A North Texas lawmaker who was in the middle of the near fight on the House floor after calling immigration officers on protesters is speaking out about the incident.
State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, says the protesters of the anti-"sanctuary cities" bill filled the chamber, disrupted lawmakers and were not cooperating with police who were asking the protesters to leave.
Rinaldi also said there were some who carried signs saying they were illegal.
"I think it was a horrible situation. I think it was a terrible day already, to that point, for the legislature. So remembering the signs that I saw, remembering these people were there, feeling fairly helpless, I called immigration enforcement, just the tip line, and let them know I am a lawmaker. We go to the place (where) we make laws and people are holding signs saying, 'We are breaking the law.' I think it was the natural thing to do," Rinaldi said.
It was at that point that Rinaldi told several lawmakers, including State Reps. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, and Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, that he called ICE.
Shortly after that, the arguments began. Rinaldi says his fellow lawmakers were inciting the protesters. Romero claims they were waving goodbye, and giving them the thumbs up.
"They were bragging about how great this was. They were saying, 'Oh, this is great, this is great,' and I took issue with it. I said, 'No, it is not great. They are being a mob, they are being unruly.' And I took issue with it and I called ICE," Rinaldi said.
That is when the arguing, pushing and shoving began. NBC 5 political reporter Julie Fine asked Rinaldi if he expected a reaction when he told the group he had called ICE
"Did I expect a reaction? Perhaps. I did not expect that reaction at all. Listen, these are people I work with. These are people we discuss hot topics every single day, both on the floor and off the floor. And I have discussed immigration issues that inflamed both sides, both me and those lawmakers in the past, but it never came to this and it never should come to something like that," Rinaldi said.
Romero claims Rinaldi hurled insults at them. Rinaldi says he returned to his desk, and claims Nevarez threatened to "get him" on his way to his car. Rinaldi said after being threatened several times he told Nevarez he was armed and would defend himself. Other lawmakers claim that Rinaldi threatened to "put a bullet" in Nevarez head.
"No, I don't remember what I said, but I did not say that," Rinaldi said.
The lawmakers eventually cooled off. But they will all likely be back on the House floor if there is a special session. We asked if he was planning to reach out to the lawmakers.
"I am not planning anything, but I am sure we will talk again," he said.
Rinaldi is in a competitive district, and he won his most recent election by fewer than 1,200 votes. He already has an opponent in the 2018 race but says he is not concerned that what happened will affect him moving forward.
"I ran on a strong illegal immigration platform, and we have contacts in the community that are very strong, which is why we won last time," Rinaldi said.