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“We’re Staying Out”: Texas State Democrats Who Fled to D.C. Tell Congress to Pass Voting Laws Now

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We speak with two of the Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled to Washington, D.C., to block suppressive new voting laws in their home state and who are calling on Congress to quickly pass legislation protecting voting rights. Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott threatened them with arrest the moment they return to their state and said he would keep them “in chamber” in order to pass the new voting bills, but the fugitive lawmakers say they intend to stay in Washington for as long as necessary. “We’re staying out,” says Jasmine Crockett, a Democrat representing Dallas in the Texas House. “We’re not going to be bullied and intimidated by anybody, including the governor or our colleagues,” adds Trey Martinez Fischer, who represents San Antonio. “We have a job to be the voice of our constituents.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

In a major speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, President Biden slammed efforts by Republicans and Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election and said preserving voting rights is an urgent national test of our time.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Just weeks ago, Supreme Court yet again weakened the Voting Rights Act and upheld what Justice Kagan called, quote, “a significant race-based disparity in voting opportunities.” The court’s decision, as harmful as is, does not limit the Congress’s ability to repair the damage done. That’s the important point. It puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength. As soon as Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, I will sign it and let the whole world see it. That will be an important moment.

AMY GOODMAN: But Biden did not mention the filibuster to help ensure the passage of voting rights in the United States. New York Congressmember Mondaire Jones tweeted in response, “Passing the For the People Act is indeed a national imperative, but the only way to do so is to repeal the filibuster. Anyone who says otherwise is missing the point,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, Texas Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C., to block sweeping new election laws in Texas held a closed meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and Democratic Leader Senator Chuck Schumer and called on Congress to quickly pass legislation protecting voter rights. In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott threatened them with arrest the minute they return and said he would keep them, quote, “in chamber.” This is the governor speaking Tuesday on Fox.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: What the law is is in the Constitution. And that is, the House — the state House of Representatives, who are here in the Capitol in Austin right now, they do have the ability to issue a call to have their fellow members who are not showing up to be arrested, but only so long as that arrest is made in the state of Texas. That’s why they have fled the state. Once they step back into the state of Texas, they will be arrested and brought to the Texas Capitol, and we will be conducting business.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to be talking with two of the Texas state representatives who fled Texas to D.C. We’re going to begin with Jasmine Crockett. She is a Democrat representing District 100 in Dallas, Texas.

State Representative Crockett, you went from Dallas to Dulles. Can you describe how you did it, with these two chartered planes, and if you were you satisfied with President Biden’s speech?

REP. JASMINE CROCKETT: First of all, good morning, and thank you so much for having me on. And thank you so much for talking about something that really does extend beyond just Texas and goes to the greater narrative of what’s going on in this country.

So, first of all, I actually flew Southwest. So, for all the critics that have questions about how we got here and the money that was spent, I will be clear: I spent my own money, and I flew Southwest. So I was not with the rest of the group. And there was nothing dramatic about the reason that I arrived before them. I simply had an engagement. That’s it, so nothing dramatic about it. But my colleagues were on chartered flights, not on private jets, to be clear. There is a huge difference. And these flights were chartered, and they were paid for by the House Democratic Caucus Committee. So there was no taxpayer money that was used.

And, you know, essentially, when we walked out the first time, we knew that they were going to bring something back. We did not know what that would look like. For us, we knew that we had to have a real plan in place. Last time, we only had to run out two hours on the clock. This time, we would potentially have to run out an entire 30 days. And so, there were a number of members that were working on potential backup plans if things truly did come to it. And so, I could not be more proud of my colleagues for the work that they’ve done to make sure that we could orchestrate something as large as this, because, for those that don’t know, we had to get a minimum of 51 people out of the state. And that is no small feat whatsoever.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Representative Crockett, is it your intention and those of the rest of your colleagues to stay out for the entire session, stay out of the state, or do you plan to go back soon?

REP. JASMINE CROCKETT: No, we’re staying out. That was one of the agreements that we made. If we were going to do this, how many people were willing to stay out the entire time? We are killing this bill — or, these bills. We’ve got two of them. We’ve got H.B. 3, and we’ve got S.B. 1. We are killing both of these bills. They are going to die.

The only way that they don’t die is if we get some movement on the federal level, to the extent that we’re saying, “OK, fine, we’ve got federal legislation. We’ll go back, because all they’re going to do is ram these bills through without any participation whatsoever from my colleagues. And we’l know that we’ve got federal oversight.” So, if, for some reason, we could get something passed up here in D.C. tomorrow, we’d probably go back the following day.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what do you say to folks, especially on the Republican side in Texas, who say that these are not voter suppression efforts? And, in fact, I think one of your Republican colleagues said in another interview last night that the reductions in, for instance, early voting, that are criticized by President Biden, Biden is saying that — he comes from a state, Delaware, that doesn’t have early voting.

