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Live Updates: Vice President Kamala Harris Meets with Democratic Texas Lawmakers Opposing Voting Restrictions Legislation

Texas Democrats in the state House left Texas and arrived in Washington, D.C., on Monday in an effort to again block a GOP attempt to pass voting restrictions in the special legislative session that started last week. The impact of their move continued to play out Tuesday.

Enough Democrats have vowed to remain in Washington until the special legislative session ends Aug. 6 to prevent the lower chamber from having enough members present to pass bills. The House gaveled in Tuesday morning for the first time since the Democrats’ departure and voted to send law enforcement to track down those who left the state.

Democrats — who are the minority party — walked out in the final hours of the regular legislative session in May, causing the House to lose its quorum and killing the voting legislation.

Senate approves voting bill, even though House remains sidelined

July 13, 2021 at 7:39 p.m.

As Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on a GOP priority elections bill that would restrict voting rights in the state, the Texas Senate approved the bill Tuesday with a party-line vote of 18-4.

The Senate passed the controversial elections bill — and bail legislation — a day after 51 House Democrats decamped to Washington, D.C., to avoid voting on the elections bill in their chamber.

If the Democrats don’t return before the special session ends, the Senate bills will languish.

Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, the elections bill’s author, pushed back against Democratic criticisms of the bill as a means of voter suppression and said his legislation included “common sense reforms” to ensure the integrity of elections.

Eight Senate Democrats announced Tuesday they had also fled to the nation’s capital — a ninth was expected to arrive that evening. The four Democratic senators who stayed behind took Hughes to task, questioning how they could trust his intentions when he previously defended controversial provisions — including restricting Sunday voting hours, which could have negatively impacted efforts by Black churches to turn out voters in their congregations, and making it easier for judges to overturn elections — that he had now removed from the bill. — James Barragán and Jolie McCullough

Vice President Kamala Harris meets with Texas Democrats who decamped to Washington, D.C.

July 13, 2021 at 5:16 p.m.

Democratic Texas lawmakers made the rounds again on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, in their bid to push Congress toward passing new federal voting legislation after they fled Austin to block passage of voting restrictions legislation in the state Legislature.

In the morning, the Texans took part in a news conference on the Capitol grounds. Later in the day, they met with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York. At the end of the day, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled nearby to Capitol Hill to meet with the group. Emmy Ruiz, a senior Biden administration staffer and a Texan, accompanied the vice president to the conversation.

“I know what you have done comes with great sacrifice, both personal and political,” Harris said. “Defending the right of the American people to vote is as American as apple pie.”

The Texas legislation Democrats are trying to block would regulate early voting hours to preempt the expanded early voting offered in Harris County, which pioneered 24 hours of uninterrupted voting at a few polling places for one day. The Texas bills would also ban the sort of drive-thru voting offered by Harris County last year by requiring voting to occur inside a building.

“I have in mind that person was working two or three jobs and needs to have the ability to early vote,” Harris said. “I’m thinking about that single parent who has his or her kids in the backseat and needs to be able to have a drive-thru or a dropbox to vote. I’m thinking about the American with disability who needs to have the option of voting by mail.” — Abby Livingston

Voting rights advocates cheer on Dems

July 13, 2021 at 3:55 p.m.

Dozens of voting rights advocates, Democrat organizers and union leaders gathered Tuesday in front of the state Capitol to speak out against voter restriction bills and show solidarity for the Texas Democrat lawmakers who left the state earlier this week to block a vote on one of the bills and call for action from federal lawmakers.

“Texas is ground zero in the fight for voting rights,” said Diana Gómez, advocacy manager for Progress Texas. “Texas Republicans have made it clear that they are terrified of our power and our votes, and that fear culminated in Governor Abbott’s toxic special session agenda.”

Jamarr Brown, co-executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, called it a “moral obligation” to speak out against the bills and for the lawmakers to do whatever they can to keep them from passing.

“Our Democratic legislators are showing the entire world — the entire world — what it means to hold the line on our fundamental rights,” he said.

Brown echoed concerns that the restrictions would inhibit people of color’s right to vote, specifically Black and Brown Texans.

“We fought too long and too hard for centuries. Black leaders and Black communities have organized and bought and struggled, and bled for the right to vote for the right and the freedoms have a stake in our future,” Brown said. “It’s time for the federal government to act.”

Abbott said Monday he will call as many special sessions as needed “until they do their job.”

