The nonchalance with which President Donald Trump volunteered to “destroy” a Texas senator’s career Tuesday — without even knowing who the senator was or the details of what the lawmaker was trying to do — had some people freaked out this week. We know, we know: That’s not very different from any other day, and, we know, the White House said Trump was joking.
But the comment is still stirring things up in the Texas Senate, after the Internet got to work this week trying to figure out which Texas senator Trump was referring to. Now, senators have drafted a formal resolution to “hereby encourage the President of the United States to refrain from threatening elected officials.”
Trump’s “joke” came during a meeting with the National Sheriffs’ Association. He had asked the group of cops for suggestions about how law enforcement could be improved, and Texas’s own Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson responded: “Asset forfeiture. We’ve got a state senator in Texas that’s talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money, and I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed."
“Can you believe that?” Trump muttered. “What’s his name? Want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career.”
The room erupted in a mixture of nervous laughs and knee-slapping ones, as a chuckling Eavenson said nothing in response and never gave up the name — perhaps knowing, as we all do, that Trump really does unleash his beautiful Twitter account on people whenever he feels like it.
"I'm just so frustrated with the negativity and lack of decorum coming out of the president's office, and I just had it," said Democratic Senator Jose Menendez, who authored the resolution. "I thought we needed something in the Senate to help us say, you know what, we may disagree vehemently on policy, but we're one body, and need to let the president know he should try to be uniting the country rather than threatening elected officials."
Yet even though the odds are far greater that the senator on Eavenson’s mind was a Republican (most bills dealing with civil asset forfeiture reform are headed by conservatives; more on that below), only Democrats had signed onto the resolution asking Trump to behave, as the resolution was passed around Wednesday. By the end of the day, all 11 Senate Democrats supported the resolution sticking up for a Republican. Here's what the resolution said:
“When the President of the United States threatens any member of the Texas Senate, it must be considered a threat to all Texas Senators, as well as a threat to the civility and decorum that are essential to a functioning democracy; moreover, the president and the members of the executive branch of the federal government should not focus on intimidating elected officials and should instead focus on creating common sense legislation and policies for the betterment of our country.”
We know: Sometimes, that can be tough to agree on. But Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s buddy-buddy relationship with Trump as his Texas campaign manager is most likely the reason why Republicans are keeping their distance.
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In addition, notably, the legislation at issue has been supported by ultraconservative organizations that support Trump. While Eavenson said the senator who filed the civil-asset forfeiture bill was male, he was most likely referring to Senator Konni Burton, who has in fact filed a bill that would require defendants to be convicted before the county could seize their property. (Usually, seized property is found during the arrest and suspected of being involved in the commission of a crime — often, these are cars.) Why conservatives, including the national group the Heritage Foundation, support this bill: It’s in line with conservative principles of limited government that does not infringe unreasonably on people’s liberty and their property rights — like, for example, government taking thousands of dollars of people’s belongings while they are still presumed innocent of a crime.
Many in law enforcement, like Sheriff Eavenson, oppose the bill because they’re thinking about the jackpot cases when an officer pulls over a cartel member and finds hundreds of pounds of drugs in the trunk — yet can’t yet seize the thousands of dollars in cash until the gang member is convicted. This has been the most obvious impediment to the bill in the past.
But other lawmakers have proposed less drastic reforms as well, including one from Republican Senator Don Huffines, who has proposed to turn over money from seized assets to the state’s victim compensation fund as opposed to giving it back to county law enforcement to use for, well, law enforcement. (In Harris County, for example, Houston police body cameras were paid for partially through asset forfeiture funds.) In addition, Democratic Senator Juan Hinojosa has filed a bill that would raise the burden of proof the state has to reach in order to seize someone’s property if they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. To drive home how truly bipartisan this issue is: Republican Senator Joan Huffman has filed a bill proposing to do the same thing.
But, you know, we don’t blame any Republicans for not wanting to risk getting attacked by Trump via Twitter should they sign onto the resolution in support of one of their own.