Texas Democrats aim to block voting bill, flee to Washington

As the party tries to stall a restrictive Republican voting bill, President Biden is set to address voting rights Tuesday.

Texas state Representative Jessica Gonzalez, a Democrat, speaks during a news conference at the state capitol in Austin, Texas, after Democrats revolted in May against Republican plans to pass voting restrictions [File: Acacia Coronado/AP Photo]

Democratic legislators in Texas are fleeing the state in a bid to block Republicans from passing an elections bill that would impose new restrictions on voting.

Most of the 67 Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives are flying to Washington, DC, on two chartered aeroplanes, a Texas Democratic legislator said.

“We’re not coming back,” state Representative Jasmine Crockett told the Houston Chronicle before she boarded her flight.

The Texas Constitution requires at least 100 of 150 state House members to be present in order to vote on any bills. By leaving Texas, the Democrats hope to deny Republicans, who hold a majority, from bringing the bill to a vote this week.

Amid the political wrangling in Texas, US President Joe Biden plans to deliver a major speech on July 13 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania calling on voting rights advocates to push back against a wave of new laws passed by Republicans in state legislatures in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, has convened a special session of the Republican-controlled Texas legislature in an attempt to pass a revised voting restriction bill, prompting Democrats to boycott the session a second time [Eric Gay/AP Photo]

Biden will “lay out the moral case for why denying the right to vote is a form of suppression, and a form of silencing” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.

The president “will redouble his commitment to using every tool at his disposal to continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of Americans to vote”, Psaki said.

Republican state legislators have unleashed an “onslaught of voter suppression laws based on a dangerous and discredited conspiracy theory that culminated in assault on our Capitol”, Psaki said.

Trump supporters overran the US Capitol on January 6 in a bid to stop the counting of Electoral College ballots for Biden after Trump claimed the election was stolen.

Biden will “call out the greatest irony of the ‘big lie’, which is that no election in our history has met such a high standard with over 80 judges, including those appointed by his predecessor, throwing out all challenges”, Psaki said.

Dozens of lawsuits by Trump and his supporters seeking to challenge the outcome of the 2020 election were dismissed by federal and state judges for lack of evidence.

US President Joe Biden plans to campaign against state laws by Republicans that would limit voting [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

Psaki called efforts by Trump and his supporters to overturn the election and enact voting restrictions after his defeat “the worst challenge to our democracy, since the Civil War”.

A similar walkout by Texas Democrats in May prevented Republicans from enacting an earlier version of the Texas voting restrictions bill which seeks to outlaw 24-hour polling places and ballot drop boxes that make it much easier for people to vote.

The new Texas bill, which is expected to pass the state Senate and, if it is eventually passed by the House, will be signed into law by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, leaves out contentious earlier attempts by Republicans to ban early voting on Sunday mornings and a bid to allow judges to overturn an election on thin evidence.

The new focus on US enforcement of voting rights comes as Republicans in Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Arkansas have passed new rules since the 2020 presidential election that critics have said make it harder for people to vote.

The battle over voting rights in the US is heating up.

The US Justice Department on June 25 filed a lawsuit challenging Georgia’s new voting law on civil rights grounds. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the law seeks to roll back voting by African Americans in the southern state which has a history of discriminatory election practices.

US Senate Republicans, meanwhile, blocked a sweeping election overhaul bill in the Congress last month that would have reversed the state laws being passed now.

Democrats in the US House of Representatives are advancing a new voting rights proposal named for the late John Lewis, a civil rights icon and member of Congress from Georgia.

The president has said he plans on “speaking extensively” on voting rights and that he would be “going on the road on this issue”, signaling it is likely to be a campaign issue going into 2022 when the US holds midterm elections.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies