The Brief: May 10, 2011

Not that he was stepping onto the friendliest of political territory anyway, but President Barack Obama's visit to Texas today has coincided with a dramatic display of Republican legislative might.

President Obama at the University of Texas on Monday, August 9, 2010.
President Obama at the University of Texas on Monday, August 9, 2010.  Spencer Selvidge

The Big Conversation:

Not that he was stepping onto the friendliest of political territory anyway, but President Barack Obama's visit to Texas today has coincided with a dramatic display of Republican legislative might.

The president, before speaking at two fundraising events in Austin, will deliver a speech on immigration in El Paso just hours after Republicans in the Texas House gave initial approval to a so-called sanctuary cities bill, the most controversial immigration-related legislation that lawmakers have taken up this session.

The bill — which would prohibit cities and other entities from adopting policies that prevent law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration policy and asking arrested individuals if they are in the country legally — drew fierce, emotional debate on Monday. Democrats, who have drawn parallels between the Texas legislation and Arizona's controversial Senate Bill 1070, said they feared the law would lead to racial profiling.

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"When you cast this vote, I hope you realize that 9 million Hispanics will take it personally," said state Rep. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio.

As several other Hispanic Democrats offered impassioned testimony on discrimination they and members of their families had faced, Republicans maintained that the bill only sought to free up local officers to better identify individuals in the country illegally.

"My bill doesn't mandate anything," said Rep. Burt Solomons, the Carrollton Republican who authored the bill. "It just creates a uniform policy so that cities can't opt out of federal immigration laws."

Debate remained civil throughout the day, but around midnight, Solomons moved to end debate on the bill with about 30 amendments still pending — a move that mirrored Republicans' dramatic, debate-ending political meneuvers over the weekend. The bill passed, 100-47, along party lines.

But the sanctuary cities vote was just one in a string of victories Republicans claimed on Monday that hang over the president's visit. Voter ID legislation now appears headed to the governor's desk, the House passed a major Republican-backed tort reform bill, and campus carry legislation — which had stalled — was successfully tacked onto another bill in the Senate.

In short, the president's timing could be better. Then again, as he's said, he's not writing off Texas.  

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Culled:

  • In his immigration speech in El Paso, President Barack Obama will unveil a "blueprint" for enacting comprehensive immigration reform, and NPR has a look at the political landscape Obama faces as he pivots toward the issue. Meanwhile, in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has declined an invitation to meet with the president, and just a couple of congressional Democrats plan to watch the El Paso speech in person, Politico reports.
  • The federal government has awarded the Texas Department of Transportation $15 million to study and begin preliminary work on a high-speed rail link between Dallas and Houston. The grant doesn't guarantee construction of the rail but lays the groundwork if a number of factors align within the next decade.
  • The $831 million in education jobs funding for Texas tied up in a political fight between Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, may now be used by school districts, which will be able to avoid some layoffs as they grapple with massive budget cuts.

"My skin is brown. I am Hispanic, and I am not afraid of House Bill 12." — State Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, a member the Hispanic Republic Conference, on the sanctuary cities legislation

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