Texas lawmakers says ‘we understand what is at stake. We know the future of voting for our families is at stake’
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has accused Democrats of fomenting “made-up outrage” and spreading “melodramatic cliches” in their opposition to Republican-backed laws that restrict ballot access and hand election administration over to GOP lawmakers, despite warnings from voting rights advocates and legal experts about their potentially seismic impacts.
In remarks from the floor of the US Senate on 14 July, Mr McConnell criticised Democratic state lawmakers from Texas who traveled to Washington DC to break quorum in their state in a last-ditch effort to block passage of one such proposal.
Mr McConnell baselessly claimed those lawmakers came to the nation’s capital – where they are lobbying the White House and members of Congress to pass critical federal voting rights protections – “to grab some beer, hop on a private plane and flee the state in what they are pretending is some great moral crusade”.
“In reality, they’ve just come here to Washington to snap selfies and bask in the limelight and beg Senate Democrats to take over Texas elections,” said the senator, who has relied on the filibuster to block voting rights legislation in his own chamber.
Following Joe Biden’s impassioned speech urging Republicans to protect the right to vote, Senator McConnell said it was “set in an alternative universe” and condemned the president’s remarks suggesting that the fight for voting rights is among the most critical tests for democracy since the Civil War as “utter nonsense”.
Fuelled by the Donald Trump’s “stolen election” narrative under the guise of preserving “election integrity” and “voter confidence”, Republican leaders in at least 17 states have enacted at least 28 new laws that restrict access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
A parallel effort from GOP lawmakers has seen more than 200 bills in 41 states that give themselves more authority over the electoral process, according to the States United Democracy Center. At least 24 of those bills have been signed into law.
Senator McConnell falsely claimed that GOP proposals have “mainstream” support among a majority of Americans, despite several major polls finding that most Americans back efforts that make it easier to vote early and create national standards for mail-in voting, among other proposals.
The senator led a GOP blockade of the White House-backed For The People Act, refusing to hold a debate on the sweeping voting rights proposal.
He also has opposed a renewal of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 civil rights law, as “unnecessary”.
In 2013, the US Supreme Court stripped out a critical provision of the law that prohibited states from enacting new elections laws if they had a history of racial discrimination at the polls.
After that ruling, states closed hundreds of polling places, disproportionately targeting areas with voters of colour, and GOP lawmakers have filed dozens of restrictive voting laws – culminating in a massive, right-wing lobby-backed campaign to flood state legislatures in 2021 with copycat bills to “right the wrongs of November”.
While his party mounts a partisan campaign to undermine ballot access and consolidate election oversight and electoral power into the hands of GOP lawmakers, Senator McConnell has accused Democrats of staging a “takeover” of elections.
Texas Democrats have pushed back against Republican criticism, including Governor Greg Abbott’s accusation that the lawmakers are “inflicting harm” on their constituents.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Texas Rep Chris Turner told reporters on Monday. “We are doing our job. We were elected to represent our constituents and fight for our constituents’ interests. We aren’t going to sit in Austin in the house chamber and watch the Republican majority steamroll the voting rights of our constituents.”
Nicole Collier, chair of the Texas Legislature’s Black Caucus, told reporters on 14 July: “We get asked quite often, why did you leave? … We understand what is at stake. We know the future of voting for our families is at stake.”
“Unless we see model legislation, our voices will be silenced,” she said from Washington DC. “We left our families, our full-time jobs, to be here and make sure everybody has that chance to have our voices heard.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the president believes “that these Texas legislators were making a statement, through action, in opposition to efforts in their state to oppose restrictions on people’s fundamental rights, and the right to vote in their state.”