Lawmakers in Texas failed to approve a stringent new abortion law in advance of a midnight deadline Tuesday night after chaotic protests and an 11-hour filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis.
As the protesters raised the noise to deafening levels in the Texas Senate chamber late Tuesday, Republicans scrambled to gather their colleagues at the podium for a stroke-of-midnight vote.
“Get them out!” Sen. Donna Campbell shouted to a security guard, pointing to the thundering crowd in the gallery overhead that had already been screaming for more than 10 minutes.
“Time is running out,” Campbell pleaded. “I want them out of here!”
It didn’t work. The noise never stopped and despite barely beating the midnight end-of-session deadline with a vote to pass the bill, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the chaos in the chamber prevented him from formally signing it before the deadline passed, effectively killing it.
Dewhurst denounced the protesters as an “unruly mob.” Democrats who urged them on called the outburst democracy in action.
That confusion followed Davis’s filibuster and protracted debate over points of parliamentary procedure:
Raised by a single mother, Davis had a baby at 19 and worked her way from a paralegal program at a community college to a Harvard law degree. Now 50, and diminutive in stature, onlookers had to question if she had the physical endurance and the mental stamina to maintain her testimony and the mental clarity to keep on topic.
Republican wariness was on full display. They sought any chance to knock Davis off balance and wrest control of the floor. Their agitation was palpable even through the cyberspace delivering the drama to devices both plugged and mobile.
Republican senators won strikes against Davis for her mentioning the budget of Planned Parenthood, which was ruled to be off-topic, and for accepting the aid of a colleague who helped her into a back brace.
So when a Republican objected to Davis bringing up ultrasounds as not being germane to the discussion, and won the point, supporters of the bill could have taken the vote.
Except that Democrats lobbed a flurry of parliamentary inquiries and then demanded an accounting of what had been their order. In true sporting fashion, they demanded to go to the tape rather than taking the word of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. . .
Then the Democrats demanded oral votes. Then votes written in large font. Some spoke slowly and did their best to stand their ground. But it was in the last 20 minutes of the legislative session that the crowd began to hoot and chant so loudly that the proceedings were interrupted.
Davis, an attorney, began taking care of her siblings at the age of 14 and became a mother when she was 19. She is the first person in her family to graduate from college, and earned a degree from Harvard Law School. For more about her, continue reading here.
Hundreds of thousands watched her filibuster live online. Chris Cillizza explains why filibusters are so popular:
First, Americans crave authenticity from politicians — and rarely get it. The general sense among the public is that all politicians poll-test every position they take and rarely act out of genuine principle. That belief leads to massive cynicism about politicians’ motives and an increasing disconnect between politicians and the people they represent.
A filibuster is a living, breathing rejection of that cynicism. It is, in the eyes of the public, a testimony to the politics of principle — that someone believes so strongly in an issue that they are willing to push themselves physically to stand up, literally, for it.
Second, Americans love an underdog. We tend to think of ourselves as the little guy and so we are drawn to the David who is willing to pick up the stone and sling it at a political Goliath. Davis, a Democrat in strongly Republican Texas, typified that underdog status as, in an odd way, did Paul who chose an issue — drones — on which he stands on the opposite side of most Americans.
Third, a filibuster is political theater of the highest sort. And, no matter what people tell you, we LOVE political theater. The idea of a single person standing for that long, without eating, without going to the bathroom etc. appeals to our desire for the dramatic.
Sean Sullivan asks whether Davis, a Democrat, might seek higher office in the future:
There is both a governor’s race and a Senate race in 2014. Republicans will be heavy favorites regardless of the Democratic nominee. Texas is very, very conservative. And some of Davis’s positions, particularly on abortion, would be politically problematic.
That doesn’t mean that if Davis decided to run for higher office it wouldn’t make for a race worth watching. Take the governor’s contest. Gov. Rick Perry (R) has not ruled out running for reelection. If he doesn’t, Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) looks like the odds-on favorite. As the Star-Telegram notes, an Abbott-Davis showdown would set up deep contrasts over abortion.
As a politician in general, there are a few things working in Davis’s favor. First, she is battle-tested. She won a tough reelection bid in her Fort Worth-area seat last year against a GOP recruit with deep ties to powerful Republicans. Second, she will have name recognition and money. Lots of both.
Alexandra Petri argues that the tactics of the Republican majority revealed the unpopularity of the bill:
As a general rule, when someone tries to sneak something past under cover of darkness, it is not because they believe it would be wildly attractive by daylight.
And that’s exactly the case with the abortion restrictions that were being dragged through the Texas legislature. The controversial measures did not pass during the legislature’s regular session, but Gov. Rick Perry (R) added the anti-abortion legislation to the docket of the special 30-day session — in spite of the 80 percent of Texans who did not think focusing on abortion was a good use of the special session’s time and the majority of Texans who opposed the bill — throwing the Democratic minority and pro-choice advocates into a frenzy as they worked to block a vote. It was a silly and alarming week by turns. There was the moment when State Representative Jody Laubenberg described rape kits as though they were some kind of pregnancy-ending measure. Because these people are just the ones you want legislating their way into your womb.
For more on this story, watch the broadcast below: