The Brief: Top Texas News for Feb. 1, 2013

The Big Conversation

Is Ted Cruz, less than a month into his Senate career, already rubbing off on John Cornyn?

Cruz, who took office on Jan. 3 after winning election in November, has firmly established himself as a bold, vocal conservative unafraid to draw attention. This week alone, Cruz made headlines for voting against Sen. John Kerry's confirmation as secretary of state, bringing a pistol grip to a hearing on gun violence, publicly rebuking Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and introducing a bill to repeal federal health care reform.

Not to mention the senator's aggressive grilling of U.S. Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel at a hearing on Thursday.

Most notable, however, has been Cruz's influence on his colleague from Texas.

As The Dallas Morning News reports, some observers see Cornyn, the state's senior senator, already taking cues from Cruz — presumably in an attempt to avoid a primary challenge in 2014.

"The tail is wagging the dog. Usually the freshman senator is not even heard from, let alone having any influence. Now he’s dictating the vote of the No. 2 guy," a Republican strategist told the Morning News. "This is just starting."

Cornyn has long held one of the most conservative records in the Senate, but GOP activists say some of his recent moves — like voting with Cruz against Kerry, and retreating from comprehensive immigration reform — may signal an attempt to avoid distinguishing himself from Cruz, who rose to political power on a wave of Tea Party support.

"The Cruz election has heavily impacted Senator Cornyn," said Katrina Pierson, a North Texas Tea Party activist. "Senator Cornyn sees that writing on the wall."

Whether Cornyn needs to worry about 2014, though, remains unclear. A new survey out this week from Public Policy Polling showed that while only 34 percent of Texans approved of his performance (36 percent disapproved; 30 percent had no opinion), Republicans gave him high marks, with 57 percent approving and 15 percent disapproving.

Capitol Notes
Compiled from Tribune reports

•    Straus Makes House Committee Assignments: "House Speaker Joe Straus announced committee assignments for the Legislature's lower chamber on Thursday, ending speculation over key chairmanships and giving lawmakers the go-ahead to start considering bills."

•    Health Advocates Make Case for Medicaid Expansion, Restoring Cuts: "Health care advocates flocked to the Capitol on Thursday to urge the Senate Finance Committee to consider expanding Medicaid, restoring funding for family planning services and improving the state’s health care delivery system." 

Culled
Texas news from across the state and around the web

•    Gunned-down Kaufman prosecutor Mark Hasse ‘always sought justice for victims’ (The Dallas Morning News): "Rick Harrison knew he was getting someone special in Mark Hasse. The former Kaufman County district attorney hired Hasse in the fall of 2009 and made him his chief felony prosecutor. 'You’re lucky to get that kind of a prosecutor in a small county,' Harrison said. Harrison’s recollection of his former colleague came only hours after Hasse, 57, was gunned down Thursday morning near the Kaufman County Courthouse."

•    Castro to testify at immigration hearing on Capitol Hill (San Antonio Express-News): "House Democrats have tapped Mayor Julián Castro, an outspoken proponent of immigration reform, to testify at an upcoming hearing on the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. Castro, who has shared his family's immigration story, will appear at the Tuesday hearing of the House Judiciary Committee into 'America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration.'"

•    At Lone Star campus, leaders discuss ways to combat gun violence (Houston Chronicle): "Better training for officers, a database to prevent the mentally ill or violent from buying guns and a ban on assault rifles were among recommendations Houston-area community leaders offered on Thursday at a panel discussion for combating gun violence. Lone Star College leaders, still absorbing the shock waves of last week's campus shooting that wounded three people, were among those at the discussion, held at the college's Victory Center location in north Houston. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee organized the event."

Quote of the Day: "I don't think that Rick Perry will ever say the border is secure." — U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, speaking at a Texas Association of Business event on Thursday

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