WASHINGTON, DC – More than 50 Democratic members of the state House fled Austin for Washington, D.C., last Monday, paralyzing the House just as the GOP was advancing sweeping changes in elections during a special session. Under the Texas Constitution, the Legislature requires a quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers to be present to conduct state business in either chamber.
The Texas Democrats plan to spend the week meeting with national voting rights advocates and labor leaders, election officials and other Democrats as they seek to keep the pressure on Congress to pass federal voting legislation.
After news broke over the weekend that three members of the caucus had tested positive for Covid-19, the events were moved largely online. Sunday night, the caucus said two more members had tested positive.
The price of keeping the Democrats out of Texas through Aug. 7, when the session expires, is expected to be around $1.5 million, state Rep. Armando Walle said in an interview.
Walle said the pair of private charter jets the majority of legislators took to Washington cost more than $100,000, while housing, food and other transportation costs will make up the bulk of other expenses.
Who is paying for the exodus has been an open question, as the legislators fled in a hurry without a fundraising plan.
The charter jets were paid for by wire transfer from the state House Democratic Caucus just hours before takeoff Monday afternoon, after NBC News reported that the legislators were planning to leave town, a caucus staffer with knowledge of the matter said.
Members and staffers have picked up costs on their personal credit cards, too, legislators said.
A large block of hotel rooms at a mid-range D.C. hotel was booked with a House member’s personal American Express card, said a legislator, who added that members expect to be reimbursed eventually.