WASHINGTON (AP) – At a downtown DC hotel, the Democratic legislature who left Texas to block a restrictive electoral law has lived a life of stress and control.
After the 50+ state lawmakers sabotaged the bill on Monday to sabotage quorum in the Texas House of Representatives, they must balance a punitive schedule of political lobbying, non-work and family responsibilities in the national spotlight.
Many have left young children behind; most have other work commitments in Texas. All seem to be working with minimal sleep.
“It’s surreal,” said Rep. Gene Wu of Houston. “I can’t describe how strange it was to you.”
Wu said he realized how big their exodus had become when they arrived at Dulles Airport on a private plane on Monday. He overheard a group of German tourists at the airport talking about the volatile Texan legislators.
Her goal is to hold out until her special session ends on Aug. 7, but Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott can call another special session 30 days later. Abbott has also threatened lawmakers with arrest if they return to Texas.
Meanwhile, they’re working in the Capitol and the White House, looking for some sort of federal voter protection measure that would replace all state-level laws.
The Texas state legislature is a part-time body with an annual salary of $ 7,200. So the vast majority of delegates have other main jobs in Texas that they left abruptly.
Legislature describes 16-hour days of essentially shift work, with some working in the Capitol and doing media interviews while others spending around four hours on their other jobs.
“We have several lawyers. We had several people doing Zoom hearings, “said Austin Rep. Erin Zweiner.
The Covid-19 pandemic has strangely turned out to be an unexpected training ground, she said, as everyone is already practicing telework. “Without this cultural change, many people’s employment opportunities would be severely restricted,” she said.
And not everyone has a job or business that they can run through Zoom.
“We’re having a lot of practice during the pandemic,” said Rep. John Bucey of Austin. But some, he said, “are here at the expense of their careers.”
Bucy came to Washington with his 17-month-old daughter Bradley and wife Molly, who is 27 weeks pregnant. The trio actually drove 23 hours straight instead of flying with the other representatives because Bradley is too young to wear a face mask on an airplane.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “There is no childcare here. My wife works. I am working.”
Zweiner came to Washington with her three-year-old daughter Lark for “practical and sentimental reasons,” Zweiner said. Her husband’s work schedule didn’t allow him to be a single parent, and Zweiner said the idea of being apart from their daughter for weeks was heartbreaking.
Now Lark is a reserved Twitter star: the toddler attended a group meeting with New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; She watched the movie “Frozen” on an iPad on the lap of a Gillibrand employee, and Gillibrand gave her a US Capitol coloring book.
Zweiner said Lark was “an absolute champion,” but admitted Thursday that “she’s getting a little grumpy with the process on day four … she needs some time with kids.”
So far, the non-stop meetings have been mixed. On Thursday, Texas lawmakers huddled with Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia. Manchin’s vote will be instrumental in getting Congress to pass the deadlocked suffrage legislation that would prevent much of the action that the Texas Republicans are promoting in their legislature.
“Very good meeting,” said Manchin after leaving the meeting.
However, passing the bill known as the For the People Act also depends on weakening a rule of procedure called Filibuster, which requires 60 votes to move most of the laws forward in the Senate. Senate Republicans used the rule last month to block the debate on the measure. And Manchin, whose vote would also be required, rejected the idea.
Texas State Senator Nathan Johnson said after the meeting that Manchin “said the law was ambitious for the people.”
The Texas governor has accused lawmakers of “hanging out on taxpayer-paid fun,” but officials defended their decision to leave the state, saying the move was already partially successful by putting the issue in the spotlight.
“We’re not here on vacation,” says Senator Jose Menendez. “I would much rather be at home with my family. We’re here to do a job. “
Representatives say they are currently too busy eating out, taking their kids to a museum, or doing any of the other typical activities for Washington visitors.
“I think we will get to a normal routine and a more sensible starting point,” said Zweiner, “something where it amounts to just 12-hour days.”
The decision to entrench themselves in Washington is intended to increase pressure on President Joe Biden and Congress to act in federal votes. The day after they arrived, Biden gave a speech in Philadelphia describing the Republican-led efforts to restrict access to voting as “un-American” and “undemocratic”.
About 20 of the state’s lawmakers held a press conference Wednesday that was attended by a handful of Senators from the Democratic state of Texas who had flown in to offer their support. In front of the downtown DC hotel where the contingent lives and works, about a dozen protesters held up signs saying, “Do your job!” and “Who paid for the private jet?”
The allegation of wasting public money is particularly annoying. The delegation claimed that the entire trip would be funded by donations through the state’s Democratic Caucus. They are also in the middle of a public debate about whether to turn down their $ 221 a day.
Some indicated that their presence in DC was a personal financial disaster due to the jobs they left behind.
“Our mission here in Washington is to use this time until August 7th in this legislature to tell the US Senate that we need to pass federal law on voting rights. And we need it now, said Rep Chris Turner or Arlington, the leader of the Democrats in the Texas House. “And we’re going to get into some big trouble as best we can while we’re doing it. “
AP reporter Brian Slodysko contributed to this story.