June 25, 2020
Top Texas Leaders Defying Trump Amid
Freeze on Reopening and Testing Pleas
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott and the state's two U.S. senators all broke ranks with President Donald Trump on Thursday in the COVID-19 fight in a sign that Republicans here could be on the verge of trying to run from a White House that's appeared to be teetering on the brink of a meltdown.
With the coronavirus raging out of control here, the Republican governor ran the risk of attracting Trump's wrath when he slammed the brakes on the Texas reopening that the president had declared to be a model for the nation early last month.
U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz - a pair of Republicans who'd been staunch Trump defenders during the pandemic and social injustice protests - set themselves up for attacks by the president when they urged the federal government to continue the flow of funds to Texas virus testing sites.
Trump declared at a campaign rally in Tulsa last weekend that he'd ordered a sharp reduction in coronavirus testing as a way to curtail sharp spikes in new cases in Texas and other hot spot states. The president had made it clear in no uncertain terms that he wants the states to reopen as quickly as possible while encouraging conservative base supporters to ignore safety protocols that are designed to curb a massive second outbreak.
Democrats have accused Abbott and the U.S. Senate pair of being Trump lap dogs who have trembled in fear at the thought of alienating the president. Cornyn has the most to lose as the only one of the three high-ranking Texas leaders who'll be up for re-election this fall on a GOP ticket that Trump will be leading.
After assuring Texans a week ago that they had no cause for alarm in the midst of the June surge, Abbott said that he'd attempted to balance the state's public and economic health with the pace of the reopening that he's had the singular power to direct. But Abbott acknowledged today that the time had come to freeze the reopening process until the state can curtail a virus resurgence that was in the infant stages when he announced Phase 3 amid the assertion that the spread of disease had been contained.
“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," Abbott said. "This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."
Abbott froze the reopening in place after the state recorded more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases in the past two days while breaking records for hospitalizations 13 days in a row in a state where the health care system is facing an unprecedented test of its emergency capacity.
The second surge had been under way for two weeks when the state escalated testing efforts that have been among the worst in the nation. The only glimmer of good news this week has been record-setting numbers of diagnostic tests for five consecutive days. While Texas ranks a disappointing 45th in the nation in testing positivity with a rate that's climbed steadily for the past 10 days. But Texas has vaulted up to 42nd in testing compared to other states thanks to its elevation as a belated priority.
Trump has emerged as the major obstacle to the Texas testing initiative that experts say the state desperately needs to increase.
"Now is not the time to end a program that is working and successfully increasing testing capacity—especially for underserved communities in the state," Cruz and Cornyn said in a letter that they fired off today to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor.
Abbott said Wednesday that the state planned to take up the slack from the federal funding termination for seven Texas testing sites and could do a better job with a plan he said he would unveil this week. But Cornyn and Cruz appeared to disagree with the governor's assertion.
"Due to the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in Texas, cities need additional time to prepare for the transition to state and local control of the testing sites,” the Texas senator said.
The sharp departures on testing and the Texas reopening come at a time when polls show Trump in a free fall with Democrat Joe Biden's leading by double-digits with a surprising amount of support from white voters who appear to be turning rapidly against the volatile incumbent.
After tying himself to Trump for the past year, Cornyn could be in serious jeopardy this fall when he will face the winner of a Democratic primary runoff next month between MJ Hegar and State Senator Royce West.