While Gov. Greg Abbott has been adamant that he’s the only person in Texas who can decide what topics lawmakers can and can’t pass laws about during the still ongoing special legislative sessions, some of his Republican allies have very successfully pushed him to get their own pet bills on his agenda.
But the highest-profile pressure campaign Abbot has faced so far this summer is the one launched by former President Donald Trump Thursday afternoon, who urged Abbott to add a full-on audit of the 2020 election in Texas to the third special session’s to-do list.
In a public letter to Abbott, whom the former president endorsed for reelection earlier this year, Trump wrote that “Despite my big win in Texas, I hear Texans want an election audit! You know your fellow Texans have big questions about the November 2020 Election,” which Trump won handily in the Lone Star State.
“Texas needs you to act now,” Trump argued. “Your Third Special Session is the perfect, and maybe last, opportunity to pass this audit bill,” referring to House Bill 16 filed by state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands). “Time is running out. Paper ballots in your state are only kept for 22 months after the election.”
“Your citizens don’t trust the election system, and they want your leadership on this issue, which is the number one thing they care about. It is their most important issue—one that will affect 2022 and 2024,” Trump said, a nod toward Abbott’s reelection race in 2022 and possibly a hint toward Abbott’s rumored presidential ambitions in 2024.
“We’re quickly running out of time and it must be done this week,” Trump wrote, an oddly specific reference to the timeline by when bills have to get initial approval during Texas special sessions.
“Your citizens don’t trust the election system, and they want your leadership on this issue, which is the number one thing they care about. It is their most important issue—one that will affect 2022 and 2024." — former President Donald Trump
“Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties,” Trump claimed. “Let’s get to the bottom of the 2020 Presidential Election Scam!”
When Texas’ Senior U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was asked by POLITICO's Burgess Everett about Trump’s demand, Cornyn reportedly said “I don’t know what harm it could cause. I don’t know that anybody’s suggested anything irregular that would necessitate something extra, but I don’t know what it could hurt.”
Abbott has yet to speak publicly about Trump’s demand for a Texas election audit. One of Abbott’s primary foes Don Huffines, the Dallas Republican waging a hyper-conservative fight against the incumbent governor, tweeted a thank you to Trump for weighing in on the issue.
“Together, we can force Greg Abbott to do things he doesn’t want to do,” Huffines wrote.
Thank you Mr. President for joining me in calling on @GregAbbott_TX to support a forensic audit of the 2020 election.— Don Huffines (@DonHuffines) September 23, 2021
Together, we can force Greg Abbott to do things he doesn’t want to do. https://t.co/gxvsXJK3HE
After pressure from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to let lawmakers pass a bill from state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) that would earmark a projected $2 billion state budget surplus toward some temporary school property tax relief for Texas homeowners, Abbott acquiesced and added property tax reform to the session’s agenda on Wednesday morning. Abbott also on Wednesday added a constitutional amendment to the agenda that would put stricter bail requirements up for a statewide vote.
Last week, Patrick allowed Bettencourt to file his latest property tax bill with the symbolic title Senate Bill 1, making clear that it was a top priority of Patrick’s even though it was unclear at the time if Abbott would even allow it to be passed. After getting Abbott's stamp of approval, Patrick’s Senate moved with breakneck speed and approved Bettencourt’s bill by early Wednesday afternoon. It has now headed to the House, where a similar Bettencourt bill from last session failed to pass.
Given Abbott’s focus on shoring up his right-wing bona fides amid his primary challenges from Huffines and Allen West, the former firebrand Texas GOP Chairman, it feels all but inevitable that Abbott will give Trump what he’s asking for by telling the legislature to approve a 2020 election audit.
Abbott may have Trump’s endorsement for now, but there’s no telling what the former president might do if he’s given any reason to doubt Abbott’s loyalty.
Update 7 a.m. 9-24-21:
In response to the Secretary of State's actions, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria issued this statement:
“We have seen countless attempts to delegitimize the 2020 election. Today’s actions represent another attack by officials on our communities’ trust in elections.
Our office has been focused on running fair elections with innovative, equitable approaches during an unprecedented pandemic. Approaches we know support voters of color, women, families, and other residents who are typically left behind.
While other people continue the political posturing and petty fights of the past, we will continue preparing for this November’s elections."