Texas house speaker issues arrest warrant for Democrat in exile in Washington DC

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Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (Getty Images)
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (Getty Images)

The speaker of the Texas house of representative has signed a civil arrest warrant for a Democratic lawmaker who fled the state for a second time while trying to halt Republican-led bills aimed at restricting voting.

Republican Dade Phelan called for the arrest of Representative Philip Cortez, who returned to the state to try to open a “good faith dialogue” about the election legislation that restricts mail-in ballots and some early voting procedures.

Earlier this month, 50 Democratic lawmakers in the Texas legislature fled in two chartered flights to Washington DC to try to prevent the legislature from reaching a quorum needed to pass bills.

Last week, Cortez became the first Democrat to return to the state capitol Austin in what he said was an attempt to break the impasse.

He was criticised by fellow Democrats for not consulting with them before leaving the US capitol.

Mr Phelan said Mr Cortez had “represented to me and his fellow members that he wanted to work on policy and find solutions to bring his colleagues back to Texas”.

Mr Cortez was temporarily granted leave from the House floor, and promised to return, Mr Phelan said.

“Instead, he fled the state.”

In issuing the arrest warrant, Mr Phelan said that Mr Cortez had “irrevocably broken my trust and the trust of this chamber”.

The warrant, which is not enforceable outside of Texas, is the first time an arrest order has been issued for any of the group, who have remained exiled in Washington DC for two weeks since their dramatic exit.

They have been lobbying senior Democrats including Vice President Kamala Harris to try to raise awareness about voter suppression efforts in Texas.

If passed, the bills would add new restrictions for those who assist others in casting ballots, a provision criticised by disability advocates.

It would also ban “drive-thru” voting pioneered by Harris County in the November elections and 2020 primaries, as well as a 24-hour early voting period the county allowed at some precincts last year.

The Democrats’ move came amid a wave of GOP-led efforts around the country to restrict voting in various ways, as well as the campaign from progressive Democrats to reform the US voting system at the federal level, which has stalled amid a refusal from centrist Democrats in the Senate to change or abandon the filibuster.

Governor Greg Abbott vowed to arrest the Democrats upon their return to the state.

Six of the Texas state representatives have since tested positive Covid-19 since arriving in Washington.

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