Patrick’s value to Trump shown with Valley visit
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.
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.