Texas Democrats who made the decision this week to flee the state for Washington, D.C., in a desperate effort to hold off a voter suppression bill met on Wednesday with several U.S. senators to continue the fight for federal voting rights legislation.
Democrats from both Republican-led Texas legislative chambers held a news conference in the nation’s capital on Wednesday calling for immediate federal action on voting rights. The state lawmakers met Tuesday with Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and spoke with a string of Democratic U.S. senators on Wednesday who have been part of the difficult battle to pass voting rights legislation in Congress.
“The rights of voting Texans live on borrowed time under Texas Republicans. We are here to implore Congress to pass sweeping voting rights legislation,” state Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D) said. “We heard from over 400 constituents back in Texas who came to testify about the elections bill. … We are doing everything in our power to fight back. We’re not going to allow [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott to corral and cabin us. We are here to fight.”
At least 60 Texas Democrats ― the majority from the state House of Representatives ― left their home state on Monday as a way to deny the legislative quorum necessary to pass Republican bills that would restrict access to voting for people of color, the elderly, disabled people, military members, low-income residents and rural Texans.
Those same Democrats walked out of the state House chamber in May to successfully deny a quorum, but Abbott brought lawmakers back this week for a 30-day special session to specifically pass anti-voter legislation ― leading the Democratic caucus to flee the state in a last-ditch effort to buy time for Congress to pass the For the People Act.
Abbott has vowed to arrest the Democrats once they’re back in Texas and “cabin” them in the House chamber until the election bill is passed. The caucus plans to stay in Washington through the special session ending Aug. 6 and has so far been using that time to meet with federal lawmakers and plead with them to pass voting rights legislation that will override whatever voter suppression bills become law in Texas.
“We’re not fleeing. We’re working here today,” state Sen. Royce West said. “We’re on the Hill trying to convince our federal delegation and other delegations that they need to pass the act.”
Among the Democratic senators who met with Texas lawmakers were Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.). Some state lawmakers also joined Democratic Reps. Sylvia Garcia (Texas) and Al Green (Texas) on Tuesday for a virtual Texas town hall on voting rights.
Asked if the Democrats are prepared to leave Texas again should the bill come back in another special session, state Rep. James Talarico told HuffPost in an interview that the caucus is “living a couple days at a time here.”
“Our main focus is Congress. Congress is the only play we have here,” he said Tuesday. “Why keep leaving the state if we’re just going to be called back into session? The idea is we’re trying to put maximum pressure on Congress to do something.”
Talarico said the caucus is planning to meet with Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), have faced heat from their fellow Democrats for opposing getting rid of the filibuster. Republicans have used the filibuster to block the Senate from even debating the For the People Act, making it clear that voting rights legislation cannot pass in Congress as long as the filibuster stays in place.
“I haven’t heard about Sen. Sinema,” Talarico said in reference to meetings with senators. “Obviously we’d love to meet her.”
During their meeting with the vice president, Harris told the Texas Democrats that they were courageous for their decision to fight against voter suppression and that the Biden administration wants Congress to pass voting rights legislation. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that President Joe Biden currently has no plans to meet with or speak to the Texas caucus.
The president did give an impassioned speech on Tuesday slamming Republicans who are introducing and passing voter suppression legislation, equating the moment to the Civil War and calling on Congress to pass the For the People Act. But voting rights groups and activists criticized Biden for staying mum about the filibuster, an increasing point of contention in a 50-50 Senate.
When brought up repeatedly by reporters, Psaki avoided saying where Biden stands on the issue of the filibuster and what exactly the administration’s pathway forward is to making sure Congress passes voting rights legislation. But with the Texas Senate just passing its own anti-voter bill on Tuesday ― the chamber still had a quorum even with some Democrats fleeing ― Washington is facing a smaller window to protect voting rights.