On-the-Run Texas Democrats Plead for Voting Rights Far From Home

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Texas House Democrats, after fleeing Austin to forestall passage there of a law that would put new voting restrictions in place, descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday to convince Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation.

The exodus from the Texas state house -- their second in three months -- is the latest manifestation of the political turmoil triggered by President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and the ensuing efforts in Republican-led states to tighten voting laws.

Joined by Democratic Representatives Marc Veasey and Lloyd Doggett of Texas, the Texas legislators urged senators to pass two pieces of legislation that would supersede the restrictive voting legislation pending in Texas and under consideration or enacted in several other GOP-led states.

The Texans said they hoped that by staying out of the state until Aug. 7, when the legislature’s 30-day special session ends, they can prevent passage of the bill, which would eliminate some of the pandemic-era provisions intended to make it easier for voters to cast ballots. The bill would also ban drive-through voting and empower partisan poll watchers.

But Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, said he will call another special session if Democratic lawmakers run out the legislative clock. The state House passed a motion Tuesday morning that effectively orders state troopers to arrest missing members within state boundaries.

“I am tired of sitting as a hostage in a Texas House of Representatives while Republicans strip away the rights of my constituents to vote,” said Representative Senfronia Thompson shortly before leading the group in singing “We Shall Overcome.”

The group met with several Democractic senators Tuesday afternoon including Alex Padilla of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, according to a person familiar involved with the group’s planning. Schumer praised the lawmakers as bold and courageous in his floor remarks Tuesday morning.

“These lawmakers are brave, they’re courageous, and they’re simply fighting for the rights of every Texan, to have the right to vote. What could be more American than that?” Schumer said Tuesday afternoon. “These folks are going to be remembered on the right side of history. The governor and the Republican legislators will be remembered on the dark side.”

Later this week, the group plans to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the most conservative member of the Senate Democratic caucus.

An unnamed donor paid for the charter of the two jets that flew the lawmakers from Texas to Washington on Monday and other expenses incurred on the trip are being covered by the lawmakers’ individual campaign accounts, the person said. The group is staying at a hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.

Texas Republican efforts earlier this year to pass a similar bill were blocked after Democrats abandoned the state House chamber, forcing business to shut down.

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