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Texas Democrats to break quorum in special session over voting rights

ABC News logo ABC News 7/13/2021
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For the second time since May, Texas House Democrats will break quorum in protest against state Republicans' push to revise the election and voting laws in the Lone Star State.

The much-speculated move was officially announced by Democrats Monday afternoon, a day before the Texas House was slated to be back in session to continue working through the items set by Gov. Greg Abbott for the ongoing, 30-day special session agenda.

"Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans' freedom to vote," a joint statement from several high-profile Texas House Democrats read.

John Lewis wearing a hat: Edward Jones wears a baseball hat with the word Vote on it in the Texas State Capitol while he and others wait to testify before House and Senate committees, which began hearings on election integrity bills, on July 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas. © Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images Edward Jones wears a baseball hat with the word Vote on it in the Texas State Capitol while he and others wait to testify before House and Senate committees, which began hearings on election integrity bills, on July 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

The group of lawmakers -- including Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner, Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chair Rafael Anchía, Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chair Nicole Collier, Legislative Study Group Caucus Chair Garnet Coleman and Dean Senfronia Thompson -- also announced plans to head to Washington as they break quorum.

"We are now taking the fight to our nation's Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans -- and all Americans -- from the Trump Republicans' nationwide war on democracy," the group said in a statement.

MORE: Texas special session begins with 2nd attempt by Republicans to revise state's election laws

Vice President Kamala Harris, praised the Democrats' efforts to break quorum and head to Washington to push Congress to pass election reform.


Video: Texas lawmakers put pressure on Washington Democrats over voting rights (The Washington Post)

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"I applaud the effort of the Texas legislators who are standing in the way of a blatant attempt to suppress the vote," she said.

After spending the day in Michigan, the vice president told reporters that her conversations were meant to "remind voters -- to remind people that their voice is important and that they are at risk of having legislative bodies impede the right to vote, if we don't stand up and understand what's happening, see it for what it is and obviously, be more engaged."

MORE: Kamala Harris announces DNC investing additional $25 million in voting rights initiative

The move is being met with strong opposition from across the aisle.

Republican Texas state Rep. Travis Clardy told ABC News' Linsey Davis he was disappointed and frustrated.

"When you look at the bill as drafted -- as filed as laid out this Saturday and passed out of the committee -- it is a very good, strong election ethics integrity bill. I'm proud of the work we've done," he said on ABC News Live Prime. "And I think if they had stayed there and taken the time to read the bill they would have known that and we could have passed this bill."

a group of people in a room © Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images

It was also unclear what the state's executive branch would do next. In a statement following the Democrats' announcement, the Republican governor blasted the legislators, accusing them of engaging in "partisan political games."

"Texas Democrats' decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state," Abbott said in a statement.

a group of people posing for the camera: Andrea Greer and Maureen Haver listen to former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke testify before lawmakers in opposition to Senate Bill 1 while they wait for their turn to testify at the State Capitol on July 10, 2021, in Austin, Texas. © Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images Andrea Greer and Maureen Haver listen to former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke testify before lawmakers in opposition to Senate Bill 1 while they wait for their turn to testify at the State Capitol on July 10, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

One of the issues that remains on the agenda is reinstating government funding, which Abbott vetoed in response to House Democrats last quorum break in May. The issue is already emerging as a focal point for House Republicans, with the Texas House Speaker chiding Democrats over the decision to break quorum.

"These actions put at risk state funding that will deny thousands of hard-working staff members and families a paycheck, health benefits and retirement investment so that legislators who broke quorum can flee to Washington, D.C. on private jets," Phelan said in a statement.

Trey Martinez Fischer, Senfronia Thompson posing for the camera: Texas House Democrats on a charter flight to Washington, D.C., July 12, 2021. They are protesting state Republicans’ push to revise the election and voting laws in Texas. © Obtained by ABC News Texas House Democrats on a charter flight to Washington, D.C., July 12, 2021. They are protesting state Republicans’ push to revise the election and voting laws in Texas.

According to House rules, at least two-thirds of the chamber's 150 members must be present to conduct business. The rules also outline that if there are absent lawmakers "for whom no sufficient excuse is made," a vote can be held just among the members in attendance for those absent lawmakers to "be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found."

For now, Democrats, like Texas Rep. Gene Wu, who represents southwest Houston and is among those heading to the nation's capital, indicate the potential risk is worth it.

"This is the only tool that Republicans have left Democrats and we intend on it," Wu said.

ABC News Political Director Rick Klein, Deputy Political Director Averi Harper and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

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