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Texas Democrats who blocked ‘voter suppression’ bill to get White House meeting with VP Kamala Harris

The Biden team is spotlighting the controversial Senate Bill 7, which Gov. Greg Abbott vows to resurrect in a special session of the Legislature.
Democrats gather around Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, as he speaks in opposition to SB-7 on the floor of the Texas House on May 7, 2021.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

By Todd J. Gillman

WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris will host Democrats from the Texas Legislature at the White House next Wednesday, spotlighting their dramatic walkout that killed a GOP election bill to build support for congressional action on voting rights.

Democrats view the Texas bill as one of the most egregious attempts at voter suppression since Donald Trump’s defeat last fall. Gov. Greg Abbott and allies in other state capitals cast the demand for new restrictions as a way to ensure “election integrity.”

Harris’ office announced the meeting Thursday.

On May 30, the day before the biennial session ended, Democrats abruptly walked out of the Texas House chamber. Without a quorum, the House was unable to proceed with Senate Bill 7 before a midnight deadline. The governor has vowed to reconvene the Legislature in a special session to resurrect the measure.

“We look forward to the opportunity to speak with Vice President Harris on one of the most pressing civil rights issues facing our state and our nation,” state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie and state Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston, the Democratic caucus chairs, said in a joint statement, adding that they would use the meeting to thank Harris and President Joe Biden “for speaking out against vote suppression legislation and for supporting efforts to protect voting rights across the country.”

The meeting between the vice president and 10 Texas Democrats — seven from the House, three from the Senate — is coming as Democrats in Congress scramble to keep alive the “For the People Act.” It’s clearly a bit of stagecraft intended to shame Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and other holdouts.

That bill would overrule state-level election laws such as SB7 in Texas, setting national standards for federal elections. Voter registration would become automatic. Same-day registration and at least two weeks of early voting would be mandatory.

The U.S. House has approved the far-reaching bill, but it appears dead in the 50-50 Senate.

Turner and Alvarado called that bill “critical.”

“When Texans’ right to vote was on the line, my Democratic colleagues in the Texas House and I took a courageous stand and refused to allow Republicans’ voter suppression bill to pass,” said state Rep. Jessica González of Dallas, who is also heading to the White House. “Now, it’s time for the United States Congress to exercise that same courage and pass voting rights legislation that will protect every Texan, and every American, from burdensome and discriminatory measures intended to deter and suppress participation in our democracy.”

Biden designated Harris as his point person on the issue as Democrats push to restore federal scrutiny in states such as Texas that have a history of discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court ended that oversight in 2013, declaring that the Civil Rights-era rules for deciding which states deserved Justice Department oversight had become outdated.

Trump won Texas by about 6 percentage points last fall. And there have been no allegations of fraud or misdeeds related to proposals in SB7, which Democrats say are meant to discourage voters who are more likely to support Democratic candidates.

The group invited by Harris also includes:

  • Sen. Royce West of Dallas
  • Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus
  • Rep. Nicole Collier of Fort Worth, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus
  • Reps. Gina Hinojosa of Austin, Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio.
  • Sen. Beverly Powell of Burleson

In Tulsa last week, Biden blasted Texas Republicans for their efforts.

“This sacred right is under assault … with an intensity and aggressiveness we have not seen in a long, long time,” he said during a ceremony to mark the 100-year anniversary of a notorious massacre of Black residents. “It is simply un-American. It’s not, however, sadly, unprecedented.”

SB7 would empower partisan poll watchers, which critics say would open the door to voter intimidation.

It would create criminal penalties for election clerks who provide more help to voters than allowed and impose penalties for sending voters the form needed to request a mail-in ballot unless they ask for it. Many jurisdictions sent the mail-ballot request forms last fall during the pandemic to reduce crowds at polling sites.

SB7 also would have cut back Sunday early voting hours, so polls would open at 1 p.m. instead of 9 a.m. Black churches traditionally use Sunday morning for “souls to the polls” drives. Some GOP lawmakers insist that was a typo and not what they intended.

In order to vote by mail, Texans with a disability would have to provide proof they were disabled and unable to cast a ballot in person.

The bill would have banned 24-hour and drive-through voting — also used to reduce health risks during the pandemic.

“Texas House Democrats broke quorum to stop dangerous anti-voter legislation. … With everything on the line, we used every tactic in our arsenal — not just to preserve our state but to preserve our democracy,” said Martinez Fischer. “Now, it’s time for Congress to act. They must pass voting rights legislation that protects the rights of all voters.”

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