The Texas House of Representatives had a quorum for the first time in months Thursday evening, as some Democrats trickled back after weeks of absence to block a voter restriction overhaul.
The Republican majority wasted no time referring the package of voting restrictions to committee, the next step in its journey to passage.
The numbers to achieve quorum were pushed over the top with the help of three Democrats — Reps. Garnet Coleman, Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez — who cited the COVID-19 surge as compelling them to return to the business of legislating.
“We took the fight for voting rights to Washington, D.C. and brought national attention to the partisan push in our state to weaken ballot access,” they said in a statement. “Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take action on federal voter protection legislation. Now, we continue the fight on the House Floor.”
It was a long, at times tense few hours to amass the quorum.
“The party arguing for ‘election integrity’ just established quorum by voting members present who weren’t on the floor,” tweeted Rep. Diego Bernal (D-TX). “Make sense now?”
Bernal is one of the remaining Democrats staying away from the chamber to block the bill.
Some of the other Democratic holdouts expressed anger at their colleagues for returning.
“This is how Texas Democrats lose elections,” Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-TX) responded to the three returning Democrats’ statement.
The quorum was only just barely achieved Thursday, and it’s yet to be seen if the chamber will sustain those numbers for the entirety of the special session.
While House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-TX) struck a welcoming tone on Thursday, Republicans had been recently intensifying their measures to force Democrats back to the chamber. When a sufficient number of Democrats failed to show up for the first day of the special session earlier this month, Phelan signed 52 civil arrest warrants for law enforcement to return the lawmakers to the floor.
The Texas Supreme Court had previously overturned a district court’s ruling blocking Republicans leaders from ordering the arrests.
Tensions have been rising within the Democratic coalition for weeks, after some members returned to Texas earlier this month. A coalition of Democratic-aligned groups issued a statement urging them to hold the line, while one representative tweeted that her returning Democratic colleagues “threw us under the bus.”
Many of the absent Democrats have been spending their time in Washington D.C., lobbying federal lawmakers to pass voting safeguards.
A group of senators has been working on a compromise bill, expected to be a pared-down version of the For the People Act, and the House recently introduced an updated version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vowed to make voting rights the Senate’s first priority upon return from recess, a promise meant to match the urgency of the impending threats now that redistricting has begun.
But as long as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) refuse to reform or eradicate the filibuster, all voting rights legislation is dead on arrival in the upper chamber. There are not 10 Republican senators willing to help any pro-voting bills over the 60-vote threshold.