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Texas GOP Puts Final Touches on Sweeping Voting Restrictions

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 Texas Republicans dug in Saturday for a final weekend vote on some of the most restrictive new voting laws in the U.S., putting the last touches on a sweeping bill that would eliminate drive-thru voting, empower partisan poll watchers and limit voting on Sundays, when many Black churchgoers head to the polls.

The changes would need to be approved before midnight on Sunday, when the GOP-controlled Legislature wraps up a session dominated by Republicans muscling through staunchly conservative measures pertaining to guns, abortion and how race can be taught in public schools.

But none have drawn backlash like Senate Bill 7, which Republicans packed with a raft of new voting restrictions that would alter how the country’s biggest red state conducts elections. Democrats have virtually no path to stop it from passing, thereby putting Republicans on the brink of a major victory in their nationwide campaign to impose new voting restrictions driven by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will sign the measure, which Democrats have said they would challenge in court.

President Joe Biden released a statement calling the Texas bill’s final form “wrong and un-American.”

“Today, Texas legislators put forth a bill that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing a state law that attacks the sacred right to vote. It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year — and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans,” Biden said.

The final version of the bill was hashed out behind closed doors by negotiators from the state House and Senate, nearly all of whom were Republicans. They preserved the elimination of 24-hour polling stations and drive-thru voting centers, both of which Harris County, the state’s largest Democratic stronghold, introduced last year in an election that saw record turnout.

GOP legislators are also moving to prohibit Sunday voting before 1 p.m., which critics called an attack on what is commonly known as “souls to the polls” — a get-out-the vote campaign used by Black church congregations nationwide. The idea traces back to the civil rights movement. Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP of Texas, said the provision is “clearly intended to limit the Sunday vote” and would result in longer afternoon lines at polling places.

Texas is also set to newly empower partisan poll watchers, allowing them more access inside polling places and threatening criminal penalties against elections officials who restrict their movement. Republicans originally proposed giving poll watchers the right to take photos, but that language was removed from the final bill that lawmakers were set to vote on this weekend.

Another new provision could also make it easier to overturn an election in Texas, allowing for a judge to void an outcome if the number of fraudulent votes cast could change the result, regardless of whether it was proved that fraud affected the outcome.

Major corporations, including Texas-based American Airlines and Dell, have warned that the measures could harm democracy and the economic climate. But Republicans shrugged off their objections, and in some cases, ripped business leaders for speaking out.

The top Republican negotiators, state Sen. Bryan Hughes and state Rep. Briscoe Cain, called the bill “one of the most comprehensive and sensible election reform bills” in Texas’ history.

“Even as the national media minimizes the importance of election integrity, the Texas Legislature has not bent to headlines or corporate virtue signaling,” they said in a joint statement.

Texas already has some of the country’s tightest voting restrictions and is regularly cited by nonpartisan groups as a state where it is especially hard to vote. It was one of the few states that did not make it easier to vote by mail during the pandemic.

It is also the last big battleground in Republicans’ efforts to tighten voting laws around the country. Florida, Georgia, and Arizona have also approved new voting restrictions in recent months.

Since Trump’s defeat, at least 14 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, according to the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. It has also counted nearly 400 bills filed this year nationwide that would restrict voting.

Republican lawmakers in Texas have insisted that the changes are not a response to Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud but are needed to restore confidence in the voting process. But doubts about the election’s outcome have been fanned by some of the state’s top GOP leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a failed lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court to try to overturn the election.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chaired Trump’s presidential campaign in Texas, offered a $1 million reward to anyone who could produce evidence of voter fraud. Nonpartisan investigations of previous elections have found that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. State officials from both parties, including in Texas, as well as international observers have also said the 2020 election went well.

Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.

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Kamala Harris Caught In A Major Lie When Asked This Question

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Vice President Kamala Harris falsely claimed that “we’ve been to the border” when pressed on why she has not yet visited the southern border after being tasked by President Biden to handle the “root causes” of migration.

