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Inside Texas Politics: What is the endgame for Texas Democrats, as legislative business continues?

Democrats are in still in the nation's capital, and Austin is at a standstill.
Credit: Taylor Lumsden / WFAA
Texas State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) speaks from a podium in Washington, D.C. surrounded by other state Democrats. Nearly 60 members of the party flew to the nation's capitol to break quorum during the Texas special session to disrupt Republican plans to pass more stringent election laws.

AUSTIN, Texas — Last Sunday on Inside Texas Politics, Texas House Democrats said they were considering a quorum break. This past week, they followed through and took off - 58 of them - to a hotel in Washington, D.C.

Now, the Democrats are still in the nation's capital, and Austin is at a standstill.

Apart from breaking quorum to try and cripple the Texas special session, the House members went to D.C. to put pressure on Congress to take action on voting rights, curtailing Republican-led efforts to change state voting laws. But Congressional Democrats have said they don't have the votes right now to get anything passed. 

So, what is the endgame for Texas Democrats?

We spoke with one of the most widely respected members of the Texas legislature, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who is the longest-serving woman in the legislature, about what's next.

"I think the endgame is to let them know what the urgency is for them to act," she said. 

"You're trying to be able to be a participant in democracy," she added.

RELATED: 'We have to press the flesh a little harder': Still no word on when Texas Democrats will return to Austin

Thompson said it's worth it for Texas Democrats to be in D.C., because "I think it's worth trying," she said.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, is the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. He said even though Democrats may not have the votes, doing nothing is not an option.

"What's happening in Texas, what happened in Georgia and is happening in other places across the country is corrosive to our democracy," Turner said.

Who's footing the bill?

Thompson is one of more than 50 Democratic state lawmakers in D.C., along with 12 paid staffers. The costs are quickly mounting, so who's paying the bills? Gov. Greg Abbott initially spread misinformation, calling the trip to D.C. a taxpayer junket. It is not. 

Patrick Svitek, from the Texas Tribune, said their reporting has shown that most of the funding has been coming from the House Democratic Caucus, the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and other campaign funds from two House Democrats.

"So far, it seems like those big-ticket costs have been covered by campaign funds, not by taxpayer funds," Svitek said.

The one area where taxpayer funds could be involved? The daily per diem lawmakers get during the special sessions.

RELATED: VERIFY: Who's paying for Texas Democrats' trip to Washington?

How long have Democrats had this in the works?  

Getting 58 Texans to D.C. isn't done overnight. 

But Turner said the plan "came together rather quickly."

"I think we always knew this was always a real possibility," he said. "We considered this an option all along. But the planning really accelerated over last weekend during those rushed committee hearings in the House and the Senate."

Turner said keeping the group on the same page is a priority, achieved "through constant and open communication," with meetings every day.

RELATED: 'Corrosive to our democracy': Texas Democrats working towards federal election reform, but lack votes

Texas Senate continues cranking out legislation

The Texas House is sitting dormant with Democrats in D.C. But the Texas Senate is cranking out legislation. What's the point? Without a quorum, the House can't consider it.

That's among our questions for state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. He said "it's our job" to be at the Capital and voting on bills.

RELATED: 'Texans want their legislators to work': Don’t expect compromise in Austin in the near future, senator warns

"We're doing our work, and it's sad that the House is closed but the Democratic House Caucus is going to have to realize they're wrong," he said. "It's going to fail. It's a question of time. So, they might as well come back next week than next month. Because if they come back next month, all that's going to happen is Gov. Abbott is just going to call another special session."

Watch this week's entire episode of Inside Texas Politics below:

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