Abbott threatens to arrest Democratic lawmakers who fled the state to block GOP voting bills

Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to arrest the Texas House Democrats who left the state to block a vote on a Republican election bill.

The special legislative session in the House was to resume Tuesday morning, but a quorum was not present. 

Republican lawmakers passed a motion asking that "the sergeant at arms, or officers appointed by him, send for all absentees… under warrant of arrest if necessary."

"Once they step back into the state, they will be arrested and brought back to the Capitol and we will be conducting business," Abbott said in an interview on "The Ingraham Angle," a political radio talk show.

But it may be weeks before that happens. State troopers don't have jurisdiction outside of the state, and the House Democrats said they are prepared to stay in Washington D.C. until the special session ends. 

More than 50 Texas lawmakers arrived in the nation’s capital Monday. They’re trying to block Republican-backed voting bills HB3 and SB1, which both passed committee after hours of testimony over the weekend.

SMU law professor Eric Cedillo says while there is now a warrant out to arrest absent House Democrats, no one is going to jail when they do arrive back in the state.

"It is not a crime they are being arrested for," he said. "It is to seize their person and bring it to the House."

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., there is an acknowledgment that time is of the essence.

"We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas," said Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland). "And we can't stay here indefinitely to run out the clock to stop Republican anti-voter bills." 

The D.C. trip serves as a lobbying campaign. Texas Democrats are trying to press their congressional colleagues to restore sections of the Voting Rights Act and for the Senate to suspend the filibuster, which would allow a simple majority of Democrats to pass federal voting reform legislation.

"That's why we need Congress to act now and pass the For The People Act," Bowers said. "Texas Democrats will use everything in our power to fight back, but we need Congress to act right now." 

President Joe Biden addressed the issue while in Philadelphia.

"We'll be asking Republican friends to stand up for God's sake and prevent this effort to undermine our election and sacred right to vote. Have you no shame?" he said.

MORE: ‘Anti-American’: Biden slams voting restrictions as part of ‘big lie’

Late Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Kamala Harris met with the Texas delegates who intentionally broke quorum and went to Washington, D.C.

"The courage, the commitment, the patriotism that you all have is evidenced by your actions," she told the Dems. "And this is your work and your worth and I know what you have done comes with great sacrifice, both personal and political."

Some Democrats have said they are not willing to lift the filibuster because it could jeopardize future priorities. 

"It may have a ripple effect in future when Dems are in minority," Cedillo said. "They would not want Republicans lifting the filibuster."

It is a point U.S. Senator John Cornyn made in remarks on the floor Tuesday morning. 

"They came to Washington to try to convince the president and Senate Democrats to nuke the very Senate rule that protects the rights of the minority," he said.

The senator is also mocking the absent Democrats pictured smiling aboard a charter bus on their way to the airport with a case of Miller Lite in tow.

Republicans in the House and Senate wasted no calling out their democratic colleagues. 

"These Democrats have walked off the job twice now," said State Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston).

"Instead of taking beer to go, they should have taken this bill to go," said Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). 

Democrats spent the day on Capitol Hill, talking to lawmakers and meeting with the vice president. Republicans say Democrats are getting paid to do nothing. Democrats countered saying they are working on behalf of those who elected them. 

"The process was poisoned," said State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas. "We are not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas. The big lie that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation in the United States."

In the Senate Tuesday, it was business as usual. 

"Why would we in Austin think we are wiser than a local county clerk," said Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston).

Election bill SB1 passed the Senate 18-4 on a party line vote. 

Some of the Senate Democrats went to D.C. to join House members, but there was still a quorum. 

"Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick noted the ongoing standoff.

"A little like Groundhogs Day here, senator. Maybe in six more weeks we'll have enough people in the House to pass it on final passage," he said.

SB1 no longer reduces Sunday early voting hours. Instead, counties can let people vote at least six hours on Sundays. 

The bill does ban drive-through and 24-hour early voting and gives more power to partisan poll watchers. 

Bill Author Senator Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) says this is a Texas bill with input from Texans. He says it continues to be misunderstood in the national conversation. 

"Disappointing is a mild term," he said. "To see some of the false, reckless, inaccurate, untrue, I’m saying everything except the L-word, representations about things in this bill that are not in this bill."

RELATED: Texas House Democrats leave state in effort to block passage of GOP voting bill

The bills are similar to the one from the regular Texas Legislature session in May when Democrats walked out of the House chamber to deny quorum.

The legislation would ban 24-hour and drive-thru early voting. And a voter ID verification would be added to mail-in ballots.

This time around, Republicans made a concession – restoring Sunday early voting hours.

The governor said he can continue to call special sessions until the bills are passed.

The House will reconvene at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) sought to strip Democrats of their leadership positions if they did not return by noon, but the house speaker said that can't be done under current rules. 

SB1 now waits for House approval. Again, the House can’t do anything until Democrats return to Texas. They say they plan to be away until Aug. 7. 


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