Patrick’s value to Trump shown with Val­ley visit

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jeremy Wal­lace

As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­ner cir­cle con­tin­ues to shrink with the de­par­tures of key aides and Cab­i­net mem­bers, there is one Texan whose role in the ad­min­is­tra­tion is only grow­ing more prom­i­nent and deeper.

Tea party fa­vorite Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was al­ready close with Trump in 2016, when he led the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign in Texas. But last week, the White House showed just how val­ued Patrick is by re­peat­edly con­sult­ing with him over sev­eral days dur­ing the bor­der wall showdown. Trump flew Patrick to Washington, D.C., to help pre­pare him for his first na­tion­wide ad­dress from the Oval Of­fice, and he gave Patrick a key role in Trump’s first visit to the Texas bor­der since he was elected.

Patrick has said he was in touch with the White House at least five times.

“When the pres­i­dent’s team calls, and they don’t call un­less the pres­i­dent blesses it, it was tough to say no,” Patrick said.

Last week, Patrick got so much pres­i­den­tial at­ten­tion that when he re­turned to Texas he was bat­ting down ru­mors that he was an­gling for a job in the White House or that Trump was go­ing to make him the next Home­land Se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, given his ad­vo­cacy for bor­der pro­tec­tion.

“I’m not go­ing any­where,” Patrick said in a speech in Austin on Wed­nes­day.

It was a mes­sage he de­liv­ered in an­other pub­lic speech later in the day and pri­vately to Democrats in a closed-door meet­ing.

Job or not, Patrick, 68, has dis­tin­guished him­self as a trusted ally for Trump and Trump’s son-in­law and ad­viser Jared Kush­ner, whom Patrick said he spent most of his time with Tues­day talk­ing about im­mi­gra­tion and pitch­ing ideas for Trump’s ad­dress to the na­tion. Patrick ini­tially sup­ported U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent in 2016 but shifted to Trump and pub­licly called on Cruz to get be­hind Trump af­ter the nom­i­na­tion was sealed.

In late 2017, Trump turned to the Patrick fam­ily for a key honor, nom­i­nat­ing state District Judge Ryan Patrick, Dan Patrick’s son, to be U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern District of Texas.

“He has as much juice with the

White House as any­body in Texas,” said Ford O’Con­nell, a vet­eran Repub­li­can strate­gist based in Vir­ginia.

O’Con­nell said that re­la­tion­ship is even more im­por­tant given the makeup of other states on the Mex­i­can bor­der. Both New Mex­ico and Cal­i­for­nia have Demo­cratic gov­er­nors, and Ari­zona just elected a Demo­crat to the U.S. Se­nate. But in Texas, O’Con­nell says, Trump has a safe haven where he needs a voice like Patrick’s to help make the case for the wall.

In Texas, Trump has said pub­licly he has a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the less fiery Gov. Greg Ab­bott. Trump has cam­paigned for one-time bit­ter ri­val Cruz. And he’s lauded the more mea­sured U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. But it was Patrick who the White House in­sisted be in the Oval Of­fice to help Trump and Kush­ner hone their mes­sage to the na­tion on an is­sue Patrick has made a cen­ter­piece of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, dat­ing back to when he was a ra­dio host.

There is no doubt Patrick had a big in­flu­ence on Trump’s speech Tues­day, said Matt Mack­owiak, a Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant based in Austin and chair­man of the Travis County Repub­li­can Party.

“Trump’s speech was very sta­tis­tics-heavy,” Mack­owiak said. “And if you’ve seen Dan ever talk about the bor­der, he rat­tles off num­bers of peo­ple ap­pre­hended. He al­ways wants the most up­dated num­bers. He thinks the num­bers re­ally tell the story.”

While with Patrick in McAllen, Trump made clear he wel­comes his ad­vice, call­ing him “a friend of mine for a long time.” Lately, Trump said, Patrick has urged him to be more clear about ex­plain­ing how Mex­ico is pay­ing for the wall on the bor­der indi­rectly.

At one point dur­ing a fo­rum on the bor­der, Trump said Patrick has also been push­ing him to let Texas build the wall if Congress con­tin­ues to fight him. Trump said it’s “not the worst idea I ever heard.”

“You do things very well in Texas, and I like that idea, so we’ll take a look,” Trump told Patrick dur­ing a round­table dis­cus­sion Thurs­day.

Ab­bott didn’t quite en­dorse that idea dur­ing an in­ter­view with San An­to­nio’s KENS-TV.

“It’s a hy­po­thet­i­cal with no con­clu­sion be­cause the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is not step­ping up and fund­ing bor­der se­cu­rity, and so it’s a cir­cu­lar ar­gu­ment be­cause we’re all just wait­ing around for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and Congress to do its job, to ap­pro­pri­ate fund­ing, to se­cure our bor­der and our state,” Ab­bott said.

Democrats say that while Patrick is mak­ing lots of pro­pos­als, he doesn’t speak for all of Texas and that they will fight against Texas build­ing such a bar­rier.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what Dan Patrick says, Tex­ans don’t want Trump’s stupid wall, and they damn sure aren’t gonna take state money from their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion to build it,” said Manny Gar­cia, the Texas Demo­cratic Party’s deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Patrick proved his com­mit­ment to Trump last week. The Texas Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires Patrick, as lieu­tenant gover­nor, to over­see the Se­nate. But when the White House called Patrick last Sun­day, ask­ing him to travel to Washington on Tues­day, it con­flicted with the first day of this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

State Sen. Jane Nel­son, RFlower Mound, filled in for Patrick to start the ses­sion. Patrick was back at the front of the cham­ber the next day.

“It was a tough de­ci­sion for me not to be there on open­ing day — re­ally un­prece­dented,” he said.

But ul­ti­mately, he said, the weight of the White House call­ing and the vi­tal im­por­tance of the bor­der is­sue to Texas made him decide to hop a flight to Washington.

“It is such an im­por­tant is­sue to us,” Patrick said. “Be­cause it re­ally is a cri­sis along the bor­der.”

The White House re­peat­edly con­sulted with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over sev­eral days last week.

Evan Vucci / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is joined by Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. John Cornyn af­ter the pres­i­dent ar­rived in McAllen for a visit to the bor­der last week. Patrick led Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in Texas.

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