Phelan commanded the sergeant-at-arms or “any officer appointed by him” to take Rep. Philip Cortez into custody as he cited his constitutional authority to do so. Cortez made headlines last week after he vowed to return to Austin to engage in “good faith dialogue” with his colleagues regarding the legislation, though he quickly returned to Washington to rendezvous with nearly 60 Democratic lawmakers in resumption of an effort to strip the state House of its necessary quorum to do business.
Cortez’s initial bid to return to the Lone Star State was met with backlash from fellow Democrats, though the lawmaker said his decision to return to the district was due to a lack of “substantive results” in his conversion with House Republicans regarding the voting bills.
“After discussions on improving House Bill 3 have not produced progress, I have rejoined my Democratic colleagues in Washington, D.C. I stand firm in my resolve to remain with the Democratic Caucus until the special session ends and to do whatever it takes to fight for the freedom to vote for all Texans,” he said in a statement.
On Monday, Phelan, whose arrest warrant is likely to have little effect for the time being as Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction in Washington, D.C., said Cortez has “irrevocably broken” his “trust and the trust of this chamber.”
“As a condition of being granted permission to temporarily leave the House floor, Rep. Cortez promised his House colleagues that he would return,” the Republican added. “Instead, he fled the state.”
The district theatrics began after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a special session to deliberate on Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3, a pair of legislation that would ban drive-thru voting, implement more comprehensive voter identification requirements for mail-in ballots, and prohibit officials from sending voting applications to those who did not request them. S.B. 1 was passed by the Senate amid the lawmaker’s departure, but H.B. 3 has been stalled as the House lacks the two-thirds quorum necessary to vote on the legislation.
Cortez was one of two Democrats that pledged to return to the state as state Rep. Harold Dutton returned to Texas over family matters, namely over concerns that he would expose his sister, who is undergoing chemotherapy, to the coronavirus after at least six of his colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 since they initially fled Austin.
Cortez is the first lawmaker to be have received a warrant for his arrest after top GOP leaders, including Abbott, vowed to apprehend those in Washington.
Earlier in the month, House Republicans voted to send law enforcement to hunt down the lawmakers “under warrant of arrest if necessary” after the leaders discovered they lacked a two-thirds quorum when they tried to bring one of the bills to a vote with only 80 members of the normal 150-member government body present. Two motions to initiate the move passed by an overwhelming 76-4 margin, with Democrats who chose not to vacate the state as the only “no” votes.
The Washington excursion has raised eyebrows with ethics experts after state Rep. Armando Walle projected that the cost of the excursion will top $1.5 million by the time it ends, as he indicated that the chartered private flights to Washington cost $100,000 alone.
Democrats have insisted that no taxpayer funds are being used in the excursion, but their Republican counterparts have posited that upward of $1 million will be paid by residents due to the prolonging of a special session. If Democrats do not return in a timely manner, the special session could last for nearly one month, with legislators being paid per diem rates during the process.
Phelan has requested the Democrats to return their $221-per-day wages if they are outside of the Lone Star State.
The absent lawmakers have also received backlash for asking the public, through the Dallas County Democratic Party, to donate Dr. Pepper, candy, and toiletries as they marked the nearly two-week anniversary of their departure.
— Brad Johnson (@bradj_TX) July 26, 2021