Quorum broken again

And they’re off.

Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives left the state Monday afternoon en route to Washington, D.C., in a bid to again deny Republicans the quorum needed to pass new voting restrictions with 26 days left in a special legislative session called largely for that purpose.

Upping the ante in both the legislative fight at home and the national debate over voting rights, most House Democrats boarded two planes out of Austin headed for the U.S. capital without a set return date. At least 51 of the 67 Democratic representatives — the number needed to break quorum — were in the process of leaving Monday afternoon, most arriving at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Monday to board chartered flights that departed around 3:10 p.m.

The House is set to reconvene Tuesday morning, but the absent Democrats would mean there will not be enough members present to conduct business under House rules.

“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote,” Democratic leaders said in a joint statement released Monday.

With the national political spotlight on Texas’ efforts to further restrict voting, the Democratic exodus offers them a platform to continue pleading with Congress to act on restoring federal protections for voters of color. In Texas, the decamping will mark a more aggressive stance by Democrats to block Republican legislation further tightening the state’s voting rules as the GOP works against thinning statewide margins of victory.

Ultimately, Democrats lack the votes to keep the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing new voting restrictions, along with the other conservative priorities on Gov. Greg Abbott’s 11-item agenda for the special session.

Some Democrats hope their absence will give them leverage to force good-faith negotiations with Republicans, who they say have largely shut them out of negotiations over the voting bill. Both chambers advanced their legislation out of committees on party-line votes after overnight hearings, passing out the bills early Sunday morning after hearing hours of testimony mostly against the proposals and just a few days after making their revived proposals public. The bills were expected to hit the House and Senate floors for votes this week.


Even if Democratic lawmakers stay out of state for the next few weeks, the governor could continue to call 30-day sessions or add voting restrictions to the agenda when the Legislature takes on the redrawing of the state’s political maps later this summer.

Monday’s mass departure follows a Democratic walkout in May that kept Republicans from passing their priority voting bill at the end of the regular legislative session. For weeks, Democrats had indicated that skipping town during the special session remained an option as Republicans prepared for a second attempt at tightening the state’s voting laws.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said in a statement later Monday that the chamber “will use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously-passed House rules to secure a quorum…”


If a quorum is not present when the House convenes Tuesday, any House member can move to make what’s known as a call of the House to “to secure and maintain a quorum” to consider a certain piece of legislation, resolution or motion, under chamber rules. That motion must be seconded by 15 members and ordered by a majority vote. If that happens, the missing Democrats will become legislative fugitives.

“All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained,” the House rules state. “The house shall determine on what conditions they shall be discharged.”

It’s unclear, though, what options Phelan may have to compel Democrats to return to the Legislature if they’re out of state.

Past experience would suggest that his options are basically nil. The DC police and the FBI are not going to be rounding them up and putting them on planes.

This is both a fast-moving story, and one that will play out over who knows how long. I’m probably not going to be able to keep up with every story and hot take out there, so feel free to browse the Internet or just scroll through Twitter – if you’re anything like me, you’ll have all the content you can consume and then some. I’m going to highlight what I think are the main salient points:

– What is the exit strategy here? That has always been my question. It was clear that the 2003 Senate Dems didn’t really have one, though one could argue that if they had held out a little longer they might have been able to scuttle the 2003 re-redistricting for the 2004 cycle. Maybe they can negotiate some concessions from Speaker Phelan in return for a promise that they’ll stay put for this session and the next one on redistricting. Maybe that’s a pipe dream. I have no idea. I hope they do.

– This is all about PR at this point. The main thing the Dems have going for them is that their action is extremely popular with their base – if this doesn’t help them with fundraising, nothing will – and there’s nothing on the special session agenda that has appeal to anyone who isn’t a Republican primary voter. (With one exception, which I’ll get to later.) The bottom line here is that they will portray themselves as fighting for a principle, while Republicans will claim they are cowardly running away. There’s no real question about how each side will perceive things, but there is room to affect the lower-information voters. If Dems can look good to them, they will have achieved a key objective.

– Does this help move Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema on national voting rights legislation? I have no idea. It can’t hurt, I suppose. For sure, if an end result is the passage of a voting rights bill, which would necessitate some alteration to the filibuster, that would be a huge, titanic, earth-shaking victory for the Dems, no matter what else happens in Austin. I would not hold my breath, but the Dems are clearly shooting the moon. You can’t say they’re not giving it their all.

– How long can they hold out? Remember, being in Washington DC means not being home, not being with family, not having a whole lot of control over one’s daily routine. Once the adrenaline wears off, and the reality of having to hold out until at least August 6 kicks in, this can very easily become a slog, and just keeping morale up, while also trying to win that PR battle, will be a chore. It’s also got to be expensive – there are no accommodations in DC that will rival the Ardmore Holiday Inn, I suspect. Part of that exit strategy I mentioned above is making sure the inevitable return at least looks like it’s on their terms, and not because they had run out of options or money or resolve, or because they were losing the PR battle. That’s the other end of the spectrum from the “getting a federal voting rights bill passed” side.

