On Wednesday evening, the Signal spoke with state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and longtime veteran of the Texas House who has joined fellow Texas Democrats in Washington to break quorum and fight for voting rights legislation.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Texas Democrats have been in and out of meetings this week with Democratic Senators and Vice President Harris. Can you talk to me about those meetings? Are y’all talking about why you’re there, or is the strategy to get movement on For the People Act, John Lewis Voting Rights Act being discussed?
It’s important to really kind of capture the time. In a span of 25 hours of being in Washington D.C., this Texas Democratic delegation has been able to visit with U.S. Senators, we had a private and lengthy meeting with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then we were rushed into an unscheduled private meeting for 90 minutes with the vice president of the United States.
That does not happen every day in Washington for anybody.
The vice president talked about constantly asking her staff to brief her on; did our planes leave, are we safe, have we landed, have we eaten, where are we now — she knew more about our chronology on our day of departure than we did. That just really speaks to the level of enthusiasm we are bringing to this debate and to this discussion.
On substance, in our conversation with Majority Leader Schumer, I specifically had raised the question of the August 6 recess and I pointed out a letter he had written to the Senate Democratic Caucus indicating that the president’s domestic agenda has to be completed before the August 6 recess and any failure to do so might impact the recess from being delayed or shortened, so that the domestic agenda could get completed. Included in that domestic agenda was voting rights.
Leader Schumer made it clear to us that he would bring voting rights legislation back to the floor for a vote. He didn’t say what time of day, what it was going to look like, but he did reaffirm his commitment. And in fact, the letter to his Senators said, the very first vote they had on voting rights was not the end of the race, that was just the starting gun, and that they will be working on this again.
So, a lot of momentum here. The president giving a national speech on voting rights yesterday, the vice president doubling down and reaffirming the administration’s commitment to this issue, Leader Schumer committing to having a vote on this as part of the domestic agenda.
And then, you’re starting to see the conversations pick up about an idea that Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has to get a change in the filibuster rule to carve out an exception for voting rights.
All of these things are significant momentum. I imagine some of that is organic, and a lot has to do with the level of attention Texas Democrats are bringing, rallying the nation to understand that our democracy is on the line and that we need one standard when it comes to voting, and that is the American standard.
The two options are to pass these bills with that simple majority or get some Republicans on board. What’s been y’all main focus, or what is going to be your main focus to get some movement on these bills?
I think it has to be all of the above. The strategy and process really lies with Leader Schumer and he knows better than we do as to how the Senate operates.
But my general philosophy and what we’ve discussed with these Senators is that you use every single tool in your bucket, and if the tools don’t work, well then you have to go get new tools so that you can fix the problem. And carving out voting rights from the filibuster is my example of a new tool that we use to fix the problem.
Any word yet on a meeting with the president?
No word yet. I’m not on that detail. I can tell you that we have a meeting with Senator Manchin. This is in the lap of the Senate, they’re deadlocked at 50-50, having Senator Manchin’s commitment not just on S.1. [For the People Act], but having his commitment on what we do with the filibuster if we can’t find bipartisan buy-in. And so a lot of us are looking forward to that meeting.
Why break quorum now? I don’t know if y’all saw the opinion by The Dallas Morning News editorial board, kind of griping about the fact that y’all had left the state and calling it political theatre. Obviously, y’all have gone through the legislative process through plenty of bad Republican bills, why break quorum specifically for this one?
There’s nothing theatrical about voting rights.
I imagine there was a lot of criticism given to Frederick Douglass when he was trying to seek voting rights for African Americans, I imagine women were ridiculed when they wanted to vote in 1913, and we know that people were ridiculed and some even died when they tried to have a Voting Rights Act in 1965.
When it comes to the issue of voting rights, this is not something we take lightly. The fact that we broke quorum was [because] an outright refusal of Republicans to even negotiate in good faith or to try to have some semblance of a pragmatic policy for fair voting in Texas.
And if Republicans refuse to let Democrats be part of the process, we’re not just gonna sit there in our chairs to satisfy the Dallas Morning News.
We’re going to stand up for our constituents, we’re going to push back and say no — and come to Washington and ask for a national standard so that we won’t have this voter suppression in Texas.
It seems like the ball is in Abbott’s court. He says he’s going to call special session after special session. Is there anything he can do to lure y’all back?
If Republicans want to have pragmatic and bipartisan conversations they definitely know how to reach out to us, and we know it takes two to tango — we will respond in kind.
I don’t believe the governor is in the position to be the peacemaker, in fact he’s the one driving the division. I would squarely put this on the shoulders of Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, who is elected to his post as speaker by both Democrats and Republicans. This is a leadership moment for our presiding officer, and if wanted to bring us together, I know that we would certainly talk to him and have a conversation.
What about our two U.S. Senators from Texas? Have y’all heard from them or interacted?
We haven’t. I know that they’ve been pretty vocal on criticizing our efforts here. I think it takes a certain amount of hubris to fly to Cancún in the middle of a winter freeze, and think what we’re doing here in 90-degree weather, walking up and down Capitol Hill fighting for voting rights, somehow that’s a poor use of our time. I don’t know if I can reason with someone who has that kind of view.
Nevertheless, with or without our Texas Senators, we are being well received in the U.S. Senate and House, and we will continue to do our work, we will continue to engage and continue to rally this country to save our democracy.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at email@example.com