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Congressman McCaul talks barricading himself in his office during the Capitol riots—and what happens now
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, spent the afternoon of Jan. 6 barricaded in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building, with a sofa and a baseball bat as protection against what he called the terrorists on the other side of the door.
"It was a really dark day for the United States," he told Austonia.
As Congress prepared to vote on whether to certify the results of the November presidential election, former President Donald Trump had spoken that morning to a group of supporters at "Save America" rally at the Ellipse, a 52-acre park south of the White House, where he repeated baseless claims that the election had been "stolen" from him. Afterwards, thousands of attendees marched to the U.S. Capitol, where they breached police lines and scaled the walls of the building itself.
"The members were evacuated off the floor. The alarms went off," McCaul said. "I barricaded myself in my office, which is right off the Capitol. The terrorists, if you will, (we) could hear them outside of my office trying to get in. So we barricaded the office with a sofa, and all I had, really, was a baseball bat to protect myself and my staff."
Capitol police were soon on the scene. "The mob were dressed in kind of paramilitary-style uniforms. The Capitol police came up and there was a big skirmish between the two," McCaul continued. "We want to thank the Capitol police for saving us."
Nearly three hours after rioters began to clash with police on the Capitol steps, the D.C. National Guard was sent in as reinforcement, and congressional leaders were evacuated from the Capitol complex. By 8 p.m. Congress had reconvened—and four people were dead.
McCaul spoke to Austonia about his experience at the Capitol that day, as well as his thoughts on impeachment, the inauguration and border security. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
After the riot
After the deadly riot, McCaul voted against objecting to the electoral votes of two states: Arizona and Pennsylvania. The majority of House Republicans, however, voted differently. Of the 211 Republican members, 121 objected to Arizona's votes and 138 to Pennsylvania's. But they were outnumbered by Democrats, and by 4 a.m. both the House and Senate had voted to certify the votes of the Electoral College, validating then President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
"It's not our job to overturn or second guess the certificates if they're authentic," McCaul said. "The states have certified. The Founding Fathers gave the states that power, not the federal government or Congress."
Despite breaking with his caucus on certification and condemning Trump's behavior leading up to the riot, McCaul opposed impeachment on the grounds that the process had been rushed. "We have not been given the time to truly look at the facts and the evidence before this impeachment was hurried to the House floor," he said in a Jan. 13 statement. "We haven't been given the opportunity to hear from a single witness, or hold even one hearing."
McCaul did admit to doubt. "I don't know what's out there, what decisions were being made with respect to the use of the National Guard to protect the members of Congress," he told Austonia, adding that the Senate trial may uncover answers to these questions. But he also has reservations about whether the trial should move forward at all. "I think the country, to be quite honest with you, is ready to move forward with the new administration and not live in the past," he said.
It remains to be seen whether Trump will face consequences as a result of the riot, but McCaul is optimistic that some of the rioters will. This session, he reintroduced a bill that would allow the Justice Department to charge individuals with domestic terrorism, which would carry corresponding sentencing of up to life in prison or death. "(The riot) was definitely an act of domestic terrorism, and I think we need to address that," he said, adding that he thinks the bill failed last session because of a focus on international terrorism. "But I think what happened on Jan. 6 has changed everything."
A new administration
McCaul was at the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Jan. 20, one of several he has attended during his 16 years in office. "This one was obviously very different in the sense that we have a global pandemic, and we were at the United States Capitol, which was under attack just a few days ago," he said.
Although there was heavy police presence and no crowd, the ceremony was similar to past inaugurations in other ways. "It's really the day our nation comes together as Americans first to honor the peaceful transition of power that we've done for over 200 years," he said. "So it has a very sacred feeling to it."
McCaul is serving his eighth term as the representative of the 10th District of Texas, which spans from Central Austin to the northwest Houston suburbs. He ranks middle-right in terms of ideology and high in terms of leadership, according to the Congressional tracking site GovTrack. He is married to Linda Mays McCaul, whose father is the billionaire founder and former chairman of Clear Channel Communications, now iHeartMedia. They have five children.
Prior to holding elected office, McCaul served as the chief of counter terrorism and national security in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas and as a federal prosecutor for the Department of Justice. As a self-described supporter of the DOJ and intelligence communities, he stressed the importance of nonpartisanship in those areas.
"You have political appointees, but you don't want to inject politics in our federal criminal justice system. Our intelligence community should be protected from that as well," he said. "I hope the Biden administration will move forward in that way of thinking."
McCaul has a balanced view on the issues of border security and immigration reform. "Trying to tackle immigration reform is very difficult, and it brings out the best and the worst in people," he said, adding that he believes any policy needs to combine technology, infrastructure and manpower. "We need to know who's coming into this country to be able to control and protect Americans."
Where many Republicans flaunt their ideological rigidity, McCaul believes that the two parties can—and should—work together. He is hardly a centrist, however. A FiveThirtyEight analysis found he voted in line with Trump 93.6% of the time.
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Matthew McConaughey is reportedly weighing a run for Texas governor in 2022.
The Austin resident and Oscar winner has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO" as he decides whether to run, according to Politico.
McConaughey said a gubernatorial run is "a true consideration" while on a March episode of Houston's "The Balanced Voice" podcast.
Although most political strategists doubt McConaughey's commitment and viability as a candidate, some are still intrigued by the possibility.
"I find it improbable, but it's not out of the question," Karl Rove, a top Republican strategist with a long history in Austin, told the political news site. He added that the big question is whether McConaughey would run as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, told Politico he's surprised McConaughey isn't being taken more seriously. "Celebrity in this country counts for a lot," he said. "It's not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to run for a third term and remains popular among Republican voters, 77% of whom approve of his performance as of April, according to the Texas Politics Project.
Some strategists believe an independent McConaughey run would benefit Abbott. But a recent poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that McConaughey would beat Abbott, 45% to 33%, with 22% opting for someone else.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, mulled a McConaughey run in a recent opinion essay from the New York Times. "Texas may not be ready for a philosopher king as a candidate, much less governor," she wrote. "May the best man win, man."
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Some JuiceLand production facility workers and storefront employees are organizing to demand wage increases, better working conditions (including air conditioning in the warehouse) and pay transparency, among other asks. They are also calling on staff to strike and customers to boycott the Austin-based company until their demands are met.
JuiceLand responded on Saturday. "We are listening," the company wrote on their Instagram story. "JuiceLand crew now makes guaranteed $15 an hour or more companywide."
JuiceLand, which was founded in 2001 by Matt Shook and now has 35 locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas, acknowledged the rising cost of living across Texas and the added stress of the pandemic in an email to employees on Saturday, part of which @juicelandworkersrights shared on social media. "There's no denying that times are tough and financial security means more now than ever," the company wrote.
Organized JuiceLand workers rejected this proposal, according to a recent post on the @juicelandworkersrights Instagram account, and reiterated their demands.
"Cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially and will only continue to get worse with the tech boom," the post read. "$15 is barely a sustainable living."