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Watch: U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey and Michael McCaul talk snowstorm, leadership

U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey and Michael McCaul sat down virtually with The Texas Tribune to discuss last week’s destructive snowstorm and how Texas can move forward — plus, what leadership in Washington should look like.

The week after Texas’ deadly snowstorm damaged the state’s power grid, U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin, both said they support weatherizing the grid — and they outlined different solutions for preventing another such catastrophe.

Their comments came during a virtual interview with The Texas Tribune’s Abby Livingston. The conversation, which was recorded Monday and shared online Wednesday, also touched on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol (McCaul said the riot was a “setback” for the Republican Party) and on leadership in Washington (McCaul and Veasey both reminisced about former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.)

Here are some highlights of the conversation.

How do you rate the Biden administration's response to the winter storm fallout in Texas?

McCaul said he would give the administration “a very high mark” and praised the efforts of the Texas delegation in calling for Biden to declare that Texas is experiencing a major disaster, which Biden did last weekend. Veasey also gave Biden’s administration “much credit” for its response, which he said will go a very long way in assisting low-income communities that were affected by the storm.

Many Texas Republicans have not supported aid for other states that suffered natural disasters in the past, like Superstorm Sandy. There are northeasterners who are still mad at Texas for that. How does Texas get its swagger back? And what would you tell those folks?

Veasey said the level of partisanship and finger-pointing in America has reached a level that is “unacceptable” and criticized the GOP’s blaming of green energy for the crisis that engulfed millions of Texans last week.

“I think we have to move away from that. When you go back and you think of leaders that we've had in the past like Lloyd Bentsen, for instance, and I'll even say on the Republican side, Kay Bailey Hutchison,” Veasey said. “We want people that are going to reflect this state in a bipartisan manner.”

Like Veasey, McCaul also said Americans should always come together to help out a state that just suffered a natural disaster. He praised the efforts of New Yorkers like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for raising money for Texas. The GOP congressman from Austin acknowledged that both fossil fuel and green energy were knocked out by the freeze last week, but said the failure from natural gas had a bigger role in affecting the state’s power grid.

What's the future of the Texas energy grid?

Both Veasey and McCaul agree that Texas needs to weatherize its power grid. McCaul said that it’s “a positive” that Texas has its own grid because “if one grid goes down, it has a domino effect on the other grid.”

“Now, the downside to that is we're not able to tap in and share power from other grids. It would have been nice to have done that last week,” McCaul said. “I think we need to find that compromise where we can tap into other grids and still keep it isolated and secure.”

Veasey, who serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said that transparency from state entities, like ERCOT, should be a key reform moving forward.

“People don't even know what the Railroad Commission is. Most Texans think it has something to do with railroads, and it doesn't. It has to do with oil and gas,” Veasey said. “I think just erasing that sort of secrecy around all of this is, is a big step in the right direction.”

He said the deregulation of the state’s energy market is to blame for the exorbitant electricity bills that most Texans have recently received, even though many didn’t even have power for days on end. He said weatherizing the state’s power infrastructure should be a priority for Congress.

Have statewide officials been effective in leading the state through the snowstorm crisis?

Veasey said the lack of consistent competitive races in Texas “has affected leadership in the state” and it has “made statewide leadership a lot less responsive.” He praised the leadership of former U.S. Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas for championing bipartisanship. He said state officials failed at regularly discussing natural disaster preparedness before the snowstorm.

McCaul said state legislators and members of Congress should work together more in the future. He also said that weatherizing the state’s power infrastructure should be a priority for Congress. McCaul echoed Veasey’s comment about the leadership of Hutchison.

“I miss the days of Kay Bailey Hutchison, like Marc mentioned, because everything she did was always about Texas. It was always Texas first. She really, truly believed in Texas, and its constituency,” he said.

On Sen. Ted Cruz’s trip to Cancún when Texans were still grappling with power outages because of the storm, McCaul said: “I'm not going into Cancún and all that, but I think that elected officials have a duty to be responsive to their constituents, particularly in times of crisis, when they really need you the most.”

Can you walk us through what Jan. 6 was like for you?

Veasey said he remembered heading to the Capitol that day and getting a text from Capitol police saying, “If you're in your office, lock the door, be quiet and turn off the lights.”

“It was very sobering to think that all that happened and that people were really there to cause death and destruction,” he said.

McCaul called it “a very dark day and chapter in American history.” He remembered heading to the floor when the alarms went off and then went back to his office, barricaded himself inside, and eventually heard the rioters outside.

“All I had was a baseball bat to protect myself and my staff,” he said. “We heard them trying to break down the door and then we heard the Capitol police show up. There was a bloody exchange and then they left.”

McCaul said that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a “setback” for the Republican Party.

“I blame the rhetoric for the violence. I blame the leaders who lied to the American people, that somehow Congress is going to overturn an election. We all knew that was not going to happen.”

Tribune events are supported through contributions from our founding investors and members. Though donors and corporate sponsors underwrite Texas Tribune events, they play no role in determining the content, panelists or line of questioning.

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