Jul 13, 2021
Texas Democrats Press Conference Transcript: GOP Election Bill, Voting Rights
Democratic legislators from Texas held a press conference in D.C. on July 13, 2021. They discussed the GOP-backed election legislation in Texas. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Marc Veasey: (02:33)
Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much for being here this morning. And first of all, I want to thank all of our friends, the Democrats, and the Texas legislature for doing the right thing, coming to Washington, DC, to really shine light on what’s a very glaring topic, a very important topic in our country and that’s the eroding of voting rights.
Marc Veasey: (02:56)
Since 1965, since the voting rights act was passed in the mid ’60s, we have not seen this level of retrogression in the right to people to cast their votes since that time period, and people need to do something about it. And this group is here today exactly doing that. They’re doing something about it. They’re standing up and they’re doing the right thing. Congressman Doggett and I are very happy to host them here at the triangle today. The first person that you’re going to hear from is Chris Turner, who’s the chair of the house democratic caucus in Austin.
Marc Veasey: (03:33)
He represents Tarrant County, but we’re happy to have all of these courageous members here today. They made big sacrifices to be here today. These members all come from a variety of different districts. Some of them come from, in DC what we will call frontline districts and they’re making a sacrifice so all Americans, regardless of their race, their income, their party affiliation will have equal access to the ballot. And that is what this is about. Before I turn it over to Chris, would like for Congressman Doggett to also have a few words. And then the next person you hear from after Lloyd will be Chris.
Lloyd Doggett: (04:08)
We’ll wrap this up at the end, but clearly they brought the Texas heat along with the Texas courage. We’re glad all of you are out. We are here to honor them and their courage, their focus, not just on what’s happening in Texas, but what is happening right over there in the United States Senate. It is a time for bold action, the same kind of bold action and courage we need in the United States Senate. And from this administration that these Texas colleagues of ours are demonstrating by their action. Chris, we’re so pleased you’re here. Thank you for your leadership.
Chris Turner: (04:46)
Thank you. Thank you, Congressman Visi, Congressman Doggett and our entire Texas congressional delegation, all of whom just do such a fabulous job of representing the lone star state here in our nation’s Capitol, fighting for the people of Texas every single day. We can’t thank you enough. And thank you for hosting us here this morning. My name is Chris Turner. I am the chair of the Texas house democratic caucus. I’m a state representative from grand Prairie, Texas in the Dallas Fort Worth region.
Chris Turner: (05:17)
As you just heard more than 50 democratic members have at the Texas house had left Texas to stop Republicans from passing the latest iteration of their voter suppression legislation. And you’re going to hear primarily from some of my colleagues today because we have so many strong voices in our caucus. We want to give them the opportunity to speak to the public. But just for everyone’s awareness, procedurally, how this works is there’s 150 members of the Texas house.
Chris Turner: (05:55)
It takes two thirds of the body present to constitute a quorum. So a hundred members. And we vote in Texas and we register our attendance by use of voting machines on our desks. And minutes ago, at least 57 letters were delivered to the house journal clerk, directing the house to lock our voting machines and not unlock them until we provide expressed permission to do so upon our return to the Capitol. So with that, what is my privilege now to introduce a great fighter, a longtime advocate in the fight for voting rights, my good friend, the chairman of the Mexican American legislative caucus from Dallas, Texas, Rafael Anchia.
Rafael Anchia: (06:50)
[Foreign language 00:06:50], Chris Turner. [Foreign language 00:07:04]. So I also speak English and I will offer you a few words as the chair of the Mexican-American legislative caucus. My name is Rafael Anchia. I represent Dallas and I have the honor of representing the 40 plus members of the oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus in America, which is the Mexican-American legislative caucus.
Rafael Anchia: (08:42)
And you will see prominent members of our caucus standing with me today who have fought for voting rights over the decades. I just want to offer that at the outset of this legislative session, the process was poisoned and it was poisoned by a governor who defunded the legislative branch in violation of both our state constitution, which has very specific language about separation of powers, and also what has been developed under the jurisprudence of our us constitution. When you start the process in such a coercive way, when you say, I am going to be the absolute ruler of the state of Texas and defund the legislative branch, you have poisoned the entire process.
Rafael Anchia: (09:20)
And we as Democrats, we were United, we said, we are going to kill any undemocratic efforts in the state legislature. And if that meant leaving the state, we were going to do it. Now, you have probably looked long and hard at the legislation that has been offered just in recent times, a legislation that would make it harder for Texans to exercise their freedom of vote and the right to vote. And we’re not doing this for Democrats. We’re doing this for Republicans. We’re doing this for independence.
