to help boost his political action committee, People First Future. In promoting the event, Ocasio-Cortez heaped praise on the former Democratic presidential candidate.

“If you want to support a Texan Latino leader who actually gives a damn about our community and advances progressive causes, join @JulianCastro and I next week in support of People First,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. In an email to supporters last week, she also said she and Castro “share a vision for a people first future that includes reimagining police departments, ending qualified immunity, overhauling our immigration system, creating more affordable housing, and so much more.” Ocasio-Cortez brings major political fundraising muscle to Castro’s PAC, which had less than $50,000 in it at the end of May, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports. Though Ocasio-Cortez is still in just her first term in Congress, she has been a prolific fundraiser. She has raised more than $10 million in her own campaign account — the 5th most of all candidates for the U.S. House in 2020.

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San Antonio Express-News - July 13, 2020

Trump campaign blasts ‘deceptive’ mailer from Texas GOP candidate for Congress Raul Reyes

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has had enough of a San Antonio-area Republican’s “deceptive” campaign mailers, which the Trump team says make it seem like the president has backed him and not his opponent. The Trump campaign sent a cease and desist letter to Raul Reyes Jr., a retired Air Force officer based in Castroville, saying a mailer — with an altered photo purporting to show Reyes and Trump standing together, giving the thumbs-up sign — is “misusing the president’s name, image or likeness.”

It’s the latest volley from the Trump campaign, which previously referred to Reyes’ mailers as “misleading, and possibly unethical.” The president has since endorsed former Navy cryptologist Tony Gonzales in the race for the Republican nomination to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (who has also endorsed Gonzales). “Your campaign mailer is misleading,” the cease and desist letter, sent on Monday, says. “In it, you repeatedly reference President Trump by name, refer to yourself as ‘the pro-Trump conservative’ in the race, and even include a photograph designed to appear as if the president is approvingly pointing in your direction.” Trump earlier this month tweeted his “Complete and Total Endorsement!” of Gonzales, saying, “we need him to defeat the Radical Left in November.”

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San Antonio Express-News - July 13, 2020

Texas GOP votes to move convention online after legal defeat at Supreme Court

The Texas Republican Party is moving its convention online after the state Supreme Court rejected its appeal of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s move to cancel the in-person event that was initially planned this week for downtown Houston. The GOP’s executive committee approved the change on a 53-4 vote Monday evening, hours after the high court rejected the party’s appeal of a lower court decision. A Harris County judge also denied the party’s request for an injunction that would have allowed it to proceed with the convention.

Turner, who last week ordered Houston First Corp. to cancel the convention last week, applauded the court’s decisions “on behalf of the city of Houston” and the employees who would have worked at the convention. The mayor, who is a Democrat, repeatedly has said he called off the event to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Houston, while Republican Party officials have alleged the move was politically motivated. The fate of the convention remained in limbo over the weekend, before the Supreme Court issued an unsigned “per curiam” opinion Monday morning denying the party’s request for a writ of mandamus, which would have blocked Turner from canceling the convention. The court found that while the Texas GOP has the constitutional right to hold a convention, “those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use” of the convention center, where the event was set to take place Thursday through Saturday. “Houston First’s only duty to allow the party use of the center for its convention is under the terms of the parties’ agreement, not a constitution,” the opinion stated.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

University of Texas making changes after Black athlete demands; football field renamed

The school song “Eyes of Texas” is staying but the University of Texas is making a host of changes with a multi-million dollar price tag in an attempt to meet the demands of Black athletes looking to rid the school of past ties to racism and make the campus comfortable and inclusive. The list of changes, announced by Interim President of the University of Texas at Austin Jay Hartzell Monday, include renaming the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium from Joe Jamail Field to Earl Campbell-Ricky Williams Field.

