Democratic lawmakers in Texas fled the Capitol and left the state on Monday, potentially torpedoing the special session convened by the Republicans to address voting restrictions and other GOP priorities.
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At least 50 House Democrats were on their way to Washington, DC, according to a joint statement. The exodus denies Republicans the required two-thirds attendance to conduct business and casts doubt on whether plans to enact the voting laws can continue this week.
In their statement, Democratic leaders said they planned to pressure Congress to pass federal law to vote.
“Today, the Democrats at Texas House stand united in our decision to break the quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature enforce dangerous laws that would trample on Texans’ freedom of choice,” said five top Democrats at the State House, including chairman of the caucus Chris Turner.
“We are now leading the fight to our nation’s Capitol,” they said. “We live in Texas on borrowed time. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans – and all Americans – from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy. “
“This is a now or never for our democracy. We hold the line in Texas,” said Democratic MP Trey Martinez Fischer.
“We gave up our jobs, we left our families, we left our homes,” he said. “Because there is nothing more important in America than the right to vote.”
Before the Texas Democrats boarded their plane, Vice President Kamala Harris applauded them for their “courage and commitment”.
President Joe Biden plans to travel to Philadelphia today to showcase the government’s efforts to protect voting rights amid escalating tensions with civil rights activists concerned about the nationwide push by Republican leaders for new restrictions.
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Republicans in Texas quickly condemned the Democrats’ actions and vowed to move forward to pass voting laws and other priorities. Senator Charles Schwertner said the Democrats would suffer a setback if they “give up” responsibility in Austin.
“The work of the people of Texas has to be done,” he said. “They have to come back; they have to argue these very important issues vigorously in their respective chambers. But in the end it has to be settled here where they are elected.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, promised in a tweet today in the Senate, where he is chairman, that the voting legislation would be incorporated, regardless of the House Democrats’ decision to “give up” their voters.
And in a statement, House spokesman Dade Phelan pledged to “use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and unanimously passed House Rules to achieve a quorum,” although it was not clear what he would do with so many Democrats outside the state could do.
Democratic Senator Royce West said in an interview that the legislation “goes nowhere” with the Democrats absent from the House of Representatives. “The reality is that it’s a waste of time,” he said of Patrick’s plan.
West also said that with Republican majorities in both chambers, there is no long-term solution for the Texas Democrats to block the legislation.
“We’re buying time right now, that’s what we’re doing,” West said. “We hope that something will be done at the national level.”
Phelan dared to take the Democrats to Washington “private jets”. A Democrat with knowledge of the day’s events confirmed that the legislature was taking private planes. The person said the flights had been donated and would appear in disclosure reports next month.
“The Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol is damaging the very Texans they chose to serve,” said a statement from Republican Governor Greg Abbott. “They leave unanswered questions that can help their districts and our state.”
He listed the property tax breaks along with funding from law enforcement, foster families, and retired teachers – without mentioning the electoral laws.
Legislators held a special session convened by Abbott on Thursday to pass a laundry list of conservative priorities that failed during the regular session that ended in late May when the House Democrats left the Capitol to block the voting legislation .
Abbott quickly promised to revisit this and other issues in a special session, including a ban on transgender athletes on youth sports teams and a measure to strengthen border security. Since the session opened last week, Republicans in both houses have tabled electoral bills that contain many of the same provisions they wanted to enact earlier this year.
The Democrats made it clear that they are considering all options to block the law again. But their move is more complicated during a special session scheduled to last through early August; On the day of the Democratic strike in late May, Republicans were given a midnight deadline to pass legislation and were abruptly forced to adjourn.
The new nominations include a number of restrictions championed by former President Donald Trump. They would ban several election programs launched last year to help people vote during the coronavirus pandemic, including drive-through voting and 24-hour and late-night voting. Proponents of voting rights found that voters of color made disproportionate use of these programs.
Speaking of the law last week, Turner said, “It is based on a lie that there was rampant fraud in our elections and the ‘big lie’ that Donald Trump actually won the last election.” It was Turner who asked his colleagues to resign in May.
“That’s what this is about – so they can befriend Donald Trump and his supporters,” Turner said. “That’s exactly what is happening here.”
Republican leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It was not clear whether the Senate Democrats were also planning a strike. The Texas Senate held a 10-minute session Monday before adjourning for committee meetings. At least three Senate Democrats were present for roll call at 10 a.m., but several were not.
Senator Eddie Lucio said in an interview at the Capitol that he was against a strike, a tactic that has backfired in the past and has cost some Democrats their seats.
“For me, I’d rather stay and fight, especially on the side of the Senate,” he said, noting that in 2003 he was one of the eleven Democratic senators who left the state during a redistribution battle. The group spent 45 days in New Mexico, but eventually the law they opposed was passed.
“It’s the only kind of action that can be taken by a minority party,” he said. “But I don’t have good memories of what happened back then.”
Information on this article was contributed by Amy Gardner and Eva Ruth Moravec of The Washington Post; and by Paul J. Weber of The Associated Press.