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Political news

Updated at 5:35 p.m. ET.

As the conflict between Israel and Gaza approaches the three-week mark, the fighting seems to have only intensified. At least 119 Palestinians were killed Thursday, making it the bloodiest day of the war.

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As the conflict between Israel and Palestine in Gaza continues, officials with the University of Texas International Office say they've been in close contact with graduate students and faculty conducting research in Israel.

“None of our students are anywhere near the Gaza Strip or the West Bank,” UT International Office risk analyst Erin Wolf says.

Wolf says six graduate students and a handful of faculty are doing research projects in Israel and that in addition to providing academic support, local universities are also giving them direction.

Divergent plans are now emerging from the House and Senate on how best to deal with the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America across the border.

Though both would offer the president less money than he asked for to deal with the crisis, a major battle has developed over whether to amend a 2008 law that makes it harder to speedily deport the children.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

In the Texas Tribune today, Aman Batheja reports on a significant change that has researchers and politicos drooling: Exit polls are returning to Texas.

Batheja writes:

This year, with a high-profile gubernatorial race on the November ballot, the National Election Pool confirmed on Tuesday that it plans to conduct more robust exit polling in Texas this year, giving researchers and political analysts the means to better examine the outcome. 

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and the Texas Democratic Party are launching a voter protection program to monitor voter suppression and discrimination on Election Day.

Davis predicts this election will have large voter turnout and she, along with the state party and Battleground Texas, are getting prepared for what could come down to a legal fight at the ballot box.

A refrigerated train carrying the remains of the people who died aboard the downed Malaysia Airlines plane arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. That's a city controlled by the central government in Kiev and 17 hours away from the chaos of Hrabove, the eastern city controlled by pro-Russian separatists, where the debris and remains were scattered.

The New York Times sets the scene:

David Buimovitch AFP/Getty Images

This past weekend was the deadliest of the two-week-long combat operations in the Gaza Strip. Yesterday, 95 Palestinians were killed in fighting along with 13 soldiers fighting in the Israeli Defense Force, according to the Associated Press.

One of those soldiers killed in the conflict was 21-year-old South Padre, Texas native Sean Carmeli. Carmeli moved to Israel four years ago after finishing high school and was a member of the country's elite Golani Brigade along with California native Max Steinberg, who also died in fighting on the Gaza Strip. Both held American-Israeli citizenship.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Egypt today in an effort to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry would meet with Egyptian and other senior officials.

Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters /Landov

Both pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government forces are denying any responsibility for downing the Malaysia Airlines jetliner carrying 295 passengers and crew. Multiple reports state the Boeing 777, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, appeared to have broken up before impact, with the burning wreckage scattered over a wide area. All passengers are believed to have died. 

At a press event in Delaware, President Obama said he has directed national security advisors to stay close contact with the Ukrainian government. Reuters reports that just yesterday, the U.S. administration tightened its sanctions against Russia over the ongoing fighting in Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, Ukraine claimed that Russian had downed one of its war planes.

Bob Daemmrich / Alyssa Banata/Texas Tribune

As the recent surge of Central Americans entering the country illegally through Texas’ border with Mexico has drawn national attention, it has also become a major talking point for the 2014 candidates for lieutenant governor.

And while state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, have distinct differences on immigration and border security, political observers say they each have advantages as the issue remains at the forefront.

Van de Putte has indicated that the state should secure the border by providing local law enforcement with ample resources to ensure "that troopers can focus on catching criminals, not kids” while calling for immigration reform at the federal level to get to the root of illegal immigration.

This post was updated at 4:10 p.m. ET: Ground Offenses Begin

Israel has sent ground forces into Gaza on Thursday, which we are covering in this post.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET: Hostilities Resume

flickr.com/peterhaden

There’s a new hit song in Central America. It’s called “La Bestia” and people in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are requesting it from their radio stations.

But guess what? The U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioned it.

“La Bestia” refers to a dangerous train called “The Beast” where thousands of immigrants ride to cross the U.S. – risking assaults, robbery, murder, kidnapping and rape. The catchy, upbeat cumbia song is part of Border Patrol’s multi-million dollar Dangers Awareness Campaign, meant to deter immigrants from entering the U.S.

KUT

The latest campaign finance numbers are trickling in, and it looks like gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis are neck-and-neck in fundraising. At the end of the reporting period that ended on June 30, both drummed up about $11 million in the weeks following the May primaries, but Abbott's stockpile of campaign cash could give him the leg up come November.

A flood of comments about net neutrality crashed the Federal Communications Commission's commenting site on Tuesday, the original deadline for public comments on the controversial Internet proposal. But the tech problems are buying those who want to weigh in some extra time — the deadline for public commenting is now Friday at midnight.

Of the 780,000 comments submitted to the FCC, 100,000 came on Tuesday alone, which the FCC's outdated electronic comment filing system was not capable of handling.

This post was updated at 5:30 p.m. ET.

A day that dawned with hopes for a fragile peace is closing with hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians appearing to intensify.

Early Tuesday, Israel had accepted the terms of a cease-fire proposed by Egypt, but Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, continued firing rockets.

A Hamas spokesman complained to NPR's Ari Shapiro that Egypt's current government is hostile to the group and its proposal didn't deal at all with Palestinian demands.

Exchanges of rockets and airstrikes continue between Israel and militants in Gaza, one week after violence broke out in the area. The Palestinian death toll is being reported at 172; no Israelis have reportedly died in the fighting.

From Haaretz:

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Note: This post initially contained the White House livestream of Obama's speech. As the speech has concluded and is not yet archived, we have removed the embed.

A recap:

President Obama is flying back to Washington DC after spending the night in Austin. This morning, Obama attended a round table discussion at the home of Democratic activist Aimee Boone Cunningham and then drove the Paramount Theater to deliver a speech – the first time a president has spoken at the Paramount since it opened in 1915.

The president's speech focused on economic opportunity and the middle class. Obama attacked Congressional Republicans for not agreeing to increase the minimum wage, extend unemployment insurance benefits or pass equal pay laws. 

flickr.com/syriafreedom

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, grabbed international attention of media this year after inciting a rash of violence throughout Iraq, gaining momentum and inspiring young Muslims to take up arms, even some right here in Central Texas

Oxford Brookes University modern history professor Roger Griffin tells Texas Standard's David Brown that ISIS, unlike their predecessor al-Qaida, has cultivated an international online brand that glamorizes jihad.

The Republican Party will hold its 2016 presidential convention in Cleveland, GOP chairman Reince Priebus announced Tuesday.

The GOP chose to locate its nominating event in an expected 2016 battleground state rather than in Dallas, Texas, the sole remaining competitor after Denver and Kansas City were eliminated from consideration in late June.

LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

Update: President Barack Obama will give a public address during his visit to Austin this week.

Obama will be at The Paramount Theater on Thursday for a speech on the economy. Tickets are free and available to the public. They’ll be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 8:30 Tuesday morning at The Paramount (713 Congress Ave). The White House will only distribute a limited number of tickets.

Doors will open for the speech on Thursday at 9:45 a.m. Tickets are required for entry and are not for sale or re-sale. The White House says all attendees will go through airport-like security.

Original Story (July 2, 2014): Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez will host a fundraiser for President Obama on Wednesday, July 9, according to a Democratic Party source who wished to speak on background. Tickets for the event will range from $5,000 to the legal limit of $32,400. The proceeds will go to the Democratic National Committee.

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