Texas Democrats leave state to try to stop GOP voting bill – .

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Texas Democrats leave state to try to stop GOP voting bill – .


AUSTIN, TEXAS – Democrats in the Texas Legislature rushed to Washington on Monday and said they were prepared to stay there for weeks in a second revolt against overhauled GOP election laws, forcing yet another showdown drama over voting rights in America.

Private jets carrying more than 50 Democrats left Austin for Dulles International Airport mid-afternoon, leaving the city just days before the Texas House of Representatives gave its swift approval to sweep new restrictions vote in a special legislative session. The numbers meant that the House would not have enough lawmakers present to conduct its business and could not, at least for now, vote on the bill.

The cross-country exodus was the second time Democratic lawmakers have staged a walkout on the overhaul of the vote, a measure of their staunch opposition to proposals they say will make it harder for young people, people of color and people to vote. people with disabilities. But like last month’s effort, there is no clear path left for Democrats to permanently block voting measures, or a list of other controversial GOP-backed proposals for debate.

Hours after they took off, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told an Austin TV station that he would simply continue to call special sessions until next year if necessary, and raised the possibility that Democrats might be arrested on their return home.

“As soon as they come back to the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be locked inside the Texas Capitol until they do their job,” Abbott said.

When they arrived in Washington on Monday evening, lawmakers said they would not be swayed.

“We are determined to kill this bill,” said State Representative Chris Turner, who said he and his colleagues were prepared to run out of time for a special session that will end early next month. .

The Democrats’ decision to entrench themselves 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.

“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. “

Texas bills would ban 24-hour polling stations, prohibiting ballot boxes used to cast postal ballots and empowering observers who support the polls.

The measures are part of the GOP’s rush to pass new voting restrictions in response to false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen. More than a dozen states have already passed stricter election laws this year, but it was only in Texas that Democrats waged that kind of fight.

The state has a history of attention-grabbing political tactics. Texas Democrats, excluded from power on the state Capitol for decades, last fled the state in 2003 to thwart a redistribution plan. They ultimately lost this fight.

Turner noted that this time state lawmakers had a dual purpose. They called on Congress to pass the Democrat-backed federal voting rights law before the August recess begins, which is roughly the end of the Texas special session. He said the group would meet with Democrats across Washington, but a White House official said there are currently no plans to visit the White House.

Turner said that in order to pass the Extended Voting Rights Act, the Senate may need to change its rules of procedure, but added, “I don’t care how they do it. “

Back in Texas, Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan 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, 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 anywhere on this taxpayer-paid trip, they’ll have to be prepared to do it for over a year,” he said.

But it was not immediately clear who was footing the bill for the Democrats’ trip. 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.

Speaking in the airport parking lot, he lambasted the governor for likening the group, which includes many black and Latino lawmakers, to “an animal or property, for saying they’ll lock us up and they’ll lock us up. we will install in the capital to obtain this agenda ”. After addressing the media, black lawmakers led the group singing “We Shall Overcome.”

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.

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.

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Weissert reported from Sterling, Virginia.

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