Texas Democrats Continue Holdout, Don't Show for New Session

Most Democrats didn't show up when Republican Gov. Greg Abbott opened a special session Saturday

Texas state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, dean of the Texas House of Representatives, is joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., left center, and other Texas Democrats, as they continue their protest of restrictive voting laws, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Texas Democrats still refused to return to the state Capitol Saturday as Gov. Greg Abbott began a third attempt at passing new election laws, prolonging a months-long standoff that ramped up in July when some Democratic state lawmakers fled the state and hunkered down in Washington.

"A quorum is not present," Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan said Saturday afternoon. Just minutes later, he adjourned the chamber until Monday.

Although the precise whereabouts of all of the more than 50 Democrats who bolted some 27 days ago were unknown, not enough of them showed up in the state House of Representatives to give Republicans the quorum required to begin work on a new special session.

Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement Saturday about the start of the new special session.

"Texas House Democrats continue in our fight to stop Texas Republicans’ efforts to undermine our democracy by passing their anti-voter legislation," Turner said. "Day by day, we will keep fighting with everything we have to protect Texans’ freedom to vote."  

Abbott, a Republican who is up for reelection in 2022, has threatened Democrats with arrest in an effort to compel them back to the Capitol, although state troopers have no jurisdiction beyond Texas.

However, Democratic leaders have not committed to sitting out the entire 30-day session, leaving open the possibility that enough could return at some point to end the stalemate. Republicans want to advance an overhaul of elections in Texas under legislation that largely remains the same despite the months of walkouts and protests by Democratic lawmakers.

Texas would ban 24-hour polling locations, drive-thru voting and give partisan poll watchers more access under the bill that Republicans were on the brink of passing in May. But that effort was foiled by Democrats abruptly leaving the Capitol in a late-night walkout.

Democrats made a bigger gambit — by decamping to Washington, D.C., on chartered jets — to run out the clock on the GOP's second try. Democrats had hoped to exert pressure on President Joe Biden and Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation, but a Senate Republican filibuster continues to block such a measure.

Biden never met with the Texas Democrats in the nation's capital. The group was quickly forced to change some plans after several of their members tested positive for COVID-19. Reports that two Democrats snuck away to Europe also led to bad headlines and invited mockery from Republicans back home.

There has been a recent sharp surge in COVID-19 infections in Texas, where the number of people hospitalized with the virus stands at more than 8,500 patients, the highest number since February. But Abbott has remained adamant that Texas would not bring back pandemic restrictions or mask mandates and has prohibited schools from requiring face coverings. Many of the state's 5 million students are scheduled to return to classrooms this month.

While many Democrats have been tight-lipped about their plans, state Rep. Vicki Goodwin revealed hours before the start of the new session Saturday that she would be among those still staying away.

"Unfortunately, the Gov chose to add divisive issues which will be harmful to many people. I can't abide by the Gov's order," she tweeted. "I will not be returning to the House floor this morning."

NBC5 staff contributed to this report

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