July 29, 2021

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The sixth Texas Democrat in Washington tests positive for COVID and the boycott does not go as planned

Updated at 9:10 pm with Surgeon General saying passengers must wear masks on planes.

WASHINGTON – With COVID-19 affecting more than 10 percent of Texas Democrats who fled Austin to thwart a GOP election law, the fugitives spent Monday strategizing to urge Congress to renew protections for the state. right to vote without being able to exert personal pressure.

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A sixth Texas House member tested positive on Monday, according to Dallas state representative Rhetta Bowers, adding that she and others brought food to quarantined people in their rooms.

“It certainly doesn’t stop our work,” he said. “We just have to be much more careful.”

In the White House, a few blocks from their hotel hideout, press secretary Jen Psaki shrugged off concerns that Vice President Kamala Harris may have contracted the coronavirus from Texans or may now endanger President Joe Biden. Harris spent an hour with them last Tuesday, three days before a congressman developed cold symptoms and then tested positive.

“No further precautions were taken,” Psaki said after noting that Harris has since tested negative and insisted that her visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday was routine and had been previously scheduled.

But with six of the 55 fugitives testing positive since Friday, the Texans’ hopes of meeting Biden this week have dropped significantly.

The outbreak has disrupted their plans to return to the United States Capitol for further pressure. Democrats across the country are calling for federal voting rights legislation to address restrictions emanating from Austin and other GOP-controlled state capitals in the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat.

To pass the time and maintain interest in their case, the Texans held a hybrid seminar on Monday with guest speakers and most of the lawmakers attending via Zoom. A screen showed twenty or so scattered across a Washington Plaza hotel ballroom, no more than three per table, each filled with a bottle of hand sanitizer.

“Everyone talks about you, about what you do. I hope you can stay out of Texas for as long as possible, until the governor and other Republicans of Texas come to their senses, “Dolores Huerta, 91, an icon of the trade union movement who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chavez said on video, the sound of a cat’s meow accentuated his comments. “You Texas Democrats are the soldiers fighting for all.”

The group began wearing masks on Saturday and changing their plans after three members tested positive. Two others tested positive on Sunday.

When the first symptoms appeared, “we thought it wise to proactively test our members and employees,” said Grand Prairie Rep Chris Turner, head of the Democratic caucus at Texas House.

Over the past week, hotel staff have thoroughly cleaned the conference room used by Texans.

Bower went to great lengths to keep track of which colleagues tested positive so that she could find out if she had been close to them. She survived a battle with COVID in December that also affected her family members.

“We fought really hard to improve,” he said.

“We followed all of the CDC guidelines,” said D-Dallas state representative Rafael Anchia. “We are grateful that 100% of us are pre-vaccinated…. This delta variant is no joke. ”

Harris and Biden are also fully vaccinated, which public health experts say should protect almost everyone from becoming seriously ill.

Harris met with Texans last Tuesday, the day after they flew Austin on short notice to thwart a GOP election bill seen by Democrats as an attempt to drastically curb minority participation in elections. They spent the rest of the week lobbying senators for federal legislation that would anticipate the measure and restore control of the Texas Department of Justice and other states with discrimination stories that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in 2013. .

House Democrats killed Senate Bill 7 with a strike in the waning hours of May’s regular session. Abbott summoned the lawmaker for a month-long special session that opened on July 8 to bring her back to life.

Elsa Caballero, president of SEIU Texas, which represents health professionals, security officers and janitors, likened breaking the quorum to a strike when workers have no other resort to unfair treatment.

“I am so proud of the bold position you have taken,” he said at the seminar.

In a virtual question-and-answer session with reporters, Turner declined to ask whether he expects to meet Biden in light of the outbreak. “We appreciate the president’s strong support for federal voting rights legislation,” he said.

According to Houston representative Armando Walle, the caucus will need $ 1.5 million to cover transportation, housing and food to run until August 7, when the current special session ends. The fundraiser hasn’t reached that goal yet, he said, but it’s ongoing. Beto O’Rourke and Willie Nelson, among others, jumped in.

