AUSTIN, Texas — Two Texas House Democrats who fled Austin to break quorum last week were back in Austin on Wednesday while more than 50 Texas Democrats are in the middle of their second week in Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday, a "small working group of Democrats" returned to work on "improving" House Bill 3, according to Rep. Philip Cortez.
“So, I'm here on good faith. So we can potentially work out some of the differences and some of the pressure points that we as House Democrats have regarding this bill," Cortez said. “We hope to have some good dialogue and maybe some fruits from our labor here because we’re going to have to address this bill sooner or later here.”
Last week, the group traveled to Washington, D.C. in order to prevent passing the GOP-backed state voting bill. While they've been there, six members have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Texas Democrats said they planned to stay away from the Lone Star State until Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session ends on Aug. 7.
"I respect and stood with my Democratic colleagues in Washington DC. I stand by my convictions about full and open access to voting for all Texans. I’m here to work on that immediately," Rep. Cortez tweeted.
Cortez said he was asked to return in order to establish open communication lines.
"I returned to Texas to try to engage in good faith dialogue about the aspects of the bill that I, and others, think are harmful," he tweeted.
House Democrats in D.C. said they're not aware of any realistic negotiations going on at this time. They said they're staying there and aren't concerned about the quorum being met.
“It takes 51 to deny quorum in Texas House. Two-thirds of the body must be present to have a quorum. A body is 150 members,” Rep. Chris Turner said.
Rep. Harold Dutton returned to Houston from D.C. last week to check on his sister, who's undergoing chemotherapy. He said after the six members tested positive for COVID-19 in D.C., he couldn't go back.
“I can't go back around them because If I do that, I don’t know if I can go back around my sister," Dutton said.
Dutton said that since he's in Texas, he might as well do some work.
“See if I can lean on the people here to have a bigger ear,” Dutton said.
Both Dutton and Cortez said they haven't experienced any of the threats made to Democrats when they left the state last week.
“All the discussions of arrest ... we wanted to put all that aside. Some of the heated rhetoric and try to just focus on getting this bill in a better place," Dutton said.
Dutton also said he hasn't heard of anyone else coming back to Texas. He said the group is holding strong in D.C.
"Keep up the fight. Let's win," Dutton said.
Both representatives said they'll start meetings about the voting bill on Thursday. In D.C., the group of House Democrats said they had several discussions with Congressional lawmakers on Wednesday and hope to continue those meetings for the rest of the week.
Rep. Gina Hinojosa said Cortez is not negotiating on behalf of the Democratic delegation in D.C.
"To be clear, he is not negotiating on our behalf. He made the decision to rejoin Republicans without speaking to the Dem delegation," Hinojosa tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.