The team named the field after Jamail, a UT law school alumnus and major benefactor, in 1997. The school got permission from Jamail’s family to rename the field in honor of the school’s only two Heisman Trophy winners, Campbell (1977) and Williams (1998), who are both Black. “We never would have envisioned this historic site would one day bear our names” Campbell said in a statement. Added Williams: “Earl and myself are honored to be part of the momentum of change sweeping our alma mater.” The school will not rename Painter Hall, but it will add a statue of Heman Marion Sweatt in front of the building and an exhibit on the third floor examining the historic Sweatt v. Painter Supreme court decision in 1950 that opened the doors of the university to Black students. Sweatt, a Black man, had been refused admission to the Texas School of Law by Painter, a former school president, on the grounds that the Texas State Constitution prohibited integrated education.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

TCU undecided on tuition costs for online courses amid coronavirus

TCU is still deciding how much students should pay for online courses in the fall, according to officials. Due to COVID-19, many courses at the university will shift to virtual learning as the university allows faculty to decide which option they want to offer for the fall semester. It is unclear how many classes will be taught online instead of in person. At one point, Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. indicated tuition costs would be less for online courses, TCU 360 reported.

In a town hall meeting on June 11, Boschini said if the university went online again, the administration would “have to give a steep discount to our entire student body,” TCU 360, the university’s newspaper reported. But in an interview with the Star-Telegram on Wednesday, Boschini said the administration never reached that decision, and there would be no discount for online courses. On Thursday, the university’s answer shifted again. The administration said in an email that a decision had not been made about tuition.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 13, 2020

Ryan Rusak: What Texas GOP’s summer squabbling may mean for Democrats’ efforts to turn state blue

Watching the Texas Republican Party these days is a lot like watching a fading sports dynasty. There’s infighting aplenty, as the victories that used to paper over internal differences fade from memory. There’s name-calling from the benches and open challenges to the team’s leadership. Across the field, the long-suffering opponent piles on and hopes to take advantage and finally end its long losing streak.

The question is: How much, if at all, will any of it matter in November? Gov. Greg Abbott is at the heart of this debate, besieged from left, right, center, above and beyond. To listen to his critics, his decisions on coronavirus restrictions managed to both spread the pandemic and turn Texas into a totalitarian state. Some county Republican parties, including in Denton, are even passing symbolic measures to “censure” the governor who’s won five straight statewide elections without breaking a sweat. At the furthest fringe of the right, a couple of activists at Empower Texans left their podcast mics running and accidentally broadcast vulgar comments about Abbott. Their statements about his wheelchair use got the most attention, but what was notable from a political standpoint was the absolute vitriol they expressed toward an elected official with whom they probably agree 95% of the time.

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Texas Monthly - July 13, 2020

Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. is likely to hold his office, but he’s campaigning as if he’s on the ropes

Generating attention for the months-delayed primary runoffs has not been easy in state Senate District 27, where the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging border communities from Kingsville to Brownsville. That changed, however, at the height of early voting, when a direct-mail piece opposing 29-year incumbent Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., who faces a challenge from attorney Sara Stapleton-Barrera, hit mailboxes. The mailer, sent in late June and financed by civil-liberties nonprofit the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) and Planned Parenthood Texas Votes (PPTV), leveled all the criticisms Lucio has faced for years.

In his three-decade legislative career, the literature noted, the state senator has joined Republicans to support measures including school vouchers, bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans, and abortion rollbacks. It was the mailer’s banner, however, that incited a wave of impassioned responses from Lucio’s allies, and then a counterreaction from his foes: in bold red letters, the incumbent was identified as “Sucio Lucio,” a nickname derived from the Spanish term for dirty. Within days of the handbill’s arrival in mailboxes, state Representative Eddie Lucio III, the senator’s son, attacked the political action committees behind it for “disparaging our family name with derogatory and racial slurs” over their “traditional Catholic values.” Lucio III, who disagrees with his father on the issues the mailer highlighted, accused outside agitators of initiating a smear campaign against Lucio Jr., noting the “deeper connotations” of portraying Texans of Mexican descent as grimy. Immediately, several of Lucio III’s Democratic colleagues and allies took to social media to support his comments. Within an hour, Stapleton-Barrera’s allies heard that the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), the often powerful, bipartisan forty-member body in the Texas House, was planning to weigh in, potentially targeting her campaign, TFN, and PPTV.

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McClatchy - July 13, 2020

Ted Cruz spotted without mask on flight before attending rally with around 200 people

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was seen on a flight Sunday without wearing a mask, a photo shows, on the same day he attended a rally with around 200 people. Hosseh Enad, who works for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, posted a photo of Cruz not wearing a mask while on an American Airlines flight, writing that the photo was taken at 10:45 a.m. Sunday.

