Texas storm: political tensions boil over as millions remain without power – live

Texas storm: political tensions boil over as millions remain without power – live thumbnail


20:06

Summary

  • Hundreds of thousands of people in Texas remain without power after a winter storm caused widespread outages in the state. The White House said Fema has already sent 60 generators and 225,000 meals to Texas.
  • Senator Ted Cruz confirmed that he traveled to Cancún as his constituents struggled to get their lights back on. The Texas senator is now flying back to Houston, a day after traveling to Cancún, and he claimed he only went to Mexico to drop off his daughters. According to NBC News, Cruz booked a return flight to Houston early this morning amid widespread outrage about the trip.
  • The Biden administration approved an emergency declaration in Louisiana. Like Texas, Louisiana has seen freezing temperatures, power outages and water disruptions. Some of the impacted families were still recovering from the hurricanes last year.
  • Congressional Democrats introduced their sweeping immigration bill, based on the framework laid out by Joe Biden when he took office last month. The bill faces massive hurdles in the evenly divided Senate, but if passed, the legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
  • The administration said it will provide $4bn in contributions to Covax, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. The Trump administration spurned Covax, due to the former president’s disdain for the World Health Organization – which is helping lead the effort along with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and other groups.
  • The House held its hearing about the GameStop stock trading controversy. Executives from Reddit, the trading app Robinhood and investments firms involved in the stock trades are testifying before the House financial services committee.
  • Nasa’s science rover Perseverance has safely landed on Mars, kicking off a mission to find traces of ancient microbial life on the planet. Scientists at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory near Pasadena, California, celebrated after seeing Perseverance make a safe landing.

– Joan E Greve and Maanvi Singh

Updated


19:45

Texas senator Ted Cruz said that in flying to Cancún while millions of his constituents endured a devastating winter storm without electricity, he was simply being a “good dad”, dropping his daughters and their friends off at the Mexican resort destination after schools were closed due to the storm.

But the New York Times found that group texts between Cruz’s wife Heidi and their neighbors suggest otherwise:


Text messages sent from Ms. Cruz to friends and Houston neighbors on Wednesday revealed a hastily planned trip. Their house was “FREEZING,” as Ms. Cruz put it — and she proposed a getaway until Sunday. Ms. Cruz invited others to join them at the Ritz-Carlton in Cancún, where they had stayed “many times,” noting the room price this week ($309 per night) and its good security. The text messages were provided to The New York Times and confirmed by a second person on the thread, who declined to be identified because of the private nature of the texts.

If Mr. Cruz intended to leave the impression that he meant to stay for only a day, his large suitcase and the group text messages Ms. Cruz had sent planning a longer itinerary suggested he had cut his trip short. NBC reported separately that Mr. Cruz had rebooked his return ticket on Thursday morning.

Here’s more background on the scandal:

Updated


19:30

US vaccine distribution: track your state’s progress

Vaccination against Covid-19 has been under way in the US since mid-December, with healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents receiving the first doses.

Millions of doses have been administered, but many Americans have had difficulty accessing the vaccines in a timely manner. Among the Biden administration’s top priorities has been developing a federal vaccine distribution plan, but states may still lack a steady supply of doses and the personnel necessary to administer what they receive.

Some states have begun to expand eligibility to essential workers, people with health conditions, and others.

The Guardian has visualized the proportion of vaccinated population in each state from data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The represented proportions reflect the overall state population. Children are not eligible to be vaccinated, though scientists believe they can spread Covid-19.

Details of state-by-state breakdown of vaccination rates:

Read more:


19:07

Biden administration has pledged $4bn to fund the global vaccine effort

The administration said it will provide an initial $2bn contribution for Covax, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

It will release another $2bn through 2021 and 2022, the administration said in a statement.

The Trump administration spurned Covax, due to the former president’s disdain for the World Health Organization – which is helping lead the effort along with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and other groups.

