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The Week That Was: Future Tense, What Will Abbott Do Next?

Ryan E. Poppe

AUSTIN — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott met with the Honduran president last week in his first visit with a Central American leader since he took office and promised to stanch the flow of immigrants coming across the border.

It was a break from friction Abbott is confronting closer to home in the Capitol.

With six weeks left in a legislative session that began with Abbott giving largely non-contentious marching orders like ethics reforms and tax cuts — and leaving hot-button issues like gay rights and abortion aside — a standoff between the GOP in the House and Senate has put some of his agenda in gridlock.

Closing in on 100 days on the job, Abbott is now trying to get his priorities over the finish line. “I didn’t wake up hoping to make the governor mad,” said JoAnn Fleming, a Tea Party activist who attacked an Abbott pre-K initiative as ‘godless’ and socialist in a letter to Senate lawmakers this week. “But it’s not in the nature of the conservative movement to back down on an issue just because it’s going to make someone upset.”

Before the Legislature broke for the weekend, Abbott got some reprieve from the session spotlight. He hosted Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in a mostly ceremonial meeting at the governor’s mansion. Thousands of migrant children fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras have crossed into Texas since last year, and Abbott is pushing a dramatic and costly ramp-up in border security.

The meeting was closed to reporters, and Abbott’s office said border security was not discussed in a meeting that was focused on economic development.

Hernandez has travelling in the U.S. this week, including for meetings at the State Department in Washington. Last summer, the Honduran first lady toured immigration shelters in South Texas to learn the plight of her people.

Texas is poised to as much as triple border security spending under Abbott. But despite almost unanimous GOP support in the Legislature, even that is a becoming a growing source of antagonism between the House and Senate.

The first Texas legislative session in 14 years without Rick Perry at the helm has been relatively calm. But sniping began this week when Fleming, who new Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed as head of his “grassroots” advisory team, sent the letter condemning the enhanced pre-K proposal that is the cornerstone of Abbott's education policy this session and has so far passed the House.

Patrick, a firebrand Tea Party leader, said he didn’t know the letter unanimously signed by his advisory team was coming. A subsequent meeting between Patrick, Abbott and Republican House Speaker Joe Straus also brought to the surface frustrations over bills stalling between the chambers.

On Thursday, Abbott thanked the Senate for passing other early education measures, and the Senate finally referred Abbott’s pre-K bill to a committee.

Tax cuts are another logjam the House and Senate still need to resolve, and Abbott has so far publicly declined to say whether he prefers property tax cuts favored by Patrick or the first cut to Texas’ sales tax in history.

Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who has been most vocally critically of Patrick for not taking up House bills, said Abbott shouldn’t need to referee.

“No one should have to step in,” he said. “We should be mature adults and do our job.” (AP)