– The issue of restoring funds for the legislative branch will remain unresolved while the Dems are away. Maybe the Supreme Court will feel compelled to address the matter, or maybe they will be like “hey, y’all could totally solve this without us, we’re gonna keep out of it”. I hope someone is communicating with the employees who are still out in the cold right now.

– Like I said, none of the rest of the agenda, including items that Abbott may be planning to add, are anything that the average voter cares about. It’s all terrible from the Dems’ perspective, and the fact that things like the anti-trans sports bill is also hung up is a bonus. That’s the one item that has polled reasonably well, however, and it would not surprise me to see the Republicans make some noise about it. I feel confident saying that’s a long-term loser for them, but all we care about right now is the next 30 days, and the next 15 or so months after that.

For now, Dems are riding high, and they will get a lot of positive attention as well as the usual hate. How long that lasts, we’ll see. Even by this time next week, they may be struggling to get news coverage. It’s going to be a hell of a month. The Chron, the Signal, and pretty much every other news outlet (for now) has more.

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12 Responses to Quorum broken again

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I have a few questions about the mechanics of the actual exodus.

    First, did they bring enough Miller Lite to last the whole trip?

    More importantly, since the planes belong to a de facto Lebanese govt. agent in the US euphemistically called an honorary consul of Lebanon, is that Lebanese American representative fully registered under FARA? That seemed to be a big concern for General Flynn and Paul Manafort, although, curiously, not a big deal for Podesta.


    I would assume a de facto representative of a foreign government providing private planes for the use of Texas politicians would count as foreign lobbying. Next, the planes. Do they, and the flight crews, have the certification and licensing necessary to carry passengers for money? Are they following the same rules Southwest or Million Air have to follow? Does the Lebanon affiliated plane owner charter those planes to other folks? Could me and my friends charter a flight on those planes, or would I have to be politically connected to do that?

    Finally, I’m trying to figure out….are Dems FOR or AGAINST ending the filibuster? In D.C., they want to end it so they can push through legislation. In Texas, it seems they want to keep it, to prevent legislation from being pushed through. The cognitive dissonance here is real.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Hey Manny,

    Here’s a link to the actblue fundraising site so you can donate to make sure these legislators don’t run out of cheap beer while they’re vacationing:


  3. Manny says:

    As to the planes, they think they belong to an American that is of Lebanese ancestry, kinda like Kahil Gibran.

    So, Bill, you continue your lying; when will you racists animals quit hating people so much.

    Bill, why didn’t you complain when the two Republican Commissioners did the same thing here in Harris County?

    I don’t need a racist help to help me determine who I will donate money to.

  4. Lobo says:


    Re: “The bottom line here is that they will portray themselves as fighting for a principle, while Republicans will claim they are cowardly running away.”

    Well said, and the Dems have the better argument.

    Let Alamoist Allen “Warpath” West preach the glory of no-surrender and going down to the death.

    So, the immediate objective, stalling the Special Session, has been accomplished, and in a spectacular way. That is at least a tactical victory, and gives the Texas Dems a national platform to attract attention to the cause: Saving Democracy. That *is* a principle. It’s not just another dispute over policy. And it was very smart of Beto to limit his activism to that core issue in this phase of the election cycle, rather than tussling with red and blue meat or jumping into the ring against Abbott. 

    And it’s more exciting than watching Jan 6 insurrection footage every night on CNN, which is getting tiresome. This provides different visuals. Not great — just talking heads and group photos — but dramatic and newsworthy nonetheless.

    Not to mention Abbott, serial-special-session-caller-to-be, threatening them with arrest upon return for walking off the job. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssvujw0N_cc 

    Fugitive Slaves Act anyone, historically connoting? 

    If the Washington excursion also helps with the fund raising, what’s wrong with that?

    And just as a practical matter, what’s in Abbott’s 11-point agenda for the Dems? Virtually nothing. Not that such a consideration alone would morally or politically justify a walk-out or fly-out by itself, but it does mean that the costs/downsides of the gambit are low to nonexistent. And that’s Abbott’s choice. No carrots, no bunnies at the feeder. 

    BOTTOM LINE FOR TEX-DEMS: Much to gain. Little to lose. 

  5. Jason Hochman says:

    Lobo, I don’t know if the Dems have the better argument. They are claiming that they are on the side of democracy, but they are trying to block the democratically elected officials from doing the job to which they were elected.

  6. Kibitzer says:


    Jueza Suprema Primera Latina just walked off the job, too, and unlike the legislative Dems, with no justification or excuse. Never mind the people of Texas gave her a six-year contract (with guaranteed pay at public expense). No at-will employment there.

