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Elections 2020

Castro Questions Biden’s Memory, Democrats Express Unease

The Democratic presidential candidate’s rivals offered mixed reactions to the tense tangle between Castro and the former vice president.

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Former Secetary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro speaking with attendees at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum hosted by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Julián Castro struck a nerve Thursday night — and he’s not saying sorry.

In sharply questioning rival Joe Biden‘s memory, the Democratic presidential candidate brought to the fore simmering concerns about the 76-year-old former vice president’s fitness for office. And while Castro has sought to keep the spotlight on the policy dispute that fueled the moment, he held firm Friday on the overall exchange.

The tense interrogation, which came during a health care exchange at the third primary debate here, divided other candidates, with at least one saying Castro raised a legitimate issue and two more expressing unease with the topic.

In the latter category was Castro’s fellow Texan, Beto O’Rourke, who felt the wrath of Castro in the first debate and said Friday morning he “wasn’t really excited by” how Castro handled Biden. In a CNN interview, O’Rourke equated Castro’s questioning with the “pettiness, the name-calling, the small-ball politics” that O’Rourke said will not defeat President Donald Trump and unite the country.

“Look, if you’ve got a policy difference with Joe Biden, by all means, let’s air it at the debate, but that kind of personal attack I don’t think is what we need right now and is insufficient to the challenges we face,” O’Rourke said.

The blowup came as Castro criticized Biden’s health care plan, saying it would fall short of the goal of universal coverage because it requires people to buy in. After Biden denied that, Castro let it rip.

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro asked, “Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.”

A short time earlier in the debate, Biden did make a reference to certain people being able to buy in to his plan, but there seemed to be more nuance than Castro implied. Biden first said “anyone who can’t afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have.” He later said that if Americans lose their job and the insurance that comes with it, “you automatically can buy into this.”

In the immediate aftermath of the debate, Biden’s campaign suggested that Castro had not learned from the first two debates that taking “personal cheap shots” at Biden has not worked for other contenders. Castro disputed the notion it was a personal attack, seeking to emphasize the broader policy debate they were having.

Castro continued to stand his ground Friday morning in media appearances and a fundraising email that told supporters he was being “viciously attacked” for fighting for them in the debate.

“I had a critical choice to make on the debate stage last night,” Castro wrote. “I could either play it safe and give Vice President Biden a free pass like everyone else. Or I could speak up, challenge the conversation, and demand answers for you and your family.”

Biden’s campaign sent its own email to supporters saying Castro “got it wrong” and that the primary “should be decided on who can deliver for the American people, not who can throw the lowest blows (we already have a President who does that).”

The one candidate who offered some cover to Castro was U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

“There’s a lot of people concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball across the end line without fumbling,” Booker told CNN shortly after the debate. “And I think Castro has some really legitimate concerns about, ‘Can he be someone in a long, grueling campaign that can get the ball over the line?’ and he has every right to call that out.”

At the same time, Booker added, “I do think that tone and tenor is really important, that we can respect Vice President Biden and disagree with him.”

The level of at least discomfort with Castro’s aggressive tack was more palpable among other hopefuls. Another rival of the two men, Amy Klobuchar, told CNN she found Castro’s interrogation “so personal and so unnecessary,” suggesting it was “something that Donald Trump might tweet out.”

Biden himself has not weighed in yet on the Castro controversy. He was spending Friday raising money in southeast Texas, first at an event in Houston and then at one in Beaumont.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Patrick Svitek is the primary political correspondent for The Texas Tribune, and editor of The Blast, the Tribune's subscription-only daily newsletter for political insiders. Patrick logged countless miles on the 2016 campaign trail, covering the many Texas angles of the momentous presidential race. He previously worked for the Houston Chronicle's Austin bureau. He graduated in 2014 from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He originally is from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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Elections 2020

Beto O’Rourke Says Religious Institutions That Oppose Gay Marriage Should Lose Tax-Exempt Status

The Democratic presidential candidate gave an unequivocal answer Thursday night during a CNN town hall on LGBTQ rights, drawing intense criticism from Republicans and religious groups.

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Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is shown during a Sept. 28, 2019, appearance at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. Photo credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said religious institutions should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage, a position that sparked swift and fierce criticism from social conservatives.

The former El Paso congressman made the comment Thursday night during a CNN town hall on LGBTQ rights. Anchor Don Lemon asked O’Rourke, “Do you think religious institutions — like colleges, churches, charities — should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

“Yes,” O’Rourke replied without hesitating, drawing a round of applause. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break, for anyone or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us, and so as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

In taking the stance, O’Rourke again staked out politically explosive territory with few allies in the primary field, much like his crusade for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons following the deadly El Paso shooting in August. He did not immediately back down from the position on tax-exempt status, tweeting his quote on the topic minutes after he was done at the town hall.