“For those trying to argue that he was drinking, it’s not hard to have a mask on and undo one side to take a sip then put it back on. Most people take their time drinking coffee,” Enad wrote in another tweet of a photo of Cruz not wearing a mask. “Also, here’s a photo of him sitting outside the gate.” Cruz, a Republican, attended a rally for Jon Francis, state representative candidate, on Sunday, according to Bud Kennedy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The event had around 200 to 250 people, with reportedly only about five people there wearing a face covering. American Airlines responded after the photo of Cruz not wearing a mask on the flight spread online. “We are committed to protecting the health and safety of all those who fly with us, and we are reviewing the details of this matter,” American Airlines told McClatchy News in a statement.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2020

Hispanic and Black residents suffering worse in pandemic, Harris County finds

African-American and especially Hispanic residents are suffering the worst outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Houston area, Harris County leaders announced Monday. Both groups make up a larger portion of coronavirus-related hospitalizations than their share of the county population.

“The concern that we have is that the increases in the Hispanic community are not just a cumulative increase, but it has actually gotten worse over time,” said Dr. Umair Shah, the county’s public health director. “We know that some of those factors may be related to un-insurance rates, may be related to many in our Hispanic community are working front-line jobs, the economics of what’s occurring with this pandemic, as well as multi-family households and, certainly, we are concerned about fear and stigma in our community.”

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City Stories

Community Impact Newspapers - July 13, 2020

Austin's $4.2 billion proposed budget includes 2.6% reduction to police department funding

After calls from community advocates to reallocate at least $100 million from the police department to other city services, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk proposed a budget July 13 that includes an $11.3 million reduction in police spending.

The $4.2 billion overall budget and $1.1 billion taxpayer-supported general fund for fiscal year 2020-21 are both largely unchanged from last year. Property tax revenue would increase by 3.5%, resulting in a $19.73 increase in annual city property tax payments for the homeowner of a median-valued $362,000 property. Community groups such as the Austin Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership have called on the city to reduce the police department budget significantly and reassign duties such as responding to mental health crises to other departments or public agencies. On June 11, City Council voted on a set of four policies aimed at responding to the growing local and national momentum around policing—including a commitment to spending fewer public dollars on the police budget.

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Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2020

Denton mans’ years of activism in city square leads to change

Local activist Willie Hudspeth has become a constant figure of Denton County Square. Nearly every Sunday, he sits in his folding chair along the walkway between the courthouse and the Confederate monument on the edge of the sidewalk, patiently waiting for others to walk past him. In front of him are multiple signs he’s placed across the lawn, featuring different bolded phrases - “Say no to racism.” “Move the statue.” “Vote for change.”

Hudspeth says he’s always open to peaceful discussions regarding his signs, as he believes there isn’t much dialogue about important issues shared between people today. “People need to talk,” Hudspeth said. “We all need to talk, ask questions and gather information to really learn from each other.” For over 20 years, Hudspeth attempted to make changes toward the monument, such as turning on its fountains and adding plaques denouncing slavery. However, his proposals were continuously disregarded by the Denton County Commissioners Court. In 2018, Hudspeth began sitting behind the monument nearly every Sunday to make his cause more known. Occasionally, others would stop and listen to Hudspeth and express their appreciation for his work, but never stayed with him for long. Hudspeth continued to fight alone.

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National Stories

Politico - July 13, 2020

California rolls back reopening plans as new outbreaks force major reversal

Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down indoor activities across California on Monday in the starkest sign yet that the nation’s most populous state is scrambling to prevent months of progress against the coronavirus from evaporating. Newsom ordered houses of worship, gyms and barbershops to close across dozens of counties that collectively contain the vast majority of California’s population and most of its urban centers. Statewide, bars will need to again shutter and restaurants must halt indoor dining.

The sweeping order punctuated California’s rapidly deteriorating situation. In March, Newsom was the first governor in the nation to fully shut down his state, elevating California into a poster child for aggressive efforts to limit the pandemic’s spread. Public health officials credited the effort with staving off a surge that might have crippled the state’s health care system. "We were able to suppress the spread of this virus, we were able to knock down the growth of this in the beginning," Newsom said Monday as he issued new restrictions. "We're going to do that again, there's no doubt in my mind." Caseloads and hospitalization numbers have risen sharply in recent weeks as California authorized counties to restart various sectors of the economy. Hospitals in some parts of the state are staring down the prospect of running out of beds as the state's seven-day average of new infections is approaches 9,000 daily, while its positive test rate has climbed above 7 percent after hovering near 4 percent during the initial reopening process.

