Aaron Franco

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Capital Tonight: Texas Democrats Renew Call for Obama to Visit Border

With rolled up sleeves, the President leaned on the podium and asked the audience to choose hope over cynicism during his only public speech in Austin Thursday. Then, he went on to lambaste House Republicans for nearly half an hour over what he called partisan politics in Congress.

In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, looked at the highlights of the president’s speech, including his handling of two protesters calling for immigration reform.


While the president hoped to turn the conversation toward the economy, plenty of elected officials in Texas are happy to keep talking about border issues. We heard what state leaders in town for an education conference had to say. Plus, Congressman Henry Cuellar explained his recent criticism of the president in a one-on-one interview.


While most of the focus was on President Obama Thursday, many here in Texas are still tracking the ongoing tension surrounding UT Austin President Bill Powers. UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa accepted Powers’ resignation only yesterday, meaning the head of UT’s Austin campus will be staying on until June 2015. But that doesn’t mean things are completely resolved. We checked in on the fight over UT leadership.

Powers to Remain UT Austin President until 2015

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers will likely keep his job until 2015, according to a statement from the head of the UT System, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.

Last week, word leaked that Cigarroa had asked President Powers to offer his resignation before a Thursday meeting of the UT Board of Regents or be fired. Cigarroa had suggested he leave in October of this year.

Powers sent a letter in response, offering to stay on until June 2, 2015 so he can see through some of the long-term initiatives he’s started. Cigarroa accepted that offer this afternoon. Powers has led UT’s flagship university since 2006, but has often found himself at odds with the governor-appointed regents. Cigarroa has described his own relationship with Powers as “fractured” and lacking trust.

Cigarroa says the UT Board of Regents will start searching for Powers’ replacement next month. That process will include faculty, students and at least two current presidents of other UT campuses, along with at least one member of the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents was expected to consider Powers’ employment at a meeting scheduled for Thursday.

One member, UT Regent Wallace Hall, is under investigation from a legislative committee for what some have called a witch hunt to oust Powers.

You can read Cigarroa’s full response below.

Statement from Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. regarding UT Austin President Bill Powers

Today UT Austin President Bill Powers submitted a letter of resignation, effective June 2, 2015, and I have accepted it.

President Powers, who has led great advancements for the University, has expressed a desire to remain in his position long enough to complete several important initiatives, lead the University through the upcoming legislative session, and allow for a smooth transition to new leadership. I honor his commitment to UT Austin and agree that this is the best course forward.

Next month, Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster plans to initiate an exhaustive national search process that will utilize a search advisory committee to assist in the selection of UT Austin’s next president. The committee will include representation of faculty, deans, students and community representatives of the University, as well as at least two current presidents from UT institutions and at least one member of the Board of Regents.

There is no doubt that UT Austin is the crown jewel of public higher education in Texas. As chancellor, I have done everything in my power to provide UT Austin with the resources it needs to reach even higher vistas, to ultimately achieve its goal to be recognized as the finest public research university in America. I believe that is a goal well within our sights.

President Powers is an admired leader who, as I’ve said before, has advanced the University in many ways. He is concluding a record-breaking $3 billion capital campaign, has worked with the UT System and the Board of Regents in the past year to establish the Dell Medical School and to launch construction of a $310 million Engineering Education and Research Center – which together will be a major catalyst for UT Austin to achieve the ranking and recognition it deserves – and he has earned the reputation as a national leader in higher education.

It is, however, time for an orderly change in leadership. While ultimately productive, the past years have not been without struggle and, at times, conflict and controversy. There was no single incident that prompted my decision to ask President Powers for his resignation last week, but a long history of issues with communication, responsiveness and a willingness to collaborate.

I truly believe that it is time for a fresh start and a chance to build a strong relationship. We will all be successful if we keep the future of UT in our hearts and minds. I sincerely thank the UT Austin faculty, students, staff and the UT System’s Faculty Advisory Council for their important input over the past week.

San Antonio Mayor Castro Confirmed as Housing Secretary

In a rare show of bipartisan support for an Obama appointee, the Senate voted to confirm San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Castro was named as the president’s pick for the position back in May. He had a warm reception the following month in the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, where he was introduced Sen. John Cornyn, a fellow Texan.

Many political watchers have named Castro as a possible vice presidential candidate in 2016, should Hillary Clinton decide to run. Julián and his twin brother Joaquin are both seen as rising stars in the Democratic party, and the new job will give the San Antonio mayor some of the national political experience considered necessary for a potential running mate.

In a statement released after he was confirmed, the president applauded the Senate’s bipartisan support.

“Julián is a proven leader, a champion for safe, affordable housing and strong, sustainable neighborhoods.  I know that together with the dedicated professionals at HUD, Julián will help build on the progress we’ve made battling back from the Great Recession — rebuilding our housing market, reducing homelessness among veterans, and connecting neighborhoods with good schools and good jobs that help our citizens succeed.”

Castro will replace Shaun Donovan as housing secretary. Obama has picked Donovan to become White House budget chief.

