NewsChannel 9's exclusive Washington bureau reporter Mark Meredith talks with NewsChannel 9’s Faran Fronczak about Wednesday's shooting during a congressional baseball practice in Virginia.
Faran: Mark, you were at the scene of the shooting this morning. What did the witnesses there you spoke to tell you about what they heard and what they saw?
Mark: Faran, you can imagine for so many people that live in Alexandria, Virginia, there was just a lot of chaos, a lot of confusion because they heard these gunshots so early. And it wasn't just one or two. They were multiple. Back to back. And it's now because we've learned that the gunman was exchanging fire with capitol police officers. So these people who were out walking their dog, drinking their morning coffee. They didn't know what was happening. And then an hour and a half later once the news began to come out, did they realize these were members of congress practicing on their baseball field in this park. It's very residential, very quiet safe residential area. So Faran, you can imagine, a lot of these people, it's been a very tough day, along with the FBI to try to piece together what happened.
Faran: The shooter – 66-year-old James Hodgkinson – we know from his Facebook he was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and very anti-Trump and very anti-republican. What else do we know about him?
Mark: Believe it or not, the FBI is trying to learn a lot themselves. They put out a wanted poster. The suspect is dead, but they have put out a wanted poster because they need information on how long this guy has been in the dc area, whether or not he knew Congressman Scalise or anyone else that was going to be there. As you did talk about, he did appear to be a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign. But we've already heard from Senator Sanders saying this is despicable, and he was condemning the action quickly.
Texas Republicans not saying much about the Comey testimony. Friday, NewsChannel9’s Faran Fronczak asked Texas Senator Ted Cruz about it, to which, he did not respond.
He was in El Paso talking to The Borderplex Alliance. Cruz is for building a border wall, to which he says Democrats argue that it's too expensive. That's why he says his new bill "El Chapo's Law" would foot the bill saying:
"All of the funds seized from criminal forfeiture from El Chapo and other narco traffickers should be used to build the wall and for border security. And it is only a matter of justice that those who have profited -- smuggling narcotics, engaged in human smuggling, crossing our borders with impunity -- that their ill gotten gain should go to helping make our communities safer and helping finally secure the border."
Cruz also talked about his views on NAFTA. He wants renegotiations to focus on opening foreign markets to Mexico, so Texas businesses can get our goods into Mexico. Cruz saying:
“One area in particular I've been encouraging the president, encouraging the administration to focus on in NAFTA renegotiation is energy. Mexico is blessed to have abundant energy resources, enormous energy resources, many of which are not being developed right now."
Cruz says the problem is incentives that are keeping Mexico from developing more energy reserves, which could eventually open up Mexican energy markets to American investments, and those would naturally go to Texas.
While all eyes were on the Comey hearing Thursday, Senate Republicans worked to fast-track their version of the American Healthcare Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell used Senate Rule 14, which now allows the bill to bypass committee and go straight to a vote before the Senate leaves for its August recess. Democrats are outraged. Cruz saying:
"It's no surprise that democrats are criticizing. The simple reality is that Obamacare hasn't worked. It is a monumental failure, and democrats for the last 7-years, their consistent position under Barack Obama is no changes in Obamacare. Do nothing. We're seeing it collapsing around us."
Cruz says he's working across the aisle with democrats to try to lower premiums under the new healthcare bill. Cruz was very against the first “Trumpcare” bill, but he did not answer how he plans to vote on this new bill.
Washington D.C. exclusive bureau reporter Mark Meredith answered questions from NewsChannel9’s Faran Fronczak about how lawmakers were reacting after the conclusion of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony.
Faran: In the first 12-minutes of Director Comey's hearing, Comey dropped what some would consider a bomb on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch saying quote "she directed him-- when looking into Hillary Clinton's emails --- not to call it an investigation, but a matter." What's the reaction to that in Washington?
Mark: This is what's so interesting, there's been so much happening at the same time, and you're asking specifically about these Loretta Lynch comments. What you can tell is that was the reaction from the republicans there on the Senate Intelligence Committee and that they said, "Wait a minute, this is something we're certainly going to want to look more into. However democrats really tried to steer the conversation back to the main point of today which is of course learning more about what led up to Director Comey's termination earlier this year and those encounters that he had with President Trump and whether or not he felt if this was justified when it came to his termination.
