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.
“Members, the sergeant-at-arms and the officers appointed by him are directed to send for all absentees whose attendance is not excused for the purpose of securing and maintaining their attendance — under warrant of arrest, if necessary,” House Speaker Dade Phelan said from the floor, as reported by the Austin American Statesman.
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 facial 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.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the floor that he planned to meet Tuesday with the Texas Democrats.
“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 Democrat, 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 the Republican Abbott 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.
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