The Texas House voted Tuesday to send law enforcement to bring back Democratic legislators who fled the state on chartered jets to block a vote on a GOP elections bill in a political showdown playing out on the national stage.
The 76-4 vote to compel attendance “under warrant of arrest, if necessary” was held shortly after about 60 Democrats failed to appear at the 10 a.m. session, leaving the Republican-controlled chamber short of a quorum with just 80 members, only four of whom were Democrats.
“Make no mistake, this is not about one particular bill, this is political theater by and for Texas Democrats,” said House Speaker Dade Phelan in a Tuesday press conference. “As legislators, it’s our duty to show up and do the people’s work. These Democrats have walked off the job twice now and abandoned their obligation to represent you.”
The dramatic Democratic departure left the 150-member House with just 80 members, fewer than the two-thirds majority required to conduct business.
Despite the vote, the Democrats cannot be hauled back to the state Capitol in Austin unless they are within the Texas borders, and on Tuesday they were about 1,500 miles away.
The absent Democrats flew Monday on two air charters with a case of Miller Lite but without masks, as shown on photos posted on social media, landing at Washington Dulles International Airport and reappearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill to lobby for federal election legislation.
Former GOP state Rep. Rick Green said the sergeant-at-arms will typically seek assistance from the Texas Department of Public Safety to round up wayward legislators.
“The DPS is given the order and they go find them wherever they are if they’re in the state of Texas. They don’t have authority outside the state,” said Mr. Green, founder of PatriotAcademy.com. “They’re not going to be able to go to D.C. and bring them back on their private jet — their non-mask-wearing private jet — but once they arrive in Texas, absolutely, they can be arrested.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer met Tuesday with the Texas Democrats after they held a press conference with Democratic Reps. Marc Veasey and Lloyd Doggett.
“In Texas, where the Republican governor has called a special session to reconsider one of the most restrictive laws in the nation, Democrats are doing all they can to block the dangerous partisan bill,” Mr. Schumer said. “They are brave, they are bold, they are courageous, and history will show them on the side of right.”
Meanwhile, Republicans accused the Democratic legislators of abandoning their constitutional duties to go on “spring break.”
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said the Democrats had fled their jobs on a “beer-fueled party plane.”
“They will eventually go home after the cameras leave and after the press loses interest in this political stunt,” Mr. Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
The walkout was the second of the 2021 legislative session for the Texas House Democrats, who bolted in May to prevent a vote on elections legislation, prompting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to tell KENS-TV he would keep calling 30-day special sessions “all the way up until [the] election next year.”
“Our intention is to be out of Texas until this session is over,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner at Monday night’s press conference. “That’s our message to Congress: We need them to act now because they will keep calling these sessions to pass voter suppression legislation.”
The special session must end by Aug. 7, but Mr. Abbott, a Republican, has insisted the legislature take up a host of issues, including the elections bill, which Republicans describe as necessary to protect election integrity.
Republican state Rep. Dustin Burrows called it a “sad commentary that we may have to utilize a procedural rule to try and force most of the Democrats to show up to do the job they were elected to do.”
In a statement to The Texas Tribune, he added that “unfortunately, the siren call of social media fame and fundraising” had enticed the Democrats to Washington, D.C.