By Jack Phillips
Texas House Republicans on Tuesday voted to track down and possibly arrest absent Democratic lawmakers who fled the state to avoid voting on an election bill.
House Speaker Dade Phelan, in a statement from the Texas Capitol floor, said that “members, the sergeant-at-arms and the officers appointed by him are directed to send for all absentees whose attendance is not excused for the purpose of securing and maintaining their attendance—under warrant of arrest, if necessary.”
“Any member who wishes to leave the hall must have the written permission of the Speaker of the House,” he added.
But state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Houston Republican who chairs the House GOP Caucus, said Texas Republicans cannot force the Democrats to return to the state.
“We want them to come back—that’s our message,” Murphy told the Texas Tribune.
The dramatic change of events drew comments from White House officials and top congressional Democrats.
Biden “applauds their courage and adds to the urgency for passage of the For the People and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement acts, along with the all-of-government effort we have launched and the movement he’s calling for today to overcome this moment with voter turnout and voter education,” White House spokeswoman Jean-Pierre said on Air Force One, according to reports.
Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with the lawmakers this week, according to Jean-Pierre. They traveled to Washington D.C. via a charter flight in order to not provide Republicans with a quorum to vote on the measure.
Abbott, a Republican, promised on Monday night that the Democrats would be arrested and detained when they return to the state. House Republicans voted on Tuesday afternoon to vote to track down the absent members.
Democrats, however, were defiant. Speaking from Washington D.C. in an interview with CNN, Democrat Rep. Jasmine Crockett said neither Phelan nor Abbott have the authority to arrest them.
“I’m not worried about the threat of being arrested. The most that can happen is that we can be detained, which is why we got out of the state. The governor of Texas has no jurisdiction outside of the state of Texas, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety,” Crockett said, claiming that the speaker can have them detained—not arrested.
Democrats contended they had to flee the state because that was their only option to block the election bill. A similar scenario unfolded in late May during the previous session when Democrats walked out before the GOP-backed bill could be passed.
For weeks, Democrats have contended that the bill would suppress minority voters, while Republicans said it’s designed to safeguard future elections and restore Texans’ confidence in their voting systems.
Texas state House rules, meanwhile, allow lawmakers who aren’t present at the Capitol to be arrested and taken to the House sergeant-at-arms. They won’t be detailed in the same way a criminal would be arrested and jailed, analysts noted.
Bill Miller, a longtime Austin political consultant and lobbyist, told the Austin American-Statesman that it’s not clear if handcuffs will be used.
“Yes, the only ability they have is within the state,” said Murphy. “We hope that all those legislators not here will, by their own will, choose to come back here and do the work. That’s what they were elected to do, that was the oath we swore to and those were the rules we adopted. We think their better angels will prevail and we’ll see them here.”
The Epoch Times has contacted the Texas Democratic Party, Dade’s office, and Abbott’s office for comment.