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The Brief: Dec. 16, 2015

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sparred with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over immigration and foreign policy issues during the fifth GOP debate Tuesday night.

GOP presidential hopefuls (l-r) Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush pledge allegiance at the CNN de…

The Big Conversation

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sparred with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over immigration and foreign policy issues during the fifth GOP debate Tuesday night, pushing Cruz's campaign to emphasize that the freshman Senator "unequivocally" does not support legalization.

The Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reported that the duo exchanged harsh words about the role the United States should play in international politics but harsher words still when it came to immigration. Both senators are increasingly throwing sharp elbows in the fight to become the prime alternative to the boisterous Donald Trump.

Svitek wrote, "Rubio repeatedly argued that his immigration views are not unlike Cruz's, pointing to a number of measures Cruz has supported at at some point in time. Cruz shot back that Rubio was trying to 'muddy the waters' to obscure his own role in the Gang of Eight legislation that has become anathema to the GOP base.”

Rubio pushed back against Cruz, peppering him with questions about whether he would consider “ever legalizing people who are in this country illegally now.” Cruz held fast and said he has no plans of supporting legalization.

After the debate, Cruz's campaign chairman Chad Sweet spoke to reporters and emphasized Cruz's anti-legalization position. "I'm here tonight and I want to make this clear to everybody, so you can put me on record on this: Sen. Cruz unequivocally — unequivocally — does not support legalization," Sweet told reporters.

Rubio and Cruz also touched on foreign policy issues during the lengthy debate, as conversation turned to U.S. intelligence programs and how to counter the Islamic state terrorist group. Svitek reported that Rubio questioned Cruz’s ability to carry out his “tough talk,” which included calls for “carpet bombing the group."

Many viewers likely expected sparks to fly between Cruz and Trump during the debate after the pair exchanged harsh words on social media. But by the end of the debate, their peculiar alliance appeared to be intact – although Trump's campaign manager said he would not go so far as to call their "friendship" an alliance

"I don't know about an alliance," Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said. "Everyone on that stage wants to be the president of the United States. I think what you have tonight is a couple of individuals who fundamentally agree that Washington is broken, and they have their own vision to change that, and that's what came across on the stage tonight."

Trib Must Reads

State Explores Flexing Legal Muscles on Immigration, by Julián Aguilar – Crafted carefully, state laws can be written that would allow Texas to crack down on undocumented immigrants and illegal border crossers without running afoul of the U.S. Constitution, a state attorney told lawmakers recently.

Analysis: Familiar Incumbents and Familiar Challengers, by Ross Ramsey – The candidates for the 2016 elections have filed their papers, and the ballots have some familiar names. There are perennial candidates, former officeholders who want their own jobs back and candidates with the same names as their opponents.

New Death Sentences in Texas Drop To 40-Year Low, by Johnathan Silver and Jolie McCullough – Texas juries imposed new death sentences only twice in 2015 — the fewest since the death penalty was reinstated nationwide almost 40 years ago.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green: Garcia Challenge A "Hail Mary", by Abby Livingston – An old friend called U.S. Rep. Gene Green Monday to say he intended to challenge the 12-term incumbent for his Houston seat. Just like that, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia made the race personal.

Abbott, Paxton Make Pitches for Nativity Scene, by Eleanor Dearman – The town of Orange took down its nativity scene when a local atheist group requested permission to display a “Happy Holidays” sign alongside. Top state officials are urging them to reconsider.

Horse Racetrack Shutdowns Loom Across Texas, by Jordan Rudner – During a tense meeting, the Texas Racing Commission declined Tuesday to repeal its authorization of historical racing — a move that state leaders warn could mean the shutdown of racetracks across Texas.

DPS Chief: Refugee Concerns Extend Beyond Syrians, by Alexa Ura – Despite Texas Republicans’ laser focus on keeping Syrian refugees from being resettled here, the head of the state's Department of Public Safety says he’d prefer a wider lens that focuses on all countries connected to “Islamic extremist terrorism.”

Abbott Orders National Guard to Stay in Place on Border, by Julián Aguilar – Because of a recent spike in minors crossing the border illegally in the Rio Grande Valley, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he is ordering the Texas National Guard to stay in the area through December.

Railroad Commission Names New Executive Director, by Jim Malewitz – The Texas Railroad Commission has named Kimberly Corley as its new executive director.  

Judge Dismisses UT Regent Hall's Suit Seeking Access to Admissions Records, by Matthew Watkins – A state district judge has thrown out a lawsuit by University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall that sought to force the system to turn over records related to an admissions scandal last year.

Cruz Enters Fifth GOP Debate in Trump's Crosshairs, by Patrick Svitek – Don't get Trumped. That's the task facing Ted Cruz as he heads into the fifth Republican presidential debate in the crosshairs of the bomb-throwing billionaire.

Elsewhere

Wisconsin Gov. Walker Happy to Have Cruz's Fundraising Help, The Associated Press

Coming To Texas: Special-Ed Cams To Protect Students From Their Own Teachers, NPR

Dan Patrick predicts GOP establishment will back Ted Cruz, and not just to stop Donald TrumpThe Dallas Morning News

Judge tosses UT regent’s lawsuit seeking records of admissions inquiryAustin American-Statesman

Hearing underscores ongoing divide in Texas over Syrian refugeesThe Dallas Morning News

Districts withhold data from state in 15 teacher misconduct casesAustin American-Statesman

Battle over Big Bend pipeline enters the final roundsSan Antonio Express-News

More HISD schools land on state's most-troubled listHouston Chronicle

Oil and coal execs to lead Texas energy regulatory agencyAustin American-Statesman

Texas nonprofit replaces police dog killed in Paris attacks, The Associated Press

Woman sickened in 9/11 bewildered by hold-up of health care billAustin American-Statesman

Who shot who in Waco biker clash? Answers expected soonHouston Chronicle

Quote to Note

"There was an incredible amount of encouragement, and people were saying, 'Don't settle for mayor — shoot higher'."

– Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on his decision to enter the race for the Houston-based 29th Congressional district.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A conversation with former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove on Dec. 17 at the Austin Club

•    A conversation with state Reps. Celia Israel, Eddie Rodriguez and Paul Workman on Jan. 14 at St. Edward's University in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune's second Texas-centric Trivia Night on Jan. 31 at The Highball in Austin

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