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Democrats block Texas voter restrictions for now, plea with Congress

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Texas state Democratic lawmakers including Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic caucus, gathered at the US Capitol to plea for voting rights protections after they fled their state to block Republican-led voting restrictions./AFP
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Jul 14, 2021 - 04:35 AM

WASHINGTON — A day after dramatically fleeing their state to derail Republican-backed voting restrictions, Texas Democratic legislators gathered at the US Capitol Tuesday to make a last-ditch plea for national lawmakers to pass voting rights protections.

It was the second abrupt exit in as many months for dozens of Democratic representatives, who bolted from Austin on Monday to deny ruling Republicans the two-thirds attendance level required for business to be conducted in the state legislature.

Their intention is to remain absent for 26 more days, until the end of the special session that Governor Greg Abbott has called in a bid to ram through the voting restrictions and other Republican priorities.

“More than 50 Democratic members of the Texas House have left Texas to stop Republicans from passing the latest iteration of their voter suppression legislation,” Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic caucus, told reporters outside the US Capitol.

“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 and others acknowledged they could not remain indefinitely in Washington, as Republicans including Abbott were seeking ways to compel them to return.

Texas Republicans have not revealed their tactics for establishing a quorum in the state legislature, but on Tuesday they passed a motion that directs the sergeant at arms to track down absentees, “under warrant of arrest if necessary.”

It remains unclear what effect the motion would have, given that Texas police have no jurisdiction in Washington.

Democrats argue that following Donald Trump’s presidential loss in November, and amid his repeated false claims of election fraud, Republican legislatures across the nation introduced bills to curtail voting access by, among other things, making mail-in voting more difficult and slashing early voting hours.

Democrats in Washington introduced legislation aimed at lowering voting barriers nationwide. The For the People Act passed the House of Representatives in March, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate.

President Joe Biden was to address the issue Tuesday in a speech in Philadelphia.

Republican US Senator John Cornyn of Texas mocked the Democratic “asylum seekers” and derided as a stunt their refusal to show up in Austin.

“As Texans, standing up to a fight is part of who we are even if you know in the end you may not prevail,” Cornyn said in a floor speech. “But instead, they turned their backs, hopped on a private jet and ran from this fight.”

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