US House oversight hearing will put spotlight on Texas voting rights skirmish
A congressional oversight panel will put a spotlight Thursday on the unusual skirmish that prompted Democrats to flee the Texas House en masse to protect minority voting rights.
The hearing, announced Monday – the twoweek anniversary of the walkout – will feature members of the Texas Black Legislative Caucus, which rallied with clergy and a District of Columbia councilman at a historic Black church to keep attention focused on the fight.
“America is facing the most sweeping assault on the voting rights of the people since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Texas is now Ground Zero in this battle,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-MD., chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, announcing the hearing dubbed “Democracy in Danger: The Assault on Voting Rights in Texas.” “We hope this hearing will galvanize attention on the urgent need for Congress to pass strong voting rights legislation, including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
Members of the Black caucus gathered outside Unity Baptist Church in Northeast Washington. Local clergy presented a jumbo check for $11,350 to support their month-long exile from Texas and to embrace their cause.
The Rev. Charles Mcneill, who called on pastors nationwide to support the effort, said he’d been watching the “exodus of the Texas legislators with a great deal of concern and a feeling of déjà vu” that brought to mind the Jim &URZ HUD DQG WKH ĻV FLYLO ULJKWV VWUXJJOH
“We have watched the passage of similar laws in Georgia and Florida. If this law is allowed to pass in Texas, then other states will follow,” he warned.
“Texas has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. Since the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, Texas has been found in violation every single decade,” said Rep. Nicole Collier of Fort Worth, who chairs the Black caucus.
Collier is one of three Democrats from the Texas House on the witness list for the U.S. House hearing, along with Senfronia Thompson of Houston, elected in 1972, and Diego
Bernal of San Antonio.
“I pay my taxes. I follow the law. And I help to write the law,” Thompson said outside Unity Baptist. But under the Texas GOP proposals, “I am not good enough” to cast a ballot. “It’s time for this to stop.”
Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, will also testify. She has been involved in numerous lawsuits in Texas over redistricting and other election-related issues.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Waco is the senior Republican on Raskin’s subcommittee, and Republicans have the option to add their own witnesses.
Congressional Democrats have made their sympathies clear, and have already approved one of the two bills that the runaway Texans have spent their time in Washington lobbying Congress to approve.
The holdup is in the Senate, where the split is 50-50, Democrats can’t muster the 60 votes needed to force a floor vote, and even many Democrats refuse to scrap the long-standing filibuster rule that allows a plurality to block legislation.
Raskin’s hearing announcement calls out Gov. Greg Abbott and fellow Republicans in the Legislature for pushing Senate Bill 7 and an updated version in the special session Abbott called to try again, after House Democrats blocked SB7 with a much shorter quorum break at the end of the regular session in late May.
A half-dozen of 57 Texas House Democrats who fled to Washington two weeks ago have tested positive for COVID-19, though there have been no new cases since July 18, and at least some of the stricken lawmakers will emerge from quarantine on Tuesday, Collier said.
The outbreak has hampered the fugitives’ success in scheduling in-person lobbying sessions, and despite many entreaties, they’ve been unable to get on President Joe Biden’s calendar.
At Unity Baptist Church, where sweltering heat and high humidity typical of summer in the nation’s capital left foreheads glistening with sweat, D.C. councilman Kenyan Mcduffie, lauded the Texans for standing up for minority voters around the country.
“Republican legislators are trying to wind back the clock… and bring about a new age of Jim Crow voter suppression,” he said.
State Rep. Carl Sherman of Desoto offered a prayer.
“We’re sick and tired of being marginalized… .We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said, borrowing a phrase from civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer. “We come here, Lord, asking that you would bury the Confederate spirit… and the spirit of Governor Wallace and resurrect the spirit of John Lewis.”
In Phoenix on Saturday night, Trump boasted to a conservative Turning Point USA gathering that Republicans made “massive gains” in November.
Yet “I got no credit from these people. None. I made 58 phone calls, 58,” he complained. “In the House, we were expected to lose 25 to 35 seats…. In fact, we shockingly gained 16 seats. And in the Senate, without my involvement, it would right now be 60/40 with the Democrats in the lead….we had such an incredible evening.”
Except, obviously, in his own presidential race.
State Rep. Jarvis Johnson of Houston, noting Trump’s comments, called it puzzling that Republicans continue to justify ballot restrictions based on Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen from him.
“If there was nothing wrong with the election, then what are we doing by creating more restrictions?” Johnson said at the church. “Oh, because Black Americans vote 95%” for Democrats.
“This was an excuse to create a law to suppress the votes of black men and women all across this country,” he said.