REP. JASMINE CROCKETT: Yeah, you know, it’s so funny. I mean, if you look at any press conference that was given by the House Republicans, and then you look at a press conference given by the House Democrats, there’s a stark difference, a very noticeable stark difference. You know, one side looks very privileged. We have a number of — you talk about private jets? We have a number of members on the House Republican side that wouldn’t have had to charter a plane. They actually have their own planes. In fact, one of those members flew his private jet out of the state of Texas during the winter storm, one of my freshman colleagues.

So, let’s talk about that piece first. They want to tell us what’s not suppressive to Black and Brown people, yet I don’t see very many Black and Brown people in their caucus. So, you know, they’re speaking from a point of privilege. But when we listen to the testimony of Texans, we had almost 500 Texans testify, and over 400 gave their stories of their experiences, and they specifically said they were against this bill. There were only 80-something persons in the state of Texas that testified and said that they were for this bill.

When we talk about expanding upon the hours, what the Republicans got mad about was that in Harris County, there was no — let me be clear. The law, as it sits right now, does not specify how many hours you can vote. What it does is it gives a minimum amount of hours that counties must be available for voting. So, Harris County knows that there was no maximum, and so they took advantage of that, in that they are the most populous county in the state of Texas and one of the most populous in this country. And so they made voting accessible during a pandemic. That meant that first responders had an opportunity. When they would get off a 24-hour shift, tired, they would not have to stand in a long line, which oftentimes larger urban centers have because they have more people. Instead, they were able to vote at their convenience.

They were also able to vote in drive-thru voting. The fact that you want to take away drive-thru voting, when the statistics show that the majority of the people that took advantage of drive-thru voting were Black and Brown, tells us the intent of this bill. I don’t care how you slice it, but the intent has nothing to do with integrity, because our secretary of state, who was appointed by the governor of the state of Texas, specifically said that there was no election fraud.

The attorney general, that wants to get all up in arms, who has every opportunity to prosecute election fraud, his office said, “Well, we’ve had 44 cases” — not just in 2020, but over the years, 44 cases. Now, you compare and contrast that with the fact that we have 30 million people in the state of Texas, and we had 700 die in the winter storm. So, you tell me: Do we need to talk about the integrity of our electrical grid, or do we need to talk about the integrity of our election system?

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to bring, as well as Texas state Representative Jasmine Crockett, another of the organizers of the state reps going from Texas to D.C., state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio. You were in one of those two chartered flights and the bus that left Dulles. Can respond to your governor, Governor Abbott, saying that when you return, he will arrest you, will have you all arrested, in cabin, keep you in the Capitol until you vote? He understands they can’t go after you in Washington, D.C. But the state representatives, Republican representatives, don’t seem to understand that. They voted, though you’ve broken the quorum, so it doesn’t really hold water, to have you arrested wherever you are. Can you respond to both?

REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Well, I’d say, you know, that I don’t appreciate the charged language. I don’t like being told that I’m going to be corralled or cabined like I’m a piece of property. You know, especially for minority lawmakers, that’s especially sensitive. So, I’d ask the governor to maybe get out the thesaurus and use another word.

But I will also say that we’re not going to be bullied or intimidated by anybody, including the governor or our colleagues. We have a job to be the voice of our constituents. I represent 180,000 hard-working men, women, mostly blue-collar West Side San Antonians from San Antonio, Texas, Latinos, and I am their voice. And when people want to take away their voice at the ballot box, then I’m going to stand up. I’m going to push back. I’m going to say no. I’m going to use every tool in my bucket to defend them.

And the tool that I happen to use today is in the Texas Constitution. So, for any Republican, including the governor, if they are so distraught about what I did, what my colleagues did, to exercise our rights under the Texas Constitution, their fight is with the Constitution. They can change it if they want to. But as long as we have that rule in our Constitution, we will use it, if it is necessary. And when it comes to voting rights and our democracy, it is necessary.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Representative, could you talk about the U.S. senators that are there in Washington, Democrats, that are still reluctant to eliminate the — or opposed to eliminating the filibuster so that some of the voting rights acts that are before the Congress could pass? Are you intending to try to meet with Senator Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema?

REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Yes. You know, at the moment, I think final preparations are being made for a meeting with Senator Manchin. I’m not advised as to the update on Senator Sinema, but there are multiple requests. And make no mistake: I mean, we’re not just here for a few days; I mean, some of us are willing to stay here as long as it takes, even until the August recess, to be here and to stand up for democracy. And so we will get our moment as lawmakers. Representative Crockett and I are pretty astute. We are found when we don’t want to be found, and so we certainly know how to linger the hallways of the U.S. Capitol, and we can find those senators and have those moments to have that engagement.

But I have to tell you, I mean, listen, this is a long game. This is a marathon. And I’m not looking for an overnight success. But we have seen this pendulum swing. But let’s look at the big picture. I mean, we have the voice of the president of the United States making a very powerful speech on voting rights. The most powerful woman in the world decided, without even making it — without even having it on her schedule, put a meeting with us together at the last minute and stood with us for an hour and a half to tell us that we are fighting the right fight, that we need to continue to fight the fight, and how our actions today are very reflective of the actions of Frederick Douglass, the suffragettes and all the folks who fought for the Voting Rights Act in 1965. And we need to continue with this fight, and we need to overcome this struggle. And so, we’re in it for the long haul. Senator Manchin has moved a long way on this one. Leader Schumer has said the domestic agenda will happen before the August 6 recess, or there may not be a recess. And voting rights is a part of the domestic agenda. I have to be hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m just reading from The Guardian right now. It says, “Top Democrats in the House” — that’s in the U.S. House of Representatives — “are spearheading a new effort to convince the Senate to carve out a historic exception to the filibuster that would allow them to push through their marquee voting rights and election reform legislation over unanimous Republican opposition.” This is led by Congressmember Clyburn and the House leadership. You know, when you approve a Supreme Court justice, you don’t need a supermajority; you just need more than 50 votes. And they’re asking for the same thing when it comes to voting rights. Can you talk about where that stands and what difference that would make, state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer?

REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Yes. I hope I have the honor to shake Representative Clyburn’s hand before I go back home to Texas. The only word I have for that is “awesome.” That is simply awesome. And again, it’s the momentum that I’m talking about.

You know, we seem to forget as a nation that when President Obama had the opportunity to nominate Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court, Mitch McConnell would not let that happen. And then, when Donald Trump became president and there was the seat that we had in the aftermath of losing Justice Ginsburg, you saw the Senate dismantle rules so that they could get an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the carveouts and the exception to the filibuster. And when Republicans use it, we speak out. And when we say, “When we get in power, expect the same thing,” well, here we are. We are at that moment. And we’re not trying to do this, you know, full stop, for everything. We’re talking about a narrow exception for voting rights.

And Representative Clyburn is right. There should be no rule or tradition that takes the page out of the Constitution, the United States Constitution, and throws it in the trash. We should not disregard our United States Constitution for some tradition, many would say a tradition that maybe did not think about the inclusivity of African Americans, Latinos and Asians at the time that these traditions were instituted. So, look, our country has evolved. And if we have really overcome, like many people think, well, then, we have to overcome these traditions, as well as relics of the Jim Crow past, as relics of the old South. We need to put these things to bed, especially when it comes to voting rights. And there is a number of ways that it can be done. And I think the House and Representative Clyburn is on the right track.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to go back to Representative Jasmine Crockett for a moment. President Biden gave this passionate speech — oh, I’m sorry, she is gone, so I will ask, then, Representative Martinez. President Biden gave this passionate speech in Philadelphia yesterday. What more do you think he could do to achieve passage of voting rights legislation?

REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Sure. Well, first, let me say it’s an honor to stand with President Biden and Vice President Harris on this issue. They have not been quiet about this. This is not a secret. They want voting rights reform. They want For the People Act. They want the John Lewis Act. The White House has spoken. The U.S. House has spoken. The Senate is deadlocked, and they’re at a 50/50 split.

And so, yes, you are right: We do need to hear the president’s voice. And we need to have that final nudge in the fourth quarter. We need every man and woman in America to step up. And we are all doing our part. I mean, you know, we, as Texas lawmakers, came to the nation’s capital because we knew the eyes of the nation were looking at us in Texas, and we wanted to come to Washington in hopes of rallying the nation. We are now in the process of rallying this nation and to rally the administration, and we want the Senate to hear us. And not only do we want the Senate to hear us, we want them to act. And so, listen, we are all speaking. We are all using one voice, one collective passionate voice. And the ball is in the hands of the U.S. Senate, and we need to get this done, preferably before the August 6 recess.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Texas state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, who, together with Democratic state Representative Jasmine Crockett and a few others, led the fleeing Democrats, who left from everywhere from Houston and San Antonio and Dallas to Dulles, to Washington, D.C., to stop Texas state representatives for approving another voter suppression bill. We will continue to follow the developments.

Next up, after months of decline, COVID cases are rising again in the United States. We’ll speak with a leading epidemiologist about why this is happening, about the vaccine gap in the world, as well. Stay with us.

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