Texas Democrats keep in Washington amid coronavirus circumstances and congressional hurdles – Houston Public Media
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting with members of the Texas State Democratic Senate and the Texas House of Representatives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on June 16, 2021, flanked by Harris are Texas MP Senfronia Thompson (L) and Representative Gina Hinojosa.
More than 50 MPs from the Democratic state of Texas have holed up in a hotel in Washington, DC for more than a week.
The Democrats fled their state to deny Republicans a quorum to prevent restrictive voting measures from being passed during an ongoing special session of the legislature.
In Washington, Texas lawmakers are waging an uphill battle to get Congress to pass federal voter protection – and are now dealing with an outbreak of groundbreaking coronavirus cases among them.
Austin State Representative Gina Hinojosa is one of the Texas Democrats in Washington.
She said that she did not see much of this situation coming. For one thing, she has school-age children and she promised them she would be here this summer.
“I had to break these promises to my children,” she said. “I did not expect that. I didn’t expect to be here. I expected to be with my family. But this fight is so important. “
The Democrats in Texas are currently fighting on two fronts:
- They block laws that would, among other things, crack down on 24-hour polling stations and drive-through and curbside votes and create a number of new criminal penalties related to elections.
- And they are pushing Washington lawmakers to pass sweeping laws that would make it difficult for states to restrict access to voting.
Hinojosa said pushing for change in the nation’s capital, where the Democrats control the White House and Congress, could be easier than stopping a law 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 bipartisan. The whole premise of their bill is wrong. It is based on the ‘big lie,’ ”she added, referring to unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 election pushed by former President Donald Trump and his allies.
Republicans in Texas said this whole plan was a waste of time.
State Sen. Larry Taylor said in a recent news conference that he thinks it would be a terrible idea for Democrats to spend their time asking Congress to interfere in this fight.
“It’s a tragedy for the people of Texas and an affront to the people of Texas,” he said, “that people from Texas go to DC and ask them to take DC to Texas. How many of you think what’s going on in DC works compared to what we’re doing here in Texas? “
An unclear path ahead of us
However, federal legislation stands still.
Last month, Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a comprehensive voting bill called the For the People Act, and Senate Democrats disagree on removing or changing the filibuster of the law. The US House of Representatives has already passed the For the People Act.
Without changes to the filibuster, it is virtually impossible for existing democratic electoral laws to vote in the Senate.
After meeting the Texas Democrats last week, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he would not approve of making an exception to the filibuster for election protection.
However, Texas MP Alex Dominguez said it still mattered that they were able to meet with Vice President Harris and the Senate leadership.
“I think in the few days we’ve been here we’ve made a significant contribution to drawing attention and, in many ways, the discussion at the national level, which is directly focused on electoral rights and the types of laws – like the one Texas is facing – that would suppress or frustrate freedom of choice, ”he said.
Back to zoom
Texas Democrats are facing another obstacle: a growing number of lawmakers who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Texas House Democrats have said all of their members have been vaccinated and the positive Washington cases have so far had no or mild symptoms.
However, the cases have affected her ability to hang out with people on Capitol Hill. Ron Reynolds, MP for Democratic State, said they need to put some of this on the internet.
“We are still working hard on the COVID protocols that we have already put in place,” he said. “Even though we don’t make that many face-to-face visits, we still have a lot of meetings through Zoom.”
There is also a time constraint. The legislature plans to wait for the current special legislation, which ends in a few weeks. But Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott has all but promised to call another special session when it ends. He said voting legislation would be back on the agenda.
Dominguez said it was unclear what will happen if another special session is called.
“I believe we are ready to stay as long as necessary,” he said. “But finances and also missing our family and our jobs are certainly important considerations for us.”
Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.
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