Texas for All, a coalition of progressive and Democratic groups, on Monday criticized Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan’s “expensive and wasteful publicity stunt” last week when he offered Democratic lawmakers in Washington a free plane ride. homeward.

“After the speaker paid for an empty plane to fly to Washington, in a strange attempt to coerce our Democratic champions – who fight to protect Texan voting freedom in the nation’s capital – the plane took off from empty Washington. how it got there, ”the coalition said in a statement.

Coalition Director Sissi Yado added: “Not a single pro-democracy Texan legislator has boarded this plane because these champions are committed to protecting Texans’ freedom to vote.”

However, Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez said no planes flew to Washington. Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, planned to pay him with his campaign money. But without the Democrats accepting the offer, Phelan’s campaign report came at no cost, Marquez explained.

“Since there was no passenger list, there was no charge for President Phelan’s campaign,” he said in an email. “We wish the House Democrats recovering from COVID-19 in Washington, DC all the best.”

Photos posted online show House Democrats heading to Washington without masks in two chartered jets.

Some Republicans have mocked them as irresponsible, including some who even ridicule expert advice to wear masks.

Donald Trump Jr. posted a sneering Instagram post featuring a photo of impudent lawmakers on a bus bound for Austin Airport.

“Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?” wrote Trump Jr., who contracted COVID-19 in November after his father, then President Donald Trump, was hospitalized for the condition.

Monday night at 9:00 pm Central Time, MSNBC aired a city hall live with a dozen Texas Democrats virtually, rather than in the studio as scheduled.

Ahead of the event, surgeon general Vivek Murthy explained that vaccinated people can still contract Covid-19, reiterating that they probably should have worn masks during the flight. “When you are on a plane, train, bus or subway, the guidelines require you to wear masks to protect yourself and others,” he said.

Republicans teased House Democrats for giving up their duties in Austin and escaping. With just over a third of the room, the Democrats have enough power to break the quorum and stop proceedings, but there are too few votes to reject a bill.

Abbott’s campaign bought ad time for a 30-second commercial that showed footage of an empty state capital to the sound of crickets. There’s a short clip from state representative Michele Beckley, D-Lewisville, on CNN saying she wasn’t sure if the group would meet the Republicans in Congress, the ones who block federal law. (They don’t, other than brief passing interactions.)

“Instead of tackling border security, retired teachers, commercial e and foster children, the Texas Democrats have decided to take a trip,” the announcement said. “Texas Democrats must # get back to work.”

The outbreak thwarted their plans for the week and was a lot on their minds.

Shortly before the program began on Monday, a Democratic assistant, Abhi Rahman, sneezed. “Don’t worry, I’ve tested negative twice,” he said.

Caballero recalled that polls came to the polls in Texas last fall with guns slung, a “scare tactic to keep people from voting.”

The bill Abbott wants would further allow biased pollsters, among other things. It would make it a crime for election officials to send out unsolicited ballot papers and limit early and absent voting.

“We all know what this bill is about. This is not about voter protection. This is not about election fraud. This is just another attempt to stop people from voting, to prevent certain communities from voting, “Caballero said, turning it into” a Republican Party takeover. ”

“By taking this stand, you have sent a strong message to Governor Abbott, Deputy Governor Patrick and the rest of the Republican legislative leadership,” he said.

Hector Sanchez, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a group that supports Latin citizens and immigrants, praised “the heroic, extraordinary delegation from Texas for standing up, for igniting the spark of hope for democracy, for inspiring us … There are moments in history we can remember, when people stood up and said, let’s not let this happen …. Texas lawmakers are the ones who take this heroic stand and we stand in solidarity with all of you “.

“Why do we wait six hours on Tuesday for the fundamental right to vote, and other people can vote in a much easier way?”

The fight in Texas, he said, was reminiscent of the struggles in Arizona over SB 1070, a 2010 immigration control law that was the nation’s toughest at the time and, even earlier in 1984, California’s 187 proposal.

Proposal 187 was a voting initiative that would have blocked access to schools, non-emergency health care and other state-supported services for undocumented immigrants.

In both episodes, Sanchez said: “We have eliminated the most extremist voices … Texas is the present and the future of our nation.”

Austin office chief Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.

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