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U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales defiant as he faces censure for breaking with Republican Party

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Eddie Gaspar
/
The Texas Tribune
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, at the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Sept. 24.

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, is digging in as he faces a potential censure by the Republican Party of Texas over his recent positions breaking with the party.

The party’s executive committee is set to hold a quarterly meeting Saturday where it will consider a censure resolution that cites a few of the notable ways in which Gonzales has split from his party in recent months. Those include his rejection of a border security proposal by his fellow Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy, and his support of a bill defending same-sex marriage protections and a bipartisan gun law that passed in response to the Uvalde school shooting in his district.

“What censure?” Gonzales said when asked about it by reporters Thursday in San Antonio. “Has a censure taken place? I think they’re gonna vote on it Saturday, and we’ll see how that goes.”

Gonzales added — as he has before — that he has no regrets about supporting the gun safety law, which expanded background checks, among other things. He was the only House Republican from Texas to support the measure — and one of only 14 nationwide.

“If the vote was today,” Gonzales said, “I would vote twice on it if I could.”

Gonzales does not plan to attend the meeting Saturday. He noted he is leading a congressional delegation to the Mexican border in Eagle Pass — as well as Uvalde — on Monday. And he sought Thursday to shift the spotlight to issues on which Republicans are more unified, attending a news conference to oppose a San Antonio ballot proposition that would decriminalize abortion.

The movement to censure Gonzales is the latest twist in his short but action-packed political career. It began in 2020 when he won a primary runoff that went to a recount and then beat the odds to keep the 23rd District under GOP control. Then redistricting made the seat redder for the 2022 election, and he had to navigate a unique race that served as a referendum on his independent streak. He won by double digits.

But the intraparty sniping has not subsided, especially as Gonzales has vocally opposed the border security bill from Roy, which would give the secretary of Homeland Security the power to bar border crossings and detain asylum-seekers while their cases are processed in court.

The censure resolution that the State Republican Executive Committee is set to consider originated from Medina County, which passed it last month and requested the state party take it up. Fifteen other counties in Gonzales’ sprawling district have since approved concurring resolutions.

Three-fifths of the 64-member State Republican Executive Committee would have to approve the resolution Saturday. If the resolution passes, it would allow the state party to get involved in Gonzales’ primary, including by spending its funds to inform voters of the censure. The party is normally required to remain neutral in intraparty contests.

The state party said it believes that the only other time it approved a censure under this method was against former state House Speaker Joe Straus in 2018. He was also a moderate from San Antonio.

The Medina County resolution alleges Gonzales violated the principles of the party by voting for the gun law and opposing Roy’s border legislation. It also cites Gonzales’ vote last year for a bill to codify same-sex marriage, plus his lonely vote against the U.S. House rules package in January, which made it easier to remove the speaker and made it hearder to raise taxes, among other things.

Gonzales scoffed Thursday at his opposition to the rules package, which was the product of painstaking negotiations with House conservatives to allow Kevin McCarthy to become speaker. Gonzales questioned a reporter on whether he understood the rules package, dismissing it as “so inside baseball.”

“The reality is I’ve taken almost 1,400 votes, and the bulk of those have been with the Republican Party,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales defended his support for the same-sex marriage bill last year, telling The Texas Tribune that it “wasn’t a tough vote” and that Republicans need to accept same-sex marriage if the party wants to grow.

The Roy border bill has been the biggest flashpoint recently. Gonzales has stood firm against it, arguing it would effectively end asylum. Roy has denied that.

That has led to a budding rivalry between Gonzales and Roy, complete with thinly veiled threats from allied groups to field a primary challenger against Gonzales.

Gonzales took a fresh swipe at Roy on Thursday while touting how he has voted with the GOP most of the time. A day earlier, Roy was one of only four Republicans to oppose a bill to require estimates of the inflationary impact of President Joe Biden’s executive orders. Roy said he objected to the proposal because it did not apply to “‘emergency’ orders that are some of the primary drivers of inflation.”

“Just yesterday, I voted to hold Biden accountable for inflation,” Gonzales said. “Not all Republicans voted in favor of ensuring that.”

That the opposition to Gonzales would originate in Medina County is unsurprising. The county, which is west of San Antonio, is home to Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ 2020 primary runoff opponent, who remains a bitter critic.

From The Texas Tribune