For the second time in the last couple months, Texas State Democrats walked out on the legislature in attempt to stop a vote on a bill that would change the state’s election laws.
More than 50 Democrats took a private plane to a Washington, D.C. suburb Monday. The trip comes just days before the Texas House of Representatives was expected to give early approval to sweeping new voting restrictions in a special legislative session. The Democrats’ absence denies the GOP majority a quorum to pass bills.
“It breaks our heart that we have to do it, but we do it because we are in a fight to save our democracy,” State Rep. Chris Turner said. “The nationwide Republican vote suppression efforts, anti-voter efforts, is coming to a crisis point in the state of Texas right now.”
Rep. Turner said the Democrats were ready to stay in D.C. until the special session ends Aug. 7. In response to the walkout, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he would keep calling special sessions through next year if necessary. He called this one after Democrats staged a walkout over the voting overhaul in May.
“If they do not return to work, they are risking losing their jobs as state representatives for not showing up,” Gov. Abbott said. “As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested; they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.”
Texas House rules state that absent legislators can be arrested by the sergeant-at-arms or somebody appointed by the sergeant-at-arms and returned to the House floor. Because of this rule, Texas Democrats looking to break quorum travel out of state, where Texas officers lack jurisdiction.
An order to arrest House members must be voted on by a majority of lawmakers present after quorum has been broken.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweeted a photo of the Democrats on their trip to D.C., saying “Smiling House Dems fly off to DC on a private jet with a case of Miller Lite, breaking House quorum, abandoning their constituents, while the Senate still works. It’s my hope that Senate Dems report tomorrow to do what they were elected to do. We will vote on #SB1.”
While in D.C., the Democrats plan to pressure the White House and Congress to act on voting at the federal level.
President Joe Biden is due to deliver an address on the issue Tuesday in Philadelphia. He and his team have promised a major legislative push after Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping election overhaul last month.
While addressing the topic in Detroit Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris praised the Texas Democrats. “We sat down and had an extensive conversation in the Roosevelt Room in the White House,” Vice President Harris said. “And I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote unencumbered.”
The Texas Democratic Party issued a statement on the walkout Monday: “After Democrats historically blocked Republicans’ anti-voter efforts in the spring legislative session, Abbott called an irregular extra legislative session in order to resurrect the anti-voter legislation — Republicans’ main hope of holding onto power in the 2022 election. “In response to Republicans’ escalation of their attacks on voters, Democrats continue to hold the line,” the statement read.
State Rep. Chris Turner, (D) Texas State House: “Today, more than 50 Democratic members of the Texas House left Austin and left Texas, not because we want to. It breaks our heart that we have to do it, but we do it because we are in a fight to save our democracy. The nationwide Republican vote suppression efforts, anti-voter efforts, is coming to a crisis point in the state of Texas right now. We have, we’re in the middle, we’re in the beginning of a special session where Republicans are rushing through new anti-voter bills in the House and the Senate through marathon hearings over the weekend that lasted all night. Twenty four hours and ignoring the voices of the diverse, the diversity of Texas who are pleading, who are pleading with the legislature, say do not make it harder to vote in Texas, which is the hard, hardest state to vote in already. And Republicans continue to ignore them because they’re determined to do whatever it takes to curry favor with the Donald Trump base, which is the Republican Party now, and continue to promote the big lie that somehow Donald Trump actually won the last election that we all know he lost. And that’s why we are here. We are determined to kill this bill in this regular in a special session, which will end on August the 7th, and we will stay out until then in order to do that. We are going to use that time to plead with our friends and our colleagues and our leaders in the Congress that the time is now. There is no more time. You must pass strong federal voter protection legislation and you must do it now. You must do it before the August recess.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, (R) Texas: “If they do not return to work, they are risking losing their jobs as state representatives for not showing up. Answering your second question, yes, there is something the governor can do. First of all, I’ll tell you what the House of Representatives can do. The speaker can do is issue a call to have these members arrested. In addition to that, however, I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And so if these people want to be hanging out wherever they’re hanging out on this taxpayer paid junket, they’re going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year. As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested; they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done. There were a couple of issues that not just Democrats, but even Republicans wanted to achieve, and that was to make sure that the Souls to the Polls would still be allowed to have expanded voting on Sundays, as well as not have the provision in there that would overturn elections. That said, it’s also important to point out that this law that we are seeking to pass adds more hours, not fewer hours for people to vote. And so we still have the same 12 days of early voting, but more hours during that early voting. Actually, there is a federal district judge appointed by Barack Obama who wrote what I’m about to tell you, and a legal opinion involving voting in Texas, where she wrote that voter fraud occurs, quote, in abundance with regard to ballot harvesting and mail in ballots in the state of Texas. That is an Obama appointed federal judge saying that. And that is exactly why the one issue that the legislature is focused on about making the voter election system more sound does involve mail in ballots.”
Kamala Harris, U.S. Vice President: “We will talk about many issues, but I do want to first start by making a statement about the legislators in Texas who are showing extraordinary courage and commitment. I met with them when many of them traveled to Washington, D.C.. We sat down and had an extensive conversation in the Roosevelt Room in the White House. And I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote unencumbered. I will say that that they are they are leaders who are marching in the path that so many others before did when they fought and many died for our right to vote. And I’ll say this later in my comments, but I do believe that fighting for the right to vote is as American as apple pie. It is so fundamental to fighting for the principles of our democracy.”