Texas House calls for arrest of Democrats who left state to block GOP elections bills

Politics

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NewsNation Now) — The Texas House has officially called for law enforcement to detain the Texas Democrats who left the state for Washington, D.C. on Monday to block the GOP’s elections overhaul bills.

The House was able to make the call after failing to meet quorum, or the minimum number of members present to start conducting business. In Texas, the House must have at least two-thirds of its members present — 100 members — to start. On Monday, the House only had 80 members present, the Texas Tribune reports.

While state law enforcement has no jurisdiction in Washington, D.C., the call for arrest merely means Democrats would be forced, upon their arrival, to return to the Texas Capitol for business. 

State Rep. Eddie Morales, one of four Democrats who stayed behind, said it his understanding that troopers would not leave Texas.

“I was told they will go to your home back in your district, they will go to your place of work, they will got to your apartment in Austin or wherever you live close by when you’re in session. And also family and friends that they may know of,” he said.

Lawmakers would not go to jail.

In Washington, the Democrats pressured President Joe Biden and Congress to act on voting at the federal level while rejecting the idea of returning to Texas anytime soon, promising to “stay out and kill this bill.”

NewsNation spoke with Texas State Rep. James Talarico (D) and Texas State Rep. Travis Clardy (R) about the elections bills. See the interview in the player below.

State Rep. Chris Turner, the Texas House Democratic leader, predicted their efforts would ultimately be futile unless congressional Democrats take bolder action to overcome a Senate Republican blockade of their sweeping voting bill. The legislation, known as the For the People Act, would create national standards for voting that could roll back some restrictions that have been approved or are advancing in the Republican-led states, including Texas.

“We can’t hold this tide back forever. We’re buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely,” he said

Democratic lawmakers planned the move to stop passage of the controversial voting bills after Gov. Greg Abbott set the legislation as one of 11 priority items for the special legislative session. Abbott and other state Republicans have focused on “election integrity” bills since the November 2020 Election, although there’s no evidence any widespread voter fraud occurred. Democrats say these bills only aim to stop Democratic voters — particularly voters of color — from voting.

In May, Democrats walked out of the Texas Capitol to block a sweeping bill that included bans on 24-hour polling places and provisions to empower partisan poll watchers. Over the weekend, hundreds of Texans, including Texas Democratic superstar Beto O’Rourke, lined up to testify against the bills. Some even waited 17 hours to do it.

Governor Greg Abbott and other top state Republicans slammed Democrats for the historic gesture.

On Monday afternoon, Abbott said: “Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state.”

But Texas Democrats assure they are blocking the bill the only way they can right now: to protect their constituents and the voting rights of all Texans.

State Rep. James Talarico said Monday: “We’re prepared to stay out of Texas for the rest of the session. This decision wasn’t easy. Many of my colleagues left kids, elderly parents, & sick loved ones. Many are risking their day jobs & their seats in the House. But we won’t sit by & watch democracy wither on the vine.“

While Democrats still lack the numbers to stop the bills from passing once they do return, many say they hope this last stand will ring the alarm loud enough to deliver a death blow to the legislation.

Biden delivered an address on the issue Tuesday in Philadelphia, after facing growing criticism for taking what some on the left call too passive a role in the fight.

“The 21st century Jim Crow assault is real, it’s unrelenting. We are going to challenge it vigorously,” Biden said.

The Texas legislation would outlaw 24-hour polling places, ban drop boxes for mail ballots and empower partisan poll watchers. Republicans say the measures are needed to fight fraud. Democrats counter that fraud is very rare and the bills target their supporters.

The measures are part of the GOP’s rush to enact new voting restrictions in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. More than a dozen states this year have already passed tougher election laws — but only in Texas have Democrats put up this kind of fight.

The state has a history of attention-getting political tactics. Texas Democrats, shut out of power in the state Capitol for decades, last fled the state in 2003 to thwart a redistricting plan. That year, troopers went to Ardmore, Oklahoma, and asked them to come home on a plane sent by the then-Republican House speaker. But they were unable to arrest the lawmakers without a warrant issued by Oklahoma authorities, and the lawmakers refused the troopers’ request.

Democrats ultimately lost that fight, with the GOP passing new voting maps.

The Associated Press and KXAN contributed to this report.

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