AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered the Legislature to reconvene for a third time to try to pass a Republican-backed voting restrictions bill that Democratic members blocked by leaving the state nearly a month ago.
The announcement, which had been expected, puts new pressure on the more than 50 Democratic lawmakers who left Texas for Washington, D.C., on July 12 and have remained there since. They had been preparing to celebrate running out the clock on the current 30-day special session that ends Friday, which would torpedo the sweeping elections overhaul for the second time since May.
But their holdout may not be over. Some Democrats said this week that they had no intention of returning to the state Capitol, even after they return to Texas and face possible arrest to compel their attendance.
State Rep. Chris Turner, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, would not say following Abbott’s announcement whether they would return before the new session begins Saturday. But asked about members who say they will keep refusing to show up, Turner told The Associated Press: “It’s very much under discussion. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Abbott, who is up for reelection in 2022, made a new elections package part of a 17-item agenda he instructed the GOP-led Legislature to consider over the next month. It includes other hot-button measures sought by conservative activists, including new border security measures and rules over how race is taught in public schools.
“I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity, and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve,” Abbott said.
The cross-country exodus last month marked the second time that Democratic lawmakers staged a walkout on the voting overhaul, which they say would make it harder for young people, people of color and people with disabilities to vote. But like the first effort in May, there remains no clear path for Democrats to permanently block the voting measures or the other contentious GOP-backed proposals up for debate.
But Democratic state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said Wednesday that there was enough will to keep trying.
“A vast majority, enough to break quorum, have committed to each other to not be in the Capitol when the second called session happens,” Rodriguez said.
Abbott last month vowed to arrest Democrats once they return to Texas.
“I don’t think arresting Democrats and forcing them to the Statehouse, most of us being Hispanic or African American, or Asian American for that matter, that’s not a good look,” Rodriguez said. “I would hope they would take that into account. But that’s up to them. Again, we don’t have a lot in our control.”
In choosing to hunker down in Washington, the Democrats sought to put pressure on President Joe Biden and Congress to pass new federal voting rights legislation that would blunt the impact of the GOP bill in Texas. A group of key Democratic senators, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, met Wednesday in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office to discuss a compromise on voting legislation.
The group’s members have been working for weeks with their counterparts in the U.S. House to develop a narrower approach. But even with a retooled bill, they would still face the same challenge as before: a filibuster by Senate Republicans, who overwhelmingly oppose the measure. Overcoming that hurdle would require changes to Senate procedural rules, which many moderate Democrats oppose — denying the party the votes to change the rule.
Although the Texas Democrats have met with Vice President Kamala Harris, a White House official said Biden had no plans to meet with them.