U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is among several Republican leaders that have said they’ll support their party’s presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, but in a Friday speech to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, he stopped far short of singing Trump’s praises or defending his recent comments on a range of issues.
“I’ll certainly support him as the nominee of the Republican Party,” Cornyn said after the luncheon at the Westin Riverwalk that drew about 200 people. “We all know that the primary process was bruising and a lot of different choices (emerged). But we have to respect the choices made by the voters and I do, and I would consider Mr. Trump to be preferable to Secretary Clinton.”
Not exactly fit for a bumper sticker. Cornyn vowed to stop talking about Trump until after the November election in a media interview earlier this week, but the topic is proving inescapable.
“Wish me luck,” he told Politico on Tuesday.
Cornyn was successful for all of two days until he spoke with a reporter for the Dallas Morning News about plans to be in San Antonio the same day as Trump. The two had no plans to meet while both were here, but Trump’s name up yet again during Friday’s moderated discussion with conservative radio talk show host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo.
The billionaire real estate developer and former reality television host is an almost unavoidable topic for Republicans everywhere. Even Trump’s private fundraising visit to San Antonio that lasted all of two and a half hours overshadowed the opening of the Democratic Party’s state convention Friday morning . Trump’s private jet prominently sporting his name on its exterior landed at San Antonio International Airport around 11:40 a.m. A police motorcade escorted him from the airport to a private fundraiser at Oak Hills Country Club, and then back after the luncheon for his flight to yet another fundraiser in Houston. Cornyn and Trump’s schedules will not be aligning while they’re both in Texas, according to the senator’s staff.
Considering Trump’s plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico – and making Mexico pay for it – “many people are perceiving him as being divisive about them (Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans),” Pagliarulo said, asking what Trump might be able to do to mend those perceptions.
“Here’s a guy who is a business man, who has never run for public office before, and this is just an entirely new experience – it’s overwhelming,” Cornyn said. “Part of it is, I think, he just doesn’t have the experience of visiting places like the border and appreciating the complexity of it and the importance of international trade through our economy here in Texas and nationwide – so he says things that are just very jarring.”
Making inflammatory remarks like this is “certainly something he can’t do if he’s elected president,” Cornyn said, adding that the idea of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it “makes me want to shake my head.”
Meanwhile the Texas Democratic Party Convention continues through this weekend. Party leaders held an “Anti-Trump” press conference Friday afternoon.
Cornyn, the Senate’s majority whip, also touched on the gun control debate that has become all too familiar after mass shooting events. Just four days after the Orlando gay nightclub massacre that claimed 49 lives, Cornyn introduced legislation on Thursday that would trigger an investigation when a suspected terrorist tries to purchase a firearm. Federal authorities would have three days to convince a judge that probable cause exists to justify prohibiting the sale.
“My view is that if someone is too dangerous to fly on an airplane, they’re too dangerous to buy a gun, and they’re too dangerous to live in the community. My legislation (would make it) so they would be arrested, but it’s going to require evidence to be produced by the government,” he said.
Legislation has been initiated by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would allow the U.S. Attorney General to deny the sale if a “reasonable belief” existed that that the gun might be used in an attack.
The main difference goes back to the core of the U.S. government’s structure, Cornyn said: The system of checks and balances.
“It’s inappropriate to deny American citizens their constitutional rights without due process of law,” he said. “The government isn’t always right.”
Yet another legislative proposal comes from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would add mental health considerations to background checks of individuals purchasing guns.
Cornyn rejected the notion that lax gun control made possible the Orlando attack, as many Democrats, including President Obama, have asserted.
“Is this a product of a flawed strategy to deal with ISIS and our inability to catch people that have become radicalized here in the U.S., or is this a matter of inadequate regulation of guns under the Second Amendment for private citizens?” he asked rhetorically during the lunch program. “I happen to believe it’s the former, not the latter.”
The shooter in Orlando pledged his allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS, but questions have yet to be answered about other motives the shooter had that might include mental illness and an extreme prejudice against the LGBTQIA community.
Cornyn admitted that the investigation into the shooter has produced a “complex picture,” but emphasized that the terrorism element must be dealt with first.
“What we do know for sure is that this is a very troubled person and we do know that he would not be the first person that would be radicalized by this radical Islamic ideology,” he said. “It doesn’t take people coming from overseas to the United States, this happened online and through the use of social media.
“What we need to do is make sure that we equip the FBI and other law enforcement agencies with the information they need in order to collect the dots,” he added. “Because if we expect them to connect the dots, we’ve got to make sure that they can collect those dots – consistent of course with the Fourth Amendment and the Constitution.”
The San Antonio Chamber hosted the event to honor Cornyn for bringing federal dollars to San Antonio, his home town, for the new federal courthouse. Several judges, business owners, and City officials attended the event to lavish credit on the senator for leading the charge. He was instrumental in getting the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve funding for the courthouse as part of the Omnibus Appropriations bill.
The appropriations bill allocated $948 million for eight new federal courthouses across the country, including the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio. The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved $144 million in funding for the 305,000 square-foot building in May and
“I spent many years here in San Antonio as a district judge and then went to college and law school here. I remember when the John H. Wood Courthouse was built for HemisFair,” Cornyn said. He recruited Senate colleagues and federal judges to tour the rundown building and rallied support to prioritize the long-overdue project in San Antonio.
“It was the product of a lot of work and leadership from Mayor Taylor, the City Council, and others, but I know everybody is very happy, as I am, that it’s going to become a reality,” he said.
U.S Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) speaks with Crosspoint President and CEO Kevin Downey (left) and Pastor Raymond Bryant of Bethel AME Church. Photo by Iris Dimmick.