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Covid outbreak takes lawmakers’ tour from Texas to Washington

Some meetings continued: Members met with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn on Tuesday – but this took place on Zoom.

“We were planning to have meetings on the Hill on the House side this week,” said State Representative James Talarico, who added that the meetings are being postponed until later.

All of the coronavirus cases in the Texas delegation, which includes more than 50 lawmakers who fled the state to deny Republicans a quorum to pass a new election bill, are among those fully vaccinated – something the we call “revolutionary” cases. Medical experts say infections among fully vaccinated people are rare and usually mild, and people who have been vaccinated are much less likely to pass the virus on to others. Texas lawmakers say those who test positive are mostly asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

But the diagnoses muddied the delegation’s plans and behavior – and drew more criticism from Republicans, who said breaking the quorum would give Democrats no power over their election laws. Many Democrats were maskless on their charter flights to Washington, and face coverings were scarce among members at meetings and in their hotels.

Since the epidemic, that has changed. Masks are now much more common among Texans – attendees at a press conference Tuesday at their hotel were encouraged to wear masks – and meetings now have virtual options for delegation members. Texas lawmakers say they are now tested every morning, those who test positive are quarantined in their rooms for 10 days.

Current CDC guidelines call for masks on public transportation, such as airplanes, but they say masks are only needed for fully vaccinated people when the law or guidelines from a local government or business require it.

In addition to the meeting with Clyburn, the members attended a conference on Tuesday with Mi Familia Vota, some in person and others via Zoom.

Texas State Representative Jasmine Crockett said she felt at the Clyburn meeting that the arrival of Texas Democrats in Washington “tipped the scales” on rights. vote and injected new energy into the question. She said he encouraged them to continue attending meetings and working with federal lawmakers to think “outside the box” on voting rights action, as Democrats’ election legislation remains. blocked in the Senate.

In that sense, Crockett said she believes the Democrats’ trip to Washington has been a mixed success so far – but the Covid diagnoses present a hindrance.

“[Covid] was a failure in the sense that you should never minimize the value of a face-to-face meeting. Right now we don’t have face-to-face meetings, so that has slowed us down, ”said Crockett.

“[But] we’re still going to have these meetings, we’re still here, ”she continued.

They also continue to face criticism from Republicans in Texas. GOP Governor Greg Abbott, who is running for re-election in 2022 and has attracted several top GOP challengers, ran a spot criticizing the delegation at an MSNBC town hall on Monday with some of the lawmakers.

“Instead of dealing with border security, retired teachers and foster children, Texas Democrats decided to take a road trip,” the ad read. , aired in Austin, Dallas and Houston.

“What the Democrats have done is a disaster of a trip to Washington, DC that has accomplished absolutely nothing,” Abbott said in an interview with Fox News Tuesday.

Texans are also grappling with ongoing negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure package. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to hold a procedural vote on the infrastructure package on Wednesday, as bipartisan negotiators scramble to complete the bill.

“Some of the senators we need to speak with the most are busy with the infrastructure package,” State Representative Erin Zwiener said in an interview last week. Zwiener said it was his “personal mission” to meet with Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Who was part of the core group of senators negotiating the infrastructure package, as she was its constituent.

They hope that once these negotiations are over, Washington’s attention will return to voting rights.

“It was communicated to us: that they want to go beyond the infrastructure before they get access to voting rights,” Talarico said. “Voting rights kind of breathe on the neck of the infrastructure and are poised to take its place at the forefront of the national conversation. We see this as a major victory. And the challenge for us is how to hold them to that? “

Members of the delegation are also still looking to meet with President Joe Biden, but have yet to secure one. Crockett says some members are also trying to meet with former President Barack Obama.

“I recently spoke to Congressman Al Green, who is the President of Texas [Democratic] House delegation, and he’s always anxious for us to meet President Biden, ”said State Representative Ron Reynolds. “They sent a firm letter requesting this meeting. And also the Congressional Black Caucus is doing the same. “

Chris Turner, chairman of the State House Democratic caucus, also told a press conference that the delegation would also be open to a virtual meeting with Biden.

The White House remains publicly evasive.

“In terms of a meeting, there was no meeting scheduled and there was no change,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked if positive cases of Covid among Texans had affected plans. “So I wouldn’t say it has an impact on that. “

Maeve Sheehey contributed to this report.

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