    Guzman gave less than 7 days notice, leaving her colleagues in the lurch, and didn’t even bother to offer a reason in her “I-am-outta-here” letter to Governor Abbott. She just quit. To pursue other ambitions, as we now know.

    Later in the week the Court issued an order listing dozens of cases under the rubric “Justice Guzman did not participate in the following decisions”. See here:

    The Court subsequently handed down important opinions, with no indication of the role Guzman played in these cases, and how her impetuous decision to walk off the job affected the voting tally on those cases. Surely, she must have been participating on them, given the length of their pendency.

    The Court now operates with as few as 6 members instead of 9 when 2 are recused, thereby presumably lowering the number votes needed to produce a particular outcome. In one case, a current majority reversed an earlier denial of a petition for review by an oil company, and wiped away a judgment for the plaintiff on motion for rehearing and reinstatement. What was Guzman’s position in that case, and would it have produced a different outcome? We will never know.

    Why isn’t the Governor calling for Eva Guzman’s arrest for desertion, to put her back to serve out the remainder of her term on the Supreme Court (which now again in-conveniently conferences and does OAs in person in Austin, rather than more conveniently in distributed home offices via Zoom).

    Why doesn’t Abbott at least excoriate her for abandoning her solemn judicial duties and distorting the voting and opinion-drafting dynamics on the court?

    We all know the answer: That’s different!

    Republicans get to do what they want. As they want. When they want it.

    And that’s just fine, even if it’s for selfish reasons.

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    Guzman quit, which is her right. I do agree with you, though, Wolf, that it’s kinda shitty for people to run for office, then go for a bigger office while still serving at the first job. Do the decent thing and complete the job you agreed to first. That’s a fair critique for Guzman, or anyone else, regardless of political stripe.

    Now, are you saying these legislators quit? That’s great! I’d like to see a special election called to replace all of them. Maybe we’d do better than the sad sack collection of heffalumps, sad cat ladies, and low-T beta males that fled the state. Just looking at their selfies makes me sad.

    How long do they have to be AWOL until they are considered to have quit their jobs?

  8. Política comparada says:

    Paudits to Mr. Kuffner for using a fitting headline for this developing story, and for sharing his take on it, thereby making a valuable contribution to the marketplace of paid-for, subsidized, and uncompensated free speech. You don’t have to agree with all of it, or any part. It’s still exemplary in that this commentary is well-reasoned.


    Inexplicably, the Texas Tribune framed this calculated political move by Democratic Caucus legislators as “fleeing” the state, and other news outlets duly parroted them. Even The New York Times. Which just goes to show that the quality media puts its own spin on things. And now the bail reform that they don’t care for is somehow “imperiled” in the story-telling of the Trib.

    BOYCOTT would have been a better term, and there also happens to be precedent for this sort of manoeuvre elsewhere in the democratic world; and by that name.

    See, e.g., Parliament’s boycott: 1981 to 1983 in the island nation of Malta, now a member of the EU, which incidentally also involved a dispute over the election system and its workings.


    But we already have QUORUM BREAKING, and the attentive public should by now be familiar with the term.

    Still, the case of the boycott of the parliament in Malta is interesting because it also involved a two-party system with highly antagonistic camps: Nationalists/Christian Conservatives vs. Labor Party/Socialists.


    The standoff between the two feuding political parties in Malta was ultimately resolved through a constitutional amendment that altered the electoral arrangements to assure overall fairness.

    Since 1987, in case a political party obtains an absolute majority of popular votes without achieving a parliamentary majority based on the allocation of seats resulting from the determination of which candidates won in multi-member districts, a mechanism in the Maltese Constitution provides for additional seats for the party that received the popular vote so as to assure that party of a Parliamentary majority, and thus the ability to form the next government (Act IV of 1987). To date this mechanism, intended to counteract gerrymandering, was triggered on two occasions.

    FUN FACT: Malta was a British Crown Colony and achieved its independence and transition to a republic without a bloody revolution. See “Constitution of Malta” entry on wikipedia for details.

    What is a quorum in the Texas House?

    QUORUM. The number of members required to conduct business. Two-thirds of the elected members constitute a quorum in each house. A majority of the appointed members of a committee forms a quorum for the purpose of conducting committee business.

    SOURCE: How A Bill Becomes A Law texas [dot] gov

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  10. Bill Daniels says:


    Haven’t you noticed by now that the MSM marches in lock step? Call it talking points, call it whatever you want, but the literal party line is issued, and that’s it, that’s what everyone will be saying, oft times using the exact same verbiage. For what it’s worth, right leaning Sinclair Broadcasting did the exact same thing on it’s local stations, so it’s not exclusively a leftist tactic, although since the MSM is virtually all left leaning, we notice it more when it’s done by the left.

    First, you’re not supposed to notice that, much less complain about it. Second, do you really want to be a heretic by calling it out? When you’re told that the chocolate rations have been increased by 11 grams/month, you’re not suppose to point out that last month they were cut by 13 grams/month. See where I’m going with this?

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