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received immunity from lawsuits. Hutchison and McCain backed the proposal. “He’s very much seen as a partisan Republican,” says Allen of Congressional Quarterly. “There are a fairly limited number of issues where he’s reached across the aisle’ He also has surrendered to political expediency. In 2006 and 2007, Congress nearly self-immolated over immigration ahead of the midterm elections. Cornyn made clear he opposed construction of a border fence. He told reporters at the time that walling off the entire border was a 20th century answer to a 21st century problem, that the wall wouldn’t stem illegal immigration, and that it was too expensive. “I’m not sure that’s the best use of that money,” he told reporters in early October 2006. Three weeks later, he voted for the Secure Fence Acta vote he later described as symbolic support of border security. He said he didn’t think the fence would ever receive funding. \(The funding, of course, did come through, and construction began vote for the wall has infuriated some mayors along the border who are fighting the federal government’s efforts to build the fence. Still, Cornyn has aided South Texas with enough federal projects to earn endorsements from a handful of Democratic politicians in the Rio Grande Valley, including the mayors of McAllen, Harlingen, Pharr, and Mission. \(“I am a Democrat, but I cannot say no to Sen. Cornyn because he has been good to us,” Pharr Mayor Polo Palacios told the Rio Grande Guardian nentstate Rep. Rick Noriegais sure to make the border wall an issue for Latino voters this fall. After Democrats claimed a Senate majority in 2007, Cornyn became even more isolated within the cluster of ultraconservative Republicans. He initially opposed a bill implementing reforms in the intelligence community recommended by the 9-11 Commission. He was one of just 14 Republicans to vote against a reform bill that increased regulations on lawmakers’ interactions with lobbyists. With Democrats in charge, Cornyn also rediscovered fiscal conservatism. In the fall of 2007 alone, he voted against funding bills for the departments of Commerce, Justice, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Servicesin the belief that the Democratic majority was spending too much money. Only a handful of the Senate’s most conservative members joined him in this crusade. Cornyn even opposed a $1 billion package for federal bridge repairsa vote taken less than two months after the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis \(32 other None of those positions is as potentially threatening to Cornyn’s re-election as his three votes against renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program in fall 2007. CHIP provides health insurance for kids of working families and is an immensely popular and effective government program. Democrats sought to expand the program to families making as much as four times the federal poverty limit. Cornynonce again sticking by the White Housewanted a lower income ceiling. Cornyn said at the time that expanding CHIP to cover so many middle-class kids was a step toward “socialized medicine.” More than two-thirds of the Senate, including Hutchison, voted for the CHIP bill on three occasions, only to see it vetoed by the president. \(The bill remains stalled because the House cannot muster enough votes to overabout the CHIP votes, Cornyn campaign spokesman Kevin McLaughlin says, “The fact of the matter is, he supported the expansion of SCHIP. He just didn’t support it to the level that Rick Noriega did.” Noriega, a fiveterm state representative from Houston, was heavily involved in the CHIP battles in the Legislature and will no doubt hammer Cornyn this fall for opposing health care for kids. As election day nears, Cornyn has belatedly distanced himself from the White House and tacked toward the center. He reversed himself to support a beefed-up G.I. Bill in June after withering criticism from Noriega that Cornyn wasn’t supporting veterans. A few weeks later, Cornyn got into trouble again by blindly following the White House and had to make some quick reversals. Initially, he voted with the president and against a Medicare bill that would have temporarily saved doctors from a 10-percent cut in their Medicare reimbursement rates. The bill failed by one vote. Cornyn claimed he voted against the bill because he wanted a permanent fix for Medicare’s broken payment system instead of a short-term patch that only delays the cut. But there was an ideological reason, too. The bill diverted a small amount of money from Medicare Advantage, a program in which insurance companies serve as middlemen to help deliver Medicare payments. It’s a darling of the ideological right and a boon to the insurance industry. Bush said he opposed the Medicare bill mostly because it removed money from Medicare Advantage. Cornyn decided to stand with the president rather than doctors who had supported his campaigns for years, some of whom had donated thousands to his re-election effort. “There’s really been two John Cornyns over his career,” said a Texas health care lobbyist who asked not to be named. “I don’t think he had those [conservative] ideologies ingrained in him until he went up to D.C.” 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 8, 2008