- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The fugitive Texas House Democrats were left stranded Wednesday in Washington, D.C., unable to push for federal voting-rights legislation with Congress on recess and unable to return to the Lone Star State without risking arrest.

Not happy about the prospect of a month in limbo was Democratic state Rep. Ron Reynolds, who urged Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to cut short the August break and Americans to call their senators and “ask them to get back to work.”

“I am asking for Leader Schumer to bring the Senate back,” said Mr. Reynolds in a Wednesday video post on Facebook. “You don’t need to be on vacation. I’m here and many of my colleagues are here because we believe in democracy.”

Of course, Texas House Republicans have been pleading with the absentee Democrats for a month to stop their quorum-breaking protest and get down to business in Austin, where the legislature Saturday began its second 30-day special session.

House Speaker Dade Phelan signed civil arrest warrants late Tuesday for each of the 52 absentee Democratic legislators, meaning that they may now be arrested and brought back to the chamber, which has been hamstrung since they skipped town July 12 to prevent a vote on an elections bill. 

“If they’re spotted by law enforcement, any police officer can detain them and put them in custody and bring them back to the capital,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Fox News. “If they want to live in Texas, they’re going to have to show up, or they’re going to have to vacate their jobs at some point because it is their job to show up and represent their constituents.”

The Republican Paxton said the Democrats have little choice at this point but to return to Austin.

“There’s no end game to their strategy,” said Mr. Paxton. “The end game would be that they never come back. That’s not representative government. That doesn’t allow the rest of the legislature to have their right to vote. The small minority of Democrats are making the decision for all the other legislators as to what’s going to be voted on. That’s minority rule.”

The Democrats are counting on the Senate to pass Senate Bill 1, the sweeping and hotly contested measure that would essentially render the Texas elections bill moot by placing restrictions on state elections laws and giving the federal government more control.

In an apparent nod to the Texas Democrats, Mr. Schumer asked for unanimous consent to bring it to the floor for a vote during the Senate’s overnight vote-a-rama, which was promptly nixed by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican.

“This bill would constitute a federal government takeover of elections,” said Mr. Cruz. “It would constitute a massive power grab by Democrats.”

Mr. Schumer said the measure would be the first order of business when the Senate returns on Sept. 13, but the bill is still a longshot, given that all Republicans oppose it and Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, has said he will not support a partisan elections measure. 

Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner said Wednesday that the caucus deserves credit for bringing the issue to the forefront, noting that the House plans to take up the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, or H.R. 4, upon its return.

“There is no question that Texas House Democrats’ hard work the last month has accelerated the timeline in Washington and sparked a renewed sense of urgency,” Mr. Turner said in a statement. “We will keep fighting with everything we have to stop Republicans from undermining our democracy.”

Until then, the runaway Democrats are left high and dry in a largely deserted Washington, D.C., raising questions about how long they can hold out.

“I’m asking the United [States] Senate to come back,” said Mr. Reynolds. “I know that Speaker Pelosi has cut the August recess short, the House of Representatives will return on Aug. 23, and I’m asking the United States Senate to do the same thing.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Powered by People and other groups have been fundraising to cover the Democrats’ expenses, including hotels and food, but the part-time legislators also have family and jobs in Texas to consider. 

At least four House Democrats broke ranks Monday by returning to the statehouse, although the chamber still lacks the 100 members needed for a quorum to conduct business. 

Mr. Reynolds and others have vowed to stay away. 

“The least I can do is continue to break quorum,” said Mr. Reynolds. “I am not dismayed, I am not fearful of any threat of arrest. Arrest me if you can. But I ain’t going back to the House floor to make a quorum for you to pass a voter suppression bill.”

Republicans dispute that characterization, calling the bill a commonsense voter-integrity measure that would expand early voting while eliminating some measures enacted during the pandemic, including drive-thru and 24-hour ballot-casting as well as automatic applications for mail-in ballots.

The Texas Republicans have the votes to pass the measure in both GOP-led chambers. The Senate has already passed it twice.

The Texas Democrats were hailed on the left after flying via chartered jets to Washington, D.C., but their narrative took a hit after photos showed them traveling without masks but with a case of beer.

At least six members came down with the novel coronavirus despite being vaccinated, forcing Vice President Kamala D. Harris to be tested after meeting with them. Two of the Democrats reportedly left Washington, D.C., for a vacation in Portugal, according to the Texas Monthly.

The Texas Supreme Court overruled Tuesday a state judge who had blocked Republicans from ordering the legislators arrested to bring them back to Austin.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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