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Politics

Texas House Votes To Send For Democrats Who Fled The State — And Have Them Arrested If Needed

A list of lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A list of lawmakers can be seen in the the Texas State House of Representatives on July 8. The Texas House voted to bring back — and arrest if needed — more than 50 Democrats who fled the state in an effort to block new voting restrictions under consideration in the legislature.

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One day after more than 50 Texas House Democrats broke quorum by fleeing the state in an effort to block voter restrictions being considered in a special session of the legislature, the remaining members of the House voted Tuesday to send for them and have them arrested if necessary.

The Texas House had only 80 of its 150 members in the chamber Tuesday morning. House rules require two thirds of legislators to be in the state for a vote to take place.

State Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, moved for a call of the House, a procedural move that allows law enforcement to arrest legislators and bring them back to the chamber. The measure passed 76-4.

However, Texas law enforcement officers are likely unable to arrest the lawmakers, who arrived to Washington D.C. on Monday. Gov. Greg Abbott, who was a guest on the Ingraham Angle on Monday, told the Fox News host that there was no legal recourse he could take while lawmakers were outside the state.

“Once they step back into the state of Texas they will be arrested and brought to the Texas Capitol, and we will be conducting business," Abbott said.

On Tuesday, Texas Democrats stood outside Congress and called on the Biden administration and federal lawmakers to pass new legislation to protect voting rights — and to do it soon.

The Democrats broke quorum at the Texas House as part of a gamble to halt two bills that would, among other things, ban drive-through and 24-hour voting, make mail-in voting more difficult and give partisan poll watchers more authority at voting sites. Abbott called on a special legislative session after House Democrats blocked similar measures in May by walking away from the chamber and breaking quorum near the end of the regular session.

The Democrats seemed intent on remaining in Washington until the end of the special session, but they said the delay cannot last forever. The special session still has more than 20 days to go, and Abbott has the power to call for more special sessions after the end of this one.

"We know that is exactly what [Abbott] is going to do. We went into this eyes wide open. We know exactly what will happen," state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said Tuesday morning at a press conference in front of Congress.

In addition to the House Democrats, nine Texas Senate Democrats made the trip to Washington on Tuesday. Four Democratic members of the Senate remained in Texas, leaving 22 of the 31-member body in total — enough for a quorum in the chamber.

Democrats said the purpose of their trip to Washington is to push Congress to try again to pass new voting legislation. Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act last month.

The state legislators said they’re also hoping to hear President Joe Biden reiterate his commitment to moving forward new voting protections during his speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon.

“What we really need today is a Lyndon B. Johnson moment,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. “We need the president and vice president and every Democrat in this Senate working together to preserve American democracy.”

During his speech, Biden criticized the Texas GOP for its efforts to pass the more restrictive laws. In particular, he called out protections for poll watchers as partisan attempts to intimidate voters.

“They want to make it so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don’t vote at all," he said.

In addition to blocking GOP voting legislation, the Democrats’ walkout derailed other GOP priority items, including a bill that would make it harder for some people accused of crimes to bond out of jail pretrial, and a bill that would ban transgender student athletes in Texas from participating in school sports.

But Abbott and House Republicans also criticized the Democrats for walking out on less controversial legislation, including a bill to lower property taxes, benefits for retired teachers, and reforms to the state’s beleaguered child welfare system.

At a press conference Tuesday, House Republican Caucus Chair Jim Murphy, R-Houston, called the Democrats’ move “political theater.”

“Texas Republicans will be here, ready to work in the House chamber, doing our job as we were elected to do,” Murphy said.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed its version of a bill providing pay for retired teachers.

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, blasted the Democrats in the House for leaving.

“Final passage of this bill into law will require the House Democrats who have fled the state to return to the House for a quorum," Patrick said. "If they do not, this bill will die, but the Senate will pass SB 7 over and over until the House finally has a quorum.”

But Democrats have pointed out that those same items were already on the agenda for the regular session, and that the Republican majority controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office.

“Those are issues that we vigorously, vigorously pushed for during regular session,” state Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston, told Houston Public Media. “And honestly, there was no reason why each of those measures could not have passed, other than the powers that be that hold the levers.”

Morales Shaw made the comments on Houston Matters, where she told host Craig Cohen the walkout was necessary in order to draw attention to what have been called some of the toughest voting laws in the country.

She added that she believed Texas needed to work on laws that strengthened voting rights.

"This bill, it's not going to affect one person, one party or another, it's going to affect everyone," Morales Shaw said. "It will affect teenagers, it will affect young people, it will affect disabled people, it will affect all people of all creeds."

Not every House Democratic lawmaker was in Washington. State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, told Cohen he was in an "undisclosed location" in Texas after having the bottom of his leg amputated.

"I think that my colleagues did the right thing by going to Washington, D.C.," Coleman said. "And if I could get myself together, and wasn't in a wheelchair, then I’d be on a plane up there too."

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