Politics

San Antonio State Rep. Philip Cortez Is Back In DC — With A Warrant Out For His Arrest

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan issued an arrest warrant for Democratic State Representative Philip Cortez after he returned to Washington D.C. Sunday night.

A group of Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives arrive at the US Capitol for a press conference on voting rights, in Washington, DC, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. In an effort to block Republicans from enacting new voting restrictions, these Texas state House of Representatives arrived at Dulles International Airport last evening after fleeing their state in a pair of charter jets.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan issued an arrest warrant for Democratic State Representative Philip Cortez after he returned to Washington D.C. Sunday night.

Cortez had returned to Texas last week in an attempt to negotiate changes to House Bill 3, a Republican-led bill that Democrats say would limit voting in Texas.

In a statement Sunday night, Cortez said the negotiations to reform the bill did not lead to any progress. He returned to Washington, where he said he'll remain until the special session is over.

Phelan, in a statement of his own, said Cortez had been given special permission to temporarily leave the House floor. However, upon leaving the state again, Phelan said Cortez had irrevocably broken his trust and the trust of the House chamber.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said that Democrats who left the state would be arrested on their return.

Background

Some of Cortez’s colleagues expressed disappointment about his initial decision to return to Texas last week. Rep. Diego Bernal, who represents San Antonio’s District 123, said he and a few others were concerned about Cortez even before he made the move to fly back to Texas.

“He was worried about his reelection. He was worried about losing his chairmanship. The political pressure was mounting. He was wearing it on his face in a way that everybody could see. So I think him going back to Austin has more to do with that than anything else. I have no doubt that in his heart of hearts, he wants to help. But this wasn’t helpful,” Bernal said.

Bernal said Cortez left without adequate communication. He added that Cortez’s characterization of his departure — that he was sent as an envoy from the D.C. group — is inaccurate.

Ina Minjarez, representative for District 124, said the decision to go to D.C. was not an easy one but that the “consequences of HB 3 far outweigh the personal and political consequences” they faced by breaking quorum.

“I am disappointed to see Representative Cortez turning his back on these convictions. Though I cannot speak to what led to his decision, it is disheartening to think that some representatives might value a gavel over protecting the voting rights of all Texans. Despite his defection, I continue to stand firm in my resolve to continue the fight for every Texan and every citizen to vote freely and accessibly. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect our democracy and the people’s right to vote,” she said in a statement.

Representatives Minjarez and Bernal agreed that Cortez’s move was one of defection.

“You’re getting a variety of different stories that he was selected, that he was asked, that he’s there to lead the reform. I really think that the considerations were political and not sort of they were political. They weren’t designed to bring us back from the brink of one of the worst voting rights disasters that the state has ever seen,” Bernal said.

At least six of the representatives who fled to D.C. have received positive coronavirus tests while there.

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