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Texas Democrats head to Washington on behalf of voting bill

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Some of the Texas Democrats who staged a walkout to defeat a sweeping election bill are in Washington, D.C., to crank up pressure on Senators to take action on voting rights.

The lawmakers are expected to sit down with several members of Congress on Tuesday and are set to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday. Texas Democrats and voting rights activists are also planning a major rally in Austin on Sunday featuring former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas. 

The trip to Washington comes after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he will not support the For the People Act, known as S. 1. That bill would require states to overhaul voter registration systems, expand access to early and mail voting, revise campaign finance laws and reform the redistricting process. Manchin and other Democrats also oppose eliminating the filibuster, which means any federal election legislation would need support from at least 10 Republicans. 

The Texas Democrats are expected to meet with Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Jeff Merkley, who sponsored the Senate bill, but they’re not scheduled to meet with Manchin. The group is also expected to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and staffers who work for Texas’ two Republican Senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. 

In this May 6, 2021 file photo, a group opposing new voter legislation gather outside the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas.

Eric Gay / AP

The Texas lawmakers hope their visit to Washington will reignite a sense of urgency on voting rights. They know their victory in Texas is almost certain to be short-lived because Governor Greg Abbott has pledged to call a special session to address election reform. The bill that was defeated set limits on early voting hours, banned drive-through voting, made it a felony for officials to send unsolicited absentee ballot requests and lowered the standard for overturning an election based on fraud.

Texas Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, who represents part of San Antonio, told CBS News that there are a number of “options on the table” for Democrats to push back against an election bill when a special session is convened. He did not rule out another walkout, which would deprive Republicans of a quorum needed to pass legislation, but he hopes for action at the federal level.

“When Texas Democrats walked off the House floor to deny a quorum, to block a bill, I think that lit a small spark and reignited the national debate on voting rights,” Martinez Fischer said. “If we can bring that small spark from Texas and help light a fire in the bellies of these United States Senators, I think it will be time well spent.”

Manchin said he doesn’t plan to support the For The People Act because it lacks bipartisan support, but he does support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. That bill, which is cosponsored by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to receive pre-clearance before changing voting rules. But it faces a bleak future after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “unnecessary.”

President Biden recently announced that Harris would be leading the administration’s efforts on voting rights. 

Following a meeting Monday with voting rights advocates in Greenville, South Carolina, Harris told reporters that in some states, fundamental rights are being “trampled” upon and that the president is ready to sign into law both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. She said the administration supports doing “everything that we could possibly do to push back against laws that are designed to suppress people’s right to vote.”

At the rally Sunday in Austin, O’Rourke wants the message to be “loud and clear for the members of the U.S. Senate, for the president and for the country that Texas is on the front lines of this fight.” 

“There really is no other option than to make the For the People Act work. There’s one person, more than any other, who can make this happen: that’s the president of the United States,” O’Rourke told CBS News. “I’m confident if President Biden makes this number one priority, then he will have the power to bring this country and the senators who represent this country together around this.”



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