AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrats in the Texas Legislature have bolted for Washington, D.C. to try to stop Republicans from enacting new voting restrictions, and the state's governor has vowed that the lawmakers will be arrested when they return.
They say they’re ready to remain there for weeks in a second revolt against a GOP overhaul of election laws.
Private planes carrying more than 50 Democratic Texas lawmakers took off from an airport in Austin on Monday and landed at Dulles Airport in suburban Washington later that evening.
Democrats are skipping town just days before the Texas House of Representatives was expected to take up sweeping new voting restrictions in a special legislative session ordered by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
Moments after Democrats jetted off, Abbott issued a statement blasting them for leaving.
"Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state,” he wrote in part.
And in an interview with KVUE in Austin, Abbott said the Democratic lawmakers who have fled the state could face arrest when they return.
"As soon as they come back into the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas capitol until they get their job done," said Abbott. "Everybody that has a job must show up to do that job, just like your viewers watching right now. State representatives have that same responsibility.”
The governor also said that he will continue to call special sessions until the next election in 2022 until the voting bill is passed.
“There is something the governor can do," he said. "First, I will tell you what the House of Representatives, the speaker, can do, is issue a call to have these members arrested. In addition to that, however, I can and I will continue to call special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year."
The Texas Democrats are using a rarely deployed tactic of a minority party trying to block legislation by depriving its rivals of quorum.
They used this same tactic in late May, walking off the floor for a couple of hours to kill a similar voting bill before a midnight deadline. But to kill this bill, Democrats will have to be gone far longer. History shows that's tough to pull off.
The last time Texas Democrats have crossed state lines to break quorum was in 2003.
The fleeing of the group of lawmakers came a day before President Joe Biden was set to deliver remarks on “protecting the sacred, constitutional right to vote,” according to the White House.