Faran: Director Comey came out and said he gave copies of his memos to a friend – a law professor at Columbia University, who is also former FBI agent – in the hopes of giving it to a reporter, to call for a special prosecutor. So we're learning Comey is in fact one of the leakers. Are many in Washington taking this as spite or sympathy to him doing this?
Mark:I think we have to be very clear that this happened after he was fired. He took this personal note, and we don't believe it to be all of them taken during the interactions, however it's this one specific incident that happened in a meeting at the oval office in February where he felt that President Trump was pressuring him to intervene in the Michael Flynn investigation. Director Comey did admit, as you say, giving that information up to a friend in New York, which eventually got its way to the New York Times. But the reason Comey's saying he did this is he felt that the President was going to slander him, that he was going to lie, and that it was going to be a cover up. Now to your point, the President’s lawyers tonight are saying that Director Comey was a leaker and this is unacceptable to him. But for the most part, what we’re seeing is more about the interaction with Flynn as opposed to the specifics of the note.
Faran: You have democrats and republicans both on the Senate Intelligence Committee. But it seems like some on the committee's agenda is to get trump on charges of "obstruction of justice." does Washington think that happened today, and what happens next?
Mark: This investigation is going to continue, not just from what we're seeing in the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is still going to happen in the Justice Department, and they're the ones that are going to make that ultimate decision. Also, so much of this hearing was focused on Russian influence in the election and we can't underscore that enough, that there are still so many questions as to what happened last year, did it affect the outcome of the race at all, there's been no signs of that. But there's still those questions that are lingering. You have to also remember this, there were so many questions not answered today by Comey because it was a public session. They wanted to do it behind closed doors because national security is involved in this.
In the political world, all eyes were on Texas this week after chaos erupted Monday inside the state house between lawmakers over Senate Bill Four. One lawmaker even saying that he called ICE on
the protestors outside the chambers. Thursday, Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn was in the borderland speaking at a forum hosted by Borderplex Alliance. I asked him after Monday's scuffle in the Texas house where he stands on the new quote anti-sanctuary cities law. Senator John Cornyn saying:
"There's a line though where you don't want the federal government coming in and taking over. The word in legal jargon is to commandeer local government and local law enforcement. So I think enforcing the law is important particularly for people who have come into our country and have taken advantage of the fact that they've come to our country and committed repeated crimes of violence, frequently against the local community. So I do support the restoration of law and order and cooperation between the federal government and the local government."
Cornyn sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee who will be hearing former FBI Director James Comey's testimony scheduled for June 8th. Last week, Cornyn was seen by President Donald Trump as a possible replacement for the director position, but turned down.
Since President Donald Trump took office in January, the one thing everyone seems to talk about immigration and the border wall. After the signing of Texas' controversial Senate Bill 4 days ago, we may now live with another wall between Texas democrats and republicans in Austin.
Governor Greg Abbott signed the controversial sanctuary cities bill Sunday, but not before months of debate that culminated in a grueling 16-hour last minute attempt to stop it.
El Paso State Representative Cesar Blanco says among other things, SB4 allows police to ask for your citizenship papers when they pull you over.
Blanco says, "It was a big fight, a long fight. Unfortunately, we didn't come out victorious. Now, for someone who looks like me, the officer can ask if I'm here legally or illegally, and that turns into racial profiling. Now we have this bill that moves us into a very dark history in Texas.”
Blanco tried to tack on 30-amendments of his own to SB4. Even amendments that appealed to Republican ideology were shut down. Blanco saying, "I had a religious freedom amendment. A Catholic police officer has the ability to say 'I don't want to comply with this.' Republicans didn't vote for that. Republicans have demonstrated that they have become racist and I'm not afraid to say that. That's what this bill reflects." He adds how Republicans have conveniently passed legislation that is prejudice against the LGBT community saying, “It’s hypocritical of this republican party in this state to discriminate against the LGBT community, but for latinos and immigrants in this community, there’s a different standard. What we’ve seen in the last 2-weeks, a conservative court has ruled that this state has discriminatory policies. One, in the congressional redistricting; two, in the Texas house redistricting; and three, with voter ID.”
Blanco says the issue is personal for him, having served in the military, and being pulled over and once asked if he was “legal,” saying “I’ve experienced this. When I was serving in the military, and I came home on deployment, Border Patrol agents approached me and asked for my papers. I wasn’t in uniform, and I pulled out my military ID. And I understand that they’re doing their job, but that affects people. Because I’m Hispanic and I look Hispanic, I was asked that question. After being in uniform and defending our country and coming home, to be asked that question whether I’m here legally or not is insulting.”