Charlie Bonner, communications director for MOVE Texas, a youth voting advocacy organization, said many of the organizers present on Tuesday were among the hundreds of Texans who waited over 17 hours to testify against voter restrictions on Monday. Bonner said they would continue to show up as long as the bills are being discussed.

“In Texas we value our freedoms, and that includes the freedom to vote. We’re gonna keep fighting, and we’re gonna keep showing up again, and again,” Bonner said. “It doesn’t matter how many special sessions this governor calls, we’ll keep showing up to protect Texan’s right to vote.” — Reese Oxner

In voting rights speech, President Joe Biden briefly mentions Texas voting legislation

July 13, 2021 at 3:52 p.m.

President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon to rally support for voting rights across the country, and pressure Republican lawmakers to pass the sweeping For the People Act.

The president made only one mention of Texas in his speech, as a part of a spiel where he disparaged Republican state lawmakers across the country for committing “21st century Jim Crow assault.”

“In Texas for example, Republican legislators want to allow partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and imperil impartial poll workers,” Biden said regarding the state’s Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3. — Farah Eltohamy

Democrats also put bail bills, legislative funding and other measures in peril

July 13, 2021 at 1:05 p.m.

Texas House Democrats’ dramatic departure from Austin to block passage of GOP priority legislation on voting restrictions also imperiled a slew of other divisive Republican measures.

Bills to restrict pretrial release from jail, ban critical race theory in schools and prohibit transgender public school students from competing on teams that correspond with their gender identity were up also left up in the air. And their departure also left in jeopardy more widely-supported measures, like giving more money to retired teachers and restoring vetoed funding for more than 2,100 legislative employees who could potentially go without paychecks starting in September.

The Democrats’ move brought widespread criticism from Republican state leaders and conservatives nationwide. Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to continue to bring lawmakers back for short, 30-day special sessions until they vote on his priority issues, like voting and bail restrictions. — Jolie McCullough

Texas House Republicans vote to send law enforcement to track down absent Democrats

July 13, 2021 at 11:37 a.m.

The Texas House voted Tuesday to send law enforcement to track down Democrats who left the state a day earlier in protest of Republicans’ priority elections legislation.

State Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, chair of the House Administration Committee, moved Tuesday morning to issue what is known as a “call of the House” to try to regain quorum. That motion passed 76-4. Metcalf offered another motion, asking that “the sergeant at arms, or officers appointed by him, send for all absentees … under warrant of arrest if necessary.” That motion also passed 76-4.

The impact of the House move is unclear since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction in Washington, D.C., where more than 50 House Democrats traveled Monday to deny the chamber a quorum during the special session. — Patrick Svitek

Nine Democrats are no-shows in the Senate

July 13, 2021 at 11:00 a.m.

Eight Democratic Texas state senators are in Washington, D.C., joining their Texas House counterparts who fled the state Monday to block passage of proposed voting legislation. A ninth is expected to join them Tuesday night.

Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and Sens. Royce West and Nathan Johnson, both Dallas Democrats, have confirmed to The Texas Tribune they have arrived in the nation’s capital Tuesday in solidarity with House Democrats.

“The bill is dead for now,” Eckhardt said. “And while it’s dead, we wanted to make sure those of us senators who came up, that we were seeing every opportunity available during this time to raise awareness of how damaging this bill is.”

Eckhardt said Alvarado, Johnson and Beverly Powell arrived via commercial airline early Tuesday morning. Alvarado said West, Roland Gutierrez and José Menéndez arrived on the same commercial flight.

Multiple senators said they plan to meet with members of Congress to shine a light on aspects of Senate Bill 1 that they oppose and encourage passage of federal voting rights legislation, but they could not share specific plans or how long they plan to be in Washington.

“I don’t want these bad bills — that are essentially nothing more than a show for Republican primary — to pass with little observation from the general public,” Johnson said. “And no matter how hard and fervently I argue in the Senate, it doesn’t get presented to the public. So let’s shine a spotlight on this stuff.”

In total, nine Democratic state senators were not on the Senate floor Tuesday morning when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick gaveled in for the day’s legislative activities before recessing briefly.

A staffer for Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, confirmed he would join the other senators already in Washington by the end of the day.

The four Democrats who were present on the Senate floor Tuesday were Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr., Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Judith Zaffirini and John Whitmire, enough for a quorum of the Senate to proceed with Tuesday’s activities.