During an interview with NBC News Tuesday, Harris, who has been criticized by Republicans for not making the trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, was asked whether she had any plans to do so.

Harris has come under heavy criticism from Republicans for the way she has handled the role since being appointed to it 75 days ago. While the White House has emphasized she is not tasked with the border per se, Republicans have criticized her repeatedly for not having visited the border at all – with former Trump officials saying she needs to go to the border in order to be able to conduct the talks effectively.

Harris’ comments came as she visited Guatemala, for her first visit abroad since being appointed by President Biden to lead diplomatic efforts to the region to help solve the massive spike in migration to the border in recent months.

Harris, during a press conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei told potential migrants that they should not travel to the U.S. Mexico border – claiming that they would be turned back if they did.

Harris, on Monday, seemed to be attempting to make clear that message, and claimed that migrants would be turned back as she sought to present a tougher stance on illegal immigration.

The White House, on Tuesday, seemingly clarified Harris’ comments, saying that they encourage those who would like to come to the U.S. to “do so legally.”

The White House says they have been clear on that policy – noting that during the transition, Amb. Susan Rice and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated that now was not the time to come to the U.S., and noting that President Biden in March said something to the same effect, while Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has urged migrants to pursue legal immigration channels.

The Biden administration has rolled back a number of Trump-era policies which kept migrants out of the U.S., even as increasing numbers of migrants flooded to the border. Of those, the most significant was the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – which kept migrants in Mexico as they awaited their hearings. The Biden administration has ended the program and has been processing migrants enrolled into the program into the U.S.

It has also ended a number of asylum cooperative agreements with countries like Guatemala which made migrants claim asylum in other countries first, and has been accused of encouraging migration by narrowing interior enforcement in the U.S., and pushing for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

The administration has kept in place the Trump-era Title 42 public health order which allows migrants to be expelled quickly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and officials said that out of the 178,000 migrants encountered at the border in April, 111,714 were expelled – mainly single adults.

However, the administration has not applied Title 42 to unaccompanied children, of which there were more than 13,000 that arrived at the border in April, and it is not returning migrant families with children under seven to Mexico due to the country’s refusal to take them — meaning that significant numbers of families are not being turned back, and are being released into the U.S. interior.

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China Praises Biden Reversing Trump App Ban As Positive Step

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China’s Ministry of Commerce said Thursday that a U.S. move to revoke the Trump administration’s executive orders intended to ban apps like TikTok and WeChat was a “positive step,” amid strained relations between the two countries.

“We hope that the US will treat Chinese companies fairly and avoid politicizing economic and trade issues,” ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said at a regular news briefing Thursday.

Gao said the U.S. move to revoke previous government actions against apps such as TikTok and WeChat was a “positive step in the right direction.”

The White House on Wednesday revoked some blanket-style orders made under former President Donald Trump against Chinese apps including the messenging app WeChat, short video app TikTok and the Alipay payments app. A new executive order from President Joe Biden said the U.S. would conduct an “evidence-based” analysis of transactions involving apps that are created, supplied or controlled by China.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated at a daily news briefing that China will continue to defend its interests. It urged the U.S. “to stop generalizing the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress Chinese technology enterprises.”

Courts blocked the Trump administration’s efforts last year to ban TikTok and WeChat, but the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is still conducting a national-security review of TikTok.

The Biden administration’s stance reflects concern that users’ personal data could be exposed by popular apps tied to China if the ruling Communist Party pressures companies to share data.

The administration said in February that it was replacing Trump’s approach with a more targeted strategy. It has not actually weighed in yet on whether TikTok and other apps pose a danger to Americans.

A senior administration official said Wednesday that the aim of the review is to set clear criteria to evaluate specific data security and privacy risks for each app.

That could lead to a range of potential future actions on an app-by-app basis.

“We want to take a tailored, tough approach here,” he said.

CFIUS had set deadlines for TikTok to divest its U.S. operations, but such a sale has not happened.

