The governor of Texas has described state Democrats who fled to Washington DC to prevent a vote as ‘quitters’ who were ‘un-Texan’ in running from a fight, and said they will be arrested on their return.
At least 58 Democrats left Austin to avoid the vote on election bills, touching down in Washington D.C. on Monday evening in two private jets – chartered at a cost of $100,000.
They have fled to prevent a vote on two bills which would add new identification requirements for mail voting; ban some early voting options; and create new criminal penalties for breaking election code, while empowering partisan poll watchers.
The measures would ban several election programs implemented last year to help people vote during the coronavirus pandemic, including drive-through voting and 24-hour and late-night voting.
Voting rights advocates noted that voters of color used these programs disproportionately.
Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of the state, said they were facing arrest on their return.
‘That’s why they fled the state,’ he told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham.
Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, on Monday night said that the 58 Democrats who fled his state to avoid voting on an election bill would be arrested when they return to the state. The current special legislative session, which Abbott has called to pass the bills, lasts for 30 days. But Abbott said that he will call one special session after another until the bills are passed
Abbott appeared on Fox News on Monday night to discuss the ‘runaway’ Democrats
‘Once they step back into the state of Texas, they will be arrested and brought to the Texas capital and we will be conducting business.’
They would be arrested under a procedure known as ‘a call of the House’, which allows law enforcement to track down lawmakers who have already fled the chamber.
Dustin Burrows, chair of the House calendar committee, told The Texas Tribune: ‘It’s a sad commentary that we may have to utilize a procedural rule to try and force most of the Democrats to show up to do the job they were elected to do.’
He said that ‘unfortunately, the siren call of social media fame and fundraising’ had lured Democrats to D.C.
Abbott was equally scathing of the runaway Democrats.
‘Isn’t that the most un-Texan thing you have ever heard? Texans running from a fight?’ he said.
‘They are quitters. It’s like during a football game or baseball game taking their equipment when they are way behind and just leaving the field.
‘That is not the way that Texans do things.’
The Democrats’ departure paralyzed the Texas state house as the legislature requires a quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers be present to conduct business.
The 58 House Democrats are seen on Monday night staging a news conference on the tarmac at Dulles airport in Washington DC. They flew to DC from Austin on two private jets
The group of Democratic lawmakers posed for a photo before fleeing so they could break the quorum and stop the Republicans from passing voters laws they claim are restrictive
The coach with the Texas Democrats on board is pictured arriving at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday at a private jet terminal
The coach with the Texas Democrats pulls into the parking lot of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to catch one of the private jets to Washington D.C.
One of the Democrats from the state legislature raises her hands in the air as she follows her colleagues onto the private jet
Abbott said that their behavior was anti-democratic, noting: ‘They are leaving and abandoning their right to vote.’
To permanently block the two voting bills that Texas Republicans are pushing, the Democrats would have to stay away through the end of the special legislative session, which can last as many as 30 days.
The session ends on August 7, meaning there are 26 days left.
Can they be arrested?
Texas House rules state that absent legislators can be arrested by the sergeant-at-arms or somebody appointed by the sergeant-at-arms and returned to the House floor.
The move is known as ‘a call of the House’, which allows law enforcement to track down lawmakers who have already fled the chamber.
Because of this rule, Texas Democrats looking to break quorum traveled out of state, where Texas officers lack jurisdiction.
An order to arrest House members must be voted on by a majority of lawmakers present after quorum has been broken.
Yet Abbott vowed that he would ‘continue calling special session after special session’ to force the runaways to ‘step up to vote.’
Trey Martinez, one of the Democrats, said he was prepared to wait-out multiple 30-day sessions, telling CNN he was in it for the long haul.
‘They are trying to take away our right to vote and, and we’re not going to put up with it. We are going to fight,’ he said.
The jets were paid for by the House Democratic caucus, they said – but they have begun fundraising to allow them to stay in D.C.
‘They are still getting taxpayer-based money and their staffs are still getting taxpayer-based money,’ said Abbott.
‘So they are still living off of the government dime even while on this trip.
‘All the while, they are doing fund-raising projects online, trying to raise money for this.’
He said it was ‘hypocrisy’ to try ‘using a filibuster to flee the state of Texas to plead with the president to do away with the filibuster in Washington, D.C.’
Abbott said that they were mistaken in arguing that the new bills would restrict voting. He said that Texas was actually increasing voting hours, while removing other ways of voting.
‘What this Texas law does doesn’t hinder anybody’s abilities to vote,’ he said.
‘Interestingly, when Texas is seeking to do is add additional hours to vote.
Texas has 12 days of early voting and hours of which will be expanded, and will ‘ensure that hours are expended on election day also – so their entire thesis is completely wrong.’
He repeated his argument that it was easier to vote in Texas than in Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware, where there is no early voting.
‘If anybody wants to talk about voter suppression, they should be talking about Delaware, not Texas,’ he said.
Earlier on Monday, Abbott issued a statement demanding the Democrats show up to work and ‘put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do.’
He added: ‘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.’
The Democrats, in a statement, said they were acting to prevent ‘dangerous’ legislation.
Kamala Harris, the vice president, praised them for their ‘extraordinary courage and commitment’ for American voter rights.