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KCAL - July 13, 2020

Los Angeles Unified School District students won’t return to classrooms in the fall

The superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Monday that students will not return to the classroom when the fall semester begins next month because of the surge in coronavirus cases across the Southland. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said that the fall semester will begin Aug. 18. However, student learning will begin online only, with no students returning to in-person classes.

Along with LAUSD, the San Diego Unified School District will also begin its fall semester in a virtual format. The two districts released a joint statement confirming the move. “Both districts will continue planning for a return to in-person learning during the 2020-21 academic year, as soon as public health conditions allow,” the statement read. Beutner did not provide an estimate regarding when in-person classes might resume. “The right way to reopen schools is to make sure there’s a robust system of testing and contact tracing to mitigate the risk for all in the school community,” Beutner said in a video address Monday. All this comes after United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union which represents LAUSD teachers, announced Saturday that of 18,000 members who took part in a poll, 83% voted against physically reopening schools to students. The union applauded LAUSD’s announcement the correct move in light of the circumstances.

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Reuters - July 13, 2020

Coronavirus crisis may get "worse and worse and worse", warns WHO

The new coronavirus pandemic raging around the globe will worsen if countries fail to adhere to strict healthcare precautions, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday. "Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction, the virus remains public enemy number one," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing from the U.N. agency's headquarters in Geneva. "If basics are not followed, the only way this pandemic is going to go - it is going to get worse and worse and worse."

Global infections stand at 13 million, according to a Reuters tally, with more than half a million deaths. Tedros, whose leadership has been heavily criticised by U.S. President Donald Trump, said that of 230,000 new cases on Sunday, 80% were from 10 nations, and 50% from just two countries. The United States and Brazil are the countries worst hit. "There will be no return to the old normal for the foreseeable future ... There is a lot to be concerned about," Tedros added, in some of his strongest comments of recent weeks.

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SPIN - July 13, 2020

Kanye West at 2% in first poll since announcing his national run

Kanye West may want to be president, but he has a long way to go if it’s actually going to happen (for a number of reasons).

In the first piece of polling data to take into account the rapper/mogul’s candidacy, West is polling at a not-so-good 2%. Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled 2,000 registered voters in the U.S. and let’s just say that they’re not as impressed with West’s platform as he seems to be. Joe Biden leads the pack with 48%, with Donald Trump in second with 40%. When West is included in the poll, Trump’s number dips to 39% while Biden’s remains the same. On July 4, West issued his own declaration when he announced a presidential run. He was initially supported by Elon Musk, who has since walked back his endorsement following West’s interview with Forbes. West also shared in that interview that he’s no longer voting for President Trump, he had COVID-19 and is an anti-vaxxer. Trump’s hope to run against Kanye, something that the pres himself said he wanted in 2015, may actually harm the president if the numbers are accurate. West shared a new song that was a tribute to his late-mother on Sunday. Titled “Donda,” the tune features Donda West reciting the lyrics to KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police.”

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Washington Post - July 14, 2020

White House effort to undermine Fauci is criticized by public health experts, scientists and Democrats

A White House effort to undermine Anthony S. Fauci has drawn rebukes from public health experts, scientists and mostly Democratic politicians, who argue it is dangerous for the Trump administration to disparage a highly respected government infectious-disease expert as the novel coronavirus continues to exact a heavy toll on the nation. The angry reaction occurred after The Washington Post published a story Saturday saying the relationship between President Trump and Fauci had sharply deteriorated and that the two had not spoken since early June.

The White House provided The Post with examples of what it characterized as mistakes that Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had made about the pandemic, mostly in the early days when information about the virus was extremely limited. The White House also made the information available to other reporters, some of whom described it as “opposition research.” Academics and researchers rallied to defend Fauci. “It’s shocking,” said Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “When you begin to discredit scientists like Fauci, who are national treasures, you are in serious trouble.” Critics of the White House noted that some of the Fauci statements cited by the White House were taken out of context, or incomplete. Fauci has said repeatedly, especially in the early days of the outbreak, that scientists lacked sufficient information about the virus to be definitive in their statements. He said recommendations might change as new information emerged.

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