“I want to thank the 22 of you who are here for a quorum today,” Patrick said, “as the Senate will do our business this week.”

The Senate could reportedly vote on SB 1, its version of the voting restrictions legislation, as early as Tuesday.

Kate McGee

How will Texas Legislature operate without enough House members to pass laws?

July 13, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.

Enough Texas House Democrats have vowed to remain in Washington, D.C., until the special legislative session ends to prevent the lower chamber from having enough members present to pass bills. Where does that leave the scores of mostly Republican lawmakers still in Austin who want to pass voting restrictions bills and other legislation?

Texans will begin to find out Tuesday.

The House is slated to gavel in at 10 a.m. Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has said the chamber will “use every available resource” to secure a quorum. Several House Republicans indicated they would support a procedural move allowing law enforcement to track down lawmakers not in the chamber. But it’s unclear what impact such an order could have since Democrats have flown outside Texas law enforcement’s jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the Senate could reportedly move forward as early as Tuesday with voting on Senate Bill 1, its version of voting restrictions legislation. After all, a Senate panel on Monday advanced bills limiting what school sports teams transgender student-athletes could join after Democrats began leaving the state.

But without a lower chamber able to also sign off on legislation, anything the Senate does could largely be symbolic.

Texas Dems say they plan to stay in Washington, D.C., until special session ends

July 12, 2021 at 9:57 p.m.

The bulk of Texas Democrats who fled the state landed in Washington, D.C., around 7 p.m. Central time Monday, making it certain that the state House will lack a quorum when it reconvenes Tuesday.

Shortly after landing, Democrats indicated they plan to remain out of state until the end of the special legislative session that ends Aug. 6.

Without two-thirds of members present, Democrats’ absence is expected to bring the House to a halt just days into a 30-day special session with an agenda chock full of conservative-friendly items.

In response to the Democratic exodus, a number of House Republicans endorsed what’s known as a call of the House, a procedural move that would allow law enforcement to track down lawmakers who have already fled the chamber. But it’s unclear what impact that could have now that Democrats have decamped for Washington, where Texas law enforcement does not have jurisdiction. — Alexa Ura and Abby Livingston

GOP leaders mull options after Democrats leave the state

July 12, 2021 at 3:47 p.m.

Two of the state’s top Republican leaders are panning House Democrats over their move to leave the state in an attempt to block passage of a controversial election bill.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott said the move “inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve” and criticized Democrats for “[flying] across the country on cushy private planes” while “they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state, such as property tax relief and funding for children in the state’s foster care system.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Dade Phelan, the Beaumont Republican who oversees the lower chamber, said in a statement that the chamber “will use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously-passed House rules to secure a quorum to meaningfully debate and consider” the various issues included on the special session agenda.

“The special session clock is ticking,” Phelan said. “I expect all Members to be present in our Capitol in order to immediately get to work on these issues.” — Cassi Pollock

What’s the latest on where the voting bill stands?

July 12, 2021 at 2:25 p.m.

Texas Republicans moved quickly in their second attempt to pass the new restrictions, advancing them out of Senate and House committees just two days after the new bills were revealed to the public.

Lawmaker panels in both chambers voted to approve the measures, with slight tweaks, on Sunday following lengthy public hearings that began Saturday afternoon and extended into the next day as they heard hours of testimony mostly against the proposals.

In the House, Texans faced a 17-hour wait before public testimony began at 1:41 a.m. Sunday, which meant some left without being able to address lawmakers on the chamber’s bill. A vast majority of the Texans who registered a position on the bill — 407 of 484 members of the public —were in opposition, according to the committee’s registration figures.

The Republican authors of the bills — state Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola and state Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction — both defended the efforts as proposals meant to reduce the likelihood of fraud in Texas elections, even though there is no evidence that it occurs on a widespread basis. Meanwhile, Democrats questioned the intent of the legislation and argued it would raise new barriers for marginalized voters, including people of color and people with disabilities. — Alexa Ura

Two planes take off carrying at least 51 Texas Democrats to Washington, D.C.

July 12, 2021 at 3:16 p.m.

Texas Democrats are officially wheels up to Washington, D.C., with their flight departing around 3:10 p.m.

As they arrived at the airport to board a chartered flight, Democratic sources confirmed at least 51 of the 67 Democratic representatives — the number needed to break quorum — were in the process of leaving of the state. — Alexa Ura

Democrats arrive at the airport and they have enough members to break quorum

July 12, 2021 at 3:03 p.m.

