On Friday at midnight, the Texas legislature’s special session – the one in which Democrats fled the state in order to keep a stringent voting bill from being passed – will come to a close. On Saturday at noon, the next special session of the legislature will open.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that plan on Thursday, making good on his promise to not allow Democrats to block the election legislation. “I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve,” Abbott said of the move. “Passing these Special Session agenda items will chart a course towards a stronger and brighter future for the Lone Star State.”
That move by Abbott firmly puts the onus on Texas state House Democrats, who have been living (and working) out of the state for almost a month already. (The group left the state on July 12 to rob Republicans of a quorum, meaning that the election bill could not even be brought up for debate, much less voted on.)
The question for those Democrats, who have been in Washington since mid-July, is what do they do next? Sure, they can stay in DC for the duration of this next special session – effectively calling Abbott’s bluff. But what if he is up to this game of chicken and calls another special session after this one expires? And another? And another?
Abbott could effectively keep these state legislators out of the state for an indefinite period of time. Away from their homes. Their families. Their daily routines. And all of this coming at a time when the Delta variant of Covid-19 has made us all feel more vulnerable to the virus than we have in months, with many people hunkering down at or near home to stay safe. (If the legislators returned to Texas, Abbott could use law enforcement to round them up and force them to be in the chamber to conduct legislative business.)
There’s every reason to believe, too, that Abbott will make good on that promise to keep calling special sessions. And there’s a specific and obvious reason why: It’s great politics for him.
Abbott is up for another term in 2022, and the Republican base – as controlled by Donald Trump – loves the idea of him feuding with Democrats at the state and national level over a bill that he claims would lessen fraud at the ballot box. (Abbott is trying to solve a problem that study after study shows simply doesn’t exist, of course, but the Republican base doesn’t seem to care about that.)
And Abbott also has an eye on seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. This fight, which has drawn tons of national media attention and coverage, is a massive blessing for those ambitions. Prior to all of this, Abbott wasn’t terribly well-known outside of Texas. The longer this stare down with Texas (and national) Democrats goes, the more he gets known – and liked – by the voters who will decide the identity of the 2024 nominee.
Given all of that, there’s every reason to believe that Abbott won’t blink. And because they want to, you know, go home at some point, the Democratic state legislators are the far more likely to fold.
At this point, the debate within their group has to be not whether they will eventually return to the state and, in so doing, allow Republicans to pass the election bill. The question is when they give in and whether they can extract any concessions from either Abbott or Republicans in the state legislature for it.