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Texas GOP leaders are threatening to have the Texas Rangers arrest the 59 House Democrats who fled to Washington Monday to block a voting bill.
Gov. Greg Abbott and GOP House Speaker Dade Phelan are calling on the elite law enforcement agency known for pursuing major crime and cold cases, as well as Texas state troopers, to bring the lawmakers back to the state Capitol so they can vote on the GOP-backed bill, seen by Dems as suppressing voter rights. But the Rangers and troopers only have jurisdiction in the state, so they can only stand at the ready for the Democrats’ return from D.C.
“As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” Abbott told Austin station KVUE in an interview Monday.
Abbott encouraged Phelan to order the arrest of the lawmakers, but there would have to be a House vote in order to carry out such a search, according to MSNBC—that’s why the lawmakers left Monday, one day before the voting session was to take place.
“What the speaker can do is issue a call to have these members arrested,” said Abbott. “In addition to that, however, I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And so if these people want to be hanging out wherever they're hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they're going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year.”
The Democrats’ move prevents a quorum on the GOP-backed voting bill, which would eliminate improvements to voting options like drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, which were popular with voters from both sides in 2020. It would also increase penalties for voting mistakes. Democrats blocked the bill in the regular session, but then Gov. Abbott called a special session to vote on the issue again.
Shortly after the 59 Democratic lawmakers didn’t show up to the Texas Capitol, they were reportedly heard from just over the state border in Oklahoma. They’d chartered a plane to Washington, where they’re now seeking a federal backstop to the Texas voting bill.
The Dems were taking advantage of a rule that says at least 100 members of the Texas House must be in attendance for voting to take place. The House members who stayed had nothing to do but sit and wait. Only one Democratic member, Rep. Sylvester Turner, arrived later in the day, according to the Herald Tribune.
The group of Democrats is now pushing lawmakers in D.C. to stop GOP legislative efforts to restrict voting access, not only in Texas but also many other states across the country. Vice President Kamala Harris will reportedly meet with them this week.
Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the Texas Speaker of the House. We regret the error.