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More than 50 Texas Democratic state lawmakers have now been locked in a hotel in Washington, DC, for more than a week.
Democrats have fled their state to deny Republicans a quorum in an attempt to block voting restrictive measures in an ongoing special legislative session.
While in Washington, Texas lawmakers are fighting an uphill battle to get Congress to pass federal voter protections – and now face an outbreak of groundbreaking coronavirus cases within them.
State Representative Gina Hinojosa of Austin is one of the Democrats from Texas in Washington.
She said there was a lot about this situation that she didn’t see coming. On the one hand, she has school-aged children and she promised them that she would be there this summer.
“I had to break those promises to my children,” she said. “I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect to be here. I expected to be with my family. But this fight is so important.”
Texas Democrats are currently fighting on two fronts:
- They block legislation that among its provisions would crack down on 24-hour polling stations and drive-thru and curbside voting, as well as create a number of new criminal penalties related to voting.
- And they’re pushing Washington lawmakers to pass sweeping laws that would make it harder for states to limit access to the ballot.
Hinojosa said pushing for change in the nation’s capital, where Democrats control the White House and Congress, might actually be easier than stopping a bill in Texas.
“Here in Washington we are fighting on a front where we can win,” she said. “In Texas, we don’t have the votes. Republicans are unwilling to work in a bipartisan fashion. The whole premise of their bill is wrong. About the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump and his allies pushed.
Texas Republicans have said this whole plan is a waste of everyone’s time.
State Senator Larry Taylor said at a recent press conference that he thought it was a terrible idea for Democrats to spend their time asking Congress to join this fight.
“It’s a tragedy for the people of Texas and it’s an affront to the people of Texas,” he said, “for people from Texas to go to DC and ask them to bring DC to Texas. How many of you think what’s happening in DC is working compared to what we’re doing here in Texas? “
An unclear path ahead
Federal legislation, however, remains at a standstill.
Senate Republicans last month blocked consideration of a sweeping bill called the For the People Act, and Senate Democrats are disagreeing with removing or changing legislative obstruction. The United States House of Representatives has already passed the For the People Act.
Without a change in filibustering, it is virtually impossible for current Democratic voting legislation to be put to a vote in the Senate.
After meeting with Texas Democrats last week, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he would not approve of creating a filibuster exception for vote protection.
But Texas State Representative Alex Dominguez said it was still important that they were able to meet with Vice President Harris and Senate leaders.
“I think in the few days we’ve already been here we’ve had a substantial impact in attracting attention and in many ways the conversation at the national level has focused squarely on voter rights. and the types of bills – such as the one Texas is facing – that would take away or frustrate the freedom to vote, ”he said.
Back to Zoom
Democrats in Texas face another hurdle: a growing number of lawmakers testing positive for the coronavirus. Texas House Democrats have said all of their members are vaccinated and, so far, positive cases in Washington have shown no symptoms or only mild symptoms.
The cases, however, reduced their ability to meet people on Capitol Hill. Democratic State Representative Ron Reynolds said they had to move some of that online.
“We are still working diligently on the COVID protocols that we already have in place,” he said. “So while we don’t do as many face-to-face visits, we still have a lot of meetings through Zoom.”
There is also a lack of time. Lawmakers plan to wait for the current special legislative session, which ends in a few weeks. But the Republican Gov. of Texas, Greg Abbott, has all but promised to call another special session as soon as this one ends. He said voting legislation will be back on the agenda.
Dominguez said it was not known what would happen if another special session was called.
“I believe we are ready to stay as long as necessary,” he said. “However, finances and also the lack of our family, our jobs, are certainly important considerations for us.”