The Texas House Democrats who are breaking quorum to block their Republican colleagues from advancing voting restrictions will meet with Bill and Hillary Clinton and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams on Thursday, state legislators said.
Members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus will meet with Abrams at 10 a.m. and the Clintons at 11 a.m. Both meetings will take place virtually, over Zoom.
More than 50 members of the Texas House are in Washington this month, waiting out the clock on a special legislative session to block Republicans from enacting sweeping changes to elections in the state. Through meetings with members of Congress and a steady stream of media events, the legislators have used their time in the capital to plead for federal voting legislation.
At a House Oversight Committee hearing Thursday, three of the state lawmakers said the legislation in their state would disproportionately affect people of color.
Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson spoke of a personal history of voter suppression in Texas, saying her grandparents had to save “pennies and nickels” to pay a poll tax. Thompson herself had to pay a poll tax the first time she voted, she said.
“I’m hoping that I don't have to keep fighting this fight, that my grandchildren — my grandchildren's children — will not have to keep repeating these struggles,” she said.
Thompson responded to Republican members of the panel, who suggested, sometimes forcefully, that the state representatives should be back at the special session in Texas — with Rep. Scott Franklin of Florida later calling them "a bunch of spoiled cowards."
“You’re damn right I left Texas, and I’m glad I did,” Thompson said, adding, “People who I represent have a right to be able to vote unabridged, just like all of you.”
In interviews, the state Democrats said the meetings with the former president, the 2016 Democratic nominee and Abrams come at a critical time. After more than two weeks of frenzied activity — and a number of breakthrough Covid cases — lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill slowed this week as the Senate turned its attention to working out a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Some members have also said they are frustrated that they haven't yet been able to secure a meeting with President Joe Biden.
"This is the kind of the stretch of the calendar when you start missing your family the most, you've been away from your job now for a couple weeks, things are starting to mount up," said Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, one of six of the fully vaccinated Texas Democrats recovering from Covid-19. "To me, it just sort of reaffirms that this fight is a fight worth having."
Democrats said that they will ask the Clintons to lend their political capital to their effort and that they will seek strategic advice from all three about how to push forward on federal voting legislation, which remains stalled in the Senate despite the state legislators' efforts to sway support.
Republicans have consistently opposed such proposals, and legislation needs 60 votes to advance. The Senate is divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote. A number of Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona among the most vocal of them, have said they won't change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster to pass voting legislation.
"They both have so much wise counsel that they can provide for us. We're hoping they can use their influence, as well," state Rep. Ron Reynolds said of the Clintons. "We're going to ask them, if they haven't already, if they would personally call Sen. Sinema and Sen. Manchin."
Legislators said they were optimistic that they could keep the pressure on senators to act. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Democratic senators were working on revised voting legislation. Last month, Republicans blocked consideration of an amended version of the For the People Act, an expansive wish list of progressive priorities, such as requiring mail-in voting and 15 days of early voting. The legislation would impose new limits on financing campaigns and require presidential nominees to release their tax returns.
Manchin has put forth a compromise version that he has said he can support.
The former secretary of state applauded the Texas Democrats' work in statements to NBC News.
“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.
Former President Clinton stressed the Democrats' national impact.
"What Texas Democrats are standing up against goes far beyond their own state — it is part of a much wider effort by Republicans nationwide to make it harder to cast a vote and have it counted, because they know they can’t win when the electorate matches America in its full diversity," he said. "Hillary and I are inspired by the Texas Democrats and hope they will keep making what our dear friend John Lewis called 'good trouble.'”
Abrams, founder of voting rights group Fair Fight, told the Democrats in a statement that "Georgians stand with you, because what you’re doing is bigger than just Texas. You are fighting for all of us across the South and across the country. Keep on fighting, and keep standing strong.”