Capital Tonight: While Politicians Debate Border Issues, Volunteers Step In

The buzz surrounding President Barack Obama’s Texas trip is getting louder, amid calls for him to see the situation at the border while he’s in the state. After much back and forth, he and Gov. Rick Perry have worked out plans to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Dallas, along with some of the volunteer groups who have been helping Border Patrol handle the influx of undocumented children.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard how the Salvation Army and other groups are helping, and why they say the influx of immigrants goes beyond politics. Plus, we spoke to Rep. Dan Flynn about the call for UT Austin President Bill Powers to resign


Political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi joined us to talk about Perry, the president and the border crisis, along with how the location of hazardous materials in Texas is playing into the governor’s race.


Republican Ken Paxton had to fight his way to the Republican nomination for attorney general. Now, the Democratic candidate for that office is making sure the general election is even tougher. Sam Houston joined us to talk about his run to be the state’s top lawyer.

Gov. Perry Agrees to Meet with President Obama in Dallas

After declining a handshake on the tarmac in Austin, Gov. Rick Perry has agreed to meet with President Barack Obama in Dallas tomorrow, as part of a roundtable discussion on immigration issues.

The back-and-forth over whether the two would meet started last week, when Gov. Perry publicly suggested the president should tour the Texas-Mexico border and see for himself the more than 52,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who have been detained by the U.S. Border Patrol since October. White House spokesman Josh Ernest officially declined that offer from Washington, saying “the president is very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border.”

On Monday, Gov. Perry declined a previous offer to greet Obama at the airport when he arrives in Austin for a fundraising trip. Instead, the governor suggested a “substantive meeting” on immigration. Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett responded by inviting Perry to a Wednesday border meeting with faith leaders and local officials in Dallas

Gov. Perry’s team accepted the offer and sent out a response framing it as a concession by the president:

“Governor Perry is pleased that President Obama has accepted his invitation to discuss the humanitarian and national security crises along our southern border, and he looks forward to meeting with the president tomorrow.”

President Obama has called the situation at the border a “humanitarian crisis.” The White House has warned that most of the children arriving at the border will be deported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Capital Tonight: What’s Next for UT President Powers?

The fate of University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers is back in the spotlight. The UT System Chancellor and the Board of Regents are set to meet this week and discuss how to handle Powers’ refusal to resign by year’s end.

In Monday’s Capital Tonight, we heard how Powers and his supporters are responding.


Meanwhile, the political rhetoric on the border keeps getting hotter, with Republicans and Democrats criticizing the president’s response. We checked in on the latest on that story, plus state Rep. Tony Dale joined us in-studio for an update on the state’s response.



The Quorum Report‘s Harvey Kronberg joined us to give his take on the day’s political news.

Pew Poll: 1 in 10 Americans Don’t Care about Politics

A new poll on national politics shows 1 in 10 Americans couldn’t care less about national politics.

The numbers come from the Washington-based Pew Research Center. According to their 2014 Political Polarization and Typology Survey, around 10 percent of Americans are what they call “bystanders” in the political system.

Those are people who haven’t registered to vote and mostly ignore government and public affairs. Bystanders are also overwhelmingly likely to have never contributed to a political campaign. The Pew study shows 38 percent of them are under 30 and nearly a third are Hispanic. But the biggest deciding factor seems to be education. The poll shows 67 percent of the politically disengaged didn’t pursue a degree beyond high school.

The Pew study is part of a bigger report on the nation’s political attitudes. It also includes a quiz to find out where you fit in on the political spectrum, which you can take here.


Capital Tonight: Washington Comes to Texas for Border Hearing

Border issues have been dominating the conversation in Washington lately, so on Friday, Washington came to the border. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas led a meeting of the House Homeland Security Committee in McAllen, where many of the 52,000 undocumented children have been detained since the beginning of this year.

In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we heard the latest in the debate over how to respond to the problem and who foots the bill.


There are plenty of questions about what caused the border crisis, but perhaps the biggest one is whether an immigration reform bill would have made a difference. Scott Braddock of the Quorum Report joined us to give his perspective.


And the state Democratic convention brought out some bold claims from both Republicans and Democrats. Gardner Selby of PolitiFact Texas and the Austin American-Statesman joined us to sort rhetoric from reality.

Abbott Threatens to Sue Feds over Illegal Immigration

Attorney General Greg Abbott says he’s planning to file a new lawsuit against the federal government over its handling of the border.

Abbott revealed his plans in an interview with Brietbart Texas, a conservative news website. His office later confirmed it with Capital Tonight. This isn’t the first time the state has threatened to sue the federal government over illegal immigration. In the 1990s, the state filed and lost a lawsuit to recover money spent on education, medical and jail costs stemming from immigrants.

This time, it appears the lawsuit would deal specifically with costs of the latest immigrant influx.  In a statement, the AG’s office said:

The State of Texas is exploring any and all options, including litigation, to address the crisis our federal government has created by not living up to their Constitutional responsibility.  If the federal government is unwilling to secure the border, the State of Texas will be forced to resort to litigation to recoup the costs incurred to respond to this crisis.

Jerry Strickland with the AG’s office said Attorney General Abbott is still waiting to hear back about a request for more federal funding for last month’s surge of state law enforcement at the border.