WASHINGTON – Two days after Texas Democrats’ dramatic walkout to stymie a bill they view as voter suppression, President Joe Biden planned to condemn the assault on minority rights during a visit to Tulsa on Monday marking the 100th anniversary of a race massacre.
“The Texas legislation is part of a concerted attack on our democracy being advanced in statehouses across the country, on the basis of the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to the assault on our nation’s Capitol on January 6,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Oklahoma.
She noted that Biden views the bill demanded by Gov. Greg Abbott and pushed by fellow Texas Republicans as “un-American and undemocratic,” and said he’ll have more to say about it during remarks about the two-day attack in 1921, when a white mob that left hundreds of Blacks dead in Tulsa.
Democrats see an effort to create a Jim Crow 2.0 era, referring to notorious racial segregation laws.
In Austin, Texas Democrats vow to do what they can to derail the bill when Abbott reconvenes the Legislature for a special session. But having used their most potent tool Sunday night – only the fourth walkout in the history of the Texas House – they’re increasingly pinning their hopes on allies in Congress.
Without a quorum needed to conduct business, that killed Senate Bill 7, a sweeping measure that would have dramatically curbed access to ballots while easing restrictions on partisan poll watchers who could, if critics are right, use that freedom to intimidate minority voters.
The bill would make it easier to overturn elections, and expose elections clerks to criminal penalties for providing too much help.
Goaded by Donald Trump, GOP lawmakers in state capitals around the country have pushed similar measures.
Trump continues to claim, falsely and without evidence, that his reelection was stolen through massive fraud in several states, including unlawful expansion of mail-in voting meant to make it balloting safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of GOP-backed bills have been filed, cutting absentee ballot options and rolling back early voting while ramping up purges of voter registration lists, for instance.
Of all those state-level efforts, Democrats view Texas’ SB7 as the most aggressive attempt at voter suppression yet.
Although Trump won Texas, and there were no claims of widespread or systematic fraud, Abbott identified “election integrity” as a top priority for the legislative session that ended Monday.
He called the demise of SB7 “deeply disappointing” and vowed to put it on the agenda for a special session.
With few cards left to play, Texas Democrats have ramped up pressure on congressional allies to deliver federal protections.
But in the 50-50 U.S. Senate, Democrats need 10 Republicans willing to help them break a filibuster.
On March 3, the U.S. House approved HR 1, the “For the People Act” without a single Republican vote.
The bill would end partisan gerrymandering and set standards for early voting, vote-by-mail and automatic voter registration that would nullify restrictions in many Republican-led states. It also would create mandates for public campaign financing and disclosure of “dark money.”
With Republicans denouncing that as a power grab, the bill is stalled in the Senate.
Democrats have also pinned their hopes on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, named for the late congressman and civil rights era icon. The House approved the bill in 2019 but it died in the GOP-controlled Senate. Democrats control the Senate now but it would still fall to a filibuster, and has not been reintroduced.
That bill would restore Justice Department scrutiny of Texas and other states with a history of discrimination. The Supreme Court ended such oversight in 2013, ruling not that such discrimination has ended but that the decades-old formulas for deciding which jurisdictions deserved such oversight had become outdated.
With such measures stymied by filibuster or the threat of one, progressives have been agitating for Senate Democrats to eliminate the arcane tradition. Senators in both parties have balked.
Biden supports both bills.
“We need to make it easier, not harder, for all eligible voters to register and cast their ballots. We need to move forward, not backwards,” Jean-Pierre said.
Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke the former El Paso congressman who came close to toppling Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, is launching a 22-city tour to rally opposition to the bill that Democrats view as Jim Crow 2.0, a barnstorming swing that could double as a test run for a potential challenge to Abbott, with voting rights as a central issue.
Stacy Abrams, the former Georgia nominee for governor who has also become a leading Democratic voice on voting rights, will join O’Rourke Wednesday night on Instagram to drum up awareness.
Hours after the Democrats’ walkout, Abbott declared that he will veto funding for the Legislature to pressure lawmakers to accede to his wishes, though it’s unclear how that would work.
“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” he tweeted.
Texas pays state lawmakers $600 a month, which comes out to $7,200 annually, plus $221 for every day in either a regular or special session.
But the state budget doesn’t have line items for “Democrats” and “Republicans,” so Abbott would be inflicting pain on allies as well as adversaries. Plus, the budget he has yet to sign doesn’t take effect until Sept. 1.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, accused him of trying to “create a monarchy” by hobbling the legislative branch.
Abbott hasn’t set a schedule yet for a special session. The Legislature will certainly need to return in the fall, once the Census Bureau releases data needed to redraw congressional and legislative districts for the decade starting with the 2022 elections.
On Saturday, Biden– who rarely uses his bully pulpit to weigh in on state legislation – issued a scathing denunciation of SB7, accusing Texas Republicans of pushing a bill “that attacks the sacred right to vote…. It’s part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year — and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.”
SB 7 would make it much harder to cast a ballot in Texas except in traditional ways that are widely seen as favoring more affluent – and White – voters.
Among the provisions, it would abolish drive-through voting, which Harris County in particular expanded last fall as a response to the pandemic.
It would cut hours for early voting, ending Sunday voting, and early and late voting likely to help shift workers who tend to have lower incomes, favor Democrats, and are more likely to be non-White.
It creates criminal penalties for what critics of the bill describe as simple administrative mistakes, and it provides vastly more operating room for partisan poll watchers – opening the door to intimidation, according to Democrats and minority advocates.
Another provision would make it easier to overturn an election, eliminating a requirement to prove there were enough fraudulent ballots to have affected the outcome. With a far lower threshold– a showing there was some fraud, even if it wasn’t widespread – the sorts of challenges Trump tried to mount around the country last fall could have gained traction, instead of being laughed out of court by dozens of judges.
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