Democrats in the Texas legislature have left their state en masse in an effort to prevent Republicans there from passing a law to tighten voting rules.
The move will temporarily paralyse the state’s House of Representatives, which requires at least two-thirds of lawmakers be present for a vote.
At least 50 House Democrats boarded two private jets from Austin to Washington DC on Monday.
The move comes amid a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-led states.
An important first vote on the sweeping voting legislation proposed by Texas Republicans was planned for later this week.
The bill would outlaw 24-hour polling places and drive-through voting, ban ballot drop boxes and expand the authority of partisan poll watchers.
The House lawmakers took off on Monday afternoon – the first time since 2003 that state Democrats have left Texas to break quorum.
Speaking to reporters as they landed in Washington DC, the Texas Democrats said they would not return until the 30-day special session had ended next month.
Top Texas Democrat Chris Turner said in a statement: “We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas.”
The fleeing lawmakers do so under threat of arrest. Under Texas law, legislators can be legally compelled to return to the state capital in Austin.
In response to the exodus, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, said in a statement that the House would use “every available resource” to secure a quorum.
The Democrats’ action also hopes to put pressure on Washington lawmakers and US President Joe Biden, who is facing calls from activists to do more at the federal level to protect voting rights. Mr Biden, a Democrat, is scheduled to deliver a major speech on the issue on Tuesday, in Philadelphia.
This marks the second time in six weeks that Texas Democrats have used a walk-out as a delay tactic.
In May, state Democrats left the state House hours before the regular legislative session ended. Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, called the current 30-day special session in response.
But with Republicans in control of both the Texas House and Senate, Democrats’ options are limited. If they do remain outside the state for the duration of the current special session, Governor Abbott can simply call a new one.
Probably only delays the inevitable
Texas Democrats are again attempting to prevent state Republicans from passing new voting restrictions – and where they’re going says everything about their ultimate objective.
This fight, in their view, will be won or lost in Washington, DC – where Democrats have control – not in Texas, where Republicans call the shots. And not only could federal legislation override the proposed changes to Texas voting laws, it would also block enacted measures in Georgia, Arizona and other key presidential battleground states.
There has been concern among liberals that the Biden administration is not taking the threat state-level voting laws pose to Democratic candidates in upcoming elections – and has not shown a willingness to take aggressive action in Congress to push through new national rules.
The left is celebrating Texas Democrats for putting the spotlight on voting reform – even if it means facing criticism from conservatives for shirking their legislative obligations and undermining the efforts of the elected majority in their home state.
It is, however, a symbolic move. It probably only delays the inevitable in Texas and is unlikely to change the dynamic in Washington, where the Republican Senate minority has more effective means to block the Democrats than simply leaving town.