A standoff in Texas over new voting restrictions that gridlocked the state Capitol for 38 consecutive days ended Thursday when some Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C., dropped their holdout, paving the way for Republicans to resume pushing an elections overhaul.
It abruptly and messily drew to a close one of the few — and lengthiest — quorum breaks in modern Texas history. Instead of a unified and celebratory return by Democrats, some members lashed out at their colleagues over what they criticized as breaking ranks. Many of the proposed changes to Texas voting that Democrats have railed against for months remain in a bill that already passed the state Senate, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could now sign the legislation in a matter of weeks, if not sooner.
Only three new Democrats showed up Thursday, and the vast majority of the more than 50 Democrats who bolted for the nation’s capital in July continue to stay away from the Texas Capitol. Still, Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan said enough were there to achieve a quorum, which in the House is normally 100 present legislators. Growing impatience among Republicans had led to escalating threats that missing lawmakers could face arrest, but officers never appeared to do more than leave warrants at Democrats’ homes.
“It's been a very long summer. Been through a lot. I appreciate you all being here,” Phelan said. “It's time to get back to the business of the people of Texas.”
Not all Democrats joined in the holdout, and the newest to come back to the Texas House defended their decision, saying they had successfully pushed Congress on voting rights legislation while pointing to the growing urgency of surging COVID-19 caseloads in Texas. One of them, Democrat Garnet Coleman of Houston, did not go to Washington because he was recovering from having a leg amputation brought on by an infection.
“One of the things in life is that we have to know what our responsibilities are and we have to work to move something in the direction we want it to be," Coleman said from a wheelchair while delivering the prayer on the House floor.
But other Democrats who remained absent did not hide their frustration.
“This is how Texas Democrats lose elections,” state Rep. Michelle Beckley tweeted.
Abbott now has an opening to divert attention back to the Capitol and away from criticism and defiance by Texas’ largest cities and school districts over his handling of worsening COVID-19 numbers. Abbott, who is up for reelection in 2022, had also jammed the agenda of this latest 30-day special session — which is nearly half over — with other hot-button conservative issues including border security and how race is taught in public schools.
Abbott this week tested positive for COVID-19, although his office had said the 63-year-old governor did not have symptoms.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press