Flynn Sings, Barton Sinks: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics

General Flynn has flipped, though on whom is still developing. Also still developing is just how many members of the Texas Congressional delegation will not be coming back. Joe Barton opted out, but there’s bad news out today for Congressman Farenthold, too. Over on the other side of the U.S. Capitol, the Senate handling of the tax rewrite (whatever the outcome) isn’t likely to help Congress’s approval rating – probably about as much as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, and Mark Halperin have helped the news media’s standing. On the other hand, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s endorsement of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is likely to give him a shot in the arm (?)  after he picked up a challenger this week. Lest we think there’s no policy news, health care was in the post-Harvey spotlight this week at a Texas Tribune event, and amidst all these other weird things going on, Texas surrendered in one of the voting rights cases working its way through federal courts.  

1. Developing as we write: former National Security Advisor and “lock her up” chant leader Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition in December. An oddly sourced story from ABC News reported shortly after Flynn’s court appearance Friday morning that Flynn’s deal involved testifying that he was directed by Trump to contact the Russians. From the ABC story:  

Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn has promised “full cooperation” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation and, according to a confidant, is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.”  

The Associated Press also reported on this angle citing an unnamed source, though this is obviously a developing story. In the October UT/Texas Tribune Poll, there was a great deal of partisanship in views of Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation.

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Approve strongly3%21%40%
Approve somewhat1%11%19%
Neither approve nor disapprove3%22%20%
Disapprove somewhat7%9%5%
Disapprove strongly84%26%8%
Don't know2%11%7%

UPDATE AS OF SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2, ON THAT FLYNN STORY:  Brian Ross, the ABC New reporter who reported Friday that Flynn had allegedly been directed by Trump to contact the Russians, apparently got it wrong.  Per the Associated Press via the Philadelphia Inquirer:  ABC News on Saturday suspended investigative reporter Brian Ross for four weeks without pay for his erroneous report on Michael Flynn, which it called a "serious error."

2. Rep. Joe Barton announced that he isn’t running for reelection, ensuring that turnover in  the Texas delegation in the next Congress will be the highest it’s been in recent history. Barton spent most of the last week resisting calls for him to step down, but as more details emerged over his communications with women after the leak of a risque photograph of the Representative from the 6th District, his withdrawal started looking inevitable. State Senators Brian Birdwell and Konni Burton added their names to the list of officials calling for his resignation mid-week, signalling that Barton’s right flank was exposed. We’ll see at least as much turnover in the delegation as we’ve seen in the last 20 years – and not a single vote has yet been cast, so the number could grow larger still, as Ross Ramsey pointed out in a pre-Barton departure Texas Tribune column this week.

Congressional Turnover in the Texas Delegation

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CongressVoluntary RetirementInvoluntary RetirementPrimary Election LossGeneral Election Loss

Breaking News: Politico reports that Rep. Blake Farenthold settled a sexual harassment claim brought by a former employee to the tune of $84,000 in taxpayer money. It’s a good thing our content management system allows us to update these graphics so easily. 

3. The Senate is still struggling to pass a tax bill that would embarrass even the greedy Rich Guy in Monopoly. While Congressional Republicans may in fact be correct in their assessment that failure to pass meaningful legislation about the one thing that they all agree that they agree on – tax cuts – would spell devastation for them in the upcoming midterms, if not beyond, they’ve also clearly calculated that any negative blowback from the passage of a tax bill is going to be less than being labeled as unable to govern. Because of this, continued negative coverage both of the plan emerging from the Senate as well as of the process is unlikely to stop the GOP from forging ahead, but the public reception isn’t likely to get much better. On the bright side, when you have the approval numbers that Congress currently sports, it would be hard for the overall ratings to get any worse. The open question is whether comparatively dour assessments by Republicans of a Congress in which they serve as the majority party in both houses will be improved by passing a tax bill that seems to violate GOP promises in key areas (e.g. being aimed at the middle class, not increasing the deficit).

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Approve strongly2%
Approve somewhat10%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%
Disapprove somewhat24%
Disapprove strongly45%
Don't know3%

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Approve strongly2%0%1%
Approve somewhat6%9%15%
Neither approve nor disapprove13%17%17%
Disapprove somewhat24%19%25%
Disapprove strongly51%51%39%
Don't know4%4%2%

4. TV news ain’t what it used to be. While Donald Trump and CNN continues their long-running feud, this week saw the continued toppling of major media personalities as a result of the continued stream of revelations about men in the media business behaving very badly, with Matt Lauer the latest to be shown the door. While it’s hard to draw all the possible connections between the media, politics and politicians, and sexual harassment/assault in the present moment -- though see this interesting Jim Rutenberg column from The New York Times --  we can see in Texans both an acknowledgement that the media is important to Democracy, but also, the widespread impression that this same media does more to serve people in powerful positions than ordinary citizens.

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Very important50%
Somewhat important22%
Not very important9%
Not at all important11%
Don't know/no opinion8%

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People like you23%
People in powerful positions60%
Don't know/no opinion17%

5. It ain’t a Jesus Shot, but it could still be the answer to a candidate’s prayers. Or, more likely, capitalizing on a connection made during the Trump presidential campaign. Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller announced today that he’s been endorsed by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, champion of immigration hardliners everywhere. Miller picked up a GOP primary challenger this week in the form of lobbyist Trey Blocker, whose candidacy for something he’s been telegraphing to insiders for months. Playing the Sheriff Joe card is something Miller no doubt would have done at some point, but Blocker’s invocation of immigration in his announcement video, as reported by the prolific Patrick Svitek, no doubt spurred this.  Both candidates (or their consultants) can clearly read the polling of GOP attitudes in Texas on illegal immigration as well as the next guy, and Blocker has been telegraphing this in his lead-in to running for months.

6. In yet another indication that Harvey’s problems are going to persist, a Texas Tribune panel on the healthcare landscape following Harvey and a follow-up story by Emma Platoff highlighted that many of the health related problems are only just beginning. While more immediate concerns like debris removal and housing were considered the most important issues to be addressed in the wake of Harvey by Texas voters in the October UT/TT poll, the third highest rated item was public health. Expect these numbers to move around in upcoming polling if public health crises do manifest as expected, but also in response to local, state, and federal governments’ continued response.

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Public Education2%
Public health22%
Environmental contamination15%
Debris cleanup and disposal28%
Damage to local businesses2%

7. Texas throws in the towel in voting rights case. In a rarity, Texas does not appear to be appealing a ruling against the state in a voting rights case that, as The Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura put it, concerns “an obscure provision of the Texas Election Code that required interpreters helping someone cast a ballot to also be registered to vote in the same county in which they are providing help.” Texas’ apparent decision not to continue the case stands in stark contrast to a number of rulings against the state’s election maps and its voter ID law, but maybe even more importantly, in stark contrast to the vast majority of Republican voters, who say that the state’s election system does not discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities.

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Don't know/no opinion15%

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Don't know/no opinion16%20%12%

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Don't know/no opinion11%19%22%


Lupe Valdez is waiting in the wings to run against Greg Abbott, it would seem.

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Approve strongly27%
Approve somewhat21%
Neither approve nor disapprove14%
Disapprove somewhat11%
Disapprove strongly22%
Don't know5%

Might Trump think a govt shut-down would help him? Could be. Lack of love for the federal government may make this a good political play, if terrible policy.

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Very favorable5%1%5%
Somewhat favorable18%10%22%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable25%22%23%
Somewhat unfavorable23%19%26%
Very unfavorable27%41%20%
Don't know/no opinion2%7%4%

One for the teachers: Texas Citizen Legislature in action!