(Headline USA) Texas Democrats who hurriedly fled to Washington — maskless, on two chartered jets, carting at least one case of beer — to block new election integrity laws back home acknowledged Tuesday they can’t stay away forever and urged Congress to act on voting rights.
As Democrats gathered at the U.S. Capitol, Republicans in the unusually skeletal Texas House of Representatives authorized finding and bringing back more than 50 lawmakers “under warrant of arrest if necessary.” However, state troopers have no jurisdiction beyond Texas, making it unclear what if any actions would immediately be taken.
Abbott has already threatened Democrats with arrest once they come back home, which may not be until the current 30-day special session ends in August. Though that would successfully stymie the GOP’s current effort, Abbott has vowed to keep trying until the 2022 elections if necessary.
In Washington, the Democrats pressured President Joe Biden and Congress to act on voting at the federal level while rejecting the idea of returning to Texas anytime soon, promising to “stay out and kill this bill.”
State Rep. Chris Turner, the Texas House Democratic leader, predicted their efforts would ultimately be futile unless congressional Democrats take bolder action to overcome a Senate Republican blockade of their sweeping voting bill. The legislation, known as the For the People Act, would destroy states’ autonomy for running their own elections.
“We can’t hold this tide back forever. We’re buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely,” he said.
The move by Republicans was expected after most Texas House Democrats boarded private planes Monday to deny Republicans the quorum necessary to conduct business. Other lighting-rod conservative issues that Abbott put on the agenda — including how race is taught in schools and new abortion restrictions — were also shelved with the Legislature now at a standstill.
“A sergeant-at-arms and any officers appointed by him are directed to send for all absentees whose attendance is not excused, for the purpose of securing and maintaining their attendance, by warrant of arrest if necessary,” Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan said.
Shortly after the vote, sergeant-at-arms in the House locked the chamber doors. Four Democrats who did not flee to Washington were among the lawmakers still inside, while the voting mechanisms on the desks of absent Democrats were locked.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees state troopers and the Texas Rangers, did not comment after the remaining House members approved the measure 76-4.
Despite the exodus by Democrats, Abbott has said Republicans will not be deterred.
“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,” Abbott told Austin television station KVUE.
The cross-country exodus was the second time that Democratic lawmakers have staged a walkout over the voting overhaul, a measure of their fierce opposition to proposals they say without evidence will make it harder for young people, people of color and people with disabilities to vote. Like last month’s effort, there remains no clear path for Democrats to permanently block the voting measures.
Biden was set to deliver a major 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 Texas legislation would outlaw 24-hour polling places and ban ballot drop boxes used to deposit mail ballots, both of which are unaccountable and prone to fraud.
Adapted from reporting by Associated Press.