Melissa Lopez is an immigration attorney. She’s worked with migrants and refugees during the Obama Administration and now, the Trump Administration. Lopez says, "There's just been a shift in attitude. I've heard border patrol agents and ice agents say they can finally do their job. They feel like they've been handcuffed to a certain extent under the Obama administration and now the handcuffs are off."
We compared the two administrations. From January to April 2015, President Obama deported 62,000 people. January to April of 2017, Trump deported 54,000. But the number of arrests of undocumented immigrants has more than doubled since last year, and that's before SB4.
Lopez says, "There was a sense of humanity in the way things were done under the Obama Administration. You know, we understand that we're going to tear apart a family."
That's where Lopez says the Trump Administration is making her job more difficult. There's now a backlog of immigration cases that look like they could speed through the court system. Lopez says this leads to many either being detained too long or sent back too quickly. She says, "Regardless of your immigration status, you're still a human being first."
On the national level, Congressman Beto O'rourke is dealing with the same problem Blanco is at the state level: a Republican-controlled congress. O’Rourke says immigration laws have gone unchanged for 30 years and could be the way to combat Senate Bill 4. O'Rourke saying, “Nationally, we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And what that means is that we recognize that we are a country of laws. We recognize there is a correct path for people to take who want to immigrate to this country, who want to join their families. Who want to work in the US economy. Right now, we are 30-years after that last review of those comprehensive laws, and so we’re making it very hard for us to live by our values and to ensure that we are a safe country. A safe state and safe community.”
O’Rourke adds that Senate Bill 4 will lead to untrust between El Pasoans and the police saying, “Police chiefs in the state of Texas all say that SB4 makes our communities less safe. As people fear coming forward to report a crime, serve as a witness, testify in a trial, because they’re concerned local law enforcement will prosecute illegal immigration laws, then we get less reporting to police, our neighborhoods are less safe, our families are more vulnerable. All of us, whether we’re native born, immigrant, or undocumented.”
But whether it's in Washington, in Austin, or here in El Paso, Blanco says it starts with YOU... the voter. Blanco saying, "As a democrat and a latino, I'm going to make sure that we do everything that we can on the floor, legislatively, and if we fail there, then in our community. And the best way that we can fight this is through our vote." He adds,
Since Senate Bill 4’s passing, counties - including are own - are considering lawsuits against the state. However, in a highly unusual move, the state beat many of those lawsuits to the punch, already filing against the city of Austin, Travis County, and the Travis County Sheriff. Senate Bill 4 officially goes into effect this September.
Congressman Beto O'Rourke has officially launched his Senate campaign run against incumbent Ted Cruz.
Early Friday morning, O'Rourke launched the betofortexas.com website, which clearly states his intentions to run against Cruz for the 2018 Senate seat.
The official announcement will come at 10 a.m. MST at the Alcantar Sky Garden above the Plaza Theater. O'Rourke previously e-mailed supporters with the time and location of the announcement, asking for RSVP's for those wishing to attend in person.
If you're not able to to attend today's announcement, you can watch on O'Rourke's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/betoorourke.
O'Rourke's first challenge will really depend on whether San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro decides to launch a bid for the Senate seat, which would arguably put two of the states most up-and-coming Democratic leaders against each other in a primary battle.
Then of course, there's Texas. The deeply red, deeply conservative state hasn't voted a Democrat into a Senate seat since Lloyd Benson was re-elected for a fourth term in 1988. He later resigned to become U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and his appointed replacement, Bob Krueger, was unable to win the special election to finish Benson's term.
Incumbent Ted Cruz was elected to Senate in 2013 to replace Kay Bailey Hutchinson and later became a rising star in the Tea Party movement and launched an unsuccessful presidential bid which pitted Cruz against many in the party. He still retains favor with many Texans, though.
O'Rourke has maintained that he will not take any PAC money during his race, which means that his campaign will rely heavily on grassroots campaigning and fundraising.
The 2018 Election will take place on November 6, 2018.
Faran covered all things politics in the borderland, which included interviews with local leaders and politicians on issues the borderland faced. Before making her way to the borderland, Faran was the nightly news anchor for FOX28 in South Bend, Indiana. She covered all things political there as well, including then Governor Pence's re-election - before he was chosen as Donald Trump's Vice Presidential pick - and every 2016 Presidential candidate's trip through Michiana.