June 2, 2021
Texas Democrats who defeated a Republican effort to pass a suite of new voting restrictions with a dramatic late-night walkout from the state House chamber on Sunday, May 31, have a message for President Biden and his allies in Congress: If we can protect voting rights, you can, too.
The surprise walkout by roughly 60 Democratic lawmakers headed off the expected passage of S.B. 7— a voting measure that would have been one of the most stringent in the nation—by denying Republicans a required quorum and forcing them to abruptly adjourn without taking a vote, The Washington Post reports.
The coordinated Democratic exit just after 10:30 p.m. Central time jolted the national debate on voting rights—putting the spotlight on Democratic-backed federal legislation that has been stalled in the Senate all spring, even as state Republicans move to enact new voting rules.
“We knew today, with the eyes of the nation watching action in Austin, that we needed to send a message,” state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat, said at a news conference held at a historically Black church in Austin early Monday, shortly after he and other lawmakers left the state Capitol. “And that message is very, very clear: Mr. President, we need a national response to federal voting rights.”
Republicans control every branch of Texas government and hold firm majorities in both the House and Senate, the Post notes.
Thus, while Governor Greg Abbott (R) vowed late Sunday to bring the voting measure back at a special legislative session for redistricting later this year—and threatened to defund the legislature in a tweet on Monday—the walkout represented an unmistakable and shocking defeat for Republican leaders who had assumed the bill would pass ahead of the House’s midnight deadline to finish its 2021 business.
It failed to do so because Texas Democrats resolved early in the day to use every tool at their disposal to block a bill they say would have made it harder for Texans to vote —particularly Black and Latino voters who embraced early-voting methods that would have been banned under the measure.
However, the Post said, the move came at a price—forcing Democrats to walk away from pieces of legislation addressing police force and bail reform, among others, that some had hoped to pass Sunday.
After taking their stand, the state Democrats said they want allies elsewhere in the country to seize the moment and show the same kind of resolve—particularly in Washington, where Democrats control the presidency and both chambers of Congress; yet are struggling to pave the way for two major pieces of voting legislation: the For the People Act, a sprawling overhaul of federal elections, ethics and campaign finance law; and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reauthorize the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act by giving the federal government fresh power to police jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting administration.
“State lawmakers are holding the line,” tweeted state Rep. James Talarico (D). “Federal lawmakers need to get their s— together and pass the For The People Act.”
In an interview with the Post, Martinez Fischer said that national leaders need to rise to the occasion.
“Breaking quorum is about the equivalent of crawling on our knees begging the president and the United States Congress to give us the For the People Act and give us the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” he said.
Research contact: @washingtonpost