Rafael Anchia: (09:53)
We’re doing this for North Texans in South Texans and East and West Texans. We’re doing this for Catholics and Protestants. Anybody in the state of Texas who needs to exercise the right to vote should do so freely. And we are not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas. The big lie that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States. We said no. When the big lie came to the Capitol in Texas and darkened our door, we said, no, during the regular session, and we are saying no, during the regular session.
Rafael Anchia: (10:29)
We are happy to work on bipartisan proposals that expand the right to vote, that make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in the state of Texas. But that is not what we saw, even at the outset of this process, when none of the amendments offered by my colleagues were considered in committee. So we said and we took the very difficult decision, we are not here smiling. We are not spiking the ball. We are not saying that we are happy. In fact, we are sad for democracy in the state of Texas. And we took a solemn oath to protect the constitution of the United States and to protect the constitution of the state of Texas.
Rafael Anchia: (11:04)
And that is why we stand United before you here today in preserving not only the democracy in Texas, but the democracy of the United States. Thank you for your time. And next I’d like to, if she has arrived, call up the chair or the vice chair rather, of the house democratic caucus, Tony Rose, and in her absence, I would then like to call Representative Rhetta Bowers, my colleague from Dallas County. Welcome.
Rhetta Bowers: (11:37)
Thank you, Chairman Anchia. And thank you all for being here today. I used to live here in Washington and I worked like you for the press, for PBS and WTA. And it is a proud pleasing moment to be back here with my colleagues as a member of the Texas house. We are here in DC, our nation’s Capitol because we want to protect the civil right to vote for millions of Texans. We were quite literally forced to move and leave the state of Texas.
Rhetta Bowers: (12:19)
We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas, and we can’t stay here indefinitely to run out the clock, to stop Republican anti voter bills. That’s why we need Congress to act now and pass the for the people act. Texas Democrats will use everything in our power to fight back, but we need Congress to act now. And at this time I am going to call up, Chairman Turner.
Chris Turner: (13:03)
Thank you. Thank you, Represent Bowers on behalf of the Texas legislative black caucus and Chairman Anchia, on behalf of the Mexican-American legislative caucus. Let me now hand it back over to our congressional leaders, Congressman Visi and Congressman Doggett.
Rhetta Bowers: (13:24)
Chris Turner: (13:25)
She just walked up. coming. I know everyone familiar with Capitol Hill knows their security protocols. So we had a couple of members get hung up, but representative Tony Rose is approaching. Tony is a representative from Dallas. She serves as the first vice chair of the house democratic caucus, and she’s our dear friend and a leader in our caucus and I invite her up to speak here. Represent Tony Rose.
Toni Rose: (14:03)
Thank you. Republicans have failed Texans. Sexist Republicans don’t want free and fair elections. House bill three puts deliberate barriers to voting to make it harder for Texans to cast just a free, safe and equally vote. House bill three is an attack on voter’s freedoms and democracy, even with two ruthless provisions removed, the bills as written makes it harder for Texans to vote and easier for partisan poll watches to harass and intimidate voters.
Toni Rose: (14:43)
Greg Abbott wants the spotlight anywhere but on his failures, rigging the system, attacking the very foundation of democracy and the rights of all Texans and the price of the GLP legislature, it’s the price they’re willing to pay in order to pay for Trump’s prior altar. So we have real issues to address in Texas that Greg Abbott won’t touch because it exposes his weaknesses. He has done nothing to protect the electric grid, even after 700 people died due to his negligence during the recent winter storms, but Democrats, we stand ready at all times to work on real issues. Thank you.
Speaker 9: (15:29)
Chris Turner: (15:36)
And before we hear from our congressional members again, it’s my honor to introduce the Dean of the Texas house democratic caucus, representative Sinfonia Thompson from Houston.
Speaker 9: (15:46)
Senfronia Thompson: (15:50)
I’m going to tell you why I’m up here. I’m not up here to take a vacation in Washington DC. When I look at the African American Museum, I thought about the struggle of my people have fought in this country to get the right to vote. And that right is sacred to my constituents that I represent back in Houston, Texas. And I’m up here because I don’t plan to be a sitting person in that legislature. I’m not going to be a sitting-
Speaker 9: (16:19)
You ain’t no sitting duck.
