The dramatic failure of Senate Bill 7, which would have been one of the largest rollbacks of voter rights in America, has left Texas’ Republican leadership scrambling for someone to blame. It was only because the bill came up at the last minute of the legislative session that Democrats were able to stage a walkout that denied the chamber the necessary forum to pass the law.
House Speaker Dade Phelan tried to keep the party on message at first. He issued a statement late Sunday night blaming the Democrats for “disrupting” the legislative process. His statement also attacked the opposition for dooming several other last-minute bills, including a ban on no-knock warrants.
“Texans shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of these members’ actions — or in this case, inaction — especially at a time when a majority of Texans have exhibited clear and express support for making our elections stronger and more secure,” Phelan wrote.
Despite the harsh language aimed at the Democrats, Phelan was actually praising the party earlier in the week. Instead, he seemed to put the blame for the slow process of the bill at Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. In Texas, the Lt. Governor runs the Senate and has de facto control over whether things become law. Many of the bills that passed the House with bipartisan votes, such as a reduction on marijuana penalties that also had widespread public support, have done so almost purely on Patrick’s say-so. Phelan appeared to view Patrick’s running of the Senate poorly in his floor speech.
“No matter the external forces that tried to distract us or diminish the work of this body, we are the Texas House,” he said. “In this House, we work hard. And our rules matter.”
Patrick as well seems more interested in directing his rancor at fellow Republicans. Specifically, he saved his ire for Phelan, blaming the Speaker for taking too long to pass the bill in the first place.
“I can’t even blame it on the other party for walking out,” he told The Texas Tribune. “They got an opportunity to walk out because of the deadline…[the] clock ran out on the House because it was managed poorly. That’s the bottom line.”
The bill did have a raucous time in the lower chamber, but that came primarily at the hands of State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park). After failing to get his more draconian version of the bill passed in the House, Cain tried to simply substitute the Senate bill with his own language. The move led to a huge fight that was later exacerbated when Cain tried to defend language in the bill that linked it to Texas’ history of denying votes to Black Texans. His stuttering answers to intense questioning, primarily from State Rep. Rafael Anchía (D-Dallas), made national news and put new scrutiny on the legislation.
Governor Greg Abbott has already called for a special legislative session to try and pass the bill as well as several other Republican priorities that did not get finished in the regular session. Abbott has since threatened to veto the legislative budget over the Democrats’ walkout, something that Phelan is against. There is also no consensus on how the three top Republicans should proceed.
Phelan feels the bill should be broken up into piecemeal laws, which would delay the passage further but might fix some of the many parts that have proven politically toxic. Patrick is against this, but Abbott has stated he might “amenable” to fixes. In an interview with The Texas Tribune, he expressed worry that the bill would undermine the practice of Black churches organizing voter rides, often called Souls to the Polls.
While it is a certainty that a special session will occur, the fight over SB 7 is still far from over, and Republican leadership is at odds with how to proceed. The fact that the bill is increasingly controversial and tied entirely to former President Donald Trump’s lie about mass voter fraud does them no favors.