The US will be providing the funds to Gavi, which will use the money for the Covax initiative. Joe Biden will announce the funding plan tomorrow at the Group of Seven meeting.

Updated


18:53

Protesters outside the home of Texas senator Ted Cruz are calling on him to resign.

Julian Gill of the Houston Chronicle reports:


Julian Gill
(@JulianGillMusic)

Here’s the scene outside the home of Ted Cruz. Right now looks like as many police as protestors. @HoustonChron pic.twitter.com/6ZLOz9LaRD

February 18, 2021

The Republican senator has faced backlash after flying with his family to Cancun, as millions of his constituents were left without power during the deadly winter storm that has devastated Texas.

Here’s more background:

Updated


18:25

Power restored to 2m homes in Texas

Power has been restored to nearly 2m homes in the state, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, announced.

Some 325,000 still remain without electricity – due to downed power lines or the need to reconnect to the electrical grid. The ongoing outages are no longer due to a lack of power supply, Abbott said.

Greg Abbott
(@GregAbbott_TX)

As of this afternoon there are no residential power outages due to lack of power generation.

If any residence doesn’t have power it is due to downed power lines or the need for the power company to manually reconnect.

If you don’t have power contact your local power provider.

February 18, 2021

Updated


17:50

The Biden administration approved an emergency declaration in Louisiana, authorizing Fema to coordinate disaster relief in the state amid record low temperatures and icy conditions.

The state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, said “extreme winter weather, including record low temperatures, snow, sleet, and freezing rain, has been destructive for many areas of Louisiana, most notably through continued power and water outages across the state.”

Some of the communities facing power outages are still recovering from the hurricanes last year. A million boil their water, and nearly half a million are without water.


17:26

The Guardian’s Erum Salam and Alexandra Villarreal are report from Texas:

Millions of Texans are facing water shortages after the deadly winter storm ravaging the state caused pipes to burst and treatment plants to back up, disrupting services and contaminating supplies.

Texas officials ordered seven million people – a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state – to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.

Almost 600 public water systems in more than 140 counties reported disruptions in service, affecting nearly 12 million people on Wednesday night, a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesperson told the Texas Tribune.

Erum Salam
(@salamdogmillion)

As of right now, some Texans are going on their fourth consecutive day without power. Grocery stores are overwhelmed and clean, drinkable water is now scarce.

This isn’t over yet. It’s bad here. https://t.co/NuOXEjHsKM

February 18, 2021

Hospitals in Austin and Houston have been among those struggling with disruption to water supplies.

“We are working with our supply chain to provide water for our patients, staff and hospital operations. We began supplementing our onsite water inventory last week, and supplies are continuing to arrive,” said David Huffstutler, CEO of St David’s HealthCare in Austin, in a statement.

“We continue to work with the City of Austin in an effort to resolve the water outage, but they have been unsuccessful in resolving the water system issue affecting service and water pressure to our hospital.”

Read more:


17:08

Victoria Bekiempis

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who became Donald Trump’s energy secretary, has said that Texans would willingly endure longer periods of sub-freezing temperatures if it stymied Democrats’ energy policy and efforts to combat climate change.

“Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Perry was quoted saying in blog post published Wednesday on the website of Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy.

The blog post had asserted that those “watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t let a crisis go to waste”.

Perry’s comments come as millions of Texas are struggling with a brutal winter storm, which created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts. Frigid temperatures and snow have covered most of the central US this week, resulting in at least two dozen deaths, but Texas in particular has reeled because most of its power is on a state-run grid that has repeatedly been described as mismanaged.

Residents of the Lone Star state are lining up for grocery stores that are running out of food. Pipes have burst because of the cold, leaving residents without water to drink or prepare food. Many are scrambling to find shelter in buildings with electricity. Multiple municipalities have instituted “boil water” orders, as power outages have impacted water treatment facilities.

Meanwhile, many Texans slammed authorities for their handling of the crisis. The severe winter storm has, among some Republicans, been used to open up a new culture war around the expansion of renewable energy, which is a stated priority of the Biden administration in order to address the climate crisis.

