Updated at 4:37 p.m. with new information throughout.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The push intensified Friday for President Joe Biden to meet with runaway Texas Democrats while members of the group that fled Austin joined allies from the Virginia and Maryland state legislatures to stress the importance of passing federal voting legislation.
In a call to action, all 13 members of the Texas Democratic Congressional Delegation sent a letter to President Joe Biden Friday urging him to meet with the state House Democrats while they’re in Washington.
“We implore you to speak with the members who have fled to Washington D.C. to uphold free and fair elections for all,” the letter reads.
Congressmen Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, joined the state House Democrats at a press conference when they first arrived in D.C. this week. Veasey joined the Democrats again when they met with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia Thursday.
Away from the Capitol, members of the Black caucuses from the three legislatures, plus a few other Texas lawmakers, met at the historic Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library in Alexandria, Virginia, where in 1939 five Black men were arrested for trying to register for a library card.
“It’s befitting that we are here on this day in this place at this time,” said Fort Worth Rep. Nicole Collier, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. “The symbolism that occurred here at this very place is not lost on us.”
This is the fifth day in Washington for the Texas Democrats, after they broke quorum In the state House and flew to D.C. on Monday to prevent the passage of Republican-backed voting bills. Since then, they’ve met with Vice President Kamala Harris and a number of Democratic senators, hosted press conferences with union leaders and held a discussion on abortion rights on the steps of the Supreme Court.
Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, who attended the press conference at the Barrett Branch Library, said it meant everything to have the Virginia and Maryland legislators there in solidarity.
“This fight isn’t easy. It’s not a vacation. It’s not any of that. It’s not publicity, it’s not partisanship,” she said. “To even hear how much more accessible the ballot box is (here) — I keep telling people, I can’t even get a hearing … I filed more elections bills than any other freshman. I can’t get a hearing.”
The venue for the press event was no accident. One of the first sit-ins in the country took place at the Barrett Branch Library in 1939, when William Evans, Otto L. Tucker, Edward Gaddis, Morris Murray and Clarence Strange were denied library cards and proceeded to sit down to read quietly until police arrived.
The men were arrested for disorderly conduct in the whites-only library and African American media across the country reported on the sit-in, though the episode was largely ignored by major news organizations.
Today, the Alexandria library system celebrates anniversaries of the protest.
“We felt like this was a really great spot to continue that ‘good trouble’ that John Lewis talked about,” Adele McClure, the executive director of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said. “There was good trouble that happened here, and we wanted to make sure that folks stand in solidarity and continue on the fight.”
Texas Democrats repeated their calls for federal voting rights legislation to preempt the Republican-backed measure their quorum break stalled in the Texas Legislature. Federal legislation would supersede any Republican attempts at the state level to limit access to the polls after the 2020 election.
In a passionate speech, Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, dean of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, asked, “Haven’t we done enough?”
“What is it going to take for us to be able to be Americans in this country? I am an American and I want to vote,” she said.
“If they want to arrest me, bring it on,” she said, referencing the civil arrest warrants Republicans have said they will use to bring the Democrats back to Texas.
On Thursday, the Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said he will charter a plane to be on standby in Washington on Saturday to shuttle the runaways back to Austin.
“I am demanding all of our colleagues in D.C. to contact my staff immediately in order to secure their seat on the plane and return to Austin in order to do the state’s business,” he said.
No thanks, Democrats say.
“That’s very wasteful to charter an empty plane to come to Washington, D.C. to get people who are not going to go back with you,” Collier said. “That was just for showmanship. It’s a way for them to try to flex when they haven’t even started lifting weights.”
Their leaders say the group will stay out of Texas until the special session ends on Aug. 6. Gov. Greg Abbott has already pledged to call another special session starting Aug. 8, and more after that until the Democrats give in.
“I will continue calling additional special sessions so we can address the issues,” he said Thursday.
And after meeting with Texas Democrats a day before, Manchin is heading to Texas to attend a fundraiser that includes several wealthy Republican donors among its host committee, according to The Texas Tribune.
A centrist Democrat, Manchin has been hesitant to support eliminating the filibuster in the Senate, which many have said is necessary to get federal voting rights bills such as the For the People Act and the John Lewis Act passed. Legislators at the Barrett Branch Library on Friday said those two bills are crucial.
On Saturday, House Rep. Carl Sherman of South Dallas will speak in Washington at the Good Trouble Vigils for Democracy, a nationwide event to urge lawmakers to pass the For the People Act, the John Lewis Act, and D.C. statehood. The vigil will mark the one year anniversary of Rep. John Lewis’ death.
The Texas Democrats are also set to join Jonathan Capehart on MSNBC Monday night to discuss their agenda in D.C. The interview will air at 10 p.m. Eastern.
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