Senfronia Thompson: (16:22)
I’m not going to be a hostage that my constituent’s right will be stripped from them. We have fought too long and too hard in this country. And that was a Texan called Johnson, President Lyndon B Johnson, August 6th of ’19 and ’65 that made sure that we had to write the vote. And those rights was not going to be infringed upon, but this legislature may have, these Republicans, and this legislature may have changed the Messiah, Jesus to Trump, but I haven’t.
Senfronia Thompson: (16:58)
And I’m going to make sure that everything that I can do that my constituent’s right would not be stripped from them because of what they believe. And it’s a lie. Trump lost the election and they need to tell the people of this country the truth. And if they won’t, I’m going to.
Chris Turner: (17:15)
So I’m going to hand it back to our members of Congress with the caveat that it’s going to be a difficult act to follow with all due respect to Congressman Visi and Congressman Doggett.
Marc Veasey: (17:31)
Chris, thank you very much. Ms. Thompson, thank you very much. And when I think about Ms. Thompson, she didn’t really tell you her entire story. We served in the state legislature together. And when she was elected to the state legislature, it was really right after all of the civil rights bills in the 1960s were passed shortly thereafter, when state legislators still had to be elected county-wide where we were just getting rid of poll taxes and the barriers that made it harder for people to vote.
Marc Veasey: (18:03)
And it’s a shame that today in 2021, that we are revisiting the past and that’s exactly what we’re doing. If they tell you otherwise and they’re always, oh, that’s nothing. Anybody can do that. That’s not that big of a deal. It is. And they wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t think it would have a negative outcome on particularly brown and black voters in the state of Texas and in the other states that are doing similar [inaudible 00:18:30] legislation.
Marc Veasey: (18:31)
That’s why as a member of Congress, I founded the congressional voting rights caucus because you could see these things for the last 10, 15, 20 years starting to rear its ugly head again. And with that, I want to be 100% clear, now, not later, not sometime in the future, now, we need to pass the John Lewis voting rights act. It needs to be signed into law. And we also need to pass HR one. Our citizens can’t wait any longer. And I want to echo what our majority whip here in the US house, Jim Cliburn talked about when he mentioned a carve out for HR, for the John Lewis voting rights act.
Marc Veasey: (19:15)
If Mitch McConnell did a carve out for Amy Coney Barrett, then we ought to do a carve-out for the black and brown people that live in Texas and that live in Georgia, that live in Florida, that live in all these states that are trying to make it harder for our constituents to exercise their right to vote. We need to get this done today. Time is of the essence. We can not wait. States are going to start to ramp up these efforts. Again, Texas has called the, governor Abbott has called the legislature back in the session to start working on these things.
Marc Veasey: (19:49)
You’re going to see the most racist re-districting that you’ve seen since the voting rights act outlawed, things like at large districts, and we need something to help protect the brave men and women that you see standing behind me here today that are risking so much for voting rights in this country. And before I turn it over to Congressman Doggett, I just want Greg Abbott and the Republican leaders in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and anywhere else to know that we are not going to stop. We are always going to push back against these sort of bigoted, racist, Jim Crow 2.0 style voting laws, whenever you decide to bring them up. Congressman Doggett.
Lloyd Doggett: (20:35)
Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Chris. And all of you who have spoken. Most of the focus around here these days is about infrastructure and it’s right, that we should focus on crumbling bridges, but today we’re here about something much more important, and that is the infrastructure of democracy, about broken voting rights. These courageous colleagues chose not to be accomplices by sitting at their desk and being steamrollered in Austin.
Lloyd Doggett: (21:01)
It took courage to do what they’re doing. I served also with Dean Sinfonia Thompson at a time I was a killer bee, when 12 of us chose to depart and won a victory on an issue involving election integrity. They have a much bigger challenge because unlike the position we were in decades ago, no matter what they do, Greg Abbott and his group of extremist will never change. What can change is right here in this building.
Lloyd Doggett: (21:29)
And as Dean Thompson mentioned, what we really need today is a Lyndon Johnson moment. We need the power of the presidency. A great outline in the op-ed in yesterday’s post about other things president Biden can do. We need the president and the vice-president and every Democrat in this Senate working together to preserve American democracy. There is seldom in more that stake, that’s why they’re here. We need to see in the administration and in the Senate, the same courage that these Texans have demonstrated that Lyndon Johnson moment.
Lloyd Doggett: (22:04)
Remember how difficult it was to pass over so much objection of voting rights act in 1965? When we gathered Chris there in Austin, Lucy Baines Johnson was one of our most powerful speakers telling about standing at the desk when president Johnson signed that voting rights act. We want to be standing there when a new voting rights act for this century is there and the rights that were struggled, that so many lives were taken, so much courage was demonstrated are preserved once again. I turn it back over to you for the questions and thank you very much for all that you and all of your colleagues are doing here today.
