Texas Legislature

Texas Democrats Speak Outside U.S. Capitol Tuesday as Fight Over Election Laws Continues

Facing the threat of arrest, Texas Democrats gathered alongside their congressional counterparts outside the Capitol building in Washington

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What to Know

  • Republicans formally ask sergeant-at-arms to round up missing lawmakers with arrest warrants if necessary; Washington remains out of Texas DPS state trooper jurisdiction.
  • House officially lacks quorum Tuesday; cannot pass bills with just 80 members in place.
  • Republican Gov. Greg Abbott can keep calling as many sessions as he wants.

Tuesday brought forth several developments in Austin and Washington after Texas House Democrats fled from the state in a fight over election reform in Texas.

Private planes carrying more than 50 Democrats left Austin for Dulles International Airport Monday afternoon, skipping town just days before the Texas House of Representatives was expected to give early approval to sweeping new voting laws in a special legislative session.

On Tuesday morning, House Speaker Dade Phelan announced there were not enough members in the house for a quorum, meaning the House cannot pass any bills with just 80 members in place.

Texas House Democrats met with federal lawmakers Tuesday, urging them to pass federal voting rights legislation. The state lawmakers are fighting a GOP-backed elections bill.

At the same time, the group of missing Democrats gathered alongside their congressional counterparts outside the Capitol building in Washington for a press conference, again speaking out in defense of voter rights in Texas.

"We are Democrats, we are united. We are going to kill any undemocratic efforts in the state legislature. And if that meant leaving the state, we were going to do it," said Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and the chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. "We are doing this for Democrats, for Republicans, for North Texans and South Texans. Anybody in the state of Texas who needs to exercise their right to vote should do so freely."

House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) said at least 57 letters were delivered to the house journal clerk on Tuesday morning, directing the house to lock their voting machines and not unlock them until they return.

"These courageous colleagues chose not to be accomplices by sitting at their desk and being steamrollered in Austin,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin).

The group left just a few days into a 30-day special legislative session called by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. This week, lawmakers were supposed to be discussing those controversial GOP-backed voting bills including outlawing 24-hour polling places, banning ballot drop boxes, and empowering partisan poll watchers.

“It will make it easier for partisan poll watchers to harass and intimidate voters,” said Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas), who serves Oak Cliff, Highland Hills, Pleasant Grove, Balch Springs and Mesquite.

Republicans argue it's all about election integrity and preventing voter fraud.

Texas House Democrats held a news conference Tuesday morning from Washington where they echoed their plan to block a Republican-led elections bill.

But now that Texas Democrats are in the nation's capital, they say the plan will be to urge lawmakers in Washington to pass federal election laws that would prevent Texas — and other states — from passing more voting restrictions.

"We are not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas. The big lie that is resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States,” Anchia said, referencing false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

More than a dozen red states have passed tougher election laws in response to that but only in Texas have Democrats put up this kind of fight. They also walked out during the regular session in May to kill the original voting bill, which is partly why Abbott called forth the special session.

Under house rules, Abbott can keep calling as many sessions as he wants and that’s exactly what he said he plans on doing.

"This is not over,” he said during an interview with FOX News on Monday night. “Because as was pointed out in that prelude, we have special sessions that last 30 days. The governor calls them and I will continue calling special session after special session because, over time, it's going to continue until they step up to vote.”

He's also vowed to have the missing Democrats arrested when they return to Texas.

"Once they step back into the state of Texas they will be arrested and brought to the Texas Capitol and we will be conducting business,” Abbott said.

On Tuesday morning, the House called on the Sergeant at Arms to find those members with unexcused absences and essentially issued arrest warrants. However, the Texas Department of Public Safety has no jurisdiction outside of Texas in this case.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called state Democrats' decision "an embarrassing dereliction of their duty and a shameful political stunt."

The special session ends the first week of August. It's unclear when the Democrats will return to Austin.

Anchia and others said they were prepared to stay in Washington until Aug. 7.

“We were quite literally forced to move and leave the state of Texas,” state Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland). “We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas. And we can’t stay here indefinitely to run out the clock to stop Republican anti-voter bills.”

Democrats’ decision to hole up in Washington is aimed at ratcheting up pressure on President Joe Biden and Congress to act on voting at the federal level. Biden delivered an address on the issue Tuesday in Philadelphia, after facing growing criticism for taking what some on the left call too passive a role in the fight.

"The end game is to kill this bill for this legislative session," Turner said. "And use the intervening time between now and Aug. 7 to pressure people in the Capitol and to explain to them why it is so essential that they do whatever it takes to take action now to pass a strong federal voting rights legislation."

“This is a now-or-never for our democracy. We are holding the line in Texas,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) said. “We’ve left our jobs, we’ve left our families, we’ve left our homes. Because there is nothing more important than voting rights in America.”

Abbott has also given lawmakers a lengthy to-do list this summer, heavy on hot-button conservative issues including restrictions over how race is taught in schools and banning transgender athletes from playing in girls’ sports.

Texas House Democrats met with federal lawmakers Tuesday, urging them to pass federal voting rights legislation. The state lawmakers are fighting a GOP-backed elections bill.
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