Whashington, DC – Locked up in a Washington hotel, Democratic lawmakers who left Texas to block legislation restricting voting rights lead lives of tension and recriminations.
After leaving the state on Monday to prevent the approval of the bill in the state House of Representatives due to lack of a quorum, more than 50 legislators try to do a thousand things at the same time: they tirelessly promote their cause in the capital and try to fulfill professional obligations and family, all under the reflectors of the cameras.
Many left young children in Texas, where most do other jobs. They all sleep little.RELATED
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Rep. Gene Wu of Houston. “I can’t describe how strange this is all.”
Wu said he realized the uproar caused by the exodus of lawmakers when they arrived in a private plane at Dulles airport on Monday and heard from a group of German tourists saying that fugitive lawmakers had arrived from Texas.
Their goal is to hold out until the end of the special legislative session on August 7. The Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott, however, can call another session 30 days later. Abbott, on the other hand, threatened to arrest lawmakers when they return to Texas.
Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers are mobilizing in Congress and the White House, advocating for measures at the federal level that nullify state laws.
The Texas State Legislature is a part-time body that pays a salary of $ 7,200 per month. This means that the vast majority of legislators live from other jobs.
Lawmakers say they have 16-hour shifts in Washington. They interview, lobby, and try to find time to fulfill their professional obligations.
“We have a lot of attorneys, who participate in hearings via Zoom,” said Representative Erin Zweiner of Austin.
The COVID-19 pandemic, curiously, prepared legislators a bit to work remotely. “Without that preparation, many would have found it difficult to continue to earn a living,” Zweiner said.
Some lawmakers say their presence in Washington represents a financial disaster for them because they cannot perform their jobs. Wu, a lawyer with two young children, said he does not know if he will be able to pay the mortgage on his house at the end of the month.
Representative John Bucey of Austin came to Washington with his 17-month-old daughter Bradley and his pregnant wife Molly. They drove 23 hours without stopping anywhere, instead of taking a plane because Bradley is too small to wear face masks on the flight.
“It’s tough,” Bucey said. “You don’t have someone to take care of you, the girl. My wife works. I also”.
Zweiner came to Washington with his three-year-old daughter Lark, “for both practical and sentimental reasons,” he said. Her husband’s work prevented her from taking care of the child, and Zweiner did not like the idea of parting with her.
Now Lark is a little star of the Twitter universe: She was seen in a meeting with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and saw the movie “Frozen” on an iPad, sitting on the lap of a Gillibrand collaborator, who gave her a notebook for him to paint.
Zweinder said Lark was stoically enduring the situation, but acknowledged that on Thursday, after four days in Washington, the little girl “felt a little irritable. She needs to make a life out of a girl her age ”.
The getaway to Washington involves more than family sacrifices. Some Democrats are already suffering the political consequences of their attitude. President pro tempore of the legislature Joe Moody was removed from that position Thursday.
That’s one of the ways Republicans try to pressure Democratic lawmakers. State House Speaker Dade Phelan said he will have a plane ready in Washington this weekend to bring Democrats back, and Abbott launched an ad campaign targeting absent lawmakers who could be vulnerable in the midterm elections of the next year, putting their faces on milk cartons.
“There is no excuse for this publicity hoax. I join thousands of Texans demanding that these Democrats get back to work, ”Abbott said.
The never-ending meetings have had mixed results so far. On Thursday, Texas lawmakers met with Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat whose vote is vital to passing voting rights legislation that overturns the bill that Republicans are promoting in Texas.
“It was a very positive meeting,” Manchin said.
The approval of the bill, however, would depend on weakening an obstructionist maneuver known as “filibuster”, which requires 60 votes to pass most of the laws in the national Senate. Republicans used it last month to block the initiative. And Manchin rejected the idea.
The governor of Texas accused lawmakers of “having fun on a trip paid for by taxpayers.
“We did not come on vacation,” replied Senator José Menéndez. “I would rather be at home with my family. We are here to fulfill a mission ”.
Representatives say they are too busy to go out to dinner, take their children to museums or do any other typical Washington visitor activity.
The goal of the Democrats is to pressure President Joe Biden and Congress to pass a federal law on the right to vote. The day after the Texas lawmakers arrived, Biden said in Philadelphia that Republican efforts to make it difficult to vote were “anti-American” and “undemocratic.”
Lawmakers say they pay for their trips with donations, and there is debate over whether they should continue to charge their $ 221 per day per diem.