The House’s vote on Friday most likely signaled the end of drama that began in late May when, in the closing hours of the Texas Legislature’s regular session, Democratic House members fled the chamber to stop Republicans from passing a similar bill.
An irate Mr. Abbott called a special session to begin in early July, urging legislators to consider a voting bill along with proposals to direct more money toward border security, restrict transgender youths’ participation in interscholastic athletics and limit access to abortion, among other conservative priorities. More than 50 House Democrats, led by their progressive wing, organized two charter flights from Austin to Washington, where they were initially greeted as heroes by congressional Democrats in their shared fight to enact new federal voting protections.
Their momentum was short-lived.
In the days after their arrival, groups of Texas House Democrats met with Vice President Kamala Harris and Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key vote in the push to pass Democrats’ federal voting bills. But before their first week in the capital had ended, several of the Texas lawmakers tested positive for the coronavirus, turning their planned media tour and congressional pressure campaign into a series of videoconferences that failed to attract much attention.
They remained ensconced at a hotel in downtown Washington, unable to use the swimming pool because Republicans had stationed a videographer on the deck waiting to film any of them appearing to violate their pledge to work tirelessly for voting rights.
In the hours after the July special session ended, Mr. Abbott called a second one to begin two days later. But the potential arrests of Democrats who failed to appear in the statehouse chamber, promised by Mr. Abbott and State House Republican leaders, failed to materialize. By then, the Democrats had quietly returned to the state, with many going about their daily lives without incident.
By the end of last week, a trickle of State House Democrats began returning to the State Capitol, ending the walkout and allowing the business of the chamber to resume. While Texas Democrats celebrated their fight against new voting restrictions, Republicans moved swiftly to enact their proposals.
For all of the energy Democrats poured into their flight from Austin and attempts to pressure Congress, the scene inside the Texas State House chamber on Thursday and Friday was largely one of an ordinary day of legislating, devoid of fireworks or protesters in the gallery. Only a somewhat greater number of television cameras hinted at the stakes of the vote.