As they arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Monday to board a chartered flight to D.C., Democratic sources confirmed at least 51 of the 67 Democratic representatives — the number needed to break quorum — were in the process of leaving of the state.

The lawmakers met at a local plumbers union building where they boarded a bus that transported them to a private airport terminal.

They’re set to board a plane to Washington, D.C., sometime Monday afternoon in an attempt to block House Bill 3, a controversial voting bill.

Republican leaders mum on Democrats’ departure

July 12, 2021 at 2:22 p.m.

The state’s top Republican leaders have not yet publicly commented on a potential quorum break by House Democrats, leaving uncertain what action if any will be taken if members of the state’s minority party end up leaving the state in an attempt to block the GOP-backed election legislation.

The office of House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican who oversees the lower chamber, had not responded to a request for comment as of Tuesday afternoon. Neither had spokespeople for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Under House rules, Phelan can order the chamber doors to be locked or direct law enforcement to go after lawmakers who have already left the House if enough members support it. If a quorum is not present when the lower chamber convenes Tuesday, House members can move to make what’s known as a call of the House. That motion must then be seconded by 15 members and ordered by a majority vote.

It’s less clear what options the chamber may have if Democrats are outside the state.

Previously, Phelan has said he would not order the locking of chamber doors or the arresting of House members — a position that prompted criticism from Patrick, who said the speaker needed to take a harder line against Democrats.

More recently, Phelan has suggested that all options could be on the table if Democrats attempted a second quorum break during the special session.

“My Democratic colleagues have been quoted saying all options are on the table” with the voting bill, Phelan told KXAN-TV before the special session started. “Respectfully, all options are on the table for myself as well.” — Cassi Pollock

Kamala Harris says Democrats showing “extraordinary courage” in effort to leave the state

July 12, 2021 at 12:40 p.m.

Vice President Kamala Harris praised the Texas House Democrats who are planning to leave the state in protest of Republicans’ priority election legislation.

During an event about voting rights in Detroit, Harris said the Democrats were “showing extraordinary courage and commitment.”

“I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote, unencumbered,” Harris said. “I will say that they are leaders who are marching in the path that so many others before did, when they fought and many died for our right to vote.” Harris added that she believes “fighting for the right to vote is as American as apple pie.”

Harris is familiar with the situation in Texas. Last month, she met with Democrats in the Legislature after they staged a walkout that killed the elections proposal in the regular session. — Patrick Svitek

What’s in the voting bill?

July 12, 2021 at 2:11 p.m.

The GOP-backed legislation currently up for consideration in many ways resembles the voting bill, known as Senate Bill 7, that Democrats derailed when they broke quorum in May. Like with that failed legislation, civil rights groups, voting rights advocates and local officials remain in staunch opposition to the new bills, which have also raised concerns among disability rights advocates.

Last week, Republicans filed Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 to renew their efforts to prohibit many of the voting initiatives taken up by Harris County — the state’s largest county that is home to Houston and a diverse population — in 2020 to widen access to voting. Harris County pioneered the use of drive-thru voting to allow people to vote from their cars and overnight early voting hours for one day. The overnight voting was meant to reach voters like shift workers for whom the usual 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. hours are not convenient. Local officials have said both efforts proved particularly successful in reaching voters of color.

The bills carry over other measures from the failed SB 7 to bolster protections for partisan poll watchers and create new rules — and potential penalties — for people who assist people in casting their ballots, including those who help voters with disabilities. They also further clamp down on the state’s voting-by-mail rules, including a ban on local officials proactively sending out applications to request a mail-in ballot, even to voters 65 and older who automatically qualify to vote by mail.

Republicans in the Senate are also going beyond that failed bill to introduce a new proposal that would compel the Texas secretary of state to carry out monthly citizenship reviews of the state’s voter rolls. — Alexa Ura

Beto O’Rourke calls for donations to help Democrats leaving Texas

July 12, 2021 at 2:01 p.m.

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, sent out a fundraising plea to back the Democrats leaving Texas on Monday.

“Let’s support Texas House Democrats as they take the fight to our nation’s capitol to inspire the U.S. Senate to do their part.Please donate to ensure they have the resources to fight for as long as it takes!,” he said in the tweet.

O’Rourke has been using his political capital over the past few months to rally against efforts by Republicans to pass voting restrictions in Texas.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune


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