March 2, 2020

State Senate Dem Seeks to Tie Texas GOP Leaders
to Trump and Federal Coronavirus Crisis Bungling

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Texas Republicans here got a taste of the potential political nightmare that the coronavirus poses for them when a Democratic lawmaker called on the state's top GOP leaders to turn up the pressure on President Donald Trump for his handling of the federal response to rapidly-growing public health crisis.

State Senator Jose Menendez of San Antonio urged Governor Greg Abbott and the state's two U.S. Senate Republicans to do more to hold Trump and and the Centers for Disease Control responsible for a series of stumbles that included the premature release of a woman from a federal quarantine center at Lackland Air Force Base before she tested positive for the CODIV-19.

The bureaucratic snafu prompted San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg to declare a public health emergency on Monday on the eve of the Super Tuesday primary election in Texas and 13 other states. Alamo City health officials said the woman in question checked into a Holiday Inn Express at the international airport on the north side of the city before heading to the nearby North Star Mall leader where she want into several stores before dining at the food court there.

One of more than 90 Americans who were being held at the military installation after their evacuation from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the woman was subsequently transferred to the Texas Center for Infectious Disease in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Local officials fear that at least 16 people might have come in contact with the woman during her weekend jaunt in the state's third largest city.

“As mayor of this city, I find it totally unacceptable that CDC would release a patient prior to receiving all test results and potentially expose the public to this harm," Nirenberg said.

Menendez expressed his outrage in letters that he sent individually to U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Abbott - imploring them to "use all of your influence" to help ensure that the White House does a better job of holding the CDC accountable for mismanagement amid the coronavirus threat.

"Local officials rely on the expertise and technical skills of federal agencies responsible for combatting this potential pandemic," Menendez said. "We need to equip our local leaders with information and the tools necessary to effectively fight this disease. The lack of transparency and consultation with us at the local level is disheartening."

Abbott had sharply assailed the Atlanta-based CDC early on Monday without mentioning that the agency is controlled by the Trump administration.

The coronavirus could have a devastating effect on the GOP's hopes for keeping Texas red at the polls this fall when Democrats could reclaim a state House majority with a net gain of at least nine seats. Texas has become the most critical state on the congressional battlefield in the 2020 general election with Democrats targeting a half-dozen seats that Republicans will be attempting to defend.

GOP leaders and lawmakers in Texas had been feeling relatively relaxed heading into the year with Trump appearing to get a reprieve by a prosperous national economy. But anxiety is soaring now in Republican ranks here now with the stock market in a free fall brought on by the coronavirus and uncertainty surrounding it.

Trump has been eating crow since suggesting last week that the coronavirus scare was a fake media hoax that the Democrats cooked up in a desperation scheme to steal the White House this fall. The president continued to insist that the crisis had been overblown after the first U.S. death was reported late last week.

Republicans like Cornyn who are on the ballot for re-election this year had been staking their fate on Trump's ability to weather a challenge from the Democrats in a bid for a new term in 2020. That's starting to look a potentially fatal mistake at a time when the White House is being beseiged by reports that the Trump administration sought to slash the CDC budget early this year despite revelations about the coronavirus as an international emergency.


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