It is generally seen as the tactic of last resort. On matters of dramatic importance, after state legislators have exhausted every rhetorical and procedural possibility, they have the option of trying to derail the most dangerous proposals by simply refusing to show up.
It's rare and provocative, but entirely straightforward: legislative bodies need a minimum number of members in the chamber to conduct business, and if enough members stay away, the majority will lack the necessary quorum to legislate. Texas Democrats fled to New Mexico in 2003 in response to Republicans' re-redistricting scheme; Wisconsin Democrats fled to Illinois in 2011 in response to a GOP anti-union gambit; and in 2019, Oregon Republicans fled to Idaho to block a measure to address climate change.
Late yesterday, it happened again.
In an extraordinary effort to block Republicans from enacting new voting restrictions, Texas Democrats bolted — again. A large group of Democratic members of the state House of Representatives arrived at Dulles International Airport on Monday evening after fleeing the state in a pair of charter jets. At least 51 members were on the flights, a source familiar with the plans told NBC News. At least seven others were en route, as well.
As Rachel explained on last night's show, at issue is a proposal to make voting in Texas even more difficult by banning drive-through voting, restricting voting by mail, banning voting in overnight hours, and restricting absentee voting. The Lone Star State's system is already flawed, and Texas Republicans are determined to make it considerably worse, on purpose, in the hopes of creating an electoral advantage that would keep them in power indefinitely.
Democrats and other voting-rights advocates have tried everything they could think of to defeat the proposal. GOP officials shrugged off those efforts and were positioned to pass the measure anyway, possibly as early as this week.
And so, dozens of Democratic legislators got on a plane, bringing Texas' legislative process to a halt -- at least for now.
If you're wondering what the road ahead looks like, you're not alone. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called the legislature into a special session to tackle a handful of policies, including the GOP's voter-suppression plan. There's roughly a month left in this session, suggesting the Democrats who fled to D.C. should get comfortable in the nation's capital, because they aren't likely to return home anytime soon.
NBC News' report added that these Texas Dems "considered decamping to West Virginia and Arizona, because Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have opposed abolishing the filibuster to pass the For the People Act." But the Democratic state lawmakers "feared that the states' Republican governors would aid in returning them to Texas."
And so, they're in D.C., not just to temporarily derail a proposal designed to undermine Texas' democracy, but also to make the case to members of Congress that federal voting-rights protections are absolutely necessary.
For their part, several House Democrats are coalescing around a strategy in which they'll ask their Senate counterparts for a "carve out" in the chamber's existing filibuster rules, allowing voting-rights bills to pass by majority rule. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), among others, has suggested calling the proposed change the "John Lewis Rule," in honor of the late Georgia congressman, civil rights pioneer, and longtime voting-rights champion.
And for all intents and purposes, this is what it all comes down to: federal intervention. Texas Dems may be able to run out the clock on the special session, but if so, Abbott would simply call another, starting the process anew. As a practical matter, these legislators are effectively trying to buy time, hoping that their sacrifice will give their ostensible allies in Congress an opportunity to approve a federal rescue.
Watch this space.