‘I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans, and all Texans to express their voice through their vote, unencumbered,’ she said.
‘I do believe that fighting for the right to vote is as American as apple pie,’ she said.
The Texas state House Democratic caucus said in a statement: ‘Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote.
‘We are now taking flight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas.
‘We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans – and all Americans – from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy,’ they added.
Julie Johnson, a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives, posted a selfie on a coach bus that drove a group of lawmakers to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Featured in the image was a case of Miller Lite beer.
Texas State Rep. Julie Johnson posted a selfie or her and other Democratic lawmakers in a coach bus as they fled the state on private jets for Washington D.C. to prevent Texas Republicans from passing voting integrity legislation
Featured in the image posted to Twitter is a case of Miller Lite beer occupying a seat on the bus
‘When it comes to protecting our right to vote, all cards are on the table,’ Johnson tweeted.
‘We broke #quorum again today because the Gov & #txlege Repubs chose to bully Texans out of our constitutional rights instead of finding solutions to problems that really exist.’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday it was ‘certainly’ possible that some administration officials would meet with the runaway Democrats.
She called the new voting laws ‘the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War.’
Texas Democrat James Talarico poses for a photo with colleague Senfronia Thompson before getting on one of the private jets at Austin heading to DC
The state’s Democrats already staged one successful walkout to defeat the election legislation prioritized by Abbott.
They quietly left the state house floor in the final minutes of the regular legislative session that ended in May, breaking quorum and forcing Republicans to adjourn without passing the measure.
Abbott called the state legislature back for a special session to deal with the two measures he wants passed.
Senate Republicans in Washington blocked Democrats nation-wide voting rights bill earlier this summer.
As of June 21, 17 states enacted 28 new laws that restrict access to the vote this year alone, according to the Brenner Center for Justice.
TEXAS’ VOTING RIGHTS BILLS: WHAT’S IN THEM AND WHY THE DEMOCRATS THINK THEY ‘RESTRICT’ ELECTIONS
- The bills – House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1 – were filed last week during a special legislative session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
- The proposed legislation creates harsher criminal penalties for people who help voters at the polls or those planning to vote by mail.
- The bills, if passed, would be a ban on 24-hour voting. Instead, there would be a new voting window from 6am to 10pm on election day.
- Rules would require residents to fill out paperwork if you are taking someone who is not a relative to vote in person.
- Regulations would require someone to exit their car during curbside voting.
- Bills would mean voters would have to provide their drivers license or the last four digits of their social security number to cast a ballot.
- New rules would stop local election officials from sending out mail-in ballots to those who haven’t requested them.
- Drive-in voting would be banned.
- Expands what partisan poll watchers can observe during counts.
- Prohibits poll watchers from being removed for violating election laws.
- Both bills would increase early voting from eight to nine hours.
- Also lowers the population threshold required for counties to provide at least 12 hours of early voting each weekday of the second week of early voting.
- Protects the legitimacy of elections and avoids fraud, according to Republicans.
Democrats argue that:
- The measures included in the bills would mainly stop minority communities and shift workers from voting because of the restricted hours.
- The regulations in the bills would make it harder to control disruptive partisan poll watchers.
- Would make it easier for losing candidates to try and overturn election results and harass winning candidates with court battles and recounts.
- Democrats also claim the provisions do nothing to make elections more secure in Texas.
- Insists the proposed legislation would help further the claims of election fraud Donald Trump has made in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
- Argue that restricted voting hours on a Sunday would have impacted the ability of black churchgoers, also known as ‘souls of the polls’, to cast their ballots.
- They instead want the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to be passed by Congress to address elections on a federal level.
- But Republicans insist that this is a power grab and would represent a ‘federal takeover’ of elections
Texas state representatives gather in the House chamber on July 8 after Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session to prioritize his agenda items, including overhauling the states voting laws and border security
White House press secretary Jen Psaki (left) called the new voting laws ‘the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War’ during her briefing Monday. Texas’ Republican Governor Greg Abbott (right) demanded the Democrats show up to work and ‘put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do.’
The Republican-led states passed the measures after Biden’s victory in the 2020 election after former President Donald Trump falsely claimed he won and was the victim of voter fraud.
President Joe Biden will travel to Philadelphia on Tuesday to talk about voting rights. Psaki hinted he may attack Trump.
‘He will redouble his commitment to using every tool at his disposal to continue to fight to protect the fundamental right of Americans to vote against the onslaught of voter suppression laws based on a dangerous and discredited conspiracy theory that culminated in assault on our Capitol,’ she said.
She then referred to the ‘big lie’ – a term Democrats have used to refer to the false election claims made by Trump and some other Republicans. The phrase is a dig at Trump, who calls Biden’s election victory ‘The Big Lie.’
‘He’ll call out the greatest irony of ‘the big lie’ – that no election in our history has met such a high standard with over 80 judges, including those appointed by his predecessor, throwing out all challenges,’ Psaki said.
‘He’ll also decry efforts to strip the right to vote as authoritarian and anti American and stand up against the notion that politicians should be allowed to choose their voters.’
With Biden pushing the issue in Philadelphia, the birthplace of democracy, and Texas Democrats marching around Washington, the pressure will be on Republicans.