TX GOP House chairman signs arrest warrant for Democrats (VIDEO)
Democrats who have returned to the state could be detained and forced to travel to the capital.
Thirty days after Democrats left Texas to end new voting restrictions, the deadlock cracks widened on Tuesday as more people began to return from Washington, DC, and Republicans again allowed the police to find those who still refuse to return.
But unlike a month ago, when missing Democrats were out of state and out of reach of Texas officers, some are now resisting at home. Republican Dade Phelan, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, said Democrats could be forced to return under an “arrest warrant if necessary”, though the standoff remains a civil, not criminal matter .
“People don’t go to jail, but they have to go back to work,” Republican state representative Mayes Middleton said.
How soon or even if law enforcement would be looking for Democrats was not immediately clear. Late Tuesday, Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez confirmed information first published by The Dallas Morning News that the speaker had signed civil arrest warrants against 52 House Democrats. The move marks a new GOP effort to end protest against an election bill a month after more than 50 of them moved to Washington, DC, in a dramatic display of determination to make Texas the front line of a new national battle for the voting rights.
The Republican pressure tactic comes as Democrats disagree on how and when to step down. Divisions have spread in broad daylight as the GOP moves forward with a third attempt to push through an election overhaul. With further legal losses and attention turned to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Texas, pressure is mounting on Democrats who lack the numbers to permanently prevent the passage of a bill.
As of Tuesday, Republicans only needed five more lawmakers in the House to move forward with a series of changes, and changes to the state’s Election Code would make it harder – and even, at times, legally more risky – to vote in Texas, which already has some of the most restrictive election laws in the country.
“We had many heated debates in Washington as we discussed our next steps,” said State Representative James Talarico, one of the few Democrats who returned to the Texas Capitol this week. “I’ll keep these arguments private. But I know emotions are rightfully high everywhere, and it has been a difficult month. “
Texas is among several states where Republicans have rushed to pass new voting restrictions in response to false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen. The current bill is similar to the ones Democrats blocked last month on their way to Washington. It would ban 24-hour polling stations, drive-thru voting, and give partisan observers better access, among other things.
It was not known on Tuesday how many Democrats remained in Washington. The ranks of the group had shrunk to less than half. Some of those who remained publicly railed against a handful of colleagues who returned to the Legislature. Progressive allies are also pressuring hesitant Democrats to hold the line and stay away from Capitol Hill, even if they return to Texas.
“You threw us under the bus today!” Why ? Dallas Democratic State Representative Ana-Maria Ramos said in a tweet that included a photo of Talarico and other Democrats on the floor of Texas House.
Democrats had preemptively sought to prevent the GOP from using law enforcement to coerce their presence. But in another setback, the Texas Supreme Court blocked those efforts on Tuesday.
State Representative Vikki Goodwin, who returned to Texas this week, said she and her fellow Democrats had always agreed in daily checks that they “are committed to breaking the quorum right now.” She said those who returned did so for personal, professional and political reasons, including helping their districts through COVID-19 outbreaks.
Democratic State Representative Celia Israel was also back in Austin and said “there is no way” she will return to Texas House. On Tuesday, she delivered donuts to teachers and met with voters.
“Every day that we can’t be on the ground doing business on Governor Abbott’s agenda is a good day,” Israel said.
Acacia Coronado is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.