Read more:


17:00

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Hundreds of thousands of people in Texas remain without power, after a winter storm caused widespread outages in the state. The White House said Fema has already sent 60 generators and 225,000 meals to Texas.
  • Senator Ted Cruz confirmed that he traveled to Cancun as his constituents struggled to get their lights back on. The Texas senator is now flying back to Houston, a day after traveling to Cancun, and he claimed he only went to Mexico to drop off his daughters. According to NBC News, Cruz booked a return flight to Houston early this morning amid widespread outrage about the trip.
  • Congressional Democrats introduced their sweeping immigration bill, based on the framework laid out by Joe Biden when he took office last month. The bill faces massive hurdles in the evenly divided Senate, but if passed, the legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
  • The House is holding its hearing about the GameStop stock trading controversy. Executives from Reddit, the trading app Robinhood and investments firms involved in the stock trades are testifying before the House financial services committee.
  • Nasa’s science rover Perseverance has safely landed on Mars, kicking off a mission to find traces of ancient microbial life on the planet. Scientists at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory near Pasadena, California, celebrated after seeing Perseverance make a safe landing.

Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated


16:47

Nasa’s Perseverance rover safely lands on Mars

Nasa’s science rover Perseverance has safely landed on Mars, kicking off a mission to find traces of ancient microbial life on the planet.

Scientists at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory near Pasadena, California, celebrated after seeing Perseverance make a safe landing.


NASA
(@NASA)

Touchdown confirmed. The #CountdownToMars is complete, but the mission is just beginning. pic.twitter.com/UvOyXQhhN9

February 18, 2021

The rover has already started sending images back from Mars’ surface, and Perseverance is also expected to collect samples of ancient sediment from Martian rock for later analysis back on Earth.

Reuters has more details on the mission:


The robotic vehicle sailed through space for nearly seven months, covering 293m miles (472m km) before piercing the Martian atmosphere at 12,000mph (19,000km/h) to begin its approach to touchdown on the planet’s surface.

The spacecraft’s self-guided descent and landing during a complex series of maneuvers that Nasa dubbed ‘the seven minutes of terror’ stands as the most elaborate and challenging feat in the annals of robotic spaceflight. …

The landing represented the riskiest part of two-year, $2.7bn endeavor whose primary aim is to search for possible fossilized signs of microbes that may have flourished on Mars about 3bn years ago, when the fourth planet from the sun was warmer, wetter and potentially hospitable to life.


16:30

The Guardian’s Sam Levine reports:

Georgia Republicans unveiled new legislation on Thursday that would make it dramatically harder to vote in the state following an election with record turnout and surging participation among Black voters.

The sweeping measure would block officials from offering early voting on Sundays, a day traditionally used by Black churches to mobilize voters. It would place new limits on the use of mail-in ballot drop boxes, restrict who can handle an absentee ballot, and require voters to provide their driver’s license number or a copy of photo identification with their application for a mail-in ballot. It would also require voters to provide the same driver’s license information on the mail-in ballot itself or the last four digits of their Social Security Number if they do not have acceptable ID.

The bill also gives voters less time to request and return mail-in ballots and bans organizers from offering food or water to voters standing in line to cast a ballot.

Republicans pledged the changes after Joe Biden narrowly carried the state in November and Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, won stunning upsets over Republican incumbents in November. State officials, including Republicans, have said repeatedly there was no evidence of fraud in the elections, but Republicans have vowed to impose new restrictions anyway.

Updated


16:14

According to NBC News, Ted Cruz initially planned to return from Cancun on Saturday but booked a trip back to Houston this morning, amid public outrage over the Republican senator’s trip.

Peter Alexander
(@PeterAlexander)

NEW: Ted Cruz booked his return ticket from Cancun to Texas at 6 a.m. today, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. Cruz was initially booked to return on Saturday.

