State of Texas: Fighting threats from abroad and close to home

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) – As tensions with Iran remain high, some of the impact is being felt here in Texas.

This week, Governor Greg Abbott revealed that state agencies have seen an increase of attempted cyber attacks. He said many of those new attempted attacks are coming from Iran.

Almost all of the attacks have been stopped. But one did manage to breach the website of the Texas Department of Agriculture. A hacker replaced the agency’s site with a picture of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. raid.

The site has been restored, but concern over more attacks remains.

“I think it is important that everybody be particularly vigilant right now about what may happen out of Iran,” the Governor said. He said the hacking attempts are likely to continue.

Many Texans worry that the conflict with Iran could grow, potentially putting troops and even civilians at risk of deadly violence. Texas Republican Congressman Michael McCaul is hearing concerns like that from the people he represents. But McCaul said he believes President Trump took the right action to protect Americans.

“I know the President doesn’t want to start a war, he wants to end it,” McCaul said, echoing the President’s previous statements.

McCaul is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was briefed by Vice President Mike Pence after the attack that killed Soleimani.

“The fact is there was an imminent threat to Americans and our military bases,” McCaul said. “I think the President had a duty to protect Americans and respond to this threat and they did and they stopped the threat from happening,” he concluded.

Democrats have been more skeptical of the President’s claims of an imminent threat. Congressman Lloyd Doggett called the attack that killed Soleimani an “assassination” that could put Americans at greater risk of attack.

“Trump has united those who were once opposing Iran,” Doggett said in a speech on the House floor. “This House must act to assert its Constitutional authority to rein in this out-of-control President,” he said in his speech.

House members voted Thursday to require President Trump to get Congressional approval before using military force against Iran. All Texas Democrats voted for the resolution. All the state’s Republicans voted against the measure.

Rulings allow border wall work to proceed

Border wall construction could move forward in Texas after two federal court decisions.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled that President Trump could use $3.6 billion in military construction funds to build border barriers. The decision overturned a ruling from an El Paso court that blocked the spending.

On Thursday, a federal judge in south Texas cleared the way to resume work on a privately-funded border wall project.

The federal government previously won a temporary restraining order to stop the project on three miles of private property near Mission. The order came after claims the fence could alter the course of the Rio Grande, which would violate a treaty with Mexico.

The judge ruled that the government did not prove its case, and lifted the restraining order.

Tommy Fisher, who runs the company building the private border fence, planned to fly construction crews in on Saturday. He said that work could resume on the barrier as soon as Sunday.

Reports reveal trends in mass violence

The Texas Department of Public Safety released two new reports about domestic terrorism and acts of mass violence. The reports are giving lawmakers a detailed look at factors surrounding recent attacks.

The reports were presented to a task force charged by Governor Abbott to find ways to prevent future mass violence and to find better ways to respond when an attack happens.

“One thing that was a catalyst for the creation of this organization was the horrific shooting and terrorism that took place in El Paso,” Governor Abbott said at a news conference on the day the reports were released.

The reports show that the most acts of domestic terrorism in the state are racially motivated and firearms are the primary weapons.

“Part of the report had a timeline that showed kind of a progression of attacks in Texas,” said Allie Morris, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle who covered the task force meeting.

“Within the last two years, there’s been a large increase,” Morris said of the report.

The reports could help the task force shape policies to protect Texans from domestic terrorism. One step will likely be to legally define the crime.

“The report noted that we don’t have either at the federal or the state level a specific offense of domestic terrorism,” said Bob Garrett, the Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

Currently, offenders are prosecuted using other existing criminal offenses. Texas lawmakers could create new laws and penalties in the next legislative session.

Beto and Castro campaigning again

They’re out of the Presidential race, but Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke are back on the campaign trail.

Castro announced he’s endorsing Sen. Elizabeth Warren in her Presidential run. He appeared at one of her campaign rallies in New York, where he called Warren “the next President of the United States” while introducing her to a cheering crowd.

O’Rourke showed up on Facebook Live on Thursday night, to announce the start of a drive across Texas. It was similar to many of his previous campaign videos, with O’Rourke behind the wheel, answering live questions and talking about plans to meet voters when he arrived near Houston.

But this time, he was making the drive for another candidate.

“We’re going to knock on those doors and meet those voters and get them to commit to voting for Dr. Eliz Markowitz,” O’Rourke told his followers in the video.

Markowitz is a Democrat in the special election in Texas House District 28. She’s facing Republican Gary Gates in the January 28 runoff. Republican State Representative John Zerwas stepped down last fall to take a job with the University of Texas system.

The district has been a Republican stronghold. But changes in the population are giving Democrats hope to take the seat. It comes at a time when Democrats are seeing a path to win more seats in the Legislature and possibly win control of the Texas House.

O’Rourke is getting involved in the race using a political action committee he created. It’s called Powered by People. O’Rourke says the goal is to organize grassroots voters to work on key races in Texas.

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