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Texas Democrats fled to D.C. to highlight political differences, but then COVID-19 became the story

texas democrats covid
Photo via Austin American-Statesman

A group of Democratic Texas legislators took a trip to Washington, D.C. as the Texas Legislature’s special session commenced in mid-July. The Democratic caucus sought attention for the fight against a Republican-authored bill they argue would curtail voting rights in the state. Instead, COVID-19 has become the story, as six members of the Texas Democrats delegation have tested positive for the virus.

As Politico reported, the delegation has been meeting with a number of public officials in recent days, including Vice President Kamala Harris. An aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has been in contact with the Texans has also tested positive for COVID-19.

While the contingent is still holding an audience with officials in Washington, the July 20 meeting with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn was held via Zoom.

Politico noted, “All of the coronavirus cases in the Texas delegation, which includes more than 50 lawmakers who fled the state to deny Republicans there a quorum to pass a new elections bill, are among fully vaccinated people—what are known as ‘breakthrough’ cases.”

The Texas Democrats who have been infected with COVID are either asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, and they’re going forward with new mitigation guidelines including daily tests and a 10-day quarantine for anyone in the group who tests positive.

Yet, the delegation’s aim to publicly meet with President Joe Biden may be jeopardized by the positive tests.

“There has not been a meeting planned, and there hasn’t been a change to that,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, via the Dallas Morning News. Psaki confirmed that a “fully vaccinated White House official” tested positive July 20 with mild symptoms. But neither the president nor the vice president were exposed.

Texas State Rep. Donna Howard became the sixth member of the delegation to test positive for COVID-19 on July 19. She’s a former nurse representing an Austin district, and as the Austin American-Statesman reported, she helped determine safety protocols for lawmakers after the first COVID-19 case in the delegation became known on July 16.

Many of the lawmakers were on the same charter jet, and they posted a maskless selfie while en route to Washington.

“Despite following CDC guidelines and being fully vaccinated, I tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday,” Howard said in a statement. “The delta variant seems to be much more contagious, even for those vaccinated, than initially thought. Thankfully, I’m vaccinated and feeling well. But this variant is hitting the unvaccinated with severe illness and hospitalizations, particularly impacting those under 65.”

She encouraged people to follow her example and get vaccinated.

The mission to D.C. has a procedural function as well as a public relations function. As the Texas Tribune explained, the journey was intended as “a high-profile effort to block passage of GOP-backed voting restrictions.”

That article added, “Democrats hoped their exodus would break what’s called a quorum—the minimum number of lawmakers needed to conduct business—so Republicans couldn’t pass legislation that could ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting, among other sweeping restrictions.”

But the COVID outbreak has somewhat blunted the public relations dynamic for the Texas Democrats.

“A lot of people didn’t get sick because they were vaccinated,” Dr. Marc Siegel, a Clinical Professor of Medicine and practicing internist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said, via Fox News. “This is a super-spreader event with less spread because of the vaccine—that’s the glass half full.”

Read more on the delta variant: 

Sources: Politico, Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Tribune, Fox News


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