Texas Democrats leave state to try to stop GOP voting bill
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Democrats in the Texas Legislature rushed to Washington, DC on Monday and said they were prepared to stay there for weeks in a second revolt against overhauled election laws in the GOP, forcing a dramatic new showdown over voting rights in America.
Private planes carrying a large group of Democrats took off from an Austin airport, leaving the city just days before the Texas House of Representatives gave its swift approval to sweep new voting restrictions in a session special legislative. Hours after they took off, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told an Austin TV station he would continue to call special sessions until next year if necessary, and raised the possibility of Democrats being arrested. on their return home.
On leaving, Democrats are once again denying the GOP majority a quorum to pass bills, barely a month after a walkout thwarted the first push to sweep new voting restrictions in Texas, including banning votes. 24-hour polling stations, banning ballot boxes and empowering observers who support the ballot.
“It’s a moment or never for our democracy. We hold the line in Texas, ”said Democratic State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer. “We left our jobs, we left our families, we left our homes. Because there is nothing more important than the right to vote in America.
It was not immediately clear how many of the 67 Texas House Democrats left, but party leaders said it would be enough to shut down the legislature.
The move to go into hiding in Washington is intended to increase pressure on President Joe Biden and Congress to act on the vote at the federal level. Biden is expected to deliver a major speech on the issue on Tuesday in Philadelphia, after facing mounting criticism for playing what some on the left are calling an overly passive role in the fight.
Lawmakers are expected to meet with Washington Democrats. But a White House official said there are currently no plans to visit the White House.
This drastic move shows how Democrats are making America’s largest red state their latest resistance against the GOP’s rush to pass new voting restrictions in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election were stolen. This year, more than a dozen states have already passed stricter election laws, but it was only in Texas that Democrats waged that kind of fight.
This is the first time since 2003 that Texas Democrats, excluded from power on the State Capitol for decades, have crossed state lines to break the quorum.
Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan has pledged to use “all available resources” to ensure a quorum. He did not elaborate, but some House Republicans have signaled they will take action when the chamber meets again on Tuesday. When Democrats fled the state two decades ago – in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the new GOP-drawn voting cards – state soldiers were deployed to bring them back.
In an interview with Austin television station KVUE, Abbott said he was ready to continue calling special sessions during next year’s election.
“If these people want to hang around, no matter where they hang out on this taxpayer-paid trip, they’ll have to be prepared to do so for over a year. As soon as they return to the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be locked inside the Texas Capitol until they do their job, ”Abbott said.
His spokesperson did not immediately return a message.
Over the weekend, Texas Republicans began proposing measures that also reinstate provisions to ban drive-thru voting, add new voter ID requirements to mail-in ballots, and ban voters. local election officials proactively sending postal ballot requests to voters. Abbott also gave lawmakers a long to-do list this summer, fraught with burning Conservative issues, including restrictions on how race is taught in schools and banning transgender athletes from playing female sports.
The decision to flee carries risks, and no guarantee of long-term victory.
Abbott, who is running for re-election in 2022 and has demanded new election laws in Texas, may continue to call 30-day special sessions until a bill is passed. He also punished Democrats after their May walkout by vetoing the paychecks of around 2,000 Capitol Hill employees, which will take effect in September, unless the legislature is in session to restore funding.
Staying on the sidelines for an extended period could also impact next year’s midterm elections, although many Texas Democrats are already expecting a tough cycle in 2022, especially with Republicans. who are expected to start drawing new voting cards this fall that could cement their majorities.
As Democrats prepared to settle for a possible long distance in Washington, it was not immediately clear who was footing the bill for the exodus. Martinez Fischer said he would use his own campaign funds to pay for House members’ hotels, but declined to comment on who funded the charter flights.
For weeks, Democrats signaled they were ready to draw the line. Adding to their anger: A Houston man who came to attention last year after waiting more than six hours to vote was arrested on illegal voting charges a day before the special session began Thursday. Lawyers for Hervis Rogers said the 62-year-old was unaware that his parole on a burglary conviction meant he was not allowed to vote.
Vice President Kamala Harris applauded Texas Democrats for their “courage and commitment” before boarding the flight. Back in Texas, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick signaled that he would still try to get a bill passed as early as Tuesday in the Senate. It was not clear whether the Democrats in this chamber would continue to run.