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Runaway Texas Democrats urge filibuster 'carve-out' as GOP seeks their return

Texas Republicans voted Tuesday to send law enforcement to return the fleeing lawmakers to Austin.

Texas Republican lawmakers on Tuesday morning voted to dispatch law enforcement to track down the Democrats who fled the state in a last-ditch effort to block passage of new voting limits.

The Texas Democrats who took off to Washington appeared in front of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday morning to plea for lawmakers there to help, asking them to rewrite the U.S. Senate rules in order to allow them to override Republican efforts.

The voting bill they're hoping to block, meanwhile, passed the Republican-controlled Texas Senate by a party-line vote of 18-4.

But the Democrats' maneuvers mean the state House is now without the needed quorum to do business, and a roll call on Tuesday confirmed that only 80 of the 150 members were present. Just four Democrats were marked as in attendance in Austin.

Absent lawmakers can be legally compelled to return to the state Capitol. Under the Texas Constitution, the legislature requires a quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers be present. Another provision allows the remaining lawmakers to compel their peers to return to Austin or to issue punishments for their absences.

Still, as no crime has been committed and the legislature's only power is to compel attendance, Texas law enforcement do not have jurisdiction outside the state of Texas and cannot ask local police to bring the lawmakers home.

If they are to succeed, Democrats will need to spend more than three weeks in Washington; the current special session in Austin expires on Aug. 7.

"We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas, and we can't stay here indefinitely," said state Rep. Rhetta Bowers, a Democrat from the Dallas area. "Texas Democrats will use everything in our power to fight back but we need Congress to act now."

Texas lawmakers fleeing the state to block legislation isn't a new move — state Democrats did so in 2003 to stop redistricting bills and 1979 over primary election rule changes. It's a way for the minority to exercise more power than the majority, similar to the filibuster in Washington they want killed.

The lawmakers said they plan to lobby Congress and the White House on the issue, and have lined up a number of high-profile meetings.

Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of the Texas Democratic caucus early Tuesday evening, according to the White House. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters he also plans to meet with the state lawmakers during their time in Washington.

In their Tuesday morning news conference, Democrats urged their counterparts in Washington to carve out an exception to the filibuster rules, but only for for voting rights legislation.

The Texas Democrats echoed a call by House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who has said that Senate Democrats should make an exception to the filibuster rules.

They join a growing chorus of state Democratic lawmakers who have been unable to block Republican-led efforts to advance voting restrictions and are asking Congress to help. Republicans are said the new rules are needed to prevent fraud, echoing the baseless claims of former President Donald Trump. Democrats have argued that without any evidence of fraud, Republicans are simply trying to suppress voting among populations that helped hand Trump defeat in the 2020 election.

In making their case to change the Senate rules, Democrats have pointed to congressional Republicans killing the filibuster in order to approve Supreme Court justices, a top priority for conservatives.

“If you can have a carve-out for right-wing Supreme Court Justice, why can't you have a carve-out to protect the very fundamentals of our democracy?” state Rep. Chris Turner said, referring to Republicans' decision to approve a Supreme Court nomination on a simple majority in 2020.

Asked how the lawmakers' visit was different from their last trip to Washington after their May walkout, Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said this time they had strength in numbers.

“Democracy is hard," he said. "We don’t expect anything here to be easy.”

Frank Thorp V contributed.