No masks on plane for Texas Dems as they flee the state to block new voting bill

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

If you’re going to make a move that’s destined to be unpopular in your home state, probably costing your party seats in the midterms, at least take proper COVID precautions, for cripes sake.

Karen wrote earlier about this desperate ploy, in which the state legislature’s minority party finds itself so desperate to block the looming passage of Texas’s new voting reform bill that they’ve decided to deny the House a quorum by absconding. That means leaving the state entirely, as law enforcement would otherwise be empowered to return them to the Capitol forcibly. Departing Texas’s jurisdiction is the only way to foil legislative business.

But only temporarily. The legislature was in a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott to pass the voting bill and take up several other matters. He can call another special session whenever he likes. Either the Texas Dems will take a permanent vacation or the voting bill will be passed once they return and the legislature reconvenes on Abbott’s orders.

I don’t see the value in a PR stunt that’s doomed to fail in its goal of blocking the bill, likely to annoy swing voters by dint of its irregularity, and validates drastic obstruction tactics by a legislative minority at a moment when Democrats are supposedly trying to galvanize national support for majority rule in Congress. This is a filibuster, after all, nothing more or less, just a bit more extreme in its tactics than the kind we’re used to in the U.S. Senate. The next time some reporter buttonholes Joe Manchin about letting the Senate minority block the majority, all he has to do is point to this incident and say, “Didn’t liberals cheer on the Democrats in Texas when they fled? What would they have said if those Democrats were Republicans?”

This is such a bad look for the party that only a politician with truly terrible retail instincts could fail to see it. And lo and behold:

Greg Abbott hammered the flee-baggers in a statement this afternoon:

Per the Texas Tribune, if they’re not in their seats at the state capitol tomorrow morning then a motion can be made to secure a quorum, which would officially make the Dems fugitives and empower law enforcement to go looking for them. In 2003, the last time Democrats fled the state to obstruct legislative business, the Texas Rangers went to neighboring Oklahoma to bring them back. I don’t know if Washington D.C., where the Dems will be staying this time, would be as willing to accommodate the authority of another jurisdiction.

Things could get hairy for them in other ways, though. Some Dem caucus leaders argued against the “run away” strategy, fearing that “leaving the state for a month could lead to a public relations catastrophe if they are portrayed as abdicating their responsibilities as legislators.” And the longer they stay away, the more nuts-and-bolts complications there’ll be:

While leaving the state is certain to bring a flood of attention and provide a boost to fund-raising, the move is not without risks. Beyond being away from home and their families for several weeks, Texas state legislators are part time and many work other jobs they may not be able to report to remotely. And without a quorum, lawmakers will not be able to authorize funding for salaries for themselves or their staff, which Mr. Abbott vetoed in June after the first walkout.

It should go without saying that Republicans will never agree to withdraw the voting reform bill or to any substantive demands with respect to it by Texas Democrats after this. That would be viewed not just as a pitiful capitulation but as incentivizing the liberals’ fugitive tactics, and on a matter of utmost importance to a Republican base that’s been convinced by Trump that elections are rife with fraud and in urgent need of reform. The bill has to pass, more than ever. At best, maybe Democrats will make a deal with Republicans in which a few token procedural concessions will be made to let them save face, like allowing them to offer a few amendments that are summarily voted down.

The punchline is that it’s not Republicans who have been put on the hot seat by the Dems’ arrival in Washington. It’s other Democrats, specifically Joe Biden, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema. Biden’s giving a speech tomorrow on voting rights in which he’ll attack the GOP’s state voting bills but will need to tread lightly on picking a fight with Manchin and Sinema over ending the filibuster. The arrival of the Texas Democrats will put pressure on him to play hardball and pressure on them to cave in the name of passing H.R. 1 or some watered-down voting reform bill, like the sort Manchin himself has advanced. But like I said up top, why should Manchin feel any pressure from them to nuke the filibuster when they’re in the process of a filibuster themselves? He can applaud their effort to slow down legislation and reiterate that it’s important for the minority in all legislatures to be able to exercise some influence over legislation. What are they going to say back?