WASHINGTON (KXAN) — Speaking outside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday morning, Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives suggested their return to Austin would first require the governor to restore funding to the state’s legislative branch.
Texas Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters at a news conference that, if that happens, he and his colleagues could begin to potentially hammer out any kind of deal with Republican lawmakers. He spoke alongside more than 50 lawmakers who left the state Monday in another revolt against a GOP-led overhaul of election laws considered during the special legislative session.
“This caucus is pursuing action in the Texas Supreme Court because we believe what [Abbott] did is unconstitutional,” Turner said, “so for the first place to start would be the governor to stand down on that. And then we could start talking.”
Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a section of the state budget in June that funds the Texas Legislature, its staffers and legislative agencies. It was in retaliation against another Democratic walkout at the end of the regular legislative session, which killed a previous version of the voting measures proposed by Republicans.
Reacting to the Democrats’ decision to leave the state, Abbott said Monday he will keep calling special sessions until the voting bills are approved. However, the Democratic lawmakers said they plan to stay in Washington, D.C. at least until this current session ends.
“Our intent is to stay out and kill this bill this session and use the intervening time…to implore the folks in this building behind us to pass federal voting rights legislation to protect voters in Texas and across the country,” Turner said.
Turner also said 57 lawmakers submitted letters to the House journal clerk to lock their voting machines, which will ensure a lack of quorum for business to proceed in the chamber.
The Democrats said they will press Congress to pass two pieces of federal legislation in particular — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Both bills have failed to gain traction in the U.S. Senate. Last month, Republican Senators used the filibuster to block a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s elections.
“I’m not up here to take a vacation in Washington, D.C.,” Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson said. “I’m not going to be a hostage and let my constituents’ rights will be stripped from them. We have fought too long and too hard.”
This week U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House majority whip, called for the filibuster to be modified for voting rights legislation. During their remarks Tuesday, the Texas Democratic lawmakers brought this up repeatedly as a possible way to get through the federal voting legislation. However, it’s unclear if President Joe Biden would support this kind of effort. He’ll deliver a speech Tuesday about voting rights.
“If you can have a carve-out for a right-wing Supreme Court justice, why can’t you have a carve-out to protect the very fundamentals of our democracy?” Turner said Tuesday.