By Friday, GOP reaction had intensified, with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, issuing a statement denouncing O’Rourke for “extreme intolerance” and “bigoted nonsense.”

“O’Rourke and some Democrats have declared war on churches,” Texas Values president Jonathan Saenz said in a statement. “We say come and take it. This unconstitutional threat of using the government to punish churches for their Biblical beliefs on marriage must end and will be vigorously opposed. This is just another example of leftists that want to effectively ban the Bible and destroy our US Constitution.”

Calling O’Rourke’s position a “direct affront to the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty,” the Plano-based First Liberty Institute said it was prepared to take legal action if O’Rourke or any future president sought to carry out the idea.

Earlier in the town hall, which was in Los Angeles, one of O’Rourke’s primary rivals, Cory Booker, did not go nearly as far in response to a similar question. Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, emphasized that there needs to be “consequences for discrimination” but repeatedly declined to say if he believed religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status over opposition to gay marriage.

O’Rourke released a plan for LGBTQ equality in June. Lemon cited it as he asked O’Rourke the question Thursday night, noting it said, “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it should not be used to discriminate.”

O’Rourke has previously targeted tax-exempt status for the National Rifle Association, calling for its revocation in response to a report by U.S. Senate Democrats that it served as a “foreign asset” for Russia ahead of the 2016 election.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Elections 2020

Elizabeth Warren Hires Texas State Director

The Democratic presidential hopeful is the first non-Texan candidate to announce a hire in the state.

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Gina Ortiz Lopez raised $1 million in the third quarter of 2019 for her second run at the 23rd Congressional District. Photo credit: Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has hired a Texas state director, the first such move by a non-Texan candidate in the primary.

The Warren campaign told The Texas Tribune on Monday that longtime Texas organizer Jenn Longoria will lead its efforts in the state, which holds its primary on Super Tuesday, or March 3. Longoria, a San Antonian who sits on the board of Battleground Texas, has extensive organizing experience in a range of races for everything from statewide office to city council.

Longoria has also worked for presidential campaigns, serving as a field organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 run and as a full-time volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid.

Warren’s campaign is the second in the primary to announce a Texas state director. In early September, one of the candidates from Texas, Beto O’Rourke, named a Texas state director, Delilah Agho-Otoghile, as well as four other staffers dedicated to the state.

Some other campaigns have regional staffers, both based in Texas and elsewhere, that focus on groups of states including Texas. For example, Pete Buttigieg has a regional organizing director, Michelle Hutchinson, who is based in Austin and oversees organizers working in Texas as well as other southwest states.

Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, has risen in Texas primary polls as she has ascended nationally. In a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released early last month, Warren overtook O’Rourke for second place in the state, behind Joe Biden.

Warren has come to Texas four times this cycle, making her one of the more frequent visitors in the primary beyond O’Rourke and the other Texan in the race, Julían Castro. Her latest trip, which was in mid-September, featured an Austin rally where she was joined by Jessica Cisneros, the primary challenger to Laredo U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar who Warren had endorsed days earlier.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Elections 2020

Gina Ortiz Jones Raises $1 Million in Third Quarter

The Democrat is running for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, after narrowly losing to him last year.

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Gina Ortiz Lopez raised $1 million in the third quarter of 2019 for her second run at the 23rd Congressional District. Photo credit: Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Gina Ortiz Jones, the leading Democratic candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, raised over $1 million in the third quarter, her campaign announced Tuesday morning.

The figure represents a massive haul that her campaign described as the “largest off-year quarterly fundraising total the district has ever seen.”

“I’m honored by the groundswell of support we’ve received and together we’re building a grassroots campaign to stand up to the corporate special interests and bring commonsense priorities like quality, affordable health care and lower prescription drug costs to Washington, D.C.,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones’ campaign expects to report having about $1.4 million cash on hand — a hefty stockpile for a race that is at the top of national Democrats’ priority list this cycle in Texas.

Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, is running for the seat being vacated by Hurd, who is retiring, after losing to him last year by a razor-thin margin. She is the frontrunner in a primary that includes a few other, lesser-known candidates.

Jones was one of the highest-raising Democratic congressional candidates in the country during the second quarter, and her campaign said she raked in over $100,000 in the 24 hours following Hurd’s early August announcement that he would not seek reelection.

In an interview at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Thursday, Hurd said he is considering a presidential run in 2024.

The GOP primary for the seat is still forming, but it includes national Republicans like Tony Gonzales, a retired Navy cryptologist from San Antonio. He entered the race a few days after Hurd’s announcement and raised over $100,000 in his first month, according to his campaign.

The candidates are not required to report their third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is working to flip six seats next year in Texas — and party leaders are already counting on Jones to put Hurd’s 23rd District in their column. In separate appearances Saturday at the Tribune Festival, DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos predicted Democrats will pick up the seat, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she has “no doubt Gina Ortiz Jones will win that seat.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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