Texas Democrats have refused to return to the state Capitol when Governor Greg Abbott began a third attempt to pass new election laws, prolonging a months-long standoff that escalated in July when dozens of Democratic state legislators fled the state and took refuge in Washington. DC.
“There is no quorum,” Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan said Saturday, who then suspended the session until Monday.
More than 50 Democrats moved to the nation’s capital last month, but the precise whereabouts of each of them is unclear. In a joint statement Saturday, Democrats said 26 of them would remain “part of an active presence in Washington that will continue as long as Congress is operational.”
But there were also signs that the stalemate could be melting away. Two of the Democrats who left last month returned to Austin on Saturday, and one of them said many of his colleagues could also start returning to secure a quorum next week.
Notably, Republicans did not invoke a procedural measure that would give Phelan the authority to sign arrest warrants for missing lawmakers, as they did when Democrats left town.
Democratic State Representative Eddie Lucio III said those who could return were feeling the pull of personal and professional demands.
“I was encouraged that my colleagues in Washington took the witness to the federal level, that there would be radical reform across the country,” said Lucio III.
Republican Jim Murphy, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, also believed more Democrats would return in the coming days.
“People are talking to their friends, and we think we will see quite a few more,” he said.
It wasn’t just Democrats who were absent on Saturday: Six Republicans were also out, including one who recently tested positive for Covid-19.
Heading into the weekend, Democratic leaders had not committed to sitting down for the entire 30-day session, leaving open the possibility that enough people will return at some point to end the standoff. Republicans want to push for an election review in Texas under legislation that largely remains the same despite months of strikes and protests by Democratic lawmakers.
Under the bill that Republicans were about to pass in May, Texas would ban 24-hour polling places, direct voting, and give partisan election watchers more access. But that effort was thwarted by Democrats who abruptly left the Capitol on a night strike.
Democrats took a bigger tactic, flying to Washington on chartered planes, to run out of time on the Republican Party’s second try. Democrats hoped to put pressure on President Joe Biden and Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation, but Republican Senate obstructionism continues to block such a move.
Democrat Jasmine Crockett, one of the state representatives remaining in Washington, said she would be disappointed if enough of her colleagues returned to provide a quorum for Republicans next week. She said her group is not “naive” and knows they don’t have the votes to permanently delay the passage of a Texas bill, but they are still waiting for a move in Congress.
“I am not going to give up anything. I’m not going home until the fat lady sings, ”Crockett said.
Biden never met with the Texas Democrats in Washington. The group was quickly forced to change some plans after several of its members tested positive for Covid-19. Reports that two Democrats escaped to Europe also led to bad headlines and invited taunts from Republicans at home.
There has recently been a sharp increase in Covid infections in Texas, where the number of people hospitalized with the virus is more than 8,500, the highest number since February. But Abbott insists that Texas will not revert to pandemic restrictions or masking mandates and has banned schools from requiring face covering. Many of the state’s 5 million students are expected to return to classrooms this month.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism