Politico

Texas Dems to huddle with Clintons, Abrams as they bid to regain momentum


Texas Democrats who fled the state earlier this month to campaign on voting rights in Washington are holding a pair of meetings Thursday with three high-profile Democrats: Bill and Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams.

The meetings, details of which were shared first with POLITICO, come as the delegation of state legislators tries to regain momentum on their push for federal action on voting rights, after their headline-grabbing move to break quorum to block a GOP bill in Texas was derailed by a series of positive coronavirus tests and Washington’s focus on infrastructure negotiations. Texas Democratic leaders disclosed last week that six members had tested positive, all of whom were fully vaccinated.

The positive tests scrambled the group’s plans, postponing in-person meetings and kicking some meetings into Zoom rooms and other virtual spaces.

Members say that after the initial round, no other Texas lawmaker tested positive over the last week. The Texans have started taking in-person meetings again — some members were on Capitol Hill this week, and the delegation met with civil right leaders at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on Wednesday — but the pandemic is still affecting everything: Both meetings Thursday, with the Clintons and with Abrams, will be virtual.

“The fight to protect our voting rights is the fight to protect our democracy, so we stand with them and applaud their ongoing efforts to ensure our citizens have access to the ballot box,” Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

The Texans hope that the high-profile meetings crank up the pressure on the Senate to act on voting rights legislation and on President Joe Biden to meet with the lawmakers. “I think this just puts more pressure on Biden’s team to probably want to reconsider, or consider, meeting with us,” said state Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Fort Bend-area lawmaker. “We remain optimistic.”

The Texas Democrats also hope that the meeting will help them make further inroads in Congress. “There are many members of the U.S. Senate that Secretary Clinton has served with herself,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who represents San Antonio. “There are many members of the Senate that President Clinton has worked with.”

Their efforts on Capitol Hill could also get a boost thanks to new developments on the bipartisan infrastructure package. The negotiations around the infrastructure deal have been occupied the attention of several key senators. But the package cleared a key hurdle on Wednesday night, when the chamber voted to move ahead on a procedural vote.

“With infrastructure going to a cloture vote … it creates a lane, at least opens up some space, to get voting rights back in the narrative,” said Martinez Fischer. “This is an opportunity for all voting rights advocates to seize this opportunity now, to make this final push.”

(Martinez Fischer was one of the members who tested positive for coronavirus. He said he had mild symptoms last week, and started testing negative on Sunday.)

Texas Democrats are also eager to hear from Abrams ahead of more conversations around the exact federal legislative strategy, with revised legislation expected soon as Democrats try to unite their caucus around an elections bill.

“With [Abrams’] counsel, we want to know what are the next steps.” Martinez Fischer said. “What is our ultimate move on S. 1?”

The Texas Democrats point to the Senate’s August recess — as well as the Aug. 7 end of the current special legislative session in Texas — as the make-or-break point for Congress to take action on voting rights.

Furious Republicans back in Texas have said they won’t be deterred by the Democratic walkout, and Gov. Greg Abbott has said he would immediately call another special session after the current one ends, in order to pass the delayed Republican elections bill. “There will be no daylight whatsoever,” he told a Dallas-Fort Worth TV station earlier this month.

Democrats have vowed to stay out of Texas to kill the current special session. But when asked about the future, many of them demur or hint that the walkout is not indefinite.

“Gov. Abbott is going to call us back in,” Reynolds said. “It is unrealistic to say our members are going to be able to tell their children and wives and husbands and businesses that ‘Hey, I’m going to be gone for another 30 days. I don’t know when I’m coming back.’”

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