Texas Democrats Meet With Senators on Voting Rights

State lawmakers from Texas said they had met with senators like Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren as they try to pressure Congress to pass federal voting legislation.

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Texas Democrats meet with supportive senators on voting rights, seeking to sustain momentum.

Senator Elizabeth Warren addressed Democratic lawmakers from Texas on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.Credit…Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

July 14, 2021, 4:50 p.m. ET

Day 2 of the Texas Democrats’ campaign in Washington to pressure Congress to enact federal voting rights protections was much like the first: packed with meetings with supportive senators, cable television appearances and a news conference.

This time, it was Democratic state senators who stood before cameras on Wednesday inside a conference room at a Washington hotel — the event was moved indoors from outside the Capitol to avoid the midday heat — to reiterate their pledge to remain outside Texas until the state’s special legislative session expires next month.

The contingent of reporters who gathered for the event was far smaller than the press corps that congregated outside the Capitol a day earlier to see Texas state representatives at their first appearance in Washington.

The Democratic state senators echoed their State House colleagues, who have blocked Republicans from doing business by denying a quorum to operate, in arguing that they were in Washington on a working trip, not a vacation, as Republicans have portrayed the trip. The State House Democrats came to Washington in an effort to stop Republicans from enacting new restrictions to voting laws in Texas; the party’s state senators failed to deny a quorum in that chamber because four of their colleagues stayed in Austin.

“We’re not fleeing,” said State Senator Royce West, one of the lawmakers who spoke in Washington. “We’re working here today.”

State Senator Carol Alvarado, the chairwoman of the Texas State Senate Democratic Caucus, said that the group had a “very intimate” meeting on Tuesday afternoon with Vice President Kamala Harris. Other members of the group mentioned that they had met with sympathetic Democratic senators like Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

A delegation of Texas Democrats has a meeting scheduled for Thursday with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the first session they will have with a senator who has not already committed to passing Democrats’ major federal voting rights bills with a simple majority rather than requiring a 60-vote threshold. One of the bills, the For the People Act, would create sweeping new federal protections for voting, while a narrower bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, would restore key parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

State Representative Chris Turner, the chairman of the Texas House Democratic caucus, said he was trying to organize meetings with Republican senators and other Democratic senators who have not committed to bypassing the 60-vote threshold to enact federal voting rights legislation.

There is no indication any Senate Republicans are sympathetic to the Texans’ arguments. And on Wednesday morning, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, excoriated the state Democrats who fled.

“They’ve just come here to Washington to snap selfies, bask in the limelight and beg Senate Democrats to take over Texas elections,” Mr. McConnell said. “This outrage is completely phony.”

The Fight Over Voting Rights

After former President Donald J. Trump returned in recent months to making false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have marched ahead to pass laws that make it harder to vote and that change how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.

A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become central issues in American politics. As of June 21, lawmakers had passed 28 new laws in 17 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking rules concerning the Electoral College and judicial elections, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would most likely face steep legal challenges.Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.Texas: Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a late-night walkout and are starting a major statewide registration program focused on racially diverse communities. But Republicans in the state have pledged to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill. S.B. 7 included new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day.

In Texas, Dade Phelan, the speaker of the State House, asked Democrats who left Austin to return their $221 per diem, and the State Senate, which remains in session, passed a series of bills on bail bond reform, property tax cuts and social media regulations.

“The Senate is going to keep passing bills,” said State Senator Bryan Hughes, the chief architect of the Senate elections bill. “All those elements the governor put on the special session are important to folks back home, so we’re going to get them passed.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that she did not have any details on a legislative strategy for passing the Democrats’ federal voting rights bills.

David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Texas.

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