Democrats have now prevented passage of new voting restrictions twice by depriving the House of the minimum attendance necessary to do business, first during the House’s regular session in May and again in the first special session, which began last month and ended Friday.
“I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity, and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve,” Abbott said in a statement. “Passing these Special Session agenda items will chart a course towards a stronger and brighter future for the Lone Star State.”
Rep. Chris Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, praised the group Friday for successfully blocking passage of new voting restrictions during the first special session. He described the group as unified and committed to continuing to derail the legislation.
“There is a collective will of this caucus to do everything we can to continue to defeat Republican voter suppression efforts in Texas,” Turner said at a news conference on Capitol Hill. “That’s what we did in May. That’s what we did in July. That’s what we have done now in the first week of August, and that is our continued commitment going forward.”
But Turner declined to detail the legislators’ exact plans.
“If you’re looking for us to telegraph exactly what we’re going to do over the next couple of days, we’re not able to do that at this time — you know, the governor would love us to do that, and we’re not going to,” he added.
In Washington, Texas Democrats have spent the week awaiting news from Austin and Capitol Hill, where Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is eyeing a potential second vote on election legislation before the chamber’s August recess — a move advocates hope will set the stage for further action in the fall. The Democrats have spent three weeks lobbying the Senate to pass a federal voting rights measure that would preempt new restrictions proposed in Texas, but the chamber has been busy trying to pass major elements of President Biden’s economic agenda before it adjourns.
While they wait, members of the Texas delegation said they have not ruled out another quorum break to continue blocking passage of GOP election legislation, which would ban drive-through and 24-hour voting, make it harder for people to vote by mail and empower partisan poll-watchers.
During a recent meeting, a majority of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus voted to deny quorum again if necessary, state Rep. Shawn Thierry (D) said in an interview. And the Mexican American Legislative Caucus is committed to doing the same, though no formal vote has been taken, said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D).
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D) predicted Friday that a “significant number of members” will stay in Washington to continue pushing for action in the Senate but did not offer further details.
“Make no mistake — we do not telegraph what our plans are, but do not be fooled,” he said at the news conference. “If Congress is in session, we’re in session. Our job is here ... We need a vote on [voting-rights legislation] before the August recess. We need to see that bill filed in the coming days.”
While signs of visible progress in the Senate have been scant, multiple congressional Democrats and aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks predicted an agreement on a narrower alternative to Democrats’ signature For the People Act within days.
The more targeted bill is being crafted in consultation with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who voted for the earlier bill only after circulating a compromise framework that he argued could attract GOP support.
But Republicans have resisted any new federal mandates on state election laws, and key GOP senators have indicated they would block the narrower Democratic bill. Meanwhile, Manchin has repeatedly made clear he does not support changing the filibuster, the Senate’s supermajority rule, to pass voting rights legislation without GOP support.
In a CNN interview Sunday, he rejected calls for a voting rights “carve-out” to the filibuster, citing how Democrats eroded the filibuster for some presidential confirmations in 2013 only to see Republicans take that exception and expand it further.
“Guess what?” he said. “That carve-out worked to really carve us up pretty bad.”
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D) said that the caucus is “as determined as ever” to fight with vigor but that it also “needs an assist from Washington.”
“The desperation from Texas is growing,” she said in an interview Thursday. “We are using every tool we have right now to protect the freedom to vote, but as the minority party we can only hold the line for so long. … We don’t know how much more emphatically we can stress this: Congress needs to act now.”
In Austin, Republicans continued to criticize Democrats this week for leaving the state, noting that the first special session had cost at least $1 million.
“While we’re disappointed that the Democrats have walked off the job and caused that expenditure, we remain committed to achieving the results for the people of Texas — the ones who elected us, elected us to come to Austin to accomplish our work,” said the chairman of the Texas House Republican Caucus, Rep. Jim Murphy, who provided the cost estimate in a news conference Tuesday. “We want to get those bills passed into state law — that’s our focus.”
“I’m planning to return here next week for the next session,” he said, adding, “We’re here to do a job.”
The first special session kicked off July 8, immediately lurching into motion with marathon committee hearings over voting-access legislation that seemed primed to sail through the legislative process. Yet the momentum ground to a halt July 13, when more than 50 Democrats went missing, leaving the chamber without the two-thirds quorum needed to consider legislation.
Some Republicans said relationships between the parties could be less cordial than they were before the Democratic exodus last month. Election policy was one of several contentious agenda items Abbott outlined for the next session, and anxiety in Austin has ratcheted up as Sept. 1 — the date that the legislative branch of government will lose its funding if nothing is done — draws nearer.
“Disappointment, frustration, I think, are the two terms I keep going back to,” state Rep. Matt Krause (R) said in an interview Tuesday.
“There’s no doubt that it’s strained relationships, because it’s not just that they left it’s what they’ve said since they’ve been gone, which many of us feel are purposefully, intentionally misconstruing,” Krause said, referring to some of the House Democrats’ statements to the media.
Jim Henson, a University of Texas political scientist, said the Democrats drew attention to the voting restrictions and did not have many good options in stopping the legislation.
“You could say it’s successful in that they have pushed the Republican majority in the Texas legislature to back down on some of the more egregious parts of the bill for now,” Henson said. “The hazard of looking like you did nothing is probably worse than doing something and not having much to show for it.”
Viebeck reported from Washington. Mike DeBonis in Washington and Jada Yuan in New York contributed to this report.