Dozens of Texas Democrats
gathered on Capitol Hill
on Tuesday to urge Congress
to pass voting rights protections, a day after the caucus abruptly left its home state to oppose Republican-led efforts to make it harder for Texans
More than 50 Texas lawmakers boarded two charter planes on Monday bound for Dulles International Airport just outside Washington
, where they landed in the evening, effectively paralyzing the Texas state House of Representatives
, which requires a majority of its members to be present in order to move legislation forward.
“We’re buying some time
,” said Texas House Democratic
Caucus Chair Rep. Chris Turner on Tuesday.
The group is expected to meet with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
(D-NY) on Tuesday, and President Joe Biden
is expected to address the issue of voting rights in an afternoon speech from Philadelphia
While the U.S. House has passed the For the People Act
and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act
, measures that would strengthen voter protections in the face of former President Donald Trump
and the GOP
's continued assault
on the electoral system, the bills remain stalled in the Senate, sparking intense debate over the chamber's filibuster
This week's dramatic escalation in Texas politics
is the second time this year that Democrats have walked out of the state House to oppose new Republican voting proposals. In late May, hours before a midnight deadline to send the bill to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
(R), a large group of Democrats walked out of the state House en masse.
They won a short-term victory against legislation that would have increased absentee voting restrictions
, empowered partisan poll watchers, prohibited 24-hour polling sites, and made it easier to overturn election
In response, Abbott called a special legislative session, which convened late last week, and vetoed a section of the state budget
that funds the Texas Legislature
and its staffers, a decision that is now being challenged in court.
Abbott has threatened to arrest
Democratic lawmakers for their actions this week.
“As soon as they return to the state of Texas, they will be arrested, and they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they finish their work
,” Gov. Greg Abbott told Austin news
The Democrats intend to stay out of Texas until the end of the current special legislative session, which ends Aug. 7. However, Abbott has stated that he will not let the matter go.
“I can and will continue to call special sessions after special sessions until the election next year,” he said to KVUE-TV.
The new voting bills, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, introduced during the special session do not include all of the contentious measures included in the bills introduced earlier in the year, but they do include new identification requirements, a ban on drive-through and 24-hour voting, the empowerment of poll watchers, and a prohibition on local election officials sending vote-by-mail applications to anyone who harmed the voting system.
activists argue that the measures disproportionately target voters
of color, who may have less time or opportunity to exercise
their civic rights.
“They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t believe it would have a negative impact
on voters in Texas, particularly brown and Black
voters,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) at a press conference on Tuesday.
Texas state Rep. Rafael Ancha, who chairs the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, said on Tuesday that he was determined to defeat “any undemocratic efforts in the state legislature,” even if it meant leaving.
“We’re not doing this for Democrats. We’re doing it for Republicans
. We’re doing it for independents. We’re doing it for North Texans and South Texans, East and West Texans, Catholics and Protestants,” Ancha said.
“We aren't here smiling, and we aren't spiking the ball,” he added.
Turner explained that the Texas state House has 150 members and that a quorum is formed when two-thirds of them are present, which means that no more than 50 people can be absent at the same time.
“We vote in Texas, and we register our attendance by using voting machines on our desks,” Turner said. “Minutes ago, at least 57 letters were delivered to the House journal clerk directing the House to lock our voting machines and not unlock them until we express permission to do so upon our return.”
Senfronia Thompson of Texas led the caucus in a chorus of "We Shall Overcome" from the steps of the United States