Last week, the Biden administration expanded a list of Chinese companies on a blacklist from the Trump era purported to have links to Chinese military and surveillance. American companies and individuals cannot invest in these companies, which include telecommunications gear supplier Huawei and Chinese oil company China National Offshore Oil Corp.

Chinese officials and companies have denied that their products and services pose a security threat.

Relations between Beijing and Washington remain testy, with each side having imposed sanctions including tariffs on each others’ exports.

China’s legislature passed legislation Thursday laying down the legal basis for retaliation against foreign sanctions over issues such as Hong Kong and the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where China is accused of curtailing freedoms and committing human rights abuses. No specific measures were included in the anti-sanctions law.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the law aimed to “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, dignity and core interests and oppose Western hegemonism and power politics.” and to “provide legal support and guarantees for the country to counter discriminatory measures by a foreign country in accordance with the law.”

Wang lashed out over calls from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for greater attention to China’s growing military power, accusing Washington of “playing the China card” as a pretext for increasing U.S. military spending and seeking to “contain China.”

He also protested Japanese Prime Minister Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s reference to Taiwan as a country during a parliamentary debate Wednesday. China considers the self-governing island democracy as its own territory and is quick to chastise anyone or any company that refers to it as a country.

Suga made a passing reference to Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia while answering a question about pandemic measures, and then referred to them as “three countries.”

Wang said the comment violated Japan’s “solemn promise to not regard Taiwan as a country.”

“We strongly deplore Japan’s erroneous remarks and have lodged solemn complaints with Japan, demanding that Japan immediately make clear clarifications to eliminate the adverse effects caused by relevant remarks, and to ensure that such situations will not happen again,” Wang said.

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Republican Wins Mayoralty Race In Hispanic-majority Border Town

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McAllen is a border town in Texas that has been carrying much of the brunt of the massive immigration in the south, illegal or otherwise. Sitting in the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen has a population of almost 142,000 and about 85% of its constituents are of Hispanic descent.

Recently, the Republicans clinched a breakthrough victory in McAllen when Javier Villalobos bagged the mayoralty crown against Veronica Whitacre. The GOP candidate is a replacement for long-time mayor Jim Darling, who decided last year that he will not seek reelection.

“Amazing news! McAllen, Texas is a major border town of 140,000 people. 85% Hispanic – and just elected a Republican mayor. The macro realignment accelerates in South Texas, and elsewhere, as Hispanics rally to America First,” Trump 2020 campaign adviser Steve Cortes said on twitter.

“Javier Villalobos is a proven leader who cares deeply about the people of the Rio Grande Valley. Congratulations on becoming the next Mayor of McAllen!” Texas Gov. and fellow-Republican Greg Abbott posted on social media.

RNC spokesman Nathan Brand also expressed his thoughts on Villalobos’ victory, saying that it was a “BIG win for Republicans tonight in a border community. Biden’s border crisis has real world ramifications for communities across the country, especially in cities like McAllen.”

Villalobos is McAllen city district 1 commissioner and a practicing lawyer for the past 25 years. Even though he grew up in Crystal City, Villalobos have always felt comfortable with the border town for their similarities. 

“The majority [was] Hispanic people, and it was an agricultural community, kind of like it used to be back in the old days here with that type of labor. When I came over here I felt right at home. You know, the people were wonderful,” Villalobos stated in an interview before the election.

Being situated in the southernmost tip of Texas makes McAllen the shortest route for Central Americans. The uncontrollable migration under the Biden administration has put a lot of pressure on its people who are doing their best to adjust to the situation and even provide humanitarian aid to those who are entering American soil. Having a leader who will understand their problems and will not opt to defund the police where security is so much needed, is indeed a huge step to the direction of progress, for the people of McAllen.

“Let me start by thanking the voters, my team, my family [and] everyone who helped run this campaign. Thank you McAllen for trusting [and] believing in me. I promise to not let you down,” Villalobos thanked everyone through his facebook page.

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