Chris Turner: (23:08)
Thank you, Ms. T. Thank you, members of Congress, we’ll take a few questions.
Speaker 13: (23:16)
A number of y’all were here two weeks ago, lobbying members of Congress to act on any of these federal voting rights legislation and the bill still can pass [inaudible 00:23:24] in the Senate. What will be different this time?
Chris Turner: (23:27)
Sure. Well, democracy is hard and we don’t expect anything up here to be easy, but look, we had productive meetings a few weeks ago. Those of us who were here, as Trey Martinez Fischer said last night, we brought some reinforcements this time. And, look, after we were here, you saw all 50 Democrats in the US Senate coalesce behind a version of HR one. We’re not taking credit for that necessarily, but progress was made. And we think those discussions we had helped inform that discussion.
Chris Turner: (24:00)
And so now, as Congressman Doggett just said, we really want to drill down on the importance of the democratic leader Cliburn’s comments about a carve out on the filibuster with respect to voting rights. I mean, as congressman Visi just said, if you can have a carve out for a right-wing Supreme court justice, why can’t you have a carve out to protect the very fundamentals of our democracy?
Speaker 14: (24:28)
The session ends on August 7th, Governor Abbott has already said that, or essentially made it clear that even if that ends up expiring, he’s just going to call another session. So are you going to keep on doing this over and over and over again?
Chris Turner: (24:43)
We know that’s exactly what he’s going to do. We went into this eyes wide open. We know exactly what will happen. Rick Perry did the same thing many years ago in another similar situation. So, what our message is, is very simple. Like Chairman Anchia said a minute ago, our intent is to stay out and kill this bill, this session, and use the intervening time, I think 24, 25 days now, before the end of this session to implore the folks in this building behind us to pass federal voting rights legislation, to protect voters in Texas and across the country.
Speaker 15: (25:20)
Representative Turner, with regards to politics, you just said, it’s really hard, but it also takes compromises for decision. What are you prepared with the caucus to give back to say, let’s get to the table and hammer this out?
Chris Turner: (25:33)
Oh, with respect to the Republicans in Austin? Well, the first thing that needs to happen is governor Abbott needs to stand down as unconstitutional veto of the legislative branch of government. And we have talked about that a lot this morning, but this caucus is pursuing action in the Texas Supreme court, because we leave what he did is unconstitutional. So the first place to start would be for the governor to stand down on that and then we can start talking.
Speaker 16: (26:07)
Your home state senator, Senator Cornyn called this nothing but a publicity stunt. What do you say to him and others who represent his camp?
Chris Turner: (26:07)
You said John Cornyn said that this was a publicity stunt? Well, I hadn’t seen that, but I think our two US senators wrote the book on publicity stunts. And what I would say to Senator Cornyn is we’d encourage him to work in a bipartisan manner as the people of Texas elected him to do, to pass voting rights legislation to protect 30 million Texans that he says he represents. Last question.
Speaker 17: (26:37)
Congressman Doggett mentioned [inaudible 00:26:42] the white house [inaudible 00:26:43]. Are you happy with the amount that you’ve seen with president Biden and vice president Harris [inaudible 00:26:47]?
Chris Turner: (26:50)
Look, a number of us had the privilege of having a very good meeting with vice president Harris a few weeks ago, where she thanked all the Democrats in the Texas house and Senate for our strong stand against these Republican vote suppression efforts. And she reiterated her commitment and the president’s commitment to continuing to do all they could. We’re looking forward to seeing what the president says today in his speech on voting rights in Philadelphia.
Chris Turner: (27:18)
And we hope what we’ll hear is an even stronger commitment and a clear plan of action as to how we can break the gridlock in the Senate and pass federal legislation immediately, this summer. We have a short window here as was previously mentioned. The session ends on August 7th, and we can’t hold this tied back forever. We’re buying some time. We need Congress and all of our federal leaders to use that time wisely. Thank y’all very much.
Lloyd Doggett: (27:49)
Great job, Chris.
Chris Turner: (27:50)
Was that okay?
Lloyd Doggett: (27:51)
Appreciate you. Yeah, that was good. But I’m going to keep hammering on that point because he’s not doing what he … No, you did just fine. Eventually, some day. Thank you. Really good to be with you. Felt really good and super doing this. Sure, we’ll be glad to, and you’re welcome.