Acknowledging few options at home, Texas Democrats urge congressional action

Texas House Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C., this week to block a GOP measure overhauling state election procedures urged Congress to pass sweeping new voting rights legislation, an acknowledgement that their high-profile stunt is unlikely to ultimately stop Republicans in their home state from enacting voting restrictions. 

More than 50 state House members boarded private planes Monday to abscond to the nation’s capital in an effort to deny the Republican majority the quorum necessary to advance the voting rights overhaul and other items on the agenda in a special session called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

By traveling across state lines, the Democrats also escape the reach of Texas Rangers who have been sent to track them down and return them to Austin. 

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“We have fought too long and too hard in this country,” state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. “I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to make sure my constituents’ rights are not stripped from them.” 

It is the second time this year Texas House Democrats have bolted to deny Republicans the quorum needed to pass the election overhaul measure, after a quieter exodus just hours before the regular session expired. 

Democrats said they hoped to avoid the dramatic escape but decided to flee after Republican legislators advanced the election overhauls through legislative committees over the weekend. 

“Once we realized that our counterparts were not willing to negotiate in good faith, we took the temperature, the pulse of our members,” state Rep. Alex Dominguez (D) told The Hill in an interview from Washington. “We’ve had different options we thought about, hoping we didn’t have to implement any of them.”

But Democrats have few real hopes of stopping the Texas legislation altogether. Even if they manage to stay out of the state until the special session expires, there is nothing stopping Abbott from calling a new session the moment they return.

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That reality, Texas Democrats say, puts the onus on congressional Democrats to act in order to supersede the election overhaul measure in Texas, as well as those that have already passed in other states such as Georgia, Florida and Arizona.

“In that case, the clock is ticking for us. We really need Congress to act and to pass H.R. 1,” Dominguez said, referring to the For the People Act. “If we don’t, not only will this bill take effect in Texas; similar bills will take place in other states.”

The fleeing Democrats said they hope their move will force Republicans back to the table to renegotiate the most severe elements of the new legislation. The previous Democratic walkout forced Republicans to drop provisions that would have limited early voting on Sundays and made it easier to challenge electoral results.

“We hope to get the governor’s attention,” Dominguez said. “I think we got his attention.”

In Austin, Abbott blamed Democrats for skipping out on legislative priorities that would aid law enforcement, children in foster care and retired teachers and provide property tax relief. 

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“The Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do,” Abbott said Monday. “Their constituents must not be denied these important resources simply because their elected representative refused to show up to work.”

History is on the GOP’s side: The last time Democrats staged a walkout, in 2003, the measure they were protesting — a mid-decade redistricting bill pushed by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — ultimately passed after Democrats came home. 

This time, Abbott’s team is taking the same long view.

“The agenda will proceed, just at a different pace,” said David Carney, Abbott’s top political strategist. “As a rule, Texans don’t cut and run from a fight. Not sure many Texans running to their overlords in D.C. is ever an answer to a tough problem.” 

Texas Democrats said they needed action from Congress — and from President BidenJoe BidenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden orders flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 9 to honor Dole Biden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package MORE, who is set to address voting rights in a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Legislators will “use the intervening time to implore folks in this building behind us to enact federal voting rights legislation,” state House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner (D) told reporters, standing in front of the U.S. Capitol. “What we hope we’ll hear is an even stronger commitment and a clear plan of action for how we can break the gridlock in the Senate and pass voting rights legislation.”

The Texas Democrats planned to meet with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan MORE (D-N.Y.) and other members of Congress, including Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump haunts Biden vaccine mandate in courts IRS data proves Trump tax cuts benefited middle, working-class Americans most Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems press drillers over methane leaks MORE (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday. Rep. Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettWith Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Cities become pawns in redistricting game LIVE COVERAGE: Tax hikes take center stage in Ways and Means markup MORE (D-Texas) said the legislators could help sway some of the recalcitrant Senate Democrats who have yet to back the federal voting rights overhaul.

But there is little chance that the voting rights overhauls they want to see Congress enact can pass in the face of unified Republican opposition. 

“Most states in America don't have the problems that we have in Texas and Georgia and Florida, with Republicans that are determined to promote the big lie and suppress the vote. And so going to talk to other members who may have higher priorities and emphasizing how much is at stake here, I think, is great,” Doggett told The Hill.

Mike Lillis and Tal Axelrod contributed to this report.