February 18, 2021

Cruz has said that he flew to Cancun simply to drop off his daughters, but this timeline suggests that the senator was planning on a longer vacation before news of the trip became public.


16:01

Senator Ted Cruz said he flew to Cancun to drop off his wife and daughters before flying back to Texas, where a winter storm is causing widespread power outages.

The Recount
(@therecount)

Sen. Ted Cruz at the Cancún airport:

“Yesterday my daughters asked if they could take a trip with some friends, and Heidi and I agreed, so I flew down with them last night, dropped them off here and now I’m headed back to Texas.”pic.twitter.com/5d8UwlmZWv

February 18, 2021

Arriving at the Cancun airport for his trip back to Houston, Cruz said that his home had been affected by the blackouts, so his family no longer had heat or power.

“Yesterday my daughters asked if they could take a trip with some friends, and Heidi and I agreed, so I flew down with them last night, dropped them off here and now I’m headed back to Texas,” Cruz told a news crew at the airport.

Some reporters noted that Cruz appeared to have a fair amount of luggage for just dropping his family off in Mexico and flying home a day later.

Seung Min Kim
(@seungminkim)

Big suitcase for just dropping off his girls 🤔 https://t.co/KvVgvMEms3

February 18, 2021


15:42

Donald Trump reportedly snubbed Nikki Haley, when the former UN ambassador requested a meeting with the former president at Mar-a-Lago yesterday.

Politico’s Playbook reports:


Nikki Haley reached out to former President Donald Trump on Wednesday to request a sit-down at Mar-a-Lago, but a source familiar tells Playbook that he turned her down. The two haven’t spoken since the insurrection on Jan. 6, when Haley blasted Trump for inciting his supporters to storm the Capitol.

The snub comes less than a week after Politico published an interview with Haley, in which she said Trump had “let us down” by spreading lies about the presidential election.

“We need to acknowledge he let us down,” she said. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”

Trump has been lashing out against Republicans who blame him for the Capitol insurrection. After the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the riot, the former president released a statement calling McConnell “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack”.

Updated


15:27

Congressional Democrats introduce sweeping immigration bill

Lauren Gambino

Congressional Democrats introduced sweeping legislation to overhaul the US immigration system on Thursday, saying it was time to move beyond the “hateful horror show” of the last four years.

During a press conference, Democrats, led by the chief sponsors of the bill, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez and Senator Bob Menendez, argued that after decades of failure, now was the time to pass immigration reform.

The bill, based on a framework outlined by president Joe Biden on his first day in office, offers an eight-year pathway to citizenship for many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. It would also allow farmworkers, those with temporary protected status and Dreamers to apply immediately for citizenship.

All petitioners would have to pass background and security checks as well as pay their taxes and application fees. To avoid a surge at the border, only immigrants in the US by 1 January 2021 are eligible.

The bill faces an uphill battle in Congress, where Democrats maintain narrow majorities and Republicans have moved further right on the issue under Donald Trump. But Democrats argued on Thursday that Trump’s defeat offered a window of opportunity to move forward with a new approach after decades of failure.

“The reason we have not gotten immigration reform over the finish line is not because of a lack of will,” Menendez told reporters on Thursday. “It is because time and time again we have compromised too much and capitulated too quickly to fringe voices who have refused to accept the humanity and contributions of immigrants to our country and dismiss everything … as amnesty.”


15:11

The House budget committee has announced it will hold a markup hearing for Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill on Monday.

The budget panel will bind the provisions together from nine other markup hearings to create a single reconciliation bill that the full House will vote on.

House Budget Committee
(@HouseBudgetDems)

Markup News: Monday, Feb. 22, @HouseBudgetDems will mark up the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. ⤵️ https://t.co/RPnO3wW9YU

February 18, 2021

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said earlier today that she hoped the chamber would be able to pass the relief bill by the end of next week.

Biden is looking to sign the bill before 14 March, when expanded unemployment benefits are currently set to expire.

Updated

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