A group of Democratic Texas state lawmakers traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with congressional Democrats and Vice President Harris as part of a broader effort to pressure those in their party to pass far-reaching voting rights and election reform legislation.
The Texas lawmakers met Tuesday with staff of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key opponent of the bill, called the For the People Act. Manchin himself did not attend.
"I think they heard us," Texas state Rep. Jasmine Crockett told reporters, referring to Manchin's staff. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer called it an "extremely productive visit."
Grateful to serve with @jasminefor100. We had an extremely productive visit with senior staff of @Sen_JoeManchin, and we look forward to more dialogue soon.— TMF (@TMFtx) June 15, 2021
Our democracy doesn’t exist without fair voting rights. #txlege #ForThePeopleAct pic.twitter.com/oQiE6TFuAZ
The Texas legislators also had a private meeting with a group of Senate Democrats.
"They must have gotten five or six standing ovations," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Tuesday. "We were really taken by their courage, their bravery and, most importantly, their mission."
Last month, Democrats in the Texas statehouse walked out on the legislative session and deprived Republicans of a quorum needed to pass a restrictive voting bill. The move was lauded by Democrats and voting rights activists across the country.
The legislation would have made the state's already-restrictive voting laws more strict, by reducing polling hours; pushing back the start of Sunday voting, when many Black churchgoers vote; and eliminating drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling centers, which had been offered in the 2020 election in Harris County, a Democratic stronghold.
The Democratic walkout handed a rare — if temporary — defeat to Republicans who control all the levers of power in the Lone State State. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has the authority to call the legislature back in for a special session to pass the bill, and has indicated he plans to do so.
Republicans say the legislation is necessary to uphold election integrity, although there is no evidence of significant fraud in the state's election results. Abbott told a local NBC affiliate that the bill would apply uniform standards across the state and not allow counties, as Harris County did, to implement new voting rules on their own.
He also showed little interest in finding compromise with Democrats. "All it takes is a majority vote. I think Republicans will agree to support it in both the Texas House and Texas Senate," he said.
In Congress, most Democrats support two pending pieces of legislation:
- the For the People Act, which is a sweeping overhaul of federal election and campaign finance laws;
- and a bill named after the late Rep. John Lewis that would restore and modernize parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
The House has already passed the election overhaul legislation, and Schumer intends to bring up the Senate version of the bill next week.
"Congress must take action to defend our democracy," Schumer said Tuesday. He said Senate Democrats will meet again this week to discuss their voting rights strategy.
The measure is all but certain to fail and this week's visit from the Texas lawmakers is largely symbolic. Republicans overwhelmingly oppose it, as does Manchin, a critical swing vote, because it does not have bipartisan support. Manchin has vowed publicly and repeatedly that he will not support changing Senate filibuster rules to make it easier to pass the bill, but he does support the measure named after Lewis.
Manchin's opposition, and a growing cascade of GOP-led efforts to pass restrictive bills in states across the country, have intensified Democrats' push for new, federal voting laws.
"Sadly, the clock is ticking on our democracy with respect to the sanctity of the vote, unless we act to combat the actions taken by Republicans across the country to suppress the vote," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to House Democrats this week. "This assault on the vote will not only harm our freedom but America's example of freedom around the world."
Harris, who was tapped by President Biden to lead his administration's efforts to protect and expand voting rights, hosted more than a dozen Texas Democratic lawmakers at the White House Wednesday.
She thanked them for their efforts to block a voting overhaul in their state, and added: "President Biden and myself and our administration are here to make very clear that we will do everything in our power as an administration to lift up the voices of those who seek to preserve the right of the people to vote."