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Why national Democrats will fail the Texas House walkout

Why national Democrats will fail the Texas House walkout

Why national Democrats will fail the Texas House walkout
July 30
12:00 2021

On July 12, approximately 59 House Democrats walked out of the special session of the 87th Texas Legislature, breaking quorum to prevent the passage of controversial legislation which would place restrictions on voting. These restrictions include bans on drive-thru voting, 24-hour voting and prohibiting local election officials from sending unsolicited applications for requesting mail-in ballots. It is not the first time they have done so this year alone.

In the following weeks, six of them have contracted COVID-19 and there are questions as to how much this exodus will cost. However, as the special session’s end date of Aug. 6 nears, there has been fundraising, with Beto O’Rourke raising $600,000 for the effort and Democrats seem set to successfully run out the clock.

The long-term future is quite cloudy. While the Democrats have successfully passed expansive voting rights legislation in the House, it is all but dead in the Senate at this point. As Republicans pass restrictive laws meant to keep more voters out of the electoral process, the Texan self-exiles face three problems: the reluctance of the national-level party to enact any radical change, the blockading of Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema towards any changes to the filibuster and what Abbott may do once the special session has ended.

There has been a longtime problem within the Democratic Party: their lax handling of police reform, betrayals in the battle for a raised minimum wage and their apparent powerlessness to successfully sign into law any legislation that would protect voting rights in the long term. At this moment, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would vitally supplement the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is effectively dead in the Senate with not enough votes. While the For the People Act has passed the House, it is very unlikely to pass the Senate. Democrats seem to be hedging all of their bets on changes to the filibuster to advance the bill. There’s just one problem — or rather, two.

Any potential changes to the filibuster, itself heavily used in the past to block civil rights laws, are largely blocked by Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ. Both have given explanations why they are blocking any changes or why they would not provide an exception for this vote. Manchin’s op-ed explains his position as being in the spirit of bipartisanship since no Republican support for the bill exists in the Senate, whereas Sinema’s piece boils down to tradition and a similar respect for bipartisanship.

These are not only thin arguments that bend and break easily — they’re not even consistent with the senator’s previous positions.

Manchin himself co-sponsored the For the People Act of 2019 in 2019, only to flip this year. Aside from multiple lines espousing the virtues of partisanship in his op-ed, a time when Republicans are bending over backward to block an investigation into a lethal insurrection where some planned to kill him and his colleagues, he doesn’t really justify it much beyond it. While he suggested some compromise, Senate Minority Leader McConnell R-Ky completely rejected it only a day later.

Sinema’s defense, on the other hand, relies on the slippery slope argument. She cites a potential future in which the proposed legislation is rescinded and restrictive voting laws are passed nationally. Voter-ID laws and other similar measures are being enacted entirely in red states such as Texas. She’s relying on a worst-case scenario that’s already happening at the state level. She doesn’t seem to understand that this legislation could block what’s already happening in the states. At best, she looks incredibly misinformed. At worst, she appears dishonest.

Still, some benefit of the doubt should be given. While President Joe Biden has knocked the two for supposedly voting more with Republicans, they have mostly toed the party line on his agenda. Except where it counts. It’s not like Manchin has earned himself scorn from Senate Democrats, and Sinema’s position has been widely debunked by reporters and columnists from the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Washington Post itself.

The future of Texas’s legislative sessions isn’t entirely clear but it sure is cloudy. While Gov. Greg Abbott issued a mostly impotent order to arrest the quorum breakers, he may very well take further action to bar them from leaving the chambers and state if he can. The Texas Constitution places no limits on how many special sessions he can call, threatening to do so until he gets his way. Democrats could theoretically do this forever, but this costs funding, time and patience from their constituents and supporters. At this point, they are trapped in a stalemate that does not favor them in the long term.

There is also beneficial legislation at stake, such as Senate Bill 7, which could give retired school staff a one-time payment of up to $2,400. There is business that needs to be conducted and the quorum-breakers will have an incredibly steep fight keeping attention in an omniscient news cycle.

Ultimately, while the Democrats are valiant for continually sticking to their guns and standing up for voting rights, the national party doesn’t seem especially set on backing them up for the long haul. With legislation stagnant in Congress, thanks to two certain Senators and extreme antipathy from the other party, plus a governor set to keep this going until he gets his restrictions above all else, this dark tunnel will stretch on and on. Unfortunately, as hard as one squints, there seems to be no light at the end of it.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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