Texas Democrats vow to remain in Washington to block voting restrictions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled their state to thwart Republican efforts to pass new voting restrictions said on Tuesday they plan to stay in Washington as long as needed to derail the state legislation and push for federal voting reform.

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More than 50 Democratic lawmakers left Texas on Monday, denying the state legislature the quorum required to approve the measures on Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s special session agenda.

Texas is one of a number of Republican-led states pursuing new voting restrictions in the name of enhancing election security following former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the November presidential election was stolen from him through widespread fraud.

“Our intent is to stay out and kill this bill this session,” Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner told a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol, where dozens of Texas Democratic lawmakers broke into the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

Turner said the state lawmakers would use their time at the Capitol “to implore the folks in this building behind us to pass federal voting rights legislation.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said he could bring back to the Senate floor voting rights legislation that Republicans last month blocked from being debated. In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer praised the Texas Democrats for their courage and said he would meet with a group of them later in the day to discuss strategy.

Special legislative sessions can last up to 30 days in Texas, meaning the current session must end by Aug. 7. There is no limit to how many special sessions a governor can call.

On Sunday, Texas House and Senate legislative committees passed new versions of the voting measures, which would prohibit drive-through and 24-hour voting locations, add new identification requirements to mail-in voting and empower partisan poll watchers.

The full Texas Senate is expected to vote on its version of the voting legislation on Tuesday.

Democratic lawmakers staged a similar walkout on May 30 to boycott a vote on an earlier version of the voting legislation just before the legislature’s regular session ended, prompting Abbott to call the special session.

Abbott slammed the Democratic lawmakers for leaving the state and vowed in an interview on Monday with local television station KVUE ABC to call more special sessions after the current one ends “up until election next year.”

The governor also said the Texas House speaker would issue a call to have the Democratic lawmakers who left the state arrested upon their return.

“As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested. They will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” Abbott said in the interview.

Texas state Representative Alex Dominguez told Reuters on Monday in a call while flying to Washington that he was prepared to stay away from Texas even if Abbott continues to call special sessions after the current one ends. Dominguez said he was not deterred by the arrest threat.

“If that’s what they choose to do, then we’ll be ready,” Dominguez said.

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